What do you get when you combine low-voltage twee-pop with the melodic elements of shoegaze?
The Japanese have an answer, and it’s indie four-piece Ferri-Chrome. Sung in English – and competently constructed, if mildly repetitive in places – their new record Dazzling Azure may not be “dazzling” in the strictest sense. But it manages to pilfer Chapterhouse’s best jangle-rock moments, sprinkle some twee on top, and churn out a focused and eminently listenable homage to 1990s Lush. Its major shortcoming, measured against Lush’s Miki and Emma? Lack of comparable vocal effervescence.
Early 1990s twee-pop like the Field Mice hasn’t aged all that well in most quarters. “Boring” may be the harshest epithet any critic can deliver. Despite some genuinely heartbreaking songs, bands of this ilk tended to overdo the restrained or artful mawkishness to an uncomfortable degree. What Ferri-Chrome get right is the assimilation, bracing their sugary harmonies and twee-pop sensibility with peppy guitars and river-rapid walls of sound. This music is considerably more energetic than common twee-pop, with plenty of cool licks and deceptively complex progressions thrown in for good measure.
But darn it – those predictable plateaued vocals! Perhaps it’s the language barrier (if there is one), but too often, the singing blends into two or three keys without ample variation. Although typical for this style of Japanese pop, the silky male-female vocals don’t contribute much excitement here, leaving the music to carry the day. Fortunately, most of these songs are good enough to work well, such as the glowing, picked-string intro to “At 7th Floor”. Chiming dual guitars meld into a gorgeous lost-love electric solo, then close out the track with fitting ambiguity. The opening wash on the penultimate number “From a Window” resembles a stone thrown into a pristine lake, then allowed to ripple out for three full minutes. Also of note is “Wavering Shadow”, which might feature the most genteel guitar lick on the entire album.
One example where the vocals live up to the accompanying music would have to be “Bloody Minded Hill”, whose standoffish feminine harmonies burst out and blaze their reclusive path to the summit. Meanwhile, my favorite, “Colors Fade Away”, starts pounding like a slender version of Copper Blue-era Sugar, segues into a softer bridge, and then comes roaring back in quintessential rock ‘n’ roll fashion. Formulaic? Sometimes. But it’s called a “formula” because it usually works. And this record unquestionably grows on you, thanks mainly to the febrile guitar backing up most of the tracks. Not overly challenging, yet still quite pleasant.
English-language information on the band is tough to come by. But just for comparison’s sake, an obscure 2000s shoegaze act called Whirlaway had similarly listless vocals yet nowhere near the luscious inventiveness or musical sophistication found on Dazzling Allure. On the flip side, to enjoy this style of graceful yet parallel male-female vocalization done right? Try the Hummingbirds’ irresistible Love Buzz album from 1990.
There are dozens of indie acts trying to sound like Ferri-Chrome (probably too many). Happily, on Dazzling Allure, they do a better job than most. So if you’ve got 1,300 yen to spare, check out the hi-res 24-bit digital download on Bandcamp.com.