2011; Zankyo Records; Saitama, Japan
Until recently, I had yet to find a band that I really wanted express my opinion of in an actual written review. The band that spurred this change were the cabs. These three musicians hail from Saitama, Japan, and stylistically, exhibit many characteristics similar to their contemporaries on their label, such as Te, This Town Needs Guns, Maps & Atlases, and 65daysofstatic. Although I personally enjoy listening to most of these bands, I have a lot of problems with fundamental characteristics in their music, some of which include songwriting, melody and the reasons behind why they play technically, or why they chose to be dissonant. When I found the cabs, I felt that all the issues I've had with their contemporaries had been resolved by their first release.
The second track Soldiers of February enters the holy land of pure math, and defines much of the merit of the band. Upon first listen, the intro reminded me immediately of bands such as LITE or Te, which lead me to wonder: is this just another well produced modern japanese math rock band that's pretty good but not really original and won't really amount to anything? Once the first verse kicked in, my worries completely dissipated.
A fundamental issue I have with math rock bands is their disregard for song structure and actual progression of phrases that draws the listener in ways that vocal based bands do- in a way, their music expresses emotions through musicality, but not through writing (despite calculated riffs) and lyricism. Then there are bands of a similar sort to the cabs, such as This Towns Needs Guns or Maps & Atlases, who try to integrate more experimental and technical styles derived from Owls or Hella or Miles Davis, with accessible elements such as melodic instrumentation and singing. To me it has always seemed like these bands were struggling with the desire to write legitimately well conceived songs over the need to play crazy and often times unnecessary shit all the time.
the cabs don't have this problem. Although Soldiers of February is a song that might remind you of the angular and trebly japanese mathy guitar playing and drumming reminiscent of LITE or Rin Toshite Shigure, the actual structure of the song and melody is what distinguishes it from the rest. Honest and unadulterated vocals carry you through the song, over arpeggios and hammer-ons, into extremely dissonant chordal strumming (notably utilized in ways I haven't heard before) in the chorus that is somehow at the same time incredibly melodic and adds a distinctiveness that is incredibly subtle but apparent. Verses move into choruses seamlessly and there isn't the misuse of excessive bridges to link together different segments of the song, and when they are used, its usage is individual and really pays homage to their roots while still defining their own style.
Their influence and sound aren't limited to the math rock bands on their record label, Zankyo Records. A huge influence from post-hardcore and screamo is taken with tracks like For Charles Bronson (the name itself probably a homage to the screamo tradition of naming songs after trivial celebrities) and Haiku For Kydla, which actually sounds like something in the vein of The Blood Brothers combined with Slint. In retrospect, none of these influences really characterize the cabs, because as said before, although you can hear the screamo and post hardcore and math rock tendencies, they integrate it into their own style of songwriting, which makes their music something special considering that bands from obscure subgenres (or really most bands in general) usually repeat the structures and styles of previous bands instead of defining their own brand of songwriting, more typically found in less technical and punk influenced styles.
Being a completely new band, however, It'd be near impossible for them to be as perfect as I'm making them out to be. But maybe I'm just being nitpicky. Although the songs are awesome within themselves, the vocals and bass are far too bright and clear for the rawness of the songs, which also decreases the cohesion between some of the screaming songs versus sung songs, which a producer like Steve Albini could probably work wonders for.
What the mini album is about, I do not know. But if their songs have anything to do with "not empathy, but a lack thereof in the bitterly and wretchedly heartbroken city of Tokyo", (as stated on their brief biography on Zankyo), it makes perfect sense. The torrential downpour of precise but ruthless drumming, arpeggiated guitar that transitions into subtle chordal dissonance, chordal transitions that range from seamless and smooth to angular and explosive (ala dillinger escape plan), and vocals that range from fragile to borderline deranged screaming all contained within incredibly well written songs lets you know that these are kids making real music that matters to them, not just music for musics sake, like many of their contemporaries. I can only anticipate future releases from a band with this much potential- hopefully enough to branch out past their limited demographic and really get recognized.