ZOMBIE-CHANG is ready to take on the world.
There’s no doubting that Japan produces some of the best music in the world. The frustrating thing is, finding it can sometimes seem like a needle in a haystack proposition, given the huge output of the Japanese music industry across a plethora of styles and genres. Fortunately, there are people out there who love to rummage through the musical underground to dig up the gems for you and UK based independent label Toothpaste Records has made it their mission to bring the best of the Japanese indie music scene to the world.
Following up on their first release, ex-BiS member Tentenko’s eponymous eccentric electronica LP, the good folks at Toothpaste have gone mining in the same vein of underground synth-pop dance music to unearth ZOMBIE-CHANG. That’s the moniker of 25-year-old Tokyo singer and songwriter Meirin Yung. She’s been building a reputation since her 2016 debut album, Zombie Change, an oddball collection of retro 80s synth-pop tunes that has a homemade charm all its own. Her profile has grown to the point that her third album, PETIT PETIT PETIT, originally released in Japan back in 2018, has caught the attention of Toothpaste Records who have picked it up for the international market.
While mini-albums are definitely
a thing back in Japan, the original version’s eight tracks might have seemed
like a bit of a thin offering to an overseas audience, so the addition of
re-recorded versions of two older songs, I Can’t Get to Sleep and Goodbye My
Love and Turn Around, is a smart move. It ticks the "value for money" box but also presents an interesting
chance to see how ZOMBIE-CHANG’s sound has developed since these songs were first
released two years ago.
ZOMBIE-CHANG has always been a determinedly solo and Do-It-Yourself artist which, she’s admitted, was partly due to her own awkwardness dealing with other people. For PETIT PETIT PETIT she’s overcome that reticence and is joined by drummer Kento Suzuki and bassist Keigo Tatsumi of the sunny and ever cheerful Tokyo pop band never young beach. Their influence is plain to see right from the start, as Tatsumi’s bass line gives the album’s opener, Lemonade, a bounce and organic warmth that’s missing from the original 2016 version of the song. Coupled with a bolder vocal and tighter arrangement the track is transformed into a peppy little love song with a zing of bittersweet lemon sharpness.
The 2017 single I Can’t Get to Sleep gets a new lease of life from the
never young beach rhythm section’s input too. While the hypnotic synth bubbles away, Keigo Tatsumi has given the bass
line new life, throwing in some funky little fills that give the song a more playful
character than the original. It’s
probably fair to say that ZOMBIE-CHANG has been learning on the job. She’s not shy about revisiting her older
material which, at the risk of repeating herself, shows a determination to find
her way to the best versions of those songs. The perfectionist approach has paid off here and the reworked tracks all
benefit from a finer production polish and the drums and bass add a human touch
to the synth dominated mix.
Though her production has become more refined and less obviously naïve and "Do-It-Yourself", she is no less off-the wall and eccentric. Mona Lisa and We Should Kiss betray her Francophile streak, but the two songs head off in completely different directions. Mona Lisa is a "boingy", upbeat treat while We Should Kiss is full of Gallic "ooh la la"s backed with a chilly Teutonic synth and one note vocal, like a Kraftwerk track where they had just once, remembered to lighten up. The Reason is Love doesn’t have a synth in sight and is a good old fashioned slice of surf pop. Being a long-time fan of the original surf punks, The Ramones, ZOMBIE-CHANG shows she’s still a bit of a punk at heart with I Hate You, a minute and a half burst of love/hate, backed with charmingly wonky keyboard playing.
In many ways, ZOMBIE-CHANG is an artist that has grown up in public. Her musical journey has taken her on adventures in hand-made synth-pop, or “Anti-EDM” as she called it, and with PETIT PETIT PETIT, via a few returns to previous destinations, she’s figured out where she’s going–out into the big wide world.
PETIT PETIT PETIT is available on digital platforms and as a limited edition transparent blue vinyl.
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