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Remains Of The Light, the debut album by Japanese trio Usurabi, is a gorgeous thing – six generous, deftly melodic songs that stretch out slowly, breathing deeply, yet never outstaying their welcome. The members of Usurabi started playing together in 2017, but they’d known each other for several decades, meeting via their involvement in a music club at university. Led by songwriter, singer and guitarist, Toshimitsu Akiko, previously of psych-pop duos Doodles and Aminome, the trio is completed by Kawaguchi Masami (New Rock Syndicate, Hardy Rocks, Miminokoto) on bass and guitar, and Morohashi Shigeki (Majutsu no Niwa, Uchu Engine, peaflan, Alraune) on drums.
Kawaguchi and Morohashi had already played together in the legendary Broomdusters, a group they formed when they were both university students. Toshimitsu, long a fan of Broomdusters, formed Usurabi to explore what she describes as “rock music that features vocal mainly and floating sound like waves.” It’s a clear, simple and apt description of what they do. Toshimitsu’s songs are graceful, each having a dynamic arc to their construction, while allowing for all kinds of subtle inflection from her guitar, sometimes tussling with Kawaguchi’s flinty, overloaded blues; Toshimitsu drives the songs with subtletly and wit, sculpting waves of energy from his kit.
Throughout, Toshimitu’s songs hint at questions, complexities, metaphors: allusions and illusions. Songs like “Brunnera” and the closing “Constellation” are adrift, beamed out on rays of light, the trio’s empathic playing harnessing a subtle kind of psychedelia. “Constellation” explores Toshimitsu’s thought, “Am I allowed to turn the feeling I can nothing to do into a constellation, like ancestors did?” The lovely, shaded pop of “Autumn Rain” translates a Toshimitsu solo arrangement into a stripped-back, delightful slice of happy-sad nostalgia; “The rain is always sweet to me,” Toshimitsu says of the song.
Ask the trio what other music informs Usurabi, and they share names, some expected, some surprising: Kaneko Jutok, Les Rallizes Denudes, The Doors (“The first real rock experience to me,” Toshimitsu recalls), Captain Beefheart, The Rolling Stones. You can hear elements of all of this music in their songs, but mostly it’s more a hint, or a tint, than an obvious acknowledgment; the playing certainly shares the hopeful freedom of Kaneko, and the stridency and sensitivity of the Stones at their best. It also recalls the independent music of groups like The Pastels; like that outfit, Usurabi have absolute integrity in their sound. It’s quietly ambitious, and quite beautiful.