Rock trio deliver heavy-duty tunes…
Japan’s continuing interest in guitar bands has seen a curious renaissance in recent times, particularly from female-fronted rock acts. From the garage punk aesthetic of Mutant Monster through to the Heavy Metal leanings of BAND-MAID, it’s indicative of a vibrant and dynamic music scene.
In the midst of these, BRATS has emerged as a surprisingly confident rock trio who have delivered some effective (and certainly loud) tunes.
Originally formed in 2011, BRATS is a rock outfit consisting of sisters Rei (vocals) and Aya Kuromiya (bass) and Aya’s friend Hinako (guitar). Prior to BRATS, Rei Kuromiya was known for being part of ‘kawaiicore’ outfit Ladybaby in its original lineup. Rei’s musical ambitions started from a very young age, being a junior idol from age 8 and formed BRATS when she was just 11. Rei’s brief time and troubles with Ladybaby were exacerbated by throat problems, but BRATS has always felt like the most natural home for the talented teenager.
BRATS first turned up on the radar in 2015 with the percussive pop of ’14-sai byou’. The song is a reference to chuunibyou – a condition that apparently affects 2nd year middle-school students who find themselves stuck between childhood and adulthood trying to figure out who they are. As a theme, it seemed to perfectly reflect Rei’s story at the time – particularly as she was bouncing between Ladybaby and BRATS.
A series of single releases followed at sporadic moments after this with an increasingly heavier sound and approach for the rock trio. BRATS, their eponymous debut album collates these desperate tracks and offers up a milestone of sorts for the band. Having all the songs in one place allows for listeners to assess the band under a much more focussed gaze.
Surprisingly, the collective talents of BRATS hasn’t just been acknowledged by a niche fanbase. They contributed a song to the soundtrack of the film Slaveman, directed by Noboru Iguchi (Machine Girl). The song in question, ‘Nounai Shoukyo Game’ (‘Brain Erase Game’), displays a charged energy with plenty of attitude.
Their eponymous debut album gathers together much of these single releases alongside some fresh songs to present an album that can certainly hold its own against their rock contemporaries. ‘Pain’, which opens the album, ploughs a raw rock path with snarling guitar riffs and is one of the few BRATS numbers that chucks in some English lyrics (“nobody knows my pain”).
‘Kaihou Seyo’ covers similar territory albeit with a faster tempo and some fine harmonic vocal flourishes.
‘Doudatte yokatta’ sees BRATS adopting a much heavier approach than previous releases, a concept given form with the imposing concrete walls featured in the video. Here, Rei’s vocal is given a more prominent position in the mix. The end result is a raucous assault on the senses and a demonstration that BRATS have some serious chops when it comes to heavy rock.
Meanwnhile, Unfair’ keeps the guitar-fuelled direction going, but here the anger is toned down a bit. In fact, the track could almost be said to have a breezy sensibility to it. There’s a more percussive quality to ‘Lost Place’ while ‘Big Bad World’ offers up a fractured tour de force.
The heavier ‘Kimarigoto’ is actually a studio recording of a live song (which had also featured on the limited edition release of Ainikoiyo/Nounai Shoukyo Game in 2017). ‘Kimarigoto’, not surprisingly, deals with the idea of moving forward as Rei explained at the time: “The lyrics are important to all of us right now at this current stage. If we’re not careful, we might all end up living through the same moment again and again in life, so we hope this song gives you power to be yourself and move forward”. Meanwhile, Hinako added: “It’s a heavy rock song, but we wanted to add powerful performances and cinematography to it so everyone could feel the song’s power the same way we feel it.”
One of the albums definite highlights though has to be the solid tunes of ‘Nounai Shoukyo Game’. The repeating guitar motif lends this composition a nice melodic hook, but without disassembling the song of its heavy rock foundations.
Closing the album, ‘Ainikoiyo’ originally featured as the theme song to the Japanese-Chinese comedy anime To Be Hero. The song throws a nod to pop in its harmonic vocal elements while the charged guitars give the whole affair a vivid intensity.
BRATS may not get the profile that many of the other contemporary rock outfits are currently enjoying, but as an album BRATS demonstrates both a confidence and a collection of talents that’s guaranteed to take this trio places.
BRATS is out now on the Fabtone label.