Daihei Yamanaka: vocals, guitar
Shuhei Dohi: guitar
Tomo Kamata: guitar
Shota Enomoto: bass
Koichi Watanabe: drums
review by Chris Mullen
No one who has ever been involved with the punk scene could, in their right mind, deny that different regions tend to have different sounding bands. This isn’t to say that a band from California can’t sound like Sick of it All or Earth Crisis, both of whom hail from New York, but personally, when I think of the “Cali Sound,” I think of bands like Pennywise, Bad Religion, Strung Out, NOFX, you get the idea. I mention these bands because I, like so many other California musicians, have been influenced by these bands in many ways for the last fifteen or twenty years.
Enter Cleave. From the first track, Skeletons in the Closet, it becomes apparent that they are also heavily influenced by (you guessed it!) bands like Pennywise, Bad Religion, Strung Out, NOFX. No surprise, right? What else would you expect from 5 guys from…Tokyo?! That’s right! These guys formed in Tokyo back in ’99. It’s ironic, you always hear about bands from the States touring in Japan. In fact, Strung Out just recently wrapped up an Australia/Japan tour. Now, who can count on more than one hand the Japanese punk bands that have toured the States? Even though Cleave haven’t been stateside since ’04, they’ve played in their home country with the likes of H20, Ignite, and Comeback Kid to name a few.
I first heard of these guys a few years back shortly after some friends of mine had returned home from a Japan tour, and Cleave had been one of the bands they shared the stage with. Though I heard good things about both their music and the members themselves, I never actually heard any of their songs, and before long I forgot about them completely. Then one day, I got an email with the words, “Japanese punk band EP review,” in the subject line. Sweet!
After listening to Cleave’s latest release, The Circle EP, on Creator-Destructor Records, I can’t help but feel the slightest bit amazed at just how far reaching our crazy little scene really is. I like the fact that Cleave sounds like many of the bands they grew up listening to. That is also my one and only complaint. They sound A LOT like the bands they grew up listening to. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a lack of originality. After all, they do have three guitarists. You certainly don’t see that every day. I just wish it was MORE original. The only other thing that takes a little getting-used-to is the fact that vocalist Daihei Yamanaka sings with a distinct accent. With that, let’s roll with the track list, shall we?
Skeletons in the Closet: Undoubtedly my favorite song on the EP. This one reminds me of a cross between A Wilhelm Scream and Much the Same. The fact that the band has three guitarists allows for some pretty cool riffs in the bridge. The screaming part in the bridge juxtaposed with the clean vocals and the melodic music make it my favorite part of the song.
Passed Away: One of the more SoCal sounding songs, even though the Japanese accent in the vocals is quite apparent. The driving bass sound is one of my favorite parts of the song, especially when coupled with the guitar riffs in the verse. A really good song overall!
In Our Time: Ok, you’ve heard me mention the fact that vocalist Daihei Yamanaka has a noticable Japanese accent when he sings. Well, in the intro his accent is VERY prevalent. Prevalent to the point that it leads to his singing off key. This song is one of the slower ones, definitely not one of the better ones. Not that a punk song has to be fast to be good, but this one is slow, poppy, and in my humble opinion, boring. Next!
The Balance: This music in this track almost reminds me of early Thrice. A little slower and poppier, but in the same vein. The breakdown in the chorus conjures images of a thousand 17 – 18-year-old kids at Warped Tour bouncing up and down to the rhythm.
Nothingness of Substance: Here’s another one where the accent is VERY prevalent in the intro. Definitely one of the slower songs on the EP, but the slower tempo does allow for some cool breakdowns and guitar riffs.
The Circle: Aaaahhh, the title track. What would an EP be without a cool title track? This would be one of my favorite songs on the EP. Once again, I’m reminded of early Thrice. Only this time, there’s a hint of Ignite in the mix. The outro is a soundbite from the uber depressing, but REALLY good film, The Road. In my opinion, it was a pretty cool way to add some length to a pretty short song.
Refuse to Fall: This song is my second favorite song on the EP, next to Skeletons in the Closet. This track has lots of rad guitar riffs, but more importantly, it has something that most of the rest of the EP lacks: the band taking advantage of the fact that they have three guitarists. The gang vocals remind me of a more East Coast sound, which is rare on the EP which overall sounds very West Coast. My only complaint about this song is the ABRUPT ending. One second you’re rocking out in the car, getting weird looks from passersby, then you blink and the song is over. Oh well. The rest. Of the song makes up for it.
Well folks, there you have it. Overall, I give it one thumb up. Is it a bad EP? Not at all. Could it be better? Definitely. And I think it would be if they did a few things differently. For one thing, I think they should utilize the three guitars a lot more than they do. I doubt that the band deliberately tried to sound like their Punk Rock muses, but in a lot of ways, that’s how it turned out. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’d just prefer a little more originality. When all is said and done, The Circle EP is, at the very least, worth a listen.