Friday, December 22, 2017
Polkadot Stingray -- Telecaster Stripe (テレキャスター･ストライプ)
Big thanks to J-Canuck for being inclusive - this is at the "+" end of KK+ but I found the video as a result of his "Frederic-oddloop" post. On the YT sidebar was a song called "Telecaster Stripe", and as I actually know what that is* I was intrigued. The video is from a group called Polkadot Stingray (ポルカドットスティングレイ) - named after the freshwater stingray Potamotrygon leopoldi - and since posting in March 2016 has over 8 million views. Polka is an indie group; originally with no major label backing. This video was all them - they only recently signed to Universal Sigma (with the support, resources, marketing, etc. that implies).
I'd put them on the punk-lite / power pop / melodic rock spectrum. They're often compared to Yabi T-shirt (harder, rougher rock and also recently signed to Universal Sigma) and Yabi has contributed vocals on one song of the most recent Polka CD. I hear a lot of similarities with Emu sicks (they all appear on the 2016 freebie CD "16 Beat Seal Comp 2", designed to showcase various indie bands). Indie in this case means less "stick it to the man" and more the old-school punk ethos of "Do It Yourself". They've made deft use of social media - LINE, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YT, Spotify, etc. - to break out.
So far Polka has released: 2 mini albums, one single, one EP, and their first album CD+DVD that came out last month. I was in Tokyo but missed picking it up by a day; the free T-shirt wouldn’t have fit me anyway.
With only an early slight change the same 4 members have been together since 2015. The front is Shizuku (雫) : vocals, guitar, song-writing, design, artwork, video director ( an application game director in her day job). Lead Guitar: Ezima Harushi (エジマハルシ). Bass: Uemura Yuki (ウエムラユウキ). Drums: Mitsuyasukazuma (ミツヤスカズマ).
What sets them apart are the vocals of Shizuku. From grade school she was heavily influenced by Ringo Shiina ("Camouflage" especially) and also plays a surf green Duesenberg Starplayer TV. At some time she went to school in the UK and is comfortable singing in English. Shizuku can sound quirky like Kahimi Karie or Etsuko Yakushimaru but has a stronger voice, does more with it, and sounds distinctive without the vocals becoming an affectation. However, she sings "straight" often enough so it doesn't go off the rails completely - she will always come back to a baseline normal.
This sums up Polka for me. Each member departs from the group far enough to be interesting but always returns to the fundamental purpose of their instrument, respecting the song and keeping the performance from being a pastiche of piece-parts. Doing so requires a lot of discipline - Ezima's guitar is utterly distinctive but he's not a guitar hero. Chunks of Telecaster Stripe are bass/drum minimalism to calm everything down. A well-done arrangement and production balance between 4 instruments and voice: let's hope they don't become "Shizuku ! … with Polkadot Stingray" anytime soon.
A real discovery for me is Uemura Yuki. His Bass slaps, pops, plucks, growls, and plays melody but never loses the essential "bottom". A similar concept to how Shizuku uses her voice. Plus: any video with nyan nyans in it is good by me (@2:09 has become a meme).
Polka is also familiar on the CM front, having done commercials for Playstation, Google Photos, and Mizuho's 2020 Olympic "Jump! PROJECT" (aided by 400 dancing employees).
Finding most KK music 30+ years too late it's fun to follow some in real time ;)
*(https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-talk/what-is-a-skunk-stripe/), @ 2:39.