Robin’s Egg Blue – the duo of frontwoman/keyboardist/uke player Atsumi Ishibashi and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Masahi Ishuira- call themselves “baroque Japanese pop.” They could also get away with calling themselves psychedelic, trip-hop or even new wave. They’ve got a smart, catchy, eclectic new album, Circlefield, streaming at Bandcamp. They’re also playing Feb 8 at 8 PM at Bowery Electric as part of a killer pan-Asian lineup doing a memorial/benefit concert for the survivors of 3/11, starting at 4:30 with Japanese folk-pop band the Poku Poku Boys and also including the riff-rocking Underground Channel, exhilarating erhu fiddle-driven Taiwanese art-metal instrumentalists the Hsu-Nami, artsy all-female janglerockers Bala and then danceable ska-pop with the Brown Rice Family and Uzuhi, playing their final show ever. Cover is an insanely cheap $10.
The album opens with an energetically atmospheric mood piece. The first of the fullscale songs, They Do I Do, has a rising, anthemic quality, moody keys contrasting with nimble acoustic and electric guitar textures, Ishibashi singing with a brooding focus and intensity. The trippy trip-hop nocturne Edge of the Woods builds a cinematic tableau, dark piano anchoring psychedelic layers of keys, Ishibashi once again building to angst-fueled peaks. Android Witness – how’s that for a thought-provoking title? – opens with an art-rock grandeur fueled by what sounds like an old Juno synth and gives Ishibashi a long launching pad for her soaring vocals.
Tarrytown has a wistful, spiky folk-pop feel, the ukulele mingling with layers of guitar – Ishuira’s terse slide guitar and banjo are unselfconsciously gorgeous. Estes – presumably not about the former Mets pitcher – keeps the sprightly folk-pop vibe going. And what is it with all these J-pop bands and their food obsessions? In this case, it’s a bagel…and coffee at 6 AM, yikes! The duo follow that with a brief, woozy take on Pat Metheny pastoral cinematics.
The album’s best track, Heaven, teases the hell out of you: just when you’re wishing the two would hit an explosive, titanic art-rock peak, Ishuira stomps on his distortion pedal and does exactly that. The escape anthem Deer emerges from a long atmospheric intro and then picks up steam; the album closes with the toweringly beautiful, crescendoing, bitterweeet anthem Fields.
At this point, nous sommes tous Charlie but we’re also all Japanese since the Fukushima reactor keeps leaking into the Pacific and we’re all going to die if we don’t stop it. In the meantime, we should all be enjoying Japanese music, not only because so much of it is good, but also because too many of the people who make it are going to die young. Thank you, American technology.