Japanese indie rock act Tricot released their fourth full-length album, Makkuro (translation: “pitch black”), at the end of January. (Buy it from YesAsia.com.) It comes in a plain black sleeve, eschewing the somewhat cutesy look of their previous albums, 2013’s T H E, 2015’s A N D, and 2017’s 3. They’ve also graduated from their own label, Bakuretsu, signing with Cutting Edge, a division of the Japanese major Avex Trax, and adopted a severe new look, as seen in the photo above.
Since their formation in 2010, the core of Tricot has been three women: singer/guitarist Ikumi Nakajima, guitarist Motoko Kida, and bassist Hiromi Sagane, plus a series of drummers. The intricate interweaving of Nakajima’s and Kida’s guitars, and the power and drive of Sagane’s bass, give their music the impact of art-punk, verging on brutal prog at times, and their various drummers (Kazutaka Komaki from 2011-2014, Miyoko Yamaguchi in 2015 and 2016, and Yusuke Yoshida since 2016) have supported that complexity and energy, but they’re never the drivers. Listen to “Omotenashi,” from 2013’s T H E, and you can hear how Komaki’s playing, while high-impact and aggressive, is mostly keeping the primary trio anchored, so they don’t fly away entirely.
The same thing can be heard throughout 2015’s A N D, an album on which six different drummers played. On the opening track, “Noradrenaline,” Toshiki Hata is absolutely hammering the kit, and even sets the beat, but the minute the guitars and bass come in, they’re in control of where the music goes and why. Nakajima and Kida are hurling the song back and forth between them, charging forward with only periodic breaks to let a crunching, distorted riff hang in the air or chant breathy, wordless background vocals.
Their last album, 2017’s 3, was a little softer and more melodic than their first two, with some lo-fi production on tracks like the minute-long “Pork Side,” and a generally more mellowed-out feel to the songwriting. There were a few moments of aggression, but a song like the bouncing, bass-driven “DeDeDe” reflected the general spirit of the album.
Makkuro is different. It starts with the 90-second “Mazeruna Kiken,” anchored by a thundering Sagane bass riff that’s quickly joined by hammering drums and snarling guitars as jagged as anything they’ve ever recorded. But the contrast between the music, which is almost as harsh as Dir En Grey‘s, and Nakajima’s tender vocals (and the other two’s crooning backups), is stark and fascinating. Nakajima is a terrific singer, capable of conveying a broad emotional range even to the non-Japanese-speaking listener. On the second track, “Unou Sanou,” she shifts rapidly between a wailing delivery and a soft, upper-register croon, as her bandmates almost whisper-sing behind her. On “Naka,” she adopts a talk-singing, almost hip-hop cadence, and on “Mitete,” she rises to a banshee (like, echoes of Siouxsie) wail. That same song ends with a loud buzz of amp noise, which indicates as much as anything the carefully sharpened edges present on this album.
Though their music is extremely metallic in tone — the guitars sound like blades cutting through sheet metal, and Yoshida’s snare drum rings out sharply — it’s not metal in a compositional or stylistic sense. It has a lot more in common with alternative rock of the late ’80s to mid ’90s, particularly the way it juxtaposes subdued, arty verses with soaring, almost exultant choruses. Nakajima, Kita and Sagane seem to be singing to each other more than to the listener, even when the leader is in full cry, and ballads like “Abunakunakunai Machi E” feel like a waking dream. Four albums (and multiple EPs) into their career, Tricot have torn free of their indie-nerd cocoons and blossomed as powerful artists capable of widescreen anthems, without losing their edge.