AOTY 2023
羊文学 [Hitsujibungaku] - our hope
Feb 1, 2023
There are quite a few things that separate Hitsujibungaku from many of their dream pop peers, but the biggest one is patience. Where much of the genre prides itself on immediately sweeping you up with goopy synth pads and guitars slathered in any and every effect pedal the band could get their hands on, Hitsujibungaku opts for a kind of slowness and contemplation more in line with sensitive indie rock or even dramatic post-rock at times, willing to evoke only the outlines of an atmosphere and what might lie inside it. That fogginess is what drives their latest release, our hope to such immense success, heading down a more introspective and slow-paced road after 2020’s driving and intense POWERS, searching for a sense of clarity through the blur of lurching, distorted guitars and the occasional intoxicating pop song everything Hitsujibungaku needs to make our hope their most heartfelt and well-rounded album to date despite the challenges making a dream pop album so vulnerable and unvarnished presents for them. our hope is Hitsujibungaku taking shoegaze and dream pop fundamentals and pointing them inwards, hints of dissonance and tension taking the band to new heights and revealing new skills for them as a trio.

The tempos are slower and the compositions less dense, but our hope still has lots going on inside its patient dream pop tunes. hopi find itself in a tender 6/8 waltz driven by a hypnotic guitar lead and Moeka Shiotsuka’s reserved vocals, blooming in the chorus before slowly sliding back into the soft, intimate cove of the verses, but even bulkier highlights like パーティーはすぐそこ and ワンダー have a ring of fog surrounding them, clean but slightly overdriven guitars covering Shiotsuka’s reminisces on old memories and past loves in a perfectly fitting haze. Where POWERS’ euphoria occasionally took on a noise pop sensibility with fuzzier guitars and more explosive crescendos to contrast Shiotsuka’s restrained performances, our hope opts for a more homogeneous atmosphere, the driving chorus of 光るとき revealing itself behind each steady verse while unhurried highlights like 金色 and 予感 revel in their midtempo grooves and liquid guitars, our hope navigating less concrete roads than Hitsujibungaku’s previous projects but hitting all the same dopamine reserves. It can take time to acclimate to the mellow, often understated nature of these songs (in one case, くだらない, it even causes the band’s light to dim a considerable amount), our hope’s transition to softspoken indie rock never takes away the instrumental strength Histujibungaku’s music flourishes from.

our hope also brings along with it a darkness Hitsujibungaku’s music usually only speaks of, injecting into the sound of their music and embracing bits of harmonic tension and textural coldness to match the album’s themes of faded love and the bleakness of the present without that romance. 金色’s gangly guitar leads sit loosely under a perfectly drowsy vocal performance and a sharp chromatic descend in the post-chorus, and even the sweeter back-end highlight OOPARTS pairs its muted synthpop verses with bursts of noisy guitar and a key change in the song’s second half, Hitsujibungaku holding onto their signature beauty but reconfiguring the ways they go about bringing it to life. In turn, the album is a bit of a slow ride overall - especially considering its near hour runtime - but our hope clearly isn’t aiming for an all-thrills experience, and the unhurried nature of the album brings out some of the warmest and most definitive tracks the band has put out yet. It’s different, but it’s always a joy.

More restrained but just as impactful than anything they’ve done so far, our hope paints a delicate, gauzy picture of Hitsujibungaku exploring the sensitive outer edges of their sharp but colorful indie rock through the extra space afforded by slowing down and letting the music breathe at its own pace. The reward of listening to our hope is getting a deeper look into the trio as instrumentalists, how Yurika Kasai’s bass drifts in and out of sync with Shiotsuka’s guitar work and how vital a dynamic drummer like Hiroa Fudaka is to the band’s sound, the three of them as adept at bubblegum noise pop as they are gentle moments of lyrical intimacy and musical warmth. It’s not their most exciting album, but by the end of its divine hour, our hope ends up the most heartwarming and grounded release of theirs yet and further proof of their excellence within modern indie.

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