I have been a fan of Japanese Math Rock heroes, Toe, ever since I came across them in 2014 when they headlined a concert for the second time in Manila. I was unable to watch that show but I researched on them and learned that they are Japan’s biggest and most popular rock export.
Their style totally appealed to me so I consumed all their releases, beginning with the EP “Songs, Ideas, We Forgot,” downloaded from Torrent (still remember those?) by a buddy of mine. I was blown away by Toe’s approach to instrumental music. It was almost angular; went one way first, then another the next. It was melodic, sophisticated. Futuristic. On that EP, I recommend for the uninitiated to dive right into the tracks “Leave Word,” “1,2,3,4” and “I Dance Alone.”
After that EP, there was no turning back. I bought (as in paid money) the rest of their albums. I asked a friend who frequented Tokyo to get me every Toe record that he can get his hands on (at the time). These were the EP “The Future Is Now,” the full-length sets “For Long Tomorrow” (2009) and “The Book About My Idle Plot On A Vague Anxiety” (2005, with standout tracks “Hangyaku Suru Fuukei,” “Tremolo+Delay,” “All I Understand Is That I Don’t Understand,”). Oh, and the “Toe RGB DVD” live set!
I was hooked at that point. By the time 2015 rolled in with Toe’s “Hear You” album, I was confident enough to write about it in Audio Junkie. To be honest, there was this nagging thought when I buckled down to work writing that piece: How to ‘review’ music or a track that’s mostly instrumental? And if there were lyrics, these are in language I don’t understand.
But I did write about it—the same way I’m writing about their new EP “Our Latest Number” released this year.
Forgive the fan, but here it goes:
The EP opens with “Dual Harmonics,” where the guitars of Mino Takaaki and Yamazi Hirokazu are in full display right away. The tune is built on a motif of guitar harmonics–those chime-like sounds naturally occurring at the fifth, seventh and twelfth frets, among other odd places up and down the neck of a guitar—and the lush chord work it weaves with; and the somewhat off-kilter rhythmic structure underneath it that pushes it even forward (that is why they call it math rock, people).
There are just so many things happening all at the same time that players in the band have to know their place or else it all falls apart. Counting is a prerequisite.
Title track “Latest Number” is a straightforward mid-tempo song. Kashikura Takashi is an excellent drummer and he is the driving force behind Toe. But here, he lays down a simple groove and lets the song breathe and play the steady bed to which bassist Yamane Satoshi can let his four strings sing and get loose with. You could say those two make quite the mesh. Slow, moody piano ballad “F_A_R” is another track here that has, oh, vocals.
In “Etude Of Solitude” the contrapuntal designs of Toe’s music is brought to the fore. Everything that we love about Toe is here. The clean-toned guitar interplay and melodic riffing, the steady pulse of a fat, rounded-sounding bass that spreads underneath and the virtuoso drumming are but some of the components that get us going when listening to Toe.
Wish I knew how to speak Japanese or maybe read Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana (written) so I could understand what went on in between the interplay. But in the end, I just went by how the music made me feel.
And it was enough.