Few genres under the rock umbrella are quite as divisive as math rock. For many rock fans, the convoluted, capricious and generally unconventional rhythmic structures, the obscure time signatures, the angular and occasionally atonal melodies, and the emphasis on counterpoint harmonies can lose any emotion in its technicality, whilst for others, this is exactly the appeal of the style. In the case of the all-female Japanese trio tricot, the group has consistently translated a fun-loving attitude and cordial charisma, despite their adherence to the intricacies of math rock, due to their incorporation of the sugar-coated vocal melodies of J-pop atop the angularity of their freakish songwriting style. The Kyoto-based band firmly established this approach on their previous two releases, T H E and A N D, and their appropriately-titled third studio album, 3, follows suit. As impressive as tricot’s output has been prior to the unveiling of 3, the definitive musical identity established on their first two records could have benefited from a heightened degree of compositional and stylistic variation. Such an issue of one-dimensionality can be forgiven when the results yielded are as good as they were on T H E and A N D, but this nevertheless held the trio back from completely setting themselves apart from their contemporaries. tricot come closer than ever before on their newest album to injecting a healthy dose of diversity into the tracklisting, although certain songs are rather familiar in the extent to which they conform to the group’s pre-established formula. However, 3 excels when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of tricot’s technical prowess and exuberant performances, with the album even conveying a slight punk edge to the band’s attitude at some points, whilst not deviating from the bubblegum pop sensibilities of frontwoman Ikkyu Nakajima’s playful vocal melodies. Overall, 3 sees all the best aspects of tricot’s music turned up to 11, making for the trio’s most thrilling release thus far in their career.
The high-octane album opener, Tokyo Vampire Hotel, stands as one of the most dynamic songs tricot have yet to release, displaying more variation in its two-and-a-half-minute runtime than some math rock bands manage to translate over the course of an entire record. The energetic drum work that opens the track is surprisingly straightforward in how evocative of punk it is, but as soon as the crunchy, discordant guitar duelling from Nakajima and Motifour Kida kicks in, the rhythm section assumes the usual, whacked-out and fluctuating time signatures typical of math rock. All over the cut, Nakajima brandishes her vocal talent more so than ever before, displaying impressive dynamic diversity, as the singer abruptly reaches into her upper range just to plummet back down again, that requires a degree of discipline and control that is surely difficult to execute accurately. It also should be said that, in spite of the dexterity on display, Nakajima’s vocal deliveries are far from technical to the point of lacking any emotion, rather the dynamism makes for an almost dramatic performance from the singer, which is fortified by Kida’s intermittent, dreamy backing vocals. The ever-changing passages that are peppered throughout Tokyo Vampire Hotel make for quite the rollercoaster ride of a listen, despite its relatively brief runtime. The opening verse provides all the mind-boggling, counterpoint prowess one could wish for, followed by an emotive, belting pre-chorus that seamlessly transitions into the forceful and spirited chorus, which is driven by Nakajima’s infectious vocal melody. The icing on the cake comes in the form of the staggering drum freak-out that succeeds the chorus, with the band then breaking out into an almost reggae-tinged, half-time section that hits hard when the listener is least expecting it.
Although only a handful of songs across 3 meet the dynamic and diverse peaks of Tokyo Vampire Hotel, there is an ample amount of variation dotted throughout the tracklisting that makes the album tricot’s most engaging to date. The highly punctuated Wabi-Sabi transitions through many subtle sections that build up to a highly rewarding chorus of soaring vocals that marks one of Nakajima’s most impassioned vocal performances on the album, and perhaps throughout the group’s entire discography. The syncopated, clicky guitars and funky drumming of Yosoiki sustains a genuine disco hue throughout the entire song, with even Nakajima’s soulful vocals being far more elementary than across the rest of the record, as if deliberately tailored for the ease with which the refrain can be quickly learned and sung along to. DeDede accentuates tricot’s slight influence from jazz more so than ever before, with the independence of each of the instruments during the introduction being incredibly suggestive of certain styles of particularly technical jazz, which is only reinforced by the archetypal jazz chords used in the guitar parts. Nakajima’s obscure vocal melodies, too, and the way in which the frontwoman delivers them, translate a definite influence from vocal jazz, with the band appropriating the technical aspects of the genre into math rock’s similarly progressive and avant-garde stylings. Similarly, the cues tricot have often taken from J-pop are especially apparent on Namu, with some incredibly saccharine vocal melodies that are delivered with the cutesy vocal style associated with countless female J-pop singers. The great success of tricot’s inclusion of stylistic principles from numerous genres is how they cherry-pick the most applicable tropes of these styles based on how cogently they can be incorporated into the trio’s off-the-wall, mathematical songwriting, with the sugary singing on Namu being arranged within the technical format of this compositional approach, whilst nevertheless managing to retain the infectious catchiness. This being said, for all the stylistic risks taken by tricot on 3, there is the odd example that lacks the focus to be actualised as effectively as it could have been. The ballad-like approach employed on Sukima is surely the most wanting of all of the tone shifts pursued by the band throughout the tracklisting. Substituting the contagious energy of many of the trio’s most successful songs for a more laid-back attitude is most definitely audacious, but it certainly could have been executed with a lot more character. Across the track’s five-minute runtime, the band doesn’t quite seem to be sure exactly where to take the composition, with the end product coming across more as a loose jam based around a relatively rudimentary chord structure than a fully fleshed-out song. It must also be said that Nakajima’s more refined vocal inflection doesn’t quite suit her style, with the singer’s most compelling performances consistently being her most energetic. Outside of this, however, tricot’s heightened willingness to take numerous stylistic detours across 3 makes for a particularly varied release that has laid the groundwork for the band carving out a categorically unique place for themselves amongst other math rock outfits.
3 is ultimately successful in the fields wherein tricot’s previous two releases were somewhat lacking, in that it includes both a satisfying amount of stylistic diversity, whilst also accommodating the trio’s calculated songwriting style to these changes of pace, all of which takes place whilst retaining the endearing energy that provided the salient point of appeal across the band’s output up until this point. In fact, even the energy across 3 sees an improvement from T H E and A N D, with each member’s individual performances being yet more playful and animated, including those of the session drummer(s). Whilst the album’s rough spots exhibit significant room for improvement in terms of the group’s execution of some of the eclectic styles pursued throughout the tracklisting, the flooring compositional and technical prowess of the record’s best songs only point to better things for the trio in the future. Indeed, if tricot can procure this much artistic growth in less then half a decade, the girls will likely amount to one of those bands who continuously find refreshing and innovative ways to floor the listener upon each new release.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10