Shoegaze and J-Pop don’t initially seem like the most obvious of bedfellows but it turns out that loud, churning guitars and the super-saccharine sound of Japanese idol groups can be like chocolate and peanut butter. At least that’s the case for the premier – and maybe only – J-pop idol/shoegaze crossover act I know of, the five-piece girl group who go by RAY.
As always, extracting accurate information is difficult for non-Japanese, but they were brought to my attention in the wake of For Tracy Hyde‘s disbanding earlier this year when they were listed amongst the projects that FTH leader Natsubot would continue working on. He wrote at least some of their 2020 debut Pink – possibly all? – and you can certainly hear sonic similarities between this album and his work with For Tracy Hyde.
They recorded an English-language version of the album’s opening track “Fading Lights” and even gave it this charming low/no-budget video:
Shoegaze idol RAY’s “Fading Lights (English ver.)” is written, composed, arranged, and played by Natsubot on guitar, with Mav on bass. Draft participates on drums!RAY「Fading Lights (English ver.)」に参加！@ ForTracyHyde.com
It is a shoegaze number with a sense of speed.”
For comparison, here’s the Japanese-language album version:
And a “live” version that has the idol angle front and centre and is just fascinating to watch. Even with the power of Google Translate, I can’t figure out what the context of the setting of the show is/was, so I’ll just let it be what it is.
RAY have three albums – Pink was followed by Green in 2021, and they just released a third record – Camellia – last month. While Pink is most committed to the concept of idol-gaze with walls of guitars buttressing almost every track – on subsequent albums they widen their scope to include more synth and pure pop – all of them offer plenty for those who come for the noise and stay for the hooks. A gimmick, sure, but one I’m on board with.