Foreign interpretations of musical genres sometimes tend to be simultaneously faithful and challenging to their original source.
Despite being highly Westernized, Japan has always seemed to maintain a sense of musical individualism and nationalism distinct from other countries in the East.
Nationalism is not to be defined in a propagandist or political sense, but Japanese music often seems to be created from associating oneself with the identity of being Japanese.
In particular, the Japanese independent music scene seems to have a strong fascination with shoegaze and from that, a unique sound has emerged.
Shoegaze is a term that developed from the United Kingdom alternative rock scene in the late 1980s, where band members stood relatively still during performances and often seemed to be gazing at their own shoes.
Even niche music markets, such as vocaloid and anime theme songs, have had relevant shoegaze leanings towards them.
There are many shoegaze groups who create the more traditional sound of U.K. shoegaze.
Groups like Coaltar of the Deepers have used elements of grindcore, electronic dance music (EDM) and countless other genres to evolve shoegaze past its previous set standards.
The musical format has shifted towards an electronic sound.
It seems obvious that the next step in shoegaze would only be to follow the electronic sound as well and with that comes N-qia.
The latest album by N-qia, Audio Illustrations, is a prime example of Japanese artists labeling themselves as shoegaze artists despite solely creating electronic music.
Very little to no use of the blaring electric guitars and layers of effects that have defined previous shoegaze artists can be heard.
However, the aesthetic and feelings of shoegaze are there: the droned out harmonies, the shiny pop melodies and the beautifully orchestrated ambient soundscapes.
This truly defines the 21st century shoegaze musician.
The title itself, Audio Illustrations, is perfectly fit for the music, if not all too obvious to describe the sort of feeling it’s intended to create.
Singer Nozomi manages to make sleepy, light melodies on top of producer Takma’s jittery and technical compositions.
Nozomi’s voice is perhaps one of the main reasons why N-qia can easily fall into the category of shoegaze.
She sings like an innocent child astounded by the surrounding life around her, playful towards everything and everyone.
Every expression by her is airy and full of life despite how timidly she breathes her words.
The opening song, “Two Dreamers,” defines the album as a whole and plays like a celebration of life.
It breathes love and heartbreak, birth and death.
It is completely heartrending and nostalgic, but possesses a sort of odd happiness to it that cannot be denied, like a firm grasp of safety warmly caressing your fears.
N-qia has an abstract subtlety and symphonic intensity that can be compared to other Japanese groups such as World’s End Girlfriend.
N-qia resonates with an eerie beauty and unique display of maturity despite their new beginnings.
Audio Illustrations feels deeply personal, almost to the point where it feels like it can be interpreted in any way.
It can also be listened to in any setting, extending their arms around the world and lulling it into the deepest and happiest of sleep.
At the turn of a digital age that is uncompromisingly frightening and evocatively beautiful.
N-qia has released one of the best net releases in recent time.