Over the past decade, Tokyo-based label Flau has shown that sometimes silence beats flashiness. While other Japanese artists and entertainers try to court an audience outside of the country by playing up wacky imagery or doubling down on color, the label curated by Yasuhiko Fukuzono captures attention by highlighting space. And many of their artists have attracted listeners from all over the world with their unique brand of quiet.
Flau’s ten-year anniversary, though, has been an up-and-down affair. They continue to release well-received albums from artists hailing from all over, such as Nemui PJ’s cozy-pop collection Pumpkin and the upbeat Parisian bounce of Kumisolo’s Kabuki Femme Fatale. Recently though, reports indicate that their main studio was broken into by another electronic artist named Ametsub, who allegedly went on to steal various items including hard drives and computers. Police are currently investigating the situation, according to a statement by Flau.
Yet at the same time, the label is celebrating a decade of existence at Daikanyama’s Tsutaya Books that runs until October 8. The special event, titled Flau 10 Retrospective 2007–2017, features artwork and music from the label’s history on display, along with CDs and records for sale. It’s a great way for those familiar with or new to Flau to experience the label’s aesthetic.
Here are our picks for five essential Flau releases from Japanese artists over the last decade, each highlighting the label’s unique charm.
Aus After All (2009)
The solo project of curator Fukuzono serves as a good jumping-off point into the Flau sound. When it came out in 2009, the label’s softer approach was still being laid out. After All locks it in. Opening with a number featuring Sylvain Chauveau speak-singing over guitar strums and keyboard, the album finds Fukuzono creating skittery electronic compositions with guest vocalists who try to tie it all together. It was not far from the spacey sounds emerging from Los Angeles’ beat scene around this time (Flying Lotus, The Gaslamp Killer), but Fukuzono graced his creations with an elegance via strings and vocals that feels like a preview of Flau’s catalog to come.
Cokiyu Your Thorn (2011)
Electronic producer Cokiyu dives deep into nature on Your Thorn, one of the flat-out prettiest releases Flau has put forward to date. She weaves in sounds of birds chirping and wind gusting (or at least musical interpretations of such) to give her dreamy bedroom pop a real-world feel. Think of it like Haruki Murakami’s fantastical take on the everyday; Cokiyu creates whimsical little pop tunes from ordinary sounds (“With My Umbrella”) and intense noise experiments (“Gloomy”). It features some of her most dramatic numbers ever recorded and highlights how her soft, drifting vocals work so well over all kinds of sonic backdrops.
Neon Cloud Knit (2011)
Flau’s biggest artist is Cuushe, whose dream-pop skirts the line between shoegaze and something far more ethereal. No artist on the label better highlights how to make the most from silence as Cuushe on her solo releases, like the off-kilter Red Rocket Telepathy and woozy Butterfly Case. Yet it’s her mysterious collaboration with beatmaker Gesika, under the name Neon Cloud, that stands out strongest in her career and as Flau’s most unsettling entity. Whereas Cuushe’s own works ultimately feel sun-lit, Neon Cloud’s debut EP Knit comes off as unnerving and shadowy. It’s loaded up with pitch-shifted vocals crashing into one another and disjointed beats, generating a sense of unease like approaching dark clouds. Released at the end of 2011, the album felt like an appropriately downer closing to a year full of dread. Years later, it’s three original cuts still make hairs raise.
Noah Sivutie (2015)
At their best, Flau artists draw you into their own worlds, often fragile places full of synth notes and near-whispered singing. Noah’s 2015 full-length Sivutie does this better than any other single release on the label. The album covers a lot of ground, moving from submerged ennui (“Unspoken”) to minimalist singing solos (“Times”) to noise (“Tadzio”). Yet everything flows just right, highlighted by Noah’s singing style, which moves quickly from a smooth whisper to something more forceful (which turns centerpiece “Flaw” cinematic). Regardless of the direction she goes, Sivutie is Noah’s world and a great one to sink into.
Crystal Crystal Station 64 (2015)
OK, so everything above is very muted and absorbing, which really does capture the bulk of Flau’s spirit. But they know how to be goofballs, too. The first full-length album from Crystal channels the techno-pop stylings of Yellow Magic Orchestra in all their retro glory, delivered with reverence, sure, but also knowing full well that the pioneering trio were often grinning through all those synth lines. It’s a catchy set of songs loaded up with some of the most interesting electronic details you’ll hear, laid down in something evoking another era, and it came complete with silly videos to match. Here’s Flau at their most fanciful.