As the SoundCloud tags for expat band Stolen.’s track “Out of Sight” make clear, the song is about “love, relationships, pain, hurt, redemption.” It’s a punch-to-the-gut look at the need for connection—and what to do when your salaryman mate is never home—spiked with lines like “cloudy bottles of loneliness don’t do a fuckin’ thing / but I’ll be alright.”
A dark but redemptive outing stitched together by Canadian Mike de Jong’s keening Les Paul guitar and fellow Canuck Mel Ushikubo’s emotive vocals, the adult approach of “Out of Sight” is emblematic of the songwriting on Stolen.’s eponymous debut album.
The band’s lyrics are often written from the perspective of an adult woman. “Heelz,” for example, is an album-oriented rocker in which Ushikubo proclaims that she’s “digging my heels to make you stay,” while “Addiction” speaks of the heat of female lust for an appealing guy.
“Caroline”—with its hashtags “children, left-behind parents, loss, sadness, alienation”—is perhaps the most emotionally resonant song. Telling the tale of a girl from a broken home, the track can’t be listened to without thinking of divorcée de Jong’s struggles with Japan’s legal system to maintain visitation rights with his child. (De Jong is writing a book on his experiences.) The band’s name, in fact, nods to children who have been “legally stolen”—the members’ way of referring to Japan’s archaic custody laws.
The adult themes that lace Stolen.’s debut, and its consistently high grade of musicianship, give the album a grit that has seen it rise to the top of the iTunes indies charts in Japan. Recorded at Bungee Studio in Tokyo, the disc features a solid support cast backing Ushikubo and de Jong, including Simon McDowell, a professional drummer from New Zealand who’s supported top artists including Ed Sheeran, American bassist Tommy Jaime, and the latter’s wife Mizuki on keyboards.
From the generalist’s point of view, Stolen. is an album that will strike a note with fans of strong female alt-rockers like Alanis Morissette, and everyone who’s ever lived through the heartbreak that comes with the struggle for happiness, and has been around the block a few times in life.
But for Japan residents and other folks who find themselves overseas, Stolen.—and songs like “Against the Grain”—will resonate sharply with those who’ve experienced the loneliness of being an expat in societies that can sometimes be very closed to outsiders.
Stolen. can be appreciated regularly at favorite expat watering holes such as What the Dickens in Ebisu.
Stolen. out now; available on iTunes. http://stolenjapan.weebly.com