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Hitsujibungaku Releases New Album ‘12 hugs’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left: Hiroa Fukuda, Moeka Shiotsuka and Yurika Kasai

Alternative rock band Hitsujibungaku recently released its third major-label album, “12 hugs (like butterflies),” from Sony Music Labels. The trio is very popular, especially among younger fans, because of the act’s sensitive sounds that are dynamic at times but also powerful at the core.

The band was originally the brainchild of Moeka Shiotsuka, among others. Since 2017, the lineup has comprised Shiotsuka on vocals and guitar, Yurika Kasai on bass and Hiroa Fukuda on drums.

Shiotsuka is the only member who has been part of the group since its inception. Even before their major-label debut in 2020, they were actively engaged in the music scene, releasing the indie album “Wakamonotachi e.” They followed up “Powers,” their first album on a big label, with “our hope” in 2022.

The cover of “12 hugs (like butterflies)”

Apparently, the band’s style is sometimes likened to shoegaze, a genre of music noted for intoxicatingly sweet melodies and rumbling guitar sounds. The term originates from how musicians of the genre play by concentrating on, or “gazing” at, the effects pedals by their feet.

I asked the three about their musical backgrounds.

Shiotsuka pointed to singer-songwriter Yui as well as foreign acts such as James Blake, Sigur Ros and The xx.

Kasai mentioned Pixies and The Stone Roses as well as video game music, saying, “I like band sounds.”

Fukuda said he was influenced by an eclectic collection of music such as shoegaze, indie rock from the United States, post-rock and dreampop.

With a rich musical background for each, they work on songs to allow the band to create its own drama and profundity.

Despite being a trio, the members carefully figure out the world each song depicts and play their individual part accordingly. What happens when they perform?

“I try not to make it too perfect,” Shiotsuka said of her guitar work.

Her distinct style of singing is both light and clear. “I guess it sounds kind of unique because I try to sing like Justin Bieber and overseas divas,” she said with a giggle.

She used to sing hymns as a student, which helped the band lay the base for its beautiful choruses, one of the characteristics of Hitsujibungaku.

The band’s rhythm section has a great presence as well.

“First of all, it’s power, a sense of being unbreakable, no matter what,” Kasai said. “And I also pay attention to my role of bringing together the sounds of the other two.

“I try to keep my drumming economic with just enough beats.” Fukuda added “Another point for me is to make happy sounds.”

12 songs of encouragement

“This is the most personal album we’ve ever made,” Shiotsuka said of the new album. “There’s nothing pretentious, and it’s familiar to us. It’s got sparkles and filled with many interesting things.”

The album contains 12 songs, all written by Shiotsuka. Among them are “more than words,” the end title theme song for the “Shibuya Incident” arc of TV anime “Jujutsu Kaisen.” Refreshing guitar sounds are featured in “Go!!!” and “Fool.”

The cover of “more than words”

She said she often composes songs to offer herself encouragement amid everyday failures. The songs in “12 hugs” also show her determination to accept herself burdened with conflicted feelings and missteps in daily life, and to go forward. “More than words” is no exception.

While writing the song, Shiotsuka often walked around Shibuya in Tokyo, where the story of the “Jujutsu Kaisen” arc unfolds.

“I sometimes listen to a demo [of the song] while walking to check if it’s got the right atmosphere. I wanted to make it no bigger than ourselves and without making it overly strenuous, so I redid the melody of the chorus again and again,” Shiotsuka said.

The song incorporates the four-on-the-floor beat that is a vibrant element of dance music, and the band’s characteristic chorus shines through in the ensemble, making most of the sound space.

Though sprinkled with such words as “despair,” “pain” and “darkness,” the lyrics, together with music, vividly express people casting aside worries and doubts toward the end of the song.

As a keyword to get to know the album, Shiotsuka introduced to me the term “butterfly hug.”

“It’s a way to corral your feelings and calm down by crossing your arms like a butterfly and hugging yourself. Inspired by this term, I decided the 12 songs are like hugging yourself,” Shiotsuka said.

“We were able to create music by staying true to the personality of each member,” Kasai said.

“I hope listeners will treat this album like a talisman,” Fukuda.

It looks like the band has produced another important album.