The last two years have been rewarding for fans of Japanese experimental artist Phew. She’s released a pair of full-lengths—2015’s A New World and the off-kilter Light Sleep, released this past March via New York label Mesh-Key. This is an especially welcome development, considering her last record before that was released in 1995.
It’s not that Phew—real name Hiromi Moritani—vanished, necessarily. Over the past 20 years, she’s collaborated with various musicians, fronted the punk-rock band Most, and played shows all across Japan. In recent years, local music media have begun affording Phew the critical respect she deserves; albums she created over the last 40 years have gone from record store rarities to being included on “best of” lists. She landed at number 35 on Japanese magazine Snoozer’s “150 Greatest Albums of Japanese Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and two of her albums were named Music Magazine’s best Japanese albums of the ‘90s list last year.
Yet despite the growing acclaim, Phew didn’t release any solo material until she started recording songs for Light Sleep in 2014.“I recorded at home casually,” she tells me. “My thoughts and feelings at the moment I made that music were reflected directly in the songs.”
This directness is readily apparent in Light Sleep, a six-song set featuring some of Phew’s most intimate songs to date. That closeness often feels tense; she’s constructed the music out of an assortment of analog synthesizers and vintage rhythm boxes, and the decades-old equipment creates an unnerving quality in the songs; as always, her voice, which is always unpredictable and commanding, is the central feature of her music. Here, it ranges from unsettlingly monotone on “New World” to frantic on “CQ Tokyo.”