Review: i-fls - "wasted"

i-fls - wasted
(2017 Self-Released)

Whatever i-fls has wasted, it's not time. By my own count, wasted is the twentieth album released by the Japanese solo outfit over the course of the past half-decade. That sort of rapid-fire output can be understandably daunting for first-time listeners -- awash in dreamy shades of blue and strewn with nearly-identical sketches of the project's stoic avatar, i-fls' Bandcamp page doesn't exactly lay out a welcome mat, signifying a proper entry into its body of work. It instead feels more akin to picking the lock of a virtual filing cabinet, only to discover a row of manila envelopes organizing a corporation's annual reports. Marked with identical Helvetica letterheads, each stapled document tells the story of year in its own language. Anyone can mull over statistics, but it takes an accountant's eye to arrange them into a narrative.

Like a connoisseur of Grateful Dead bootlegs or Guided by Voices records, I sift through i-fls' cabinet of files with an auditor's scrutiny. Though their tracks come uniformly clad in a haze of Garageband synths and faint percussion, it's the sense of familiarity I have with the project's music that helps me appreciate the subtlety in each new release. 

wasted, for example, is i-fls' most goth effort to date. Often melodies are more implied than performed, taking the form of the sugar-glazed shoegazery that might frost a Slowdive tune or a late-80s Cocteau Twins endeavor. Early standout "useless places" grooves alongside a sweeping three-note hook that wouldn't feel out of place woven into The Cure's Disintegration. Trashed snare drums and clattering hi-hats tame the gelatinous synth arrangements, keeping them stable enough for your mind to bounce on.

"kinako 2 b" makes a rare use of acoustic guitar, which plucks out a few clumsy riffs before dissolving into the usual i-fls recipe: throbbing keyboard pads, a minimal house groove, and wintry chimes. The raw buzz of steel strings is jarring against the album's fuzzy, subdued tones. Though only lasting for about 10 seconds, it's perhaps wasted's most memorable moment.

These moments of oddity concealed beneath a cloak of J-Pop ambience are what keep me coming back to i-fls' discography time and time again. That's not to say that their traditional tracks aren't worth checking out, though. "soutarou" fleshes out its five-minute span with PC Music percussion that forms carbonation bubbles on the surface of tangy synth stabs. Closer "like you" reaffirms the project's core strengths, lacing reverby drum hit into chillwave eyelets.

wasted is yet another solid addition to an extensive back catalogue of releases. It may not bring radical change to the table, but the album makes up for a lack of novelty with the same swirling dream-pop I've come to know and love. If you liked the Aria Rostami record I reviewed last week, you'll love this.