The Hokkaido Concern – S/T EP

The Hokkaido Concern are a four-piece band from Philadelphia that plays instrumental, driving rock tunes. Their songs are all around three to four minutes, which is nice when most bands in this genre tend to go on and on for seven minutes of the same old thing, and they clearly have a lot of energy. Falling somewhere between the math-rock tendencies of Volta Do Mar and the instrumental rock of The Fucking Champs, The Hokkaido Concern are quite good.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a track listing for the album, so I’ll have to identify the tracks by number. The first song has a more melodic nature, and the focus is clearly the multiple guitar parts, that blend together nicely while still having a very distinct sound. It’s not till the end that they pick up a more math-rock pace and complexity. The second track is more urgent and rocking, the pace picking up a bit while the guitars again lead the way with blasts of riffs and nicely picked sections. Something about the rhythm makes me think of metal, although the song never quite goes that far. From there the band really speeds things up, pouring on blasts of guitar assault and high-powered drumming for their most powerful track.
The thing that sets this band apart is the multiple guitar parts that are clearly distinctive, unlike many bands that seem to play the same parts on multiple guitars. That’s especially evident on the fourth track, which has that electric guitar sound – crisp, pure, driving – that’s unmarred by the usual effects bands feel the need to pile on. A bit quieter, the next track has more melodic parts and a more calm approach with some kick-ass bass, and the EP finishes off more electronically. Suddenly, the rhythm is supplied by a drum machine and keyboards fill out the song. Only the bass keeps the song consistent with the rest of the album. It’s a nice change of pace, one I probably would have put in the middle instead of the end.
The Hokkaido Concern remind me more of the rock nature of The Fucking Champs than most of the complex instrumental bands I’ve been hearing lately. They don’t have all the jazzy elements of a band like Tortoise or the sheer complexity and ever-changing nature of Volta Do Mar. While they are clearly extremely talented and really know how to pour on the rock, I keep waiting for vocals. The songs don’t quite stand well enough on their own, yet. I think an instrumental band has to go an extra step or two if they’re not going to include vocals, and while this band is on the right track, they don’t quite take it far enough.