Reviewing the music of LANDS is tantamount to reviewing the music of Marty McFly and the Pinheads. The group exists to serve as the “featured band” in the recently released Japanese movie Bandage, a film about the early ‘90s indie rock scene of the country and the life of budding rock stars off-stage. LANDS is Bandage’s Stillwater, except marketing kicked it up to the next degree and had the fictional band release an album. A few pegs up from the Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakel soundtrack, but still a dubious affair on paper.
Yet the album in question, Olympos, is a bit more bizarre than that. Despite being a full-fledged band in the film, LANDS the real-world music outfit includes only Bandage’s star and member of Johnny’s puppet troupe KAT-TUN Jin Akanishi, with Mr. Children producer Takeshi Kobayashi manning the boards. Stranger yet, Olympos seems less an advertisement for the film than for Akanishi, who appears alone on the album cover and is the focus of lead single “Bandage’s” movie-free video. To recap: the band featured prominently in the film bears little resemblance to the band responsible for the films de facto soundtrack, and neither LANDS (the real world band, see how confusing this gets) nor Olympos is being heavily tied to the film factor prominently in. It's a strange marketing move that seems to be paying off – if my local supermarket CD ranking shelf is to be trusted, this album sits number two in the nation. No idea how much money the actual movies raking in.
Olympos would be a curious soundtrack sidenote (and not getting the full review treatment here) if it weren’t for the excellent slice of dancey pop that is “Bandage.” The track first popped up in late November and went on to top the Oricon charts (and presumably sell movie tickets). “Bandage” (off-topic: get the title? It took me two months to realize it wasn’t about an adhesive strip) sounds completely unlike any of the goofy boy band drek Akanishi has been associated with before. It’s a strange choice to top Japan’s most respected pop chart – it’s five-and-a-half minutes of the same riff playing virtually unbroken.
“Bandage” succeeds because of how LANDS manages to merge two potentially repetitive styles together – indie rock and disco. It’s easy to imagine being a total slog if LANDS sticking to just one of those genres – a problem dotting a lot of Olympos – but the group behind the song never rest on one and, with a little touch of J-Pop (those fluttery synths at the chorus), the track stays captivating for its whole length. The beat draws you in initially, while the guitar work keeps things interesting. Credit also goes to Akanishi’s serpentine singing, which carries an air of lust as it weaves around the music. “Bandage” doesn’t buck any major J-Pop trends, but rather uses lesser utilized tactics to craft a top-notch pop number.
Olympos doesn’t feature any other moments as triumphant as “Bandage,” and for the most part ends up being a hit-or-miss “genre exercise” with more of the latter. The mix-and-match daring that makes “Bandage” so great never gets another call-up, the rest of the songs content to be easily labeled the “stereotypical ballad” or “the slow one” – the title track alone proves just how boring an attempt at “rocking” can be. Lets focus on the positives. Surprisingly, the most clearly defined song on Olympos sounds good; “Genki Ska Version” keeps the pace relatively laid back, trademark skankin horns used in a more reserved fashion. “Yuki” latches on to a good-enough modern rock riff to carry it to the pleasant chorus. Olympos strangest moment belongs to “Hatachi no Senso – Y’s edition,” which sounds like a weird(er) Panda Bear ambient experiment B-side.
Even if it isn’t necessarily being advertised as such, Olympos is the soundtrack to a movie, and it’s slightly unfair to review these songs stripped from their cinematic context. That said, the number of good songs on this CD can be counted up on one hand, so unless you are really craving a few people’s take on the ’90s Japan rock scene, save your money. LANDS does deserve credit for creating one monster of a J-Pop that finds a way to stick out amongst the plethora of “meh” pop songs flooding the market. Imagine if they were a real band!