The first real episode of Music Station in this new decade…and I have other engagements to attend to. Great way to kick off this feature in 2010! This week’s episode features a few Japanese pop heavyweights and an appearance by adult contemporary bulwark Norah Jones. Lets take a listen to this week’s crop.
Aqua Timez “絵はがきの春” – Ahhhh, the violin. In the proper hands (Andrew Bird, Owen Pallet) it can be an absolute beautiful addition to any music, but put the bow into less qualified hands (Yellowcard) and things turn schmaltzy really fast. Aqua Timez song “絵はがきの春” shows how the instrument can both bolster and detract from pop music – the violin zig-zagging across this otherwise straightforward pop-rock song definitely stands out as the most interesting sonic element. Unfortunately, Aqua Timez don’t know when to cut back, so when the violin rises up mid-song as if Axl Rose circa Use Your Illusion suddenly advised the group what to do, things get way to over-the-top for a pretty standard rock joint. Coupled with a music video more feel-good than a Care Bear parade, it becomes clear Aqua Timez want this to be a big, poignant anthem for everyone in the world. It’s just a pop song, though, and those violin flourishes make it painfully clear.
Kaela Kimura “You Bet!!” – Something as small as a slide down an acoustic guitar shouldn’t be this catchy. Yet here I am, absorbed by the frantic opening build-up of “You Bet!!” The tune’s only getting warmed up: there is something very…porcelain…about Kaela Kimura’s singing, and her ability to instantly shake that off on the let-it-all-go chorus. As great as she is, the surrounding music deserves the most kudos. The occasional piano freak outs and the crazy bridge leading to the final verse inject “You Bet!” with a type of controlled chaos you don’t hear often in artists ever-present in the charts. The year’s still young, but “You Bet” is 2010’s first single to beat.
Plus, her shirt says “shit.” That’s kinda edgy.
Kumi Koda “Can We Go Back” – This fucking song. Ads for Kumi Koda’s latest single pop up all the time on TV, so I’m being constantly bombarded by her sub-Pink routine. It was bad enough when one diva went on about wanting “to start a fight” and pretended to be Jack Sparrow, but now Kumi Koda ups the girls-with-label-approved-tude wars a notch by releasing a huge, dumb rock number complete with a video showing the world what would happen if 300 got crossed with Glee. The video alone gives the U.N. enough of a reason to shut down the Japanese music industry (glittery Trojans do Riverdance), but the music manages to be a thousand times more aggravating. “Can We Go Back” only works in the context of Bally’s Total Fitness ads, and even then I’d wish no living creature the misfortune of hearing this. Get off my TV, Ms. Koda.
Mika Nakashima “Always” – Your typical J-Pop ballad. At least it uses violin better than Aqua Timez. The video for “Always,” though, comes close to being really awesome. For the first two-and-a-half minutes it’s basically just shots of Mika Nakashima sitting in a chair getting all emotional over a watch, with only a few plot-relevant costume changes thrown in. It’s very subdued and surprisingly moving stuff. Instead of sticking with this, they also introduce some sequences with Nakashima wearing a fluttery white dress into the mix that break up the mood. Oh well.
Norah Jones “Chasing Pirates” – At some point in the last year, Norah Jones became indie approved. Well, at least more accepted. She wrote a song with Okkervil River’s Will Sheff, got remixed by some cool acts, and popped up on Stereogum and Pitchfork. Makes sense considering it’s hard to flat out hate her music – at it’s worst, it’s simply “pleasant,” great for the morning AM radio playlist. It’s not the type of music you hear and want to immediately hit mute (see: Kudi Koma). “Chasing Pirates” cranks up the intensity ever so slightly, centering around a bubbly synth line. Jones’ voice remains as relaxing as usual, the added oomph of the music changing absolutely nothing about it. “Chasing Pirates” is completely pleasant (in a good way!) pop with enough new wrinkles in her approach to also be kind of interesting. Now if she gets the Hot Chip remix in 2010, then we’ll know she’s truly made it in the indie-sphere.
Hey! Say! Jump! “瞳のスクリーン” – Andddddd I can’t find this song anywhere. I’m sure if it’s really, really great I’ll hear it and devote many words to it. Stay tuned Hey! Say! Jump! fans.