Easily the most painful 11 seconds of video I’ve seen all week. Poor dude! Lets get to the songs this week…
aiko seems to do one type of song and only one type of song – the piano-driven track that’s not quite a ballad but also not energetic enough to inspire anything beyond gentle swaying. Her previous single “” 戻れない明日” met the above criteria, and now “向かいあわせ” joins it. aiko’s voice sounds nice enough, but it alone can’t pull the rest of this song’s ho-hum elements up. Everything sounds so phoned in, this track being the sonic equivalent of an IKEA sofa. It takes some skill to produce, but the end result certainly doesn’t excite. Even the “dramatic” strings come chorus time sound limp.
At this point I should completely dismiss aiko’s latest and merrily hop over to the next YouTube video. Yet “向かいあわせ” does have potential, and it comes in a form that breaks every rule I have about music: an A capella version. I don’t know whether aiko did this instrument-free version or some other person (the voice sounds off to me), or how it connects to the My Darling Is A Foreigner live-action film. Whatever way, this version sounds way better than the single version. The sound surrounding the original mix managed to drage the song down, but here, free of it, the voice gets an opportunity to give this track some life. If aiko sang this, good move. If someone else did, aiko, get on this.
Angela Aki “輝く人”
Sounds like the Japanese Sarah McLachlan. Proceed from there.
9mm Parabellum Bullet “The Revolutionary”
Here’s a band that gets a lot of mileage out of last.fm tags. 9mm Parabellum Bulltet manage to cram a slew of different musical references into “The Revolutionary,” evoking guitar-centric labels like “post-punk,” “metal” and “emo” during the song’s short run time. It’s like a quilt that’s only one color, but each individual square has been made out of a different material. And some squares feel a lot more comfortable than others. The opening rips off right away, frenzied guitar and drums so well organized it’s borderline calculus rock. Then you’ve got the big Sunny Day Real Estate aping part with secondary voices answering the lead singer, which is alright. Then you’ve got the part in the middle which just screams “THIS IS THE METAL PART GUYS, GOT IT” so blatantly labeled like a box it can only come off as forced. They actually replicate the dumbo-metal at the end briefly, but tweak it just enough so it sounds almost epic, at least in comparison.
Yet all these stylistic shifts mostly serve as a red herring – “The Revolutionary” might dabble in emo-rock and head-banger metal riffs, but it’s a surprisingly straightforward J-Rock song at the core. That’s not a dig – 9mm Parabellum Bullet incorporate pop elements into “The Revolutionary” well, and the whole track hits all the pleasure points pop is supposed to strike. It’s just a bit disingenuous to call these guys anything else, especially “hardcore” or even “hard rock.” Despite the amount of time spent flailing around in the video, Bullet sounds remarkably clean. So this song is pure J-Rock. But above average J-Rock.
SPEED “ヒマワリ～Growing Sunflower～”
I know nothing about Okinawan pop. I barely understand where Okinawa rests on a globe. Yet listening to J-Pop royalty SPEED’s latest single, I’m willing to generalize on the general style. Like my postcard-perfect mental image of those U.S.-army-saturated islands, it sounds tropical. But not in a Balearic beach party way or a warm rock number way. I’m thinking Club Med, the type of “island” music playing in a Sandals Resort commercial. It’s a PR firms approximation of natural ocean-side beauty. With Local On The Tens guitar.
This track (sorry, not writing all that out) also recalls the 90s pretty well. SPEED dominated the Japanese charts back in the Furby decade, breaking up at the start of the new century. They got back together on a full-time basis in 2008, and here they are two years later managing to sound very last millennium. I can’t put my finger on it, but SPEED sound very…not digital? Electronic sounds work there way into the track, yes, but the whole package seems to be lacking the perfectionist glaze tracks like the aiko joint above have. SPEED’s latest sounds kinda corny…just listen to those horns…and the dueling vocals wedge up against one another. It’s a very unpolished track…and quite endearing for that reason. Blame nostalgia for for an era I knew nothing about Japanese music in, but this track’s odd stuck-in-time feel makes it stick out in the modern J-Pop scene. It’s not a particularly…good…song, but a charming one.
Oh, what timing! After focusing on an artist who managed to stand out in the sea of cookie-cutter J-Pop, we turn the the magnifying glass onto a duo exemplifying all those shaped-dough characteristics. Hopefully, the magnifying glass manages to be directly in front of the sun, so we can incinerate this song. Tegomass manage to be a Johnny’s side project, in this case of NEWS, and one that sounds like every other Johnny’s enterprise this side of the Pacific. “もしも、この世界から○○がなくなったら” is the worst kind of J-Pop ballad, the type that isn’t content to just have a few big orchestra swells but rather rolls around in as much sappy filth as possible. Tegomass’ latest is one continuous, soulless swell littered with strings and whooshy sounds better suited for a star wipe effect on a piece of video editing software. It’s over-the-top, emasculated and just cheese overload. And the video! Dear goodness, it somehow manages to out group-hug the song with the power of ten thousand Care Bears. Never did I expect to write these words but…I’d much rather take a proper NEWS track.
Hideaki Tokunaga “赤いスイートピー”
Can’t find this one anywhere! This comes off of Tokunaga’s Vocalist 4 album, which appears to be in a similar vein to that Rod Stewart “sings the standards” album advertised during The Price Is Right a few years ago. Here’s a version of the song done by, presumably, the original singer. It’s nice, check the disco build! Maybe Mr. Tokunaga’s could be even nicer. Holla at me if you find a recording of this.
Winner Of The Week – SPEED might have charmed me, but the track’s still nothing to write home about. This week the prize (note: there is no real prize) goes to 9mm Parabellum Bullet and there well executed if slightly misleading piece of J-Rock.