Tag Archives: ai otsuka

Make Believe Melodies’ Top 50 Japanese Songs Of 2010: 50-41

Despite the Internet’s love of the form, the list brings with it a few unpleasant side effects. Being completely cliche, for one. More subtly unnerving, though, is the implication of expertise one takes on by making a “best” list. Plenty of comment-box philosophers have shed light on this – “what makes YOU entitled to tell me what the best music/books/episodes of Community were, asshole?” This can usually be dodged a bit by changing “best” (or, ahem, “top”) to “favorite” in order to emphasize the personal nature of the list. Yet then the question becomes…why share this with a mostly indifferent world when you could just write it down in a notebook? I’ll save the think-pieces for the experts, but it’s an interesting outcome of the Internet age, the desire of so many to connect with others/be some sort of tastemaker and just how many anonymous clouds of words wait in the shadows to tear them down. Gawker probably has something to do with this.

I write all the above only as a slight defensive tactic…though, let’s just be clear, this list only reflects my personal tastes and you should probably check some of the other excellent Japanese music blogs out their to see what they like too…but mainly to stress my intentions with this list (and the soon-to-maybe-be-a-reality albums counterpart) as being slightly different. The fact so many blog-site lists look nearly the same save for the shuffling of numbers tends to be my big gripe with these endeavors…the thrill of a list, to me at least, is seeing something new sitting at the 22nd position and seeking it out immediately. Discovery, not posturing, defines a great list, sharing something that might have been lost in the shuffle and giving it a proper spotlight. That’s what I want to do here.

Which, hey, actually isn’t that difficult. I write about Japanese music, and most of this stuff never sniffs the Hype Machine at all. As I’ve tried, mostly unsuccessfully through the “About” page, my goal with Make Believe Melodies has always been to expose people to a wide variety of Japanese music. This list attempts to paint a variety-rich picture of the J-Music world, from indie-rock tunes to big J-Pop hits. The numbers just exist for greedy personal reasons…all I want the reader to get out of this is exposure to a different culture’s music scene in 2010. And hopefully at least one song can be discovered, saved from being lost to the gaps found between countries.

(Note: I tried to be as varied as possible, so only in very rare instances [let’s call this the Perfume clause] will an artist wriggle more than one song onto this list. I should also be upfront and admit the Japanese rap scene completely eludes me. 2011 resolution, I swear. So, for this year, don’t expect much proper rap but I’m positive it’s out there.)

50. Loves. “Call Me”

Want proof the numerical order of this list may as well be drawn out of a hat? “Call Me” takes the 50 spot mostly because it’s come on strong at the very end of the year for me, to the point where this single could very well be worth catapulting ahead a bunch of spots given some more time. What I do know now – Loves.’ keen sense of structure coupled with a soaring, emotionally vague chorus warrants a spot somewhere here.

Listen to a sample here.

49. IMALU “そんな名前 欲しくないよ”

Plenty of J-Pop songs tried to bridge the gap between R&B and melodrama in 2010, with varying degrees of success. Yet actress-turned-singer IMALU’s “そんな名前 欲しくないよ” trumped them all. The production deserves credit for not being the usual ballad-strings-meet-a-beat phone in, but it’s IMALU’s voice that make this memorable. Her words float up lighter than air, her singing tinged with a naivety that makes them actually feel pained.

48. Pleasure “Sounded Sweet”

Easily the most aptly named musical project of the year, Pleasure crafts setting-sun-soaked dance tunes tailor made for the summer – this stuff gets you moving but not too much. The sprawling “Sounded Sweet” lasts ten minutes and glides through various synth-rich realms, like a Studio ripped on cocktails instead of kush. With the harsh reality of winter looming, now is the perfect time to get familiar with this blast of light.

Listen here.

47. 99 Letters “Hey! Satan, Play Game Of My Life?”

Chiptune music tends to coast by on nostalgic feelings, bleeps and bloops from the gray cartridges of yesteryear turned into hoppy-poppy whatever. Now, imagine the pixelated bodies of the Battletoads emerging from your TV screen to dismember you…and then host a rave in your blood. “Hey! Satan, Play Game Of My Life” turns once comforting digi-noises into a terror-inducing wall of noise…that still manages to contain a groove. 99Letters might have crafted the most terrifying video game soundtrack since Silent Hill, and it doubles as great moshing music.

46. NITES “Carcass Of The Sun”

Bedroom pop label CUZ ME PAIN burst onto the scene big time this year, jumping from a small trio of artists at the start to an ever-expanding roster of Tokyo introverts by this time. Newer acts like Atlas Young and THE BEAUTY seem to still be carving out an identity, while two of the label co-founders, AAPS and Faron Square, explore whatever ideas come to their minds with often intriguing results. Yet it’s the third founder, NITES, who served up the label’s most forward thinking jam with the lonely carnival jam “Carcass Of The Sun.” Merriweather Post Pavilion synth gurgles slowly build until exploding into a goopy flash of faded noise. Yet the creepy hints that constitute PAIN’s signature sound remain…rippling vocals seemingly echoed off in the distance, a reminder this is a work of longing.

Listen here.

45. Sebastian X “世界の果てまで連れてって!”

No subtlety going on here – Sebastian X want you to feel ludicrously happy and they have just the Billy Joel-esque piano line and joyous horn section to do the job. It’s Nagahara Manatsu’s croaky vocals, though, that drive home the message of be fucking happy this instance the most – she’s far from classically trained to be complimentary, more karaoke-box ready than American Idol prepped. Yet her technical limitations only make her giddy shouts more intoxicating. Besides, karaoke beats Simon Cowell any day.

44. The New House “Disturb”

Honesty first – I’m waiting for The New House to release a non “demo” version of “Transparent Box,” to the point where I kept the current in-work version streaming on their MySpace off this list, holding out hope 2011 will bring a polished version that would be guaranteed to crash at least the top 20. So “Disturb” serves as both a placeholder of sorts but also deserves accolades for showing the direction this young group seems to be inching towards. Though not quite as technicolor as “Box,” “Disturb” shows the same Animal Collective-inspired flashes of inspiration (chanted choruses, creepy vocals, general weirdness) over a minimalist blanket of music that seems ready to explode but never does. Tension rarely feels so good.

http://player.vimeo.com/video/14788090

Music Video “Disturb” from Kenji Hayasaki on Vimeo.

43. Merpeoples “Sherman”

Rigid rarely sounds so happy. “Sherman” though bounces like a kid who just can’t wait to see his geometry tutor, locked-in but also sporting a grin. Merpeoples find a few guitar riffs that seem like a good time and straight up chain them to a treadmill. A few little variations work their way in…the tinkly keyboard and those boppy words…but “Sherman” makes only a few guitar lines some of the most hypnotic stuff out of 2010.

42. Ai Otsuka “Lucky Star”

Originally serving as Fuji TV’s official theme for the Vancouver Winter Olympics (remember those?), the part of me that refuses to believe the most-likely cold truth hopes Ostuka made this just for the games but realized she’d made a J-Pop gem that just had to be released as a single. “Lucky Star” doesn’t break any new ground in mainstream Japanese pop – guitars clashing with electro-noises and record scratches can be seen all over the charts – but Otsuka just does it a little better. Despite the bizarre video…the fuck is that Chester Cheetah looking dude in football pads doing?…”Lucky Star” comes off as just simply sticky as machine-made snow, the sort of catchy stuff a network exec and your average J-Pop fan can appreciate.

Snippet

80kidz “Red Star”

80kidz’s real triumph with sophomore album Weekend Warrior wasn’t a meh LP featuring a few noteworthy singles…I see ya This Is My Shit…but rather a legit longplayer where everything started flowing together excellently after a while. None of the tracks really jump out as real oddities, but “Red Star” announced the duo’s shift away from the obnoxious blog-house they sometimes stumbled into…like on the album’s highly skippable first two songs…to something more subtle. It also captures all of 80kidz’s strengths in one place – they can conjure up a great beat but “Red Star” also revealed they could make something tinged with melancholy without a “featuring” credit tagged on like on their debut’s best moments. “Red Star” isn’t just a dance song glazed with longing…it’s the exact moment 80kidz come into their own.

Station To Station SPEEDY EDITION: Music Station For September 10, 2010 Featuring Arashi, GLAY And Ai Otsuka

A very special edition of Station To Station this week, as my computer is currently making noises usually reserved for a Nine Inch Nails song and I’ll be sending it into the shop for the weekend. So we will be blazin’ through this week’s tunes because my laptop could explode at any moment. Let’s dive in, and remember kids NEVER BUY AN HP.

Arashi “Love Rainbow”

Arashi continue to wallow about in the sentimental muds that also stained there last single “To Be Free.” As you could guess, “Love Rainbow” chokes with “dramatic” strings, feel-good singing and a grandiose air better suited for a Care Bear’s movie. Some credit needs to be given out – whereas “To Be Free” came off as a totally joyless affair, “Love Rainbow” at least features some goofy electronic swells lurking in the back and a danceable beat. Still, Arashi continue snail-crawling towards becoming just another Johnny’s group, all traces of humor or character marking other tracks slowly being snuffed out for whatever reason.

Ai Otsuka “I Love XXX”

I’ve bagged on Arashi a bit for being “sentimental,” but I should really say “the wrong kind of sentimental.” Their latest singles try way to hard at convincing the listener they are singing an emotionally charged song. It’s all syrupy strings and twinkles and other forced sounds hitting at once. Ai Otsuka’s latest offers an alternative – well almost. Opening with only some whirring sounds before introducing RESTRAINED strings and a few other instruments, Otsuka sings about loving her family, friends and lover. It’s an achingly simple theme, a plain-as-day way of saying how much she loves certain things in her life. It’s like ending a phone call to your significant other with an “I love you.” Besides being simple in lyrical aims, Otsuka also avoids falling into the trap Arashi does by letting the song build, introducing new sounds over time instead of seemingly all at once. She gets a bit too ambitious at the end by bringing in a choir…the live video makes matters worse by making it full of cute kids…and ends up going a tad overboard. Yet for the most part it’s a lovely little ballad that doubles as a fine blueprint.

GLAY Precious First minute or so

They don’t give ya much to hear, but that might be for the best. What’s there is pretty uneventful J-Rock loaded with overacting on every front. At least Arashi and Ai Otsuka give us something to talk about. GLAY just sorta does their boring thing.

Koda Kumi “好きで、好きで、好きで。”

In which Koda Kumi takes a break from telling us to “lick her lollipop” to give us a ballad any other J-Pop artist working today could have also done. Kumi’s wannabe-raunch-pop songs often come off as idiotic, but at least they are HER idiotic attempts at being….a more blue Pink? On this song she’s just criminally boring and in a way that completely removes her from the song. I never thought I would say it but, I miss the other Koda Kumi.

Ayumi Hamasaki “楽曲未定”

Not online, gonna pass on it then woooo!

Winner Of The Week – Ai Otsuka. Please strangers on the Internet, pray for my computer.

Station To Station: Music Station For 03/26/10 Featuring aiko, Ayumi Hamasaki And V6 (Sorta)

Rerun...get it?

Rerun...get it?

The fine folks at the Music Station website did something weird this week – they didn’t write what songs this week’s artists would be performing on the show. I usually rely on that info to listen to the songs in advance…but this week, I’m basically just doing some authentic journalistic work (checking websites) to find the artist’s latest single and assuming that’s what they will be performing. I pray this isn’t the program’s long term approach.

Also, based on my impeccable research, this week’s show has some artists performing songs already done on Music Station. Hence the terrible image joke above. Moving on!

aiko ” 戻れない明日” – Oh my god, that opening piano/organ line. That’s such an obvious rip-off of that one old song. But I can’t remember which song? You know, the one that is about having a friend? Or carrying on? But not “Carry On My Wayward Son?” This is really bugging me. Way more than this straightforward piano-driven ballad. That’s completely forgettable. But what song is aiko cribbing from??? Help world?

Ai Otsuka “Lucky Star” – This song functioned as Fuji TV’s official Winter Olympics coverage theme, and now Ai Otsuka sees fit to release it as a single. “Lucky Star” already captured the coveted “Best of the Week” award round these parts once before, and since the upcoming single version sounds exactly the same it stands as a pretty legit contender to take it this week. A month since I first heard “Lucky Star,” Otsuka’s latest still holds up, it’s use of 8-bit squelches and disco-tronics to spice up a peppy slab of pop one of the smartest mainstream Japanese music moves of the year. The song even comes with a cool video now! Do I sense our first two time winner?

NEWS “Sakura Girl” – The other song already featured on this feature, last time we rolled this out for all you fact-heads. I’ll pretty much restate what I said before…this song sounds like every other Jonny’s joint. I don’t like it. A few more listens through…I’m so thorough folks…and I’ll admit to thinking some isolated elements of “Sakura Girl” could be great in a more adventurous tune…mainly the intro, which sounds a bit better than I remember. Alas, it’s stuck with NEWS and unless they trot this out for a third time, will not be heard about again ’round these parts.

Ayumi Hamasaki “Microphone” – I only knew Ayumi Hamasaki for her ballad work, one so-so and the other (titled, er, “Ballad”) as being surprisingly great. “Microphone” finds the singer shifting away from her latest slow movers in favor of something a little faster and rough around the edges. How exactly does she do that? By opening the song up with some Phantom Of The Opera cheese-organ before dumping a “hard rock” guitar onto the song that sounds vaguely like what Pantera contributed to that one episode of Spongebob Squarepants. The only possible explanation for this stylistic shift…it’s the first single released from her Rock ‘N’ Roll Circus album, which I’m sure will turn out slightly worse than the Rolling Stones’ big top venture…is to re-brand Hamasaki to the crowd who already pre-ordered tickets for Alice In Wonderland because they love Tim Burton, not Disney.

That would be find and good if the song didn’t sabotage every good quality Hamasaki had going for her. Her recent double-ballad single proved one thing – girl can sing very, very well, even if she isn’t always featured in a good song. “Microphone” offers her no opportunity to bust out those pipes, placing all the emphasis on the rejected rock opera sound. I pondered about Perfume’s latest single in terms of “selling out” earlier in the week, but “Microphone” offers up a way more glaring example of commercial interest overriding whatever artistic qualities were brought to the table in the first place. At least give us some nice sounds when trying to make an extra buck.

V6 – So…Jonny’s band V6 (promising start!) has a new album out soon. That much I know. What I don’t know…what song will appear on Music Station. Thanks a lot people at the official Music Station website for leaving me in the dark. The band is offering up samples of every song off of their new album on their website, along with an interesting, buzzing instrumental on the main page (which, I hate to admit, actually makes me want to hear what V6 might be up to). Go there to listen to it, but you have to endure a really tedious intro. Just take me to the site and leave the Flash out of this!

Porno Graffitti “瞳の奥をのぞかせて” – With a name like that, I expected something I bit more…heavy? Menacing? Naughty? Porno Graffitti instead give us a fluffy J-Pop song crossed with Fiddler On The Roof. The prevalent violin manages to buck the usual “rock band using classical instrument” cliche by allowing the strings to slice through the song – it stands out as the most interesting feature of “瞳の奥をのぞかせて.” The rest of Porno Graffitti’s sorts of just glides along, the guitars lazily bobbing along. The violin adds some aggression, even anguish, to the song. Everything else sounds like easy listening radio fodder.

Winner Of The Week – “Lucky Star,” which has now won this award twice. Though this week was such a disaster…on so many levels…it’s sorta like Russia winning all those Gold Medals in the Olympics because the U.S. boycotted them. DON’T DO THIS AGAIN MUSIC STATION PLEASE.

Station To Station: Music Station For 02/19/2010 Featuring AKB48, BoA And Ai Otsuka

AKB48 “桜の栞” – Rejoice rejoice! We’re only a few figure skating finals away from Winter being over with. That means warmth! And flowers! And, in Japan, cherry blossom season. Which also means it’s time for Japanese artists to release songs about the country’s prettiest part of the calendar year. The small mercenary army of AKB48 enter the arena with this, a nearly A capella single that would sound right at home during a school graduation ceremony (guess what else is coming up soon in Japan…). Save for a few piano keys, this song focuses on the vocal abilities of the big group. It’s pleasant enough though a far cry from being truly captivating. Still, a big improvement over “River.” That’s like the bronze medal in my book.

(Note on the video: skip ahead to the two minute mark to get the song. Otherwise, you can watch AKB48 put on clothes and talk.)

Ai Otsuka “LUCKY☆STAR” – The Internet tells me this song serves as the theme song for Fuji TV’s coverage of the Olympics. I’ve only watched on NHK so I can’t verify this. Ai Otsuka’s song exceeds the expectations usually given to glorified jingles, as “Lucky Star” (sorry pointless star) is a very enjoyable slice of J-Pop. There is a lot going on in this song – tons of electro noises, record scratches, a mini-rap breakdown – but Otsuka’s voice threads everything together into a very shiny piece of pop. Beats whatever NBC cobbled together, I’m sure.

近藤真彦 “心 ざんばら” – Can’t find this one online. Whooops. The dude’s part of Jonny’s Entertainment though, so I think you can guess what this sounds like.

湘南乃風 “ガチ桜” – You know what’s worse than a J-Pop ballad? A J-Rap ballad, that’s what. Imagine all the over-the-top instrumentation and forced emotional crooning…joined by some sick raps! Funky Monkey Baby’s do this sometimes and it’s shit, but not nearly as putrid as what this song manages to accomplish. Opening with some schmaltzy strings and that “star wipe” sound effect that manages to find it’s way into nearly every J-Ballad, some typical ballad singing leads into…yikes. If you’ve ever wondered “where did Bobcat” Goldthwait go,” this song answers that question: a Japanese rapper ate him. But wait, this song has even more surprises! The group raps over the fakest-ass reggae beat imaginable. It’s as legit as a pouch of Capri Sun. The type of “reggae music” they play in a Spencer’s Gifts near the shelf with all the weed ashtrays. 湘南乃 manages to embarrass hip-hop, reggae and even the J-Pop ballad with this stinker. And it lasts like six minutes! I’ll give the group credit for fitting every terrible trend in mainstream Japanese music into one stupid long single. I just won’t listen to it ever again.

Tokyo Jihen “勝ち戦” – Big ups to Tokyo Jihen for doing this single entirely in English, allowing me to understand what’s going on. And it’s pretty good English at that. Lead singer Shiina Ringo elevates “勝ち戦” from “so-so rock throwback” to “whoa, that was pretty good.” Her voice slinks along in the verses, occasionally trailing off or taking a detour into higher pitched places. On the chorus, though, she’s all business: she takes on the voice of a commanding diva who knows she owns the song she’s currently towering over. It’s not as good as the group’s last Music Station single, but this one definitely has charm. Also of note: this song carries a Beck circa Midnight Vultures vibe to it. That earns some points.

BoA “まもりたい ~White Wishes~” – BoA is kinda a big deal. Real name Boa Kwon, she’s one of Korea’s most successful pop singers and has had pretty substantial success outside of her home country. Japan loves her – she’s the only non-Japanese Asian to have two albums sell at least a million copies. She even released an album in America. So she has a new single out for her latest Japanese album and predictably it sold well, plopping down at #2 on Oricon. How does it sound? Pretty much what you’d expect from any pop diva, regardless of geographical origin. It’s a hybrid R&B/pop joint tricked out to include all sorts of Timbaland-era flourishes (club-worthy squeaks, hip-hopish beat) against sentimental strings and BoA’s strong singing voice. It features all the ingredients found in many of the Ought’s chart-topping pop hits, but doesn’t do anything particularly fresh with them either. All in all, a decent-enough pop hit.

Best Of The Week – Lets continue with this labored Olympic theme and go to the Music Station podium for the medal ceremony.

Bronze – BoA
Silver – Tokyo Jihen
Gold – Ai Otsuka

Next Stop Music Station: 11/13/09 (featuring Exile)

This comes up for "Exile" on Flickr.  Photo courtesy of Wolfie Fox on Flickr under Creative Commons

When I first arrived in Japan I spent three days in Tokyo at an orientation for my new teaching gig. I attended a workshop about Japanese pop culture in an effort to become hip to life in Japan. Following an introduction to popular Japanese television, we came to the music portion of the lecture. The very first musical group brought up was Exile. I’m paraphrasing the instructor who said they are like the Backstreet Boys with nine more members and on crack. They also, she said, were the most popular group in Japan at the time.

Exile appear on Music Station tonight, offering a great opportunity to examine this group. Don’t expect a critical study of Exile’s music – save for a few good ideas here and there, it’s your usual J-Pop boy band music with a few keyboards thrown in to make it sound “current.” Tonight will be all about trying to understand what makes Exile one of the top musical acts in Japan, one capable of moving 17 million units.

Oh, and there is apparently other music too. Hope that’s good!

8:00 – Konbanwa and welcome to Music Station. Cue the creepy English voice. Exile comes out dressed as the Secret Service…and they also get the biggest reception.

8:02 – Unlike last week, it appears this week’s entertainment has chosen to forgo sparkly sweaters and stick with pretty straightforward dress. Save for Exile looking very sharp…all 14 of them.

8:04 – Hey, remember two minutes ago when I said the people on this show were dressed relatively normal? Well, the first performer is up and she and her backing band are sporting glasses with eyes on them…sort of like those fake specs Homer wore that one time he wanted to sleep through jury duty. The artist in question is Ai Otsuka and it’s tough to pay attention to her song when her set-up is so zany…she’s surrounded by heart shaped balloons and there is a hole in the wall pouring even more of them out. It’s like the Hallmark store in February spilling out over the stage.

Oh yeah, I’m supposed to write about music. Initially lost among the cute overload of this live performance is how good this song sounds. The “Smells Like Teen Spirit” aping guitars try to sully this song, but Otsuka’s cotton candy voice adds a very sweet (yeah I just did that) touch to this song. And that chorus! Otsuka somehow stumbles on the same twee singing that pushed The La’s upwards, marred only by those guitars that should be replaced by something a lot more reserved to let Otsuka’s voice really take center stage.

(Video, which comes close to replicating the live performance, here.)

8:06 – Time for this week’s single countdown. Slash’s shitty shitty collab with the B’z lead singer clocks in at #6, proving people in Japan will buy anything if Guns ‘N’ Roses is somehow attached. There are posters all over the local convenience store hyping up the early 2010 GNR “Chinese Democracy” tour that I’m sure will be sold out.

The #1 song for the week is by…Arashi! And it has suddenly dawned on me just how insane this week’s show is because nearly every female student I teach professes their undying love for Arashi. And now they are on the same episode of Music Station. I think my student’s heads might not be able to handle all of this.

8:12 – Arashi performs their just-top-spot-minted song “マイガール.” It starts with two members sharing vocal duties above a barely there piano line that grows into a barely there orchestra. I’m surprised at how bare this track is…all the emphasis is on Arashi’s five-man harmonizing which sounds pretty. But that’s all going on with “マイガール,” and even though it’s kind of novel a mainstream act isn’t drowning there pop in all sorts of robotic bells and whistles, I wish they found a way to fit something a little more lively into the performance. They didn’t even dance! They walked around and one member stroked another dude’s chin. You’re pop stars, not indie rockers, do something.

8:19 – The terrible truth about Music Station is it’s less a live music show and more of a clip show. They’ve shown nothing but old Music Station performances for the past five minutes – I’ve heard more music from 1998 than 2009 so far tonight.

8:24 – See the time on the left? Yep, still watching highlights. But they at least tied it into tonight – they show a clip of Arashi from 1999 and they are wearing what appears to be freezer bags as shirts. Somebody thought, “if we wrap this boy band up like a ham sandwich the kids will LOVE it!” I’m glad a decade later they chose to drop the Ziplock look.

8:28 – Oh hey live music. Now on the stage is シド, who open with some vintage Green Day riffage before playing some pretty straightforward J-Rock for the rest of the time. The lead singer, to his credit, has a pretty interesting voice. At least for what I assume is a big commercial act like シド. His voice wobbles frequently, so his verses sometimes sound sort of yodeled out while the chorus to this song sounds slightly off-balance (and that’s good!). This vocal tic is the only thing going for this performance – even Arashi put on a better show, and they just did line drills.

(Video of the song here.)

8:33 – Nothing of remote excitement is happening on the TV, so I’ll take a minute to give シド (translated to “sid”) credit on there press photo, available on their website. It’s just the band standing beside giant buckets of paint but it’s kind of cool looking. If only they could add a little color to their music, am I right? I’ll show myself out of this point.

8:40 Is it weird my favorite song of the night comes during the commercials. A duo called Rhythem had a pretty fragile-sounding piano number. I shall investigate!

8:42 – Time for Exile! And they’ve brought the world a…Spanish ballad? Uhhhh, apparently. There is a Spanish guitar plucking away and a dancey beat running behind it while the two lead singers of the group pour there hearts out to the world (I assume, they could be singing about the lack of Mexican food in Japan for all I know). It’s the slowest song I’ve ever heard Exile do…though I’m no master of their song collection…so this is a first. The guitar saves this from being an Enrique Iglesias knock-off…or maybe it elevates it beyond a typical Enrique Iglesias song. I don’t even know, but it sounds good.

Hey, Exile get two songs! How is that fair??? This second jam boasts a much more aggressive beat, complete with some disco guitar lurking in the back. I like the singing on the verses, but the chorus (featuring an out-of-nowhere “this is so real!” piano) seems like a dissapointment after all the build up. The singing just get a little more emotional and like two extra instruments get added to the mix. I’d rather listen to the unobscured beat running through the verses.

This performance did highlight the reason I think Exile is as big as they are – they are less a group of musicians and more of a spectacle. Only two guys in the group do anything remotely musical (the two lead singers), everyone else shows up looking good and dances around. Like AKB48, this band’s live show barely pays any attention to the music instead focusing on blowing people away with visuals…in there case dancing. Even more so than AKB48, though, this entertain first, music later mindset makes sense – Exile’s songs could be raffled off to any other J-Pop singer with a great voice and they’d sound exactly the same. The group has two great singers but the real attractions the dancing and the choreography. Another reminder of Japan’s emphasis on outright entertainment.

(Spanish-tinged song available here, other song here.)

Winner Of The Week – A surprisingly solid week as most of the songs were pretty middle-of-the-road. Ai Otsuka takes it, though, with her cut-above-the-rest vocals and chorus, rising above grungy guitars to still end up a good single.

A little YouTubing also reveals a song called “Strawberry Jam” that originally drew me in because…well, you can figure it out. Turns out it’s a nice, cheerful pop tune loaded with horns!