Tag Archives: ayumi hamasaki

Make Believe Melodies’ Top 50 Japanese Songs Of 2011: 50-41

Another year draws to a close, but 2011 wasn’t just another run-of-the-mill desk calendar for Japanese songs. The past 365 days saw an abundance of great tunes from Japan-based artists, ranging from shadowy electronic movers from Tokyo to dreamy pop numbers born in Osaka to space-tripped clackers via Kyoto. Just as exciting, though, were how many of these songs rose above domestic attention and made ripples…regardless of how big or small…in various forms of Western media, be it music blogs or just some kid in Florida’s Tumblr showing his friends how trippy the “Pon Pon Pon” video was. As 2012 shapes up to be a possibly even bigger year for the world recognizing a whole bunch of scenes blooming around this country, lets take a look back at 50 of our favorite Japanese tracks of 2011. From the stuff that became Gorilla Vs. Bear mainstays to the tracks still waiting to breakout, all these songs meant something to us.

(Note: In order to offer as wide a variety of Japanese music as possible, artists were restricted to a maximum of two songs. Needless to say, you should buy the Perfume and Sakanaction albums.)

Top banner designed by Alan Castree aka A.C. Galaga. Learn more about him here.

50. Toddle “Shimmer”

Considering Toddle counts members of essential Japanese rock groups Number Girl and Luminous Orange as part of the band, the easy-going catchiness of “Shimmer” almost comes off as automatic for these guys. Just because Toddle could probably polish something like this off in an afternoon isn’t a detraction, though, but rather a sign of the experience going into the track. The guitars weave around one another in a deceptively simple way to lend “Shimmer” a good foundation, while Hisako Tabuchi’s airy vocals give the song – especially the chorus, where she pushes especially high – a pop edge.

49. Kou Shibasaki “Mukei Spirit”

Tough to imagine the same person behind “Mukei Spirit” also once played the role of no-regards-for-anything killer Mitsuko Souma in the movie version of Battle Royale. This sounds mostly giddy, the only bits even approaching a scrunched up face being the thudding guitars late in the song. Yet “Mukei Spirit” hides considerable depth, skipping from candy-colored pop segments early on to shouty rock-inspired passages down the line, nothing here sounding particularly repetitive but always catchy. Credit goes to Kou Shibasaki too, making like a good actor and changing up her voice to match the shifting sounds around her, flashes of Kaela Kimura’s zig-zagging singing style bubbling up.

LISTEN HERE

48. Faron Square “Comes Around You”

Lets take a second to honor all the CUZ ME PAIN tracks we couldn’t cram onto this list – and there were a lot, because the upstart label had one prolific 2011. Like the woozy loveliness of AAPS’ “Invisible Sophisticated,” the radiant strut of :visited’s “Sunset Article” and the Flinstones-sampling groove of MASCULiN’s “Emmanuel.”

What earns Faron Square this spot, though, is how “Comes Around You” manages to stand out within the CUZ ME PAIN 2011 collection. Whereas the majority of the labels music could be described as “dark” and “shadowy” (I did it in the list intro) dance music, this cut from the Willys Anthology EP sounds defiantly bright, the dreaminess-via-keyboards touch of other CMP projects present but working alongside something that could play at a wedding held in someone’s bedroom (alternative metaphor: inspirational sports jam for someone about to play six hours of NES Baseball). CUZ ME PAIN grabbed international attention thanks to haunted house disco tunes, but “Comes Around You” hints at the variety lurking inside these dudes.

47. Aloha “ChinaTown”

Boasting an intro that sounds vaguely similar to The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” Aloha’s “ChinaTown” ignores the allure of tropical drinks melting in your hand in favor of Hawaiian Punch served at a lounge’s “Tropical” theme night. The extreme breeziness of this track, powered by horns and a particularly beach-ready sax solo, makes it hard not to enjoy, though Aloha isn’t just wasting his day away in a hammock. The chorus kicks everything up a pinch, the singing going from lazy to near speak-sing, the sudden change in tempo exciting but never a huge left turn. “ChinaTown” imagines the place to go being a cruise ship, and the charmingness on display here makes it hard to disagree.

46. Gellers “Guatemala”

The big draw of Gellers is that they are Shugo Tokumaru’s band when he isn’t locked up in his instrument room making Playmobil pop, and “Guatemala” was the groups big return single after a few years of no activity. Yet here’s the rub – “Guatemala” would sound painfully out of place on Gellers’ one album. That self-titled disc found Shugo and friends making music that was raw, messy at times, and full of weirdo twists and turns. “Guatemala” sounds like a leftover from Tokumaru’s (whimsical) Port Entropy, studio perfected and catchy as heck. Anyone expecting to hear a new side of Shugo probably should have felt letdown.

Yet, hey, just because this might as well be a Shugo-only song doesn’t mean it isn’t catchy as heck as anything the dude has ever released. “Guatemala” is pure indie-pop dazzle from one of Japan’s best makers. The fact it comes with a nice back story is only cream on top.

45. MacDonald Duck Eclair “Clarion”

The majority of MacDonald Duck Eclair’s Kono Tokimeki Ima Sugu album finds the trio playing around with EeL-like crazy pop, all cutsey vocals smashed up against aggressive noises. On highlight “Clarion,” though, MacDonald drop all gimmicks and just focus straight ahead, guitars and keyboards locked hand-in-hand as the group barrels forward. It’s uncomplicated J-Rock done right, simplistic structure leading to a sticky-sweet chorus, the whole time MacDonald unafraid to show their fangs a little bit. Sometimes a little reduction is all you need.

GET ON ITUNES MAN

44. RIP SLYME “Sense Of Wonder”

RIP SLYME gave Japan one of the worst songs AND marketing tie-ins of 2011 with “Jack Goes On,” an ad where the members of the group turned into living gold statues to shill a canned highball made by Jack Daniels a friend once described as the “worst experience of his life.” Keep in mind, he said this while watching Jersey Shore. To me, though, I hate “Jack Goes On” because the song and accompanying clip were inescapable at this year’s Summer Sonic festival. RIP SLYME probably deserved a lot of hate for everything about “Jack Goes On.”

But I’m not gonna be the one to crucify them, because they also gave us the lovely “Sense Of Wonder,” a laid-back nocturnal number that more than makes up for the Jack Highball in a can. The beat is an incredibly minimal creation, bongos meeting street-lamp synths and a few other neon touches, the whole thing sounding airy and free. the members of RIP SLYME never try to mug over this empty-street production, instead strolling alongside and blending right in. Think of this as the late-night pizza place serving you after a night of downing Jack – regardless of how ugly things could (or would) get, this moment is wonderful.

43. Three-Weeks-Old Lovesick Puppy “Parachute Love”

“Parachute Love” neither exists in any form online nor as a downloadable commodity from the iTunes store, turning this blurb into more of a time capsule than a chance to say “click below.” Three-Weeks-Old Lovesick Puppy’s debut mini-album Tickle Tickle requires not a single listen through to hear cuteness oozing out of every corner, and though the whole disc sounds good, “Parachute Love” shines brightest because she tempers her Lisa Frank tendencies with aggression. It dashes faster than anything else on Tickle, the vocals still the audio equivalent of marzipan but with a no-second-thoughts chug propelling everything forward. You’ll have to take my word for it – it’s adorable and head-moving.

42. Ayumi Hamasaki “Brillante”

Good pop stars give the people something to follow, music that sounds like something the average listener could never hope to experience reduced to an experience they can. Huge pop stars make music that sounds like even they should have no part being involved in. “Brillante” comes off like a single built for an Egyptian pharaoh, not a pop singer boasting her own line of pachinko machines, but Ayumi Hamasaki has reached the point where going overboard seems like a completely rational choice. And she makes it work – “Brillante” is basically a typical Hamasaki ballad made big enough to fill Rome’s Colosseum, Hamasaki’s voice flanked by Western string sections and Eastern percussion, upping the chorus by adding a full-blown LITERAL chorus to turn this into something of pure decadence. Hamasaki fancies herself a queen, and instead of just boast about it in song, she went and got the sounds you would expect to turn royalty into epics. Nothing touches the pure scale of this, and thank goodness someone is still going to absurd lengths to prove how memorable they are.

LISTEN HERE

41. MFP “Steppin’ Into Changes”

MFP is part of the crew putting on Osaka’s INNIT event, and like a lot of the dudes getting together once every few months to melt minds, his take on beat-centric electronic music draws inspiration from a bunch of sources. Most clearly on 2011 highlight “Steppin’ Into Changes,” MFP turns to the cosmic blunts distributed by Brainfeeder (see the way it sounds like he’s projecting Nintendo games against Jupiter) and the soulful memories of producer J. Dilla (check the vocal samples, appearing in the back of the mix like wisps of smoke). Yet the most undeniable part of “Changes” is the joy flowing through its bouncy veins. Every time this song comes on I get teleported back to this past summer when I first heard it, and everything sounds alright.

Watch The Throne: Ayumi Hamasaki’s “Brillante”

Nobody else in the Japanese music landscape could have pulled this, a Sphinx-sized ballad coping ideas from the Middle East and summoning what might as well be a chorus from a Greek epic, off. On paper…and maybe on initial listen…this seems bloated and ridiculous, pretty much the opposite of Occupy Wall Street manned by an pop star that’s a super-easy target for hate. Yet here the wealthy triumph, sheer bigness that nobody calling themselves even “middle class” could dream of buying towering tall. Ayumi Hamasaki’s “Brillante” eclipses nearly every J-Pop ballad released this year and maybe in any year, at least in terms of grandness.

To some degree, it’s not an easy song to like. I spent more than a month trying to digest this, will myself to ignore the fact Ayumi Hamasaki might be the polar opposite of an underdog in the Japanese music world. She’s already established herself as a capital “s” Star, and routinely spends millions of dollars on lavish music videos and a ridiculous live show. She has her own pachinko machine, for god’s sake. Hamasaki doesn’t deserve more attention, right?

Nope, she does, because she knows that to get all eyes on her you’ve just got to straight up out-size everyone else. So…”Brillante,” which is a not-complex single James Cameron-ed into something continent sized. This is, to some degree, a ballad and most of the time those crash mighty hard (though, Hamasaki has pulled this off before). Take a look at the lyrics too, and you’ll discover the subject matter isn’t all that “epic” either – it’s a simple breakup song. Pedestrian, yeah?

Well, Hamasaki has the ego to blow these issues into something that sounds like the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The song pretty much speaks for itself, and I also think The Singles Jukebox did a good job touching on the details. The video adds an extra layer of pomp plus intrigue – there seems to be some sort of gender/sexuality commentary going on, but I’m not gonna make a fool of myself on that front. Finding words to describe what is going on here is actually hard…unless you like “big” repeated over and over again….but this thing just looms so much larger than all the other similarly-minded J-Pop trying this. They are dramatic chipmunk to her 10-hour epic sax guy.

So yes, the rich get richer and Ayumi Hamasaki grows larger. Thing is, she deserves it.

Watch the video here.

Station To Station: Music Station For September 16, 2011 Featuring AKB48, EXILE And Ayumi Hamasaki

Oh man, a jumbo-sized Music Station this week. Featuring all the heavy hitters. Buckle in folks.

AKB48 “Flying Get”

WATCH HERE

See the logo at the top of this page? That’s the new design/slogan for the “Cool Japan” campaign, the Japanese government’s attempt to spread soft power via culture. Basically, they want Japanese media, like anime and movies and whatever whatever, to spread everywhere. Remember “Cool Britannia?” Like that, but with more One Piece.

Musically, I’m not positive who the government will push…the logical answer would be the Cars-2-approved Perfume, the illogical answer being Arashi which is what I think they did…but it doesn’t matter, because AKB48 already owns that position, at least to some degree. This week, it was announced that Jakarta will be getting an AKB48 branch, called JKT48. This, coupled with official stores in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan PLUS other potential imperialistic expansion (Taiwan? Italy?), makes them the most visible Japanese music outfit going today…at least in Asia.

“Flying Get”…almost as good English as “Japan Next”…pretty much sums up AKB48’s sound because all their songs sound the same. It’s pop as an afterthought, the image of the group coming first and whatever grating Chuck-E-Cheese leftovers they can cobble together second. Yet this sells, and may very well be Japan’s most known musical export around the continent. Hold me.

The saving grace, though, is this stuff doesn’t have a chance in the Western world. Save for the persistent rumors of an AKB48-like outfit in Italy, this sort of stuff always ends up the topic of “weird Japan” columns and Gizmodo posts about CGI members. Whereas K-Pop embraced a Western-leaning sound that could potentially grab ears on that side of the world, AKB48 stick to this very lame style that won’t make an impact in places where they think a Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament is stupid as hell. Los Angeles won’t be getting an AKB theater anytime soon, and thank goodness for that.

EXILE “Rising Sun”

“Rising Sun” will work as EXILE’s “charity single,” meaning all profits made will go to help out those affected by the Tohoku disaster. In theory, I should stop right their and give all of the group a nice pat on the back for doing a nice thing. You go, EXILE!

Of course, some charity should be scrutinized. James Hadfield of Time Out Tokyo pointed out how SMAP’s SMAP AID CD only netted relief efforts five percent of an individual album sale. So yeah, this could be a little less wonderful than we think.

But still, as Hadfield notes, the sympathetic view of this sort of move is that money is going somewhere helpful, even if it’s less than you’d think so EXILE probably still earn points. More points than this typical lukewarm R&B would. Ooops! Just go donate money to a real charity so EXILE don’t get any boosts, OK?

Koda Kumi “愛を止めないで”

We yuck-up on Koda Kumi a lot here…”damn girl, you looks like horny!”…but truth be told I’d have sexually idiotic Kumi ballerinaing around in an idiot daze than serious sappy ballad-spewing Kumi any day of the week. Usually she says something stupid. Here she just bores.

TVXQ “B.U.T (BE-AU-TY)”

Lot of great details in this song, let’s do it:

1. What sounds like a tea kettle going bonkers during the verses.

2. The chorus. Everything about it.

3. But especially the way they pronounce words like “me?????” They sound like how I’d expect Marmaduke to talk…until Owen Wilson robbed me of that fantasy.

4. The underground Fight Club video huh?

5. How they add extra “T’s” to “B.U.T.” as if to spell a drawn-out “buttttttttt.”

Ayumi Hamasaki “Beloved”

The second I heard those opening piano key twinkles, I knew where we were heading. “Oh boy…a ballad,” I thought, reaching for the Ume Chu-hi serving as my writing partner for this week’s edition. Against my better judgement, I sat through the whole thing, waiting to see if anything noteworthy would happen. Nothing did. Five minutes and 20 seconds of my life…gone, just like that, cruelly snatched by Ayumi Hamasaki’s especially bland mix of “emotion” wrapped up in some violins. At least I had a traveling partner for this week’s long trip down the road of make-it-stop-now-please.

Masaharu Fukuyama “家族になろうよ fighting pose”

Can’t even work up any emotion about whatever this is. Sounds a little bit like Alphabeat’s “Fascination” minus all the fun.

Hey! Say! JUMP “Magic Power”

= (

So…these guys think they can be the Jackson Five now, do they? The 12-year-old set that buys this stuff will eat it up because they don’t know any better, but this might be the most grating thing they’ve released yet and that’s saying quite a bit. They’ve always forced these big, terrible, server-at-Applebees-quality smiles to their music before but this is like so forced happy you want to punch them in the face to make that grin go away.

Winner Of The Week – None of these jabronis, that’s for sure. Instead, let’s tackle one more song, one of much higher quality but absent from Music Station this week…

Berryz Kōbō “Aa, Yoru ga Akeru”

The fine folks at The Singles Jukebox reviewed this and gave it pretty good marks, and I agree. It’s hyperactive pop that flirts with what those great Korean groups do but importantly holds onto some of the cheese that sorta defines J-Pop (check those electro strings). Still, this song also does a whole bunch that no other Japanese pop acts would touch without a big, long stick…check the brief but boogie-tastic keyboard solo late in the song, and just the general speed of the whole thing. This is way better than anything above, and probably the best J-Pop I’ve heard since that one YUKI song.

One concern though…The Singles Jukebox crew, not well-versed in J-Pop, seem to come off as thinking all of Japan’s pop sounds like this. No gang…scroll up, that’s the stuff clogging the airwaves.

Station To Station: Music Station For September 2nd Featuring 2NE1, Meisa Kuroki And Masaharu Fukuyama

Great news gang! College and pro football is back! Which means there is a very real chance I get distracted away from J-Pop at times. Just leave a snappy comment about how I missed the new AKB48 single or something and I’ll pry myself away from directional college versus directional college.

Meisa Kuroki “Wired Life”

I made the big mistake of reading the YouTube comments for this video, and unsurprisingly I was assaulted by the seemingly-mandatory dopiness of…whoever writes comments on YouTube. They aren’t that bad, nothing racist that I can see (another YouTube-comment requirement, least feels like it), but just a stream of “WOW SHES HOT” and something about anime. Yeah, sorta harmless but the thinking-train that goes “singer A is attractive, thus singer A’s music must be good” sorta makes me shudder. Pointing this out because I’ve had similar conversations a bit in the past few months and they always seem weird and this reminded me of that, though last time it was about CSS who certainly don’t make much good music!

ANYWAY “Wired Life’s” a strange beast because it manages to do a lot of interesting stuff and a fair amount of annoying junk as well. The opening’s an instant attention grabber, foggy electronics featuring some gurgling static noises underneath that transforms into…a bouncy-but-chilly pop song. Meisa Kuroki’s vocals get run through some vocal manipulation…Auto-tune? She sounds like Kanye minus the Heartbreak…which isn’t that annoying. Some of the stuff she sings, though, can be, like the repeated utterances of what sounds like “catalog.” The production is exciting for J-Pop, but “Wired Life” ultimately doesn’t go far enough to make this more than a clever-but-only-above-average single.

ゴールデンボンバ “女々しくて”

Man, Visual kei, I just don’t get you one bit. This song…translated, the title mean “Effeminate” and part of me thinks this could be a joke…seems like a more mainstream-appropriate take on the eternally goofy genre. For all the TV-scripted drama dude’s voice conjures up, this track still boasts a really prominent J-Pop skip, a fact mirrored by the silly up-down dance these potential male hosts do come the chorus. Speaking of the video…that’s probably the best part of this tune, especially the amateur-feeling segments that feature the band in on some sort of gag dancing outside of a bar. The whole track feels like it’s poking fun at…something…and considering how serious some Visual kei takes itself, this TV-friendly version deserves point for not being afraid to laugh at itself. At the same time, though, the song itself blows and divorced from the video ends up a real chore. Which, isn’t good.

Tackey & Tsubasa “Journey Journey~ボクラノミライ”

Can’t find a full version of this long-titled joint, and part of me is thankful for that after sitting through the 30-second preview above. It’s not aggressively offensive to the senses…but it sounds very much like Johnny’s which, even at its best, isn’t something worthy of trumpeting up to much. Going out on a limb and saying the world isn’t missing much if they don’t listen to this.

2NE1 “I’m The Best”

I’ve droned on…and almost certainly will again…about how K-Pop’s bear-hugging of Western music trends puts it leaps ahead of stodgy old J-Pop, so content to do the same stuff on repeat. So yeah, if you didn’t know, now you do.

That said, not sure how much longer I can draw out that talking point after 2NE1’s latest. “I’m The Best” is the neutron bomb of this cultural mash-up, a K-Pop song that buffets-out on Western trends without any remorse. Opening with a wonky Diplo-esque electro-house bit, 2NE1 slither through straight pop, hip-hop and some weird Orientalist-baiting breakdown bit. This is hedonism at it’s finest, a group gorging on the sonic treats to the extreme. I have no idea what anyone in this group is saying besides “billion dollar baby” yet 2NE1 make it clear this is a conjoined diss/hype-up track where everyone sucks in the presence of them. This is some dream-team Survivor Series shit where 2NE1 tag-team it up and clear the ring in record time. And just like pro wrestling, this seems really over the top, but also entertaining.

It will be interesting to see how Japanese audiences react to a song so balls-to-wall egotastic, though at this point I should mention the official Japanese version of the song. It’s pretty much the same minus two big edits…two verses actually get delivered in complete English, and it’s pretty entertaining. The first one is typical “in the club” bluster, but the second one (replacing “billion dollar baby”) finds 2NE1 member hating on some flirty dude and it’s pretty entertaining, though the line “throw it like a Frisbee” is doomed to go over the Japanese audience’s heads (the game doesn’t really exist here). Also, hope they keep the same insane video for the Japanese single, guns and all!

Ayumi Hamasaki “Special Medley”

Yeah, after 2NE1 powerbombing everyone through tables, I’m not gonna listen to an Ayumi Hamasaki medley.

Masaharu Fukuyama “家族になろうよ”

Uggggggggggggggh, boring acoustic-guitar-heavy balladry. This is better than the Jason Mraz-ish ditties that sometimes pop up in Japan, but not by much.

Winner Of The Week – Meisa Kuroki gave it a good try, and that one band had a funny video…but just look at which song got the most words devoted to it and you can guess who won.

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 Staion: Music Station Artists For April 16, 2010 Featuring Perfume, NYC And Lady Gaga

The Music Station web site started posting what songs the artists will be performing again. Rejoice! Let’s get into it…

NYC “Yuuki 100%”

Be wary of any musical group cobbled together for the sole purpose of performing the theme song to a volleyball tournament. Last year, Johnny’s Entertainment took two members of tween-heartthrobs Hey! Say! JUMP and joined them with some other dudes to form NYC boys. Billed as a temporary outfit, NYC boys existed to provide the theme to the FIVB World Grand Prix, held in Japan that year. The track, cleverly titled “NYC,” became popular enough to warrant this boy band’s continued existence. Now minus the “boys,” NYC are back with…another theme song!

I understand somebody out there has to come up with theme songs, but when they take on a life of their own divorced from the show they soundtrack they open themselves up to this sort of axe-hitting-an-apple criticism. “100% Yuuki” — the theme for a ninja cartoon pictured above and on everyday after I get home from work — boasts all the faceless features of a Johnny’s single backed by a Europop bounce veering dangerously close to Pigloo territory. It’s a song aimed at pre-pubescent kids which also happens to lack a single iota of charm those Aflac Duck ads got. NYC will sell though, and some high school-based J-Dramas gonna be making bank when they nab the right to their third single.

Kou Shibasaki “ホントだよ”

Geez, the creepy killer girl from Battle Royale grew up to sing…nice enough J-Pop. This is the sound you expect to hear in a dentist’s waiting room, all pleasant vocals and easy-listening string swells. It totally relaxes you in the moment but will be forgotten about once the appointment wraps up. Shibasaki’s latest single manages to touch on some great sonic ideas: the horn deep in the mix, the string plucks and wavy synths during the bridge, the way the various voices sort of wind around one another to up the overall prettiness. None of these details get enough time, though, and all the meh parts take up the bulk of the track. Pleasant but hardly memorable.

Though you have to give that video a watch. Seeing the lady who once gunned down a bunch of high school students on a deserted island helping people out is kinda surreal.

Ayumi Hamasaki “楽曲未定”

I can’t find this song. Is it the clip below maybe? Of Hamasaki pretending to be Lady Gaga, but in support of a song that sounds like that one instrumental from Wavves first album looped over and over again. Maybe. Maybe she’ll fight Lady Gaga on the show that would be something.

Perfume “不自然なガール”

Site preview time…you can expect a full review of Perfume’s latest single in the coming days. Surprise surprise. No need to waste words on this post when I’ll need them later on. To bide your time, here are some zany Perfume-related April Fool’s jokes.

Lady Gaga “Telephone”

Yeah, I’m not posting that 10-minute monstrosity of a video.

“Telephone” has the unfortunate timing to be the first Gaga single to follow in the wake of “Bad Romance,” an absolute beast of a pop song (it took a lot of time and bad karaoke to come to this point). It’s an OK enough song…Lady Gaga doing the club-pop she’s built her name on…but pails in comparison to “Bad Romance” or most of her other singles catalog. I think even she was aware of this – just watch that Miracle Whip-laced video for “Telephone” and see how the song isn’t even a second-thought, but more like a fourth-thought somewhere between cigarette glasses and Beyonce’s “acting.” Sorry to dwell on it, but the “Bad Romance” crammed all the bizarre imagery people expect from her but still managed to put the song up front. So basically…”Telephone” isn’t “Bad Romance.”

But I bet she’ll wear something CRAZY on Music Station right guys???

Winner Of The Week – It’s so obviously Perfume. I’m just not going to tell you why.

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.