Tag Archives: JUJU

Station To Station: Music Station For June 15 Featuring Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Kou Shibasaki And BENI

Big things happening around these parts in the near future, so this will be a relatively quick edition…with picture complete with Japanese buzzword!

aiko “Kuchibiru”

WATCH HERE, STARTING AT THE THREE MINUTE MARK

Here’s an artist who exist in the unoffensive middle, someone who never releases anything terrible but also has failed to release anything great. At her best, aiko makes pleasant music, while at her worst she makes completely forgettable stuff – not in a “this sucks, get away from me” way but rather “oh, I did listen to that.” “Kuchibiru” falls into the prior, a track with a pinch of funk – check the bubbly keyboards, which feature the sort of sound Tori Y Moi would kill to achieve – that isn’t going to leave any deep marks, but is also a light treat that pleases more than most aiko songs.

Kanjani8 “Medeshita”

So how about that single by Kanjani8? Let’s not talk about it.

Instead, let’s talk about this great footwork and juke compilation featuring some of the most bonkers songs outta Japan this year.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu “Tsukematsukeru”

1. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s debut album Pamyu Pamyu Revolution only gets better with time – it’s right behind that MiChi album for the title of best pop album of the year, a colorful collection of songs anchored by the huge singles but boosted up by the playful track in-between. This is a fun album, but also a pretty daring one – nothing in J-Pop right now sounds like this, and that’s pretty big – which deserves your attention.

2. This single remains my least favorite of Kyary’s major releases thus far. To some degree, it’s just “Candy Candy” in a chrysalis, both boasting a twinkling giddiness leading up to the big catchy chorus. “Candy Candy,” though, just ends up more memorable to me. I’m also still a bit unnerved about the fact the song is a celebration of fake eyelashes, which wouldn’t be a problem if Kyary didn’t have her own line of the things, turning this into a subtle commercial. I’m not sure this SHOULD bother me…but it does. I’m glad her album ended up being great, because when I first heard this song I thought the rainbow wheels came off her bandwagon.

3. The video, though, is still great.

Kou Shibasaki “ANOTHER: WORLD”

Very quietly, Kou Shibasaki is killing it in 2012. She’s responsible for one of the most sneakily enjoyable J-Pop singles of the year thus far, the elastic-ball that is “Strength.” Now she hits us with “ANOTHER: WORLD” which, horrible capitalization aside, is another solid number. Here, she’s wiped the smile off her face in favor of a facial expression a bit more dramatic – “WORLD” aims for the dramatic, but thankfully never becomes a drag. For the first 3/4ths of the song, Shibasaki can thank whoever put the sounds together – opening with a rush of backwards-sounds, “WORLD” then jets into math-y rock territory bolstered by a fair smattering of electronics. Shibasaki’s singing fits in well – more serious than on “Strength,” but never trying to stretch itself too thin – but the real uhhh strength of the song comes from the small sonic details.

For the song’s final act, though, Shibasaki does borrow an idea from “Strength.” That song featured a jarring moment in the middle where the skippy melody suddenly stopped, with what sounded like a part of an entirely new song playing for a few seconds before sharply turning back to the original tune. “WORLD” adopts a similar splintering effect, but takes it further, the producers behind this song taking samples of Shibasaki’s voice and twisting them into a series of mutating sounds that doesn’t sound too far removed from what Seiho does. From there the song flips out and nearly becomes something new – until everything rights itself for the home stretch. It might not be a new trick, but it still works wonders on “WORLD.”

JUJU “Tadaima”

WATCH HERE

Couples, prepare to have to put this aural donut onto your anniversary mixtape. Bonus groans for that Hallmark card of a video.

BENI “Ti Amo”

The above is a cover version of a song by EXILE. Comparison time! Check out the original below:

The biggest difference is that BENI chose to do her version in English, which almost makes her version of “Ti Amo” sound completely alien from the EXILE take. Her version is also a bit more busy – whereas the original makes a lot of space for the two singers in EXILE to work their voices, BENI’s version snaps and crackles (and, uhhhh, violins) a little bit more. She does include the best sonic touch of the original, which is the Spanish guitar playing, so props to her for that (though, with a song called “Ti Amo,” I think you sorta have to have it?). Ultimately, both versions are good albeit unspectacular – for EXILE, “Ti Amo” is one of their best songs, one wisely using space to create something approaching intimacy. BENI’s take, meanwhile, sounds more dynamic and immediately catchy.

Winner Of The Week – Kou Shibasaki

Station To Station: Music Station For January 27 Featuring Kim Hyun Joong, SKE48 And JUJU

Oh sweet, sweet justice. I came to Japan in the summer of 2009, and only a few months later Kentucky Fried Chicken rolled out the Double Down, a fast-food sandwich also accurately described as the moment Western culture peaked. KFC replaced the bread in a sandwich with two pieces of fried chicken, a genius/mortifying idea packed with sodium. And I missed it! For two years I have had to listen to my brother talk about how delicious/gross these things are, and I have just been (uhhh) eating healthy. That all changes next week, when the Double Down…renamed the “Chicken Fillet Double” for Japan…debuts! Have mercy on my innards, for they are about to be ruined. Speaking of things that can ruin your week…

Ayaka “Hello”

…man, do I not like those lunch pack things featured in the above commercial, which also include a snippet of Ayaka’s new song “Hello.” OK, I kinda like the strawberry ones. I am spending so much time yapping about food because the 15 seconds you hear above are all I can find of this song, and the teeny bit I have heard sounds completely uneventful and boring to write about. Not to mention, ya know, only 15 seconds which isn’t enough to judge. So yeah…don’t buy those lunch packs.

SKE48 “Kataomoi Finally”

WATCH FULL VIDEO HERE, TRAILER BELOW

Despite the stranglehold AKB48 holds on the Japanese music landscape, the non-Akihabara groups in the AKB family rarely appear on Music Station despite boasting pretty strong sales. It is surprising because they sound exactly like AKB48, new single “Kataomoi Finally” reminiscent of oh-so-may songs featuring a group boasting the number “48” at the end of their name. It’s exactly what you would expect SKE48 to make – draw a musical opinion from there.

What is fascinating about this song is actually the accompanying music video, a five-minute clip which you can get the gist of in the trailer above. What’s intriguing is the video revolves around a potentially off-putting subject for the J-Pop mainstream – homosexuality, and not the “tee hee aren’t we cute rubbing noses against one another” of AKB48’s “Heavy Rotation.” Bizarrely enough, SKE48 could have been in a position to star in a video dealing with an interesting societal problem (the way teenage sexuality is viewed, and how homosexuality is an issue still pretty hush-hush in Japan). Maybe when Yasushi Akimoto says he understands the lives of teenage girls he might be right?

Then you remember the group in question and you realize it is most likely a cheap marketing ploy to excite the otaku side of SKE’s fan base, the “Kataomoi Finally” clip less social commentary and more of an excuse to fulfill some nerd’s dream of seeing girls dressed as schoolgirls kissing. Coupled with the fact the main lesbian character appears to be the “villain” of the video (real progressive!), this is just more provocative marketing from a dude who really gets his audience.

Kim Hyun Joong “Kiss Kiss”

You remember that viral video that showed some folks’ wedding entrance, and it was full of wack-a-doodle dancing all soundtracked by Chris Brown’s “Forever” because this was before Chris Brown decided to beat the shit out of beloved pop star Rhianna? Yeah, this one? “Kiss Kiss” would work wonderfully in the Korean/Japanese version of that video, Kim Hyun Joong sounding an awful (in every sense of the word) lot like Chris Brown.

Look, I am all for K-Pop artists taking inspiration from Western audiences…miles better than the eternal loop J-Pop sometimes feels caught in…but choose wisely! Chris Brown’s sentimental junk isn’t worth copying.

JUJU “Sign”

JUJU can work when she steps away from the cement-shoe format that is the J-Pop ballad – even when she tries covering old jazz numbers, she comes off as interesting and at least capable of something very few others in the mainstream scene today can do. Unfortunately, she rarely seems able to get away from the ballad, forced to wear it around her neck for all of time. “Sign” is more of the same, a plodding trudge through every sound you have come to expect in one of these songs. Poor JUJU.

TOKIO “羽田空港の奇跡”

Terrible audio quality, sure, but this is TOKIO we are talking about. The chorus is kinda peppy in that Johnny’s sanctioned sort of way, but everything else is pretty much boring autopilot.

Winner Of The Week – Ayaka for doing the least damage. Or maybe the Double Down, that thing rules too.

Station To Station: Music Station For December 2, 2011 Featuring Perfume, KAT-TUN And Koda Kumi

December already? Well, let’s make the remaining bits of 2011 count by…listening to J-Pop together.

KAT-TUN “BIRTH”

KAT-TUN seemed quiet for a while, yeah? Well, here they are again with something called “BIRTH” which an astute person would assume signals a change in style, a fresh start, an escape from the womb-like chambers of Johnny’s typical sounds. Being KAT-TUN, they botch the delivery. This group’s schtick has become something like this:

1. Tease a musical switch away from the typical pop slop Johnny’s specializes, maybe with a new keyboard or a guitar or something.
2. Have KAT-TUN start singing.
3. Erase whatever hopes point one fostered.

“BIRTH” starts with radio scramble and some low-key guitar and for a second you go “OK OK maybe they got something here!” Then KAT-TUN belt out that all-together now tripe and away we go, reaching for the eraser and shaking our heads for being suckered in again for several seconds. On the plus side, someone posted lyrics translations as the YouTube description! Here is my favorite part.

Light and shadow, it’s fate
I was born, a birth of sorrow
Even if I fall, I’ll get back up
In this never-ending world

Man, have you ever thought like, when we die, the world keeps on turning. Dude.

Koda Kumi “Love Me Back”

No can do, Ms. Kumi.

三代目J Soul Brothers “FIGHTERS”

In Cool As Ice, whack rapper Vanilla Ice plays the role of a James-Dean-like motorcyclist who wears hideous early 90’s clothes and says just the stupidest lines possible (a collection here, highlighted by Vanilla Ice saying “lose the zero, get with the hero”). At one point, a group of yuppie thugs terrorize one of Ice’s homeboy’s bike, leading to a dramatic fight scene (“HOMEBOY THIS”). What follows is Vanilla fucking Ice beating up four baseball-bat-wielding no goodknicks like he’s Bruce Lee. It is one of the most mind-shattering scenes in cinematic history, and a gross miscalculation of what Vanilla Ice was capable of as a…well, anything.

The video for 三代目 J Soul Brothers’ “FIGHTERS,” although not part of a feature film starring them as bike-ridin’ bad boys, treads similar ground, here placing the members of the EXILE-related group into some sort of grungy warehouse to fight dozens of extras wondering why they got into acting in the first place. Simultaneously a chance to show men how tough J Soul Brothers are (“look at ’em beat up dudes with a lead pipe, radical!”) and an opportunity to lure in female fans with the promise of six-pack abs, this brief clip finds the dudes beating the everlasting shit out of people, stopping only to mug for the camera or fist-bump one another. The “FIGHTERS” video does not take place within our world, as the constraints of physics are not present. Every punch, kick, roundhouse kick and synchronized dance kick connects like Megatron’s robo fists, shooting people through the air and knocking over gates. The actual music here does not matter, the only worthwhile commentary I can provide being “the dude who raps sounds like he might have a lung condition, check that out man!” The final scene finds the eight members of J Soul Brothers standing tall amongst a field of beaten-down bodies, until the last scene where a new wave of extras rush in and the members of the group get the stupidest grins on their faces. “Yes, more people to destroy, for we are J Soul Brothers, guys who sing about love and stuff, destroyers of worlds.”

Somewhere, a tear rolls down Vanilla Ice’s face. “I did it, I inspired those homeboys,” he says. He then goes back to planning his 2012 appearance at the Gathering Of The Juggalos.

JUJU “Lullaby Of Birdland

JUJU gives a relatively straightforward interpretation of the 1952 favorite “Lullaby Of Birdland,” a song sung by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Amy Winehouse. It’s jazzy and standard-ish and a nice break from most of the music appearing in this feature so personally I am pretty happy to hear this. Along with Shiina Ringo’s Disney-esque “Carnation,” this signals a recent retro rush by J-Pop stars. I am OK with this, at least for now!

Of course, my opinion comes with the huge caveat that I am a pretty basic jazz fan…in other words, I listen to Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and am like “this is very…good.” Jazz fans seem to hate this song in the comments (at least some) so hey, if you love jazz please tell me how JUJU is messing this up, I am curious!

Perfume JPN

So this week, Perfume performs a special medley, most likely of JPN songs in order to promote that fresh release. In that case, I am going to share my initial thoughts on JPN, an album that has actually been a bit divisive based on my (limited) Twitter observations. So far, I’ve listened to the whole thing four times, so these are all super early opinions.

– Overall…this is a very good album! Though, I probably could have told you that the moment the tracklist became available. Just click the “Perfume” tag at the bottom of this page and look over all the entries for the trio’s 2010/2011 singles – I mostly rave about them, and considering that almost everyone appears on JPN, this sorta was destined to be at the very least a great package collecting all the great stuff they’ve pumped out over the past two years.

– That said, I also feel slightly disappointed by JPN…because I hyped this album up way too much in my head. Blame that on “Glitter” and “Spice,” the most recent Perfume singles that stand among the best work the crew has ever done. The other completely new tracks, though, fail to match up with those two, ranging from “terrible” to “really really good.” Part of me thought this could be an album of the year contender and Perfume’s best if they really hit it out of the park. It’s not that good, initially looking like a release capable of landing on my personal year-end list (though, again, early) and probably a little better than Triangle.

– I’m really interested in what the criticism of JPN will be. Developing trend – I think people who really like Capsule’s World Of Fantasy won’t like JPN, because the latter plays it pop safe while the other one comes off as more “daring.” Personally, I don’t like World Of Fantasy much (actually, nearly at all) and love the pop-tastic production found on Perfume albums way more.

– “Spice” is the fucking jam. It initially comes off as real effortless, but listen closely and you discover all sorts of small details that make the whole thing even better. My favorite touch – the Space Invaders bloops deep in the mix, reminds me of The Avalanches.

Again, only four listens through, so expect more in the near future.

ゆず “翔”

The one complaint about JPN I won’t take seriously is that it sounds “like everything else.” Nope, nothing on that album sounds like this damp diaper of a song.

Winner Of The Week – JUJU, because I can’t pick an album.

Station To Station: Music Station For October 27 Featuring AKB48, KinKi Kids And Perfume

The popularity of Ashida Mana works like a Chinese Finger Trap – at first, you have no idea how the dang thing works (“what’s the big deal, she’s just an adorable seven-year-old kid given a stupidly catchy albeit annoying song?”) then you realize the solution is way easier than you ever could have imagined (“oh I just reread that last sentence again”). Though I don’t think any child should be hoisted into a media-heavy position like her and “Maru Maru Mori Mori” will probably end up the year’s most acceptably annoying song of the year – a friend told me that he had to sit through a four-year-old kid sing that song THREE TIMES at karaoke – I’ll admit a bit of a soft spot for Mana. Mostly because she’s inspired the minor trend of J-Pop stars doing the “Maru Maru” dance and it is cute…you can see KARA in the red-velvet-cupcake-sweet clip above, and I’ve seen one with Perfume. Also, her reactions are stupid adorable.

A friendly reminder that being famous really does make life better. Onto the music!

AKB48 Special Medley

I should really be burned out on AKB48 by now, right? First there was this, then I went onto the Canadian Broadcasting Company program Q to talk about the giant group (go here, click the October 26 episode and jump to the hour mark!). And to some degree I am…though I don’t think I’d ever subject myself to an AKB48 medley at any time in my life…but I have to admit they really are the most interesting musical act in Japan at the moment (emphasis on “interesting”). I can’t pull my eyes away. So, to meet our weekly quota of terror, let’s focus on one of AKB’s sister group’s songs that recently topped the Oricon charts…

NMB48 “Oh My God”

Osaka represent. Unfortunately, not much to say about this song beyond what gets written about every single AKB track…this sounds like everything that came before it, the name of the group really not mattering because that Akihabara sound manifests itself in everything associated with this group. Even all the dumb guitar solos are starting to blend together.

They also shouldn’t be holding microphones so close to a pool.

KinKi Kids “願う以上のこと 祈る以上のこと”

KinKi Kids’ latest opens not as the “immediately terrible Johnny & Associates pop song” nor the “immediately terrible Johnny & Associates ballad” but rather the Articuno of the Johnny’s singles family…the “oh my, this actually sounds like it has potential for a Johnny & Associates song.” This opens with some surprising minimalism – throbbing beat, slightly chilled keyboards, nothing too sparkly to ruin everything. Then everything gets a little dicey – some horns kick in, which for a Johnny’s song usually signals the beginning of cheese galore. And here it sorta does, as the new KinKi Kids suddenly sounds like some long-lost Olympics anthem. Yet they manage to pilot the pop ship away from smashing into the ground, and the following verses retain some traces of restraint that sounds kinda nice. The chorus chokes that goodwill away a bit, but overall the brief clip here seems…kinda OK. Since it is only a sample it is probably smarter to not make any big statements, but take what you can get with this company.

JAY’ED×JUJU “永遠はただの一秒から”

Uggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhh, this song/video combo makes me want to give up on love completely. The song ends up being the less offensive of the two…typical goopy balladry, here courtesy of a duo so uninteresting that I’m completely stunned to learn that the only other time they teamed up ended up being a huge hit. Which partially explains the existence of this track, though nobody should be granted forgiveness.

Still, the song pails in comparison to the accompanying clip. OK, real talk…have you ever sat through Love Actually for a girl (insert the equivalent for a woman here, The Expendables?)? Well, I have and let me tell you watching this video comes close to matching the sugary-gross treat of sitting through that film. Except I brought this on myself. Just a stupidly “cute” idea full of disturbing questions…chief among them, how did the guy get in her apartment to do all that stuff…that exists in some Hallmark Card of a parallel universe. To the monastery!

Sonar Pocket “365日のラブストーリー。”

Everything I know about Sonar Pocket I just learned from Wikimon, the Internet’s go-to Wiki for all Digimon-related info. Just going to end this there.

Perfume “Spice”

LISTEN HERE

Initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of Perfume’s forthcoming single “Spice” – when the thing leaked online in the form of a radio rip, I compared the slowed-down pace to Washed Out. Which I stand by a bit…though now with more time I admit that isn’t quite as strong as I first thought. At first I thought “where is Perfume, the ones zipping through Lifesaver-clored synths and pulling awesome choruses out of mid-air?” “Spice’s” change in speed caught me off guard.

Now? I think “Spice” is pretty damn good. Perfume appeared a bit vulnerable when they released that terrible AKB-aping ballad, but “Spice” proves they can do solid work at a moderate walking pace. Yasutaka Nakata’s production comes off like a giant Katamari slowly rolling over the countryside, each new roll revealing a fresh addition as Perfume make the giant ball move. I think the jubilant “Laser Beam” remains the trio’s best single of the year…and we haven’t even heard a full version of “Glitter”…but “Spice” is the first song of Perfume’s in 2011 that sees them inching into something different for them (in a good way). A song that surrounds you in the best way.

Winner Of The Week – “Spice”

Station To Station: Music Station For July 22, 2011 Featuring Kis-My-Ft2, Sakanaction And Kamiji Yusuke

So I stayed up way past my bedtime on a Sunday night to watch the Women’s World Cup Final and not only was treated to the best game of soccer I’ve ever seen…and that’s not some weird jab at the sport, it genuinely was the most thrilling match I’ve ever seen, albeit that’s a small sample size!…but also a fun musical moment. During the halftime break, they kept showing this commercial for some sort of TV special where AKB48, Perfume, Girl’s Generation and a whole bunch of other J-Pop artists would be performing. The surprising part…they soundtracked said ad with “Can’t Stop” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Quirky pairing! Onto the music.

Kis-My-Ft2 “Everybody Go”

WATCH HERE IF YOU DARE

What did you really like as a teenager that you now look back on and go “what the fuck was I thinking?” For me, it goes something like: professional wrestling, Pokemon and creating imaginary sports leagues in my head. Thing is, there really is no reason to look back on these kind of adolescent pursuits and beat your mental-self up over them…the “you” at age 14 was a hell of a lot different than the “you” of today, so is it really shocking that teenage-you watched Smackdown! or almost bought a Creed CD once? I’m not the only one to argue this…I’ve seen people make the inoffensive-to-a-fault recording output of Jimmy Eat World, and despite their best attempts at playing it off as a guilty pleasure, boy bands. Who cares what you liked when you were a moody ball of high-school clay?

I imagine the intended market for Johnny’s Junior outfit Kis-My-Ft2 (seriously) is tweens and teens, and I’d like to think ten years from now the kids making up the front row of the live footage in the link above will flip through the Case Logic of their youth and chuckle at themselves. Mostly because, as a 23-bordering-on-24-year-old dude, I hear absolutely nothing redeeming about this track, so I have to assume I’m just old and cynical and maybe this is just some Japanese kids Backstreet Boys. Except the Backstreet Boys didn’t have cheap-butt techno swells and a military march segment in any of their songs (I think, wasn’t my scene). Instead of spit bile at this grating slab of excrement, I’m going to just retreat and let the kids of today enjoy their pop. And pray ten years from now they laugh it all off as a phase.

Sakanaction ““Bach No Senritsu Wo Yoru Ni Kiita Sei Desu”

Wrote about this one already, so click the blue letters if you want expanded thoughts on it. Just a really good song, and Sakanaction seem poised to have a really big second half of the year.

JUJU “また明日…”

Loogit that, this has already been done on Music Station, meaning I already wrote about this once before. Instead of taking the mandatory 10 seconds to see what I wrote before, I’m just gonna guess I plopped down something about a “plodding, melodramatic ballad” before posting an epic nut-shot video of some sort. Welp, watch the clip above and save yourself a Friday night.

One of my big concerns about writing about J-Pop ballads is that I’m missing out on something big because I can’t understand what they are saying completely. I mean, every one of these songs sounds the same…they must be saying some real life-altering stuff to stand out right? Obviously, a bit gets lost in translation, but I found the English lyrics for this song and…well, not really. This either deals with love coming to an end or someone dieing, or if we want to be a little more generous the transience of all life but Tokyo Story this ain’t, which is a subject worth exploring in song seeing as it is a big part of the human condition and all. Still…this seems pretty sap-tastic and if we aren’t setting the bar stupid low for “J-Pop”…this could be a lot better, no?

TVXQ “Superstar

The recent wave of great K-Pop outfits landing in Japan…Girl’s Generation, KARA, 2NE1…has been so exciting compared to the sometimes lame crop of J-Pop that it is easy to forget how crappy a lot of it sounds too. TVXQ has been kicking around the Japanese charts long before the current wave of girl-centric groups, so “Superstar” isn’t some hot-shit debut but rather just another single from a group accustomed to selling well. And that’s good for them, because this single blows! Robo-voices cover up the lack of soul…or any internal organ for that matter…well the verses fart around like a third-string Pitbull club anthem. Maybe slightly more interesting than your typical Johnny’s release, but about as painful to hear.

Kamiji Yusuke “全部好き”

Hey, the video for this is kinda cute! Shame the song should be stricken from this Earth!

Winner Of The Week – I’m so glad Sakanaction can get on these shows, they make the whole affair a bit more tolerable.

Station To Station: Music Station For June 3 Featuring YUI, JUJU And Girls’ Generation

Before we dive into the music, quick AKB48 update. They still seem to be shattering records, now courtesy of that boring single they put out. Keep in mind, though, that one guy bought 5500 copies of it – if other AKB fanatics are even buying just a thousand copies, that’s still probably skewing it a bit.

Girls’ Generation “The Great Escape”

Girls’ Generation’s musical campaign into Japan reached a huge moment this week – on Wednesday, the South Korean group released their first full-length Japanese album into stores. The self-titled debut features a mix of older SNSD tracks done in Japanese (the Pussy Cat Dolls aping “Genie” and “Run Devil Run,” the still great “Gee”) and, more importantly, songs made specifically for Japan. It’s a big step forward for the group, going from repackaging Korean smash hits to actually creating songs meant to separate Yen from the consumer. The first single aimed specifically at this nation was the plodding “MR. TAXI,” a song worthy of praise for not sounding like run-of-the-mill J-Pop but worthy of scorn for being generally lame and using Auto-tune poorly.

“The Great Escape,” another Japan-original, succeeds where “MR. TAXI” flopped. Opening with the sharp-cries of what could be a dieing Nintendo, Girls’ Generation soon transitions into a bouncy melody that seemingly takes steps from Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall.” This isn’t the 70s, though, so this ends up being a much busier affair, chock-full of bleeting synths and wooshy noises. Yet buried underneath all of the clutter resides a beating pop heart, one exposed fully during the chorus. Not nearly as shiny as “Visual Dreams” or as head-turning as “Gee,” but an irresistible bit of pop showmanship all the same.

To heap a lil’ more praise on “The Great Escape” – give credit to whoever decided to take a risk by making a Japan-only single sound nothing like Japanese pop music. Again, this has way more in common with American and European pop rather than any of the “safe” (read: boring) hunks of melodrama clogging up the Oricon charts.

JUJU “また明日…”

WATCH HERE

Recently someone asked me why I put myself through the pain of this feature on a weekly basis. Great question! I responded with some sorta Flinstone-esque “somebody has to do it,” but deep inside I believe it’s important to keep at least one ear pointed toward the J-Pop mainstream, as good stuff sometimes slips through and deserves praise. If you wanted to easily counter my claim and prove the futility of this project, you could easily forward me JUJU’s latest song as a reminder that “hey, all of this actually sounds the same, and it stinks!” This one’s a usual case of plodding balladry, joined by a cliche music video about aging. Did you know everyone gets older??!! Look, I want to see The Tree Of Life as badly as anyone else, but the way J-Pop videos approach the subject of inevitable death always seems so cheesy. Though to the clip’s credit, it held my attention far more than the song.

A month from now remind me of this and maybe I’ll reconsider what I do.

Hey! Say! JUMP “OVER”

OK, on second thought, ship me over this single because I’d rather have a thousand years of sappy ballads than more generic Johnny’s tracks like this. If you’ve heard one Hey! Say! JUMP single in the past, chances are good you’ve basically heard this one (recorded live, it sounds like from the cheers). One positive though – they are nice enough to announce “it’s over” when the song finishes, so you at least know when it’s safe to return to the room. How courteous!

(I swear this feature is worth it guys!)

Arisa Mizuki “あなたが笑えば”

Ya know, for all the negativity I pour out here at Station To Station, I must admit I honestly feel disappointed when I can’t find a song. So is the case with Arisa Mizuki’s latest, which doesn’t appear to be online except maybe for a brief clip at her official site. Though I don’t know which of the three clips it actually is. I honestly feel let down ya’ll.

YUI “HELLO ~Paradise Kiss~”

Sorry only a little bit, but more than the above.

Man I’m seeing ads for this darn movie everywhere. TV, at Lawson, in other posters slapped around the area. I’ve even had at least two people post this trailer to their Facebook accompanied by text like “WHAAAA I WANNA SEE THIS.” The accompanying song by YUI manages to sound approachable – the verses shuffle back and forth courtesy of a minimalist guitar line and some simple thumping, giving YUI plenty of room to do her light crooning. The chorus…as introduced by the middle part of the movie preview…lets loose a bit but it’s less of a sprint and more like a light jog. Tough to tell more from such a small sample, but what’s there rises a bit higher than typical movie soundtrack fodder.

Station To Station: Music Station For March 18, 2011 Featuring FUNKY MONKEY BABYS, NYC And CHEMISTRY

Before we get into the weekly music mayhem, one note. In the face of the catastrophes that hit Japan one week ago, a lot of J-Pop artists have stepped up and done all sorts of amazing stuff to help out the victims of these disasters. The likes of AKB48, GLAY and pretty much every Johnny’s production contributed in one way or another, and for that they should all be celebrated for being good human beings (or having a good PR team). Please keep that in the back of your head when reading a feature like this, one that routinely makes fun of these types because I think there music can be pretty bad. No personal judgments, but this focuses on music so any mean words you see below don’t reflect anything beyond the latest single. OK, that said…let’s get
into it!

(One other note: this week the Music Station site decided to not list what songs the artists will be performing. So I’m going with whatever the newest single by the musician is for reviewing purposes.)

NYC “Dream Egg”

Three weeks running and I’m out of new stuff to say about this beyond “this might be the worst J-Pop song I’ve heard all year.” It’s probably a generational issue…these guys are my personal Bieber…but to a cynical 20-something a goofy song + video combo leaves me longing for all the vague love songs the older Johnny’s bands pump out at an alarming rate. More pressing…what’s a “dream egg?” Like, does your dream hatch out of it? Can that possibly be FDA approved?

CHEMISTRY “Merry-Go-Round”

Last week we took a listen to CHEMISTRY’s first-ever single, and now we turn our attention to their new number “Merry-Go-Round.” Where have the duo ended up after all these years? Soundtracking Gundam, it looks like. What should be a laugh-for-a-minute fact actually ends up explaining why this single isn’t anything spectacular. Gone are any hints of R&B like on “PIECES OF A DREAM,” replaced by overly dramatic singing and a guitar solo. Only some electronic fuzz-ups in the background paint this as a CHEMISTRY song, and even those have to rub up against violins and pianos. “Merry-Go-Round” sounds explicitly like the sort of number made to play over anime ending credits, which unfortunately also means that’s the only time you should subject yourself to it.

JUJU

Can’t find either her new single or the B-side. Let’s pretend this never happened.

Tackey & Tsubasa Trip And Treasure mini-album sampler/interview thing

The big roadblock to writing this article without knowing what song each artist will perform means I have no idea what jam Tackey & Tsubasa will perform off of their new mini-album Trip And Treasure. This forced me to YouTube the album title which led to the above “sampler,” which sounds like some sort of radio show possibly recorded off a radio playing in a Holiday Inn Express lobby somewhere. Poor audio quality, coupled with random jumps from song to song and a 10-minute running time (with skits uggggggh), makes this a bit of a slog.

Yet despite all these hurdles, I still feel confident declaring Tackey & Tsubasa the least interesting artist working in the Johnny’s stable today. They neither inspire interest like the agency’s top dogs (SMAP, Arashi, KAT-TUN sometimes) nor do they make me feel irrational hate (NYC, that Kansai-themed group, KAT-TUN sometimes). They just…exist. And none of the songs played during this distant broadcast make me feel anything. They are the Johnny’s sound condensed into it’s most non-threatening, vanilla form, as fun as science homework that doesn’t involve mixing funny colored liquids together. Something tells me they injected that ampersand in to give this some sort of character.

FUNKY MONKEY BABYS “RunWay Beat”

No full-length version of the song in question, but you can hear all you need to in the trailer for the film RunWay Beat, what appears to be an inspirational tale of high schoolers designing clothes.

Like Tackey & Tsubasa, FUNKY MONKEY BABYS rarely stray from their comfort zone. For them, that safe place is a weird juncture between hip-hop, balladry and pop as naively optimistic as a puppy. The theme for the film RunWay Beat stick pretty faithful to the formula, though to FMB’s credit they seem to be going a little light on the faux-rapping. Good for them, that’s easily the worst aspect of their music. Instead, we get a pretty inoffensive number moving a step faster than the group’s usual attempts at “reggae-fied” pop. It bounces along and features a so-so chorus that really doesn’t deserve any scorn. Nothing noteworthy, but entirely pleasant.

Fukui Mai “いくたびの櫻”

A pretty typical “sakura” song, albeit one helped a bit by very lovely vocal work courtesy of Fukui Mai. Doesn’t leave a huge impression but certainly doesn’t make me run for the “mute” button either.

Kazuya Yoshii “LOVE & PEACE”

Glad to see touches of Snow Patrol have found a home in Japan.

Winner Of The Week – FUNKY MONKEY BABYS for being surprisingly pleasant.