Tag Archives: keisuke kuwata

Station To Station: Music Station For July 13, 2012 Featuirng Princess Princess, Rola And Keisuke Kuwata

Not the most upbeat week in Japanese news – car crashes, dead pandas, Ichiro Ozawa in general. So here is a quick (so many songs this week) edition of this feature to turn that proverbial frown upside down. Or make it sag a bit more, who knows.

Ikimono-gakari “Kaze Ga Fuiteiru”

NHK is Japan’s equivalent of the BBC, a nationwide network that airs news along with various cultural programs and language-learning shows (and a solid collection of kids shows). They are, for the most part, a very good entity, a lovely break from the other major networks which are (obviously) big corporate monsters full of a lot of inane programming. For the most part, I will defend NHK from detractors.

NHK, though, went and selected the above song from perpetual snooze-button-band Ikimono-gakari as their official song for the 2012 London Olympics. Now, to be fair, it’s a safe choice for them – Ikimono-gakari excel at the cheesy, semi-ballad stuff that can sound inspiring or melancholy on the turn of a 10-yen coin. It is a perfect match for the drama of the Olympic games (at times uplifting, at times crushing, mostly filler while you wait for the good stuff). That said, this is still borderline identical to every ballad off of this year’s Newtral, and those weren’t exciting in the first place. This probably works wonders between breaks in rhythmic gymnastics, but as a song I would like to move on.

Keisuke Kuwata “愛しい人へ捧ぐ歌”

I’m not positive how trustworthy the above video is – I swear the beat is off at various points – but this SOUNDS like Kuwata so it might be legit. If so, yeesh. This is a sleepy – in the sense that I’d like to zonk out, away from this limp guitar stroking – number that features Kuwata pushing his voice in grating directions. This might be a traditional Japanese song…or it just might be trying to sound like one…but the whole thing sounds off, regardless of what era it’s from.

TVXQ “Android”

At first I though “whoa, this J-Pop band is taking cues from K-Pop production, all electric and bouncy and rich in brostep breakdowns!” Then I remembered TVXQ are Korean, and one of the forefathers of the current K-Pop boom in Japan so it wasn’t that special. Still, listening to this compared to uhhhh everything else on this list is jarring – whereas most of the singles here are content to find a decent verse and carve out a chorus that a soda company can get behind, “Android” jumps all over the place, full of menacing electronics, club-ready synths and, yep, brostep. I don’t think it approaches any of the music Big Bang has released this year, but it’s overall a solid, shifty song unafraid to push away from comfort.

Princess Princess “Diamonds” And “The Hottest Summer In The World”

Princess Princess are a band that existed from the early 80’s until 1996, becoming one of the most important rock groups in Japanese history along the way. After the early years spent not seeing much success, the group eventually broke out and became one of the most popular groups of their time, selling out large venues and moving a whole lot of units. They became the first all-woman group to play the famed Budokan arena, and their single “Diamonds” (above) was the first single in Japan to sell a million copies. This year, they’ve reunited for a string of shows aimed at raising money for the Tohoku region.

Princess Princess’ actual music resembles what, based on my admittedly small glance into 80’s Japanese rock, most bands at that time sounded like. They sound very much of a different era – the vocals are far rougher than any commercial J-Rock you could find today, the creaky edges left intact. The music, meanwhile, sounds a bit simplistic but with some highlights – see the synths in “Diamonds.” It sounds outdated, but there is also something charming about it all. That might just be me waxing nostalgic for something I didn’t live through, but these are good tracks and, in the case of “Diamonds,” important ones.

Tomohisa Yamashita “Love Chase”

Hey how about this new song from some Johnny’s guy? Well, to the group’s credit, this doesn’t sound like typical Johnny’s garbage…it is way too electronic and full of rapping. Unfortunately, both of those things sound half-assed and the whole thing sounds like the dippiest of pop.

Rola “Memories”

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu didn’t become a big-deal pop star because of her Harajuku-model past…plenty of folks from non-musical backgrounds have transitioned into J-Pop careers, like Rola, another former model. Her “Memories,” though, is a standard-issue ballad, her debut single but one failing to show anything particularly interesting about her, the singer.

Turns out Kyary’s secret weapon was…good music.

Winner Of The Week – TVXQ

Station To Station: Music Station For June 22 Featuring Linkin Park, Girls’ Generation And Atsuko Maeda

How the world divined for me to stumble across the above image the same week Linkin Park are penciled in to play on Music Station, I will never know. Yet I have, and there it is…the members of Linkin Park turned into ponies. I don’t even know. See the original here.

KAT-TUN “To The Limit”

More like “To The Limit…of good taste.” It is bad.

No what isn’t bad? That new Avec Avec EP that came out last night. I’ve given it a few more plays today, and I really like the more overt pop vibe he decided to embrace on this release. His bubbly blasts of colorful noise end up sounding just as nice with a proper singer on top, without losing any of the Toontown charm displayed on earlier releases.

Keisuke Kuwata Special Medley

Fun fact: I visited the college Keisuke Kuwata went to recently!

(Look, I really think Kuwata is a cool guy and one of the more important J-Pop people of the past three decades, but there is only so much I can write about a special medley.)

Girls’ Generation “Paparazzi”

The video for Girls’ Generations’ latest single could dominate this space completely. It is, first, a lovely clip to just watch, three really lovely backdrops fit into the video’s six-minute play time – jumping from modern-day ritz, throwback city streets (which Occupied Territories says reminds him of Edward Hopper, and I think he’s onto something) and futuristic disco room (the part where they wear those pink gloves). Coupled with the use of “Singing In The Rain” – which could probably lead to an even lengthier discussion – the clip for “Paparazzi” is worth at least one essay all its own.

Yet we are here for the song, and it offers plenty to talk about too. Like a lot of K-Pop, “Paparazzi” draws sonic inspiration from Euro-pop music, but whereas similarly influenced American singles turn into repetition exercises, this song features all sorts of shifts during its run. Listen how it goes from the sort of cheese-whizzed Euro-house plinks more suited for this before turning glitzy come the chorus. Around the 4:20 mark, it segues into something that could have come from another song entirely. Yet for all these changes…subtle and otherwise…”Paparazzi” remains catchy (they had me at “ooh-la-la”), one of Girls’ Generations’ strongest in a while.

Atsuko Maeda “Kimi Wa Boku Da”

It was big news when Atsuko Maeda decided to leave AKB48 in order to start a solo career, yet now that she’s releasing her own music it has become clear…she still is plugged into the AKB sound system, albeit her singles, like the above, coming off as way more tolerable than most of the music released by the flagship act. That’s because Maeda…and this goes for any member of AKB recording alone…gets her voice isolated on her own work, whereas every AKB48 song has a bleeting chorus of people coming together to sing every single word of the track, a sonic decision that is just overbearing. “Kimi Wa Boku Da” still boasts the living-room-quality instrumentation (alternatively, and more accurately, “karaoke-box-ready”) of AKB, but by featuring only one voice…it ends up being pretty harmless and even nice in a few spots. I’ve seen a lot of reasons given for people hating AKB48 – overexposure, creepy vibes, that time they wanted you to make a baby with them – but Maeda’s latest solo single shows the main reason I don’t like them by showing what could be – AKB is sonically just too much, while Maeda is middle of the road.

Linkin Park “Burn It Down”

In an alternate universe, I am a huge Linkin Park fan. Unfortunately for the people at Warner Music, they botched this opportunity to convert my 13-year-old brain when they made “One Step Closer” the band’s first single off of Hybrid Theory instead of “Crawling.” The latter was the sort of song designed for a teen just entering the angsty phase of his life, overly dramatic in a really vague way while also hitting all the buzz words an adolescent wishes they could have scribbled onto their LiveJournal first (when Chester Bennington shouts “SOOOOOO INSECURRRRRRRRRRRE,” that’s like melodramatic teendom at its best). Even better, “Crawling” had the one sound in all of Linkin Park’s discography that I’ll still go to bat for – those chilly keyboards, which sound genius when your 13 (and sounded alien on the radio…like, Korn doesn’t do this!) and still stick out when you are a far-better-off 24 year old. Had this been my first taste of Linkin Park, I’d have fucking ran with it.

But nope, they went with the knuckleheaded “One Step Closer,” a song practically wearing the same wife-beater and tilted baseball cap Fred Durst laid claim to. Just watch the video. Back in junior high school, this turned me off because 1. this was the sort of stuff the kids who would ask me what the capital of Thailand was before proceeding to punch me in the crotch and 2. even as a teen addicted with the WWF, I could tell Fred Durst was an asshole from a mile away (Woodstock ’99 helped a lot). This, along with finding Radiohead to fill that awkward vastness of teenage me, turned Linkin Park into something always arm’s length away from me, and as I got older it just became that band that wanted to be U2 and soundtracked every Transformers movie and who had once been loved by some of my college friends so I made fun of them about it…even though, hey, easily could have been me had “One Step Closer” not popped up in my life.

“Burn It Down” is the first time I’ve really checked in with the band since high school…when you couldn’t escape their music on the radio…and it’s interesting seeing how much they’ve changed. Whereas stuff like “Crawling” and “Numb” were made to be scrawled in the white space of an AP U.S. History textbook, “Burn It Down” is shooting for stadium status, the beat designed to gets fists a-pumping and the chorus demanding to be sung by an amphitheaters-worth of people. Linkin Park still deal in the emotional vagueness I remember from my younger days, but this also sounds far less…dare I say, “emo,” “emo” here being a lazy fill-in word for whatever word best captures the cynicism and self-loathing of adolescence best. It seems way safer…and just sort of boring. Probably for the best I didn’t hitch my wagon to these guys, because this would definitely be a big disappointment.

Winner Of The Week – Girls’ Generation

Station To Station: Music Station For August 19, 2011 Featuring SMAP, YUKI And Koda Kumi Somehow Topping Herself

A calm image before we embark on the terror below.

Kanjani8 “ツブサニコイ”

Earlier this week, the founder of Johnny’s Johnny Kitagawa was attacked at his home, where he barricaded himself from his assailant until help could arrive. Now, we don’t condone violence around here even against people responsible for some of the worst music on the planet…Make Believe Melodies isn’t THAT sadistic!…but arson is sometimes justified in our books and after hearing this string-heavy dribble from Kanjani8 we wish someone would burn down the pop factory responsible for all of these deplorable tracks (as long as no one was hurt!). This is the typical “emotional” Johnny’s ballad that somehow manages to be less soulless than the “fun” Johnny’s pop songs, with the added wrinkle of Kanjani8’s lead singer not sounding all that good here. Something sounds off to my ears. Whatever, another turd from Kanjani8. All those warehouses housing indie records were burnt down in London, yet the Johnny’s distribution center remains intact. I don’t know what to believe in.

Keisuke Kuwata “明日へのマーチ”

Dude has been on Music Station for, like, three weeks now. I’m OK with this, because Keisuke Kuwata is like the cool, non-creepy uncle of J-Pop who can be a little corny at times but is still pretty cool to hang with. This is a pretty inoffensive acoustic ditty, peppered with some whimsical touches. Nothing spectacular, but some nice mid-morning coffee-drinking music, I’m sure.

Koda Kumi “Poppin’ Love Cocktail”

Watch here

I originally saw this clip…the exact one in the above link…late Saturday night. Like, two in the morning. Immediately after that program, there was a show focusing exclusively on new “idol DVDs” (read: videos of Japanese women walking around in not much clothing). I figured this abomination of a song had to be by some nobody, what with the infomercial-appropriate time slot and all. Then it was revealed this was the work of Koda Kumi and everything actually made much more sense.

Where to start with this? Well, for once Kumi doesn’t fire off the stupidest line here…that honor belongs to Jersey Shore-aping goon TEEDA who declares early on “Damn girl! You looks like horny.” That may be the worst line I’ve ever heard in a J-Pop song for oh-so-many reasons. She does drop some clunkers (“better watch it, I’ma scratch you” being the latest in Kumi’s history of trying to be sexy but ultimately begging for a restraining order), and I’m not even going to ask what is in a “Poppin’ Love Cocktail.” Sonically, portions of this sounds like The Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy).” Somehow, she’s done it again…she has managed to make something even worse than “Lollipop” or countless other misguided sleazy club numbers. She almost deserves an award for this.

Cocco “強く儚い者たち”

Reggae-tinged take-it-easy music made for a mom’s midday drive to Albertsons. Normally, I’d dislike this…but after “Poppin’ Love Cocktail” my world has been flipped upside down. Plus, this has a pleasant chorus.

SMAP “夜空ノムコウ” And “オリジナル スマイル”

Both of these songs came out over a decade ago (in 1998 and 1994, respectively) so I don’t know why SMAP were dragged off their cooking show set to perform them. It does help to highlight the lameness of Johnny’s further, as either of these songs could be released tomorrow and I wouldn’t blink an eye. I do have to give credit to “夜空ノムコウ” for at least incorporating a few interesting electronic elements into the background, while the other song has bongos which is kinda different. Otherwise, this is confirmation Johnny’s have been using the same song molds since 1994. Again, burn it to the ground.

YUKI “Hello!”

An enthusiastic “hi!” back.

YUKI seems to be channeling Maia Hirasawa (albeit a very J-Pop-ified version of her) on this single, with the bubbly horns and shiny twinkles abounding. Which is pretty great to hear…if mainstream J-Pop wants to take cues from less-mainstream sources, Hirasawa’s easy-breezy-ready-for-NPR sound is a good choice as I could actually see it having some success. It’s also a bit better than the new Feist song, but I think that might say more about the new Fesit song to be honest.

Winner Of The Week – YUKI, for taking inspiration from the right sources.

Station To Station: Music Station For August 5 Featuring KAT-TUN, moumoon And Kaela Kimura

Here’s something I’ll never type again…reader, have mercy on the songs featured here this week. Due to a combination of moving woes (“what do you mean I’m out of boxes?????? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN’T FIND MY APARTMENT??????”) and the [REDACTED] (this sounded way more melodramatic when I wrote it Wednesday, let’s just move on). I’m looking to tear into something that can’t bite back…and that’s about a perfect description of modern J-Pop! So yeah, this might get unfair for some of these acts. Just have mercy on them.

Ikimono-Gakari “NEW WORLD MUSIC”

This…this reminds me of the Evangelion theme song I think? It’s not quite as punchy, and I might just be confusing similarity here with “features horns,” but this “NEW WORLD MUSIC” moves at about the same pace as that anime’s opening track, albeit with a better chorus and a completely unnecessary chorus. For Ikimono-Gakari, a band I’ve long associated with languid unfolders and junior-high-graduation ballads, this comes out of nowhere as a borderline party jam, triumphant horns mixed with a general air of revelry fit to soundtrack an honest-to-God party instead of the group’s usual preference of approximating a really sad school reunion. Like all Ikimono-Gakari songs, this burns a little too long (blame the guitar solo) but gotdamn this at least spikes the Coca-Cola Zero and breaks some pieces of IKEA furniture during its long stay. Ikimono-Gakari…being fun??? All it took was something vaguely resembling the title number to a cartoon about giant robots.

KAT-TUN “RUN FOR YOU”

Oh, you clever bastards, KAT-TUN. You think I don’t see what you’re up to with this “RUN FOR YOU” shizz, a flurry of Auto-tune and Z-grade Knife synths. You want to fool me into thinking this is your “Going! 2.0,” a similarly minded adventure into stupid electro-pop done so giddily that it just felt right, KAT-TUN pulling deep inside themselves to do the impossible…make a single that didn’t suck. So hey, bleeps and bloops and robo-whirls and low-key singing like all those superior K-Pop boy bands do, that’ll fool ’em! But nope…this is just every KAT-TUN (and, by extension Johnny’s) song of yesteryear turned into European Burger King techno with total computer abuse. Oh, and I see that space-station intermission, all laser-show blasts and wannabe-Timbaland stabs at video game touches. Trying to be cutting edge – problem is, the only thing it adds is time for an extended dance sequence.

Kaela Kimura “Kidoairaku Plus Ai”

WATCH HERE

Wrote about this before, but at least unlike some stabs at past glory (SEE ABOVE), Kaela Kimura at least knows to hold onto the elements that made previous triumphs triumph, so even if things don’t hit as squarely in the chest this time they at least still sound enjoyable. Remains a nice, albeit nowhere near prior, single with a goofy video to boast.

Keisuke Kuwata “Special Medley”

I’ve got nothing about Mr. Kuwata, who has some great material both by himself and with Southern All-Stars, but screw these medleys, which are impossible to write about. HOW DARE YOU NOT BEND TO MY SELF-IMPOSED WRITING DESIRES, MUSIC STATION!

moumoon “Chu Chu”

Though not nearly as strange as the still-baffling “Sunshine Girl,” “Chu Chu” confirms moumoon has a really weird way of delivering vocals. It’s not as immediate as it was on that nearly-zombie summer anthem, but you can hear it here and it isn’t just on during the English bits. She says words like they are lined with barbed wire, moving her lips oh-so-carefully as to not slice them open. Everything just sounds…cautiously delivered, despite the fact she sings about kisses and drums. Still strange.

Yet unlike “Sunshine Girl,” “Chu Chu” grabs attention not for being slightly weird but for being a legitimately catchy pop song. THIS is a song of the summer, not the overheated plasticity of “Sunshine Girl.” It’s bouncy and not all that serious and generally lighthearted, but with all the seasonally appropriate sentiments in tow. In a just world, this slice of balloon-animal fun would give moumoon…who lucked into success with “Sunshine Girl” and really hasn’t had any other big hits…would lock her in as at least a mid-level J-Pop star, someone capable of so-so to pretty good singles. If nothing else, she’s at least erased the general unease caused by “Sunshine Girl.”

Winner Of The Week – Remember the angry diatribe at the top of this entry? Yeah, sort of shortsighted in retrospect as the only things worth getting upset about this week were a medley and KAT-TUN which, well, par for the course. The other three songs sounded surprisingly good, two surprises mixed with a solid outing from Kaela Kimura. The best, though, goes to moumoon, who hit all the right summer-pop buttons.

Station To Station: Music Station For February 25, 2011 Featuring Arashi, Aiko And Keisuke Kuwata

This week’s episode of Music Station a.k.a. “the show where we hear the newest Johnny’s singles” comes in a slightly abbreviated form. Whereas the typical weekly showcase features five or sometimes six performers, the February 25 edition boasts only four. Bad news to rabid J-Pop fans and the army of teenage girls who tune in for this hour of TV every Friday, woot-inducing news to my Thursday afternoon. Let’s get into this slightly shorter lineup.

Aiko “カブトムシ”

Watch a live performance here.

This shortened episode of Music Station couldn’t even amass all new songs – Aiko’s “カブトムシ” came out several years ago and I’m not entirely sure why it’s back in the limelight. It really doesn’t matter when this came out though because the song sounds like it could easily have been released last week. It’s a relatively standard-issue ballad, unfolding at a lazy pace and featuring a vocal-chord-straining chorus. To Aiko’s credit this number doesn’t come burdened with the usual melodramatic flourishes more worthy of a Disney Store interior, as the actual instrumentation restrains itself and just allows her admittedly strong voice do all the emotional pulling. It’s not terribly exciting, but at least also smart enough to not shove soap-opera tripe down the listener’s throat.

Arashi “Lotus”

After a string of singles finding the mega-popular Arashi forfeiting any dashes of “personality” in favor of bland balladry, they return to performing something with a pulse with “Lotus” and…what a welcome change of pace. Though it lacks the goofy touches that made last year’s “Monster” and “Troublemaker” huggable chunks of cheese, “Lotus” manages to be a completely serviceable J-Pop single with a few interesting wrinkles on top. Though it’s never really explored, some Euro-house synths ripple off in the background at various points during “Lotus,” teasing the possibility Japanese music might finally catch up with one of the trends dominating American pop. I also like the breakdown after the second chorus where all involved get sorta hectic and even the keyboards shout out for a second.

To be fair, “Lotus” pretty much meets all the requirements needed to be called typical Johnny’s junk, but peppy Johnny’s always beats the slowed down version. And after hearing a pretty good fast J-Pop group like Arashi saddled with buzzkilling singles for the past few months, “Lotus” feels like a great comeback from a boy band that never went anywhere in the first place.

Keisuke Kuwata “スペシャルメドレー”

Uhhhhh another old song? OK.

Keisuke Kuwata’s voice is a hell of tool. The Southern All-Stars’ lead singer isn’t blessed with a technically beautiful warble but dude knows how to make it work. Yet this comes with one small hitch – Kuwata’s singing works best when complimenting good music, the singer able to bend with whatever he gets presented with. This track features very little outside instrumentation – some Deep-Purple electric guitar and handclaps popping up later on – which means the main focus falls on Kuwata’s singing meaning, well, this isn’t a very pretty number. It’s charming yeah, but hearing him do amateur enka before diving into something a little more bouncy (but not much!) doesn’t earn many replays. A nice experiment but nothing more.

ゆず “HAMO”

Features an OK stomp of a beat, but everything else about “HAMO” might as well have been a copy of a hundred other copied prints done by a bunch of J-Pop artists before and probably these two as well. Bland, dull, boring – pick your preferred term. At least Keisuke Kuwata made things interesting with the song above.

Winner Of The Week – Not exactly a loaded field, but Arashi takes it.

Missed The Station: 12/11/09 Featuring Keisuke Kuwata and Ayumi Hamasaki

Keisuke Kuwata – “君にサヨナラを”: So, Southern All Stars are apparently famous in Japan. They pretty much boast a top-notch J-Pop resume. Not to mention they’ve been a fixture in Japan’s music scene since the late 70s. One member of the steadfast Southern All Stars, Keisuke Kuwata, recently released a single and will be on the 12/11 edition of Music Station (which I will miss. It’s the holidays people, I’ve got to make the rounds!)

That single, “君にサヨナラを,” brings to mind old-timey lounge singers, mostly because this song sounds ripped from 1950’s Las Vegas. Kuwata summons all sorts of cheesy instruments (check the trumpet breakdown) to serve as his orchestra pit as he vocally sways with the partially bossa-nova background. Despite sounding like something that could soundtrack a retirement home dinner, “君にサヨナラを” succeeds thanks to Kuwata’s vocals – without wailing one word of English, he conveys a sense of universal wistfulness that makes the slow-dance backdrop a tinge more melancholic. The Christmas tree prominently featured in the video reveals this might be a holiday single, but it’s the type of track made for the lonely who have no choice but to soldier on through all the holiday cheer.

Plus, dude reminds me of the guy from Up.

(Watch the video here)

スノープリンス合唱団 – “スノープリンス”: I guess this week’s episode is loaded up with Christmas J-Pop…makes me feel a little better for skipping over it. Whereas Kuwata’s song hid a nice layer of longing beneath the schmaltz, this track is nothing but melted down candy cane and gingerbread houses. To be fair the singer appears to be a kid, and this whole track looks like a tie-in with a movie he’s in. So I’ll avoid saying much about this song, as he probably had no say in whether he had to do this or not. I do urge you to watch the video – there is a really cute dog in it.

(Doggy here)

Ayumi Hamasaki – “You Were…”: Fun fact for the day: the “Empress of Pop” Hamasaki wrote a song called “Poker Face” more than a decade before a certain Kermit-The-Frog dress wearing pop artist did. But on to the present! “You Were…” is a piano-driven Mariah-aping ballad that features a completely extravagant guitar solo and some purdy singing from Hamasaki. I’m going to play the “J-Pop Ballad Card” and just leave it at that.

(Listen to the song here)

Noriyuki Makihara – “世界に一つだけの花”: Geez, I visit this guy’s website for a few seconds and I think Music Station might be getting a more adventerous with what they play. Alas, those sweet electronic noises are nothing but background noise, as this is what he’ll perform tonight. It’s not even new!

Oh, and this guy is back, with a song that sounds a lot like his last hit.

Winner of the Week – Keisuke Kuwata by a whole lot, go listen to it!lad