Tag Archives: music station

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 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 June 1 Featuring Arashi, Nishino Kana And Sekai No Owari

Hideki Matsui…still mashing ‘taters over in America. Onward to J-Pop!

Arashi “Your Eyes”

“Your Eyes” apparently touches on the theme of “light and dark” – I’m quoting Tokyohive on this one – yet all I can pick up on is grey. Not “grey” in some ambiguous, The Wire way in which casting something as purely “good” or “bad” ends up being a fool’s errand due to complex development. From Arashi? God no. I mean grey as in the almost-center color hexagons of Microsoft Powerpoint. Grey as in a cloudy day with no chance of even sprinkles. Grey like this Google Image search I just did.

What I’m trying to say here is Arashi’s latest is really boring, and the fact they even bother to clip a vague theme like “light and dark”…what, they graduate from “happy and sad” all of sudden?…seems like such a waste to whatever poor soul has to put together those press releases.

Sekai No Owari “Nemurihimi”

WATCH HERE

To me, this will always be the band featuring a member always wearing a clown mask because I’ve seen this band’s photo every time I wander into a Tower Records yet have never taken the two minutes necessary to listen to their music to render an opinion beyond “huh, that mask is kinda creepy.” Yeah, lazy on my part, but it’s not like Sekai No Owari didn’t bring it on themselves by having a dude dressed as a clown – it’s a transparent grab at creating SOMETHING people can identify them with, like AKB48’s school-girl garb or that guy from EXILE’s sunglasses. So…clown guy.

Turns out that wasn’t a bad idea, because if this song represents anything, Sekai No Owari are a ball-less bunch. This single – translates to “Sleeping Beauty” which just lobs up the potential for “tired” jokes – attempts to showcase the group’s songwriting smarts with various passages. Problem is, the song never actually transitions into anything – the music speeds up or stops for a second, but it then retreats back to the main rhythm, too cowardly to try anything within a safe radius of what the label probably told them what to do. Clown guy seemingly handles the drum beats if the video can be trusted…which, note, features the most interesting angle here, a kinda-sorta gender inverse of Sleeping Beauty, though even that was probably done in the 60’s or something…and I take it the lack of real drums is supposed to make Sekai No Owari more “electronic,” more “experimental.” Don’t fall for it – this is Sakanaction stripped of everything great and given a botched vasectomy.

Nishino Kana “Watashitachi”

WATCH HERE

Nishino Kana tends to always avoid the puddles messing up other J-Pop artists. While so many others embrace gooey-crud ballads, Kana takes those mopers and speeds them up into catchy R&B, leaving the drama intact but allowing the music to not be a complete drag. Alas, “Watashitachi” is a misstep, trudging number complete with too-long video and unnecessary goop. Don’t let them talk you into this next time, alright Nishino?

Hey! Say! Jump! Special Medley

No thank you. Listen to Miii’s Bassrabbit EP instead.

Yusuke “ヨッシャ来い”

On the one hand, this sounds nifty because of how Yusuke incorporates traditional Japanese sounds and touches into this single – the shouting in particular grabs ears. On the flip side, though, it only uses them as badges to spice up an otherwise bland bit of pop. But then again…when he busts out the Auto-tune AGAINST all the traditional noises, this song turns into a strange “old vs. new” stare down, one much more interesting than anything else this week.

Yuzu “With You”

Dramatic violins will only take you so far, especially if you decide to sully them with some very-Yuzu-sounding music.

Winner Of The Week – Yusuke

Station To Station: Music Station For May 25, 2012 Featuring Noel Gallagher, GLAY And AKB48

Tokyo currently has “Skytree” fever, as the metropolis’ welcomed the world’s second-largest structure this week. Take it from someone who watches the news while running on the treadmill at my gym – the Skytree is inescapable, with TV shows doing features about the outside, inside, gift shops, food options and nearby train station (just to name a few). I guess I need to see this thing at some point, huh?

Ieiri Leo “SHINE”

WATCH HERE

One of the new faces of 2012, Ieiri Leo’s career thus far has been unspectacular, more of a story-driven artist (at 17, she’s still in high school) rather than one putting out good music. Trick is, she does just enough to make you see potential down the road, hoping that this still-teen learns how to utilize those skills in more creative ways down the road rather than do the same thing over and over again. In Leo’s case, she has a solid voice, one reminiscent of Kaela Kimura and one capable of turning an otherwise so-so debut single like “Sabrina” into something peppy. Her sophomore single, “SHINE,” sees the production attempting to catch up to the potential found in her voice – the verses try to build to something, complete with flakes of her singing and bursts of violins. Problem is, the chorus doesn’t deliver on all this detail, too safe to really take “SHINE” to the next level. Bit of a letdown, but this kid has time to figure everything out.

AKB48 “Manatsu No Sounds Good!”

WATCH HERE

Man, forget the song entirely…and, hell, this latest single from AKB48 actually somehow sounds a little better than their usual Akihabara bait, probably because those synth horns remind me a little bit of the Evangelion theme song. Whatever though, because the video in that above link is bananas. It’s bizarre and discombobulating and also sorta genius in a rambling idiot kind of way. I can’t stop watching it.

Basic plot: so some high-school students (AKB) stumble across…some women (AKB) who seemingly fell from the sky. At least that’s what I think happened, as the video focuses on what appear to be meteors or glowing orbs in the sky. Some of the AKB people glow, the students run towards them and then…they start vomiting up their souls, maybe? One girl tries to give another CPR, which is pretty clever given that whole kissing scandal that broke out earlier this year. Lot of shit happens, just watch the link. And then they all start dancing on a beach in white bikinis like the previously shown terror didn’t happen.

I take it AKB48 are taking notes from Momoiro Clover Z (“give no fucks about how insane your music video is”) except at least Momoiro Clover Z’s clips stay consistent within their nutty worlds (space pirates…all the time!). This just doesn’t make sense but also somehow is clever…I don’t even know, just watch it.

GLAY “Bible”

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

Google “GLAY Bible” and this is the first Bible verse…and first hit period…that comes up, probably because of the “clay” part. Way more interesting trying to dissect the Good Book than dwell on this jump-rope rock song.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “Dream On”

IT’S SYMBOLISM GET IT

Doofy battle-of-the-sexes video aside, this song sounds pretty unremarkable. The High Flying Birds project has actually resulted in some decent moments…which is more than can be said for the other post-Oasis project from the Gallagher family, Beady Eye…but the drudgery of “Dream On” isn’t one of them, a chore of a listen that offers false hope via horns.

Ken Hirai “Kokuhaku”

Only a short clip, but not really inspiring me to find more. Yawn.

Winner Of The Week – Musically, Ieiri Leo. Overall, that AKB48 video.

Station To Station: Music Station For May 11, 2012 Featuring Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, NYC And Kaela Kimura

I haven’t been sleeping much this week, so pardon me if this week’s Station To Station ends up being a bit briefer than others. It helps that I’ve written about some of these songs before. Gonna get at least…eight hours of sleep tonight!

NYC “Haina!”

Surprisingly, this new song from unloveable scamps NYC sounds different from the usual Johnny’s toxic sludge – unfortunately, it still sounds bad. Sometimes, when I have time to kill, I’ll watch kid’s show in the afternoon to study Japanese/be entertained by jokes even someone like me can get. This single sounds a lot like the goofy songs that teach toddlers to differentiate between different vegetables, except not as fun. The slower pace – not quite a driving pop song, not quite a ballad – renders “Haina!” totally goofy, and the singing one ups that in badness.

Kaela Kimura “Mamireru”

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xqf0w1_mamireru_lifestyle
mamireru 投稿者 Bored4Lyfe

Wrote about this one, but will just echo my old thoughts – the way Kaela Kimura keeps her fingers on the pulse of Japanese music is great enough (see: her sorta discovering Perfume, this sounding like Sakanaction), but that she manages to absorb those sounds and weave them into something distinctively her own is even better. The fact I’ve heard this song on TV a few times in the past few week? The best.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu “Candy Candy”

A lot of people who like Yasutaka Nakata’s production work…or just loved “Pon Pon Pon”…don’t like this, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s latest single and her first release to be really jammed down the throats of the general public. It’s certainly different than the techno-fury of Perfume and lacks the straight-to-the-veins catchiness of Pamyu’s first single, but count me in the camp who likes this track a bit. Get over the lyrics…yeah, “chewing love” sounds messed up but is such a tiny part of the whole…and I think you find a really breezy, polished piece of pop, one packaged with a typically irresistible Nakata chorus. “Candy Candy” goes even more pop than anything on Perfume’s last album, but it’s another reminder that Nakata is really good at this stuff.

Kazuyoshi Saito “月光”

This dude gets an eternal pass for having the balls to post an anti-Fukushima song onto YouTube after the March 11 earthquake. Nerve! This non-controversial song (I think) is just OK, Saito putting on his best Bob Dylan impression without sounding like him…which is to say, not nasally. His vocal delivery is fluid, and that touch makes Saito’s latest more interesting than most, but this also strikes me as the sort of the song where the lyrics end up being as important as the sounds themselves. That means I’m certainly not the person to judge this, and frankly I’m not interested in it. So, this sounds just fine.

Rino Sashihara (of AKB48) “それでも好きだよ”

Girl knows how to wink at the camera, I give her that.

湘南乃風 “炎天夏”

Welp, can’t find this.

Winner Of The Week – Surprisingly good week! As much as I love Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s sugar overload, Kaela Kimura towers over everything else.

Station To Station: Music Station For April 27 Featuring Anne, SMAP And Ikimono-gakari

For the next few weeks, Station To Station will be happening on Thursday nights for various reasons that will be revealed in due time. Don’t worry – our irrational hate of Sexy Zone won’t be going anywhere.

Anne “Ai Wo Anata Ni”

WATCH HERE

New night, but same old boring material. This might be a bit of a bumpy edition, so let’s try to highlight some positives, shall we? Like this clip of the new Kaela Kimura single “Mamireru.”

The “hey, let’s go!” repetition and (especially) the way the song bursts into this twinkling electronic-heavy section reminds me of Sakanaction, except given a more upbeat tone courtesy of Kimura. Looking forward to this one – it’s out May 16.

Ikimono-gakari “Haru Uta”

WATCH HERE

Ikimono-gakari might be the perfect mid-point in contemporary J-Pop. The majority of singles they foist onto the world sound identical – vaguely mid-tempo pop that always has violins playing off in the distance, and can become a huge weepy ballad by just adding more violins – and this formula doesn’t provide much memorable music. They have a few noteworthy moments – a ballad like “Yell” manages to go a long way by squeezing a lot of drama out of the quiet-verse-loud-chorus formula – but for the most part they just are, providing the J-Pop consumer with songs in the style of Ikimono-gakari and nothing much more. Critically, though, they aren’t terrible. They never descend into the annoying depths of an AKB48 or V6, trustworthy but bland like a piece of unbuttered toast every morning. “Haru Uta” doesn’t divert from anything mentioned above.

Itano Tomomi “10 Nengo No Kimi E”

WATCH HERE

Here about the former members of AKB48 who went to some Japanese tabloid to vent about their former employer? Read a translation here. A lot of the stuff isn’t that salacious – the more popular members got better treatment! While I never! – but the fates of the former members plus the bit about Itano Tomomi being “carnivorous” and going to the beach with male friends are pretty interesting. The prior for sad reasons, the latter because I think this whole article might be stealth marketing to promote Itano’s new solo single. The tabloid article goes on about how popular members can go out all night and have boyfriends – well, guess what we see Itano doing in the above clip? She’s at a club! She’s with some artsy dude who makes models of churches out of shoeboxes! There is some other guy! Seems a little suspicious, ya know what I’m saying?

Thinking about wacky conspiracy theories ends up being way more fun than listening to this boring single, a track where the best thing I can say is “the percussion is cool sometimes I guess.”

SMAP “Sakasama No Sora”

WATCH HERE

How’s the new single from SMAP? It’s not very good.

You know what is good? Sleepy Tokyo’s Dark Circles album, which you can hear this way. Way more reflective of modern-day Japan than anything SMAP releases nowadays.

Sexy Zone “Lady Diamond”

WATCH HERE

How’s the new Sexy Zone single “Lady Diamond?” Oh my god fuck humanity for this one.

No what isn’t a blight on the face of the Earth? Breezesquad, who makes video-game-powered music and has a free EP waiting for you. Just get far away from Sexy Zone.

Yuzu “Niji”

Oh poor Thursday night, what have I done to you.

Winner Of The Week – Of these songs? Ikimono-gakari, because they are the non-terrible option this week.

Station To Station: Music Station For April 6, 2012 Featuring Rihanna, KARA And Mr. Children

Big news here at Make Believe Melodies – this past week, MBM headquarters moved from Osaka to Tokyo, into the hear of the Japanese music scene. Or a relatively convenient subway ride away from it. So yeah…if you are in the Tokyo area, holla at me, we should hang out and eat at the fancy Wendy’s. That, or I’ll just keep sitting in this beanbag chair I call my “office” now.

KARA “Speed Up/Girl’s Power”

Last year’s J-Popification of KARA presented an interesting situation – could a K-Pop group like KARA, part of a movement subject to all sorts of unfair nationalistic judgements, be transformed into a group sounding like other Japanese acts without sacrificing that “exotic” element? Answer was a resounding “yes” – the music they released gradually became more like other contemporary J-Pop acts (in other words, worse), but sales continued ballooning. The quality of their singles dropped, but since KARA seem content milking the Japanese market for all its worth instead of venturing to the West, it also wasn’t a bad business move.

Now comes two new singles, “Speed Up” and “Girl’s Power.” Here, KARA attempt to channel the style they still lean on in Korea while also keeping an eye on how much Yen they can rake in. “Speed Up” stands as the better song, a slinky electro-dance number that comes off like a J-Pop-ready take on last year’s excellent “Step.” It’s the best single they’ve released since last spring’s fun “Jet Coast Love.” “Girl’s Power,” meanwhile, isn’t quite as ambitious, but features enough catchy instances to not be as soul-crushing as everything the group pumped out in late 2011. It also, to KARA’s credit, continues pushing the theme they introduced on last year’s Super Girl of being a “super girl,” a sorta empty bit of empowerment but still miles ahead of most J-Acts. Still, turn to “Speed Up” for something sonically interesting.

Kis-My-Ft2 “She! Her! Her!”

The part where they whisper-grunt the song title is actually pretty intriguing. Naturally, this gets turned into but a small detail in an otherwise dreadful bit of Johnny’s pop. In the hands of a more daring talent agency, this could have been really good. Instead we get status quo.

Masaharu Fukuyama “Ikiteru Ikiteku”

Wrote about this one before, and not much has changed…I think this coincided with the new Doraemon movie, and given that context this is pretty harmless kiddie-ready fun. Like, I’m not going to throw rocks at a Discovery Zone, that’s messed up.

Porno Graffitti “2012 Spark”

So the trick with this week’s Music Station is that none of the acts listed what song they are performing, so I’m just going with the last single they released. I dropped some acts entirely for not even having anything new in 2012 (sorry Superfly!), and am now realizing I’ve written about most of these tracks before. So apologies Porno Graffitti, but if ya’ll want to hear me snark-out about this song, hit up the search bar.

Mr. Children “Inori ~Namida No Kidou”

Know what the search bar won’t help you with? Mr. Children, who I have never written about on this site for some reason. They are one of the most popular Japanese acts ever, one of the most dominant groups of the 90’s pop scene here and big enough to warrant mention on the Bubba The Love Sponge radio program in America (this is where I first heard of them, one afternoon, while flipping through satellite radio stations). How they ended up so massive I don’t know, but they keep on chugging into today like fellow Clinton-era holdovers SMAP.

This song, available in tiny clip form above, doesn’t really shed any light on why Mr. Children became one of the biggest Japanese rock bands ever. It’s the sort of song a machine would create if it was told to make music for the end credits of a cheesy movie – which is exactly what this Mr. Children tune does, offer a soundtrack for who worked as a key grip. This might not be a fair single to judge, but for what it is it seems pretty forgettable.

Rihanna “You Da One”

She doesn’t necessarily have the media-ready narrative a Lady Gaga does, but it’s not crazy to think Rihanna is the most prominent pop star in America today. She’s not flashy, but more a model of consistency, the Tim Duncan of modern-American pop. She’s adept at adapting to trends…remember when she used to exclusively do dancehall stuff? Now she’s hopped on the Euro-dance craze and seems at home…and also keen when choosing who to collaborate with. As a result, she’s been in the pop eye since her debut and has a bunch of number-one singles to her credit, and as inspired a bunch of imitators (see: Nicki Minaj whenever she tries to be a pop star). Oh, and she’s headlining Summer Sonic.

“You Da One” isn’t one of the more immediately pleasing singles in Rihanna’s recent catalog, but is a pretty pleasant bumper. It lacks the stadium status something like “We Found Love” seems built out of, but rather a surprisingly intimate number with a few weird electronic gurgles popping up in the later part of the song. Some have described this as a “filler single” and I get that – this isn’t the sorta season-defining work she’s capable of. But still pleasant stuff.

Winner Of The Week – KARA’s “Speed Up”

Station To Station SPECIAL STOP: Momoiro Clover Z

Music Station has been on Spring vacation for three weeks now, and I’m itching to yack about J-Pop, so today I’m featuring a special edition of this feature on a group I’ve never seen on the television program I use as a jumping-off point for snark/secret love. That would be Momoiro Clover Z, a Power-Rangers-esque (more on that later) idol outfit that has had pretty solid success on the Oricon Charts and has recently gotten some overseas attention for the video for their single “Infinite Love” (more on that later too). I’ve managed to go almost three years in Japan without hearing a single note of Momoiro, but this past week I finally broke and listened to the peppy group…and was pretty shocked at what I heard. So, with Music Station’s staff still chilling on hammocks somewhere, I’m gonna devote this week’s edition to writing about all nine of Momoiro Clover Z’s singles. Buckle up.

2009: “Momoiro Punch” and “Mirai E Susume!”

Momoiro Clover (the “Z” would come later) formed in 2008, and a year later release their first single “Momoiro Punch.” Originally, Momoiro opted to embrace one of the most blasé images a group of horrifyingly young women in Japan could be saddled with – schoolgirl singers. Enter “Momoiro Punch,” featuring a video opening with a quick introduction of each member and a flurry of photos that seem ripped out of some private photo album and turned into a One True Media slideshow of uncomfortableness. By choosing to go the schoolgirl route, Momoiro basically opted to emphasize image over music…not a bad choice, considering the actual sound of “Punch” is unremarkable outside of the summer-festival taiko drum strikes. “Punch” came out in August of 2009, only a couple months before AKB48 went from geek obsession to household name via their single “River.” And, for as much shit I pile on AKB, “River” sounds a billion times more grabbing than “Punch” or the follow-up single “Mirai E Susume!” (so uninteresting and re-hashed a brief mention like this seems appropriate). Yet Momoiro would soon be running hyperspeed laps around AKB48’s type of pop.

2010: “Ikuze! Kaitō Shōjo” and “Pinky Jones”

Come 2010, Momoiro Clover’s image still veered to the boring-creepy schoolgirl schtick, but their music was starting to develop a personality. “Ikuze! Kaitō Shōjo” finds the members of the group trying to stand out instead of everyone melting into a gross puddle. Check the quickly-spoken asides from the singers, and the way the song/video emphasize who is singing at what point, rather than the all-together-now vibe of the 2009 singles. Plenty of other idol groups indulge in this cutesy tag-team vocal work, but Momoiro do it particularly well. The music itself, meanwhile, isn’t quite as interesting as the singing, but it is getting there – the single goes through different sections, and isn’t afraid to swing into wildly different places from minute to minute.

“Pinky Jones,” out later that year, doesn’t do much to advance the group’s image beyond “each member wears a different color.” And the less said about the video’s Native American theme the better (shudders). The song, though, is Momoiro starting to get batshit insane. The majority of “Pinky Jones” runs at a speed appropriate for an Akihabara arcade…pretty fast, if you don’t measure speed in terms of gaming centers…and is catchy enough that if this button-mashing pace was all to subside on, it wouldn’t be that bad. Yet the people behind this song started having some fun with Momoiro, and they actually fit in two moments on “Pinky Jones” where the group go Bollywood. Most prominently at the 1:25 mark, the hyper-pop stops and something resembling Indian (which, uhhhh, did they screw up the Indian imagery for the video maybe?) music pipes in. It’s a total left-field surprise…and it sort of rules in how bizarre it is.

Things would only get stranger…

2011: “Mirai Bowl”

A total stopgap that isn’t terribly interesting to talk about, especially considering what comes next. Features one nifty trick…while the verses go about in a goofy vaudevillian style, the chorus goes Millenium Falcon as everything picks up and practically charges in from stage right. There is also kind of a cool techno-like breakdown later in the song that leads to the back-half of “Mirai Bowl” getting a bit more dramatic.

2011: “Z Densetsu~Owarinaki Kakumei~”

Sometime after “Mirai Bowl,” Akari Hayama (the blue one) decided to leave the group. Instead of replace her, the group renamed itself Momoiro Clover Z and used the opportunity to alter their image. They would no longer be another gaggle of school-girl idols singing about bowling but would rather adopt the persona of…Power Rangers.

Patrick Macias wrote a good article about Momoiro Clover Z and this Saturday-morning entertainment image, but I’ll just go over it quickly. Whereas in America the Power Rangers sprung up in the 1990’s as a way to sell action figures, superhero shows using the Power Rangers’ template (a team of heroes, each member wearing a different color) have been kicking for decades. The concept is so popular many cities have their own Power Ranger units – my old rural home in Mie prefecture, for example, had one that went around and taught kids how to be good members of the community.

Momoiro Clover Z commit to this image, and don’t half ass it. While other J-Pop groups often just come off as walking brands with boring songs underneath, Momoiro Clover Z go all out, the music zig-zagging from idea to idea like an ADHD cartoon. The above video, their first with the “Z,” is half single, half infomercial. They do typical idol stuff like introduce themselves, but they each also have a “power” (yellow can eat lots of food, green can lift heavy stuff, purple can electrocute herself I guess). The group even boasts a bit of self awareness – at one point, the voice-over dude tries to introduce “blue,” met with silence as she left the group.

2011: “D’ No Junjō” and “Roudou Sanka”

The next two singles found the group distancing themselves from the Power Ranger schtick while still being obsessed with image. They dressed up as ninjas and then as salarymen/construction workers. The music itself wasn’t as mad-cap as their previous single, Momoiro Clover Z playing up whatever costumes they had to wear more than the song (check the extended intro for “D’ No Junjo”).

2012: “Infinite Love”

This served as my introduction to Momoiro Clover Z earlier this week, the inspiration for this special article and such a disorienting experience I had to write something about it. This song apparently serves as the theme song for some anime about pirates…hence the space-pirate costumes…but I could care less because “Infinite Love” exists in a universe separate from whatever cartoon this pops up in. Momoiro Clover Z actually live up to the ridiculous standards so many assign to J-Pop with “Infinite Love.”

Some have called this the J-Pop “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and the song’s multiple segments and general theatrical feel certainly support that. Yet “Bohemian Rhapsody” might not have been this zany – former Megadeath guitarist Marty Friedman provides the hard-rock guitar, and I’d love to meet whoever handles the death-metal pounding. The main chorus sounds AKB-friendly, but with the dramatic addition of a chorus – like, the type that would sing at a viking funeral – behind them. As this is Momoiro Clover Z, there are spoken-word segments. Guitar solos? Yes.

Thing is, I can’t imagine listening to “Infinite Love” in any atmosphere where YouTube isn’t open in Google Chrome. The song, while bonkers, sounds strange by itself. Coupled with the video…space pirates! on bikes! glowing eyes!…this makes perfect sense. And that’s Momoiro Clover Z’s real accomplishment – in a J-Pop environment where image trumps music, Momoiro have managed to make every aspect of them, from music to image to videos, connect in a unified way. Also, with “Infinite Love,” they are one of the few J-Pop acts of today to have fun with what they do. That lack of rigidness and willingness to go weird is what Japanese music needs right now, something that sticks out. Marty Friedman optional.

Station To Station: Music Station For March 9. 2012 Featuring Arashi, Kou Shibasaki And HY

Programming note! Next week marks my first week of temporary unemployment, and as a result I decided to go to this year’s South By Southwest music conference. Pretty excited, especially to pig out on tacos and see The-Dream in a church. Since I’ll be in Austin next week, though, expect only sporadic updates around here. Check the Twitter and Tumblr for (potentially drunken) thoughts on this trip.

Arashi “Wild At Heart”

So how about Arashi’s “Wild At Heart?” It’s…actually, let’s ignore the new policy this week because of all the Johnny’s groups dotting the Japanese musicscape today, these dudes are probably the most popular. They populate the elite echelon of contemporary J-Pop, rivaled in sales and (this is important) visibility by AKB48 and EXILE. Whereas most Johnny’s units cater to specific ages, Arashi seem to be the only one that managed to reel in two generations – the early 30/20-somethings who were teens when they debuted, and the modern set of teenagers. They are a big deal, and warrant way more discussion than Sexy Zone.

The other thing is that, possibly thanks to their status, Arashi sometimes get blessed with songs that don’t sound like a copy of a copy of a copy of the Johnny’s pop blueprint. It doesn’t happen all the time – most times, they stick to either aggressively peppy dreck or stupid boring ballads – but it does sometimes. “Wild At Heart” is one such moment, as if you didn’t tell me this was Arashi beforehand I wouldn’t immediately peg this song as a Johnny’s creation. Yeah, that faux boogie-down guitar has all the charm of a Japanese comedian wearing blackface to honor Michael Jackson, but at least it sounds different. The horn blasts aren’t as overplayed as they could have been and…look, “Wild At Heart” just doesn’t do anything obviously off-putting. Even with wacky sound effects stolen from a Scooby-Doo banana peel gag, this doesn’t gross me out like everything V6 has ever done. That deserves a round of applause.

HY “ガジュマルビート”

WATCH HERE

I’m not going to go around casting stones of originality, because everything pretty much rips off something else in some way or another…but HY’s music video for this single seems like a pretty direct rip-off of Heavenstamp’s “Morning Glow” clip. HY’s take sticks to the same idea of “people dancing around strangely late at night” and even uses the same set of characters…police officer, businessman, disenfranchised youth. A few others get tacked on for good measure, but this is a pretty obvious bite. Worse still, the one original addition is what amounts to “band performing live” footage, the lamest video anyone can jam into a music video.

As for the song…I actually just started listening to “Morning Glow” instead because man that is one good track. Oh HY…if I wanted to listen to a disco song, I would listen to disco, not a J-Rock band who think some electric wingdings and a monotonous beat make dance music. Even in a world where Sakanaction didn’t exist, this would be lunkheaded.

Kou Shibasaki “Strength”

“Strength” had me won over well before the 2:24 mark. The slinky, minimalist sound opening Kou Shibasaki’s latest had me feeling surprised, and then she started singing in this spaced-out (as in a keyboard, not NASA) style that allowed the prettiness of her voice to beam clearly through. Then, enter stage right, some cheap-sounding keyboards that I would expect from The Smell rather than Universal Music Group. Oh, and dig how the second verse picks up the pace for just a bit before going back to Sunday-morning speed. The lyrics might be a little ho-hum, but the chorus is so bright and sunny it’s easy to overlook. “Strength” was one of my favorite J-Pop songs of the year well before that moment.

But oh man, that moment at 2:24, when “Strenght” suddenly wormholes into what sounds like an entirely different song altogether, is fucking great. This would be ballsy for an indie band in Tokyo, let alone a J-Pop artist signed to a major imprint. Here she is, though, teleporting to something else entirely different mid-song…and then diving back into the original song like nothing happened a few seconds later. Now that’s weird pop.

Nishino Kana “Sakura, I Love You?”

Nishino Kana clearly knows her strengths. While most J-Pop singers would opt for a stinky ballad to celebrate the cherry blossom season, she sticks to her bouncy R&B style where the beat seems ever-present and there is still plenty of space for her to show off her voice without having to bring in an orchestra. Here is Nishino Kana doing what she does best, creating another great slab of pop in a surprising robust collection of it.

Yamashita Tomohisa “Ai, Texas”

Mega Man level music meets…what Japan thinks Texas sounds like maybe? Almost as baffling as dude’s hat choice in the video.

Yusuke “Baby Baby”

Could only find this brief commercial spot…but man those 30 seconds are just as damning. I thought this would be a pretty strong week of Music Station, but it really bottomed out, didn’t it?

Winner Of The Week – Kou Shibasaki, with a song that reminds me why I do this feature in the first place.