Make Believe Melodies For April 25, 2022
Power Of Positivity (And Production)
Dr.Anon — “Day Break. SCVer.”
So much emerging music in Japan thrives on the desire to live in the moment…bordering on being, gasp, optimistic. Perhaps I’m letting personal experience bleed over a little too much, but after the downer mood of the last two years, daily dips into SoundCloud tend to get serotonin levels optimized. Creators in this corner aren’t offering up sunny visions of tomorrow, but rather than let modern bummers and future anxiety consumer them, they channel that into a chance to thrive now.
“I think the new wave of people that are listening to our music are just people who are more fashionable, and they really give a shit about the underground,” a member of STARKIDS tells Dazed in a recent mini documentary. “I think they want more from life than, except what their parents tell them, so they seek out music and musicians to feel that.”
The latest from HyperPop supergroup Dr.Anon captures this lust for life despite all setbacks wonderfully. “Day Break” surges forward from the start, building in intensity before the three members of the group take turns navigating the beat. Each approaches it differently — e5 jump-ropes over stuttering hits to play around with language, while Haku glides half speed over the electronics and Ponika is more sing-song-y delivering lines like “I just do my thing / let me do my thing.” It’s an encapsulation of what makes Dr.Anon so thrilling, with each contributor’s skills fully underlined*. And it’s an anthem for this new youth movement online, and embracing the moment. Listen above
*That’s largely thanks to e5’s bonkers production. Musically, this is a huge leap for their approach to sound, as they create an up-tempo number balancing between maximalism and emotional space just right. e5 also adjusts for the team, offering up speedier sections for her, slowing it down for Haku and upping everything to get the most out of Ponika’s more emotionally urgent delivery.
Just to continue this celebration, you can hear another side of e5 on the recently released “Mine” demo, which finds the creator tiptoe towards less Hyper pop over a breezy house bounce. Listen below.
lyrical school — L.S.
The final lyrical school album boasting the current line-up fittingly closes out one chapter by looking back at what this project has done so well — refusing to settle as being just one type of group. While being “rap idols,” lyrical school have always hopped around — a truth they seem to embrace / poke fun at? on the title track — and on their finale they dip into SoundCloud-born flexing with a frown (“Wings”), light baile funk (“Pakara!”), stutter-stepping electronics (“Night Flight”) and…uhhhh, them trying to create their own version of Doja Cat’s “Say So?” (“LALALA”). A great finish to a fantastic group doubling as a snapshot of Japanese rap in 2022, with songwriting and production courtesy of names like Lil’ Yukichi, KM, Valknee, LIL SOFT TENNIS, BBY NABE, Rachel from chelmico and many more. Listen above.
Group2 — “Ordinary”
“Neo city pop” zonked out on a Strong Zero or two. Group2 have long avoided being easily corralled into any specific style, partially because they don’t take any of those descriptors seriously. For a while, they were closer to indie-pop, but seemed to actively push against the cuddlier connotations of that. On “Ordinary,” they lock into a groove and proceed to twist up whatever sense of chill it provided courtesy of distant bass notes and synth touches closer to Boys Age than Shinjuku Tower Records. Listen above.
Hoshimiya Toto And TEMPLIME — “Skycave”
Twinkly 2-step courtesy of a collaborative team that now feels years ahead of the curve. The final stretch, with vocal snippets tumbling over one another, is a particularly delightful bit of release. Listen above.
YUC’e — “Shiny Starting Line”
Not that far removed from the Dr.Anon song above, albeit with more Technicolor streaks and outbursts. There’s probably deeper analysis to be done about the shared sonic maximalism of the current crop of “HyperPop” kids and the “kawaii future bass” generation before them, of which YUC’e certainly belong, and at one point / how they diverged. For now, enjoy this sugar-charged sprint in all its dizzying nerviness. Listen above.
iScream — i
No worries if you missed out on new LDH girl group iScream — they formed via a 2018 audition that wasn’t even offered as a reality show airing on a subscription streaming service and/or a terrestrial broadcaster. Give me the drama! The hype for it might have been subdued, but the trios’ debut album i instantly sets them as the heirs to the E-girls’ estate, both good and bad. The negative comes from the same exact sort of tunes that franchise of EXILE-related girl outfits tended to lean too much on…ballads. It’s just not their strong suite to these ears, and either plod ahead or can’t commit to the necessary over-the-top-ness.
Now, when things pick up…
iScream have basically made a peak-time E-girls’ album, complete with easy-breezy dance-pop numbers celebrating good vibes (“So Bright,” “Sugar Bomb”) and more aggressive workouts (“Scream Out,” above, featuring the wonderful bi-lingual broadside “I’m sorry / dake do…”). Like their predecessors, part of the energy pulsing through these songs comes from a keen understanding of K-pop…specifically, that many of those groups rely on producers who have also worked in J-pop constantly, and those two worlds don’t have to be walled off. i features names familiar to anyone scouring the production credits of Asian pop over the last two decades — Erik Lidbom on the electro-stepping of “Pendulum,” Lisa Desmond on the string-accented ascenscion of closer “Meant to be Together.” Coupled with some local talent (maeshima soshi on “Maybe…YES” and, my favorite, sty on “Secret Love”), it all makes for some of the best dance-pop of the young year, TV-show-born or otherwise.
Oricon Trail For The Week Of April 11, 2022 To April 17, 2022
Back in the day, the Oricon Music Charts were the go-to path to music stardom in Japan. Acts of all sorts traversed these lands, trying to sell as many CDs as possible in order to land a good ranking on a chart choosing to only count physical sales, even as the Internet came to be and the number of versions offered for sale got ridiculous. Today, with the country finally in on digital, these roads are more barren and only looked at by the most fanatic of supporters needing something to celebrate. Yet every week, a new song sells enough plastic to take the top spot. So let’s take a trip down…the Oricon Trail.
King & Prince — “Lovin’ You / Odoru You Ni Jinsei Wo”
I think I need a vacation from this segment until something interesting happens. Though, gotta say, feels nice to be greeted by a throwback like this from a Johnny & Associates act. After that talent agency finally embraced the realities of the digital age and have attempted to navigate it, they and their acts have become interesting. These two songs, though, harkins back to a time when like, a new Kanjani Eight single would come out and I’d think “please, make it stop.”
Pure dross! One half is re-heated ballad slop, the other — above — wants to be a musical theater number, but is made by completely joyless people. A pair of pop songs deserving no nuance or respect…it’s like we’re back on the Oricon Trail in winter 2011!
News And Views
I talked to Anna Takeuchi for The Japan Times about one of the year’s best J-pop albums, Tickets. Lots of great stuff from her, though the bit that sticks with me the most is her interest in the structure of K-pop, and specifically how rap is divvied up and distributed in song. She clearly draws from that in the songs here — she’s kind of acting like a one-woman K-pop unit — and it’s one of the many details helping make this a 2022 highlight.
I was ready to dismiss this The Age piece on CHAI and Boris due to the silly intro paragraphs (a Hello Kitty mention???) but glad I stuck with it because it’s actually a pretty smart look at two artists you wouldn’t normally group together. Also makes a point that doesn’t come out nearly enough — Japanese rock (at least more underground and underground-adjacent spots) has plenty of room for women.
In other good CHIA content, members of the group ate spicy American snacks.
As revealed in prior installments of this series, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of Sakanaction’s latest album. An article in Kompass offers some more insight into it, with the most interesting development being how Adapt emerged from lead singer / mastermind Ichiro Yamaguchi’s feeling that the way the Japanese music industry worked wasn’t ready for a new, post-COVID era.
Jude Noel spoke with Daijiro Nakagawa of Kyoto band Jyocho, a group I should have written more about here (and elsewhere…I had an interview request sent to me, and I was too busy! Stupid!), in Tune Glue.
Buzzy British band Wet Leg announced a 2023 Japan tour…normalcy poking back?
Speaking of international acts performing in Japan…TWICE successfully held shows at Tokyo Dome over the weekend. All signs point to the concerts — which attracted thousands to the venue and surrounding area — going off without a hitch, and if no major wave of cases pop up in the weeks ahead, it will be a big step forward towards the live industry holding more foreign shows.
Okinawa Electric Girl Saya has teamed up with Keiji Haino (!?) in a unit called Seiko. Album out this June.
Free jazz and hip hop collide in Tokyo, and Bandcamp Daily is on it.
Nick Dwyer dug into the Japanese beat scene for Roland, and it’s a great look into this community. Low key one of the most important movements not just domestically, but globally.
Utada talked with NME on video. A lot of Cubic U talk!
Coachella, weekend two! The one people care less about! Stuff still happens though, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu performed once again. More importantly, this week has given us a lot of content of her doing stuff in Southern California. She met Pabllo Vittar, and went to Universal Studios. Most importantly, Kyary went down to Anaheim to watch Shohei Ohtani. Unfortunately, her arrival sent him on a mini-slump.
No music-related video out of Japan this week was better than this footage of giant Kiwi fruits swaying around to melancholy traditional music to honor the arrival of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern into the country.
Written by Patrick St. Michel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Twitter — @mbmelodies