Make Believe Melodies For March 23, 2021
Welcome All New Subscribers From The Utada Post, Here's A Bunch Of Indie Music
Kajuen — 想念彩色
With the weather finally getting nice, now is the time to find a spacious park and just sprawl out, soaking in the warmth. Here’s the perfect soundtrack for your next zone-out while surrounded by nature. Korean artist Mellow Blush and Japan’s Meow come together as Kajuen, and on their Local Visions’ debut they create easy-breezy folk numbers to get lost in. The more attention paid, the better, because the duo work all kinds of great sonic details beneath their vocals, turning the solitary spring meditation of “Ni No Jikan” — all about being lonely in the spring — into a flight of fancy featuring marching percussion and woodwind melodies. The title track hop-scotches between three languages, transforming a bossa bounce into afternoon psych and then pastoral rap, while even a more meditative piece like “Soen” plays all kinds of sonic tricks to up the drama. The bedroom recording vibe coupled with surreal touches makes this a natural for fans of Mid-Air Thief who want to stare at a blue sky from a hammock or a patch of grass. Get it here, or listen below.
tiger bae — “Where is the night flame?”
Oh, nostalgia! Memories of youth! Altered Zones! The early 2010s were a particularly rich time for a certain strain of bleary-eyed indie rock in Japan, stretching from CUZ ME PAIN’s Setagaya suburbs to Friends (now Teen Runnings) Kobe seaside. Between the two were Kyoto’s Hotel Mexico, the most clearly hypnagogic of the bunch thanks to a faded front over all their songs coupled with them unfolding very slowly, like they were in no rush to get anywhere…but with incredible moments of release.
At some point, Hotel Mexico ended (most of the members became monks?), and just…vanished. Until now, kind of! New project tiger bae finds two members of Hotel Mexico (now…not monks? Maybe you get out after a while?) team up with “mystery vocalist” Yuco to create…something right out of 2011, albeit with slightly clearer vocals, at least by their standards. I will fully admit a ton of melancholy for that time shapes my appreciation of this, but tiger bae capture the prettiness and longing of shut-in life nicely. Join me in 2010 above.
Paperkraft — “messedaround”
Speaking of memories, Kyoto’s Paperkraft channels the ghosts of dance floors past through their house tracks. Latest “messedaround” appears on this comp, featuring a distorted vocal sample twisting throughout a stomping case of seasickness. Listen above.
A Taut Line — “To Live And Die In Shinjuku / Woken”
I’ve had construction going on outside of where I live — a few stations away from Shinjuku — and in recent days it has picked up. The day is just a constant barrage of beams clanking against other beams, hammers pounding, jackhammers ripping concrete apart and construction workers yelling at one another. A good escape from all that clamor is — some more melodic clamor, courtesy of A Taut Line’s latest two, a set of spine crackers finding grooves in noise. Get it here.
lyrical school — “Fantasy”
The sequel to “Easy Breezy” arrives via Japan’s premier idol rappers. “Fantasy” was written and produced by Ryo Takahashi, who shaped chelmico’s biggest moment, and chelmico’s own Rachel, who also handles the lyrics here. This one’s more scatterbrained than “Easy Breezy,” but that’s a total compliment, as this one spills from straight-ahead rap to club stomp to late-night raver, everything clicking just right, so all of these ideas never overwhelm. Listen above.
Le Makeup — “Moon Hit”
4s4ki — UNDEAD CYBORG
Hey, remember that best of 2020 list I was doing. Yeah…you know, one day it will get finished, I swear, maybe at it as a little surprise treat sometime in the…near?…future. Anyway, here are two artists slotting in the top five of that totally-is-going-to-exist ranking, continuing to do what they’re best at (introspective pop — this time with an assist from Ryan Hemsworth — and a Tokyo take on HyperPop, respectively).
Pterodactyl Squad — Train Radio
A special one to close out this week’s songs list — train melodies gone chiptune! This compilation finds a whole mess of artists interpreting the jingles that play at various stations across Japan through 8-bit melodies and other digi-age flourishes, creating full-fledged songs from these short stations staples. It’s a fun concept executed really well, and at least on first go can feature some delightful moments of “ahhhh, that’s familiar, but where?” Get it here, or listen above.
Oricon Trail For The Week Of March 8, 2021 To March 14, 2021
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 the 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 drip down…the Oricon Trail.
KAT-TUN — “Roar” (252,982 Copies Sold)
The fragmentation of Johnny & Associates’ acts playing out in the already-shattering universe of J-pop offers a tidy summary of industry epoch shift. KAT-TUN, somehow still going despite being down to three members, continue to upload short versions of their music videos (though, sneakily, they don’t highlight that fact) when other pop outfits under the talent agency have accepted the digital reality they exist in. Save for Arashi’s weird year-long flirtation with the English-language market, a clear dividing line has been drawn between the old way and new necessity, with KAT-TUN way behind the prior.
That’s probably alright, all things considered. KAT-TUN belong to an era of J-pop boy bands that, in 2021, provide a dip into yesteryear for fans of a certain age. Nothing about “Roar” lines up with J-pop as it exists today — it’s just some 30-year-old singers walking around a particularly glum-looking beach delivering mid-tempo whatevers —but KAT-TUN and all the other Aughts-born projects exist as a kind of nostalgia capsule for people who grew up in an era where CDs ruled and you had to lineup outside of the Johnny’s Harajuku store to buy a photo of your favorite guy. There’s nothing connecting “Roar” to today, but I don’t think listeners care all that much.
News And Views
Tokyo 2020 Creative Chief Hiroshi Sasaki stepped away from the position last week after Shukan Bunshun reported he floated the idea of having comedian/influencer Naomi Watanabe dress as a pig…an “Olympig.” This sparked all kinds of cries about various -isms and -phobias (plus, as Watanbe herself pointed out…it’s not even a good gag! Though what do you expect from the dude whose artistic peak is “what if Doraemon was French”), but a somewhat overlooked angle might be even more damning. The Bunshun piece alleges that Sasaki largely ignored the guidance of creative team members Sheena Ringo and MIKIKO (choreographer for Perfume BABYMETAL, Hoshino Gen’s “Koi” and much more), eventually leading to them dropping out of the project. Watanabe herself talks about this…and how she wishes MIKIKO’s vision, in particular, could have been the one they went with…in a much-viewed livestream from last Friday.
This entire incident offers a neat and damning snapshot of how badly the Japanese government and advertising sector have botched the promotion of the country’s pop culture on a global stage. Rather than let creators who have actually managed some kind of success on a global stage guide a project meant to celebrate Japan on…a global stage, they get alienated and eventually driven out in favor of the vision of (this is important, too) a man who just knows the right people and has the right connections (go to hell, Dentsu!), allowing his crap-ass commercial creativity to be at the forefront. A decade of failure crammed into one week…incredible.
Ahhh those words you love to hear — “music festival consortium.” Seven of the biggest outdoor gatherings will come together to figure out how to host safe events as the pandemic carries on (and vaccines for the general public haven’t arrived just yet), though all signs point to most of them actually happening.
Alas, my knowledge of Chuang 2021 remains blips coming across my Twitter feed, but I remain fascinated by two members of INTERSECTION appearing to crush it on the show, at least so far? Should Avex just send all of their musical acts to Mainland China? Could Oomori Seiko get in one of these groups?! trainees and pose in photoshoot for Esquire China. C-netz exclaim: "They look like male leads in an American schoolyard drama!" 📚
What kind of schoolyard dramas do they think America has????
Been a while since a good JASRAC story, but this week delivered, with the news that music school students aren’t subject to copyright fees, much to the chagrin of the aforementioned music body. Score one for education!
Important Earthbound musical content
Ronald at Arama has a great translation of an interesting Yahoo! News thinkpiece on “the lost decade” of Japanese music, running from 2006 to 2015. It really boils down to how Japanese consumers way of listening to music changed, from digital platforms such as YouTube to now-outdated modes such as ringtones, but that the Oricon Charts failed to reflect this until about 2016 (if not later). I’d say that’s pretty right, though I do think another angle to look at this period from is one where Japanese music enjoyed pretty great international attention, ranging from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu to BABYMETAL to (a degree) Perfume. Then again, they managed that thanks to new platforms…that Oricon overlooked.
Tomonori Shiba has a series looking back on Heisei hits, and the latest installment explores AKB48’s “Koisuru Fortune Cookie.” Glad to this song get the proper deep dive in Japanese media it deserves, because as the years have gone on it has become clear it is one of the most important J-pop singles of the 21st century (everyone trips over themselves to talk about how TikTok changed pop…but like it was already happening in the early 2010s albeit in a less streamlined way, and “Koisuru Fortune Cookie” signaled this development in Japan). Just for old time’s sake, here’s my celebration of the song from the old newsletter platform, which also reminds me AKB48 were ahead of the modern-lifes-a-drag themes defining J-pop today.
Japanese acts — getting love from digital SXSW!
Last, I’ll be moderating this Japan Society online chat about Japanese hip-hop on March 23, 7 p.m. EDT. Free to register, and you can see if I try to cram a Tohji reference into it or not!
Written by Patrick St. Michel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Twitter — @mbmelodies