Make Believe Melodies For May 3, 2022
Vacation Part One
I’m on “vacation!” Which is to say…I’ve traveled somewhere for the next two weeks, but still have to work, but also I’m sort of slacking off. The real victim of this semi-relaxed mindset is my usual ethic at keeping track of new music — I focus on deadlines when I have to, and then I go out and enjoy warmer weather. A week away from SoundCloud won’t hurt anyone.
So to lean even further into this easy-breezy space, here’s some of my favorite “chill” music from so far in 2022. No better way to welcome Golden Week…or just pretend like you are escaping to warmer climes while cooped up at work…with these songs.
MIZ — Sundance Ranch
Relaxation and clarity comes in movement for MIZ. The acoustic duo consists of Shukei Tamaoki and Seijun Kato, a pair of members from the pleasant-enough rock group Mono No Aware, and in this stripped-down formation they take a lot of melodic cues from their main gig and finds sweetness in small moments and simple escapes. Locations and transport serve as motifs — their 2020 debut album name checked a Vietnamese city and featured songs titled “Highway In Pajamas,” “Boat” and “Burn Up The Road” among others — while lyrics dwell on everyday occurrences and flights of fancy.
This March’s Sundance Ranch only goes further on blending the far-off with the familiar. Using only acoustic guitars and their voices — they often bring to mind the most bare moments from Kings Of Convenience’s catalog — MIZ turn the simple act of bolting to the coast for some much-needed sunshine (“Drive The Camper Fast”) into something urgent, albeit a relatively calm urgency. It can be simply hanging out in the summer heat, drinking tea or grass, and they find a pretty angle on it.
Sundance Ranch has become one of those ideal background listens for me recently, warm and catchy but never too overwhelming. It sounds calming…until it totally catches you off guard. “Youran” is a pleasant enough song about being drunk, but delivered in Hachijo, a dialect from Hachijojima where the members of MIZ hail from, and which is fading away. Suddenly, lyrics about losing memory and going home take on new melancholy, and Sundance Ranch becomes something more than ambience. Listen above.
chillbill. — “cloudy room”
Near parody-level artist name, but I’ll be damned if “cloudy room” doesn’t deliver the easy and the breezy. It’s neo-city-pop with the pomp boiled away, leaving instead a groove apt for a stroll and appropriately hazy vocals. And, as is a theme for anything I end up “chilling” to, there’s a streak of emotional distress floating around in this dream. “There’s no one to greet me when I come home / in my dream you were really nice to me / what’s going on?” Easy to seek escape when reality sounds that lonely. Listen above.
maeshima soshi — “Sora No Kanata”
A calm beat with a few off-kilter mutations from one of the better young producers working in Japan today.
LLLL — Rain
The music LLLL has made always balances between unease and wonder, offering a soundtrack apt for a solitary night after last train while allowing just enough light to come in. Rain leans a little more into the latter, placing more emphasis on synth lines and sporting some of the most upbeat vocals to grace an LLLL project to date. Healing music that reminds peace can come with a beat, too. Get it here, or listen above.
Mime — “Labyrinth”
Slow-burning synth-rock that’s easy to be caught up in, both if you want to be submerged in sound or seek emotional release. Listen above.
flams — ep-1
If I were being honest, I would just link to the entire Local Visions page again and be like “I want to live in these sounds forever.” Here’s one I haven’t properly celebrated yet — flams constructs a meditative synth-pop stroll with a melancholy edge, with the latter being delivered via their vocals. The highlight of ep-1 is how elements of the music stand out, offering a more tactile listening experience that keeps it from becoming to much of a swirl. You start getting lulled in, and then a new part pops up and wakes you up a bit. Which is probably what good “relaxing” music should do — make sure you also stay focused. Get it here, or listen above.
Oricon Trail For The Week Of April 18, 2022 To April 24, 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.
INI — I (“Call 119 / We Are”) (581,016 Copies Sold)
As reflection of Japanese male idol music in 2022, this dual-side single from Produce-101-Japan-born group INI marks an important development. With nearly 600,000 physical copies sold in one week, this marks the best sales for any new generation male outfit — an obtuse way of me saying “non-Johnny’s (and uhhhh LDH too, sorry almost forgot).” I’m not sure the old guard is shaking quite yet — Johnny’s can (and probably does) point to how much Naniwa Danshi sell, content in knowing they still sit on top — but this points towards actual momentum behind a fresh set of faces.
Personally, I wish this upward trajectory was being powered by better music. “Call 119” throws a lot of ideas around but never lets any of them hit their stride, believing looking busy trumps finding one great idea. There’s a lot of build up for a hook paying off with…a drop you’d hear at Ultra 2015. You could…and should…lob these same criticisms at K-pop boy groups in 2022, but that kind of makes INI just blindly embracing them even worse.
“We Are” is better, sticking to a single idea and letting it ride. Still, it comes off to me as a bit slight, lacking any real emotional liftoff (lazy comparison, but something like JO1’s “Shine A Light” offers a great example of turning the spacious into a firework display come the chorus). They’ve got upward force on their side — I personally am hoping INI also get a little more adventerous with their sound.
News And Views
I talked to Yaffle, accomplished solo artist and ever-present producer in modern-day J-pop…most noticeably for Fujii Kaze, but for so many more…for Billboard. Really great chat, especially when it comes to how he uses percussion as a way to add some experimental energy to pop songs relying on more familiar chords.
Speaking of, Fujii Kaze will sing the theme song for a film about the Tokyo 2020 Olympics…remember those? Skateboarding was cool!
Tokyo is a city in constant re-development, and next year change comes to Shinjuku via the Kabukicho Tower project. Part of the new facility will be devoted to Zepp Tokyo (Shinjuku), a 1500-capacity venue located underneath a skyscraper also housing a music-themed hotel, a theater and more. Whatever helps me get home sooner than schlepping out to Haneda, I’ll take.
Cibo Matto before Cibo Matto
VTubers linking up with Japanese majors, love to see it.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu hung out in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. Where does she go next? Not sure in a literal sense, but Europe in a more poetic way.
Well this happened.
For all of my blathering on this newsletter about what shows will mark the true return of international artists to Japan, this is probably the tour that shows “hey, normal is back, kind of!” Lil Pump did, indeed, show up at 10oak in Roppongi for a pair of shows before jetting around several other parts of Asia. If Lil Pump can pull it off, anyone probably can now.
I might not dig their latest singles, but I’m incredibly jealous INI got to see BIGBOSS.
Gene Simmons…voice of reason.
Written by Patrick St. Michel (email@example.com)
Twitter — @mbmelodies