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Make Believe Melodies For November 7, 2023
Gimme That Pop-Aid
TEMPLIME And Hoshimiya Toto — POP-AID
At its core, pop music doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Forget for a moment all the thinkpieces and 50-minute podcasts and newsletter dispatches trying to pick apart pop like grilled salmon. It’s something to fill the silence of days and add color to the hum-drum — whether to give a serotonin spike, stir up melancholy, offer a sonic pat on the shoulder when feeling down or compliment feelings whatever they may be. Thin of it as emotional support sounds…or, maybe, pop-aid.
That’s the conceptual wire electronic duo TEMPLIME and virtual singer Hoshimiya Toto traverse on POP-AID. It’s the name of the trio’s second full-length album, but also the title of a just-launched series of live events they host, plus a ‘zine. Look at the cover art above, though, and you can pick up on deeper meaning. As the text declares, it’s a theoretical robot using pop music as mind-cleansing tool. A level down, it’s a mission statement on how the artists involved see pop. POP-AID documents this partnership between IRL creator and avatar artist blooming into a true creative breakthrough, collecting songs from a handful of EPs released over the last two years alongside new material. This is TEMPLIME and Toto’s worldview coming across crystal clear, and at a time when many more in Japan appear to share it.
POP-AID is a delirious celebration of sounds. TEMPLIME’s earliest works weaved between “future bass” sugar rushes and more ennui-guided experiments in 2-step (see personal “ohhh, these guys are REALLY good” revelation pureness), topped off by Toto’s singing adding a (ironic!) human ache to it all. They’ve further solidified those formulas in the years since via inclusions here like the lithe “Skycave” or the rave-up of closer “Yoake.”
Yet the three have drastically expanded their sonic palette. Rock has always been present in what they do — member KBSNK also operates a shoegaze-y side project, while TEMPLIME have long shared “inspiration” playlists sporting just as many bands as producers — but now it’s a central component. Check the title track, above, all fidgety guitar grooves and limber rhythms, itself following in the footsteps of predecessors Sugar’s Campaign’s “Holiday.” Across POP-AID, TEMPLIME fuse rock elements to electronic sounds, but in a way that doesn’t feel like the “you got Eve 6 in my drum ‘n’ bass cassette!” way a lot of “HyperPop” approaches this mixture, but rather in a way curious how the two sides can co-exist. “Hiro” draws a connection between the precision of math rock and the repetition of breakcore in its loops, while the heart of “Melody Smash” lays in its noodling, with dance and rap touches bubbling up around the edges.
POP-AID strongly reminds me of PAS TASTA’s Good Pop. They are representations of artists raised on the internet — specifically, nurtured by the anything-goes creativity of netlabels like Maltine Records — who still finds sparks of inspiration and delight from all things online (both albums prominently feature virtual artists, for one) but understand the power of IRL connection (both projects put on killer parties bringing disparate groups together). A lot of what I wrote regarding Good Pop applies to POP-AID — this is an absolute celebration of the ethos netlabels embraced, from the joyful smashing of sounds to choosing optimism when looking at new web-born developments. While not as guest-heavy as PAS TASTA’s debut, TEMPLIME and Toto welcome a few guests into their sonic world, most notably LIL SOFT TENNIS, a representative of an even younger cohort approaching music with the same attitude but from a different angle. It’s a snapshot of Japan’s club and live scene bouncing back too, and how exciting crossover amongst the nation’s many pockets is becoming.
It’s everything good about Japanese music in 2023 condensed into 41 minutes.
Most importantly, though, it’s never delivered with a wink. Despite the conceptual presence of a robot sporting a fax machine as part of its mecha shell, POP-AID is reverent of pop, in the same way that Maltine acts would nod to Perfume or Girls’ Generation alongside a soundboard’s worth of meme samples. The emotive spectrum of POP-AID runs from happiness to melancholy to outright sadness…but everyone involved recognizes the importance of filtering these feelings through music anyone can grasp on to. Simple enough. Listen above.
Perfume — “Sumikko Disco”
Alright, so hear me out…I think this song created for a new movie starring San-X’s millenials-as-cuddly-creatures1 Sumikko Gurashi is easily the best Perfume song of the year, and I’m OK with “Moon” and especially like “Love Cloud.” But give me the icier grooves of this dance-pop song, which somehow flips the plot of this film and general concept of the characters into a meditation on music and nervous attraction. Really, I think I just like the pacing of it all, moving just a touch slower which allows for the melody to show off a bit more and for Yasutaka Nakata to fill the space with great electronic details. Yes, it’s inspired in part by a penguin who is not sure if he’s actually a penguin. But it’s definitely Perfume being Perfume. Listen above.
Oricon Trail For The Week Of October 23, 2023 To October 29, 2023
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.
Johnny’s West — Zettai Zetsume / Beautiful / AS ONE (299,584 Copies Sold)
Most noteworthy for being the last Johnny’s West release before this project simplifies to WEST., the triple-song release largely showcases the range the group aims for. You have a moody song, above, which makes you double check if producer Katsuhiko Sugiyama is actually a pen name for Enon Kawatani. You get a bubbly dance-pop number in highlight “Beautiful,” and the opposite in the joyless oh-oh-ohing of “AS ONE.” Missing from all three? The doofus charm I most associate with these guys, which doesn’t necessarily sink the singles but does make them feel a little more minor. Hopefully they bring that energy back with them under the new name.
News And Views
Oh my god, 2023 is almost over. Begin the year-end content! Just don’t ask me about 2022 album lists, thanks. One of the first big wrapping-it-up events in Japan has arrived with the announcements of the nominees for the “word of the year” appearing. A handful of music-related terms pop up, most notably Atarashii Gakko!, “Idol,” a handful related to Johnny & Associates and, spiritually, Y2K. I think after the Hanshin Tigers won the Nippon Series this weekend, though, “A.R.E.” should be the favorite.
Heath, bassist for X JAPAN, died of cancer. He was 55.
DJ Soda reached a settlement with organizer TryHard Japan after the South Korean artist was groped at this summer’s Music Circus event.
Atarashii Gakko! is embarking on a North American tour starting this week…and they kick it off with a high-profile appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show. A pretty significant development for the group, and for this new era of J-pop at large.
Zutomayo to play first overseas show, in Taiwan, next year. Another big development in the “2024 is going to be all about going abroad” story line for new-era J-pop.
The K-pop / anime crossovers continue as TXT links up with SawanoHiroyuki[nZk] for the opening theme to a forthcoming series.
Former AKB48 member Nana Okada left the group earlier this year. They’ve returned, and in a very forthcoming interview, Okada talks about their departure from the idol outfit, scandals they found themselves caught up in, their sexual orientation and identity (Okada saying they are non-binary) and much more. Here’s an English summary. Okada also revealed their debut solo single and album, opening a new era for the performer.
Perhaps more of a brand-building exercise than anything else, Ado (full disclosure: have been hired to write her English bio in the past) announced she will produce a new idol group starting from next year. It’s probably most interesting as an example of the weird schism in J-pop (pop???) as a whole, where idol groups really do represent the idea of what “pop” is in general despite how many solo and non-idol groups actually perform well in modern times. Apologies for the slight blanket statement, but there are definitely people I’ve encountered who only view contemporary pop as something idols can do, which explains moves like this.
Ado’s not the only one getting in on this, as rapper Chanmina will help produce a new girl group associated with BMSG, set to be put together next year via audition show.
Now, the sort of idol group we could all benefit more from? The one’s taking their fans hostage. That’s sort of what Jugs Mafia (exactly what you think) did at a recent idol festival, when only one fan showed up for their set so…they brought him up on stage and performed just for him, while also making sure he couldn’t get out.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu collaborated with Perfume, which included her sharing a “Polyrhythm” influenced look.
Look, you’re lucky this whole newsletter wasn’t just me sharing pictures of Perfume promoting the new Sumikko Gurashi movie.
I talked with the band Lamp for The Japan Times, about its new album and the group’s status as one of the most popular Japanese acts of the 21st century when you start looking at data. Not to mention the devoted fanbase around the outfit — shout out the Lamp Reddit for incredible devotion.
OK, OK, allow me one more.
Written by Patrick St. Michel (email@example.com)
Twitter — @mbmelodies
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They all have social anxiety and identity issues, sounds about right!