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Make Believe Melodies For November 20, 2023
You Would Never Get Me To Share A Karaoke Video
Foodman — Uchigawa Tankentai
This footage of Foodman just going for it while singing “WOW WAR TONIGHT” at what appears to be a chic karaoke bar is the most important eight seconds of video shared online this year. Rare can everything great about an artist be summed up in such a short amount of time, and yet here we are with the defining peak into Takahide Higuchi’s brain. There’s something playful in the way he belts this one out — voice hoarse, several drinks back? (speculation) — and I appreciate him choosing a song originally done by a major comedian. Yet he seems completely earnest throughout snack-sized clip. Look at the way he moves his hand in the air like he’s trying to summon more muster, or the focus in his eyes. Finally, he is always open to outside ideas and influence (the lady adding a sweet “dakara!” early on).
This is the raw mind you plunge into on Uchigawa Tankentai, a nine-minute dispatch from the Foodman universe. All of his albums have been surreal re-imaginings of hum-drum suburban life — local summer festivals gone trippy, roadside food courts as mental raves, super sento as gateway to salvation — but this set is presented as an attempt to create a “kind of unconscious 'free' way of making music which accepts whatever comes out.” I’m fully onboard with this copy seconds in, when Higuchi breaks out his old-man voice over a fever-dream electronic backdrop to sing about wanting to eat delicious potatoes, like a psychedelic version of talking to an actual elderly dude hanging outside of a train station drinking cup sake in the early afternoon1. “Soukou” tumbles samples together and sees how they fall, being one of the more discombobulated creations Foodman has ever conjured up.
There’s more subdued experiments in sound (“Hajimari”) and one hell of a rhythmic workout at the very end (“Fuwari”), with a return to the voice midway through, where it goes from oyaji gyagu to brain warp. It’s playful, sometimes silly but always serious about seeing what’s possible with the ideas rumbling around in Foodman’s noggin. A little longer than an X upload, but just as telling. Listen above, or get it here.
This mailing list is kind of like my thoughts spilling out, though that’s usually because I’m doing it at like 11:30 p.m. on Mondays.
iga — “Air of her”
After spending 2023 dabbling in a variety of electronic styles, producer iga turns to rock on “Air of her.” Their latest pulses forward on electric guitar, channeling a more emo side of J-rock apt for lyrics about wrestling with painful memories tied to specific places (imagine having to wrestle with your melancholy on a bridge in Ibaraki). They’ve transported the urgency of their dance-centric sound to this palette, and it makes for an appropriate nervy backdrop for iga to deliver one of the more emotionally charged set of lyrics they’ve penned yet. Get it here, or listen above.
NNMIE — “Awanai”
I have no idea if “Awanai” is a new song from NNMIE, or just an older cut from a project that appears to have been active for nearly a decade now. That doesn’t actually matter, because the smooth, slightly synthesized stroll of this track lead to an album by NNMIE from this past spring full of even more mid tempo walkers built on fidgety electronics and a sense of twilight ennui. Both “Awanai” and Life Without Evening imagine a one-man Mitsume, creating deceptively breezy grooves using mostly machine sounds and colored by a sense of sadness. A bedroom pop gem. Listen above, or hear the album below.
PASSEPIED — “Cube”
I write this with positive intentions — I’m stunned PASSEPIED is still going. Even more, I’m impressed they’ve evolved from a pretty obvious Soutaiseiriron child into a group that has developed its own sonic texture…and one still morphing. “Cube” features helium electronics and bright vocal snippets helping elevate the melody, with the band making space for sudden guitar interludes. It’s intricate, but never feels stuffy — rather, closer to a jam done in Technicolor. Listen above.
Yoyou — “Ikiru”
The artist e5 recently tweeted about her annoyance at being pigeonholed as a “hyperpop” artist, despite not really engaging in the sounds associated with that internet-centric corner. It’s one of the curses of being associated with any niche style — even as you evolve artistically, a certain crowd only sees you as this one thing. I thought about this dilemma while listening to the latest song from Yoyou, another artist sometimes lumped into this space who has always been more slippery in style. On “Ikiru,” they are balancing between heartfelt experimental balladry and sleeker experiments in rhythm, never approaching the more blown-out sounds that come to mind when thinking about this world, but still every bit as interesting (with plenty of vocal manipulation to boot). An example of how, to my mind at least, it was the fluid nature of the art itself defining this, not just specific elements. Listen above.
edhiii boi — Manshin Sooi
If you want an example of someone taking “hyperpop” in a more literal way, enter BMSG wildcard edhiii boi. Their second album of the year is clearly shaped by the vocal manipulation, rock mutations and speedy electronics you’d find in the spotlight not all that long ago. It’s one of the more blatant stabs at commercializing hyperpop in Japan — though the timing is absolutely right following the viral success of nyamura’s tear-soaked dance-pop — especially when you remember edhiii boi was just like, a regular rapper a year ago.
Twist is…pretty great sounding album. That’s thanks to a lesson every major label or fledgling talent agency should embrace when they want to translate a sub-culture into the mainstream — just get folks associated with these scenes to handle the production. Save for a Taku Takahashi credit on “Uiteru” (which is also the most…different vibe here, and Takahashi deliver the energy), the folks crafting the music hail from worlds not far from where Japan’s corner of this genre took shape. Masayoshi Imori brings constrciting energy to two songs, while Yackle offer PC-Music-ish fizz to “Higher Up.” The best come from those closest to the ground — hirihiri brings their internet-damaged laser light show to the closer, while one half of FIRE BOYS handles the speedy “Otomodachi.” Now that’s a lineup. Listen above.
Oricon Trail For The Week Of October 06, 2023 To November 12, 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.
King & Prince — “Itoshi Ikiru Koto / MAGIC WORD” (348,375 Copies Sold)
First half is a saccharine ballad complete with totally unearned post-apocalyptic video…but song two is actually fun! Pretty much my relationship with this project’s music summed up. Hey, you guys love the slow boring stuff, good for you! Just let me know when they lighten up.
News And Views
Singer/songwriter KAN, aka Kan Kimura, died at the age of 61. Another shocking loss for the Japanese entertainment industry. KAN was a prolific artist both as a solo creator and writer for others. For the purposes of this blog…and this writer…I’ll highlight his musical chops via this 2010 song, which he made because he loved Perfume’s music but was frustrated he would never be able to join the trio…so hey, he’ll go electro-pop now. Legends recognize legends.
Namie Amuro’s music vanished off of subscription streaming sites and YouTube last week, just…out of nowhere. At time of writing, they aren’t back either, save for the collabs she did. Speculation I’ve seen is that there is some kind of contract negotiation going on but nobody has any actual sources for this so who knows. Personally, I think it’s a reminder that like, pre-2016 J-pop always faces this risk of just vanishing because the companies (and…sorry fans…the artists themselves) can be super controlling about this. The bummer, which I saw expressed by fans on Twitter, is how it is harder to get CDs of Amuro’s music now given how many rental shops have closed in recent years owing to digital shifts. Yet some reports argue this kerfluffle is evidence that CDs are going to be enjoying a boom given the uncertainty streaming boasts.
FAKY to go on hiatus…and see several members move on from the group…following a January show.
Perhaps just outside of this publication’s purview…but still very much tied to Japanese entertainment and the changes the industry has to stare down…is the story of a young actor with Takarazuka Revue believed to have killed themselves, with allegations of her being a victim of power harassment. It has lead to an outside panel to conduct an investigation into the institute…not all that different from what happened with the agency formerly known as Johnny & Associates earlier this year…and much more scrutiny.
There’s an incredibly cute looking new Netflix series called Pokemon Concierge coming out at the end of December, and the theme song is a new number from Mariya Takeuchi. “Cool, Japan!” masterstrokes all around.
Written by Patrick St. Michel (email@example.com)
Twitter — @mbmelodies
If you are a non-Japanese resident of Japan who has ever been based in a suburban-to-rural community, you have surely had this experience.