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People In The Box, Kodomo Rengou (2018)

Honestly, I had very little knowledge about People In The Box until their latest Kodomo Rengou, which was released in February 2018. I was relatively new to today’s Japanese rock music ‘cuz I was crazy in dance music since the late ’00s. However, one of my friends strongly recommended the album, saying that it would be the album of the year. Then I tried listening and soon fell in love with it. I’ve listened to it over and over, even ignoring other new releases.

The album reminded me of some math-rock acts but it had a more physical and active groove. Rather than indulging in sweet and violent tones from the amplifiers, just as some bands do (oops, I don’t blame on them. just for comparison), they play riffs and rhythm patterns with strong clarity. From a note to note, I can hear their intention–how they want them to sound, how they want them to be. The interplay between melodies is dizzying yet compelling me to dance to it. I dare say that it’s like something fusing prog-rock, chamber music and afrobeat.

Their lyrics are also important. With quite simple vocabulary, they often depict the ordinary life around us, especially in Japan’s suburbs. Let me take “町A (Town A)” as an example. In its chorus, Hirofumi Hatano (Vo. & Guitar, who also writes all of their lyrics) sings like this: “huge mall, restaurant, public library, udon noodle stand, book store, bakery, housing, flower shop, ramen stand, shrine, temple, secondhand car shop, room with sunlight.” Most Japanese people may easily imagine such a tasteless landscape. It belongs nowhere, as the title suggests. It has no name. If anything, it can be everywhere. It might be my hometown, or else, someone’s hometown instead.

“This is not heaven, let alone a paradise. / However, this is not hell even. / One night after another / Say, a buffer zone or resting place between nights / This is not heaven; just my hometown” Hatano sings. Ok, this is certainly the mise-en-scene of our everyday life. But how strange, weird, and uncanny is this? It’s like the Brechtian theatre’s distancing effect. It’s pretty ambivalent that the album closes with a song named “僕は正気 (I AM sane)”. Are we still sober or losing our minds in this world?

Hatano deliberately manipulates words and depicts people’s inherent anxiety without any sentimental rhetorics. But it moves my mind so hard that I almost cry when I listen to “かみさま (God)” and “僕は正気”.

The tight groove of the ensemble, the complicated texture of the sound, and the lyrics’ peculiar poesy. This is obviously the best Japanese rock album of 2018.

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ぼくのりりっくのぼうよみ, 没落 (2018)

I couldn’t post last Wednesday because I was too busy and tired. One of my distraction then was preparing my dj set at Gampeki Music Festival which would be held at the weekend. I’ve almost quit djing years ago and my skill is not great at all tho, I enjoyed playing. You can hear it on mixcloud.

Today I’d like to write about ぼくのりりっくのぼうよみ (boku no ririkku no bo’yomi, ぼくりり in short)’s 没落 (botsuraku). The title means “fall” or “decay” literally. It was his last album under the name ぼくのりりっくのぼうよみ. He was a young and talented singer and songwriter with a unique voice and thoughtful lyrics, whose music attracted the wide audience. His dance-oriented beat and eloquent vocalization were mellow and youthful at the same time, no other singers had a charismatic atmosphere as his one.

However, suddenly he announced that he would quit ぼくりり, saying that he was exhausted with being a genius. He was also known for somewhat challenging or controversial remarks about Japan’s music industry, media coverage, and music critics. He was like a trickster. So I was suspicious about the statement. It seemed like a staged performance rather than an honest feeling, just aiming a social buzz to promote his new album. Moreover, his tweets following the statement contained some misogynistic phrases like calling some of his fans ババア (“old bitches” or something like that), which was offensive against women. I was disappointed, although his true intention remained unclear.

没落 was released in somewhat uncomfortable buzz. Against my expectations, it was an instant masterpiece which obviously deserved to be his accomplishment as an artist. While his signature style which had jazz-influenced chord progressions and vibrant melodies wasn’t changed, the variety of beats were more diverse than before, from UK Garage/Speed Garage to NY House to Future Soul.

The most surprising thing was like, some songs were like suites telling us dramatic stories, reminiscing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The good example of these was “輪廻転生 (Rin’ne Tensho, Metempsychosis in English)”. Beginning with a simple electro hip-hop beat, the song underwent from Minimalistic chamber ensemble to gospel-like choir with the Prismizer effect which reminded me of Bon Iver or Francis and the Lights. I was very surprised because very few J-POP acts have made a good use of such vocal processing technology (Yasutaka Nakata’s use of Auto-tune is a rare example).

The album was great, but this fact made me wonder why he had to quit the activity like that. It should have been the beginning of the next phase rather than an ending of the career. After his final show, he changed the stage name from ぼくりり to たなか which was one of the most typical family names in Japan. As he appeared some artist’s releases under aliases, it seems that it’s not retirement per se. So I hope someday たなか (or ぼくりり again) would release some materials.

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江沼郁弥, #1 (2018)

Enuma Fumiya’s #1 is his first full-length as a solo singer-songwriter. After the break-up of plenty in 2017, the introspective frontman of the band took some synths and a daw into his hands instead of the guitar. While plenty’s music was characterized by the shoegaze-like guitar noise with catchy melodies–say, very “indie” in a sense–the album was completely rid of such catharsis. It was like something between psychedelic folk and alternative r&b which could be compared to James Blake’s or Frank Ocean’s seminal works. I would say that he was finding another way to express his thought with a great delicacy. And he actually did it.

In the endless reverberation and infinite echoes, his voice tells us how he’s sad and desperate. This sadness once used to be quite dramatic and ecstatic especially when he was with his band, but now it’s more nuanced as he elaborates the sound design. Every sound of the album is deliberately modulated to express feelings that couldn’t be said with words. M9 “take my hands” is the best example I think. The guitar loop is granulated and pitch-shifted voices are haunting the entire song. The song sounds like memories suspended in the air, slowly falling into oblivion.

From this March, Enuma has released three singles which would be featured in the new album. These three songs, “うるせえんだよ”, “偽善からはじめよう”, and “積み木くずし” are more friendly in sound but much more pessimistic in words. FYI “うるせえんだよ” and “偽善からはじめよう” can be respectively translated like “Shut the fuck up” and “Let’s begin with hypocrisy”, both are very shocking as song’s name. However, while he sings about his distrust of the people and the impossibility of mutual understanding, he is also breaking the walls of creativity.

Enuma recently plays his show with a young and mysterious band 木 (ki), one of the most anticipated new comer in Japan. Among music lovers, they’re known for an eccentric and minimalistic approach with a definite pop sense. Their avant-garde pop rendered in a smooth R&B flavor, which is 木’s signature style, certainly resonates with Enuma’s solo works (check out the band’s debut EP Vi below). This collaboration is pretty fascinating to me. I’d like to watch their show someday this year.

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Tempalay, なんて素晴らしき世界, 2018

When I found that RM (from BTS) was listening to Tempalay’s “どうしよう (dooshiyou)” I was very excited since it was one of my most favorite songs then. The song starts with slightly out-of-scale riffs which have a dislocating feeling. After a sudden glitchy edit, the band’s vocalist Ryoto Obara begins to sing with the mesmerizing guitar and the bold beat, embraced by their multi-instrumentalist AAAMYYY’s backing chorus. I was not satisfied with the cheesy vid but I couldn’t help watching it over and over and over. I thought RM might feel the same way as me.

Tempalay is a Japanese psychedelic rock band, whose music apparently resonates with the Aussie star band Tame Impala (oh, their names resembles each other btw). Raw, lo-fi, and strangely chill. Listening to them is like a lucid dream or a psychedelic trip without losing minds. The band was formed in 2014 and officially debuted in 2015 by the EP Instant Hawaii. It took only two years to take ‘em Austin, Texas to play at SXSW 2016. They’ve been so prolific that they’ve released three EPs and two full-length from 2015 to 2018, even they’re gonna release their third full-length 21世紀より愛をこめて (can be translated like From 21st century with love) this June.

なんて素晴らしき世界 (Nante Subarashiki Sekai, which means What a wonderful world) is their third EP which includes “どうしよう” the single mentioned above. As the original bass player Yuya Takeuchi left the band in 2018, the former support player AAAMYYY, who’s also known for her solo career as a beatmaker officially joined in. Since she was not a proper bass player (she mostly play samplers and synths) welcoming her in the band led them a more eclectic sound, featuring a variety of instruments and electronics. For example, “テレパシー (Telepathy)” has 808 in its verse, popping electronic sound effects in the chorus, and AAAMYYY’s rap is also featured in the bridge.

Moreover, you may hear more elaborate and tricky songwriting in songs like “SONIC WAVE”, which has a lot of sudden scene changes, or “Last Dance”, which heavily features metric modulations. Yes. The ensemble is pretty tight. The songs are well-written and playful. I bet their upcoming 21世紀より愛をこめて is gonna be their true breakthrough. Fortunately, they just released a single called “のめりこめ、震えろ。(Nomerikome, furuero.)”, roughly translated like “Lose yourself and shiver”. I’ll listen to it and lose myself as they ask me to do.

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You gotta check “Apple Vinegar Music Award”, the musicians’ choice of the year.

Hm. Hi, this is imdkm. I’ve posted nine entries since January. I dunno how many people reading this blog, but I hope someday these entries would be read by many music fans and make ‘em listen to Japanese pop music more. This year’s resolution of mine.

Well, today, I’d like to introduce an interesting project named “Apple Vinegar Music Award“. It is an independent annual award to shed the light on the year’s most excellent but relatively unknown releases of young musicians in Japan. It was founded by Masafumi Goto, who is ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION’s vocalist and guitarist, in 2018 (for those who doesn’t know ‘em, the band’s introduction is in the final paragraphs of this post). Nominees are selected by him and judges are well-known musicians in J-POP scene, who are friends of him–seemingly rather private than public, but its mission is very ambitious for just an personal project. I’m sure it’s worth to check it out.

Although Goto’s own musical taste is mostly rock music, many past nominees are from different fields. In 2018, four out of ten nominees were rappers or hip-hop groups (Yurufuwa Gang, Punpee, Awich, JJJ), and eventually, the Japanese rapper JJJ won the award. Of course, the award isn’t diverse enough to cover entire J-POP (there are no idol groups or dance music producers). But through this award, you can hear some interesting things going on in the recent J-POP scene.

Yuta Orisaka’s なつのべ is not on spotify. please check this video!

This year’s nominees were more diverse in terms of musical styles. Singer and songwriters (Kaho Nakamura, Yuta Orisaka, Hakushi Hasegawa, AAAMYYY), a beatmaker (STUTS), rappers (VaVa, Kid Fresino) and rock bands (ROTH BART BARON, Gateballers, Tempalay, Age Factory, GEZAN). The winner of the year was Nakamura and three nominees, Orisaka, Kid Fresino, and GEZAN were selected as the honorable mentions. Since the award could fund 1,200,000 yen ($10,800 or €9,600) from supporters including Goto himself, the prize was distributed as below; 600,000 yen for Nakamura, 200,000 yen for Orisaka, Kid Fresino, and GEZAN each.

Fortunately, I have written about many nominees on this blog. Orisaka’s 平成 was the very first post. Also, I’ve Nakamura’s AINOU, Hakushi Hasegawa’s 草木萌動 on this blog. For your convenience, each post has embedded Spotify playlist for the albums. I’m now planning writing the rest of this year’s nominees. My next post will be Kid Fresino’s Ai qing, which was one of the honorable mentions of the year.

Asian Kung-Fu Generation is one of the most popular rock band since 00s known for their unique interpretation of 90’s grunge and Emo sound. Many songs of them were used by ultra-famous animes like NARUTO, Fullmetal Alchemist, and BLEACH. So if you’re familiar with these animes, you should know them by their songs such as “リライト (Rewrite)”.

AKG and Goto are also known for their remarks on Japan’s music scenes and the industry. For example, in order to share their influence and fascination with their listeners, they have held their own festival called “NANO-MUGEN”, where they invited their favorite bands from Japan, UK, and the US to play in front of the young audience in Japan. Recently, Goto often insists that Japanese music companies should make use of subscription platforms like Spotify and Apple Music more, instead of depending on selling physical media like CD and Blu-ray. AKG’s latest ホームタウン is an emotional guitar pop album rendered in simple and delicate, yet powerful sound. You should check this one, too.

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