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カテゴリー: English

entries written in English

Shohei Amimori and the Bacteria Collective’s show was pretty awesome. why don’t you invite them to play?

Last week I was at Shibuya WWWX to see Shohei Amimori’s show called “パタミュージッキング (patamusicking)” which was the release party for his 2018 album パタミュージック. The support acts, Kasanegi Wrist-band and Takuro Okada were both pretty awesome though, the most impressive act was, of course, the main one–Shohei Amimori and the Bacteria Collective.

They were gathered by Amimori to play the songs from the album which has very DAW-oriented post-production and sound processing. So I couldn’t imagine how it would be, even a little bit suspicious about that. Deliberately composed and edited, they have quite complex structures and it seemed to be almost impossible to play them live.

Despite its complexity, パタミュージック itself is quite playful and pop (sometimes terribly uncanny especially regarding their lyrics). Entirely, their melodies often remind me of background music for JRPG (e.g. M5 “ajabollamente” as well as the other songs) which now has lots of enthusiasts of the genre all over the world, including Thundercat, FlyLo, and Kode9. Or some songs have a certain kind of feeling that resembles Ambient / New Age music from the 80s (you can hear it in M7 “Biennale”), which is now also undergoing re-evaluation, as the massive compilation Kankyo Ongaku and its buzz shows us.

Amimori mixes up those musical heritages with his profound knowledge of musical history and peculiar aesthetic. While he has a very academic basis–he studied composition at Tokyo University of the Arts which is one of the most prestigious institutions in Japan–he can render it in the strangely pop atmosphere. It was already obvious in his first full-length SONASILE, which was rather experimental than pop while some songs featured friendly melodies in them. Two years later, in パタミュージック, he seemed that he was trying to criticize what the word “pop” meant to everyone in much more “pop” disguise. It was not to make “experimental” into “pop” (and vice versa). Rather, what this album tellin’ me is that being “pop” is the most sophisticated form of critique.

I had been fascinated during the entire show and almost losing my mind. Against my expectation, it was very physical and danceable. Since then I’ve been wondering why the audience was forced to sit down instead of dancing around the floor! The best moment was “Climb Downhill 1” performed in live. That was a stunning experience. As you can hear in it, the tempo is continually sped up throughout the song like a Shepard tone, which is continually ascending in pitch. Recently I learned that this kind of rhythm structure is called Risset rhythm.

The concept is very simple. For example, 160 bpm (beats per minute) can be interpreted as 80 bpm which is meant to be half-time, many trap things make use of this. Given that, just speeding up the tempo and when the bpm reaches a specific number slow it down to exact half bpm.

But, hey, this is easy to say, quite hard to do. When it comes to playing in live with numerous players this sounds almost crazy. However, the Bacteria Collective did make it thanks to their virtuosity and the modern technology (apparently they played along with the click via monitoring headphones). Moreover, it was pretty musical, joyful, and danceable. With the light effects it was spectacular that was worth to come to Tokyo from Yamagata (It took one night to go to Tokyo in the bus. If you use Shinkansen express, you can go there in three hours tho…).

I strongly recommend Shohei Amimori’s works and his performance. For foreign audience it would be the next Cornelius or something like that. Listen to his work from above Spotify link and embedded vids.

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Perfume, Future Pop (2018)

Since their breakthrough “ポリリズム (polyrhythm)” in 2007, Perfume has grown up from a “kawaii” futuristic electro-pop idol to one of Japan’s most popular and fascinating pop act. They just made their first major appearance at Coachella last weekend and highly appreciated (even Rolling Stone named them as one of the best acts at Coachella). It seems that their performance in the second weekend will be streamed via YouTube. It’ll be worth watching for their performance will show you the sophisticated side of J-POP: the ensemble of their spontaneous charm, skillful choreography by MIKIKO, and cutting-edge tech effects by Rhizomatics.

Let me introduce them a bit more. With Nakata Yasutaka, who’s the most prolific Japanese producer in this decade, Perfume played an essential role in the recent J-POP scene. From electro-influenced dance pop (oh, I miss that blog-house era…) to EDM-like banger, they introduced the ethos of dance music to J-POP in a very challenging way.

For example, their hit “ポリリズム” which I mentioned above has an eccentric twist in the bridge where top notes progress in 5/4 time (it is repetition of the word “polyrhythm” for in Japanese the word “polyrhythm” has five syllables like “po-lee-lee-zoo-moo”) on the four-on-the-floor beat. Literally, it’s a kind of polyrhythm. It is said that their record company rejected this idea for it’s too much for the listeners but Nakata insisted that this is essential to the song since it’s calling itself “polyrhythm”. It was not just a funny idea. Rather it’s a challenge to the norm.

Future Pop, their latest album released in the summer of 2018, was also challenging when it came to song structure. It featured “drop”-type hook, which was not so popular in Japan. Around 2016 the Chainsmokers and other EDM-oriented producers began to use “drop” as a new way to make a hook in a song. Usually, hooks (or chorus in the more traditional way) feature an earworm melody and impressive lyrics. In contrast, “drop”-type hooks prefer bright synth-leads or heavy bass lines to vocals. You can hear it in the Chainsmokers’ “Closer feat. Halsey”, their biggest hit.

Hooks without singing. Since Japanese people really like to sing and listen to singing, this seemed not to be favored. However, they actually made it. It’s because they are not only singers but distinguished dancers. As I mentioned above they are known for their very sophisticated stage performance. So their fans soon understood what these “drop”-type hooks meant to them. Also, in these two or three years EDM has become much popular in Japan thanks to the growing festival culture and the rise of young producers (in addition, EDM-oriented songwriting in K-POP is of course one of main influence).

Curiously, although Perfume was often described as “EDM” for their song featured supersaw leads, plucky synths, and heavy kick drums, in terms of song structure they were quite J-POP. In this sense, Future Pop is their first proper “EDM” album. But this doesn’t mean they will be an EDM band forever. Soon they will find the next challenge and surprise us.

Well, before it, I’d better watch them performing at Coachella this weekend on the couch with some snack.

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Kid Fresino, ài qing (2018)

While Asian-American hip-hop collective 88rising’s making a viral sensation around the world and K-POP acts like BTS or BLACKPINK are going into the U.S. market with hip-hop oriented imagery, the underground hip-hop scenes around Eastern Asia has been quite interesting for years. Throughout several cities in Japan, maybe especially Tokyo, the new generation of hip-hop acts is emerging and changing the game.

Kid Fresino began his career as a producer and DJ for hip-hop group Fla$hBacks in 2013. Soon he also started to rap and released his own solo works in parallel with the group. Switching Japanese and English alternately, he spits verses in a sticky, slightly off-the-pocket but groovy manner. He’s been known for being prolific as both producer and rapper (lots of guest appearances and collaboration such as Somewhere, a double name album with the Nagoya-based rapper C.O.S.A.) but since returning to Japan from a few years stay in NY he turned his direction a bit.

In 2017, as he moved back to Tokyo he formed a band with talented instrumental players. With the band, he’s been exploring a more genre-bending approach since then, which was first accomplished in the EP Salve (2017) and this first step led him to the singular sound of ài qing. The band’s members are now Jungo Miura (Ba., from PETROLZ), Yusaku Sato (Key. etc.), Shun Ishiwaka (Dr.) and Utena Kobayashi (Perc.). As they are all highly regarded players in their own field, this band certainly deserves to be called a “super band”.

In contrast to Salve which was full of pretty smooth, neo-soul like tracks, ài qing opens with the very complex polyrhythmic tune “Coincidence”. Although the members of the band are heavily influenced by and trained in contemporary Jazz, it sounds much more solid like prog- or post-rock things. Here, Kid Fresino takes a unique approach that is a bit different from the sort of post-Soulquarians style ensemble. You can hear it in five out of thirteen tracks in this album, “Coincidence”, M5 “Winston”, M6 “CNW”, M9 “not nightmare”, M11 “Nothing is still”.

On the other hand, this album features beats from cutting-edge electronic music producers in Japan including Seiho and Kenmochi Hidefumi (Wednesday Campanella) along with the hip-hop artisan BACHLOGIC, the bright new comer VaVa, and Kid Fresino himself. Futuristic bangers by Seiho are indeed my favorites, particularly M7 “Fool me twice” featuring 5lack has a tense atmosphere in its minimalistic sound design. Kid Fresino and Seiho keep on working together and recently, they released “720” which is a rather short but def banger with acid synths and breakbeats.

Of course, the other featured rappers, NENE and Ryugo Ishida from Yurufuwa Gang, Chinza Dopeness, Campanella, ISSUGI, C.O.S.A., JJJ shows how unique talents are now in Japan’s hip-hop scene. If you’re interested in Japanese hip-hop, you can dig into it through this album and featured rappers.

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sub-bass, anxiety, and hugs: some notes on therapeutic values of Billie Eilish’s music

As you can see it on the billboard hot 100 charts, Billie Eilish’s debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is making fascination among young listeners in the States. Many Japanese listeners are also fascinated by the album and Eilish’s charismatic behavior, and I’m not afraid to say I’m the one. I’m completely crazy in her.

Today I read an interesting article which features Eilish’s interview. It was “Billie Eilish’s Teenage Truths: How the unfiltered 17-year-old singer with dark visions became pop’s new conscience” by Jonah Weiner. But the Japanese version of the article had a different title that said “若い子たちにとって私の曲はハグなの (Kids use my songs as a hug.)” quoting her words. This quote impressed me because calling her music “a hug” seemed to be quite accurate to me.

In my opinion, the main characteristic of Eilish’s music is a heavy-use of sub-bass. Precisely, this term means the sound of very low frequencies between 20Hz (the lowest limit of human’s perception, most home speakers cannot play this frequency) to 40 or 50 Hz (usually this range is occupied by the sustain of kick drums). For example, “when party’s over” is basically consist of her voice, some dubbed chorus, and a bit of some acoustic instruments like the piano. But in the midst of the song terrific sub-bass is inserted as something between a bass line and a sound effect. If you cannot hear it you should listen to it with good headphones instead of speakers.

Her (or their, regarding the sibling’s collaboration on song writings) use of sub-bass gets an extreme when “xanny” plays out with the oddly distorted bass lines shred the listener’s ears. It is not only uncomfortable but also un-musical in a sense that it sounds like a digital error occurred when processing sound files in the Digital Audio Workstation. Unlike a fuzz or overdrive, such kind of distortion doesn’t make any sense until the song makes us sure that this noise is made intentionally. In “xanny”, her voice is also distorted in the same manner as the bass. Now I’m sure that this is a challenge rather than a mistake. Okay.

I’ve been wondering why such peculiar use of the sub-bass was featured in her music and was appreciated by many, many fans. Of course, there was a possible answer like this: they just didn’t hear at all. Even without bass, every her song is an earworm. But her words, “Kids use my songs as a hug” gave me enlightenment. Those massive, freaky low sine waves embrace listeners like a hug. And a hug can comfort us as Temple Grandin’s hug machines shows.

Temple Grandin is a scientist who created the scheme for humane treatment of livestock for slaughter. But she may be better known for sharing her experience as a person on autism spectrum. Her hug machine (or hug box) is a device that gives its user a physical pressure by holding him or herself tight inside the box. Pressure gives you ease. This discovery is applied to several therapeutic programs for people with disorders, like the weighted blanket for insomnia caused by depression, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, etc. By the way, I’m on ADHD for years. Maybe since my childhood?

This is why she makes use of sub-bass. I’m not so sure but nearly convinced myself.

Eilish’s music is grotesque, introspective, and sad regarding its lyrics. The fear of self-destruction, severe depression, and physical abuse is frequently expressed through both words and images. This kind of practice in pop culture often works as a stress relief for youth, especially those who are in their puberty. Like Kurt Cobain’s desperate lyrics, all those abject images in her music are the ultimate cure for kids with anxiety.

However, I think that it is not enough. When she plays sub-bass loud, it almost literally hugs you. Even before you understand what she’s singing, you feel comfortably embraced by the sound (if you have an adequate environment in your bedroom, though). Despite its superficial cruelty, her music is inherently tender.

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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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Maison book girl, yume, 2018.

In Japan, there has been a so-called “idol” scene for decades. Yes, you may know Perfume, BABYMETAL, and several groups which feature young female performers. But there are much more to check out. Maison book girl is one of them. They’re my most favorite group, and their 2018 full-length yume is a masterpiece (IMO).

Before introducing the album, let me roughly trace a brief history of recent idol scene in Japan. Since AKB48’s debut in 2005, numerous girls’ groups have emerged both overground and underground. The latter ones were called “地下アイドル (Chika Idol)” and established its cultural status in Japanese pop culture. Today the line between major idols and underground idols have been blurred and the entire idol scene is getting saturated. But some acts continue to endeavor to make more unique, sophisticated works and performances.

Maison book girl is one of them. They were founded by a producer and composer Kenta Sakurai and a former BiS (a seminal idol group of the 2010s) member Megumi Koshoji along with Aoi Yagawa, Yui Inoue, and Kaori Sohmoto. But Sohmoto left the group in 2015 and Rin Wada joined later soon. Sakurai produces almost entire music and words, and four singers and dancers Koshoji, Yagawa, Inoue, and Wada perform in front of the audience.

Musically, Sakurai’s composition is heavily influenced by contemporary classical music. Although its tonal structure is more like post-rock or prog-rock (well, say, not “atonal” like twelve-tone or serialism things), its rhythmic structure reminds me of the post-war minimalism era defined by the works of Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Irregular meters, metric modulations, and counter-point like conversations between melodies give the music a complex character which is almost going beyond “pop” or “rock”. But at the same time, often it gets quite emotional and catchy.

In yume, Maison book girl’s music and performance accomplished the highest quality not only throughout their career but among fellow idols (well, uh, just my opinion!). yume is a concept album about dreams, as its title says. It features some field recordings (including the operating noise of fMRI which is analyzing a brain dreaming) and skits, then these sound pieces glue up this album into a dream-like entity. It is fragmented into illogical moments like surrealistic poetry, but its entire listening experience has sort of peculiar consistency.

It’s almost impossible to pick up my favorite, but “言選り (kotoeri)” and “レインコートと首の無い鳥 (a raincoat and a headless bird)” are well composed and full of skillful performance. The former song’s lyrics were written by an AI which was made especially for them. Studying Sakurai’s repertoire, it creates new lines automatically. In my eyes , it’s like a simulated unconsciousness that surrealists would want it deadly. It can be said that yume is well-rendered 21st century version of surrealist work in disguise of girl-pop.

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tofubeats, RUN, 2018

The 2010s was the decade of tofubeats. Some wouldn’t agree with me but this has been my honest feeling for years. Working with numerous J-POP acts like Chisato Moritaka, KREVA, Bonnie Pink etc., now he is one of the most popular DJ and producer among his generation. “水星”, his earliest breakthrough hit, is like the decade’s standard number as many young pop singers have made their own version of it.

He’s known for his prolific and genre bending activities–DJing, singing, beatmaking and producing other artists. His danceable and euphoric sound attracted not only dance floor but more wider audience. You can feel it when you listen to First Album or POSITIVE, his first and second full-length with Warner Music Japan.

However, his creative turning point was, as far as I’ve seen, FANTASY CLUB which was released in 2017. It was a very introspective, reflective, thoughtful piece of art, contrary to his public image–a producer specialized to pop, funny, joyful and party-oriented dance music. Instead, he sang his everyday struggles and a little prayer, almost alone in his bedroom studio. It sounded much more honest than ever, showing his ability to make a conceptual, serious-themed album (the album’s main motif was “post-truth”, 2016’s buzz word).

2018’s release RUN was obviously the sequel to FANTASY CLUB. In FANTASY CLUB, he seemed to be afraid of saying something plainly. He was trying to figure out how the world should be and just prayed. He didn’t make any assert on it. On the contrary, in “RUN”, the album’s opening song, he declared that he was gonna start to run and keep on running ‘til the end, even the situation would discourage him. Heavy trap-like 808 bass and edgy hi-hats drive his motivation and the song’s straightforward one-verse structure underlines his decision. This was one of the best songs in 2018.

The album included also his recent hits “ふめつのこころ” and “RIVER”, along with instrumental house tracks (“You Make Me Acid”, “Return to Sender”, “Bullet Trn”), a uk garage style tune (“Newtown”) and polyrhythmic intimate conversation with someone (“Sometimes”). The sound was more powerful than the last album and very consistent throughout the twelve tracks despite those varieties of beats.

My favorite is the last track, “ふめつのこころ(SLOWDOWN)”. As the title says, this song is a reprise of “ふめつのこころ”, but with more sincere messages to the listeners. Let me summarize; You can rewind this song (or any kind of song as far as it’s recorded) and play it back again, or slow it down in order to listen more closely. Even you can’t understand what’s going on, you’ll find something in your mind. So please do not give up, try again.

In my opinion, this is both how to listen to music in the age of mechanical reproduction and how to understand others in the age of social dissonance. And, this is one of possible solutions to the question posed by FANTASY CLUB.

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長谷川白紙 (Hakushi Hasegawa), 草木萌動 (So-moku Ho-do), 2018

There has been a so-called “netlabel” scene in Japan since the late 2000s as well as overseas. Maltine Records is one of the most famous netlabels in Japan, which was founded by two then high school students in 2005. Specializing in the contemporary dance and electronic music producers, they’ve released over 170 singles or eps including ones by dj newtown (a.k.a. tofubeats), TORIENA, Pa’s Lam System, パソコン音楽クラブ (Pasocom Ongaku Club) etc..

When Hakushi Hasegawa released his first ep アイフォーンシックスプラス (iPhone Six Plus) from Maltine Records, he was only 18 yrs old. Although every song from the ep had a very delicate and complicated tonal or rhythmic structure in it, his voice was so smooth, sweet, soft and soothing. Unlike the label’s previous releases, the ep was not particularly for a dance floor. But his kaleidoscopic groove inevitably invited listeners to dance, even if you couldn’t figure out its time signature. Since then, Hasegawa has been considered one of the latest talents from Maltine Records.

But he soon underwent the next breakthrough. In November 2018, he announced his second ep, 草木萌動 (So-moku Ho-do), would be released in December. The title was taken from the traditional Chinese calendar which had been also used by Japanese people, meaning “when trees and plants begin to bloom”.

This word properly explains Hasegawa’s music, I think. While his debut had sort of post-internet feeling in its title and artwork, the music was rather erotic, physical, and pseudo-organic. Influenced by contemporary classical music and jazz, he wove up complex harmonies, repeated key changes, and the polyrhythmic groove to make a rhizome-like structure under the ground. Then his voice soaked into it like rain watering plants and their roots. On the surface, plants were coming into buds, almost blooming, shaking themselves.

As he keeps on making songs and playing lots of shows, he’s studying composing at a university now. One can easily recognize his knowledge of the musical grammar particularly 20th century’s avant-garde in his songs. But his uniqueness is that he’s capable of writing pop songs with those idioms at the edge of the academic discipline. Along with his past works including 草木萌動, his recent collaboration with 入江陽 (Yo Irie) and BOMI is a very good example. I wish he would gain more attention and write some chart-topping tunes someday.

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三浦大知 (Daichi Miura), 球体 (Kyu-tai), 2018

Kiyoshi Matsuo, the R&B expert and renowned producer, once said that Japanese people prefer a genuine singer to an all-rounder. Eiichi Ohtaki, the legendary singer and songwriter, also pointed out that Japanese people tend to value singing too much. In Japan, it can be said that an ideal singer must sing emotionally without moving so the audience can absorb into the voice.

However, Daichi Miura’s distinguished performance would change such unconscious bias among Japanese people. He’s undoubtedly the most acclaimed pop act in Japan now, and his latest full-length 球体 gained so much attention that some critics and listeners concidered the album as the best release in 2018.

Working with the long-time collaborator Nao’ymt, Miura explored how far he could go as both a dancer and a singer (球体 was originally a staged performance by himself). Nao’ymt’s music for this project was a very eclectic mix of EDM, ambient R&B, and Japanese traditional instruments. “飛行船 (Hikousen)” is a good example. The future bass-inspired beat features 尺八 (shakuhachi, bamboo flute) in its drop. It’s both danceable and a bit exotic although the entire feeling is very modern.

But what made this album special was Nao’ymt’s songwriting. Deliberately rhymed Japanese poetry with heavily syncopated and complicated rhythm sounds like nothing else. Moreover, Miura’s outstanding vocalization and delivery give some luxurious texture to it. In the chorus part of “綴化 (Tekka)”, he effortlessly sings a series of percussive, tricky melodies with his virtuosity. I was quite impressed when I listened to it for the first time.

Miura’s career covers over 20 years since his debut in 1997. He originally debuted as a lead singer of children’s performance group Folder and had some hits with them. After he left the group because of his voice condition, he took a long hiatus and then debuted again as a solo singer (the song linked below is his first single). It was in 2005. His career may have been rather difficult than you think of, but he’s worked so hard that even he was invited to sing at the Emperor Akihito’s 30th-anniversary ceremony in early 2019.

Even considering all of that, 球体 and the year 2018 will be remembered as his creative breakthrough, as his later singles including “Be Myself” and “Blizzard” (Yes, the main theme song of the blockbuster anime, Dragon Ball: Broly) proved.

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Throughout the 2010s, Japanese pop music has been obsessed with the so-called ‘urban’ or ‘city’ feeling. Many bands tried to render their impressions on their own city life, mostly in Tokyo. They sounded more optimistic than how the society actually was, but I think it was kinda redevelopment of their imaginary city. After the great earthquake in 2011, this act of redevelopment became more crucial since the city–well, of course, Tokyo–was heavily damaged both literally and psychologically. They needed to fix it, at least imaginarily.

In my opinion, cero’s body of work is a good example of this zeitgeist. The band was originally formed by three multi-instrumentalists, Shohei Takagi, Yu Arauchi, and Tomoyuki Yanagi in 2004. Around 2006 Tsubasa Hashimoto joined them. They released their debut full-length in 2011 but Yanagi left the band. Now cero consists of Takagi, Arauchi, and Hashimoto along with a bunch of skillful fellow musicians supporting them.

Their early works like WORLD RECORD and My Lost City were a very playful and fantastic depiction of the contemporary city and suburban life. Influenced by classic Japanese rock bands such as はっぴいえんど, they played psychedelic folk-rock songs with comtemporary twists that could be compared to early Beck, but with a more exotic flavor.

However, after these two records, they began exploring a different direction. Their EP Yellow Magus released in 2013 was comprised of four songs apparently inspired by deep funk tunes from the 70s. Two years later, they released their third album Obscure Ride. It was heavily influenced by neo-soul and contemporary jazz, particularly D’Angelo’s Voodoo or the Soulquarians’ other works.

Since then, their main interest has been rhythm and groove. Listening to Obscure Ride, you can imagine they roam around the imaginary city and its suburbs on the loose, out-of-pocket 16-beat with bittersweet R&B feelings. It fascinated some audience in Japan and led the band one of the most prominent acts in Tokyo.

And POLY LIFE MULTI SOUL was released in 2018. As soon as its lead single “魚の骨 鳥の羽根” uploaded on YouTube, it made a sensation. As you can hear, it features 3:4 cross-rhythm entirely. Moreover, the other songs also feature polyrhythm, irregular meters, metric modulations.

Although their rhythmic structure is rather complex, this album is quite danceable. It ends with a song named “Poly Life Multi Soul,” which has a strong four-on-the-floor beat in the second half. This ending sequence reminds me of feeling right before the party’s over. Delightfully tired, getting ready to start another day under the sun.

In terms of lyrics, it seemed influenced by American and South American literature. In fact, “夜になると鮭は” directly adapts Raymond Carver’s poem. Here, the surrealistic nature of contemporary city life was connected with the magical realism by the lyricist and vocalist, Takagi. Feeling haunted by anonymous lives and straying souls, we’re trying to deal with everyday life.

Far from the city as an idealized utopia, POLY LIFE MULTI SOUL arrived at somewhere both magical and uncanny. And this actually was the Japanese city life in 2018, I think.

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