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タグ: Jpop

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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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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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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