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月: 2019年3月

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.

















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.


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.


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.