So, my first post. I want to start this blog by talking about an artist that changed my whole perspective on J-Pop.
When I was in my teens, I had this trivial image that J-Pop was a musical bubble over-populated by ‘aidoru’ noted mainly by their imposing, handsome looks (referring to Johnny and Associates) or sugarcoated cute personalities (early example being Morning Musume, nowadays the countless number of girl groups that happen to have 48 members in it). To an extent this assumption may still exist. Then one evening, during a holiday to Japan in summer 2009, I discovered Sakanaction on a Japanese music channel.
Their name derives from a fusion of the words sakana (‘fish’) and action. Formed in Sapporo, Sakanaction exhibits a unique sound world; their collage of electronic, new wave, indie/alternative rock makes them such an exciting band to listen to.
One of my favourite songs from their creative output is ‘Mellow’ (from their self-titled album in 2013). It was clever to put this track after a lively, beat-driven tune (which happened to be ‘僕と花’ or ‘Boku to Hana’), as the opening “mellow” synth and subdued drumbeat, reminiscent of a heartbeat, felt refreshing to listen to. The echoing, distant vocals by Ichiro Yamaguchi, the gradual textural crescendo towards the chorus and the regular abrupt ‘cut’ from the main synth pad made the track all the more unsettling, but pleasant at the same time. (Unfortunately there are no youtube links to the track…)
While other tracks like ‘Years’, characterised by metric variation between the verses and chorus, and the stereo angularity of the piano chards in the middle section also show off their imaginative spark, on the other hand they can produce energetic, anthemic hits.
‘Aoi’ carefully balances the chilling, ghostly choir with the vitality from the strumming guitar, busy drum line and looping synth phrase, all topped with a simple, uplifting vocal melody form Yamaguchi. Similarly in ‘Identity’ (the song I discovered during my holiday), the opening rhythmically pulsating bongo-drumming sets the lively tone of the song, the peak being Yamaguchi’s bright vocals hitting the top note in the chorus.
For me, there is no song by Sakanaction that can be deemed unsuccessful. They can be energetic and dynamic, appealing to the broader mainstream culture of Japan, but at the same time be eccentric and unusual, maintaining their special artistic integrity.
- 夜の踊り子 ‘Yoru no Odoriko’
- ルーキー ‘Rookie’
- 僕と花 ‘Boku to Hana’
© Isaku Takahashi