KANA-BOON

Formed at a ライブハウス ‘Live House’ (a Japanese coined term meaning club/venue where live music is played) in Osaka prefecture, KANA-BOON is the latest four-piece to delight indie rock enthusiasts with their energetic and fun music.

スノーエスカー ‘Snow esuka’ (*no specific meaning disclosed), a song written during their independent label life resembles the feel-good ambience of bands such as Flumpool. Shimmering guitar harmonies, a solid bass line and party-inducing drum rhythms form the backdrop, supporting the bouncy vocals of谷口鮪 Taniguchi Maguro.

KANA-BOON are equally nimble on their feet in live performances, as illustrated in these videos of them playing ワールド ‘World’ and フルドライブ ‘Full Drive’. The juvenile energy that exudes from the quartet harmonises with the electrifying alt/punk rock sound world that perhaps echoes the driving momentum of ‘A-Punk’ by Vampire Weekend and the liberal vocal behaviour of The Ting Tings: from clamouring exchanges between the guitars and vocals to glaring guitar riffs and rhythmic accents.

ないものねだり ‘Naimono Nedari’ (‘asking for too much’) is arguably their biggest hit to date, and for good reason. The motoric propulsion generated by the turbo-driven drums and bass line, and jangling guitar timbres and harmonies, married with the array of colourful effects and the free spirited character of vocalist Taniguchi (existing within similar lines as ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION or British bands like The Wombats) makes the overall listen a bouncy and infectious experience.

Perhaps one can surmise that the music and personality of KANA-BOON testify that the universal charm of simple rock language is still a continual force in the Japanese music scene.

Other Listening:

  • さくらのうた Sakura no Uta (‘Song of Cherry Blossoms’)
  • シルエット Silhouette
  • スパイラル Spiral

© Isaku Takahashi

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New Japanese Vibes (11) – Nissy ‘Playing With Fire’

As a fan of Japanese pop group AAA, it was only natural that I would join the bandwagon of 西島隆弘 Nishijima Takahiro (‘Nissy’ as his solo artist name) enthusiasts. Bringing back glimpses of previous hits like どうしようか? ‘Doushiyouka’ (‘What should I do?’) and ‘DANCE DANCE DANCE’, the high spirited 1/7th of the avex-born group takes it up a notch with his new single ‘Playing With Fire’.

The track and music video exists within a similar sphere as Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo or Austin Mahone. Crossing over between R&B flavours, electro-pop and dance beats, it has all the fundamental qualities to pierce every fan’s heart and lure them into sonic ecstasy: bright brass bullets, sumptuous backing vocals, foot-tapping beats and the seductive vocals of Nishijima that extends towards his falsetto range.

Other Info/Context

  • Playing With Fire’ will be released on Dec 24th.
  • Nishijima’s entertainment career spans many areas from music, TV dramas, movies and model work.

© Isaku Takahashi

クリープハイプ – CreepHyp

Many Japanese indie rock bands featured in this blog have often been seen as finding a niche within the genre, justified by the numerous comparisons and resemblances to various Western bands they strike. クリープハイプ CreepHyp, like other bands in Japan have found ways in which to individualise themselves within the burgeoning rock scene.

What immediately hits the ears when listening to a CreepHyp tune is the distinctive vocal tone lead singer 尾崎世界観 Ozaki Sekaikan bawls out. お花茶屋 ‘Ohanajaya’ (refers to a train station in Tokyo) from one of the records during their independent label career showcases Ozaki’s somersaulting vocal potentials. The country-rock propulsion not only drives the overall vibe but also motivates Ozaki to make the most of this energetic exertion.

There are certain kinds of styles that complement Ozaki’s gutsy vocal exchanges. The motoring rock ‘n’ roll force in 欠伸 ‘Akubi’ (‘Yawn’) full of voltage-charged guitars and drums harmonises well with the Hoosiers-esque vocal melody from Ozaki. On the other hand, some sub-genres benefit from being charged with a different vocal flavour, perhaps articulated effectively in 本当 ‘Hontou’ (‘Real’). While some listeners may assume that the nasal tone of Ozaki belies the classic ‘J-Pop’ rock ballad backdrop, there’s a strong and genuine touch of CreepHyp’s likeable personality kindled from the tune devoid of extreme commercial control, as though one feels blessed with its personable ambience.

The eccentric qualities of CreepHyp’s musical identity have served them well in finding a balance between originality and mainstream appeal. 愛の点滅 ‘Ai no Tenmetsu’ (‘Flashing Love’) opens with a Kings of Leon-esque rock groove, full of bright guitar harmonies and drum rhythms. Ozaki’s leisurely but strident vocals further amplify the charming pop-rock vibe that follows and sustains the motor of the song, letting out a youthful garage rock-like energy.

Regarded as the latest rock band to excite the Japanese music scene, one can only look forward to their unparalleled musical personality in gaining greater success.

Other Listening:

  • 左耳 Left Ear
  • オレンジ Orange
  • 二十九、三十 Twenty-nine, Thirty

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (10) – Perfume ‘STAR TRAIN’

Japanese techno-pop trio Perfume released their new single ‘STAR TRAIN’ this late October as part of their 15th anniversary. Known for their relentless, energetic synth-laden dance pop, this song conveys more of their delicate personality, while retaining some of their musical character that made them popular in the first place.

Among the characteristic android-tinged vocals of the trio and the vibrant synth patterns, the presence of pounding piano chords and guitar strumming in the verse conjure up subtle glimpses of Munford and Sons-esque anthemic expressions. A sparkling chorus lifts the mood instantly with a chorus melody (evocative of an anthemic Coldplay or U2 number) powerful enough to conduct a sing-along with an audience. The word play Perfume makes between ‘Star Train’ and ‘Start Line’ in the lyrics adds a nice personal touch, perhaps conveying the message that although they have been in the business for 15 years, this is just the beginning and there is more excitement to come.

Other Info/Context

  • This song was written as the title track for their documentary WE ARE Perfume – WORLD TOUR 3rd DOCUMENT, celebrating their 15th anniversary.
  • Check out my post on Perfume here.

© Isaku Takahashi

芳川よしの – Yoshikawa Yoshino

In a similar pattern to the way Lullatone designed their own brand of music called “pajama pop”, Tokyo producer 芳川よしの Yoshikawa Yoshino has followed the trend of conceptually develop a convenient ‘tagline’ for his creative output. By drawing up the term “ultrapop”, we will see what exactly makes his music the character Yoshikawa asserts.

His “ultrapop” music fully embraces the characteristic sounds of the futuristic internet-age, and perhaps making it more appealing to a younger audience. ‘I Feel You I Love You’ sees Yoshikawa stroll through a vibrant, bubbly synth pop ambience led by a android-processed vocal melody, spliced with an array of luminous synths enriching every little corner in the audible space, and a simple yet punctuating drumbeat laying a foreground of catchy pop sensation.

Yoshikawa’s love for cute, idol pop music comes through naturally in tracks like ‘Kawaii Candy’ and the sequel ‘Kawaii Macaron’. 8-bit chiptune forms the backdrop of ‘Kawaii Candy’ where the propulsion and the vibrant colours emitted from the synths and samples evenly match the pace and ambience of a classic cartridge game. ‘Kawaii Maracon’ is equally catchy in tempo and sonic shades, but adds an extra layer of cuteness with sampled cat meows and vocal chants. They both capture “kawaii” at its utmost sugary best.

https://soundcloud.com/yosshibox/macaron-kawaii-macaron

ゆめたつグライダー Yumetatsu Glider, his latest EP released in 2014 sees Yoshikawa employ a crop of female singers with distinctively cute, sugarcoated vocal timbres. Title track ‘Yumetatsu Glider ft. Yuzusa’ is one of the less sonically rich, and instead leans more towards a pleasant hip-hop ballad vibe with the gentle piano, synth bass and drum backdrop. On the other hand, ‘Lovely Rainy Day ft. Noto is a quintessentially “ultrapop” number blasting an indulgent mix of musical and textural interest, and ‘Last Summer ft. Suzushiro’ conveniently sits on a stylistic middle ground between the tracks on either side of the EP, where the sugary vocals of Suzushiro is coated with sporadic sonic patterns.

Perhaps the most appealing thing about Yoshikawa is the way he incorporates commercial ‘J-Pop’ in his palette but avoids making his music sound tacky or purely fit for mainstream purposes. Yoshikawa’s music is both accessible for a wider audience, but also asserts a unique creative flair unmatched by anyone else.

Other Listening:

  • よしよし、サマー Yoshi Yoshi, Summer (Album collaboration with female singer Lovely Summer-chan)
  • Elysium
  • Tokyo Ft. LASTorder
  • To Be || Not
  • Les Chats

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (9) – ヤセイコレクティブ Yasei Collective ‘radiotooth’

As one skims through Yasei Collective’s musical interests and influences on their Facebook page and sees the likes of Aphex Twin, John Coltrane, Michael Jackson and The Beatles under one group, it makes it even harder to describe the band’s style in a short and snappy phrase.

‘radiotooth’ is their latest effort to blast an eruption of rich textures, harmonies and melodies. It immerses the listener in a fusion world where jazz and electronica meet one way. While the multi-layered android vocals of 斉藤拓郎 Saitou Takurou is at the heart of this song, the greater musical interest comes from the surroundings: funky afrobeat-influenced rhythms, free-jazz like piano figurations, warped synth riffs and an intimate soul-infused bass guitar solo in a latter half that suddenly shifts in time signature for a brief moment. The waves of polyrhythmic rushes married with the variety of instruments and textures makes the track complex and infectious in equal measure.

Yasei” translates as ‘wild’: the Japanese collective have certainly lived up to their name with ‘radiotooth’.

Other Info/Context

  • The single will be released on 25th Nov.

© Isaku Takahashi

DAOKO

On the surface, perhaps one may not imagine hip-hop having a considerable impact in a culture like Japan. However, since the 80s when the genre transcended cultural boundaries, Japanese hip-hop has been a major commercial and artistic force in the country’s musical landscape. DAOKO, an 18-year old female rapper from Tokyo is emblematic of the new identity changes hip-hop has acquired and undergone in its history.

What is instantly noticeable is the sweet and delicate voice of DAOKO, something that a conventional hip-hop track would perhaps not come to terms with. ‘Fog’, from her debut album in 2012 provided audiences an introduction to a unique, fresh take on a genre that was traditionally associated with images of aggression or conflict. While the foot tapping drumbeat, celestial synth patterns and the hazy tone of DAOKO’s vocals stirred up a catchy and cute pop atmosphere, one cannot help but feel a subtle sense of mystery from the track. To sum it up in a convenient phrase, it is delicately disturbing.

DAOKO has often featured alongside other artists in similar musical fields, including with ESNO in the song 夕暮れパラレリズム ‘Yugure Parallelism’ (‘Evening Parallelism’). Reminiscent of the hip-hop/nu-jazz vibe of Nujabes, this track has many of the qualities of a chilled, feel-good tune: a seductive hip-hop beat, sparkling jazz piano ornamentations, warm synth patterns and above all, DAOKO’s velvet voice whispering at the listener’s ears.

Glimpses of futurism and feelings of nostalgia socialise with each other in 水星 ‘Suisei’ (‘Mercury’). The vocoder-filtered voice of DAOKO fits nicely with a dreamy electro-pop production that reverberates with retro-tinged synth timbres. The familiarity that one may feel through the clear pentatonic inflections makes the track instantly accessible and recognisable for the mainstream audience.

The latest fresh and original artist to lay a statement on the Japanese music scene, DAOKO epitomises the idea that hip-hop in today’s generation has changed from its essentialised African-American image to an abstract hub of new and exciting mutations.

Other Listening:

  • かけてあげる ‘Kaketeageru’ (‘Cast A Spell’)
  • Ututu
  • Mizutamari
  • さみしいかみさま ‘Samishii Kamisama’ (‘Lonely God’)

© Isaku Takahashi