The Pillows

In the Japanese rock world where fresh bands and new proposition appear before everyone’s senses, perhaps it is easy to forget, or look back at the veterans of the genre’s development in Japanese popular culture. The Pillows is a well-established alternative rock band that has enlightened many generations of rock enthusiasts.

Formed in the most northern prefecture Hokkaido, The Pillows revelled in a 80s/90s mentality, as early tunes like 彼女はシスター ‘Kanojo wa Shisuta’ (‘She’s My Sister’) clearly suggest. The jangly timbre of the guitars relay the spirit of Manchester lads The Smiths, and the sing-along vocal melodies captures a similar laid-back quality to other British bands like Blur. Further enhancing the Western influence is a music video that looks as though the quartet (*now a trio) is wandering around in a few British locations. But as we will discover, it is hard to sum up their musical personality with a convenient generalisation.

Girlfriend’ sees a transition in The Pillows’ musical interests from an alt/indie rock idiom to a soul and jazz-infused pop ballad, which is illustrated in some other tracks in the album Living Field in which ‘Girlfriend’ features. While the jangling guitar texture remains part of their identity, the harmonies and melodic phrases take on a breezy summer beach pop stance, spurred on with jazzy brass rhythmic pistons and an indolent vocal line.

The grinding sounds of alt-rock re-emerged as the main source of inspiration in their 2007 hit スケアクロウ ‘Scarecrow’, but also saw The Pillows explore other mediums of expressing musicality. The variation in timbre from the guitars, the notable presence of strings and a particular chord sequence in the verse pointed greatly towards a generic Britpop sensibility: like a Japanese version of Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’.

2014 saw The Pillows celebrate their 25th anniversary with their new album Moondust. ‘About A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’ and ‘Happy Birthday’ arguably headline the album judging by the popularity of those two hits. ‘About A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’ is particularly striking in the sense that while it retains the buoyant character that made them recognised in the first place, one cannot help but feel the song’s angle sloping greatly towards a catchy ‘J-Pop’ frame of mind. Nonetheless, it captures many of the fundamental qualities of a charming hit.

The Pillows boast more than 25 years of feel-good rock tunes (which has also seen them experiment with other styles occasionally), crafted from their consistent flair to compose great riffs, melodies and textures and their awareness for certain commercial appeal.

Other Listening:

  • サードアイ Third Eye
  • Ladybird Girl
  • 雨上がりに見た幻 Ameagari Ni Mita Maboroshi (‘The Illusion After The Rain’)
  • ハイブリッドレインボウ Hybrid Rainbow

© Isaku Takahashi