Picks of the Week #24

Distance was my first encounter with J-pop legend宇多田ヒカル Utada Hikaru. 15 years later from the rhythmic and synth-driven vibes of the album, the singer-songwriter returned to the spotlight, plunging into musical and emotional depths like never before in her slow-burning ballad 真夏の通り雨 ‘Manatsu no Tooriame’ (‘Summer Shower’). The sweeping strings, poignant piano and angelic vocals weigh down a reflective and crestfallen air, marking a new leaf in Utada’s musical palette.

  • LAMP IN TERREN – 地球儀 ‘Chikyuugi’

Riding between the sonic waves of 米津玄師 Yonezu Kenshi and BUMP OF CHICKEN, 地球儀 ‘Chikyuugi’ (‘Globe’) by LAMP IN TERREN ignites a display of anthemic rock fireworks fit for the concluding number of any summer festival. Simple yet refreshing, the quartet shines a sparkling mix of voltage-charged guitars, pulsating and clamorous drums, and 松本大 Matsumoto Dai’s herculean vocals that is sure to resonate with the young generation’s listening senses.

  • MONDO GROSSO – ラビリンス ‘Labyrinth’

大沢伸一 Osawa Shinichi, better known as MONDO GROSSO is a name that speaks volume in Japanese electronic music. With the help of 満島ひかり Mitsushima Hikari, the DJ/producer from Tokyo concocts an infectious and dreamy electro house number ラビリンス ‘Labyrinth’. Pounding beats keeps the track on the rhythmic locomotive without any room for musical diversions, while airy piano tones fall like raindrops creating ripples on the sonic lake and Mitsushima’s angelic vocals float above the stereo field with delicate lyricism.

© Isaku Takahashi

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New Japanese Vibes (111) – 紺紗実 Kon Sami ‘Blossom’

After a shimmering introduction from the piano, one may be forgiven to assume that ‘Blossom’ by紺紗実 Kon Sami will take listeners through a charming piano ballad river. However, its crystalline simplicity belies the spectrum of musical and sonic colours the track wades through. From Kon Sami’s honey-toned vocals to hypnotic Hawaiian-coloured guitars and propulsive drum rhythms, ‘Blossom’ is the ideal track to serenade the spring vibes.

Other Info

  • Kon Sami’s new album Blossom was released on March 2nd.

© Isaku Takahashi

Picks of the Week #18

  • 山崎まさよし Yamazaki Masayoshi – ‘One More Time, One More Chance’

All of my picks this week are songs especially written for films directed by 新海誠 Shinkai Makoto, hailed as ‘the next Miyazaki Hayao’. After witnessing the latest creation by the established yet fresh director to touch audiences around the world last year, I decided to look back further into his works and the memorable music that came along the journey.

One More Time, One More Chance’ by singer-songwriter 山崎まさよし Yamazaki Masayoshi provided the closing theme for Makoto’s 2007 film 秒速5センチメートル Byousoku 5 Centimetres (‘5 centimetres per second’). The song glimmers a sentimental folk ambience with Yamazaki’s yearning vocals and a gentle cradle-rocking beat, and perfectly conveys the scenic and pensive final scene where Tono and Akari cross paths one more time under the falling cherry blossoms.

Rain’ was originally a song by singer-songwriter 大江千里 Oe Senri. However, it was秦基博 Hata Motohiro’s wistful rendition of the 80s song that fit Makoto’s musical visions for his 2013 drama film 言の葉の庭 Koto No Ha No Niwa (‘The Garden of Words’). A twinkling piano riff glimmers like the raindrops that ripple delicate waves in the pond, before Hata’s husky vocals and the rest of the gentle rock-ballad backdrop grows to full bloom.

Find out more about Hata Motohiro in my blog post here.

From the ending theme to the image song, 言の葉 ‘Koto No aha’ by Hata Motohiro dips into a humble rock-pop vibe akin to ‘Rain’, but also radiates an anthemic richness that likens the song to a number by the likes of The Script. Gently pulsing chords on the piano draw the harmonic bridge under Hata’s mellow voice, honey-toned guitars and riffs glisten with nostalgia and the drums stride with anthemic pride to drive the track (and film) towards an emotional conclusion.

  • RADWIMPS – なんでもないや ‘Nandemonaiya’

While 前前前世 ‘Zen Zen Zen Se’ may be the RADWINPS tune that people recognise as the stand out track of Makoto’s 2016 big-hit movie 君の名は Kimi No Na Wa, (‘Your Name’), my personal favourite from the film has to be the tranquil mellow-rock number なんでもないや ‘Nandemonaiya’ (‘It’s Nothing’). 野田洋次郎 Noda Youjirou’s vocals breathe a delicate yet soul-stirring air that resonates with the listener’s emotions, and the guitars glow an idyllic harmonic river that cocoons the ears

Listening back to this song brings back to my mind the fantasy, drama and emotions that immersed my senses like no other film did. I feel extremely privileged to have witnessed such a remarkable visual work.

Find out more about RADWIMPS in my blog post here.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (77) – やなせなな Yanase Nana タロー ‘Taro’

やなせなな Yanase Nana’s new track タロー ‘Taro’ is a luxurious wade into a charming classic soft-rock ballad vibe. Since her debut 12 years ago, the Nara-born singer-songwriter has captured the hearts of many generations. Her enchanting vocals glitters like candlelight within the tender sound world enriched with jazzy piano licks, shimmering Hammond organ harmonies and a rocking drum beat and bass line. This song features in her latest album 夜が明けるよ Yo ga Akeru yo (‘The Morning Will Come’).

Other Info/Context

  • Yanase Nana’s new album Yoru ga Akeru yo was released on August 24th.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (43) – ユメノマ Yumenoma 新緑の風 ‘Shinryoku no Kaze’

ユメノマ Yumenoma’s latest track新緑の風 ‘Shinryoku no Kaze’ (‘Wind of Verdure’) is another perfect soundtrack to fill your laid-back late weekend morning. The track is laced with a psychedelic/dream-pop undercurrent with her ethereal vocals and hums, languid but wonderfully reflective guitar distortion effects plowing through a calm, slow tempo. Against the meditative ambience is a strong piano ballad vibe enhancing the seductive power of the track.

Other Info/Context

  • Shinryoku no Kaze’ will be released on March 29th as a free download.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (18) – ACO 未成年 ‘Miseinen’

Celebrating 20 years in the musical mainstream, Japanese singer ACO previews 未成年 ‘Miseinen’ (‘under age’) from her new album Valentine.

Boasting a musical personality influenced heavily by downtempo, trip-hop and electronica, ‘Miseinen’ is a dramatic change in style from her early days. The track shines in a gentle soul vibe led by the whispering vocals of ACO and guest singer 岸田繁 Kishida Shigeru (from alt-rock band くるり Quruli) and supported by a folk-coloured rhythm section. Although the surface of the song is tender and serene, deeply embedded in the song’s vibe is a seductive ambience that pulls the listener into a world of sonic paradise.

Other Info/Context

Valentine was released on December 16th.

© Isaku Takahashi

水樹奈々 – Mizuki Nana

Japan is the birthplace of manga and anime, and since its creation domestic success has propagated into global adoration. It was also a natural progression for pop music in Japan to play a part in the marketing of such a distinctive visual medium that is of great importance to the nation’s cultural identity.

Perhaps one of the current leading figures of the ‘anime song’ genre is Mizuki Nana. Originally coming from an enka (early form of traditional Japanese song) background, she maintains her heritage by making the most of vocal techniques associated with the traditional enka genre. In 深愛 ‘Shin’ai’ (‘Deep Love’), Mizuki often embellishes the tails of some melodies with a Japanese style of vibrato called kobushi. The sentimental mood that pours out of her vocals is further enhanced by a symphonic ballad foundation made up of serene harp phrases and glissandos, opulently scored strings and lamenting oboe melodies.

(*It is also worth pointing out that Mizuki often features as a leading voice actress in the anime/video games the song is tied to)

However, one of Mizuki’s signature talents is arguably her capability to handle menacing anthemic EDM numbers with an extremely fast, aggressive tempo (which at times has reached around 200bpm). ‘Synchrogazer’ exemplifies her vocal mastery under scrutinising musical circumstances. Providing the opening theme for the fiery anime series Senki Zessho Symphogear, the propulsion of this track is not only launched from the main drumbeat, but also stimulated by the eruption of radiant synths, and piercing, rapid rhythmic crescendo and energetic solos just before the ‘middle 8-like’ section. Perhaps one could also mention the dramatic collapses into soothing elegiac vocal melodies as pivotal in the dramatic nature of the song, as it makes the anthem that much more volatile and unpredictable for the listener.

Mizuki’s groundbreaking collaboration with T.M. Revolution took both names to stratospheric heights in the anime song world. Written for the first series of Valvrave the Liberator, ‘Preserved Roses’ is a classic EDM ‘synth-symphony’ that has a striding momentum like a relentless treadmill. The urgency and blazing spirit (from the magical array of synths, the heart-pounding beat and the harmonic camaraderie between two powerful vocalists) that bolsters the track is simply thrilling.

Music for anime is not simply just for commercial benefits, but is also part of the experience, the journey of encountering these wonderful fantasies. Mizuki Nana’s pivotal role as the “Queen of Anime Song” has no doubt helped in maintaining a healthy existence of the unique entertainment form in Japanese popular culture.

Other Listening:

  • METRO BAROQUE
  • 革命デゥアリズム Kakumei Dualism (‘Revolution Dualism’, ft. T.M. Revolution)
  • PHANTOM MINDS
  • 純潔パラドックス Junketsu Paradox (‘Pure Paradox’)

© Isaku Takahashi