New Japanese Vibes (78) – Rei ‘COCOA’

An infectious guitar-driven energy tingles in ‘COCOA’, the latest track by Hyogo-born singer Rei to crop up from the SPACE SHOWER MUSIC channel. Bilingual in English and Japanese, she spent her childhood in New York, and it is clear that the rock and blues traditions of America have a lasting influence on Rei’s songwriting. The track’s jangling guitars, electrifying riffs that shout ‘vintage’, pulsating drums, Rei’s razor-sharp vocals and bright synth hits blend together to create a musical sensation hard to resist.

Other Info/Context

  • Rei’s mini album ORB will be released on September 21st.

 

© Isaku Takahashi

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SUPERFLY

Bringing back old, classic popular styles from their dormant spell is one way in which to gain attention in the popular mainstream nowadays. It is the revival of 60 and 70s blues and rock music that defines SUPERFLY, and makes her stand out in the current Japanese music scene.

SUPERFLY consists of vocalist Shiho Ochi, and former guitarist Koichi Tabo (although Tabo left the band, he is still ascribed composer credits), and the name of the band originates from Curtis Mayfield’s song ‘Superfly’. From their early beginnings at university where they spent time performing covers of their favourite songs, she has gained a reputation as “J-Pop’s soul diva”.

My first encounter of SUPERFLY was her energetic number ‘Alright!!’, the opening track to her 2009 album Box Emotions. The track radiates musical fire with a funky hook introduced by a driving guitar force and later repeated before every chorus, and the rapturous vocal energy of Ochi that takes us back to the virtuosity of Janis Joplin, propels the chorus to mountainous musical heights.

In addition, a mesmerising music video, reminiscent of the visual characters of the Scissor Sisters or the kaleidoscopic colours of hippie culture complements the vitality of the song.

While her artistic integrity is firmly rooted in rock, Ochi is a versatile musician who at one hand can exhale a musical gust of dynamism and verve, but on the other angle can melt the hearts of listeners with her enchanting and expressive vocal tone in hits like ‘Eyes On Me’. Her beautiful songwriting craft echoes the music of Carole King, and surely places SUPERFLY on a par with the great Western rock singers and songwriters of the past.

As well as writing songs that pay tribute to retro styles, SUPERFLY understands the pop sensibility that is called for in the mainstream environment. タマシイレボリューション ‘Tamashii Revolution’ (‘Soul Revolution’), alongside ‘Eyes On Me’ feature in her album Mind Travel from 2011, was written especially as a gesture of support for the Japanese players during the 2010 World Cup. Its modern pop-rock arrangement is jammed with vibrant funky brass band and Samba beats and flavours. Whilst the song takes great influence from rock music of the past, perhaps its grand scale makes a football pitch a more appropriate setting for SUPERFLY to boast her mighty vocal talents.

Surrounded by a musical mainstream that is saturated with cutesy ‘idol-pop’ fashion, SUPERFLY restores the energy of Western, Woodstock-style rock music, bringing back its relevance in today’s Japanese music scene and transcending expectations.

Other Listening:

  • Wildflower
  • 愛をくらえ (‘Eat Love’)
  • FORCE
  • 愛を込めて花束を (‘Flowers with love’)

© Isaku Takahashi

Hisato Higuchi

It is often said that music is a universal language – an audible vehicle that allows people to express themselves, be provoked by it, and capture the emotions and experiences of people in a non-verbal manner. It is the music of Hisato Higuchi that embraces such a complex, theoretical idea to great capacity.

The Tokyo-based guitarist crafts his music from bare minimum resources: his guitar, amp and that haunting, fragile voice that carefully bores through the sonic environment. On the front cover, one gets the impression that Higuchi’s music is just simply improvised guitar material laced with eerie vocal utterances. While this may be true to an extent, one should not judge ‘a book by its cover’, and must appreciate the intricate designs that he has produced to create effects of beauty, and melancholy at times.

The role of ‘silence’ plays a thought-provoking role in Higuchi’s musical drawings. His 2010 album Henzai is a journey into a reticent, lo-fi terrain, where blues-y melodic and harmonic phrases from the gleaming guitar permeates the scene. The most effective thing that comes out of songs like ‘Atatakai Tsuchi’ (‘warm dirt’) is that because of the discreet nature of each song, the smallest change in the sonic palette (like a sudden amplification or a slight pitch bend) makes a greater impact in rousing turbulence to the whole soundscape.

To add to this, the ironic thing about his music is that there is no single moment that is absolutely ‘silent’. Perhaps this could be a subtle message from Higuchi, that there is no such thing as ‘silence’ in the world.

After hearing tracks like ‘Sister. Girl’ (from the 2003 album She), it is possible to draw similarities to the ambient music pioneer Brian Eno or the musical aesthetics of French composer Erik Satie. It ebbs and flows with gentle, cradle-rocking guitar chords (just like Satie’s Gymnopedies) and breathy vocal swells that impose a sense of arctic solitude, only to surprise the listener with sudden piercing noise and glitch outbursts and overtones.

The relationship between music and semiotics is a complicated matter that Higuchi unpicks in songs like ‘A Hundred Signs of Light’, the opening number to his album Butterfly Horse Street from 2007. The lethargic but bittersweet vocal ripples and groans, the rattling guitar melodies and the overriding murky, unforeseeable path that the song is destined to reach gives a sonic and tactile effect of being in a narcotised state of trance.

Higuchi manages to create introspective, but lucid musical descriptions of his private, intimate experiences. Letting your soul meander through the deep, nocturnal, yet powerful atmospheres of his music will be an illuminating experience.

Other Listening:

  • Manazashi No Saki E
  • Hikari
  • Guitar #3
  • Watashi Wa Asa O Matteita

© Isaku Takahashi