Picks of the Week #14

Radio-friendly yet experimental in equal measure, ゲスの極み乙女 Gesu no Kiwami Otome just keep delivering an impressive array of tunes that everlastingly grab hold of their listener’s minds. Led by 川谷絵音 Kawatani Enon, 勝手な青春劇 ‘Katte na Seishungeki’ (vaguely translates as ‘A youth drama of its own way’) is a lush potpourri of colourful piano and guitar runs, adrenaline-rushed rhythms, a fleeting meter change, and rich harmonies enriching Kawatani’s spontaneous vocals. Find out more about Gesu no Kiwami Otome here, and listen to more of their music here.

  • Predawn – ‘Universal Mind’

My personal soundtrack for the autumnal season now welcomes Niigata-born singer-songwriter Predawn (清水美和子 Shimizu Miwako) and her ethereal folk-rock track ‘Universal Mind’. Her floating vocals, acoustic guitar harmonies that picture a vivid campfire scene, poignant narrative and nostalgic electric guitar solos shimmer an ambience that would be perfect in a chapel’s surroundings. If she were to come to perform at the Union Chapel in North London, show me the ticket queue.

  • フレンズ Friends ‘DIVER’

Featuring in their mini album ショー・チューン Show Tune, DIVER’ by フレンズ Friends quite simply dives into a harlequin musical fiesta. Consisting of five ‘friends’, this track sounds like the perfect number to light up Tokyo’s night time vibes. With funk-pop colours, laser-beam synths, luminous vocals and foot-tapping beats radiated from every surface of the stereo field, there is simply no choice but to let your senses get in sync with the band’s energy.

© Isaku Takahashi

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Picks of the Week #10

  • 幾何学模様 Kikagaku Moyo – ‘Silver Owl’

It’s been a year since I started this blog, and since then it has become a platform for you and myself to discover new and unusual bands like幾何学模様 Kikagaku Moyo. As you close your eyes and widen your audible senses for their dream-inspired track ‘Silver Owl’, you will float gently through a cloud of psychedelic folk filled with pensive vocals, delicate guitars and dreamy harmonies. Their considerable reputation today makes me wonder why I didn’t discover them much earlier on in my life.

Sumptuous and stirring, ‘Signal’ by TK (Toru Kitajima) from prog-rock band凛として時雨 Ling Tosite Sigure is a compelling rock number enriched with orchestral power. Away from the punishing rock anthems of his band, ‘Signal’ is a resplendent number that could well crown TK as the prince of prog-rock in Japan today – full of opulent strings, colouristic textures, dynamic guitars and drums, and rich vocals that reach heavenly yet anthemic heights in the chorus. Find out more about Ling Tosite Sigure in my blog post here.

Featuring in their EP 霊感 Reikan, りんごの質感 ‘Ringo no Sitsukan’ is one of the handful of tracks that kick-started the acsent of Taiko Super Kicks. The psychedelic-indie quartet takes the listener through a nostalgic musical fantasy with yearning vocal melodies, dreamy guitar riffs and gently pulsing drums. A guitar solo rockets through the sonic ceiling, ceaseless in energy and fiery emotion before cascading down back to wistful vibes. Listen to another one of their songs in my blog post here.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (62) – ハクブンゴウ Hakubungou 寝台列車 ‘Shindai Ressha’

Nostalgia seems to be a recurring theme in this blog recently, and today is no different. ハクブンゴウ Hakubungou is the latest artist to emerge out of his undiscovered shell. Apart from the fact that he is based in Okinawa prefecture, little is known about the singer-songwriter. However, his latest track寝台列車 ‘Shindai Ressha’ (‘Sleeper Train’) vividly showcases his enchanting songwriting talent. Featuring in his debut EP 彼がいうには Kare Ga Iu Niwa, this slow-brewing track treats listeners with a mélange of evocative guitar strums, wistful harmonies, gentle drums and a solo that evokes images of the beach and surf, all swirling around Hakubungou’s charming singer-songwriter vocal tones.

Other Info/Context

  • Hakubungou’s debut EP Kare Ga Iu Niwa will be released on June 2nd.

© Isaku Takahashi

Picks of the Week #3

  • AL – 花束 ‘Hanataba’

A nostalgic folk-rock ambience resonates from花束 ‘Hanataba’ (‘Bouquet’), written by AL. Originally a duo project involving 小山田壮平 Oyamada Souhei and 長澤知之 Nagasawa Tomoyuki, the group expanded to a four-piece band, and one can feel a warm chemistry kindling between the quartet in this track. Beginning in a sedate acoustic guitar vibe enriched with endearing vocal harmonies, the track gradually builds up to a rhapsody of folk-rock wonder.

  • コブクロ Kobukuro – 何故、旅をするのだろう ‘Naze, Tabi wo Suru no darou’

To celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Kyushu Shinkansen, the duo of 小渕健太郎 Kobuchi Kentaro and 黒田俊介 Kuroda Shunsuke released the song何故、旅をするのだろう ‘Naze, Tabi wo Suru no darou’ (‘Why do we travel?’). The song follows the classic celebratory J-pop formula with rich vocal harmonies, sumptuous strings, enchanting melodies and an electrifying guitar solo. With glimpses of Kumamoto prefecture appearing in the video, one feels a greater sense of poignancy after the earthquakes that shook the area and the people affected.

  • Gateballers – 東京 ‘Tokyo’

From one nostalgic tune to another. 東京 ‘Tokyo’ by three-piece band Gateballers meanders through a gentle rock ambience filled with vintage-laden guitars and organ harmonies, a laid-back beat and beautifully melancholic vocal melodies swirling around the listener’s senses, and hints of country and very subtle vocoder colours deepen the dreamy sound world.

  • LEGO BIG MORL – ‘end-end’

A cosmopolitan rock vibe exudes from Osaka-based four-piece band LEGO BIG MORL’s latest track ‘end-end’. With a rich mix of energizing guitars, foot-tapping drums, colourful synths, enchanting vocals and a fine hint of meditative shoegaze, the band submerges the listener in a sumptuous sonic universe that stimulates a familiar pop-rock feel but also transports the senses to new heights.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (4) – 坂口諒之介 Sakaguchi Ryounosuke 舟はまた壊れる ‘Fune Wa Mata Kowareru’

Surfing through related videos recently led me towards an unknown but noteworthy singer-songwriter. Sakaguchi Ryounosuke makes his debut with 舟はまた壊れる ‘Fune Wa Mata Kowareru’ (‘the boat will break again’), a subdued folk-rock song with tinges of psychedelic decorations.

While the general feeling and musical language of the song is one of simplicity, there is plenty of interest that can captivate the listener. Glimmering chords from the electric piano (with added delay effects) and a laid-back drum and bass line sets the song in motion fitting nicely with the serene vocal tone of Sakaguchi (drawing strong evocations of Oda Kazumasa). Gentle melodic and harmonic exchanges between the acoustic guitar and marimba stimulate a feeling of transparency or add a beautiful sheen to the palette. Radiant chords from the electric guitars in the chorus create a dronal effect that intensifies the track briefly, only to come crashing down with a sudden outburst of distortion marking the transition into the second verse. Melodic inflections from the tenor sax add a jazzy flavour to the second verse, while the steady panning and delay effects on the guitars and electric piano continue to sustain a subtle psychedelic experience. On reflection, it’s a tasteful song that has a unique, refreshing quality that only Sakaguchi is able to arouse.

Other Info/Context

  • Check out another hidden gem by Sakaguchi on soundcloud.

© Isaku Takahashi

コブクロ – KOBUKURO

It was May 1998 when a salesman, Kentaro Kobuchi and a P.E teacher, Kuroda Shunsuke contemplated the possibility of forming a duo act. Since then, KOBUKURO has become one of the most established folk-rock artists of Japan.

The duo’s popularity in the Japanese mainstream is largely to do with their liking for rich ballad-rock arrangements, beautiful melodies and their vocal and lyrical virtuosity. Arguably their biggest hit to date is 蕾 ‘Tsubomi’ (‘flower bud’). Evocative of the ballad works of Eric Clapton, the song glorifies in an intimate acoustic guitar accompaniment, a heart-warming vocal melody and an emotionally catapulting chorus with the addition of an opulently scored body of violins.

Nature plays a central part in KOBUKURO’s musical and poetic material. The majority of their songs are titled with something associated with natural wonders, like 流星 ‘Ryusei’ (‘Meteor’). While the opening chimes give the impression of glistening meteor showers the grace the night sky, the driving hard-rock guitar that penetrates the song from the pre-chorus galvanizes the big chorus into a different harmonious stratosphere, together with tutti string orchestral sonorities and stirring falsettos teeming with emotion.

今、咲き誇る花たちよ ‘Ima, Saki hokoru hana tachi yo’ (‘Now, the flowers that bloom in all their glory’) is a more upbeat number, with a main melody closely reminiscent to an Irish or Scottish folk tune. Written especially for the 2014 Winter Olympics, this song strongly reflects their gifted lyrical writing: their ability to relate the natural world to real-life human experiences and emotions.

「一人に一つずつ 未来の種

どんな風にも負けない 強さと優しさで根を張れ」

For every one person there is a seed for the future,

Spread your roots with perseverance and kindness, that is never vanquished against any wind” 

The song conveys a raw and powerful message, as it served as not only a musical recollection of the sporting memories, but also as a supporting yell for the athletes and people in general who are experiencing struggles in their life.

One thing that we can be sure about is that KOBUKURO with their bright pop sensibility and lyrical talent are an agent to emotionally resonate with a wider audience, and induce listeners to relate the duo to their personal experiences.

Other Listening:

  • 風見鶏 ‘Kazamidori’ (‘Weathercock’)
  • STAY
  • 時の足音 ‘Toki no Ashioto’ (‘Footsteps of Time’)
  • 桜 ‘Sakura’ (‘Cherry blossom’)
  • 紙飛行機 ‘Kamihikouki’ (‘Paper Plane’)

© Isaku Takahashi