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

New Japanese Vibes (112) – DADARAY 美しい仕打ち ‘Utsukushii Shiuchi’

Halcyon pop and funk vibes radiate throughout DADARAY’s track美しい仕打ち ‘Utsukushii Shiuchi’ (‘Beautiful Treatment’). Featuring bassist 休日課長 Kyujitsu Kachou (from ゲスの極み乙女 Gesu no Kiwami Otome), the trio strut their musical magic on the catwalk with swanky and soulful licks on the electric piano, groovy bass lines and rhythms, rich vocal textures and sumptuous harmonies. With a trip to Japan coming up in a few days time, I hope to add this to my growing playlist of musical goodness.

Other Info

  • DADARAY’s first mini album DADAISM will be released on April 5th.

Picks of the Week #21

  • DATS – ‘Mobile’

Laden with vintage 90s colours, electro-pop and euro dance beats, ‘Mobile’ by DATS is a refreshing track that can rejuvenate any drained senses in my body. The song surfs the same sonic wavelengths of recent British bands like The 1975 and Disclosure with the quartet’s youthful vocals and the radiant spectrum of synths and beats that penetrate the listener’s eardrums.

  • AAA – ‘Jewel’

While finding hidden gems in the Japanese music scene is important to me, I also enjoy the odd sugar-coated J-pop number, including ‘Jewel’ by the female duo 宇野美彩子 Uno Misako and 伊藤千晃 Ito Chiaki from AAA. This infectious electro-pop tune filled with chic synth colours, seductive vocoder-shaded vocals and bouncing beats features in their latest album WAY OF GLORY, and marks the final chapter of Ito’s journey with AAA as she leaves at the end of March after announcing her pregnancy. Listen to more AAA in my blog posts here.

New York City’ by Tempalay is an absorbing and hypnotic number that may well put listeners in a blissful trance. From the opening perpetual chords to the spellbinding sonic colours that meander throughout the stereo field in serpentine fashion, the band’s signature psychedelic-rock personality comes to full bloom in this beguiling track. ‘New York City’ features in their latest EP 5曲 Gokyoku (‘Five Tracks’). Listen and find out more about Tempalay in my blog posts here.

© Isaku Takahashi

Picks of the Week #20

  • The Wisely Brothers – 鉄道 ‘Tetsudou’

One has to admire bands that can turn ideas that are seemingly repetitive into a song that is tranquil and sumptuous, like 鉄道 ‘Tetsudou’ (‘Railway’) by indie-rock trio The Wisely Brothers. A sedate electric guitar ambles along a single note before Madachi Haruko dips into the mix with her honey-toned vocals. The band gradually spurs the song to a euphoric peak, only to dwindle down to a cosy ‘weekend coffee’ vibe.

  • カノエラナ Kano Erana – トーキョー ‘Tokyo’

Bubbly and vibrant – two of many adjectives that encapsulate カノエラナ Kano Erana’s lively number トーキョー ‘Tokyo’. The Saga-born singer sparks a dazzling fiesta of J-pop/rock fireworks, full of bouncing rhythms, gleeful vocals and a jamboree of brass. While much of the song gallops through a carnival pop atmosphere, Kano takes a brief and quirky detour with some unapologetic rapping before driving back on the country rock highway.

  • YOUR ROMANCE – ‘RUN’

In collaboration with indie-rock band PAELLAS, RUN’ is one of three tracks YOUR ROMANCE contributed to their split EP lute. The synth pop/rock quartet rides a surfboard of voltage-driven guitars and propelling drums, while they also indulge in a seabed of radiant synths and electric organ-like harmonies. The band’s sultry vocals add another zany dimension to the track, making this a worthy addition to my never-ending playlist of indie gems.

  • Sasakure. UK – ネジ巻き師と太虚鳥 feat. Lasah ‘Nejimakishi to Taikyotori’

The sonic universe and hypnotic sensations one hears and feels from Sasakure.UK’s track ネジ巻き師と太虚鳥 feat. Lasah ‘Nejimakishi to Taikyotori feat. Lasah’ is like no other artist or song in Japanese electronic music. Skittering drum patterns drive the rhythmic, drum ‘n’ bass-like propulsion of the track, and a galaxy of textures, colours and instruments orbit around the listener’s senses like oblique, celestial beings.

© Isaku Takahashi

Picks of the Week #19

  • in the blue shirt – ‘toward morning’

Groovy and chilled in equal measure, in the blue shirt (real name 有村陵 Arimura Ryo) coaxes a sound world of meticulous sonic precision in ‘toward morning’. Juggling a rainbow of soulful vocal samples, bitpop-esque beats and hypnotic synths, the track brews a jumble of musical nonsense fit for my lazy Sunday afternoon soundtrack. ‘toward morning’ is the title track of his EP Toward Morning.

  • 宇多田ヒカル Utada Hikaru – 忘却 ‘Boukyaku featuring KOHH’

After six years hidden away from the public eye, 宇多田ヒカル Utada Hikaru returned back into the spotlight last September with her latest album Fantôme. The influential singer-songwriter employs the help KOHH in the track忘却 ‘Boukyaku’. The Japanese rapper delivers a sermon-like narrative over shimmering synths and booming drumbeats, while Utada’s resplendent vocals re-echo the ethereal ambience that glints in the backdrop.

Behind the merry march and Irish folk fiddle vibes of ‘Hey Ho’ by SEKAI NO OWARI lays a message of solidarity. The quirky pop quartet wrote this song in support of the Bremen Project, a campaign to stop the unlawful slaughter of stray animals in Japan. With a charming melange of sunny melodies, march rhythms, folk merriment and a colourful array of instruments, the band sends an uplifting vibe for a cause that they hope will grow for the good. Find out more about SEKAI NO OWARI in my blog post here.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (103) – 米津玄師 Yonezu Kenshi ‘orion’

米津玄師 Yonezu Kenshi is one that keeps growing from strength to strength. The Tokushima-born singer-songwriter’s new track ‘orion’ glorifies in a charming and anthemic pop ambience that is richly unique and fit for the mainstream in equal measure. His radiant vocals resonate a youthful energy that soars above the song’s stratosphere, while luminous synth strings, sonorous harmonies, rapturous handclaps and pounding drums summon a life-affirming spirit and sense of inspiration that spills into my soul.

Other Info

  • Yonezu Kenshi’s new single orion will be released on February 15th.
  • ‘orion’ is the ending theme song for the anime 3月のライオン Sangatsu no Lion.
  • Find out more about Yonezu Kenshi in my blog post here.

© 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