Picks of the Week #15

  • Nulbarich – ‘NEW ERA’

Jazz, soul, funk etc. have somewhat been a minority on my blog compared to other genres. That’s until I discovered five-piece band Nulbarich and their track ‘NEW ERA’, from their first album Guess Who? Right from first listen, the quintet cocoons the listener’s senses in a sumptuous, feel-good atmosphere with groovy riffs, rich harmonies, rocking beats and lead singer JQ’s charming vocals.

  • The fin. – ‘Night Time’

I first discovered Kobe-based band The fin. courtesy of an article by Aoki Ryotaro on The Japan Times. Since then, their ethereal mix of dreamy retro pop/rock and electronic colours in tracks like ‘Night Time’ has tingled my sensations for Japanese indie rock. A palpable British rock sound permeates their music, with hazy colours, dreamy harmonies and riffs, and enchanting melodies bringing back traces of 80s/90s bands like Cocteau Twins.

  • Gotch – ‘The Sun Is Not Down’

Gotch (後藤正文 Gotou Masafumi) , lead vocalist in J-rock band Asian Kung-Fu Generation showcases his talent away from the voltage-driven stage of his band in his mellow number ‘The Sun Is Not Down’. Laden with shimmering guitar colours and floating harmonies, the Shizuoka-born vocalist and guitarist carries the listener gently through a wistful indie rock ambience.

  • サカナクション Sakanaction – 多分、風 ‘Tabun, Kaze’

It was immeasurably exciting to hear the sparkling new-wave sounds of サカナクション Sakanaction back on the new music motorway, and they certainly don’t wane in creative energy as my senses dance away in their new track多分、 風 ‘Tabun, Kaze’ (‘Maybe, Wind’). An adrenaline rush of pulsating beats, radiant synths and sparkling melodies fan the flames of a burst of musical euphoria. Find out more about Sakanaction here, and listen to more of their tracks here.

© Isaku Takahashi

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Picks of the Week #13

  • Miyuu – ‘Southern Waves’

Reminiscent of the honey-toned personality of YUI, Osaka-based singer-songwriter Miyuu makes her major debut with ‘Southern Waves’. A warm guitar-pop vibe shimmers after every harmony and strum on the guitar, tinged with a hazy ambience from Miyuu’s delicate vocals. From those days playing covers of Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars at temples and shrines around Kyoto, Miyuu has paved the way for what is surely a bright future ahead of her.

  • Fumika – アオイトリ ‘Aoi Tori’

Recently, 久保帯人 Kubo Tite said his farewells with the end of his popular manga series ブリーチ Bleach. アオイトリ ‘Aoi Tori’ (‘Blue Bird’) by J-pop singer Fumika is a throwback to the days I enjoyed watching (& reading the manga) the anime of Bleach. (For the avid fans, you will recognise the series of episodes this track was used as the closing theme song). Anime can often open people into a world of musical wonders, and ‘Aoi Tori’ is one of many songs I have had the pleasure to uncover.

  • サカナクション Sakanaction – ワード ‘Word’

There is just something about サカナクション Sakanaction’s music that draws many listener’s senses into a unique musical atmosphere within a blink of an eye. ワード ‘Word’ is no different. Its infectious rock motor married with a dazzling kaleidoscope of electro-pop colours stimulates every rhythmic muscle of the listener to get in sync with the track. Find out more about Sakanaction in my blog post here, and hear another track by them here.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (1) – サカナクション Sakanaction 新宝島 ‘Shin Takarajima’

After a silent period, Sakanaction are back in the spotlight with 新宝島 ‘Shin Takarajima’ (‘New Treasure Island’), a song that is brimming with unapologetically retro, kitsch features. From the outset, a woozy synth pad fluctuates through the stereo field, the melody drawing influence from a Japanese pentatonic idiom, which returns later in the final chorus/outro, perhaps capturing the spirit of the influential Yellow Magic Orchestra.

The music is accompanied with a rather humorous music video, with an army of adrenalized cheerleaders dancing on a stage that reflects the visual entertainment style of the Showa Era, and Sakanaction themselves getting into a bit of choreography (perhaps for a witty touch, they purposefully express a lack of effort in their moves).

On reflection, this tune has all the ingredients of a powerful new wave dance anthem: a sonic narrative full of peaks and troughs, a foot-tapping drumbeat and infectious vocal and synth melodies. In the current Japanese musical climate, one may feel a sense of familiarity from the sounds, but it is also absolutely unique in equal measure.

Other Info/Context

  • This song was written as the soundtrack to the film adaptation of the popular manga バクマン ‘Bakuman’.
  • The title of this new single is taken from a manga by Tezuka Osamu (by the same name).
  • For more insight into Sakanaction, check out my blog post here.

© Isaku Takahashi

サカナクション – Sakanaction

So, my first post. I want to start this blog by talking about an artist that changed my whole perspective on J-Pop.

When I was in my teens, I had this trivial image that J-Pop was a musical bubble over-populated by ‘aidoru’ noted mainly by their imposing, handsome looks (referring to Johnny and Associates) or sugarcoated cute personalities (early example being Morning Musume, nowadays the countless number of girl groups that happen to have 48 members in it). To an extent this assumption may still exist. Then one evening, during a holiday to Japan in summer 2009, I discovered Sakanaction on a Japanese music channel.

Their name derives from a fusion of the words sakana (‘fish’) and action. Formed in Sapporo, Sakanaction exhibits a unique sound world; their collage of electronic, new wave, indie/alternative rock makes them such an exciting band to listen to.

One of my favourite songs from their creative output is ‘Mellow’ (from their self-titled album in 2013). It was clever to put this track after a lively, beat-driven tune (which happened to be ‘僕と花’ or ‘Boku to Hana’), as the opening “mellow” synth and subdued drumbeat, reminiscent of a heartbeat, felt refreshing to listen to. The echoing, distant vocals by Ichiro Yamaguchi, the gradual textural crescendo towards the chorus and the regular abrupt ‘cut’ from the main synth pad made the track all the more unsettling, but pleasant at the same time. (Unfortunately there are no youtube links to the track…)

While other tracks like ‘Years’, characterised by metric variation between the verses and chorus, and the stereo angularity of the piano chards in the middle section also show off their imaginative spark, on the other hand they can produce energetic, anthemic hits.

Aoi’ carefully balances the chilling, ghostly choir with the vitality from the strumming guitar, busy drum line and looping synth phrase, all topped with a simple, uplifting vocal melody form Yamaguchi. Similarly in ‘Identity’ (the song I discovered during my holiday), the opening rhythmically pulsating bongo-drumming sets the lively tone of the song, the peak being Yamaguchi’s bright vocals hitting the top note in the chorus.

For me, there is no song by Sakanaction that can be deemed unsuccessful. They can be energetic and dynamic, appealing to the broader mainstream culture of Japan, but at the same time be eccentric and unusual, maintaining their special artistic integrity.

Other Listening:

  • 夜の踊り子 ‘Yoru no Odoriko
  • Endless
  • ルーキー ‘Rookie
  • 僕と花 ‘Boku to Hana

© Isaku Takahashi