New Japanese Vibes (99) – SKY-HI アドベンチャー ‘Adventure’ 

SKY-HI cranks up the ‘cool’ カッコイイ ‘kakkoi’ meter up with his new tune アドベンチャー ‘Adventure’. From the opening punchy slap bass, Hidaka Mitsuhiro (real name of SKY-HI) and his musical entourage radiates a rainbow of vibrant brass colours and bubbly vocals. But it’s more than just a rich mix of nimble-footed rapping and funk vibes – SKY-HI also conveys a life-affirming message: “don’t turn your eyes away from negativity – take it, embrace it and move forward”. The sincerity that dances along with the track’s lively beat and melodies makes SKY-HI more than just a hip-hop/rap artist who simply aims for the top of the charts. He speaks closely to his fans and listeners with meaningful words and resonates a buzz that transcends a global audience.

Other Info

  • SKY-HI’s new album OLIVE will be released on January 18th.
  • Find out more about SKY-HI in my blog post here.

© Isaku Takahashi

Picks of the Week #9

  • おとぎ話 Otogibanashi セレナーデ ‘Serenade’

セレナーデ ‘Serenade’ by four-piece alt-rock band おとぎ話 Otogibanashi is the perfect soundtrack for the dazzling summer weather that has finally arrived this week. The track is full of feel-good sounds that take you under the glaring sun and bright blue skies (get your sunglasses ready!) – jangling guitars, velvety harmonies and romantic vocal melodies evoke the nostalgic British sound world of 60s Merseybeat.

  • SKY-HI – ナナイロホリデー ‘Nanairo Holiday’

From one summery tune to another – SKY-HI (Hidaka Mitsuhiro) is back with a new disco/hip-hop number ナナイロホリデー ‘Nanairo Holiday’ (‘Seven Colour Holiday’). Bringing back the uptempo vibes of previous hits like スマイルドロップ Smile Drop and 愛ブルーム Ai Bloom, vintage-coloured harmonies, jangling guitars and SKY-HI’s seductive vocals entice a zestful ambience that gets listeners up on their feet. Stuttering beats in the bridge add a tinge of hip-hop edginess before the song plunges back into the guitar funk ocean.

  • yonige – センチメンタルシスター ‘Sentimental Sister’

All-female rock bands have always had a strong presence in the Japanese music scene, and for good reason. センチメンタルシスター ‘Sentimental Sister’ by yonige oozes with indie rock dynamism from its driving guitars and drums, but also trickles a tinge of wistfulness and melodious charm with牛丸ありさ Ushimaru Arisa’s rich and velvety vocals. This track features in their new mini album かたつむりになりたい I Want To Be A Snail.

© Isaku Takahashi

Picks of the Week #1

  • トクマルシューゴ Tokumaru Shugo – ‘Vektor feat. 明和電機

From carnival trumpets to vibrant percussion, トクマルシューゴ Tokumaru Shugo coaxes a pop atmosphere like no other. With the help of 明和電機 Meiwa Denki’s dazzling array of made instruments that play on their own, Vektor’ dances away in a fiesta of foot-tapping rhythms, South American instrumental colours, harmonies and riffs enriched with meticulous percussive timbres. No wonder he is gaining widespread attention from media and listeners from all around the world.

  • The peggies – グライダー ‘Glider’

The peggies is band of today. Made up of three girls born in 1995, they summon the vitality of female rock bands like SCANDAL to keep the girl band energy in the Japanese music scene alive. グライダー ‘Glider’ is taken from their album NEW KINGDOM released last November, and sees them literally soar above the stratosphere with their voltage-charged band sound, electrifying guitar riffs and somersaulting vocals that jump from feathery melodies to yells that strike sonic lightning.

  • Lullatone – ‘Working from a park bench’

Japanese-American ‘pajama pop’ duo Lullatone offer something a little bit different in their recent musical output. They set out a resolution from the beginning of this year: to upload new compositions every week. ‘Working from a park bench’ is one of their latest tracks to tread footsteps on their Soundcloud universe. Much more pop-like in vibe, the track immerses listeners in woozy reverse effects, twinkling piano riffs, mellow harmonies, plucking strings and a gentle heart-beating drum beat.

  • SKY-HI – クロノクラブ ‘Kurono Club’

After releasing his second solo album カタルシス Catharsis, SKY-HI unveiled his new track クロノクラブ ‘Kurono Club’ (‘Black Club’). The Japanese rapper and one-seventh of J-pop group AAA goes beyond his dexterous rapping skills and showcases his tender, honey-toned vocals in a mid-tempo R&B/hip-hop ballad filled with shimmering electric piano riffs, heavenly strings, crystalline backing vocals and a foot-tapping beat.

  • Cornelius – ‘Lazy’

Everyone’s been talking about the reissue of Cornelius’ 1997 album Fantasma. 小山田圭吾 Oyamada Keigo, the genius behind some of Japan’s most iconic artists including Flipper’s Guitar, announced the release of this limited edition featuring a bonus track called ‘Lazy’. This track is just one of 17 in the extended album, coaxing a vibrant cosmos of musical styles from indie rock, electronica, techno and hip-hop.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (12) – SKY-HI ‘Enter The Dungeon’

From one member of avex band AAA to another. SKY-HI, lead rapper in the 7-soul unit continues his solo engagement with ‘Enter The Dungeon’. Its sinister façade parallels the musical interest the track glorifies in, and brings back impressions of previous tunes including ‘Serial’.

The ominous atmosphere is conveyed both in image and sound. What looks like an abandoned building sketched in graffiti, the only aid of sight in the music video is the torch SKY-HI waves about. Punctuating drumbeats and the dexterous rapping of Hidaka Mitsuhiro drives the propulsion of the track, while luminous and squelchy synths in the pre-chorus stir up tension towards the dynamic chorus, and the sporadic deep, warped vocal sample provokes an otherworldly sonic ambience.

Other Info/Context

  • Enter The Dungeon’ is the coupling track to SKY-HI’s new single アイリスライト Iris Light, due to be released 13th Jan 2016.
  • Check out my post on SKY-HI here.

© Isaku Takahashi

SKY-HI

SKY-HI is ‘cool’ personified. Mitsuhiro Hidaka is perhaps better known for his engagements with the idol pop band AAA. Now, since his solo debut in 2013, Hidaka has unleashed a fresh expression of his personal ‘rap’ identity.

You could compare SKY-HI to a fusion of Eminem and Justin Timberlake. ‘RULE’ is perhaps a great example (plus, it is my favourite SKY-HI track). This track lives up to a fiery character with a repetitive punchy piano riff, heart-pounding drumbeat, and the unsung hero in this song: the backing vocals. The ‘swagger’ and attitude the backing vocals release lifts the chorus into a new sonic stratosphere.

On one hand he can portray a trendy hip persona. He showcases this in his debut single 愛ブルーム ‘Ai Bloom’ (meaning ‘love bloom’). What makes this different to other kinds of hip-hop and rap is his skill to balance melodious singing with the verbally intricate nature of rapping. Complemented by a 70s/80s disco beat, funky electric guitar licks and a vibrant music video, this groovy number was a fine pick to launch SKY-HI’s solo career.

TOKYO SPOTLIGHT’ is the track that resonated with my inner ‘rave’ soul. Drawing similarities to that hit song by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, it is a pure urban city night-life amplifier: laser-like synths with a slight ‘brassy’ quality, a hammering four-on-the-floor beat and a full spectrum of sonically manipulated vocal phrases.

On the other hand, he can stifle the listener with a much more confrontational, almost disturbing demeanour. ‘Serial’ is the killer record that has the power to cause a sonic and visual shock. The sinister bass and guitar line in the chorus, brass chords in the chorus that resemble a James Bond film and a gradually intensifying vocal rap line are all accompanied by a music video that strikes a threatening character.

SKY-HI is one to watch. He possesses a flawless rapping mastery and an artistic versatility like no one else in the Japanese music scene, acting as a young ambassador of the ‘Cool Japan’ landscape.

Other Listening:

  • ONE BY ONE (featuring other Japanese rap artists)
  • LIMO
  • Blanket
  • スマイルドロップ ‘Smile Drop’
  • SEASIDE BOUND

© Isaku Takahashi