Soutaiseiriron – Tensei Jingle | ALBUM REVIEW

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Release Date: April 27th, 2016
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Cassette Tape
Number of Editions (1): Regular Edition


Soutaiseiriron’s new record is an enjoyable and rewarding experience not to miss.

One of the things that generally make an artist stand out in the maze of the J-pop scene, is the ability to make detailed compositions accessible to anyone. It is a sign of great maturity and compositional mastery, that makes music not only immediately enjoyable, but also genuinely satisfying when properly examined in depth, rewarding any kind of listening approach.

J-pop/rock outfit Soutaiseiriron, who just entered in its tenth year of activity, is one of the most influential acts adopting this approach in music. The band’s new record Tensei Jingle is indeed a great example of this philosophy, and while it takes a departure from certain sonorities adopted in the past, it’s a new approach the four mysterious members are totally confident with. The result is an exceptional record.

Tensei Jingle is indeed a pleasant experience that flows through its eleven tracks with delicacy and a light-hearted vibe, where catchy melodies and the almost whispering singing of Etsuko Yakushimaru help these compositions get stuck in the mind of the listener instantly: Numbers like Kerberos and 13 ban no Kanojo showcase a great duality between guitar melodies and electronic layers, a constant of this album and a formula that makes each track immediately recognizable, and the group carefully plays with this pattern with great balance, giving personality to each track and to the overall work. Simply put, It’s a record that could be played in the background while doing something else, and it still would reach and surprise the listener with its constant highlights.

Still, Tensei Jingle is a record that shows its true potential when proper attention is payed to each detail composing it. It’s a work where every piece properly falls into place perfectly, enhancing each single element, instrument and note. The closing track FLASHBACK is a prime example of this, catching the attention with its redundant melody, opening itself listen after listen and unveiling a non-linear and intriguing structure, that also welcomes an unexpected electronic break that takes its spot with absolute delicacy and balance. Nothing tries to steal the spotlight or break the vibe here: everything just flows naturally, and the record balances rock, pop and electronic influences with absolute mastery.

With Tensei Jingle, Soutaiseiriron crafted a record that’s constantly surprising, and it grows bigger with each listen: the more you focus on it, the more details emerge from its apparent simplicity, making it a genuinely rewarding and enjoyable experience. Definitely one of the highlights of this year, and one of the most fascinating albums that graced the Japanese scene in recent times.

Verdict: 9 / 10


Tracklist:

1. Tenchi Souzou SOS
2. Kerberos
3. Ultra Soda
4. Watashi ga Watashi
5. 13ban no Kanojo
6. Benten-sama wa Spiritual
7. GeSHi
8. Berlin Tenshi
9. Toaru Around
10. Oyasumi Chikyuu
11 . FLASHBACK

– Alex

Are Major Labels pushing the new wave of J-pop?

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Last week, I stumbled open something that turned out to be unexpectedly good: a collaboration between FEMM, FAKY and Yup’in, a temporary unit occasionally called FAMM’IN. A team of artists that could easily trigger one of the biggest mediocrity fest ever, basically.

As you can guess, I’m not a huge fan of the three acts from Avex, one of the biggest Major Label companies of the Japanese music industry. These groups never found a way to stand out in the market, bathing instead in the limb of mediocrity: FEMM had some catchy EDM tunes in the past – but shown a clear inconsistence at the same time – while the other two hardly ever came up with something that I could find interesting. Last years’ terrible collaboration between FEMM and FAKY was the icing on the cake, and convinced me to stay away from these girls and their music.

This time around though, I’ve been proved wrong. Well, at least for seven minutes.

FAMM’IN indeed released the Music Video for circle, an electronic-oriented number mixing vocals auto-tuned into oblivion and traditional Japanese instruments, watered down in an unpredictable but functional structure. The track showcases an interesting contrast between different elements, and it does a good job at that, maintaining a soothing and almost mysterious vibe throughout its duration. Simply put, it’s a track that works greatly. Pretty much all the opposite you would expect from three acts that usually bring mediocre upbeat pop tunes on the shelves of Tower Records.

What’s even more interesting, though, is that the rest of the EP the track is featured in is exactly what these acts have been doing so far, which is mostly mediocre music. Only circle makes the difference, and not coincidentally, it’s the the track chosen to promote the release. Curious, isn’t it? This fact, and the thoughts of Tokyo-based journalist Patrick St. Michel brought me to think: Why is Avex doing this? Then I realized, that this is actually what one of the biggest Major labels in Japan has been doing for a while: promoting music that brings a breeze of fresh air to the J-pop scene.

Over the last five years, the japanese colossus indeed kept a vigilant eye on artists that, in a way or another, brought fresh sonorities to the J-pop market and its several ramifications.

One of the first acts taken in consideration by Avex has been TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE, an Idol unit featuring Funk and Jazz influences greatly merged over a classic Idol pattern, reaching its momentum with the highly acclaimed record Limited Addiction. It’s no understatement that they have been one of the first groups of the 2010’s to make Idol pop relevant from the mere musical standpoint. Oddly enough, the major label tried to change the identity of the group by announcing the abandonment of the Idol scene to undertake an “artistic” path. The result? Nothing has truly changed, the unit lost one of its former members, and their music hasn’t been as interesting as before. Leaving aside this doubtful choice and its poor results, it is the mindset behind it that’s to notice: The will of making a standardized reality artistically more relevant. The same thing that happened in the seven minutes of circle.

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Seeing the matter from a broader point of view, the label had no problem in taking under its wings relevant acts that are changing the tides of today’s J-pop, with Oomori Seiko as prime example of the colossus’ lineup: The singer/songwriter, after gaining relevant and well deserved attention in the independent scene, made the big step by shifting to Avex, delivering two albums (including the excellent TOKYO BLACK HOLE) and evolving her style while delivering unique charisma through her music, becoming one of the most influential J-pop artists of our days. Taking another look at the past, the enrollment of the controversial Idol unit BiS, that shook the Idol scene with aggressive and provocative concepts, shown a clear interest in artists that can potentially play a game-changing role in certain niches. The same thing happened to the group’s spiritual successor BiSH, that’s gaining more and more popularity by the day with their punk rock influences and rebellious charisma.

Seeing a gigantic major label like Avex trying to push the artists that are bringing a breathe of fresh air in the J-pop scene, is a sign that times are changing: People is getting tired of the classic Diva concept (ironically represented by Avex artists like Ayumi Hamasaki and Namie Amuro) and of the usual Idol projects made of plastic smiles and uninspired songs. And as the generation of artists that created these now aged patterns is slowly becoming less and less relevant, a new wave of young and innovative artists is gaining ground. Avex clearly knows this, and other labels such as Warner Music Japan are slowly recognizing the rise of this new reality, with the recent signing of electronic outfit Charisma.com and the upcoming deal with rising artist Suiyoubi no Campanella as proof of this.

With this in mind, the hope is that major labels will play a relevant role in this generational change, giving exposure and artistic freedom to the countless valid artists of the independent scene, willing to take their spot in the japanese scene with originality and talent. And from the looks of it, that’s exactly what’s gonna happen.

– Alex

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: From relevant J-pop act, to useless marketing puppet

I’m not even reviewing Kyary Pamyu Pamyu‘s new single. It’s useless. Why should I repeat myself for the millionth time, after all? If you want to know what I think about Sai & Kou, just read my previous reviews of her singles: It’s the same exact thing. Over and over again. It’s a chore, it’s tiresome, the complete opposite of what a pop track should be.

For how stupid it may sound, this makes me genuinely annoyed. Because we’re talking about two persons, a talented producer and one of the most successful japanese acts of the last five years, that simply don’t care about what they’re doing anymore. They just do it because they have to, cause they’re tied to contracts with a rental agency, a videogame company, a conbini chain, and God only knows what else.

It’s annoying, because their chemistry proved to be a source of greatness in the past: PON PON PON was an amazing pop tune, and Nandacollection one of the best J-pop records of 2013. This album in particular, that I still play on a regular basis, makes me particularly nostalgic: listening to Kyary’s music today almost feels like hearing a different voice, a different person. Or, more precisely, a marketing bot with an annoyingly high-pitched voice.

“Sup Kyary, it’s your boy Yasuta… *yawns* Yeah, I got a call from a sunglasses company, they sent me guidelines for a new track, I made the instrumental while I was waiting for my noodles to be ready, get ready to record the vocals. Let’s do it fast, I gotta play tambourine for a Perfume album mix.” This is the the dude who wrote tie-in tracks like Polyrythm and Secret Secret, today.

Don’t get me wrong: creating songs for commercials is normal, and sometimes necessary in the context of the Japanese music industry. That’s not the problem, despite the fact that basically all of her recent tracks are tied to commercials is ridiculous and exaggerated.

The real problem is that Kyary is a phenomenon with an identity that worked great until three years ago: It peaked with Nandacollection and decayed after that, cause there has been no interest in making this girl and her music enjoyable anymore. No sign of originality, just the same thing repeated over and over again, until it got irremediably obsolete and worse, to the point where instead of great pop tunes like Ninjary Ban Ban and Invader Invader, we now get stuff like Sai & Kou. Which is the song of nothing, like everything she released in the last two years. Mondai Girl may be the only exception here.

Kyary recently released a compilation album of her best tracks, a type of release that usually leads to two scenarios: she’s finally done with music and she’s retiring, or she will keep going, in a way or another. There were rumors last year about a collaboration with overseas producers, something that could possibly lift the Harajuku icon (gosh, this term just doesn’t suit her anymore) from this abyss of shallowness and make her music interesting again. Nothing has changed after more than a year though, so the hope of seeing Kyary’s music produced by someone who actually wants to do something decent is fading away.

Whatever will happen to what’s left of the Fashion Monster, I hope this excruciating series of useless releases will come to an end. Cause not only it’s pathetic, it’s also incredibly sad, especially for someone who jumped and screamed like a madman to Nandacollection’s tunes in the front row of Club Asia on New Year’s Eve, one meter away from the dude who made this girl unique five years ago.

Please, stop it.

– Alex

 

 

Oomori Seiko – TOKYO BLACK HOLE [ALBUM REVIEW]

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Release Date: March 23rd
Format: CD
Number of Editions (3): Regular Edition (CD), Limited Edition (CD + DVD), Limited Edition (CD + DVD + Book)


Oomori Seiko delivers a masterful record filled with talent and passion. 

The artistic growth of Oomori Seiko has been one of the most interesting evolutions to observe in recent years: From raw shows in the basements of Koenji promoting her early works and the acoustic lunacy of Zettai Shoujo, to the rebel-sounding debut in the mainstream scene with last year’s Sennou, the singer/songwriter has shown a remarkable evolution and improvement in her music.

The path that Oomori followed – and is still following – is made of curiosity, experimentation, and feelings put into music with brutal honesty, all elements tied up together by a unique charisma that seeps through every song she composes. And while her Major Debut album kept her on track despite a few uncertain moments, with this new effort the singer reaches a cohesive and refined milestone in this process of growth.

TOKYO BLACK HOLE indeed holds surprising and valuable moments in each track, as Oomori spreads bits of several influences in each number and blends them into her own unique style with impressive mastery, delivering a various and exciting experience. Tracks like the theatrical, almost dramatic Magic Mirror, the light vibes of Sacchan no Sexy Curry and the catchiness of SHINPIN bring the singer’s trademark blend of acoustic layers and electronic elements in a renovated and more mature key, while straightforward numbers Nama Kill the Time 4 You and Dramatic Shiseikatsu briefly revisit her punk-ish roots in more articulated structures and arrangements, showing how everything Seiko has learned in her path is present in this record with enhanced care and maturity. It’s an improvement showcased through some of the richest instrumentals of her career, that particularly merge with success in more electronic oriented numbers, with Choshin Sedai Castella Standard MAGIC Maji KISS and its irresistible dreamy chorus as prime example, followed by the unpredictable Kkumi, Kkumi, whose contrast between heavy guitar riffs and a dreamy 70’s-like chorus that flows into a break featuring indian vibes spreads pure brilliance.

What makes these tracks so valuable is the surprising mastery whose this plethora of influences are merged together and delivered in an accessible key: Nothing in this record sounds chaotic or messed up, nor I ever had the impression to listen to a bunch of sonorities just randomly thrown together. Every section flows naturally, making all these influences and feelings reach the listener with great impact, other than granting variety and cohesiveness to the whole record.

Obviously, Seiko’s interpretation plays a primary role in making this experience so enjoyable. The singer takes a more delicate approach in laid-down tracks like the refreshing TOKYO BLACK HOLE and the lovely Aishiteru.com, to then reach higher emotional peaks in Kyushoku Tobansei Hantai and the theatrical closure Shojo Manga Shonen Manga. Whatever is the emotion conveyed or the vibe the singer tries to set, every track features heartfelt performances that fit the context passionately. As natural consequence, the whole record benefits from such a lively performance, that combined with the masterful instrumental work, falls into place to form a complex but accessible piece of work, making it one of the most enjoyable and valid Oomori Seiko albums to date.

It’s pretty clear at this point that Oomori Seiko is on top of the new wave of J-pop artists, and as the as the historical acts of the genre are slowly starting to fade, the singer is rising and conquering a legitimate and well deserved spot in the scene. From promising act for the future of Japanese music, Oomori Seiko is now a brilliant representation of its present, and it’s a privilege to be able to enjoy such heartfelt music in the mainstream reality.

Vote: / 10


Tracklist:

1. TOKYO BLACK HOLE
2. Magic Mirror
3. Nama kill the time 4 you
4. Choshin Sedai Castella Standard MAGIC Maji KISS
5. Aishiteru.com
6. SHINPIN
7. Sacchan no Sexy Curry
8. Gekiteki JOY! Before After
9. Kkumi, Kkumi
10. Dramatic Shiseikatsu
11. Mushusei Romantic ~Encho-sen~
12. Kyushoku Tobansei Hantai
13. Shojo Manga Shonen Manga

– Alex

Should AKB48 open the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

credits: The Japan Times

credits: The Japan Times

There’s been a lot of fuss in the last days regarding AKB48, the most popular, loved and hated Idol unit of today’s Japanese music industry. Everything started a week ago when Yasushi Akimoto, founder and producer of the group also member of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics executive board, proposed to choose the girls as performers of the opening ceremony for this important event, words that immediately unchained discussions on the web that reached the peak when cross-dressing personality Matsuko Deluxe stated that AKB48 would be an “embarrassment” for Japan, leading to a situation of great confusion between fans defending their favorite group and detractors throwing hate like never before, other than globally famous headlines with big names and small knowledge on the subject speaking nonsense in the middle: Long story short, nothing with a bit of sense is coming out of it.

So, in order to understand the matter at the best, it’s necessary to take a step backwards and ask ourselves a question: Is there any sense behind all the hate towards AKB48?

The answer is no, there’s no sense in it. It’s not about defending the group, it’s about all the people hating these girls for the most futile reasons (how do you hate a music group anyway?). Sure, it’s not like the famous Idol unit avoided controversies in the past, as questionable events stained their image more than once: The most notorious and sad episode is certainly the case of Minegishi Minami, the girl spotted coming out of her partner’s house that later shaved her hair and apologized in tears in a video that went viral. This happened because the girl broke the rule of the group that denies any kind of sentimental relationship (something she definitely knew when she signed her contract, by the way) and self-punished herself for not following it, a kind of gesture that finds its roots deep in the Japanese culture, but that doesn’t justify the brutality of a video that was simply unnecessary. I could also mention the pathetic AKBaby promotion seen in 2011, where fans could upload pictures of their faces online and “merge” it with one of the members’ pic to see what wonderful baby would come out from this “fusion”, something that’s just plain ridiculous. But apparently this only makes part of the past now, as most of the haters already forgot about these episodes and still keep on detesting AKB48 mainly for their generally attractive image, showcased in videos where all the members dance in bikini by the seaside, in photobooks where the undeniable beauty of some members is shown at the best, and in their provocative outfits that tease the thoughts of their fans. Wait a second: Isn’t that exactly what almost all the Idol groups out there do?

The general idea is that this “dirty” and “impure” sexy factor in Idol music that should “embarrass” Japan has been brought by AKB48, which is absolutely wrong: It was like this way before them, and it’ll probably be forever. As usual though, when you’re successful and popular you’re always going to attract all kinds of critics, and my suspect is that people generally don’t accept the fact that Yasushi Akimoto created a perfect cash machine with an impeccable concept fueling it; Like it or not, these people is there for money, or else we wouldn’t call their products “manufactured groups”.

These people should seriously realize that AKB48 is generally just an Idol group like many others out there, except maybe for a couple of factors: their extremely shallow music, which, guess what, is something you barely hear coming out from the mouths of the detractors (but that’s subjective, really) and what is probably the only real problem with this group, which is the monstrous amount of copies they sell with each release and the impact they have on the industry; We’re talking about a group who can sell a million and half copies of a single in barely a week, thanks to exclusive contents featured in each one of the several editions every release gets, and in this case I think it’s fair to fault charts like Oricon that, while it shouldn’t alter the final results, it should impose some kind of filter on these kind of releases, something that should be applied with Johnny’s groups as well, because when you take a look at the Year End chart results and the first fifty (50) spots are all about 48, Arashi and similar, then you know there’s a problem. Other than that, this is another factor that’s targeted by some people labelling the AKB fans as “obsessive” and “ridiculous” for buying multiple editions of the same product; I don’t like this group’s music and I don’t claim myself a fan, but I have many friends who do, and during my trips to Japan I went with them in some of the famous 48 shops, and while curiously and silently browsing between the shelves of these undoubtedly fascinating places, I’ve seen in my friends the same passion I have for Perfume when looking for old and new releases to add to my collection: I, with my room completely filled with merchandise from the Hiroshima Techno-pop trio, am no different from them. We love our favorite group, and we support it, like anyone else. Simple as that.

But it’s not like something is gonna change, not yet at least, since everything can happen from here to five years. But still, should AKB48 really represent Japan at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics? I believe it depends on the approach and personality of this important event: In terms of performance, spectacularity and talent, there are many groups out there who can definitely do better than these girls. In terms of representing Japan’s music industry and actual culture, though, I think they can fairly find their place in the list of artists to choose for the opening ceremony.

But it’s all a matter of time, really. The situation could drastically change in five years. And after all, if One Direction performed at the London 2012 Olympics, why on earth shouldn’t AKB48 open the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

– Alex