BLOG | Independent artists and Marketing bots

Sup guys, It’s Alex! Despite not writing as much as I wanted, this week I had the time to analyze some interesting music and facts from the Land of the Rising Sun: I discovered a new group, reviewed an artist that I love, and shown my ultimate disappointment for an act I used to love years ago. But most of all, I got my hands on a nice overload of albums and totally freaked the f**k out. Japanese CDs (and VHS singles, because why not) are all I need to be happy. I’m like this.

The first article of the past week is about a very interesting collaboration between Nagoya-based Indie pop outfit CRUNCH and american producer Alex Ruby, a soothing number called Murasaki that greatly meets the influences of both artists with the right balance. I never properly listened to CRUNCH before, and looking back at some of their past releases (the blue blue blue EP in particular) I can say these three girls have been one of the most pleasant musical discoveries of this period for me. Alex Ruby too has some nice tunes going on on his Soundcloud, so be sure to read my impressions and listen here.

Moving along, I finally found some time to properly dedicate myself to Tentenko’s album Tabekko Land, that I reviewed earlier this week. I grew to love this girl and her music more and more lately… way too much: Crazy, various, with that bit of old-fashioned vibe, this album is one of my most favorite releases from the ex-BiS member, and a great one to start with before adventuring in her noise-oriented records. By the way, I think I wanna date her, but I guess it’d end up with me getting my ass beat, which is cool anyway. I’ll be sure to attend one of her live sets when I’ll finally go back to Japan, even though I’m still not sure when.

One thing that I’m definitely sure of, though, is that I’m gonna avoid Kyary Pamyu Pamyu for the rest of my life. I can’t stand this girl anymore. Heck, no one does probably. After the millionth trash release tied to a random Izakaya bar in the Golden Gai district, I ultimately got tired of her, and wrote what I’ve been thinking for quite a while: Kyary needs to go home. Retire, disappear. Unless she gets her ass back on track with a different producer, but it’s something that I can’t possibly expect anymore. Read my rant here. If I sound angry, it’s because this girl dropped my favorite album of 2013, by the way.

I got some reviews planned for the next days: The first one will be for Dempagumi.inc’s upcoming album GOGO! DEMPA out on Wednesday, a record that I’m really looking forward to despite not knowing what to exactly expect. There will be two more reviews as well, of completely different artists, but I’m not gonna tell you any detail for now. What I can say though, is that I have a huge ass article on the way, about the evolution of a music scene that I particularly love, that I hope you will enjoy.

That’s it for this week’s recap guys! Let me know what you think about these topics down here in the comment if you want. I’ll be playing Xenoblade Chronicles X in the meanwhile.

Have a nice week guys! Stay tuned 🙂

– 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

 

 

5 Crazy Japanese Music Videos you need to see

Last time we took a look at some of the most beautiful, innovative and stunning Music Videos from Japan, one of the best aspects of this music industry that constantly fascinates both the lovers and the newcomers of it. But now it’s time to list five of the craziest MVsthat are probably (and controversially) the most attractive for the overseas audience that’s still not into Japanese music, and the reason is simple: They can be weird, funny, crazy and unpredictable, factors that, like or not, bring a certain product to be popular and viral, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Someone may take these bizarre songs and videos as introduction to the Japanese industry, others may just laugh and forget about it claiming how Japan is “weird”, but one thing is for sure: It’s hard to ignore them.

So here it is: A list of some of the craziest Japanese Music Videos ever released, all for you. Be sure to be mentally prepared: Some of them are really insane.


5. Charisma.com – HATE

Electronic Rap duo Charisma.com leaded by MC Itsuka and DJ/producer Gonchi made themselves recognizable immediately in the industry thanks to their strong personalities, offering a masterful balance of electronic music and rap coupled by biting lyrics on society and the struggles of being part of it. Their weird, funny and unconventional charisma (!) is well displayed in their first Music Video and track HATEa mix of weird moments that perfectly describes the attitude of these two girls, eating weird living stuff, acting crazy, and killing random figures in the back in the cruelest ways, with an ending that pretty much confirms how crazy (but charismatic, indeed) these girls are. Also, the track is dope. Recommended!


4. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – PON PON PON

Who doesn’t know Kyary Pamyu Pamyu? If you haven’t been living under a rock in the last four years, you definitely have seen or at least heard of this iconic J-pop act and Harajuku icon. Her debut track PON PON PON, produced by Yasutaka Nakata, is one of the most striking cases of viral sensation from Japan that became popular in all the world, and for good reasons: This song is a great example of J-pop done good and one of the best tunes of the genre from 2011 that shook the entire J-pop scene. Its Music Video is an outstanding cohesion of sounds and images and a showcase of “extreme” Harajuku fashion culture, coupled by a plethora of weird elements and moments, including flying brains, scaring huge eyes, candy bars coming out from ears, as well as Kyary farting a rainbow. This combination of ultra catchy sounds and the stunning visuals are still the best representation of Kyary’s identity and the great sound she once had. I just wish she could have kept it that way for longer.


3. Oomori Seiko – Kyuru Kyuru

I just love Oomori Seiko: the thing that really got me at first about this girl, other than her great songwriting skills, is the passion and all the heart she puts in the music she plays and sings, that consequentially translates into a brutally sincere behavior that sometimes reaches insane levels. It’s something noticeable in both her voice and her image, and wether if it’s by listening their heartfelt songs, or watching one of her out of control live shows where she literally screams her lyrics out to the point of tossing (or kissing a random fan in the crowd) you can’t ignore this girl’s incredibly strong charisma, and when you put this together with her skills as musician the result is just unique. Her entry in the mainstream scene with the major debut single Kyuru Kyuru certainly didn’t change a thing in her personality, and this video is something you’re gonna loop for a while, not only because the track is really enjoyable, but mainly to understand and capture every second of it, that’s just filled with Oomori’s personality, a personality that’s crazy, funny, and even lovable.


2. LADYBABY – Nippon Manju

The latest in the series of the craziest Japanese Music Videos, and generally of the “WTF Japan” phenomenon that people outside the land of the rising sun love: LADYBABY is a new Idol metal unit consisting of singer/wrestler/cross-dressing personaLadybeard and junior idols Rei Kuromiya and Rie Kaneko. While Ladybeard has been floating around the Japanese scene for quite some time gaining attention from the media for its eccentric look, it’s not quite the same for the two underage girls, unless you’re into certain stuff that’s better not to discuss here. In any case, the australian wrestler and the two idols decided to team up and release their first single Nippon Manju, promoted by a Music Video than in barely a month reached six millions of views on YouTube and represented one of the most significant viral phenomenons of the last years: Useless to say, this is mainly due to the image of Ladybeard.

The video is definitely bizarre, and you may even find it funny, just don’t expect a masterpiece of track and you’ll be fine.


1. MAXIMUM THE HORMONE – ALIEN

This is without a shade of doubt one of the craziest Music Videos ever released. Seriously.

As typical of MAXIMUM THE HORMONE, the song blasts brutal metal riffs fused with the speed of hardcore genres with a touch of funk, coupled by screams and growls that border on schizophrenia, all reasons that makes this band so loved in Japan and overseas as well. But these four guys are also known for including sudden and unpredictable influences in their tracks, and this video is the proof of it: The first part of it is pure madness, featuring the guys playing in what it looks like an underground club, destroying everything with brutal and powerful sounds in front of an insane (almost violent) crowd. Then, for some reason, heads start popping up on the guys’ bodies. Then they moltiplicate. Then they make a weird dance, show atomic explosions, and… yes, it’s really weird. But not as weird as the second part of the MV, that pretty much changes everything: I’m not gonna  unveil anything, you just have to see it for yourself.

This video shows what happens when craziness and geniality meet, and no one can do it better than MAXIMUM THE HORMONE. And it’s highly probable you’re gonna love it. But first, please stop the damn Winny upload.

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These were only five of the craziest Music Videos the Japanese music scene can offer, and more will come in my next TOP 5 articles.

What do you think about these videos? Did you like them? Did you have fun? Be sure to leave a comment down below with your impressions!
– Alex

TOP 5 | The most influential Japanese artists worldwide (2014)

Originally posted on October 19th 2014

In the last years, Japanese Music gained a certain attention worldwide thanks to some artists that have been able to represent their own concepts in a unique and attractive way, stimulating the curiosity of the western markets and bringing them to take in consideration that Japan is still one of the biggest and innovative music markets out there; Not that this huge musical scene was unknown before (we could name lots of artists that gained international success in the past), but thanks to the exposure gave mainly by the Internet, we’ve seen the interest of the global audience rise towards the land of the rising sun.

The main reason behind all of this is obviously the influence of Japanese modern culture hidden in this phenomenon: While the western markets sadly tend to produce standardized acts and music, pretty much every act in Japan puts some personality in its concept, making it accessible but still a little bit unique at the same time. That’s why we think it’s worth to make a list and analyze the most influential Japanese artists of the last years and the impact they had on the global market, between appreciation, weird feelings, and will to discover this apparently far and hidden musical treasure.

Please note that this Top 5 has been listed taking in consideration today’s situation of Japanese music in the world and its most famous (mainly new) artists, created in order of popularity and cultural impact, and not in order of talent.

Let’s take a look!


5. Hatsune Miku- Vocaloid
Image source: Moetron.com

Image source: Moetron.com

More than a real singer or act, we’re talking about a cultural phenomenon that embraced the world like nothing else before.

Since the release of Hatsune Miku, the first add-on of the Character Vocal Series of the Vocaloid software, the world went completely nuts over the little girl with twin-tails and high-pitched voice, even in countries where Japanese music struggles to break through. The inspiration people got from this character and software has been enormous, with fans from all over the world creating music, real vocal covers and bands, anime, manga, cosplay, illustrations, and God knows what else, elevating Miku has one of the most famous icons of Japanese modern culture in the world; Plus, it’s and undeniable fact that many compositions created by young talented artists supported by Miku’s voice are noticeable and worth listening.

Hatsune Miku and Vocaloid have been able to spread various aspects of  Japan’s modern culture to the world like nothing else before, a phenomenon that will be remembered for a long time.


4. X-Japan

X-JAPAN

Whenever you ask a Rock fan out there about a cool Japanese group to follow, most of the times the answer will be “X-Japan”.

Pioneers of J-rock and its sub-genre Visual Kei (one of the most appreciated overseas) this historical band not only gained immense popularity in their homeland during their mighty 32-years career, but also around the world thanks to the great music they’ve composed over the years and their influences tied to western sonorities. Despite being already famous overseas, X-Japan started to perform outside Japan only in 2008, with Worldwide Tours touching both well known countries and others that most Japanese bands have never seen, including several states of North America and Europe, and also Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mexico, China, South Korea and more. Since their debut on the global stage X-Japan started to perform overseas more and more, seeing their popularity raise to the point where they’ve performed at the historical Madison Square Garden venue in New York: Definitely not something everyone can claim.


3. Ryuichi Sakamoto
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credits: The Telegraph

The one and the only, his majesty Ryuichi Sakamoto.

As if being a member of an historical and internationally successful band like Yellow Magic Orchestra and a pioneer of electronic music wasn’t enough, Sakamoto is also one of the most known Japanese artists worldwide thanks to its brilliant solo career, its huge contribute to modern music, and for its unquestionable talent and endless musical culture that makes this man a real living legend. From being part of YMO to his solo career, Ryuichi Sakamoto is also a film score composer whose works granted him a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music for Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and an Oscar for Best Original Score for the movie The Last Emperor, other than a Grammy and a Golden Globe. His solo career isn’t less successful, including historical albums like Thousand Knives and B-2 Unit.

Sakamoto’s talent and innovation comes from his vast vision of music as form of art and in the execution of it, and as an expert of several music influences and genres, he has been and still is an artist of primary importance in the music we hear today.


2. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

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Oh, the bizarre, colorful and unique Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

Produced by well known and talented producer Yasutaka Nakata, Kyary’s first song and global hit PON PON PON had a huge impact on the western part of the world: Thanks to its catchiness, the utterly bizarre music video and her cute but kinda weird look, this girl and her producer have been able to showcase to the world the craziest and most sincere side of the Harajuku culture made of crazy gadgets, colorful clothes, rainbows, skulls, brains, floating eyes, candy bars and many other things the world outside Japan didn’t even know existed. It’s a voluntarily exasperation of one of the most visually extreme sub-cultures of Japan, saw at the eyes of the western market as “weird Japan”, and it’s been a successful move.

While PON PON PON played the part of the temporary phenomenon, Kyary managed to bring her music and career forward with valid music and visually great concepts, factors that granted her constant consideration from international headlines and also great success, with several sold out World Tours proving that she’s way more than a temporary icon that’s going to disappear from one day to another.


1. BABYMETAL

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Funny, isn’t it? The youngest group of the list gets the first spot. And they fully deserve it.

These three little girls did something that’s probably way bigger than them: They broke through a difficult and “inhospitable” genre like Metal, brought a much needed breath of fresh air, introduced metalheads to Japanese idol music, and got even accepted by it: No other Japanese group in the past ever had such a global success and consideration inside a music niche. The secret of BABYMETAL’s success goes beyond the Gimme Choko!!! video: While this viral MV served as decoy, the huge amount of BABYMETAL’s fans around the world got hooked in by three factors, which are the passion and talent these three girls put on stage, Suzuka’s amazing singing, and the extremely skilled musicians playing live with them on stage. All of these factors have one thing in common, also the key behind this impressive global success: Talent.

If there’s one thing that every metal lovers around the world cares about when it comes to music, that’s talent: When you have that, you’ve conquered them, no matter if there are three little cuties from Japan or a brutal death metal singer in front of them. And with Suzuka’s impressive singing (for a 17 years old girl), Yui and Moa’s dance skills and viral excitement, and the Kami Band literally raising up hell on stage with high level performances, the stage and the audience are all for them. No matter how many stubborn metalheads will see them as heretics, until these little girls will tour and show their huge passion and talent to the world, real metal and music lovers will love them.


What are the artists you think deserve to be in this list? Be sure to leave a comment down here with your thoughts!

–  Alex

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Pika Pika Fantajin | ALBUM REVIEW

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It’s been an intense year for Harajuku icon and singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: After the release of her successful and critically acclaimed album Nandacollection, the most colorful J-pop ambassador went on board on a national hall tour, a World Tour hitting three continents, and three singles released, without counting live DVDs, Music Videos and all the songs featured in the endless series of commercials where she appeared, making our Fashion Monster one of the most popular characters in Japan, where you can pretty much see her everywhere if you’re visiting a city with more than 100 people. After all, it’s undeniable that this girl has a unique charisma and talent in looking bizarre yet extremely cool at the same time, and it’s safe to say the exact same thing when it comes to her musical career, where well known producer Yasutaka Nakata gives life to shiny and funny vibes in extremely catchy songs without leaving behind quality and good compositions, taking all the best this girls can offer and putting it in valuable productions. Will it be the same this time?

Kimi ni 50%

Pika Pika Fantajin starts well with a quiet intro followed by a march made of synths and chip tunes, and the Kyary vibe we’ve learned to love in the last years is already present at its fullest to introduce the first song of the album, Kira Kira Killer, a catchy and shiny song representing the average Kyary A-side that fits its role of opening well even though not standing out for anything in particular despite some nice musical ideas in the chorus part where the singing gets more emphasized and extended, something that became more usual in the recent productions for the Harajuku icon. The combination of these two pieces, while not perfect in terms of flow, works greatly and gives a legit boost to an album where an overload of energy is expected and necessary with such an eccentric and bizarre character. So a track like the lovelyYume no Hajima Rin Rin is at the right place here to calm down the waters and explore a softer and more mature side of the Pamyu sound, and as the sweet melody of a carillon makes its way through our ears a melancholic feeling rise from the piano and the sound of the acoustic guitar, emphasizing what really makes this song so special, which is the delicate yet solid and well developed layering of the instrumental that reaches its high peak in the pre verse chorus, where the melody from the electric guitar and the synth bring out all the melancholy of looking back at the old times and the people who made them special, sang by Kyary with no particular emphasis but still in a sufficient way to convey the right feeling; A great song and definitely one of the best pieces on the album, that didn’t lost its vibe at all in this slightly modified and safe album-mix. It’s clear to all of us though that mellow and melancholic feelings don’t last long in this girls’ world, and indeed Mottai Nightland kicks in with Kyary’s high pitched voice to welcome us back in the crazy fantasy concept of the album with the catchiest and musically richest track of the album: Everything in the verses just works perfectly, thanks to a finally more expressive singing and a musical background delivering the right atmosphere for a song talking about an imaginary land, while the chorus find its catchiness in Kyary’s singing with a good result even though not at the level of any A-side of the Nandacollection era; Still, this song brings up a vivid atmosphere with a wall of sound and a number of details that makes it impossible not to appreciate.

Now you’d better prepare your ears for a pretty brutal impact brought by the drums and electric guitar of Serious Hitomi to remind us how Yasutaka Nakata always has fun in experimenting different sounds with a versatile and unpredictable artist like Kyary, and this highly influenced rock track is the proof of it: While basing its main structure and sound to a solid base like the rock genre, Nakata has its fun on applying everything that makes Kyary a crazy act on it, such as funny and catchy singing, crazy electronic bridges and chiptune bits any time there’s space for it, with a genuinely cool result representing the typical good craziness of Kyary’s albums, breaking the “Fantajin” concept in favor of a more various and less tiring experience. The following track is the usual capsule cover which Nakata loves to propose in every Kyary album, and this time the choice went on a classic track from the Lounge Designer Killersalbum, do do pi do, a catchy, happy and thoughtless track that fits her style perfectly, in a version that offers a more brilliant and slightly detailed instrumental, leaving behind the old school capsule details and some vocal parts originally sang by Toshiko, and the result is very good: The track didn’t lose its original vibe, and Kyary’s voice, while not technically comparable to Toshiko’s, does a great job anyway in conveying the song’s mood, for one of the most well made capsule covers performed by the colorful singer

So far the album kept an overall pretty good level of quality and variousness, guaranteeing a funny experience and tracks that you’ll want to listen to again, but it’s right when the second half begins that problems come to surface: It literally seems everything has turned into a lazy and uninspired work, and the first song to prove is probably the weakest and less convincing A-side ever released for Kyary which is Family Party, where the main synth and melody aren’t enough to save a song that’s just shallow in every single part, from the uninspired verses, to the chorus that totally fails in being catchy (it’s plain boring) and the ridiculous bridge, for a song without identity that you’ll want to forget as soon as possible. Kyary’s personality comes back a bit in Ring a Bell, a track where the simplicity of the chorus and the experiment of making her sing in english are the main attractions, and while it may be attractive and funny at first, it doesn’t have enough deepness to guarantee a constant listen. The following Tokyo Highway is another missed opportunity: The intention of Nakata in creating a track summoning a fresh and liberating atmosphere as you were indeed driving through the famous highway is clear, but it totally falls in the execution: Everything is plain boring and way too repetitive, the structure isn’t coherent, and its five minutes length doesn’t help at all: With more variety and a consistence in the structure this track could have delivered a way more interesting experience, marking one of the biggest missed opportunities of this album. Koi Koi Koibrings up once again the fantasy concept with a cool sound and singing but falls in the boredom trap exactly like the following Sungoi Aura, that despite following the concept of the previous track and a detailed instrumental (that flute is just amazing) still doesn’t make it in the list of this album’s must listens, just like the closing track Explorer, which is so boring and inexpressive that it’s even hard to describe. It’s a real shame, because in these last six songs the intention of creating something interesting is clear, but everything turns into boredom and the result we get is a couple of interesting ideas in a sea of shallowness, mainly caused by an excessive repetitiveness in the structure and plain laziness. Too bad.


Verdict

Pika Pika Fantajin is an album brutally divided into two parts: The first one is the classic Pamyu sound we’ve learned to love, and despite not being the best showcase of it, it still delivers a funny and entertaining experience that everyone expects from the eccentric Harajuku icon, while the second part is simply boring, inexpressive and repetitive, and some good ideas here and there these aren’t enough to avoid the fall of this album. Repeating the amazing craziness of Nandacollection wasn’t easy at all, but it was legit to expect at least a consistent album with a certain flow. Sadly, despite having many good moments and high quality production, Pika Pika Fantajin is only half of a good album.

Vote: 6.8/10


Tracklist

01. Pika Pika Fantajin (intro)
02. Kira Kira Killer
03. Yume no Hajima Ring Ring –album mix-
04. Mottai Night Land
05. Serious Hitomi
06. do do pi do (capsule cover)
07. Family Party – album mix-
08. Ring a Bell
09. Tokyo Highway
10. Koi Koi Koi
11. Sungoi Aura –album mix-
12. Explorer

– Alex