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

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

Five songs to listen to while walking in the Tokyo night

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As a huge lover of Tokyo and Japan since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by the variousness and unique environment of Japan’s capital: From the contrast between tradition and technology to the magic atmosphere surrounding the streets, this beautiful city is a place where anyone can find something to love whatever your passion is, and more than anyone, passion is something Japanese people care to cultivate and keep close in their lives. This means there are many ways to enjoy Tokyo, and while today Music is the main engine behind my passion towards this city and country, it is also the art form that keeps me closer to the city I had the luck to visit twice. Music is the most powerful art form there is, its sound can create images and visions in our minds, and when this power is combined with the magic and particular aspect of Tokyo, the result is unique and magical. When I wasn’t strolling around or attending concerts with my friends, I loved to walk alone by night in Shinjuku, because there’s nothing more hypnotizing than Tokyo by night, and during my neon-bathed long walks in one of the biggest districts of Tokyo I always had my headphones on, emphasizing what I was experiencing one second after another with Music.

And so, these are the five tracks I listened to the most while I was walking surrounded by lights, skyscrapers and thousands of people. When I listen to them today I can visualize and feel the magic of that place inside me, and I hope you’ll feel the same wether you’ve been to the Japanese capital or not. Pur your headphones on and enjoy these tunes.


5. Ayumi Hamasaki – Monochrome (Remo-con Classic Trance Remix)

Sadly, only the instrumental version is available online. Try to get the normal ver. though, it’s awesome!

Even though I appreciate some of her earlier works, I can’t really say I’m a fan of Ayu. Still, the Trance remixes of many of her songs are a total blast, and the fact that I’ve always had a soft spot for this atmospheric genre (even in my metalhead days) helps a lot, and the compilations composed by DJs and producers that gave a different perspective on Ayu’s tracks are absolutely worth listening if you’re a fan of the genre. And what other than Trance can represent the neon-lights, Blade Runner-like streets of the Tokyo night the best? This revisitation of Ayumi Hamasaki‘s classic Monochrome is atmospheric trance at its best and a track that summons lots of images in my mind, particularly of Odaiba and the ride on the Yurikamome Line to reach it through the stunning Rainbow Bridge. That hook halfway the track kills me everytime.

4. Sakanaction – Eureka

While Trance is a genre that suits the Tokyo night atmosphere perfectly, that doesn’t mean other genres can’t reach the same level of emotionality, and Sakanaction‘s beautiful Eureka is a great example. This track and its wonderful video (the band’s artistic peak in visuals) is itself a tribute to Tokyo, and it fits the atmosphere of the city in a more emotional and moving way, but not any less powerful. The hook at the end makes my cry a little bit every time: I see it as an hymn to this city, a declaration of love to its streets and majestic buildings and to all the people walking and giving life to it. The lovely Nippori and its little side streets full of shops are what comes to my mind the most when listening to this wonderful track.

3. Ayami Muto – Symphony N. 1 in B flat Major

This track from nostalgic Idol singer Ayami Muto is a masterpiece of synth-pop and one of my favorites of this year. Flawless composition with every single element at the right place, Symphony N.1 in B Flat Major‘s revolutionary and magic vibe makes this upbeat and exciting track a must when walking around in the Tokyo night, especially in the shining streets of Shibuya and Shinjuku. Pure excitement and energy, you need this pop masterpiece in your life.

2. Oomori Seiko – Midnight Seijun Isei Kouyuu

We all know this girl is as crazy as talented, and this track from her amazing second album Zettai Shoujo is the best showcase of her rebel yet lovely attitude. Midnight Seijun Isei Kouyuu is one of her best – if not the best – track of her vast musical portfolio: Its got a revolutionary vibe to it,  and the dreamy melodies and Seiko’s heartfelt interpretation make this piece one of the best things you could ever hear when walking around Tokyo, especially if you’re in a “I’m looking for a relationship” mood.

1. capsule – Never Let Me Go

This track is probably the least complex from a mere technical and annoying-music-journalist point of view, yet it’s the one that hits me right in the feels the most for a reason I can barely describe. It’s a song that summons images of Shinjuku’s Studio Alta, of Kabuki-cho, of water reflecting the neon lights, of a girl that will never come back. It’s probably due to a strong emotional bond that capsule’s Never Let Me Go is the track that almost brings me to tears and makes me feel the distance between me and Tokyo the most. It’s sad, but also good in a way, because it holds the power of memories that makes us go forward in life. Nakata’s fresh synths and the hypnotizing voice of Toshiko here represent the Tokyo night at its best to me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.


What do you think about these tracks? Do they make you travel with your mind to the shiny lights of Tokyo, or reminisce your time in Japan? Let me know down here in the comments!

– 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

Oomori Seiko – Sennou | ALBUM REVIEW

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Release Date: December 3rd
Formats: CD / CD + DVD
Number of Editions (3): Regular Edition (CD only) / Limited Edition type■ (CD + DVD) / Limited Edition type★ (CD + DVD)

While the Japanese Music Industry can surely claim a variousness other markets in the world can only dream of, it’s not a secret that the J-pop/Idol scene, while mostly represented by valid artists, is still full of acts that instead of creating something new or put some personality in their concepts and music just follow the stream of standardized compositions and concepts, something noticeable in the amount of groups easily avoidable during the (still pleasant) search for new artists that can give valid listening sessions to those looking for some new and valid personalities.

Personality is indeed the key word when it comes to artists like Oomori Seiko. After two successful years in the Indie scene where the Koenji-based girl released two albums and several EPs while rocking many underground clubs, she is now releasing her first major album under Avex Trax, and those who thought she might have calmed down a bit after her debut in the mainstream scene were extremely wrong: In Sennou (literally, Brainwashing) Seiko-chan is crazier than ever, and it’s all good as this album probably represents her feelings and personality at its fullest, enhanced now by the chance of exploring and fusing different influences more than before while still maintaining her musical and personal identity intact. Old-time fans of the previous, great albums better be aware: The Seiko we all know, the one recording songs with only her voice and an acoustic guitar, is still present here with tracks like Date wo Yameyouand Noroi ha Mizuiro, but in a drastically minor and less influent way. Instead, Seiko took the above formula and enriched it with an overload of influences that compose a more complex wall of sound, all for the sake of expressing feelings in an even more accurate way while delivering variety and uniqueness, something that can be found in songs like Kisumirumi and in the crazy midst of sounds that isYakiniku Date, with the acoustic guitar fusing with a classy piano and raw electric guitar riffs, for a unique composition that must be listened to fully understand and appreciate, and also a showcase of how this girl is and feels limitless artistically and musically.

Though, the real highlights of this album come in the tracks where Seiko-chan takes distance from her classic formula to show her personality in a different but still somehow familiar way. The first part of the album is the proof of this artistic growth, with songs like the opening Zettai Zetsubou Zekkouchou and Kyuru Kyuru, where pop-rock and punk-ish sonorities play the main role while being teased by electronic bits (a constant of this album) and improbable, thoughtless, but well placed melodies that perfectly flow into these fast catchy tracks where the restless but still adorable singing of Seiko-chan lead the way. This is what this girl can do best after all: Combining completely different influences and make them work together with incredible mastery, and also adapting to them individually like shown in Imitation Girl, an upbeat electronic piece with a catchy chorus as main attraction, resulting in one of the catchiest compositions of the album, or in Nostalgic J-pop, where Seiko musically explores her love for classic artists like Utada Hikaru and Sheena Ringo while giving voice to her calmer and more reflective side. And while her approach to music is explicit, Sennou still manages to be an unpredictable album: From Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza and her dreamy vibes brought by delicate singing and a classy piano to Kodoma ja nai Mon 17‘s Christmas-y feeling, and the absolute craziness of Watashi wa Omoshiroi Zettai Omoshiroi Tabun (that synthpop ending is just epic), you never know what to expect next from this album, but it’s always a great and pleasant new discover every time.

With Sennou, Oomori Seiko takes her countless musical inspirations and plays with them, facing them individually and exploring them to the bottom to then smash them together to make her craziest and most sincere side of her personality come out rawly, something that would normally produce confusing results but instead comes out as pure genial and absolutely legit compositions: Simply amazing.


Verdict

Other than being the most appropriated title for this album, Brainwashing is a word that gains an extremely funny and beautiful meaning in Seiko-chan’s new album; If you’re bored by the “usual” groups invading the mainstream scene of the Japanese Music scene or you’re simply looking for something valuable, different and plain funny, Sennou is the album that will cure your hunger for innovative music.

Oomori Seiko delivers a record that’s various, deep, crazy, and extremely brave, and it succeeds in its main goal of being unpredictable while still bringing meaningful concepts and raw, sincere feelings represented by a limitless and open minded conception of music. The world needs more artists like this girl.

Vote: 8.5 / 10


Tracklist

[CD]

01. Zettai Zetsubou Zekkouchou
02. Imitation Girl
03. Kyuru Kyuru
04. Nostalgic J-pop
05. Nana-chan no Saisei Kouza
06. Kodoma Ja Nai Mon 17
07. Noroi ha Mizuiro
08. Rock ‘n’ Roll Paradise
09. Watashi wa Omoshiroi Zettai Omoshiroi Tabun
10. Kisumikirumi
11. Yakiniku Date
12. Date wa Yameyou
13. Omake ~Super free pop~

[DVD – Limited Edition type ★]

01. Zetsubou Zekkouchou(Video Clip)
02. Nostalgic J-POP(Video Clip)
03. Oomori Seiko’s Major Debut Documentary – 60 minutes of video footage

[DVD – Limited Edition type ■ ]

01. Oomori Seiko live @ TOKYO KINEMA CLUB – 60 minutes of live footage

 – Alex