Review: tricot – 3

Last month marked the release of 3, the aptly named third full-length album from tricot. The album was accompanied by a huge push from the band and their team at Bakuretsu Records, both abroad and at home. The domestic release features two versions: a deluxe art collaboration with artist Cho Hikaru and a minimalist CD with no lyrics booklet and simply the number “3” printed on a clear jewel case. The latter retailed for 1500 yen, putting it at about half the price of a typical major album in Japan, presumably hoping to reach the widest audience. They also partnered with Big Scary Monsters for a European release and Topshelf Records for an American release. Three music videos were made for this album, not including two previously released tracks (“Pork Ginger” and “Setsuyakuka”) which already had videos. “Tokyo Vampire Hotel” was also a tie-in as the theme song to a Sono Sion (director of Suicide Club) Amazon Prime drama of the same name. What’s more, the entire album is available for listening in full on YouTube. Their focus seemed to be to reach as many people as possible with this third album and they seem to have done that. 3 has gotten a ton of music press in the English-speaking world, with features on NPR and more, and in Japan it charted on Oricon at 20, the best since their debut full-length T H E, which hit 18. But how is the album?

20861149174583

  1. TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL
  2. WABI-SABI
  3. Yosoiki (よそいき)
  4. DeDeDe
  5. Sukima (スキマ)
  6. pork side
  7. Pork Ginger (ポークジンジャー)
  8. Echo (エコー)
  9. 18,19
  10. Namu (南無)
  11. MUNASAWAGI
  12. Setsuyakuka (節約家)
  13. Melon Soda (メロンソーダ)

3 Facts

  • For the first time since T H E, basically the entire album features only one drummer, Yoshida Yuusuke, who is also currently their main live drummer. The two exceptions are previously recorded tracks of “Setsuyakuka” (Abe Yuuma) and “Pork Ginger” (Wakiyama Kousuke, tabaccojuice drummer and contributor on A N D).
  • “Pork Ginger” was given away for free during Christmas 2015, but this is the first time since then it has been available for purchase.
  • Despite two songs having previous releases, “Wabi-Sabi” is the oldest song on the album and was written shortly after the release of T H E. It was never performed or recorded until now.
  • “Yosoiki” is the first track to feature (briefly) lead vocals from all three members.

From first to last, every track on 3 feels like an integral part of a bigger whole. There are no throw-away tracks. Every song feels like tricot, yet this is by far their most experimental album to date. Sukima is a staccato jazz swagger and Namu is a sugar-fueled pop nightmare. The whole album in general leans more to a pop sound than anything else so far and has few heavy-hitting rock tracks that were signature pieces in their earlier albums. Yet while the album has a great cohesive feel, two of the songs with the biggest impact are the two previously-released tracks, so it doesn’t quite feel right to credit them to this album. T H E, with “Pool,” “Omotenashi,” “Ochansensuusu,” “99.974C,” “Oyasumi,” and more, still feels the most impressive in terms of memorable individual songs. That said, 3 is a still great album. It has a lot in it for tricot fans, and may present a new angle for examination for tricot skeptics. I highly recommend a listen and think that this is a candidate for album of the year.

Standout Tracks

  • Yosoiki – Addictive groove in the verse
  • 18,19 – Powerful intro with excellent drumming
  • Namu – Perhaps a polarizing number, but the repeating lyrics of “namu,” a Buddhist mantra, in this hyper-pop song is mesmerizing

Review: yonige – Neyagawa City Pop

This is the third mini album from Osaka indie group yonige, a three piece band with just the guitarist and bassist as formal members. They play pretty straightforward Japanese indie pop rock, with driving beats, overdriven barre chords, and a tendency for repeating lyrical phrases. Previously they touted the singer Arisa’s biracialness in their tag line “Yonige from Neyagawa, Osaka, Japanese rock sung by a 20-year-old half-Australian Japanese girl” (still listed in the description of a music video from two years ago), but they have dropped everything but “Yonige, Japanese rock from Neyagawa, Osaka” on their current website bio. Their growth is quite visible of late, with appearance at bigger festivals like Muro Fest and on TV music programs as well. They’ve also recently had Komaki, formerly of tricot, playing drums for them.

71g5bc3ldcl-_sl1280_

  1. our time city
  2. Sayonara prisoner (さよならプリズナー)
  3. Kanashimi wa itsumo no naka (悲しみはいつもの中)
  4. Shiganai futari (しがないふたり)
  5. Saiai no koibitotachi (最愛の恋人たち)

The lead track off this album, “Sayonara Prisoner,” is another break up tune like their biggest hit up to this point, “Avocado.” This album is catchy as a whole, with particularly memorable verses, and although it sticks to one style doesn’t fall into the trap of being bland. Each track is just different enough from each other to be fresh and distinguishable. I think this is marginally their best CD to date, but at the same time there is nothing particularly new about what they’re doing here. If you’ve liked yonige up until now, you should definitely like this album too.  If you felt iffy about them before, nothing here is going to change your mind. If you haven’t heard of yonige, definitely give them a try! Judging by their current level of popularity, it wouldn’t be too surprising if they get picked up by a major record label for their next release.

Standout Tracks

  • our time city – there’s this break in the second prechorus that really does it for me
  • Sayonara prisoner – catchy verses

Review: Asian Kung-Fu Generation AKG Tribute (Various Artists)

In celebration of Asian Kung-Fu Generation’s 20th anniversary comes this tribute album. The artists appearing are mostly up-and-coming younger bands who most likely grew up listening to AKG. I’ve been listening to AKG for only 10 years myself. I don’t know exactly how the different bands were picked, but I do know that they were allowed to pick the song they wanted to cover, as Regal Lily’s vocalist Honoka talked about it briefly at a recent show. I also know that Regal Lily are big fans of AKG, covering Soranin at a concert a year earlier. The songs are unsurprisingly concentrated around their earlier albums, with five from Kimi Tsunagi FM and three from Solfa.

81tforl1myl-_sx425_

  1. yonige – Soranin (ソラニン)
  2. 04 Limited Sazabys – Mirai no hahen (未来の破片)
  3. Jin (じん) – Re:Re:
  4. amazarashi – Natsu no hi, zanzou (夏の日、残像)
  5. Creepy Nuts – Rewrite (リライト)
  6. Scenario Art (シナリオアート) – Maigoken to ame no beat (迷子犬と雨のビート)
  7. LILI LIMIT – Blackout (ブラックアウト)
  8. Yoru no honki dance (夜の本気ダンス) – N.G.S
  9. BLUE ENCOUNT – Understand (アンダースタンド)
  10. Regal Lily (リーガルリリー) – Mustang (ムスタング)
  11. never young beach – Kimi no machi made (君の街まで)
  12. the chef cooks me – Kakato de ai wo uchinarase (踵で愛を打ち鳴らせ)
  13. KANA-BOON – Kimi to iu hana (君という花)

As with most tribute albums, the songs range from straight covers with slightly different elements mixed in from the covering band’s signature sounds (for example, 04 Limited Sazabys has a double-time punk drum beat in their version of “Mirai no hahen” and Regal Lily has chorus effect on the guitar as they usually do for their cover of “Mustang”) to completely different arrangements, like the surf rock rendition of “Kimi no machi made” by never young beach. Creepy Nuts’s song was by far the worst cover. I just don’t think their rap and music style gels well with AKG, Japanese champions of alt rock. Overall, it is a fun and satisfying album that I’d recommend to any AKG fan, especially if it has a few bands on it you like already.

Best Covers: yonige, 04 Limited Sazabys, Scenario Art, BLUE ENCOUNT, Regal Lily, never young beach

 

Review: Suiyoubi no Campanella – Superman

Suiyoubi no Campanella (Wednesday Campanella seems to be their new go-to English name), or Suikan for short, is huge hit pop/hiphop/electronic group right now in Japan. They play all the major festivals, are on TV frequently, and have an upcoming oneman show at the renown Budokan, the judo arena built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and frequently used venue in the past for live recordings of Western artists visiting Japan such as Bob Dylan. However, when I first encountered Suikan, almost exactly three years ago, they were playing at the modest O-Nest venue in Shibuya to a crowd of about 20 people.

Although I had been a Japanese music fan for years, this was just around the time when I was starting to look beyond big name bands with TV show tie-ins and also start going to more concerts. I discovered an event called Freesia and Chocolate, where during the weeks surrounding Valentine’s Day, live music venues across Japan held shows with only female-vocal bands and artists. Over a weekend, I ended up on a YouTube binge looking at almost every performer playing at these various events. In this way, I discovered Yubisaki Nohaku, MAMADRIVE, Miketoroizu, and Suiyoubi no Campanella. I found the next show for each and checked them all out.

Suikan is a three person team. The singer and performer KOM_I (pronounced Komuai) is incredibly charismatic. Dir. F (Dir. for Director) is the manager. Kenmochi Hidefumi is the songwriter behind the scenes. Although I’d talked to both KOM_I and Dir. F at their shows (Dir. F always did the merch table), Kenmochi never came to the shows. He always just posted pictures of cup ramen to Twitter. I asked Dir. F what Kenmochi was like and he described him as a “cute, small man, like a fairy.” According to an interview, Dir. F and Kenmochi were looking for a singer for their group and Dir. F invited KOM_I after meeting her at a house party of a mutual friend. Of all of the indie groups I found, it was clear that Suikan were the mostly likely to make it big, and they gained popularity at a startling rate throughout 2014 and 2015, before finally making their major label debut on Warner in 2016.

Their music is unique, featuring electronic pop tunes with a kind of spoken-word-esque rap, often with singing for the chorus. The lyrics are frequently about movies and manga such as Mothra and Rambo, or famous historical and semi-historical figures like Marie Antoinette, Sen no Rikyuu, and Dracula. Their music videos have always been quirky, and now with real budgets are often ridiculous. Live performances have always been a strong point, with antics from KOM_I such as her recent gimmick getting into a giant inflatable ball and rolling around over the audience.

61qm31dbmzl

Track List

  1. Aladdin (アラジン)
  2. Sakamoto Ryoma (坂本龍馬)
  3. Ikkyuu-san (一休さん)
  4. Onyankopon (オニャンコポン)
  5. Genghis Khan (チンギス・ハン)
  6. Chaplin (チャップリン)
  7. Audrey (オードリー)
  8. King Kamehameha the Great (カメハメハ大王)
  9. Zeami (世阿弥)
  10. Ama-no-Uzume (アマノウズメ)

I must admit that I am quite out of my element when it comes to talking about electronic music. I don’t think I can accurately identify most of the subgenres, and so for this review I won’t be trying to. My overall opinion of Superman is that it is a much stronger, more coherent effort than their first major label release, UMA. That said, their previous albums like Zipangu and Cinema Jack still outshine their more recent efforts. While generally all lyrics and songs are written by Kenmochi, UMA featured multiple non-Japanese producers and even Kenmochi’s tracks fell far from the group’s typical sound. Superman marks a return to their previous form, with every song penned by Kenmochi, an obvious reason for the more cohesive sound. There’s also a touch more of the 80s in a number of the tracks than usual.
Standout Tracks

  • King Kamehamaha the Great – Very chill, interesting instrumentation
  • Zeami – Catchy chorus
  • Aladdin – The raps really stand out here and also the chanting in the bridge

Review: ayumi melody – Froh Flow

Ayumi melody is the frontwoman for indie rock/folk band A Month of Sundays and also of the short-lived all girls rock band Lily Rose, which broke up last year. Half-Japanese and half-British and bilingual in Japanese and English, she sings in a mixture of both languages with a strong, distinctive voice. This is her first solo album and it was released on the Hana to Pops label which specializes in independent, female musicians.

ayumi-froh

Track List

  1. Hitori no tsubu (ひかりのつぶ)
  2. Together
  3. Midori no sheets (みどりのシーツ)
  4. Shigatsu no tawagoto (四月のたわごと)
  5. Lychee (ライチ)

Each track on this album is beautiful and emotional, simply arranged on piano and acoustic guitar. The opening track is incredibly striking with a multi-tracked choral arrangement of ayumi’s vocals over piano. The lyrics on the CD conjure up sweet or bittersweet memories, with sounds that somehow evoke simpler days. Acoustic guitar and some backing vocals were provided by her bandsmates from A Month of Sunday.

The title of the CD, Froh Flow, comes from the German word froh meaning “glad” and the English word flow, so a “flow of happiness” or something similar. I don’t listen to acoustic music often, but this CD has been getting some good play time since I bought it. It’s incredibly relaxing.

Standout Tracks

  • Hitori no tsubu – A short, two-minute song that leaves a lasting impression
  • Shigatsu no tawagoto – The melody and lyrics of this song are both superb, and while I like the band arrangement a tad better, this acoustic version is lovely

Review: Zekkei Kujira – Jidori

Following their April release of the mini album Tadori (“picture taken by another”) comes today’s release of the sequel work, Jidori (“selfie”). Although today is the official release date, I picked this up yesterday in a practice called “flying get,” where CD stores put out new albums the day before release in the afternoon. It gives them an advantage over internet retailers like Amazon and fans who can make it to a Tower Records and sometimes HMV, Disc Union, and Village Vanguard can get a head start listening. And boy am I glad I got a running start.

%e7%b5%b6%e6%99%af%e3%82%af%e3%82%b8%e3%83%a9

Track List

  1. #selfie
  2. Saigo ni Ai wa Katsu (最後に愛は勝つ)
  3. Season II (シーズンII)
  4. Saishin Heiki (最新兵器)
  5. Demakase (デマカセ)

This album is fabulous. It’s a contender for best album of the year, with no throwaway tracks. Emotion drips off every lyric that frontwoman Natsuko Polaris belts out over the indie pop tracks. You can hear the influence of city pop and its dance beats as it mixes with their psychedelic tone and heavy hitting rock ‘n roll guitar with the fuzz turned way up. The choruses and instrumental leads are insidiously catchy, but they also don’t stray away from weird, especially when it comes to the keyboards (see the breakdown on Saishin Bukki with the reverse string setting or the intro to Season II with the synth voices).

Jidori is head and shoulders above their last mini. Although I enjoyed Tadori, the two strongest tracks, My Little Parallel Dreamers and papapa, were re-recordings from their demos, and two more of the five songs were relatively forgettable. Their newest effort is a lovingly crafted album of five single-worthy songs.

Standout Tracks

  • Saigo ni Ai wa Katsu – the frenetic spoken lyrics in the prechorus are only topped by the killer hook
  • Season II – addictive prechorus guitar riff

Review: Shinamayu – Henshin

Henshin is the third record put out by pop rock group Shinamayu. All the releases have been on the major record label For Life Music Entertainment, but it is one of the smaller major labels (“major label” in Japan means in one of the labels that belongs to the Recording Industry Association of Japan (日本レコード協会)) and their scale for concerts is very much in line with a popular indie band.

henshin-rgb

Track List

  1. Koi wo Shite Iru Me wo Shite Iru (恋をしている目をしている)
  2. not yet
  3. Sunday Fright (サタデーフライト)
  4. Dance Shakaijin (ダンス社会人)
  5. Bambi
  6. Kasa (傘)

As with their previous full-length album Maenarae, a few tracks are written by composers, with the majority of the song writing credits going to “Shinamayu” and arrangements by the band and an additional individual. On Henshin, tracks 1 and 2 are written by two different composers, and the rest of the tracks are by the band. Although I like the band as a whole, their songs are rather lacking in consistency. From Maenarae, I loved about three tracks and the rest spanned the spectrum of fine to bland. One of the things that helps draw me into the band is their energetic live presence. All three official members (the drummer is a support player, although it’s always the same drummer) have fun on stage. Takuma’s guitar abilities are really impressive and singer Mori Yui is incredibly charismatic. With their latest release, I can’t even honestly say there is a single track that I really like. All the rock has dropped out of their sound, and although I like pop, none of these songs stands out. I guess the catchiest is the lead track, Koi, but it pales in comparison to their best efforts from the last album. Overall, Henshin was a big disappointment and I hope they turn it around with their next release.

Standout Tracks

  • None [EDIT] With additional listens, Bambi has grown on me quite a bit