Best Japanese Music Videos of 2016

Polkadot Stingray – Telecaster Stripe

This is the perfect indie video. It’s not fancy but it’s super clean. And the most impressive thing is that band leader Shizuku (vocals/guitar/songwriting) directed and edited the whole thing.

COMezik – Imagination

Simple, powerful, beautiful, and featuring bass/vocal Lin’s amazing art.

Yabai T-Shirts-ya-san – Party People

This video is hilarious from one little (big?) gag. You can watch or read here for my post about it.

Okazaki Taiiku – Music Video

Music Video is a hilarious music video where Okazaki Taiiku sings about cliches for Japanese music videos while doing them in the music video. Music video. You get the most out of it if you understand Japanese, but the beginning segment goes something like:

Walking and singing while facing the camera
Suddenly the band members come in from the sides
Then suddenly cover the camera with your hand
And it cuts to a different location

FLiP – Rainbow

This FLiP video makes the list simply because this is their last song and it so well fits the song and the hopeful, uplifting tone they aimed to set their final show before their hiatus.

Review: tricot – KABUKU EP

Although tricot released a single online (Pork Ginger) during the winter, this is their first physical release in over a year. Not only that, but it’s a return to the mini album format that most bands abandon after they start making full length CDs.

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Track List

  1. Nichijo_Seikatsu
  2. Setsuyakuka (節約家)
  3. Aaa (あーあ)
  4. Plastic (プラスチック)
  5. Aoi Kuse (青い癖)

As with their previous release, A N D, KABUKU EP features multiple drummers. The first track doesn’t actually have a drum track, but instead features an a cappella intro with multi-tracked vocals providing singing and percussion. The guitars come in later in the track. This song is a little bit experimental but also a pretty clear message: tricot may not have a permanent drummer but they are not an incomplete band.

Most of the other tracks’ drumming is provided by fairly unknown indie drummers. Setsuyakuka is Abe Yuma of the band Norm (濃霧), Aaa is Kitagawa Akiyuki, who has various projects including Hello Micro Computer, and Aoi Kuse is Yoshida Yusuke, who recently drummed for tricot at two concerts. Plastic is drummed by Yuumi of FLiP, one of my favorite major label bands, which recently went on an indefinite hiatus. Abe’s drumming really fits tricot to a tee. Kigatawa starts out his track with an interesting rimshot-based drum line. Yuumi’s track is the most technically challenging, with some insane rhythms and tempo changes.

Overall, this five-track album is ambitious and a positive direction for the band. Although there were numerous elements adding freshness to A N D, such as the influence of the various drummers and a salsa number like Niwa, overall it felt like another chapter from the same book at T H E, with the tracks that didn’t stand out right away blending into the mix. Every song on KABUKU EP feels a little bit new, a little bit different, yet they don’t stray too far from tricot’s core sound. The structure of the songs is exciting and Ikkyu’s singing, especially on Setsuyakuka, really takes it to the next level.

Standout Tracks

  • Setsuyakuka – Ikkyu’s vocal change ups really make this, particularly the soulful section in the bridge
  • Aaa – The chorus of this is just too catchy

 

My First Japanese Concert

The summer of 2012, I took spent two and a half months living in Yokohama, attending a Japanese language school to help improve my graduate studies. Although it was only three years ago, my knowledge of the music scene in Japan was completely lacking when compared to now. Whatever musical inclinations I held were mostly gleaned from anime theme songs and suggestions from friends. Armed with a short list of bands, I found a miraculously fitting show that just happened to be going on during my summer trip. The line up consisted of four bands: Stereopony (my then-favorite Japanese group), SCANDAL, FLiP, and 7!! (for some reason read “Seven Oops”) .

I recruited a new friend and classmate to come to the show with me, and on a blisteringly hot July day, the two of us headed to Shibuya AX, an all-standing live music venue that could hold an audience of 1,500 people. Having absolutely no expectations, we ended up seeing an amazing concert with such an unusual format that I have not seen it replicated to this day, even with over 200 concerts under my belt. All four of the band’s equipment — amps, drum kits, and all — were lined up on the stage. The lights lit up, revealing the left half of the stage, where one band stood ready. They instantly launched into a number, and no sooner had they finished than the lights of the left went dark and the right side was illuminated to reveal a second band. This continued twice more until each band had played a single song, with virtually no pause in between. SCANDAL, the band who organized the show, then gave a short introduction, which was followed again by non-stop music. Each band would play 1-3 songs at a time and the action would immediately switch to the next band, ready to give it another go. With an almost complete lack of chit-chat or transitions, the 19-song show was over in the blink an eye. SCANDAL and Stereopony took the stage together as “Scandalpony” for the encore, playing SCANDAL’s hit single Doll.

Large Japanese shows are remarkable for the crowd cohesion, with any number of set spots to jump, chant, or wave your arm. Caught in a sea of hundreds of people all pumping their arm in unison to the chorus of a song, it’s hard to resist the urge to join in. There’s so much of this arm movement that I gave it a rest partway through, my shoulder having grown sore. No sooner had I put down my arm than had a concerned fan tapped me on the shoulder and gestured to encourage me to resume participation in this almost fanatic arm-motion. It was both endearing and a little unnerving, but to be honest that has never happened to me again during a show.

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Image from EMTG Music

Set List

  1. Fall in Love (フォーリン・ラブ) – 7!!
  2. Kazaana (カザーナ) – FLiP
  3. Shunkan Sentimental (瞬間センチメンタル) – SCANDAL
  4. stand by me – Stereopony
  5. Lovers (ラヴァーズ) – 7!!
  6. Ookami (狼) – Stereopony
  7. Bibara Bibara (ビバラ・ビバラ) – Stereopony
  8. LOVE SURVIVE – SCANDAL
  9. CHERRY BOMB – FLiP
  10. Shut Up, Men! – FLiP
  11. Kaa to nyago (カートニアゴ) – FLiP
  12. Ai no kotoba (愛の言葉) – 7!!
  13. Taiyou Scandalous (太陽スキャンダラス) – SCANDAL
  14. HARUKAZE – SCANDAL
  15. Wonderland (ワンダーランド) – FLiP
  16. Sweet Drive (スウィート・ドライヴ) – 7!!
  17. Bye-bye (バイバイ) – 7!!
  18. Hitohira no hanabira (ヒトヒラのハナビラ) – Stereopony
  19. Doll – Scandalpony

That show would be the one and only time I saw Stereopony before their untimely breakup in the winter of 2012. However, that show also introduced me to FLiP, a band which would eventually grow to be one of my favorites. Sadly, Shibuya AX was eventually torn down in 2014 due to the landowners refusing to renew the lease for the venue. I attended its final show in the spring of that year with the Pillows headlining.

That concert was the first step into the wide, vibrant Japanese concert scene.