New Discoveries: akai SKY

akaisky

Remember last month I said that I was going to start a brand new segment on this blog? I am able to start that now due to a hectic schedule I have. I might just make this segment into a bi-weekly or monthly segment because I am just so behind on other stuff.

Let me introduce the first artist for New Discoveries: akai SKY. A Jrock-style band from the United States that has been around for ten years. They started to perform covers of Japanese rock songs and anime themes until one day, they wanted to start producing their own music. According to the bassist Umi, the band “combine(s) Japanese and English lyrics to create a new and unique sound”.

Here is a short bio about the band that I received from Umi:

Ten years ago, we were a bunch of kids who formed a band to play covers of our favorite Japanese Rock and anime theme songs. We quickly discovered that playing covers just wasn’t enough and strived to create something entirely new. Influenced by a wide breadth of musical styles and genres, we combine Japanese and English lyrics to create unique music that bridges the gap between American and Japanese music while representing the Rock music we fell in love with so many years ago.

They released their first album entitled “Tokyo Beat Riot” in 2010. They become internationally recognized when they contributed to the L’arc-en-Ciel tribute album “Vivid Covers”. Now, five years after their debut album,  akai SKY is back with their third album “Chasing Lights” on August 23rd.

One song off the album is “Marionette”:

The song starts off somewhat softly with a strong bass line supporting the drums and the calm vocals. Then, the intensity grows throughout the first verse and pre-chorus. This is because this song is described as a “dramatic waltzy rock song”, according to Umi. That is why one of the best parts of the song is at the chorus when the guitar and vocals parts are blaring with lots of emotions. The guitar part eerily reminds me of Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” as they have the same loud and rigid tone. These tones and emotions help to bring out the song theme of “never having someone control your life” very well.

My favorite song from akai SKY has to be “Break Down”, a song from their 2013 EP “Heart, Attack!”. I think the reason why I like it so much because its high energy. I always had a soft spot for pop-ish rock songs like this one. I looooooooove it’s sound, from the guitar to the vocals to just about everything else. It’s a great contrast to “Marionette”‘s deep and melancholy character.

The song is also unique because I don’t really hear this kind of song in today’s Japanese rock scene. A lot of today’s popular rock groups are acoustic bands or infuses electronica into the rock sound. However, “Break Down” is totally different from the modern J-rock scene as it’s so fresh and upbeat. It makes you crave more of that pop-rock sound in a J-rock setting.

akai SKY’s discography is a tasteful opus, featuring several different musical genres that can appease the listeners’ diverse taste buds. Their songs have strongly shown the band’s main focus to listeners; providing an original sound that is unique and one kind.

You can find more information about their new album or the band here at their official site.

By the way, the band will have a special masquerade themed live performance in San Francisco to celebrate our 10th Anniversary and EP release on Aug. 23rd. They will also have an upcoming show in Dallas, TX at AnimeFest.

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“Dance trance all in a globe”: A Celebration of a Timeless Trio

globe-1998

One of the first Japanese pop groups I ever discovered was globe. A trio that included a legendary producer, a virtual unknown, and a up-and-coming rapper and VJ. This year marks their twentieth anniversary since their debut single. Since their debut, globe has changed the Japanese pop music scene in their own way.

After TM Network performed their final live concert TMN 4001 DAYS GROOVE in the spring of 1994, keyboardist Komuro Tetsuya decided to form a three-piece band with MTV VJ and DJ Marc Panther. Komuro was one of the hottest producers in the Japanese music scene by that time. Along with being a member of the mega-popular band TM Network, he was also producing hits after hits with artists like Mizuki Arisa, TRF, Watanabe Misato, and others. His most famous single, “Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokoro Tsuyosa to”, a collaboration with ex-Tokyo Performance Doll member Shinohara Ryoko, was released in the summer of 1994 and sold over two million copies. With all this prestige, Komuro was looking to create another super group.

But, what should it be? With whom?

The first member, which was mentioned above, was Marc Panther. He was going to be the rapper of the group while Komuro was going to be the producer, keyboardist, composer, and backing vocals. Komuro choose the band’s genre as eurodance. Which made Marc’s role easier to understand because a lot of dance music from the West incorporated rapping into their high-energy music. Nevertheless, all they needed was a lead vocalist, which Komuro would find in one his many talent auditions. He picked a then-unknown young adult from southern Japan named Yamada Keiko.

The group made their debut on August 9th, 1995 with the song “Feel Like dance”. At first, keiko’s face was obscured during TV and public appearances as the company thought it would be a neat idea to have a “ZARD-like”, mysterious member. The first single’s music video was actually all done in CGI. (Which would have another version later on with the member’s faces.) It wasn’t until the second single, “Joy to the love”, when we first saw the members.[1]

1996 proved to be a monumental year for the group. They released the wintry break-up song, “DEPARTURES”, in January with huge success. The single was the band’s first number single to chart on the Oricon charts and it sold over two million copies. Their self-debut album was more impressive as it sold over four million copies.

By the end of the decade, globe proven to be one of the top artists in Japan with all their singles charting in the top 10, many reaching the number one position. However, the group changed during the new millennium as they steered away from eurodance and got their hands dirty by experimenting with house and trance. One the best examples to describe globe’s trance sound is the 2002 album “Lights2”, especially with the instrumental piece “TRANSCONTINENTAL WAY”.

keiko and Komuro got married following the release of “Lights2”. Also, the group’s activities slow down tremendously by 2005 as keiko started her solo career, Marc was sort of continuing his, and Komuro was heavily involved with the restart of his old band TM Network.

However, the group has also been facing setbacks since mid-2000s. One of these setbacks happened in 2008 when Komuro was arrested and sentenced for fraud. The group was supposed to released their thirty-first single, a cover of TM Network’s signature song “GET WILD”, on November 26. However, it was shelved and later placed on a best album due Komuro’s arrest.

Another setback happened in 2011 when keiko was rushed to hospital after collapsing at home. It was later discovered that she suffered from subarachnoid haemorrhage and went to rehabilitation, which she is still primarily focusing on at the moment. Two years after the tragic incident,  Marc and Komuro decided to continue the group without keiko by releasing a series of remix albums; “globe EDM Sessions” (2013), “GDM” (2014), and “Remode 1” (2015). These new albums had past favorites updated as EDM-styled songs, which I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet. Although, I have seen Marc and Komuro recently doing nightclub tours to promote “Remode 1” and their 20th anniversary. It looks like the lives were a great success judging by the pictures and messages.

i first got into globe when I was a junior high school student. Back in the early 2000s, avex trax had three main music video channels that were streamed over the net for free. I would always spend my free time watching these channels as I was just beginning to get into Jpop. The first globe song that I listened to was their 2002 trance-flavored “OVER THE RAINBOW”. What made me like the song was the mystical but yet mysterious synthesizers and keiko’s pure vocals.  However, I would become more in love with its b-side, “INSPIRED FROM RED & BLUE”, as it so emotional and powerful.

I think the emotional side of globe’s songs made me like them when I was younger. Even though I didn’t know a lot of Japanese back then, I would understand the emotional side of each song due to how keiko used her vocals. I could feel such emotions like sadness in “DEPARTURES”, frustration in “Wanna be a dreammaker”, and longing in “Wanderin’ Destiny” thanks to keiko’s efforts. And due to that, these songs helped me during the most difficult times of my life.

keiko’s techniques would also inspire me when I started voice lessons. keiko will always be one my biggest inspirations for singing because I really admire her ability to hit high notes, her marvellous tone, and the ability to put a lot of emotions in her singing. So, in honor of globe’s twentieth anniversary, I sang globe’s debut song. Now, I am no keiko, as you can recognize while listening. But, I had lots of fun singing and also rapping.

Please listen to my cover here: 

Here is the original:

“Feel like dance” isn’t my favorite globe song. I don’t think it’s even in my top five list….

…However, here is my top five list for globe songs:

5. SWEET PAIN (1995)

4. FREEDOM (1996) / Love again (1998)

3. Music Takes Me Higher (from the album “globe”; 1996)

2. INSPIRED BY RED & BLUE (2002)

1. Wanderin’ Destiny (1997; which was the theme song for the drama “Aoi Tori”, starring one of my favorite actors Toyokawa Etsushi.)


References

[1] “Globe.” Globe – Wikipedia. 24 June 2004. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.  (https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globe)

Refreshed and Rejuvenated, Wonder Girls are back with “REBOOT”

wondergirls-dontwannaplay

“JYP and the Wonder Girls, we’re back”

— “I Feel For You”

The Wonder Girls are back! Did you miss them? Or have you forgotten about them?

I can admit that I have forgotten them a little bit because “REBOOT” is their first album in three years. I can’t completely blame them for the long time between releases. One reason is because how funky Korean record labels release albums, especially for idols. I still can’t wrap my head around the concept of a “comeback”. How can SHINee have a “comeback” this year when they released an album last year? They didn’t take a hiatus like the Wonder Girls did.

Also, the lineup was shaken up with the group losing two members and gaining one. First, it was Sohee and leaving in order to focus more on an acting career. Then it was Sunye after she got married and gave birth a daughter. However, Sunmi, from the original lineup, came back  The now-four member group had a dilemma; when can we release our new album?

The answer came last week when “REBOOT” was released all over South Korea. An ode to ’80s synthpop, the album features the girls as a band with each member playing an instrument. It was later revealed in an interview that the instruments were just for the visual concept for the album, the girls really couldn’t play them.[1]  However, the girls did contribute to album by writing lyrics and others things, according to the CD booklet.[2]

I think that “REBOOT” is an enjoyable album once you get over the initial shock of the “old skool” throwback. Despite “I Feel You” being the lead-in single, I am not really fond of it. I like the first track, “Baby Don’t Play”, instead. What hooks me to the song is the deep bass guitar featured during the verses and the synthesizers. The sharp keyboard riffs during the interludes reminds me of Jane Child’s techniques in “Don’t Wanna Fall in Love“. Also, the loop-y loop, upward progressive of a complete scale in the beginning, just before the first verse, reminds me of something from a Janet Jackson or a R&B song in the 80s.

Runners up would be “Back” and “OPPA”. “Back” sounds like a 90s’ American R&B/hip-hop girl group-type of song, like the stuff found on TLC’s first album. The song is so hardcore with Yubin and Lim show off their amazing rapping talents. Meanwhile, “OPPA” sounds like a variation of a song from the “Love Shack” era of The B-52’s. But, each song on this album is astounding and it’s hard to say if there is even an awful song.

“REBOOT” makes me excited for The Wonder Girls’ comeback! The album is well-crafted and features a diverse range of songs that features the diverse talents of each member. Even though I was shocked at first, I really like the throwbacks to the 80s and 90s in each song. Now, it’s time to break out my 2009 “I Wanna Nobody But You” Wonder Girls t-shirt and dance to the album.

You can listen to the album too! You can listen at this link on Youtube.


[1] “Wonder Girls Didn’t Play Any Instruments On Comeback LP ‘Reboot’ Despite Returning As A “Real Band” | Idolator.” Music News, Reviews, and Gossip on Idolator.com. 4 Aug. 2015. Web. 12 Aug. 2015. http://www.idolator.com/7603196/wonder-girls-didnt-play-instruments-reboot

[2] “JYP – Timeline Photos | Facebook.” JYP – Timeline Photos | Facebook. 29 July 2015. Web. 12 Aug. 2015. https://www.facebook.com/jypnation/photos/a.179006305488269.61033.147775825277984/875039219218304/?type=1&theater

Reporting Live: Charlotte Kate Fox’s Major Debut Single Promo Event at Aeon Mall Aratamabashi (May 9, 2015)

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As I jolted down future events in my schedule book, I took a look at past events and realized that I forgot to cover one important event. This event was the promotion event for the newest NHK Asadora (translated as “morning drama”) heroine, Charlotte Kate Fox, and her debut single “Gondola no Uta”.

If you haven’t watched the NHK morning drama “Massan”, you probably haven’t heard of Charlotte Kate Fox. Let me give a quick rundown! Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the then-soon to be breakout star started as an actress when she was a teenager. She appeared in various small films and local theater productions until she landed the lead role, Ellie, in the Autumn 2014 drama Masan, a story about a young Scottish woman facing challenges and new adventures as she helps her Japanese husband establish a Whiskey company in 20th Century Japan. There is a wonderful interview on the website backstage about how she prepared for the role and got over her fears about it.

Charlotte Kate Fox quickly gained favorable reviews and popularity as “Masan” aired every morning. One of the fan favorite moments was when Ellie would sing the traditional Scottish folk song “Aung Lang Syne”. She was soon invited to perform at various music festivals and shows across Japan, even getting an invitation to appear on the prestigious end-of-the-year program “Kouhaku Utagassen”.

The actress made her major singing debut with the single “Gondola no Uta” in the spring of 2015. A soothing cover of a early 20th century Japanese folk song, “Gondola no Uta” is perfect for Fox. The actress-turned-singer has a beautiful range that is haunting, mystical, and marvelous. The best part is when Fox sings in the lower ranges as her tone is very warm and rich. Plus, the music video is pretty amazing with an interesting (and a teeny bit shocking) storyline.

To promote the single’s release, Charlotte Kate Fox embarked on a handshake tour all around Japan’s malls. She stopped at a mall near me in Aratamabashi, a name that is a mouthful! She only did handshakes and a quick chat this time, no mini-live before the handshakes which was a bummer because I would have enjoyed a mini-live by her. Oh well, she is going to have a concert tour this fall, maybe I will have a chance to see her if she comes to Nagoya.

After I finished my Saturday part-time job on that day, I rushed towards the mall first by bike and then by train. I was lucky as I barely made it to the three o’clock start time. i quickly bought a CD and then rushed to the handshake line. I probably had to wait about thirty minutes or so to shake her hands because there was a massive crowd. The crowd was full of people of different ages; college-students, kids, families, the elderly, and workers. Most were probably fans of Masan but supported her nevertheless.

As the line moved up, I pondered on what I should say to her. Should I speak in Japanese, a language that we both were accustomed to, or good old English? I chose the later because I wanted to stand out and be different then the other fans that were waiting in line. So, when I approached her, I said something like “I hope you enjoy New York City. Please enjoy New York pizza and cheesecake (because I miss it soooo much). Good luck!”, Her reaction was priceless! She was confused a bit when I said my message because everyone else was speaking in Japanese to her. Here comes this American girl speaking English, how confusing! Don’t worry, I feel that way sometimes too (when interchanging Japanese and English in a conversation)! After sporting the confused look, she quickly laughed it off and we joked about it as I had to say goodbye to her.

If you ever have a chance to meet Charlotte Kate Fox, you should most definitely pursue it because she is a complete doll and so sweet. And her music isn’t bad either, if you are into folk songs. If you don’t like folk songs, maybe you should her a chance and check out the video above. Or buy her new album, which comes out on August 18. 😀

The Underground Solution’s “Luv Dancin'”

The Underground Solution-Luv Dancin

Hey, Happy August! I hope you are enjoying the month so far even though it’s super hot. I been enjoying it with a week-long vacation. I been super-lucky and was able to catch up on sleep and cleaning.

Today’s blog entry is bought to you by my eccentric music collection. Doesn’t everyone has an unusual piece in their collection? Something that is odd but wonderful at the same time. What is odder, this piece was just a random find that you haven’t seen//heard of before but just picked it up because you want to try to understand it?

That is what today’s song is all about!

There isn’t a lot of information out there about The Underground Solution. The only thing I can find is that it was an alias for then-newcomer Rodger Sanchez, who is now an award-winning DJ. Many fans label “Luv Dancin'” as his debut single even though his official site says differently. Whatever the case maybe, “Luv Dancin'” was done by someone and was one of the first releases on the dance record label Strictly Rhythm. According to dmp on the international music catalog site Discogs, this dance bear features samples of three songs:  “Exodus – Together Forever” (1982), “Carl Bean – I Was Born This Way” (1977), and “Loose Joints – Is It All Over My Face”.

“Luv Dancin'” is one of those perfect club songs as it has two distinct personalities. It carries a day side where it’s a bouncy tune with a down beat detailed by deep bass synthesizers and quick, clamorous vocals. But, it also has a night side where the airy electronic keyboards and a flute-like instrument helps to create an ambient, cool atmosphere.

Speaking of instruments, I am very surprise how “modern” this song sounds. My image of dance songs in 1990 is Madonna’s “Vogue” or some eurodance stuff that features sounds only heard in the early 90s. But,  “Luv Dancin'” is different as Rodger Sanchez works the samples in a way that wouldn’t have the listeners try to pinpoint a certain decade for the song. It sounds so fresh that you could play it in today’s club scene and some people might even think it was made in 2015.

When I randomly picked up this single from a second-hand store, I had no clue who produced it or what did it sound like. However, I knew that I wanted to give the record a chance. And by giving it that chance, I was able to enjoy the song with its soothing summer night atmosphere.

Maybe it will be your summer dance jam for 2015 too?