The Music That Made 2015

When thinking of what to write about 2015, I kept on hitting a roadblock.

What was so special about 2015 in terms of music? 

At least in Japan, many of 2015 hits were recycled tunes that were heard before. EXILE and Sandaime Brothers, AKB48’s “Halloween Night”, King of Cream Soda creating different versions of that hit Yokai Watch song, and countless idol groups debuting as they copied already popular artists’ sounds for a chance of fame. It seemed like these artists want to hold on to that fame by regurgitating that popular tune than exploring new avenues.

Even in Korea, the same type of music is continued to be released. Although, it was a bit invigorating to hear that some artists released material with a different flavor of pop. For example, WONDER GIRLS with their throwback to 80s’ synthpop and BoA experimenting with current electropop.

“REBOOT” is my favorite Kpop album of 2015 while Girls’ Generation’s “Party” is my favorite song. You are probably thinking why do I like this generic summer pop song? It may be generic but it’s so fun, screams “girl power”, and makes me want to party straight away. The video is super cute and fun, making me wish I was escaping to a tropical beach.

America is a bit different though. Taylor Swift, Adele, and Sam Smith all dominant the music charts and award programs on their own accords. Although I don’t like “1989” that much (because I think she is selling herself to commercialism and straying from her “true” self), Taylor Swift turned heads when she released an album that was groundbreaking and refreshing.

But, the biggest accomplishment of 2015, in terms of Western music, is Adele’s “Hello”. Now, I don’t really know what is the big deal about this song as it is not really popular in Japan. However, after listening to the song for the first time tonight, I can see how it has touched many. Adele crafted the song very well to attune to everyone’s feelings with it’s melody, lyrics, and pace.

Even though 20 wasn’t popular in Japan, the concept of “self-producing artists” was. One of these artists was Gen Hoshino, who has been slowly but surely noticed by mainstream listeners. His music reminds me a lot of John Legend and Macy Gray. With his whispy, soulful voice, upbeat pop instrumentation, and charisma charm, who can’t resist him and his songs like “SUN”?

Hopefully he can dip a little more into neo-soul and funk in 2016?

Another trend that crept up in popularity here in Japan is the “band boom”? Bands like Gesu no Kiyomi Otome, KANA-BOON, Sekai no Owari, ONE OK ROCK, and others have abandoned the traditional Japanese rock sound in favored of a diverse one that is constructed by range of instrumentations, technology, techniques, and genres. Gesu no Kiwami Otome.’s latest song “Otonatic” is an example of this.

…and Sekai no Owari’s “Anti Hero”.

It kind of reminds me of the New Wave boom in the 80s but tamer. In the 80s, new wave music was a buzz as that genre too used less guitars and more electronic devices. A great example of this was The Police, who started off in the late 70s with punk rock and ended on a jazzed up, spiritual “new wave” sound.

The same goes with the current “band boom” in Japan. Although, what makes the “band boom” different is how they present themselves and their music; clean, well-kept, crisp, and simple. Ryotaro Aoki pointed out in a recent article on The Japan Times is that the bands today are getting rid of those blazing guitars that made songs in 90s and 2000s chaotic and using more instruments to present a clean yet simple song. These songs also have lyrics that contain more personal messages in order to garner attention from the younger generations.[1]

As we head into 2016, it is unsure if the band boom in Japan will continue to rise or even fall in popularity.  And, if it will influence other acts including idols (please, let Sayaka Yamamoto write at least one NMB48 song) and EDM acts.

Time will only tell.


 

References

[1] Aoki, Ryotaro. “Gesu Tapped into the 2015 ‘band Boom’ | The Japan Times.” Japan Times RSS. 6 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2015/12/06/music/gesu-tapped-2015-band-boom/#.VpOO2xV97cf)

[2] “Gesu No Kiwami Otome. and the Band Boom of 2015 | Japanese Entertainment News.” ARAMA JAPAN Gesu No Kiwami Otome and the Band Boom of 2015 Comments. 1 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9V5aByfeCM)

You Are Invited To Come Inside the House of the band Tulip

tulip-welcometomyhouse

(Written between June 7th and 21st)

Today, we are going to travel back to the 1970s where peace flourished in most parts of the world, scandals happened, and musical tastes became more diverse. Rock music evolved and changed as new sub-genres were founded such as hard rock, progressive rock, and glam rock. Hip-hop became a new trend primarily in the Black American community thanks to many artists like Grandmaster Funk. Disco, a new type of dance music, flourished in the night clubs, made new terms like “boogey down” popular, and set fashion trends with the afro, bell-bottom pants, and platform shoes.

Even though the 70s pioneered many new musical trends, it still kept a few memories of the 60s alive. Some of these memories were prog(ressive) rock, pop rock, and art rock. By the start of a new decade, bands like ELO, Yes, Genesis, and others experimented with new forms of rock with success. Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” album with art rock, Yes’ “Roundabout” with prog rock, and ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” with pop rock all had influenced the music world by unique instrumentation and brand new musical concepts. Soon after, the whole world caught on to this diverse rock sound craze and tried to emulate it for their own musical scenes.

Tulip was a Japanese band who wanted to try these new rock sounds out. Based in southern Japan (Kyushu), Yoshida Akira, Soda Shinji, and Suehiro Nobuyuki came together in 1971 while studying at Seinan Gakuin University. The band played at various lives around campus, trying to emulate the Beatles’ sound with their first song “Hashiradokei ga 10jihan”.[1] The band decided to head to Tokyo and try getting a record deal soon after. However, Soda Shinji and Suehiro Nobuyuki decided they didn’t want to leave Fukuoka and quit. That led the band to recruit Zaitsu Kazuo for vocals, keyboard and guitar, Himeno Tatsuya for vocals, guitar, and keyboard,  Abe Toshiyuki for guitar, and Ueda Masatoshi for drums.

Tulip signed a deal with an indies label when they got to Tokyo and released two singles, “Hashiradokei ga 10jihan” and “Watashi no Chiisa na Jinsei”. On September 20, 1972, they made their major debut with the single “Mahou no Kiiroi Kutsu” on the label Shinko Music. For the next seventeen years, the band would have numerous hit songs like “Kokoro no Tabi”, “Saboten no Hana”, and “Niji to Sneaker to Koro”. The band also had many lineup changes as most of the members, except for Zaitsu, left the band during the 80s and were replaced by new members Miyagi Shinichiro, Ito Kaoru, Tanno Yoshiaki, and Takahashi Hiro.

The band sadly broke up in 1989 after they released the album “Well”. Most of the band members went onto do other activities with the lead singer Zaitsu Kazuo continuing on his mediocre solo career. Some of the band’s members got back together in 1997 to celebrate the band’s 25th anniversary. However, the band stayed together for a ten year period, releasing more material during their revival. The band recently reunited in 2012 to celebrate forty years by holding a concert.

Five years after Tulip made their major debut, the band decided to release their first English song, “WELCOME TO MY HOUSE”. As a well-crafted “progressive meets pop and art rock” song, “WELCOME TO MY HOUSE”  reminds you a lot of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”. Both songs feature various musical influences by the Beatles, a lively, bouncy piano sound akin to something found in Paul McCartney’s song “Come and Get It“, and adopting everyday objects as musical instruments. But, what makes ELO and Tulip different from each other is how each band composed their own sound. When writing  “WELCOME TO MY HOUSE”., Zaitsu Kazuo probably wanted to feature more of a musical style that was found in the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” within the song. “WELCOME TO MY HOUSE” focused more on the soft electric guitar, piano, and drum sound with a lot of John Lennon-inspired backing vocals. Meanwhile, ELO had always wanted to be a rock band that “pick[ed] up where The Beatles left off”[5] by featuring more styles from the “White Album” and even later evolving from the Beatles sound to their own sound. ELO’s music was often a mixture of rock music, orchestras, and electrical sound properties.

Although, the same-titled album can be classified as pop rock, I feel like the song itself can be considered as a mixture of progressive, pop, and art rock. If you listen to it, the song does have a certain pop-like quality, especially by the upbeat attitude often associated with songs composed in cut time. Now,  “WELCOME TO MY HOUSE” has the basic rock instrumentation with no orchestral instruments present. The song instead features new innovations in the 70s’ Japanese rock scene with unusual percussion and using the backing vocals to paint a bigger picture within the song; a common theme in art rock. As for the progressive rock sound, the song accents a folk music-like structure, which was very popular in Japan during the album’s release, and changing time signatures from cut time to a slower meter by the end.

If you like The Beatles or ELO, then you should most definitely check out  “WELCOME TO MY HOUSE”. Named as the Japanese Paul McCartney, Zaitsu Kazuo brings the vocal and musical composition of The Beatles while using the up-beat tempos and piano of ELO in this song.[6] 

This post is dedicated to my dear mom who is a huge Beatles and rock fan. Without her, I probably wouldn’t have the entire The Beatles discography mesmerized by heart or known English rock music really well. Most importantly, this post wouldn’t be written.  I contacted my mom, who always gave me a very detailed explanation, whenever I was uncertain about something written in this post.

Rock on, mom! ❤

Listen to the full album here:


References

[1]  “チューリップ (バンド).” チューリップ (バンド) – Wikipedia. 17 Sept. 2004. Web. 21 June 2015. <https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%81%E3%83%A5%E3%83%BC%E3%83%AA%E3%83%83%E3%83%97_(%E3%83%90%E3%83%B3%E3%83%89)&gt;

[2]  Alan, McGee. “ELO: The Band the Beatles Could Have Been.” The Guardian. 16 Oct. 2008. Web. 21 June 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2008/oct/16/elo-better-than-beatles&gt;

[3]  “ゆうちょ LETTER for LINKS(レター・フォー・リンクス).” ミュージシャン 財津和夫さん. Tokyo FM, 23 Mar. 2014. Web. 21 June 2015 .<http://www.tfm.co.jp/links/index.php?itemid=77894&gt;

Reporting Live: Takui Nakajima’s “Renga no Ie” Promotional Event at Nagoya Parco’s Tower Records [May 03, 2015]

takui

I want to say a big thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaank you for 1,000 views and 600 visitors! I first saw the news on my phone during break time at work and broke out into a happy dance!

Thank you for your continuous support!

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Now to our weekly installment of Reporting Live (old name was Live Report). By the time I saw the next artist, it was the last day of my spree to see free lives around the city during the glorious Golden Week. This artist has become prominent this year as he gained more responsibility over the creation and production of several famous girl groups’ songs. Today’s Reporting Live is how I saw the amazing Takui Nakajima and why he brought me to tears.

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For those who are not familiar with Takui Nakajima or the Hello! Project fandom, don’t worry, let me give you a recap! Takui began his career in 1994 when he joined the indies visual kei band MAGGIE MAE, a name inspired from a Beatles’ song, right after he moved to Tokyo. The band stayed together until 1998 when they decided to break up. A year later, Takui debuted on the label Sony Music Records with his first name only in caps serving as his artist name. He released his first single, “Triangle”, under the label.

After the start of the millennium, Takui decided to jump labels as he went from Sony Columbia to an indies label before settling at Up Front Works. Maybe the switch to an indies label and a lesser-known one (Let’s face it, artists in Up-Front Agency at that time, who were not part of Hello! Project, were less well known) helped him more as he continued to create more of his own music and receive the freedom to experiment different musical genres. You could say a lot about his music. But for me, his music is filled of influences from the Beatles (which he is a big fan of and so am I), soft rock, hard-core rock, visual kei, blues, and beyond.

I can’t really talk much about the live event because honestly, I was late for it. My friend and I decided to eat Domino’s Japan, a rarity in my daily life because it’s sooooooo expensive here, after spending the hot Sunday morning at a zoo nearby. After finishing eating a late lunch, we realized that it was 2:40 pm. The live started at three o’clock, oh no! After casually walking to the station and riding the train, I barely made it to Sakae Station at three, a location where my friend and I decided that we would go on our own treks for the late afternoon.

It was my first time visiting Nagoya Parco’s Tower Records, so I didn’t know exactly where I had to go. See, the problem was that there were three Parco buildings. And because I decided not to pay attention to the store’s online event information, I decided to go and search for the store in the wrong building. As I reached the top, I realized my mistake and had to run down the stairs and go to the correct building. By the time I made it to the store, it was 3:18 pm! Takui already had already performed half his setlist!

When I entered, Takui was performing an amazing cover of “Back in the U.S.S.R.”. It was full of energy and so lively that most of audience were dancing and/or clapping their hands in a subtle way. Actually, the audience at this live event was the opposite of any fans at a Hello! Project event. At those events, most fans are men who are dressed in a color-coordinate style of their favorite member, armored with glowsticks, and performing their extreme fan chants throughout the songs. At Takui’s lives, the fans are mostly middle-aged women, some with babies, who are swaying to the beats, eyes beaming at him like he is some musical Jesus or something. It was complete silence, something I thought to be nice but eerie at the same time.

He sang a couple more songs. Here is the setlist, courtesy of James Yamada:

1. Tsugi no Mado wo Magare (次の角を曲がれ)
2. Donna Koto ga Atte mo (どんなことがあっても)
3. Hitori ni Narou to Shinaide (一人になろうとしないで)
4. Taiki Bansei (大器晩成)
5. Guernica (ゲルニカ) ~ BACK IN THE U.S.S.R
6. Sangousen (3号線)
7. Renga no Ie (煉瓦の家)
8. Tokyo Tower (東京タワー)

(You listen to full versions of the songs that are linked via Youtube)

I feel guilty of missing out on the first half because he performed some awesome songs like “Taiki Bansei” and “Tsugi no Mado wo Magare”. Nevertheless, the last song he performed was one of the best songs I have heard live for a long time. He started the song out with a mellow ambiance, just strumming mindlessly with only his guitar and singing the song. Half way through, he changed keys and started to sing a powerful rendition of “Stand By Me”. The way he performed with such power and emotions bought me to tears. His music moved me emotionally.

After he went IMG_1754back and finished “Tokyo Tower”, I wiped my tears while Takui thanked everyone for coming out. It was time to move: I had to go to a certain information desk and preorder the album in order to get an event ticket. The best thing was that it didn’t take a long time to signup for the preorder and get through the event line.

I actually went to this event for a friend because she is a huge of Takui. So, after I finished preordering, I went to the line, waiting for no less than five minutes. He was a really nice and kind person as he talked to everyone for an extended time and even saying hello to the babies and patted their arms that came up with their mothers. As I approached him, I shook his hand and told him that my friend from America said hi and that she loves him. He laughed and said “Thank you very much”. He signed a picture of himself, gave it to me, and we said our “goodbyes” and “see you next time” when I started to leave.

If you haven’t of this guy or his music, YOU SHOULD! I am not trying to yell at you or make you do it by typing everything in caps, but I strongly suggest listening to his new album. Takui is an amaaaaaaaaaazing performer who has a lot of talent that needs to be heard more through the musical world.

My friend recommend me the fast-paced, staccato-filled rock “Tsuzukerou”. It reminds me of a visual kei-type of song or something related to Tsunku.

Here is a promo for the new album:

Come Back to Asia in the 1980s

tmnetwork-resistance-lp

Ahh, the weekend! The time when I can listen to all the music I want because at work, I am not allowed to listen to anything, including my iPod with earphones. I am in heaven! It is during the weekend that I get addicted to a song or more, listening to it over and over till whenever I get tired of the song or I go to bed. Today’s new obsession is a song from the Jpop-rock band TM Network.

TM Network is a well-known band in Japan that has been around for about 30 years. The band was formed in 1983 when the band that Tetsuya Komuro, Naoto Kine, and Takashi Utsunomiya were in, Speedway, split up. The guys came together and entered their new band, TM NETWORK, in a YAMAHA contest, performing the song “1974”. The band received perfect scores from the judges and won the grand prize, which caught the attention of Epic Records who offered the band a contract right away. TM Network made their debut in the spring of 1984 with the single “Kinyoubi no Lion (Take it to the Lucky)” and album “RAINBOW RAINBOW”.

Over the years, TM Network has made a lot of genre changes. On various information sites like Wikipedia and etc, the band is listed as a pop-rock band with the pop side being more relevantly in their music. The band’s first couple of singles featured a sound that was akin to the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s technopop bliss, prominently “”Kinyoubi no Lion (Take it to the Lucky)” and “1974”. Over the years, they got their toes wet by dipping into new genres like R&B, funk, trance, techno, latin, hard rock (thanks to B’z guitarist Tak Matsumoto), ballad rock, eurobeat, dance, and etc. Most recently, the band has been riding the electriopop wave, especially since Komuro is a lover of current dance trends (he has been on this “dance music” craze since 90s though, see all the stuff he has composed during that time).

“Come Back to Asia” doesn’t offer the eccentric sounds of rock or technopop, just the normal pop one. Actually, there is a lot of Asian influences within the song. It starts off with the keyboards producing a melody that resembles an Asian motif with the rhythm and/or melodic structure. I think the Asian motif is best represented in the synthesized keyboards, as the instrument emulates a sound like the sitar or guzheng in the chorus and during the ending of each melodic phrases in the verses. Speaking of the chorus, this the strongest section of the piece as Utsunomiya’s vocals are gripped with emotions and power, the sitar/guzheng sound, and the staccato’ed rhythm. All these factors clash and mesh harmonically together.

The song might not be as catchy like other songs like “Get Wild” or “COME ON EVERYBODY”. But, “”Come Back to Asia”” is a memorable song with a powerful heart.

You can listen to the full version here (for free) on NicoNico Douga.
(Click on the link to be directed to the video.)

Babylon Daiou – Erogappa

Artist: Babylon Daiou (バビロン大王)

 

Single Title:エロガッパ (Erogappa)

Date Released: December 21st, 1990

Catalog Code: FHDF-1069

Label: Fun House

Genre: Japanese Rock

Tracklist:

1. エロガッパ (Erogappa)

2. ズンドコ1990 (Zundoko 1990)

Single Info

About/Review

Babylon Daiou was a popish rock group that was in early 1990s with Megumi Hakata (it’s a guy, not a girl) as the lead singer and guitarist. If anyone is a major Kome Kome Club fan, one would recognize that Megumi was the guitarist for the band when it first started (in 1987) and only lasted for a year.

The single is another excellent single but kinda funky/weird due to the lyrics and the music. The a-side, Erogappa, reflects that with the weird lyrics (with each line in each verse starting with a random letter of A, O, B, or D). While, my favorite track of is the b-side, Zundoko 1990, is a bit strange but features a lot of awesome vocals, guitar riffs, and keyboard solos. I swear I could hear the famous singer and voice actress Minami Takayama in the dialogue bits during the chorus of Zun Zuns.  In conclusion, this single is a bit weird and funky but nevertheless a great single.