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Category Archives: J-Pop

New Suiyoubi No Campanella: “Ra”

Maybe it’s because you can’t channel ancient Egypt without making it seem “epic,” or maybe just because the video for “Ra” reminds me of a (uhhh, former) J-Pop superstar’s video (let alone Katy Perry), but Suiyoubi No Campanella’s latest in the run up to her new album sees her going big. Suiyobi No Campanella already had plenty of momentum heading into this album — commercial appearances, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu retweets, a general air of “next big thing” — but whereas as recent videos found her picking up crystals in a forest and wandering around Shibuya, “Ra” gives her a visual largeness to match this bubbling hype. I mean, back-up dancers and a credit roll…to sell yourself as a “star,” you need to carry the air of one, and “Ra” the video is clearly aiming for the fences.

Sonically, “Ra” shows the flip side of something written about here earlier. For all the inclusions of traditional Japanese sounds, the Suiyoubi project is also tapped in to the sounds of now (particularly electronic music), and the most interesting touches here are Jersey Club inspired, with a touch of EDM wonkiness added in too. This is overall, like the video, a shot at something more populist, but sneaking in some interesting sounds in the process. Listen above.

New Suiyoubi No Campanella: “Nishi Tamao”

Suiyoubi No Campanella has a new album — her fifth, technically, though given a recent increase in her profile in the Japanese mainstream, one that feels like it has more stakes than her previous releases — out in November, and she’s shared one of the songs set to appear on it, “Nishi Tamao.” It touches on one of the elements that has made her music able to stand out so much in the last couple of years — the project strikes a balance between traditional Japanese cultural touchstones (most clearly laid out in the group’s videos, though they’ve worked it in musically too) and today, making for an at-times disorienting but ultimately deeply intriguing listen. Suiyoubi isn’t alone in doing this — Sakanaction has dabbled in this, while Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “Ninjari Bang Bang” is especially a highlight, especially as it emerged at a time when it seemed like more groups were reverting to embracing traditional aesthetics — but it seems like they’ve done it consistently better than others.

So “Nishi Tamao” matches delicate passages with moments of pure chaos — the chorus features screams and these bursts of sound that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Wasabi Tapes release. It’s a song that would feel at home in the soundtrack for a historical drama interrupted by trap-py freakouts, adding a modern disruption to the tranquility. It’s Suiyoubi’s most fractured take on the past-present thing, but one that fits into their style very well. Listen above.

New Shiggy Jr.: “Ghost Party”

Buried in the Make Believe Melodies post graveyard is a very very long-winded entry about Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “Crazy Party Night.” The not-600-word version — I get what it is doing and I think it is a smart move commercially, but woo boy is it so clearly her worst single to date. Part of me wanted to nail the forced Halloween theme for that…but hearing Shiggy Jr.’s “Ghost Party” reminds that, actually, the problem with “Crazy Party Night” is that it is just a phoned-in song. This is every bit as ghouled-up as a seasonal single can get, yet it remains stupidly catchy come the hook. They even sing the word “zombie” and it isn’t an embarrassing bit of baiting, it actually sounds nice. Japan’s pop scene, ultimately, demands numbers like this, the sort of thing that can be tied to specific themes and sometimes dates. And there are plenty of masterpieces tied to solitary days to back this up — a great pop artist doesn’t mail it in even when they have to do something, they find a way to make it memorable and not be corny.

So yeah…if you need a big Halloween pop song for Oct. 31st, consider Shiggy Jr.’s “Ghost Party.” Listen above.

New Sakanaction: “Shin Takara Jima”

1. Sakanaction’s music-video game remains near the top level of contemporary Japanese music, goodness gracious the bubble-era beauty of this.

2. It isn’t like Sakanaction went anywhere, but 2016 felt more like a celebration of the band’s rise up the rungs of the Japanese rock scene than…well, a glimpse of whatever was next. Mainly, the summer was spent revisiting music from a few years ago via a special compilation collection. The band got up to various activities — lead singer Ichiro Yamaguchi’s Night Fishing events have been particularly cool looking — but no new releases.

The wait is over with “Shin Takara Jima,” Sakanaction’s latest single (technically out this week, for those still paying about ten dollars for singles). It’s a welcome return — the song does what Sakanaction have done so well in recent years, which is build a groove that explodes into a big, emotionally charged hook, all while subtly changing over the course of its playtime. It’s not the band’s most daring look in recent years, but as a return-to-spotlight number, very good. Watch above.

3. Sakanaction are also getting in on another J-Pop trend…they are launching their own label, called NF Records. I mean, more on that later, but the key is a new NF Records YouTube page launched alongside “Shin Takara Jima,” which features all of the band’s older videos re-uploaded in good quality. Most importantly, you can now watch the video for 2011’s masterclass “Rookie” in non-garbage quality.

New Yun*Chi: “Jelly”

For the most part, Yun*Chi’s singles and advance songs have been relatively upbeat affairs, produced by the likes of kz and Taku Takahashi and an assortment of netlabel types. They’ve been overall good showcases for her voice, and have done a good job of separating Yun*Chi from AsobiSystem’s ranks. “Jelly” adds some welcome pre-release intrigue advance of this month’s Pixie Dust, which sounds like a solid, electro-pop affair based on the teaser. It is a slower, sparser affair, but not the sort of momentum crushing ballad that seems required of all J-pop albums. It’s produced by Chara, a long-running artist all her own responsible for some big moments in the past and still trucking today, and who here gives Yun*Chi an appropriately watery backdrop to drift through. And she shows she’s capable of moving at half-speed in a way just as charming as when she’s in zippy pop mode. It’s a very welcome new dimension for Yun*Chi. Listen above.