Category Archives: J-Pop

New Dempagumi.inc: “Gidagida Da Zubuzubu Da”

There are very few J-pop albums that wouldn’t benefit from being sliced in half. The industry-standard dictating that every new release needs to be packed to the CD’s breaking point results in a finished product that’s bloated, and usually impossible to sit through without an itchy “skip” finger. This is, however, the model, and J-pop (heck, drop the “J”) has mostly treated the album as just another product rather than some sort of statement (and, hey, that might honestly be fine…Tiny Mix Tapes’ decision to focus on their favorite 50 releases of the year, rather than albums, sounds more appealing each day). Still, even if we reduce the CD as just another consumable good…lopping off twenty minutes most J-pop collections would result in a much more enjoyable product.

So it isn’t surprising that frantic idol unit Dempagumi.inc’s newest album WWDD suffers because of an hour-plus run time featuring a drag of a back half. Still, few albums practically beg to be trimmed down like this one* — lurking within here is a great eight-song set, capped off by one of their finest singles ever. But again, it sort of comes back to even having the expectation that a Dempagumi.inc album should be great in the first place, when they’ve mostly stood out as a killer singles band thus far. But WWDD feels like a missed opportunity of sorts, especially given that this is the album they released at the absolute peak of their mainstream popularity.

In a fitting Dempagumi-esque move (joke, in a fitting Japanese pop industry move), they are already zooming off into a new single that’s tied up with a pachinko machine, but let’s not dwell on that. There are two songs for this, one which sounds like someone trying to imitate a Dempagumi.inc song…and “Gidagida Da Zubuzubu Da,” a solid horn-guided skipper of a song. For large chunks of this, the group get as laid back as they can without stumbling into boring ballad territory…and even fit a rap in there. It sounds fun. And then the pace picks up, but never breaking a sweat, developing into a skittery rush but never overdoing it. It’s nice! Watch the video above.

*All of these complaints could also be aimed at Dempagumi.inc’s World Wide Dempa album from the end of 2013…again, a few of those songs need to go…but that one works way better overall and the highs are fucking atmosphere pushing.

New Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: “Mondai Girl” (Short Version)

New Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: “Mondai Girl” (Short Version)

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s career is following a familiar (nay, predictable) arc, at least musically. She made a huge, viral splash with “PonPonPon,” achieved mainstream god-mode with “Fashion Monster” and went on a tear up until the release of Nanda Collection, and then sort of lost momentum a bit with subsequent singles and last year’s album (though sales remained pretty strong). And even then, Kyary has been and probably always will be fine, at least for the next five years…she’s Japan’s first social-media superstar, and her Twitter, Instagram and Vine are more interesting than dozens of other acts entire discographies. But still, the past year in Kyary’s life hasn’t felt nearly as exciting as those first two.

Will latest single “Mondai Girl” change that? I don’t know, and honestly am not sure I care because gahhhhh the song and video make me feel happy (which I’ve sort of needed in a very stressful, transition-filled period of my life). As of now, both are of the “short version” variety, but there is more than enough to like now. Let’s focus on the song, which builds off the chip-tune-leaning touches of last year’s “Family Party,” twisting it from wonky movie theme to a more pop focused song (that is also a TV show’s theme). Kyary’s singing has never been anything noteworthy…which is part of the point…but here she tries a few things out with her voice, and it works. Or maybe I’m just glad this stepped into my life now? Get back to me, and watch above.

New Etsuko Yakushimaru: “Lonely Planet (Post Office)”

Etsuko Yakushimaru kicked off the New Year the only way she really could – the Sotaisei Riron lead singer released a bleep-bloopy, melancholy number called “Lonely Planet (Post Office)” on December 31. It’s a brief song, one anchored by skittery beats and keyboard…and of course, her voice, which here deviates from her usual sing-speak delivery for something a bit more traditionally singer-like. It would be surprisingly straightforward…especially after a year where the music she released could get a bit trippy…except for a handful of electronic ripples and a final stretch that ups the drama significantly. Watch the video above.

Starting Off Strong: Suiyoubi No Campanella’s “Jeanne d’Arc”

One of my resolutions for 2015 is to keep an eye on Suiyoubi No Campanella, a rapper who I totally zoned over in 2014 despite her releasing a bunch of good songs. I didn’t listen to any of them before someone suggested her “Momotaro” for The Singles Jukebox in December…and I was floored. What Suiyoubi No Campanella does so well is create rap music operating in its own dimension without treating it like a joke or costume — whatever cultural context lost between American hip-hop and non-English-speaking fans gets filled with original twists (like, say, a song built out of a Japanese folk tale and zig-zagging all over the place sonically) that come from a place of real respect and fandom.

And so, her latest video for a song from her 4th album (released last year), touches on everything good about the project. This is a song about riding a tour bus, complete with mentions of highway rest stops and wearing your seatbelt. It is territory that could turn into a goofy joke rap song you’d expect on some teenager’s YouTube channel, but Suiyoubi build something serious out of it. The beat, for one, goes from minimal hop-scoth to full-throated release come the chorus. And it results in an emotionally striking song, one where the exasperation of the verse give way to an emotional reckoning come the hook…and it all flows out from guided bus tours. Listen above.

Yasutaka Nakata Update Central: Wave Runner Mega Mix And E-Girl’s

Producer Yasutaka Nakata is going to have a busy first quarter in 2015, highlighted by a new album from his Capsule project. In advance of Wave Runner’s February 18 release, a “Mega-Mix Movie” has been released, featuring snippets of the songs on the duo’s latest full-length. The preview confirms that Nakata and vocalist Toshiko Koshijima are moving away from the experimentation of last year’s Caps Lock in favor of booming, EDM-flavored electro. The accompanying movie, meanwhile, hints at maybe why they are moving in that direction — the emphasis is on Capsule’s live show, and considering EDM will probably be at its trendiest peak in Japan in 2015, it seems like a push on Capsule being a live experience. Ultra Japan 2015 here they come? Watch and listen aboe.

Nakata, though, has at least one big pop song under his 2015 umbrella too. He’s collaborated with E-Girls, the 27-member-strong idol outfit actually intended for women on the song “Music Flyer” from the group’s forthcoming January 1st album. And it has landed on the Internet, and you can take a listen here. Dude found his knack for killer percussion again, because this slaps.