Make Believe Melodies Logo

Category Archives: J-Pop

Twisted Sun: Toyomu Rearranges Hoshino Gen’s Yellow Dancer


Hoshino Gen had a breakout year in 2015, his single “Sun” racking up millions of YouTube views and exposing the singer (and leader of the band Sakerock) to a huge audience, culminating in him earning a spot on NHK’s Kohaku music show (Hoshino, don’t look at the ratings!). I’ve always thought his music touches on some great sonic ideas…but he always finds a way to immediately bury the goodwill. Take “Sun,” which features a nice enough disco bop and a great swooning section. It also features a chorus he got from a J-pop capsule machine, all momentum-killing and generally lame. I think there is a lot of good to work with…but somebody else should take a scalpel to it.

Kyoto electronic artists and co-founder of the label/party Quantizer Kyoto Toyomu did just that, as he sliced up Gen’s latest album Yellow Dancer and produced an album-worth of new sounds using the sunny J-pop singer’s original material. It doesn’t come off as a mean operation, but rather Toyomu dives in to the album to create something new from it. Some of his experiments yield what amount to (nice!) hip-hop beats, but this stands out for the surprises, such as how his take on “Sun” focuses solely on the second-long electro-distortion opening Gen’s. Elsewhere, he pulls out strobing dance songs and absorbing ambient passages, with a healthy dose of vaporwave touches worked in for good measure. The idea behind it is interesting, but what makes Toyomu’s work shine is how it works as its own thing, able to impress whether you care about Hoshino Gen or not. Listen below, or get it here.

New E-Girls: “Dance With Me Now!”

E-girls don’t make particularly daring music. They are a double-digit unit hanging off the EXILE family tree who make high-energy pop songs. The group resembles a traditional idol outfit such as Morning Musume — lots of members capable of being put into smaller groups (or, uh, coming from pre-existing outfits) and of being ushered onto a solo path if it looks possible — but one taking cues from the precision of the contemporary K-pop juggernaut, another place where originality hasn’t played a big part, but rather the ability to pick up established or steam-building sounds and engineer them into something different and (most importantly) catchy as hell.

“Dance With Me Now!” is factory-tight pop that burbles and booms, a song forcing a moment (the title isn’t a question or request, but a demand) which they then transform into a heart-racing bit of dance pop. Every inch of it is pieced together just right to underline the jittery excitement of a night at a club, all this fine tuning resulting in something that somehow sounds deeply human (see also: K-pop, Perfume, pretty much all top-notch pop songs). These sentences could be applied to pretty much any E-girls song at this point, but “Dance With Me Now!” manages one of the group’s most massive hooks yet — the titular phrase milked for all its worth, before they add some vocal fireworks to the fray (with some J-pop specific additions, such as being one minute too long). It isn’t particularly daring, but it’s a finely tuned and irresistible pop number, which is every bit as impressive. Listen above.

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.