Make Believe Melodies Logo

Category Archives: Review

Make Believe Melodies’ Favorite Japanese Songs Of 2015

Here’s my personal view on these sort of lists, at least as someone operating an English-language blog about music from a country that mostly gets overlooked by English-language media/listeners — it doesn’t even matter whether I view year-end lists as a portal for discovery or as some attempt at canon building, because for the bulk of people who come across these lists, it is always going to be about the prior. And that’s great! Plus, I can still rank music to my heart’s content without worrying about, well anything.

Working under all that, this year I’ll be posting a Best Albums List sometime later this week, but for today I’m running a Favorite Songs collection. What’s up with that wording, you might be asking? Well, this songs collection is really just a way to highlight music that won’t end up on the album list, whether because it came out as a single (or SoundCloud/Bandcamp loosie) or because the album it was attached to just missed out on the final set. What this means is a lot of fantastic songs released in Japan this year don’t appear after the jump because they’ll get shine in the next few days.

Oh, and if you want my take on the year as a whole, jump over to the Japan Times.

Continue Reading

Fufillingy Stuffed: Tofubeats’ Lost Decade

Tofubeats doesn’t really bother introducing himself on Lost Decade, his first original album out on a major label. He’s been kicking around the Japanese music scene since 2006, grabbing attention for his indie-level beats and his work with mainstream J-Pop idol groups like Lyrical School (formerly sex-toy-sponsored Tengal6) and 9nine. Even though this will be his first collection of money available across the country in major music outlets, the Kobe producer realizes he has a large enough fanbase that he doesn’t have to make THAT big a splash. Rather, he approaches Lost Decade like a challenge – on a major label now, how much can he fit into one album? How many guests – from rappers he’s worked with for years to pop stars – can he cram onto one disc, presumably on his label’s dime? The answer to both is A LOT.

Lost Decade goes full stuffed-crust-deluxe pizza, holding nothing back over the course of it’s hour-plus playing time. The album is split between solo songs and ones with featured spots. Sonically, Tofubeats shuns a singular sound instead of celebrating all of his influences in flurries – he’s most indebted to hip-hop production, but he isn’t skimping on the rest of his record collection here. This is a packed album, one that can be a slog at a times and too dependent on its guests, but also has a knack for showing what Tofubeats can do himself…especially with major-label money behind him

The production across Lost Decade is strong, among the best work Tofubeats has recorded. Pinning his approach down isn’t a simple task…something something hip-hop…but over the course of this album he shows a few constants. He veers towards the synth heavy, and his percussion tends to sound built for a tropical party. He often speeds the music up to ridiculous levels, and often puts the vocals through similar manipulation (see the skippy “I Don’t Care,” one of the disc’s finest cuts). He does laid-back grooves well, exemplified by “All I Wanna Do,” but equally excels at the frantic on “Time Thieves.” His best song, though, remains the one that forces him to build – “Synthesizer,” originally out last year, staggers thanks to a slow rise that pays off by the end with a dizzying hook. It’s Tofubeats at his most dramatic.

But at least half of this album puts equal emphasis on his guests, who are more of a mixed bag. The big revelation on Lost Decade is that Tofubeats has a knack for creating pop music ideal for women to sing over. Seira Kariya provides the vocals for “So What!,” the album’s biggest pop moment, a retro-J-Pop-tinged number that’s all triumphant high kicks and guitar solos that somehow come off as totally natural. Tofubeats has been caught up in the J-Pop game for awhile now, but this sounds like a breakthrough for him on that front. Nanba Shiho swings by for the title track and provides pleasant enough singing over a piano-heavy track. The rappers, meanwhile, are a bit harder to place. Some, like cotton-mouthed ERA, are love-it-or-hate-it types, and his appearance on the otherwise nocturnal-pool-swim of a song is tough to read. Sky-Hi does an admirable job keeping up with the trap-turned-technicolor madness of “Fresh Salad,” but the rest of the rap “featuring” spots seem like dudes intruding on a quality beat I just want to hear alone.

Lost Decade is too crowded and, at times, too scattershot to reach the levels of a truly great album. Yet as a sandbox for one of the more talented young producers in Japan to play around in – and create some staggering sandcastles, like “Synthesizer,” “I Don’t Care” and “So What!,” – it’s a winner. It might not be the easiest album to sit through, but it’s packed with great moments. Listen to the whole thing below.

Dancing After 1 AM Compilation Featuring MIR, She Talks Silence, Extruders And More

Call And Response Record’s new compilation album Dancing After 1 AM didn’t need a hook to grab our attention. The 18-track album (full disclosure: released by our friend Ian Martin) features new songs from some of the best rock artists going in Japan. She Talks Silence contribute a shadowy guitar number, while The Mornings jerky “Fuji” wouldn’t have felt out of place on last year’s manic Save The Mornings. It also features the likes of POP-OFFICE, New House and Tacobonds working from their respective comfort zones. One of the best songs come from someone we’ve never written about before – Extruders hushed “Collapsing New Buildings” is fine-tuned minimalism, every near whisper and guitar stroke vital to the song’s atmosphere. Even Puffyshoes show up for one minute.

Dancing After 1 AM does have a hook though – the album features the first new song from new-wave duo MIR, who seemingly fell off the grid two years ago. They are back, at least for this Call And Response collection, with “Dance,” a song highlighting everything great about them in just over five minutes. The synths and beat lock into a groove, but MIR always keep something back. Makes sense since the singing on “Dance” never sounds particularly upbeat – the reserved bounce of the music matches up well with the nearly sighed vocals. Their ability to pull off sad dance music that still shuffles onward is something we’ve missed a lot, and they are just the most noteworthy inclusion on a compilation brimming with good artists.

Call And Response has listed several places you can get the compilation, check it out here.

Self-Promotion Plus: Reviewing tengal6 In The Japan Times

Not sure whether I’m proud or sorta embarrassed about this one…ahhhh who am I kidding, it’s both. As the review lays out, tengal6 is a pop group sponsored by a male-adult-toy company, which leads to all sorts of gross thoughts and inevitable sexual innuendo. Thing is, this isn’t some piss-take at the expense of tengal6 – their debut album City features a damn solid collection of producers (Fragment and tofubeats among more) and at times sounds really good. The rapping, courtesy of tengal6 themselves, isn’t up to snuff, but when they sing it’s all OK. A flawed but interesting album…with some very unfortunate corporate ties. Read it here.

Review: Canopies And Drapes’ And Putting Love Away

And Putting Love Away, the new EP from Tokyo’s Canopies And Drapes, takes its name from a line in Emily Dickinson’s poem “The Bustle In A House.” That work, a brief eight-line poem, deals with grieving following a death, ending with the lines “And putting Love away/We shall not want to use again/Until Eternity -.” Canopies And Drapes has the same thoughts on her mind, the three new tracks on this cassette focusing on lost love, and specifically where that feeling goes in the wake of the rupture. And Putting Love Away serves as a grim counterpart to last year’s Violet Lilly Rose Daisy, an EP which mostly focused on wants, of being consumed by the thought of another. Here’s what remains on the other side.

The subject matter isn’t the only aspect of Canopies And Drapes’ work that goes under a change on And Putting Love Away. Last year’s debut loaded up on dreamy synths and put an emphasis on CaD’s lyrics (especially lyric-book highlights “Live In The Snowglobe” and “Perfect Step”). Now, whether because she’s limited by the sonic capabilities of a cassette tape or just sonically restless, CaD’s is more concerned with minimalism and how her words sound. And Putting Love Away is a somewhat surprising change of pace for the young Tokyo artist, but one just as inviting and shady as her previous output.

Opener “The Door Into Summer” introduces us to CaD’s new approach, the twinkling overload of “Sleeping Under The Bed” replaced by bare-bones keyboard, some guitar and a nursery-rhyme-worthy beat. This stripped-down approach to songwriting places the emphasis on the vocals, and CaD’s voice rises to the challenge. The actual lyrics have become simpler than anything on Violet Lilly Rose Daisy – on “The Door,” she sings “how could I forget?/how could I help?/I still love you,” but the way those words are delivered fills them with emotional detail far more intriguing than anything a thesaurus could inspire. She draws out the first two lines, and then delivers the “I still love you” part so bluntly it sounds like she’s peaking out from a corner. Like her previous work, “The Door” boasts a strange unease, but this time it’s brought about by how minimal the song sounds. Something about its simplicity seems deceiving, so you play it again and again.

“Dead End” goes into similar eerie territory, chilly minimalism that leads way to cheesy – but still skin-crawling – horror-movie synths which bridge into the main part of the song, where CaD’s vocals practically run together to form a warm cloud of singing, the word themselves playing second fiddle to how everything blurs together. The other song, “Solaris,” chooses to be a little louder and its appeal lies in the sonic tension of the track, the claustrophobic instrumentation grinding against the sweetly sung lyrics (with a heck of a payoff too). The words are some of the least interesting CaD has penned to date, but again she’s learned how to deliver them in such a way so that a classic cliché like “there are millions of fish in the sea” becomes a sentence rich in loneliness and despair.

And Putting Love Away also comes with two remixes which don’t really add much following the excitement of the CaD songs. Moscow Club’s remix of “Solaris” is pretty typical remix fare (more electronics, basically) while Orland’s take of “Dead End” is less a remix and more of a sales pitch for Orland. If you like talk boxes and talking about how wacky the 80s were, here you go. If you like music that respects emotion, well………..

And really, that’s what is most impressive about And Putting Love Away and CaD’s musical output thus far – she’s constantly finding new ways of expressing complicated feelings, stuff way beyond “I love you” and “you don’t love me.” Last year she proved she could do that with short-story-like attention to detail, and on this release she shows she can ring the same feeling from just her sounds. Buy from here.