New year means a whole slew of new opportunities to tune into Music Station and see what’s up in Japanese mainstream pop. This is the first new installment of the show in 2011 and promises…a very unexciting lineup. Still we soldier on to dull out hate and maybe some praise. Onto the jams.
Aqua Timez “真夜中のオーケストラ”
Much like Punxsutawney Phil, who wanders out of his groundhog hole once a year to remind the world they still have several weeks of biting cold to endure, Aqua Timez pop up on Music Station every 12 months to shill a new single. It’s uncanny – we are only 24 hours off from having the group actually having a year long break from appearances on the show. And Aqua Timez once again have seen their shadow….errr produced a string-laden bit of melodrama trying to avoid being called a ballad by having LOUD GUITAR NOISES when, well if it smells like sap it probably is. It’s neither a convincing block of cheese or rock song despite having a very look-at-me guitar solo jammed into the middle. So…sounds exactly like the song they played 365 days ago, complete with a similar My Little Pony positive video to go with it. Good news is the world won’t have to see Aqua Timez until 2012. Then the world ends so it’s all good!
Shonan No Kaze “爆音男 ～BOMBERMAN～”
The (pretty rad, actually) video for Shonan No Kaze’s new single takes place in a world where music appears to be outlawed and the members of the group appear on “WANTED” posters. I’ll totally slack out and go with the easy joke of “if you aren’t rooting for the bad guys in this dystopia I don’t know what’s wrong with you.” Shonan make the same sort of J-Prap favored by the likes of Funky Monkey Babys, but whereas the latter group are appropriately fluffy, this crew gets a little more rough. “爆音男 ～BOMBERMAN～” hits a little bit harder, the beats coming a little faster and the singing a little more ragged. Yet at it’s core this is still J-Pop trying to do rap, complete with a loopy chorus and a fair smattering of digital vocal manipulation. “BOMBERMAN” at least boasts a pulse and that’s sometimes a rare find in this sort of music…but it’s still a far cry from even the lamest of lame U.S. pop-rap. Cool video though.
Sukima Switch “さいごのひ”
It’s exciting to read a little bit about a group you haven’t listened to before and stumble across a phrase like “jazz fusion.” It’s not exciting in a “bottomless chips” way, but within the bowels of Music Station those two words welcome a nice metaphorical breeze into the joint. Alas, Sukima Switch’s latest sounds only like a goopy J-Ballad…the sort of fare you can’t escape when following the music on this show. There is nothing jazz-like about this track…there isn’t particularly anything interesting about “さいごのひ” either. You’ve heard one ballad in Japan, you’ve heard 90 percent of them. Maybe research wasn’t such a good idea.
Yamashita Tomohisa “はだかんぼ”
EDIT: As predicted, the original video I wrote about was removed. Here’s the video for the song above. I’m not creepy for talking about the guy’s butt because it was there at first I swear.)
Ahahahahaha the video above. I doubt it’ll be up long but enjoy it well you can. I’m scratching my head here.
Aside from the Buzzer Beat dude’s ass, this single’s not half bad. The porn-movie funk of the intro probably could have been cut, and the whole of “はだかんぼ” leaves a lingering taste of frat-boy brass that makes me feel dirty. Yet for artificial funk it’s a pretty good imitation, especially when you consider this is a Johnny’s release, where this sound feels like Dylan going electric. The horn arrangements work, managing to sound off-the-cuff when they are actually perfectly laid out. And as easy as it is to knock Yamashita and his day-job NEWS, he manages to swing with the music just right. He might look goofy in a zoot suit but god damn if he doesn’t make it work.
YUI “It’s My Life”
Credit to YUI for opening up her latest single with the best bit – “It’s My Life” doesn’t even wait a second to run awkwardly into the chorus, a manic invocation of the title phrase which hints at further urgency to come. Alas, she quickly transitions into a dumbly sunny sway begging to soundtrack a SeaWorld commercial. “It’s My Life” suffers big time from terrible pacing – it opens with it’s strongest part before diving into its weakest, and I’ve lost interest by the point she starts messing with the structure and sliding into more restrained passages. The whole song sounds like an incredibly skippy bit of pop that isn’t particularly bad, but also flirts with more interesting ideas without worrying at all about commitment. Middle-of-the-road J-Pop, but at least it wears a big smile.
It’s really easy to dismiss new music as being derivative…sound too much like something else, and being tossed aside by nerds with blogs becomes a lot more likely. This proves especially true in Japan where…maybe I’m just cynical?…the majority of mainstream music barely tries to differentiate itself from whatever came before, hoping the attractiveness of whoever happens to be singing moves more units than the actual originality of the track. It’s nice then to have a song like Yuzu’s newest come around and remind us that, sometimes, being unoriginal but tolerable always beats out being newly annoying. “Hey和” sounds like just another fluffy acoustic pop jaunt…picture Funky Monkey Babys sans rapping…except for the lurking presence of a church choir. It’s subdued until the chorus when OH SHIT there it is in all it’s doofy splendor. Without the choir it’s harmless, but once those completely earnest bellows appear this becomes insufferable. Maybe Johnny’s has the right idea after all.
Winner Of The Week – Against all odds, Yamashita Tomohisa. Probably doomed to be forgotten about by this time next month, but a solid start to the pop year for Johnny’s And Associates. Now can we get a Buzzer Beat sequel? Special shout-out to the Shonan No Kaze video, which looks really nifty.