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Station To Station: Music Station For July 27 Featuring Kobukuro, Nishino Kana And Hoshino Gen

That’s the face I made when I realized I have all of August as a vacation (though not from blogging, don’t worry!).

Kobukuro “Yell E ~ Ru”

Looks like more and more older Japanese bands are wising up to the economic benefits of either putting together comeback tours or at least placing an emphasis on older hits in order to get an extra bit of sales boost in what seems like a sluggish summer. Duo Kobukuro never broke up and last released a new single in 2011, yet here we are in July 2012 and they are putting the spotlight squarely on their song “Yell E ~ Ru,” which came out in 2001 and served as their breakthrough moment into the mainstream. I suppose it has been long enough for one more victory lap, but I wish it had a better news hook.

The song itself is pretty listless, an acoutsit-guitar-nudged ballad meant to highlight the duo’s voices, which sound good but also never do anything particularly riveting, instead just flowing alongside the song with a few lifts here and there. And of course there are violins, there have to be violins. It’s a typical sort of J-Pop song, and though I’m not sure what people saw in it to make it a breakout hit (different music market, I guess?), it’s completely innocuous and not even worth any real criticism. Just…there. The fact Kobukuro can turn something this uneventful into a revival is pretty startling.

Superfly And Tortoise Matsumoto “Stars”

This song was written as a Japanese tie-in for the forthcoming London Olympics, and much like that ad-saturated and missle-tastic sporting competition, is a total shit show. The song opens sounding like Warner Music wanted to score the soundtrack for an anti-drug VHS movie, and after some doofy singing, transitions into a horn-laden shout-a-long imploring athletes to do their best and go for it. It also includes the sort of all-together-now croon session that would make the 70’s wince. Still, better than that Muse song the Olympics selected, so good job Japan.

Nishino Kana “Go For It!”

I feared this too would be an Olympics song, but the opening cheerleading bit goes “L! O! V! E! Y! O! U!” so maybe it’s just opportunistic. Anyways, this manages to be outside of Kana’s wheelhouse – she’s at her best when she’s forcing J-Pop ballads into R&B molds and running with it – yet “Go For It!” still manages to be good despite dropping her into dangerous sonic terrain. This is straight up candy-colored pop music, no drama just good feelings. It’s the type of song usually saddled to a new pop star, a safe song for a debut attached to an artist without much of an image. Yet the whole cheerleading theme ends up making this solid, the interjections of the title and other Friday-night-ready outbursts making this a fun track. She just lucked into versatility.

NEWS “Chankapāna”

*vomits blood for entire duration of song, can’t even be brought to go through with the disclaimer thing, has to lie down after listening to this sexless disco disaster*

Hoshino Gen “Yume No Soto E”

{There is a snippet from a DVD in the middle of this video but it resumes later on)

This dude hails from the group Sakerock, who were born to soundtrack 1920’s silent films, preferably featuring a lot of physical gags and/or pie fights. Hoshino Gen drops the horns that are so prominent in Sakerock’s sound in favor of a guitar prone to fits of honky tonk (which is great), a skippy beat (nice) and his vocals (unremarkable). It’s a cute song, fun and freewheeling but also lacking anything memorable, but still a nice way to spend some time.

Watanabe Mayu “Otona Jelly Beans”

OK, since we are on the topic of an individual AKB48 member, I have a confession to make. Please, sit down. Would you like a drink? Let me make you drink. No, I’m serious, you want to be seating down for this. OK…deep breath…

I really like AKB48’s “Manatsu No Sounds Good!”

Hey hey, don’t click the “x” in the corner just yet and burn all traces of this blog from your web history. Not yet anyway, let me try to explain. Discussions about the music of AKB48…JUST the music, not what they wear or how many magazine covers they appear on or how often they try to kiss one another…are rare, and to some degree it makes sense. Music is just a small facet of the AKB48 empire, and there is a lot to talk about, so why bother wasting words on sounds seemingly generated by a machine with a few slight variations single to single? Well, because sometimes said machine stumbles across a combination that works on a purely sonic level. The backing music remains a hyperactive combination of Akihabara electronics and some dumb-head guitar, but they’ve also added in this horn sound that has some serious Evangelion theme song swag going for it (“Flying Get” did too, but this improves on it in every way). So this already manages to offset the clattering rush with at least one sonic detail I can get behind.

What really makes “Sounds Good” stand out to me is the same thing that makes Watanabe Mayu’s latest single…translated as “Adult Jellybeans” hmmmm…aggravating. It’s all about how the vocals sound, and how AKB48’s overwhelming wave of voices usually tends to become a bleating annoyance thanks to poor word choice. But the words here happen to…well, sound good. The construction of the chorus just works – the way “sounds good” is delivered, “sounds” and “good” stretched just a second longer than needed, those two words somehow pleasant to the ear. In this situation, all those voices colliding makes everything sound even better, more forceful. It forces the vocals to stand out from the soundtrack too. Basically, AKB48 lucked into a great chorus for once and I’m trying to process that.

Watanabe’s song, though, is just lame. The music lacks any feature to make it sound different from a particularly loud arcade, and it is so lound that Watanabe’s vocals get overshadowed…which wouldn’t have been a problem with more voices in the mix. The chorus in particular seems swallowed up, though I’m not sure it could have been saved by more voices. So yeah, it sucks.


Winner Of The Week – “Go For It!”