Ikimono-gakari “ノスタルジア” – This is basically a ballad, but let’s take the “glass half full” approach and look at “ノスタルジア’s” positive attributes. Unlike most J-Pop ballads swelling to the brim with strings and peaks, Ikimono-gakari keeps things rather understated. Only some acoustic guitar strums and keyboards accompany lead singer Kiyoe Yoshioka’s vocals. Something about this song – either the skeletal instrumentation or her singing – gives it a feeling of being painfully personal. This song sounds like the band might have recorded it in someone’s bedroom. It’s still a ballad, but it’s much more natural than most of the slow-burners that crash into the charts.
Kie Kitano “サクラサク” – All I can find of this song online is the “short version” embedded below…but even that apparently shortened clip packs in enough ideas to make me think Kie Kitano (or her writers) might be a tad too ambitious. We’ve got all sorts of stuff going on here – string swells fit for a ballad, pianos twinkling off under a wedding cake’s worth of layers, some weird Euro-pop flashes. The dominant elements here are the speed-of-dance drums lifting up the generic J-Pop blueprint of “サクラサク.” Despite throwing all sorts of paint onto the canvas, Kitano really only lets two standout, one of which is very drab. This one’s a little too scatterbrained for it’s own good. I’d hate to see what happens in the extended cut.
NEWS “さくらガール” – Look, the only fact you need to know about Johnny’s kids NEWS is that one member, Tomohisa Yamashita, starred in the best Japanese drama I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, Buzzer Beat. The story…as much as I could make out based on confused staring…focused on the NEWS man playing the star of some Japanese basketball team, playing basketball in a way so detached from reality even Ron Artest wouldn’t comprehend it. I loved this show. For three months it entertained me as I got settled into Japan.
Which is why it pains me so much to simply dismiss Yamashita and Co.’s latest single, a run-of-the-mill Johnny’s piece of pop excrement about the most generic topic this time of year, the cherry blossoms and the endings/beginnings that come with them. It’s faux-disco beat and all-together-now crooning just sound so…generic. Nothing unique about NEWS stands out. Even Johnny’s relative Arashi managed to sound kinda goofy and charming on “Troublemaker.” This just makes me bored. Please, stick to the J-Dramas guys. Buzzer Beat 2 anyone?
Yusuke “Lion” – Ehhhhhh, songs like this leave me kind of stumped. It’s plenty good for a feel-good pop song that could probably score some playtime at your neighborhood gym. It’s got good pacing. It’s got nice vocals. It’s so cheery sounding! Nothing to hate, that’s for sure. Yet…something about “Lion” irks me. Maybe I’m a bit of a dick, but it actually gets a little too upbeat. Like, I love sunshine but I know if I indulge too much my face will peel for the next two weeks. Or it might just be the groan-worthy “get emotional!” guitar that rears it’s stupid head in the latter half of the track. Yusuke definitely didn’t drop a bomb. He just happened to make excellent background music for the cafe.
Cute video though.
YUKI “ランデヴー” – This is basically a better version of the above NEWS single, at least for a little bit. Opening with some guitars best described as “cosmic,” “ランデヴー” quickly slips into a string-heavy disco intro before hitting the verses where piano joins the mix. It all sounds lovely, but what puts it all a mountain above NEWS would be YUKI’s singing. Whereas Johnny’s preaches perfection, YUKI’s singing jolts from classically trained to off the walls. Her voice tends to stay in a higher register for the song’s entire run but she still manages to bounce it all around. It reaches way higher than it has any right to be almost randomly. Combined with the upbeat pop behind it and the video which finds YUKI spinning through some sort of Christmas light world, her singing sounds damn ecstatic and unpredictable. I’m willing to guess most Japanese pop consumers prefer the laminated style of a NEWS or a KAT-TUN. With “ランデヴー,” YUKI aims to please those who like things a bit more out-of-nowhere.
Remioromen “花鳥風月” – The newest trend on Music Station seems to be always including one song so mild trying to write anything interesting about it seems like a Herculean task. This week, that tune would be Remioromen’s latest single. Save for the completely wasted but still cool backwards guitar effect at the beginning, this song just is. Totally mellow. Like saying your favorite drink is water, or you just hate bees – total vanilla stuff. I could see myself sprawled out on the couch, this playing in the background. It’s totally there.
The video seemed kinda dumb at first but when it hits the “big reveal” at the end it suddenly becomes totally brilliant. If it’s any consolation Remioromen, y’all had the best video of the week for sure.
Winner Of The Week – A pretty meh week saved by YUKI’s not-easy-to-pin song.