Our favorite songs of 2011 list comes out in less than a week, and one of the rules we instituted on it is that no one band can have more than two songs appear. The main reason for this addendum is so we can showcase a wide variety of Japanese music to people who might be stumbling across us for the first time, though when we cemented this rule last year the real motive was to prevent Perfume from having like four songs in the list. Though that trio gets affected again (sorry “Glitter!”), the real victim in 2011 ends up Sakanaction, who had a wheelbarrow-full of great songs that could have snuck on…but only two will. Since third place still gets a medal – and, because if we ignored restrictions, this could place anywhere between 22-17 – Sakanaction’s “Endless” will get a write-up anyway.
Oh god no, one thinks upon hearing the piano keys on Sakanaction’s “Endless” for the first time, it’s the ballad. Considering “Endless” emerged as a music video a week before the official release of the album DocumentaLy and at that point nobody knew just what that full-length had in store, so hearing those ivory plinks sounded really ordinary in light of the band’s previous two singles, hinting at this maybe being the label-demanded ballad aimed to shift units into especially sentimental shoppers. And at first that seems to be “Endless'” mission statement, albeit spruced up by Sakanaction-worthy touches (mostly warm electronics, that singing).
Then what we presume to be the first chorus ends and a guitar pattern sticks around for a few extra seconds, almost as if it missed the cue to stop. After that, “Endless” transforms into a blinking, minimal dance song, one where the vocals are delivered at the same speed as the more overtly ballad section but sounding like they were ripped from some other song. All previous worries wash away and it feels safe to think ahhhh OK, this is Sakanaction before grooving out to the rest of the song.
Then everything starts getting fuzzy. The electronics get sharper, while what sound like TV broadcast snippets start materializing in both headphone channels. The drums pick back up and it starts seeming like “Endless” is building up for a huge release, and one thinks said catharsis comes when Ichiro Yamaguchi starts singing again, the downtrodden delivers found earlier in the song replaced with borderline spazzing out, one almost picturing him shaking a little bit. Then, after a half-second, the real climax hits when the song seemingly contracts and explodes, sonic shockwaves rippling through the remainder of the track. What sounded at first listen as a potentially soulless ballad ends up being one of the most emotionally gooey songs of the year. OK, this is Sakanaction.