My September column was an extended version and more of an interview than just me ranting about something. I’d interviewed Yasutaka Nakata of capsule and Perfume fame earlier in the year and his latest project, producing Harajuku model-turned-idol Kyary Pamyu Pamyu had made a big splash over the summer with the song Ponponpon. For those of you who have been living in a cave these past few months, here’s the video:
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: Ponponpon
Anyway, as it turns out, she was a pretty interesting person herself and certainly came across a bit more imaginative than the usual cookie cutter idol singer does. Whether or not this actually translates into genuine independence is hard to tell. Her management and label seemed to give her a fair amount of space while we were talking, but there was always someone hovering around, and they were very concerned that her real name not be mentioned, which seems an odd thing to care too much about given the role of the Internet in her promotion. Anyway, she remains pretty much the only new, exciting thing in J-Pop, so let’s enjoy her while she lasts.
August’s Japan Times column was a bit of a self-indulgent gripe at some of the things that annoy me at gigs in Japan. Some of these points I’m sure are ones that could be applied to bands anywhere, but anyway, I’m here and all I can write about is what I see around me.
I have a big backlog of columns to update here, so I’ll start with July’s. Despite what some J-pop fans seem to think (judging from the complaint emails The Japan Times seems to receive from time to time), I’m not some angry K-pop partisan out to trash all Japanese pop music, but they are right insofar as I’m not at all impressed at all with the state of the mainstream pop scene in this country at the moment.
Things, however, were not always thus. The 1970s was a golden age for Japanese mainstream pop, for reasons that I tried to scratch the surface of in an earlier column, and so I returned to that theme over the summer for my top five picks of golden age girl pop songs. The article can be read in full on The Japan Times web site here, but I’ll add links to the songs I chose below.
Chiyo Okumura: Kitakuni no Aoi Sora (1967)
Saori Minami: Natsu no Kanjou (1974)
Momoe Yamaguchi: Hitonatsu no Keiken (1974)
Mari Natsuki: Natsu no Yoake wa Kanashii no (1976)
Candies: Shochuu Omimai Moshiagemasu (1977)
Self-released CD/R (2011)
Really interesting, clever little CD from Nagoya/Mie-based band Pop Office here. They got a lot of exposure in the Japanese indie scene this summer thanks to their appearance on the Style Band Tokyo compilation album (alongside CAR favourites Hyacca, Kyoto’s chillwave flag-carriers Hotel Mexico, and UK-based bands Bo Ningen and Comanechi) and for a few writers their closing number, “A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness”, was the album’s highlight.
This mini-album fills out some of the uncertainties left by that lone offering in a rather charming way. From the get-go, Ryuhei Shimada’s voice comes at you from some bleak, rainy place that might be somewhere in Aichi prefecture but to you or I is simply a place called Robert Smith. “Pale Blue Wine” is probably the closest to a straight-up 80s guitar pop pastiche that Pop Office does, with the synths set to “sweeping” and the guitar set to “jangle”, while “I Want More” (not, sadly, a Can cover) takes an indie-dance bass groove, sticks in some nu-rave synth squeals and squiggles, and Shimada lets his vocals drop into the sub-Smiths register labelled “Bauhaus” on most dials.
Pop Office: Here
There are plenty of bands around Japan that do this sort of neo-80s thing, with the likes of Lillies and Remains and Plasticzooms (both also featured on the Style Band compilation) leading purveyors of the sound; however, Pop Office throw in just enough quirks to prevent it coming over as mere pastiche — that is to say, it certainly is pastiche, but not only that. The drum ratatat-tat that underpins opening track “300 Castles” gives it a sprightliness that the band never really let go of, chucking in unusual yet strangely apposite ideas often at just the right moment. Autotune on the Joy Division-esque “Lover’s War”? Not cool, but why the fuck not? Let’s do it anyway. The way that juddering hedge trimmer guitar rubs up against those Psychedelic Furs synths on closing track “Here”, and just an overall sense that every sound on the CD has been chosen simply because it’s right, rather than to satisfy any hipsterish notion of how this kind of music should sound.
Filed under Albums, Reviews