Top 20 Releases of 2012: No.14 – Chi-na – Granville


CD, Sophori Field Company, 2012

Chi-na make the sort of catchy, well-produced, richly arranged pop songs that if there was any justice in the pop charts would be absolutely massive, and one suspects that even as recently as ten years ago, they really would have been. Granville is cleanly produced, bursting with technical confidence and a disarmingly positive outlook, like Annie stopped solving crimes and fighting communists, and formed a piano and violin-led pop-rock quintet. You get the impression that buried deep in the depths of their hearts, Chi-na are a 90s alt-rock band, a tendency that comes to the surface when they decide to really rock out, as on tunes like the furious Higaimozo where vocalist Kyoko Shiina’s voice leaves the comfort zone of of sweetly melodic, optimistic pop and starts to tear at the limits of its range. But what hits you first and foremost is what a striking pop band they are. Granville Island Market leaps out of the traps like an even more chirpy younger sister of The Bluebells’ 80s/90s hit Young at Heart, and throughout they display a McCartneyesque knack for an uplifting pop melody. Shiina’s parallel universe blues singer alter-ego slips through to this plane of reality on tracks like the the Beatles-esque psych-pop freakout of Nekono Toboe, but Granville is also a pick-and-mix of many of the best elements of Japanese rock and pop history. There are moments where they recall the classic Japanese “new music” style of Yumi Matsutoya or Haruomi Hosono, as on the song Happy End (yeah, see what they did there?) Other times Chi-na recall the late 80s/early 90s band boom that set the stage for the birth of J-Pop, with the perky Kanpai no Aisatsu recalling Jitterin’ Jinn at their most joyous and upbeat. In fact it’s easy to forget in these grey musical times that J-Pop in its initial incarnation was a radical, creative step forward and there are also occasions on Granville, as on Kodomo no Kuni, where the band’s melding of J-Pop balladry and epic psychedelic rock sound like something Takeshi Kobayashi might have produced in the mid-90s for Mr. Children or My Little Lover, but way, way better. An embittered cynic like me might question whether there needs to be violin all over absolutely every single song. Violin always seems to make whatever it’s on sound a bit whimsical and twee, although in Chi-na’s case, it certainly feeds into the group’s particular brand of big-hearted, innocent exuberance. Granville is perhaps the ultimate word in crypto-psychedelic alt-pop for bronies, combining a solid grounding in both leftfield rock, classic pop songwriting and attacking both with jubilant, wide-eyed sincerity.

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