Momoiro Clover Z: 5th Dimension

Last week, The Japan Times published a review I wrote of the new Momoiro Clover Z album. It was a fun album, and on the first listen, there was a very powerful sense of Wow! to it, just for the sheer audacity of trying some of these ideas in an idol record. Neo Stargate opens the album in a nine minute-plus version, the first third of which is just the O Fortuna segment of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burina (yeah, the one from the Old Spice ad) just plonked there, unembellished, for no particular reason other than as testament to its own excess. The song then just explodes into hyperactive synth squiggles a la Skrillex and typically melodramatic vocals straight out of an anime theme. Yes, I did just reference Carl Orff, Skrillex and anime music in one sentence. Listen to it: I wasn’t joking in the review when I said they should do a rock opera.Neo Stargate

The best stuff on the album is still the stuff they did over a year ago, especially Rodo Sanka, which still baffles me how it ever got made — how did anyone ever let a drug-addled British indie-dance producer cum 70s blaxploitation soundtrack enthusiast loose on a top ten idol pop hit? As I say in the review though, it’s interesting how the tracks around it also seem to adopt the tag-team vocal approach of 80s hip hop to varying degrees in how they make the group work as a collection of individuals, not just as a pop unit. The result reminds me a bit of some of the laid-back silliness of Halcali, albeit done with Momoiro Clover Z’s customary polish.Rodo Sanka

I mention Otome Senso, which I don’t really rate as a great song — it’s too much of a watered-down copy of the kind of song Kenichi Maeyamada used to do for them, although it works far better in the context of the album than it did as a standalone single. It’s still way too long though, which is a problem the album has as a whole (my theory of pop song lengths is that once a song goes over 3:45, it’s too long, and this continues until it goes over 8:00, at which point it becomes awesome again). Other stuff on there plays around with different approaches, hunting for a style, and sometimes it works, but it doesn’t quite hang together as a piece. Tsuki to Gingami Hikosen is the better of the two ballads by virtue of its overblown, orchestral, Magical Mystery Tour-era McCartneyisms, while 80s rocker Tomoyasu Hotei’s Saraba, Itoshiki Kanashimitachi-yo sounds a bit like just a Hotei track with the five members of Momoiro Clover Z stuck on top of it, but it just about works. Narasaki’s (of Coaltar of the Deepers) Birth 0 Birth does an interesting job of taking the group in a more electronic direction without leaving their essential identity behind, and he’s probably helped in that by his long association with the group — with such an important songwriter as Maeyamada seemingly on his way out, it might be a good idea to hold onto at least one songwriter with an already established association with the group, if only for continuity’s sake.Saraba, Itoshiki Kanashimitachi-yo

Anyway, in a curious parallel to the 1966 Byrds album of the same title, despite rumours of it being a concept album, it really doesn’t quite hang together, and as I say at the end, I really want Momoiro Clover Z’s next album to be a completely ridiculous, absurdly camp rock opera. Ideally it’ll feature space vampires, robot battles, crossdressing, and be set in a girls’ school in a giant castle on the moon run by a fat, disco dancing German explorer. They’d need to get someone like Kunihiko Ikuhara to write it, and anything less will be a huge disappointment to me.

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61 Comments

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61 responses to “Momoiro Clover Z: 5th Dimension

  1. I can see why you like them so much, they seem to be like a “summary” of what jpop has gone through the last years and an give some insights on how the industry is (slightly) changing. Or maybe I’m wrong and they’re nothing about that, but still cool.

    • It’s certainly an interesting way of looking at it. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but you could be right. There certainly seems to be a willingness to try to break away from the standard J-Pop way of doing things, and idol groups seem to be leading the way.

      I suppose where I feel I should add a word of caution is that every time I think the music industry in Japan is finally “getting it”, they do something annoying and backwards-looking. For example, Perfume made a great step last year by making their music available internationally via iTunes, but their management almost immediately reverted to the typical Japanese music business stereotype and started banning their new videos from YouTube. So the single’s available and they’re on tour abroad but with no clip to promote it, all because of the management company’s need to control everything. My worry with Momoiro Clover Z is that all their songs from now on might just end up as AKB48-esque all-sing-at-once landfill J-pop like Kaso Dystopia.

      • UltimateMusicSnob

        First copy of “Magic Love” as been pulled, but it’s back in other places, like http://en.musicplayon.com/play?v=898292 – I don’t know anything at all about this site, so click with caution, with your Anti-virus on, just in case. Internet is dodgy, all these ways: helps labels, hurts them; makes content undestroyable, the ultimate diffusion machine.

      • Man, I just wrote a 1,600 word rant about this kind of video fascism in the Japanese music industry, for no good reason other than I was thinking about it at that time, and with no one lined up to publish it — fucked if I’m letting anyone have it for free though! (Irony very much intended). I kind of understand why they do it, but it can’t be good to have the industry at war with the fans like this.

      • perfumeophile

        one of my surprises learning about the japanese music biz is how it appears that they’ve managed to keep the physical cd single alive [in the u.s. the majors discontinued pop singles in any physical format almost 20 years ago]

        i suspect sony’s hesitance about spotify and most everyone’s reluctance to use youtube is tied to worrying about losing the physical sales…

        since i’m a perfume fan i’m amazed at their management’s cluelessness when it comes to international marketing….pretty much every non-japanese fan discovered them the same way i did…via illegal youtube upload…[their “official” channel is utterly underwhelming and hopelessly behind the curve]

        i’d also note that warner music japan is the other way around…they post full videos for lots of their artists and have successfully marketed the heck out of kyary that way [possibly having american ownership is the difference….

        thoughts?

      • Well, Perfume are on Universal Japan, so the American ownership thing doesn’t really fly. Although Universal and Warner’s Japan operations are quite independent of their headquarters, so I’m not sure it matters that much anyway. The other thing is that it’s hard to know how much these decisions are being made by the labels and how much by the talent agencies. Perfume’s agency is Amuse, who are a big, pretty old-school talent agency with its roots in the 1970s pop scene, whereas Kyary is with Asobisystem, who are a more recent, more “street”, Harajuku-based agency. Momoiro Clover Z are with a massive agency called Stardust, and Stardust seem to be pretty extensive in their video content, but there are also weird cases like Avex refusing to allow Japanese versions of K-pop songs on YouTube when anyone can see the exact same video in its original Korean version. And Avex are supposed to be the smart players in the Japanese major label scene.

        The problem with making music available online is precisely because of CD sales, and in particular it’s Sony. They’re the biggest label in Japan and all the others have to wait for Sony to move before they do anything that might disrupt the industry’s harmony, but Sony still makes a lot of money from CD players, so they held off for way too long. It’s more complicated than that though, because Sony was actually one of the first companies in Japan to get with music streaming. Sony’s Music Unlimited service is currently the biggest player in subscription music streaming in Japan, but Sony Music Entertainment aren’t releasing some of their biggest domestic acts for the service. There’s actually a lot of infighting and resentment between different bits of the Sony empire.

      • perfumeophile

        thnks ian,

        somehow i didn’t realize that universal music is considered an american company despite their french ownership…so, with perfume, it’s almost certainly down to amuse…their entire social media setup is bafflingly bare-bones

        and sony hanging on to the physical cd because they wanted to hang on to the physical cd player is something i hadn’t considered…makes sense

        i was just reading how, worldwide, profits from sony’s entertainment divisions have been carrying the losses from their electronics division for the last few years

        ps
        a lot of my previous comment was reacting to things i learned in your japan times article rom janurary on the state of the local music industry

  2. I’m not that familiar with how the japanese music business works, but I’m noticing some change in the way japanese musician think of the “global market”… In the last two years I see a lot of independent musicians getting on the most popular social networks and interacting with their international fans (in English). Also I notice several netlabels giving away music for free, which I find kind of surprising since I’ve always thought japanese labels where very serious about copyright issues and stuff… I don’t remeber all of this happening before a couple of years ago (but, then again, I’m probably wrong and I’m sorry if I’m talking something I don’t know much about ). Do you think this kind of behaviour could “force” major labels to look more favourably on foreign market? Sorry for my bad english 🙂

    • No, you could be right. I’m just voicing concerns about what i think might happen. Indie bands and labels are definitely getting much better at using the Web. I think major labels are waiting until they can all move together and as one assert their control over the whole thing just as before. The end result might be different, and perhaps a little more international, but fundamentally, I don’t think the music industry will change much. They like being in control too much.

  3. UltimateMusicSnob

    I heard Wilco speak live in NYC early 2000’s. They released an album **for free** on the Internet, and tripled their sales. A decade later, music business is still waiting to learn this lesson.

  4. UltimateMusicSnob

    Re ‘Carmina Burana’, my cousin calls this the concert overture, a recorded work which precedes the entrance of the band on their own instruments. Progressive rock made this a regular thing: YES with Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird Suite’ into ‘Siberian Khatru’ from the YesSongs tour (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZMoKRluEEs), and Emerson, Lake and Palmer used Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-HN5XqDjTE). Listeners took it to mean that the band was being artsy, and I think they were right. Does give a great free pump-up at the start of the show, though, and the Orff does a great job in that respect for the band above. In fact, the elaborate stage set with big blobby shapes actually reminds me very much of the big YES setup for 1974: http://www.pentaclerecords.net/covenstead/relayer_stage_1.jpg. My favorite part of this is the lead singer’s long build-up to 4:40–wonderful stuff! But when they line up and do a more standard idol-type chorus, I feel a musical gap, a missed opportunity. Long form in pop is REALLY tough to do, as you point out, and this arrangement doesn’t seem to have enough faith in the non-standard elements (my favorite part, of course), nor the patience to go ahead and earn the bigger payoff. Of course, even YES stumbled on this aspect many times. Your diagnosis, is spot-on, yes, Rock Opera, long form, take the time to do what they’ve proven they have the potential for.

    • The issue of length of a piece is where I think music and comedy intersect, and I think it’s relevant here. My joke in the OP about the 3:45 and 8:00 thresholds is sort of serious too, because embedded in it are two theoretical questions, both with different implications. The first figure represents the question “How long is too long?” and the second, “How long is long enough?”

      I spend a lot of time reading and re-reading Stewart Lee’s books where he describes the background to, transcribes, and then extensively annotates his standup routines. They’re a fascinating insight into the creation of standup comedy, but also into the creation of any kind of art. In his book “How I Escaped My Certain Fate” he often draws parallels with music, not just in the book title, but also in how he used background music to identify potential troublemakers before his set (he’d have them play “Breath of Coldness” by Evan Parker before the set and if anyone complained to the PA staff, he’d know that they weren’t going to like his style of comedy), or how Julian Cope’s offstage excursions broke down the barriers between stage and audience, that sort of thing.

      Anyway, the relevant bit here is a famous line from John Cage that he quotes: “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” Now this is a line I’ve always associated with the sort of droning, repetitive, minimalist stuff I like (Neu!, early Stereolab, all minimal techno, etc.), and that’s certainly how it applies to comedy. But I think in general terms it can be applied to more complex or even more commercial musical ideas, how taking something and pushing it as far as it can go, and then pushing it way, way, way past that point, is sometimes exactly the right thing to do.

      So anyway, John Cage is relevant to a discussion of Momoiro Clover Z.

      (And like Evan Parker’s sax solo, these kinds of meta-discussions are here to warn off the kind of J-pop fans who used to come on here and get upset about me analysing their favourite music: This place is not meant for you!)

  5. UltimateMusicSnob

    Re: meta-discussions: omigod. If you knew how many Google searches I had to do, for how many years, to find a place where music can be discussed this way without sending everyone heading for the hills. In my Facebook community I’m known as the thread killer. Years. I love meta-discussions. You probably know this already, but the best non-fiction book period is “Goedel, Escher, and Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter. Finds and connects the threads connecting all sorts of things to music, and music to them.
    Momoiro has a huge possibility opened to them if they will try the John Cage test. Richard Wagner starts Rheingold with 136 bars of E flat chord–thus inventing Minimalism and Ambient music a century and a half before the rest of us caught up with him. That kind of music patience goes a long way. So to speak.

    • Well, I don’t think there’s any sort of music that should be considered beneath analysing, and not only that, but thinking about what we mean when we say certain things about it can also be revealing. The basic purpose of what I write is still just to introduce music, but on its own, I feel that’s a bit limited. I wrote a post laying out what I’m trying to do a few months back: https://clearandrefreshing.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/what-i-talk-about-when-i-talk-about-music-warning-meta/

      I hadn’t heard of that book, no. To be honest, most of my reading is confined to trash science fiction and fantasy these days, and even that comes in fits and starts. Sounds interesting.

  6. perfumeophile

    here’s an interesting article on lamonte young for those of you so inclined

    http://www.redbullmusicacademy.com/magazine/the-hum-of-the-city-la-monte-young

  7. perfumeophile

    and for you eno fans [in case you missed this] his latest project: a “calming room” installed at a british hospital

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/apr/18/surgeon-prescribes-brian-eno-to-patients

    • Cheers for both those links. I thought I may have read the Eno one, although it’s just as likely that it’s such an Eno-ish thing to do that it somehow seemed like something that had always been true. The LaMonte Young piece read like a runthrough of all my favourite bands in some places. Really interesting.

  8. miffy

    Who are all these commentators ???
    And no one is talking abt Momoiro clover or even idols. Just zeroing on Perfume…. I;m guessing the Nakata linked artist are probably the most popular posts on this site.

    For my contribution to this comments, how are the Japanese music scene reacting to Daft Punk. Any peep from Nakata himself?

    • My most popular topics according to my stats are Perfume, capsule and Kyary in that order. This post is my most read at the moment though. Needless to say, few seem to care about all my painstakingly and lovingly researched indie and underground pieces (sigh!) I’m happy for commenters to use posts as jumping off points for other things though. The connections are often interesting.

      (Oh, and don’t worry, the stats say you’re still the top ranked commenter on this site!)

      Daft Punk’s new thing seems popular enough here anyway. Nakata never talks about other artists though, even though he was obviously very influenced by “Discovery” a few years back.

    • perfumeophile

      @miffy

      if you’re interested, i put a lot of personal details in the long comment thread attached to ian’s march post discussing kyary’s “ninjya re bang bang”

  9. perfumeophile

    the number one reason i haven’t left comments about the music ian has been writing about is that my home computer has no audio [a slight problem, admittedly] and so i can only listen when on someone else’s machine…

    so i just played five of the linked tracks by momoiro clover z and they certainly are excessive….[i was thinking “they need more queen” just before hitting “saraba, itoshiki kanashimitachi-yo” with its fantastic faux brian may guitar solo…prayers answered, apparently]…..and with all the different songwriters and styles on display here, i’m not surprised the album doesn’t hold together

    i’m assuming the whole thing has a running time well over an hour…don’t think i could listen to it all at one sitting…i was exhausted by just the tracks i heard

    i’m still very new to japanese music, be it idol or alternative, so it’s all alien and surprising to me….and i actually find the idol music more confounding that the avant guard…i have many more western reference points for the latter than the former…

    ps
    i will note that, while the exact details are hazy, i certainly first discovered the blog while doing a google search based on some combination of nakata, capsule, perfume and/or kyary

    pps
    the entire side 2 of the byrd’s “fifth dimension” album ran 13 and a half minutes…the first track here runs over 9…times change

  10. UltimateMusicSnob

    @Miffy: “And no one is talking abt Momoiro clover”. Long comment on Momoiro Clover Z **is** in this thread, timestamp: May 22, 2013 at 10:46 pm. Guess you missed that one, would love to hear your take, particularly on our discussion about song-length in this kind of music.

  11. Carter

    I still don’t understand the comparison between AKB and Kasou Dystopia, that sounds more like a hard rock song than the candy stuff AKB do. Yes they are similiarities, but just as in any of their other songs. It’s one of the best tracks of the albums I feel, the guitar riff is really excellent. Good job by AKIRASTAR.

    And I sure hope the next album isn’t what you described haha.

    • It’s certainly a bit more hard rock than AKB48, and the arrangement jumps about between different melodic themes more than anything they would do as well. It’s definitely a better song than pretty much anything AKB48 would do.

      However, at heart, the melody and chord progression is one of those punk-pop J-pop melodies that almost every J-pop group since Judy And Mary has been doing, so I felt it really could have been anyone, and that was my real problem. It’s a decent enough J-pop tune, but it’s like a lot of J-pop: there’s nothing in it that makes me think, “Only Momoclo could have done this.” The reason I mentioned AKB in the original article was because I was looking for an extreme that I could set against Judy And Mary.

      Perhaps @ultimatemusicsnob would be able to break down more professionally what the musical similarities between Momoiro Clover (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QP3yf6ri3DA), Judy And Mary (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM7MgyqEuKQ) and AKB48 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEYWTrACFDE) are — either that or just tell me I’m imagining it!

      • UltimateMusicSnob

        Thanks for the links! I *would* like to parse out exactly this sort of question. One of the reasons I’ve started in on Japanese popular music (everything including punk, techno et al), is because I’ve found a few artists who do NOT just sound like shadows of standard Western styles–they are new and interesting for my Western ears. BUT–only a few. So finding out what the core musical characteristics are is a very interesting question.

      • Carter

        Thanks for answering. I guess I’m not struck because I don’t listen to much J-pop or any other idol band. To me it’s just a good song, whether it is Momoclo or not. But I think it’s punchy and catchy in a way only Momoclo can produce. At this point I do not expect them to amaze me all the time but just to keep up releasing good songs.
        I don’t think I will find anything better than Neo Stargate this year.

      • Carter

        As for the similiarities, there probably is but none of these songs sound the same. That’s like the difference between good and bad pop music, they belong to the same genre but they are not of equal quality. Heavy Rotation is just hugely annoying and the Judy and Mary thing is good but not quite as punchy as Kasou Dystopia (and its frenetic drums !)

      • I think @ultimatemusicsnob’s academic analysis actually frees us both up for a kind of middle ground here where we can all agree on a few things. Firstly, I think we can all accept based on both our own direct feelings about the song and his deconstruction of the musical elements that what Momoclo are doing here is way more imaginative and interesting than AKB48. I still have my aversion to those all-sing-at-once major chord punk-pop melodies but that is very much my personal taste (albeit a point of taste honed by years of millions of J-pop bands using the same style). It’s certainly punchy and catchy.

        The Judy And Mary song I linked is one of their earliest songs though, so I strongly recommend @ultimatemusicsnob explore further their later material because they took that base and did some quite lovely, baroque things with it. Actually, what Momoclo are doing with Kaso Dystopia would have fitted in very well with some of JAM’s late 90s material where they were experimenting with harder rock, metal, and electronic music. I singled it out as one of my least favourite tracks, but that doesn’t mean I totally dislike it as a track.

        Neo Stargate is striking piece of music and I very much doubt anything that in-your-face will happen in J-pop this year either.

      • UltimateMusicSnob

        @Carter: I would certainly agree these songs don’t **sound** the same. They’re using different stylistic approaches to materials which are parallel in some ways, at some places: chords, melodic materials, tonality; but which are also quite different in vocal styles, arrangement/orchestration, and just raw timbres [ I do love that Steve Jones guitar tone with JAM ]. I’m very tempted to read the appropriation especially of the most “naive” melodic/harmonic materials as deliberate idol songs commentary, but that may not actually be the case, maybe it’s just in the music-cultural air generally.

      • Carter

        Thanks to both of you for your very informative posts. Because I don’t have the musical knowledge and tools to put words on my feelings, about why it sounds different, I really appreciated your indications UltimateMusicSnob.

        I would add that, at first, I was excited at the idea it would be a concept album but in the end I’m happy they didn’t go for a single style and went for a very diverse approach, in which everybody will find a song to like. This album has a great life esperance, I can’t get enough about it yet (and I’ve reached the 1000 listens of Neo Stargate).

        PS : Tsuki to Ginkami Hikousen was another audacious attempt I hhought, that sounds a lot like a 70-80 progressive rock song with some kind of a solemn aura. I really enjoys it. Hai to Diamond is also very good but the musical break was too sudden and the voice direction could have been better.

  12. UltimateMusicSnob

    Musically, Judy&Mary and AKB are using the same musical scales (simple major scales, G major and E Major respectively), same chords (triads only), **exactly** the same chord progressions (V/vi to vi: in G major that means a B Major chord to an e minor, and right back to G), and same rhythms–squared off, on the strong beats, no syncopations. These are both songs of restricted range, limited pitch sets and symmetrical phrases (2+2 bars, 4+4 bars), all characteristics of simple children’s songs. The only difference is the setting. AKB makes a Walt Disney production number out of it with a big pit band sound, while Judy and Mary sound exactly like the Sex Pistols have fired Johnny Rotten and recruited a Japanese schoolgirl as frontman–but this is the only song she knows so far, so they play that one. The guitarist muddies the waters stylistically just slightly with his pitch bends, vibrato, and whammy bar (Blues-Rock!), but otherwise he’s channeling Steve Jones (needs to get him a Les Paul Standard, though).
    Momoiro is on a completely different level, much more interesting musical materials for my ears. This song deliberately contrasts three different set of musical content. Part I is blues-rock pentatonic scale in A, hard-rock backbeat drum patterns, syncopated rhythms–straight-up hard rock. Then there’s a sudden switch at 0:55 to F# Major, to straight major scales, and that same V/vi – vi modulation again (A# Major to D# minor in this case). Now we’re in a straight pop music idiom, using major melodies but with songwriter tricks like using the parallel major/minor on a subdominant chord (B major/B min) to heighten the moment (you can hear this at exactly 1:04, 2:17, other spots). Still syncopated, and with these more complex musical materials it’s not trying to sound musically naive, just Pop. At 2:43 we leave Pop and take a short excursion into Prog-Rock Land during the instrumental break, using a trick (originally J.S. Bach and friends) of a bass tone that stays the same while chords climb over it, adding interesting dissonances. BUT at 3:04-3:21 it drops suddenly into Sesame Street mode, and all the things I said about the other two suddenly apply: simple symmetrical phrases, syncopation disappears, simple triads (3-note chords major or minor) only, etc. At the end they recapitulate these styles in reverse very briefly and right next to each other, Pop-Rock chorus, and Blues-rock closing, just in case you weren’t paying attention before. (“Yes, Momoiro, style-collage meta-music, I get it.”)

    • miffy

      You just explain why i dislike Momoiro and AKB. I don’t have your ear but even i recognize that its all the same-y. If you know Japanese, the lyrical content is basically beholden to the (pre)teen male gaze for all of them. I guess Momoiro is more palatable because they more willing to recognize the loser salary man…

      • I’m sort of with you there, but I spend so much time with J-pop that I can’t let myself dismiss it totally. I mean, these major chord melodic clichés that J-pop has aren’t so different from the blues/r&b clichés that Western rock and pop cling to. I do think there’s something intrinsically cool about the “black notes” that J-pop tends to avoid, or melodies that switch between major and minor keys, but I feel it’s important as someone in a certain environment to consider what the environment I’m in is and judge music according to its own restrictions and complications.

        Actually, part of the problem I have with non-Japanese J-pop fans is that they tend to criticise me for being “anti-Japanese” where I’m just trying to step back from the clichés of a scene I’ve spent a lot of time in. For example, on the Momoiro Clover Z forum from which so many visitors seem to have found this post, someone (not in a really mean way) noted that I said the best song on the new Momoclo album was the one written by a British guy, and added a cynical “not that’s a surprise” kind of remark to it. OK, to an overseas J-pop fan, maybe that’s an easy criticism — the British writer thinks the British songwriter did the best song on the J-pop album — but that’s not really where it comes from. J-pop has all these melodic tropes that it follows, so I’m naturally stoked when I find a song that breaks all those traditions and comes out like a 70s funk-soul track. I’m coming at it from a totally different background to them. Japanese speaking J-pop fans seem to get this, but overseas fans who have often come at J-pop precisely because it sounds different to Western pop often feel quite put out by my opinions in this way.

        Anyway, I try to plot a middle ground. J-pop’s clichés annoy me, but I try, within the genre restrictions J-pop has, to appreciate stuff that’s doing something different with the formula. That’s why I like Momoiro Clover Z and it’s also why some of what they do bugs me.

        (On the plus side, Momoclo fans seem to be a little bit more thoughtful and civil in their criticisms of my writing than some of the AKB48 lot, who can be frankly feral when they get going!)

      • UltimateMusicSnob

        If there’s anything that constitutes a cultural music-style “boot stamping on the face” etc., I would say it’s Blues-Rock, which has dramatically colonized the entire world of pop music, going on decades now. There is an old interview with Lou Reed somewhere where he states that Velvet Underground deliberately set out NOT to use those materials, which had already grown so pervasive way back then [VU were good with ideas and thoughtful about lyrics, but had nothing remotely like the pure creative music chops to write great melodies and harmonies–just my opinion]. Nowadays in U.S. pop music, it’s a sub-genre which has taken over, not just basic Blues-rock chords and scales, but the Rhythm-and-Blues subcategory of those materials. If I have to listen to one more overcooked semi-improvised blues melisma on a held note, by Justin Bieber (oh please ) or anyone else, my head will explode Scanners-style.
        Well, I’m no fan of Disney-ish melodies either, which is where I make a link to some of these too-simple J-Pop songs, just in terms of musical materials. If ‘They Might Be Giants’ can write spectacular songs by the dozens for children without going down that road, then why are so many ***still going down that road***???
        So I’m relieved, refreshed and excited all at once, when someone has the nerve to try something else. Lately I’m finding it in apparently VERY isolated corners of J-Pop. But at least I’m getting it there–it had been years since I heard anything that different in Western music.

      • I think Lou Reed was a fantastic songwriter within the format of 60s blues-influenced rock. Even some of the songs he (and John Cale) wrote for money outside of the Velvets (basically the idol pop of the day, just farmed out to up and coming pretty faces) were super tunes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z4i5NQ5Uxw (and of course on Loaded, he brought all that sense back to the Velvets anyway.) But that 60s r&b base to all pop music just doesn’t exist in Japan, or at least it shares its space with lots of other things. Blues chord progressions are quite exciting and new things in Japanese pop when they do occasionally crop up.

        In relation to your comment about the Vevets, I personally really love Wire’s stated intention to play “anything but rock”. Of course Wire’s music was totally rock, but only because rock raced to catch up with Wire. The Velvets are a bit like that. They only sound old now because of how much others sought to imitate them.

        I think some of the stuff Miffy likes lies in between this idol stuff and the hardcore indie and punk music I usually post. There’s a really nice band called Sakanaction who had a new album recently that I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet, and there are other semi-mainstrean acts that are worth attention. There is way more to J-pop than this blog makes out, I guess.

  13. UltimateMusicSnob

    At least in the early 80’s, there was a Punk thing of doing covers of very un-Rock-ish music. I heard a band do the TV theme from Batman; someone else did Ruthann Friedman’s “Windy”–very freaky in punk arrangement. Is J&M doing a cover here?

    • The Who were the first band to cover Batman, The Jam covered it later because Paul Weller wished he was in The Who. The punk cover is a big thing though, like The Dickies’ version of The Banana Splits etc. Old punks loved their bubblegum really.

  14. UltimateMusicSnob

    There’s a uniformity of stunning beauty among the idol singers. They all have absolutely gorgeous eyes and faces–unlike our Pink/Gaga/Miley, etc., who are all striking in completely different ways. Is there a parallel between that visual aspect and the uniformity of the simple sweet (very often sickly sweet) tunes? It begins to look like a really specific marketing strategy.
    I would say on the larger topic that ifmartin nailed the musical similarity holistically, just by feeling it was there, which is true. The songs J&M and AKB are doing use not only the same chords, but 90% of the time in the same order (like the V of vi / vi progression). And if we add in the 3:04 section of Momoiro’s song, then it’s a triple parallel – same musical materials, used the same way

    • Funny you say that, because in Japan, idol singers aren’t usually considered beautiful. They’re considered “girl next door” cute rather than really beautiful. K-pop singers are the real beauties, but their looks are sort of unattainable, kind of fake seeming to Japanese eyes, where small imperfections are often idolised to the point of fetishising them (hence Japanese culture not caring as much as America about teeth). We’ve got to be a bit careful here that we’re not falling into an “all look the same” trap. Within the pop cultural zone these bands operate, there’s a lot of variation in looks. AKB48 just because of their sheer numbers probably back up your point a bit though.

  15. Just wanna say though that this has been perhaps the most interesting comment thread I’ve ever had on here. Thanks to everyone who’s taken part, regardless of whether you’ve agreed or disagreed with me.

    Just to add, someone from a Japanese Momoiro Clover Z fan group has tried to translate the original post into Japanese, if anyone fancies looking: http://d.hatena.ne.jp/myopomme/20130524/1369415482

    • UltimateMusicSnob

      Wow, this crossover to the fan group is brilliant! Hope that really takes root, what a great connection. Any insights/reflection you pick up from there that might be useful reflected back here (where I can read it) would be VERY welcome to me. I wonder about a native Japanese fan’s take on this music ***all the time***. They must be aware of all sorts of cultural facets I could never pick up.

      • I’m not sure what the Japanese blogs are saying yet other than that some of them are interested to hear a “neutral” (I don’t consider myself neutral, but I’m not a full-on “fan” so I understand what they mean) analysis. With the overseas (English language) fans, you can see some of their comments by scrolling down here and looking at the follow-up posts over the page: http://momoiroclover.net/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=148&start=80 As I said, they’re more civil than the AKB48 fans, but like all these fan forums, they’re very protective of their idols.

  16. UltimateMusicSnob

    Point taken about similarity in looks. I should have said I mean it in a very broad categorical way. On idols I see a lot of long eyelashes, carefully coiffed hair, stylish makeup, oval faces. I’m never going to see a Pink-style short-short bob (or Sinead O’Connor bald head) on an idol singer, no? Or Gaga raccoon-eyes makeup? Or even a not-model-slender face like Adele? Even Britney Spears, at least as a post-teen, has more exotic looks than fashion model looks, to my eyes.
    In other news, Judy And Mary’s song got completely lodged in my head today. And the way it closes is frankly stylistically **extraordinary**: tailing off so dramatically that way completely stomps on the applause/cheers that so many popular songs go for by cranking it up at the end. This close is dark and an amazing style break. Going to have to look more into this band.

    • Oh, now in fashion, you’re totally bang on. You might want to check http://www.neojaponisme.com for the skinny on Japanese fashion trends. There is some deeply hardcore social commentary about fashion and consumer trends on there and the eyelash thing definitely ties in to a dominant style.

      I strongly recommend Judy And Mary. I’m not a fan because their chord progressions don’t grab my gut, but at the same time, I’m a huge fan because they just did something no one else did.

      Sobakasu http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IereRLNYIQE: This song was a massive hit anime theme song, but it’s got some weird stuff going on round the fringes.

      Over Drive http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6UyZS1iDe4: Another ultra-mainstream song, and yet there’s something really inspiring about it anyway, somehow.

      Daydream http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-3HAonjlf4: A really early song so not so sophisticated, but it’s great to know that given JAM’s pivotal role in the creation of J-pop that songs like this were there at the birth.

      Motto http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61dMwIXfk4g: This was pretty much their last song, and it shows their roots but also how far they’d come.

      I’m sort of biased towards all the punky songs here, but they had more than that and were a really key band who even though I’m basically against the sort of melodic framework they used, I can’t help but love them.

      • UltimateMusicSnob

        Yuki’s voice definitely has me hooked. If I want loud fast guitars, there’s a thousand places I can get that, but it’s the voice that makes or breaks all those guitar bands, and this one is striking. On the one hand it’s tiny, but she absolutely knows how to sell a song, and she does it her own way, which is miles away from anything else I’ve ever heard (always a plus).

    • Oh, and here’s the debut solo single by Yuki, JAM’s singer (written by Aiha Higurashi from Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her). This came out just after I first arrived in Japan, and I remember seeing the video in a record shop and thinking, “Fucking hell, Japanese pop is the best thing in the universe!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjTtcMD5aLs

  17. UltimateMusicSnob

    : On your comment “Fucking hell, Japanese pop is the best thing in the universe!”—I just dropped more money, at one time, on a bunch of overseas CD’s, by a factor of I think **20**, than I’ve ever spent on any music, period, and that covers everyone/everything from Richard Wagner (expensive in full sets) to Beatles (I would pay anything). And there is one singer in particular whose voice and music just has me completely by the short hairs–I’m practically physically chemically addicted to her music at this point, and I’ve never been that way about any singer ever–maybe Franco Corelli at one point, but not remotely to this degree. God bless the Internet, and J-Pop.

  18. perfumeophile

    @ultimatemusicsnob….if i can be nosy could you list some the the artists you bought?

    my favorite discovery from reading clear and refreshing has been negoto…it’s an all girl band that you might want to share with your daughters…i’d suggest checking the videos first…as a few of them, especially “nameless” [with its video game violence featuring humans] could be a bit too disturbing…

    sony japan has blocked the few promotion videos posted at youtube from american viewers, but they can all be found at daily motion where they appear to have been uploaded by a french fan….
    http://www.dailymotion.com/us/relevance/search/negoto/1#

  19. UltimateMusicSnob

    Sure, no problem. My first round involved getting my favorite Nakata-produced discs: nearly everything by capsule, Kyary Pamyu, Perfume, and MEG, 16 discs altogether. I’m composing on synthesizers myself, so I wanted to hear, on a good clear uncompressed track, exactly what he’s doing. After I found MEG’s ‘Room Girl’ tracks online (not by Nakata), I went online again and just got everything else I could find by MEG. She has some earlier jazz-ballad songs, a genre I have never listened to before J-Pop or otherwise. But MEG’s voice completely sold me on it, enough that I’m also considering Emi Hinouchi, if her other songs are up to the standard of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ay2wj5oY34. MEG also does some very effective vocal things I don’t hear from other singers, jazz or otherwise, bending pitches in a sort of post-Billie Holiday fashion. She takes that between-the-piano-keys ability (it takes an extraordinary ear to do it with precision, which she does) to the next step and far beyond, very passionate stuff. I haven’t bought Ami Suzuki yet, but will later–probably just a ‘best of’.
    I’m finding it difficult to uncover other really strong prospects, though, that match my tastes. I *will* get Judy and Mary if I can find an album that exemplifies the “Blue Tears” track. I never listen to music casually (steals all my attention, and then I can’t work or play nicely with others), so that really focuses my tastes, which run to “Intense” (Sex Pistols, Plastic Ono Band) and “Complex” (Bartok, mid/late Beatles). “Call Me Maybe” is a perfectly good song–I will forget it and never miss it. But one copy of MEG’s “Kouro” got pulled from YouTube, and I nearly had a panic attack (so I bought the album for $53).

  20. perfumeophile

    thanks…that’s some serious spending…due to a limited budget, i limited myself to the three “proper” perfume albums [two bought used] plus kyary’s “revolution.” i really want some capsule…but the discs been quite hard to find used at any price i consider affordable….

    i, too, wanted to hear the music playing a physical cd on a proper stereo after a few months of listening to online streams using $4 headphones….glad i did

    i also want both the negoto’s, but nobody in the us seems to have them

    ps
    i have an early ami suzuki dvd [still sealed, probably region 2] that someone gave me….if you can use it i’ll be glad to send it your way

  21. perfumeophile

    ps
    the new kyary cd has been announced for a late june japanese release…i’m very interested to see what sire records us, who signed her for the states, is planning to do with it [if anything]

  22. UltimateMusicSnob

    Look’s like it’s be JAM “Be Ambitious” album–but only 6 songs on it. Later stuff seems to pull back from the really raw punk edge.

    • The first album “JAM” has a lot if the same songs as Be Ambitious as far as I remember (I have both though, so I sometimes get mixed up). Orange Sunshine has “Dynamite” on it, which was their punkiest moment ever. After that, they did Miracle Diving, where they became less punk but made pop a hell of a lot more interesting.

  23. UltimateMusicSnob

    Amazon.co.jp has a some CD’s for considerably less than I paid the import company. It’s a hassle, you have to work the Chrome browser auto-translate, PLUS Google’s ‘Translate’ page, to get through it, but it was definitely worth it. Some disks just $10 or even less. I would like that Suzuki DVD, very generous of you. Let’s do info in Facebook private message. https://www.facebook.com/jerald.hughes

  24. UltimateMusicSnob

    Punk is often best in the live version–I’ll try to find a DVD from ~1992-94 if possible. Orange Sunshine tracks sound good. What really grabbed me in Blue Tears was the waaayyy-out-there finishing vocal lines. That’s beyond punk, and off into dada, which would have been even better, if they could sustain it and explore it somehow.

  25. perfumeophile

    speaking of punk rock covers and/or nakata, kyary’s “candy candy” gets the treatment here

  26. I know this is a really old thread, but gotta say: Just found the video clips from Judy and Mary’s Miracle Night Diving tour. Wow–and again-and again WOW, this is such great music-making, Fantastic stuff! Thanks for giving us this one, ifmartin.

  27. dickbag

    Your review was shit

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