Hikashu: Ikitekoi Chinmoku

Ikitekoi ChinmokuOccupying a respectfully regarded but also somewhat at-a-distance position on the fringes of the Japanese music scene, Hikashu are in the midst of one of the most productive periods of a career that is rapidly approaching forty years, releasing material at a faster rate than the music scene can really process, imbued with a level of inventiveness, imagination and creative energy that few younger bands can match.

Hikashu are a band who were born out of Koichi Makigami’s need for music to soundtrack his theatre group in the late ‘70s, and there’s a theatricality running through Ikitekoi Chinmoku, both in the dramatic vocal delivery of songs like Iroha Moyo and Magma no Tonari, and in the song structures which rarely conform to the traditional pop format, instead painting winding musical narratives of their own. The album itself projects a semi-theatrical structure with the opening title track and closing Okitekoi Densetsu bookending the album with shared, and rather eerie, musical motifs.

Given that they are a band who coined the term ‘pataphysic rock to describe themselves, it should come as no surprise that it’s a particularly absurdist, Dadaist kind of theatricality too. Makigami’s vocal arsenal of squeaks, rattles, baritone drones, throat singing and other nonsensical interjections is engaged in a near constant dialogue with the brass, keyboards and Mita’s erratic guitar phrases. Tengri Kaeru and Melon wo Narase! Beluga in particular are alive with a broad cast of musical voices engaged in a furious if largely incomprehensible conversation.Hikashu: Naruhodo

The synthesiser that ricochets between the speakers in Konna Hito and the rhythm machine that underscores Naruhodo refer back to the band’s technopop roots, but Hikashu are a far looser, more jazz-influenced band – they always had more in common with Henry Cow than Kraftwerk. Despite the album’s New York recording, there are also echoes of the band’s recent Siberian tour experiences, as in the babbling scat of Altai Meiso, where Makigami’s vocal workouts express themselves to their (il)logical extreme – although who would bet against him finding a new border to push in time for the band’s next album.

What remains remarkable about Hikashu, however, is that through all their freeform rambling, they never completely lose the sense of themselves as a pop band. Shizuka na Shaboten is a fine sub-three-minute pop song, albeit with more theremin than the average Oricon chart topper, and even at its most avant-garde, Ikitekoi Chinmoku overflows with a joyful sense of childish fun.

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9 responses to “Hikashu: Ikitekoi Chinmoku

  1. Hello.

    The reason that brought me here is that I am passionate about music. I’m Mexican (what else could bring a mexican here?) and I grew up listening to the music that plays in my country, latinamerica and foreign english language music from the US and the UK, basically. What sounds in my country is something I like and enjoy but I always have on hand and know where to find what I want. However, an important part of global music is music rock, pop, electronic, even jazz or blues, these genres that sound all over the world and for better or worse we all consume, today is very worn and offers little emotions. Bands, soloists and others who venture into these genres are repeating things that have already been made with a much lower quality.

    I read you complain about the situation of Japanese music about originality but as I can see is a global problem.

    Tired of all this, I gave myself the task since several months for searching and find sounds that cause me a lot of intrigue and excitement. Through the internet I went to Argentina and found the tango of Piazzolla and Saluzzi; Alfredo Sitarroza in Uruguay; in Brazil Vinicius de Moraes and Chico Buarque; recently, I visited Japan and met Jun Togawa. Which by the way, I adore her.

    Since then, I’ve been digging for Japanese music that moves me and that makes me feel excited again. In my journey I met across with some lists of oriental music but are very random and with a poor criteria. For example, I met Happy End, a nice group but when I heard the music and I couldn’t find something new, just an imitation of Hippy movement music in US. I think that happen in all the world, even here in Mexico. But that’s not what I’m looking for, because you know, that kind of music, just as psicodelic, punk, in their purest forms are find everywhere without the importance to be in a specific place.

    My main goal is very simple and I hope you can guide me in what I want to find, I know you’ve heard this example before: I’m touring in every place like if I were visiting a restaurant. I visited Argentina, Uruguay, Brasil and I listened in these places the best traditional music, but at the same time modern that only I can have in that particular place (or at least the most autentic) When I get into this incredible “restaurant” that Japan offers in music, was thanks to Jun Togawa, listening Teinen Pushinganga, and enka music and that beautiful voice of bird that immediately let me know I had arrived to a “real” Japan. I became a fan in a second and now today I know all her discography: The Harlmes, Yapoos and Guernica.

    Since then, I’ve also met Yoshida Brothers and Sheena Ringo that is awesome, but to me lacks of digging in Japanese traditional music to be great. And nothing else.

    I hope you can recommend me some Japanese musicians or albums. I’m really interested in this kind of music. I tried to find a top ten or something in this incredible blog but I couldn’t find anything like that.

    I’m not an expert as you but if you’re interested in some latinamerican music, probably I could give you a couple of recommentations.

    ¡Greetins from Mexico!

    • I don’t know if I can answer your questions easily, because I think Japanese music means something a bit different to you from what it means to me. For example, the idea of “real Japan” isn’t such a straightforward idea — imitation of overseas music is every bit as much a part of real Japanese music as music that draws from Japanese traditional art forms and the unique creative minds of its creators. You dismiss Happy End as being just an imitation of the US hippy movement, but Happy End are the foundation of modern Japanese pop and rock and their influence underscores a huge range of music. You’ll only get a very limited understanding of Japanese music by focusing exclusively on the artists who feel sufficiently exotic to you.

      As far as lists go, I don’t have anything like that yet — I’ve never felt confident enough in my knowledge to make such a definitive claim — but I make lists every year of my top 10 or 20 albums. For more wide ranging lists, Rolling Stone’s Japan edition published a top 100 (you can see the list here: http://rateyourmusic.com/list/iyiiki/rolling_stone_japans_100_greatest_japanese_rock_albums_of_all_time/) and Snoozer magazine published their own top 150 list as a sort of response (here: http://rateyourmusic.com/list/iyiiki/japan__the_dark_continent_of_rock/). There are some key differences in the lists (for example, Snoozer feel that Happy End are overrated and emphasises bands from the editor’s hometown of Kyoto more) but there’s a lot of information in there.

      If you’re looking for something a bit darker and more eccentric than Happy End, the album Vacant World by The Jacks is very good. Jun Togawa is a pretty unique figure, although she’s connected to a certain generation of 80s new wave musicians that includes (in addition to the bands she participated in) Hikashu, the Plastics, P-Model, Chakra, Juicy Fruits, Phew (and her bands Aunt Sally, Most, Big Picture), maybe Akiko Yano too, and others. Halmens also featured Maki Nomiya, who went on to join Pizzicato 5, and that takes you into a whole new area with the likes of Flipper’s Guitar, Cornelius, the whole Trattoria Records scene and so on.

      There’s a lot of good stuff out there that’s interesting for a lot of different reasons, obviously. Outside of the contemporary stuff I usually write about on here, a few personal favourites of mine include Phew’s 1981 self-titled solo album, anything by Hikashu, Number Girl’s “Num Heavy Metallic”, everything by Supercar, P-Model’s “Potpourri” and “Perspective”, pretty much any Melt Banana, Chakra’s self-titled 1980 debut. Those are just based on my own musical prejudices though, and I’m sure your own taste will differ and you’ll find plenty of your own favourites if you keep searching.

      • Thanks for answering

        I understand your point about the music from abroad is as intrinsic as traditional Japanese culture, here’s the same, for example, there are bands playing pure punk and that music is also part of Mexican culture.

        I think I just find that everything sounds much of the same everywhere. So when I find something really genuine, I go crazy.

        I know the kind of artists that I’m looking for, and are hard to find. But I’m not looking exotic artists or music as you mention, at least is not the main goal. If I need to get through it, well… I appreciate the musicians that use the music that comes from outside (rock, pop, electronic, etc.) and use it to make richer their owns music, to expand their sounds and even expand the foreign music. That’s what I found great about Jun Togawa (sorry if I mention her again but is a good example) she creates a great balance between the ancient Japanese music and the modern one.

        But as you mention, I need to get a wider vision about Japanese music. I recently heard the Number Girl album you recommend me and sounds great. A top quality band around the world; I don’t know really well Happy End, sorry for my little vision about them.

        I asked you because you know a lot about Japanese music. It’s pretty hard to find good references in the internet, you know? I met across with the Rolling Stone’s list but I didn’t fell very confident about them.

        Thank you again and I will be checking out the recommendations you gave me, after I have more notion I’ll come back to ask you where I need to find some more Japanese music according to my taste.

  2. I’m not crazy about Happy End personally, but they’re very influential. One of the members of Happy End, Eiichi Ohtaki, made the album “A Long Vacation” in the early 80s, which I like much more, while Haruomi Hosono went on to form Yellow Magic Orchestra, who are another of the most important Japanese bands ever.

    The Japanese punk scene is very recognisable as punk, but still I think played out in a lot of unique ways. Bands like Inu and Friction are interesting in their own right, although what you can draw out of them as being uniquely Japanese or just unique to their own creative minds is hard to pin down. Aburadako made some really weird stuff, some of which is excellent, and of course you also get bands coming out of that scene like the Boredoms, who sound like nothing else on Earth.

    With the Rolling Stone and Snoozer lists, it might be a good idea to look at the stuff that’s common to both lists as a starting point. At the very least, it will give you a sense of what kind of stuff Japanese music critics think is the best.

    You’re welcome to shout me up for recommendations any time.

  3. Hello again. I’ve been hearing some stuff you shared with me and I must say that you have a crazy taste which I like.

    I found interesting proposals in each artists that I’ve heard so far and it’s been worth time investment. Here my thoughts:
    I quite liked Phew’s self title album, I enjoyed a lot how intriguing it’s, even tough I’ve never felt attracted by Krautrock music.

    The Yellow Magic Orchestra stuff is fantastic, I heard the self title album and Solid State Survivor and both are great, probably my favorite of all groups you pointed me out. Besides I investigate a little bit more and I found very interesting the electronic music Haruomi Honoso creates, I think I’m gonna dig a bit more in it; I gave a couple of listens to A Long Vacation by Eiichi Ohtaki and it’s a phenomenal album, It reminds me the beautiful arrangements Brian Wilson did in the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

    I listened some stuff by Supercar and it was fine, I liked the mixture of shoegaze and alternative sounds, I also enjoyed Super ae by Boredoms, although both groups were hard to follow because of their long records. The modernity has changed the way the music is consumed, nowadays is hard to listen an album that last more than an hour, we live faster and that has affected the time we dedicate to hear some material. I feel the same when I hear The Cure, that’s why I always rather to listen to The head on the door than any other of their very long albums.

    About Melt-Banana I have to ask, is she always yelling in all the albums? I heard Scratch or Stitch and Fetch and it was fine first but at the end a little bit annoying, besides, I enjoyed the music but I have to say they took away all my energy, I ended up exhausted by their tremendous anxiety and speed.

    I tried to hear some albums by the artists you related me according to Jun Togawa’s generation, but I couldn’t find any records of them on internet. I’ll keep the search to their music, I found myself fascinating by the 80’s new wave music of Japan. Share me your favorite ones. I’ll be very thankful.

    As recommendation I’d like to share you a great blog that puts great music on the radar. It reviews a lot of great new artists from Latin America. You can find a lot of terrific music here:
    http://www.clubfonograma.com/2009/12/club-fonogramas-best-albums-of-decade_23.html

    Thanks!

  4. Miharu Koshi is amazing, her later albums are fantastic, specially Corset 😀

    Check this, worth a listen:

  5. Pingback: Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.1 – Hikashu – Ikitekoi Chinmoku | Clear And Refreshing

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