Two on Tuesday is a nascent attempt at regular blogging, by writing about two songs that are linked in some way, at least in the mind of the writer.
Enough has been written about love and music, so I won’t bother with any general comments. You all know the food of love, etc. In the pie chart of music, songs about love, in one form or another, make up a generous slice, and I can’t begin to guess what the flavor of that slice is like. But these two songs, “Volcano” by Yossy Little Noise Weaver, and “Less than Lovers, More than Friends,” by Hoahio, are about love. Love as a passionate rush of heat, and love as a hole in your jacket letting in the cold air. No one, especially a music blogger, needs to tell this to anybody, but love is many things. At least as many things as music is.
“Volcano” bubbles with a rarefied excitement. The song is obviously(well, obvious in so far as that is my first and current understanding of the song’s lyrics) about passion, volcanic passion even, but cools itself with a smooth bassline and sonic accoutrements that never spill over into a frenzy. The singer, the eponymous Yossy, corrals it all with her voice, almost matter-of-factly singing about volcanoes exploding and how it’s a wonderful world. Of course it’s wonderful: we have music like this in it. Despite the seeming disconnect between tone and content, the song does indeed wash over you, and from the opening bars compels at least a head bob or two hundred. It’s a song about love, sure, but like many songs about love, it’s also about dancing.
The other side of love is heartache, but Hoahio’s song presents a special case: the confusion and occasional thrill of what is an in-between kind of love. A windy electronic sweep ushers in the mood of the song, and it’s cold but pulsing. It’s joined by a low, strummed guitar, before Haco, the lead singer and lyricist of the song, sings the refrain. Less than lovers, more than friends. It’s an awkward place to find yourself, but at least it has warmth, and it can also light up some darkened corners of your emotional map. I think this song makes a celebration of this situation in the crystalline sparks, the playful humming, and the lilting non-lexical vocalizations of Hoahio. It’s akin to jazz, the voices and electronic sounds riffing on the simple chord progression of the song, adding emotions and textures that are unexpected, and welcoming in new branches shooting off of familiar ideas.
One of the most intriguing figures in the Japanese music underground for the past several years has been Tokyo’s Shuji Suzuki, AKA Ventla.
By any standard Ventla is highly prolific. Suzuki’s stated goal is to self-release one hundred albums (so far he’s put out 25, and you can find them all, for free, right here). The songs tend to be short, and many are instrumental. They do not, it’s fair to say, make for typical listening.
More precisely: in terms of style, mood, and instrumentation Ventla is one of the most adventurous musicians out there.
Most discussions of Ventla cite trendy Internet-based subgenres like “vaporwave” or “chillwave” (though thankfully, some writers have acknowledged that his work goes beyond whatever’s meant by these terms).
But in a recent interview, Suzuki clarifies what should be evident from the music itself: Ventla is a hyper-eclectic project that has little inherently to do with the synth-based genre scholasticism of the Tumblr era. Except he puts it so much better: “Ventla is almost like a cover band trying to play Lil Rob, l’Ensemble Raye, Hironobu Nomura, Pretty Maids, Paris Angels, Hanatarash, The Pursuit of Happiness, The Hiltonaires, Daf and Stackridge at the same time in Abner Jay style using talkbox and musical saw but no one seems to understand the concept.”
Each of the posts in this series will feature songs that exemplify different aspects of Ventla’s work so far. (I feel a bit bad organizing things this way given dude’s relentless eclecticism, but the corpus is so big that some kind of thematic breakdown is needful, and this is the best I’ve got.)
This week, as the title suggests, the subject is the dub influence found in much of his work.
Up first is “Harataima,” which is a great little echo-driven workout with dueling, driving melodicas.
Next is “Sanman,” which features almost absurd levels of syncopation. It’s a bit like the more raucous end of Augustus Pablo’s stuff…but on cough syrup.
“Letterset” is similar but prettier, with waterfalling synths and a loping, octave-jumping bass line.
Up last is my favorite of the bunch, the ecstatic jam “Unitika 92.” Classic dub drop-and-add maneuvers heighten the impact of the central marimba line.
Which reminds me: words like “eccentric” and “difficult” are often used to describe Ventla, but there’s a real pop sensibility underlying most of the songs. Suzuki’s sonic palette is highly unusual–he’s painting in strange colors–but many of the tunes are seriously catchy.
But the music in this mix is season agnostic. There’s even a song named Spring, from Sunmeo, off No Disco Records.. It’s a bouncy song filled by electronic bursts, so perhaps it is more appropriate to say it’s named after the elastic coil device. Spring comes after Route of Quanta, a track off one of my favorite vocaloid albums, TRIPPERS by Camellia, a glitchy album featuring the voice of the beloved Hatsune Miku. This album features songs unlike the typical straight electropop, techno, or jpop/jrock vocaloid. It’s drum and bass with off-kilter vocals, odd time signatures, and a fearless ambition to make a soundtrack to a cybernetic fever dream of future.
Later on in the mix is a song that hits all of my pop music buttons, a track from the Konami Beatmania game series called Miracle Moon. It’s unabashed pop music that does not hesitate to drown you in its sweet excess. Miracle Moon lives in some parallel universe where 80s R&B, New Jack Swing, New Wave, and Bubblegum all swirled together to make the most delicious smoothie. Maybe more New Jack Swing than you would expect. The Beatmania series, known as Bemani to the indoctrinated faithful, like many rhythm games, is a treasure trove of fine pop, and one day I may write about it from that perspective.
I haven’t been able to post in awhile, so it’s time to play catch-up with the radio show playlists. There are two in the queue to be written about, and first up is the show from October 30. It was not a Halloween show, though we’ve done that in years past, playing spooky J-goth stuff and vocaloid horror stories that, to be honest, aren’t very good or even interesting. We made those playlists for laughs. This playlist is totally serious and has some excellent tracks.
The show starts off a track I have a deep fondness for: Powapowa-P’s Strobe Light. Powapowa-P, who also has released music under his real name, Shiina Mota, has produced some of my favorite vocaloid tracks. Strobe Light is one song in a series that are all different arrangements of “Goodbye, Mr Remember”, a song that captured the imagination of Powapowa-P enough to spawn these varied versions. My favorite of the series is the one in the playlist. The relatively spare arrangement(relatively spare for a vocaloid song) of downstroked guitar chords, melodica, and drum machine keeps your head nodding to the beat, before the synth organ and orchestra of the chorus inspires your whole body to move along with it. Right down to the surprise of a glockenspiel gently carrying the melody through the fade-out, this song has nothing out-of-place, and every element feels necessary. It’s a little masterpiece of pop construction. Of course, so is every song on Lullabies For Cthulhu.
Shiina Mota has a strong presence in this playlist, through the tribute album Vrush Up! #7, which features remixes of his music. This includes a remix of Strobe Light by PinocchioP, another excellent vocaloid producer, who gives the song some sharp post-punk style guitar for the chorus and leaving the verses quiet and sparse. The other remix is by Nyolfen(who also has an original work in this playlist, culled from his album on Bunkai-kei). Nyolfen takes the gauzy 2-step of the original and polishes it to neon city-pop glow.
Many other great tracks are on this playlist. The maonbass remix of fazerock’s track is a fine start-stop trap remix, garnished with the ubiquitous bed squeaking sound. There’s even some indie pop, care of For Tracy Hyde. The scene-referencing “Her Sarah Records Collection” is an earnest, synth-backed slice of summer to warm you up during this arctic vortex. I’m rather pleased with this mix, uninterrupted by any goofball chatter by me and DJ Nezumi(the next show has plenty). I hope you enjoy it.
On to the next show! This mix features a couple of tracks from the latest FOGPAK, which is #11, and is absolutely worth a download if you want to hear some of the innovative and up-and-coming electronic musicians coming out of Japan. Every time a new FOGPAK drops is a time for celebration. The first FOGPAK track is from Chanbe. It’s a faltering funk track with some vaporwave flourishes and murmuring synths. The second FOGPAK track is by rekana and has the sound of water flowing through almost all of it, so it’s not surprising it has some electronic ambient flavor, quickly rushed along by a disco beat. Then, it explodes with crystalline sounds, before slowly retreating with jubilant, but muffled electronic bells, and then it fades away entirely. This is one of the few tracks with separate movements that have been played on the show.
A couple non-Japanese artists make appearances on the show. George and Jonathan, fine purveyors of electronic music performed with and inspired by video game hardware. This mix features the last track off their latest, simply titled III, and it’s worth picking up if you want some blissed-out chiptune-like jams. The track here, Crystal, is very representative of their sound in general, atmospheric cruising music, the kind you like to hear during the credits roll of a 90s Capcom game, but somehow, with even more style.
The second band from the west is the +/-, from their split EP with the Bloodthirsty Butchers, wherein the bands cover each others songs. Gokigen Ikaga by the Bloodthirsty Butchers is given a picopop treatment here by the +/-, making the song sound rather twee until guitars crash the quiet party at the end.
Sometimes, a radio set is better when it doesn’t gel. It’s not like making a live DJ set, though it’s certainly cool to think of it as one(and, of course, possible to do a club-style mix on the air). Radio DJing doesn’t need flow and transition like a club set does, where the party people can be turned off by a misstep in timing. Radio is about the songs being allowed to stand, sometimes in juxtaposition with one another, but often as their own element within the set itself to channel the emotion of that singular song, instead of spreading the feels out over an hour-long dance party. I think this show is a collection of those moments that channel emotion, at least for the first half.
The playlist starts off with the Hi-Posi cover of “Jenny is in a bad mood,” the classic electropop song by Juicy Fruits. This is an echo all the way from 1980. Check out the spiraling projection in the background of that video: I think those graphics were pretty popular in the scene back then. Hi-Posi takes a jagged and hyperactive approach to the song, contorting it to their style and proving just how brilliant of a pop song it is, I think, more so than Perfume’s celebrated but kind of bland cover.
Speaking of Hikashu, they’re one of the primary reasons I’m even into Japanese music, and the third track on this playlist is a shuffling and spaced-out version of their song “Biro Biro.” Makigami, their lead singer, declaims the lyrics like a seasoned actor performing his most beloved role(Makigami is known for incorporating Japanese theatrics and storytelling styles like Noh in his vocal stylings), echoed by a saxophone, which is just about the only smooth thing throughout the seven minutes of this song. This very song was performed live(in New York City of all places!) with Tomoe Shinohara once, in a more bubbly and rocking version befitting the persona of Shinohara.
There’s so many interesting songs on this list, like the Jersey Club-influenced “I Need Lactobacillus” by Dj Yakult Lady, the shambling techno of Calla Soiled, and the always dreamy i-fls, but I want to close by talking a little about group_inou. group_inou are just two guys, cp and imai, the first rapping and the second producing. Their music doesn’t rely on samples, and really sounds quite far from hip-hop as we know it. Instead, imai uses relatively simple synth and drum machine loops that morph and layer over the course of the song with remarkably catchy results. They’re also well-known for their distinctive videos, and the song on this playlist, “Heart,” is one of those. Heart is actually a more straightforward video compared to a more recent one, “Orientation”, which is also a great song itself.
Every week, I try to bring a mix of new music and music I’ve enjoyed for a while. Many of these tracks are culled from checking out Soundcloud, Bandcamp, various netlabel pages to see if they’ve updated, and blogs, like Make Believe Melodies. MBM is one of the best sources for new tracks from the disparate scenes in Japan, and is well worth checking out, after you listen to the show below, of course.
This set starts off with an old favorite, but not too old. Hazel Nuts Chocolate, now just simply HNC, has been around for the past decade, releasing hummable and cute tunes. HNC is somewhere in the the nexus of cool between Shibuya-kei and picopop, and they have been drifting towards the latter in recent years. Their track in this playlist, Next M, is a punchy number, carried along by a hyperactive percussion track, distinct and equally catchy layers of vocal melodies, and shouts that could be from a high school sports game. It’s an excellent example of the inventiveness found within picopop. Did you know picopop is a genre? It’s a pretty good genre.
A very new artist is featured prominently in this playlist, and it’s thanks to MBM that I discovered this one. Kuroguremore was one half of the group Soft As Snow But Warm Inside. Now Kuroguremore is making what he calls “occult jpop”. His first track on this playlist, TRILITHO + ME HIR_U.F.O.V.H.S., begins with ominous pizzicato arpeggios that never resolve, and their motif is repeated throughout. A distant vocal track that tries to introduce a new motif reverbs in the spare midsection of the song, but a crescendo of synths drown it out until there is a sudden and baffling break to a stumbling beat and struggling horns. I don’t think it would be out of place in a horror movie, probably my kind of horror movie.
The last track is a calm outro by Homera, available from On Sunday Recordings. From the little I’ve heard of Homera, they seem to have a sound all of their own, a relaxing, but bubbly sound that would be perfect for rides in your car, preferably an older convertible. This track is smooth, like late 70s smooth in an electronic package.
Speaking of smooth, there’s some city pop in this playlist. Hiroshi Sato and Hiromi Go shake up the playlist with some sounds that are ready for the nightlife. Hiroshi Sato has an interesting history that is well-documented here, at the excellent Convertible to Yokohama.
After some heavily electronic/ambient shows, the latest playlist returns to a mix of pop, rock, and otherwise. This show features some older and some newer songs, all of which I’m rather fond of as usual.
The first track is by a group called 1000say. It’s called LOSTMAN, from 2009. The beat never lets up through the entire song, carrying through a bright and unrelenting chorus. It approaches anthemic at that point, with the synth without really being an anthem. It’s a brilliant pop song, and really, I’ve only just begun to learn about 1000say, so I’m interested to see what else they have to offer.
Fugainaiya, by Yuki is one of my favorite songs. It was the opening song for the second half of Honey and Clover. Yuki has been around for a long time, starting off with her band Judy and Mary in the early 90s. In Fugainaiya, which means “cowardly,” Yuki sings with the intensity she brings to many of her songs, building with each verse and chorus to a passionate ending.
A couple of the tracks were culled from Ryan Hemsworth’s excellent Secret Songs, which features a variety of artists, including Kumisolo, who has been around for a while. Kung fu Boy is built around an italo disco style beat that is decorated with off-pitched beeps in a crescendo and Kumisolo’s delicate voice.
Sometimes the playlist is unified by a theme, and so I scour my library and the internet at large for tracks that belong to a certain video game series, or are all anime theme songs, or are all Japanese Folk. Sometimes I want to highlight a certain sound: downtempo, upbeat, vocaloid exclusively, chiptunes. Sometimes the playlist comes together while I’m idly going through netlabels or my library. Sometimes, I am in a rush and just mix stuff in a pot until it is palatable. These scenarios are rarely the only one behind any given show; often it’s a mix of many. So it is with this show, which features sparse vocals, is heavily electronic until the very end, and mostly features the releases of one netlabel, Bunkai-Kei Records. Other netlabels that are featured on this show are Hz Records, LBT Records, 16th Dimensional Records, and Mizukage Records.
I had known of Bunkai-kei for a while, which is partly run by Go-qualia, but some of the others were new to me, and they were discovered thanks to a compilation on Bunkai-kei. As you can see from the playlist, Bunkai-kei dominates this set(note the “BK” prefixing the album listing), and so those tracks shaped the sound of the show. Glitchy, glowing and warm, music that is made for headphones and incandescently lit bedrooms on rainy days. Well, at least that’s the picture I get. Spaceship music and cyber/hacking music are also believable descriptions. Maybe it’s a little night bus.
A few tracks deserve further words. LNGN(Lifecut-mix) is a Go-qualia remix of the Miku Hatsune and kz standard “Last Night, Good Night”. Go-qualia is more interested in Hatsune as singer-software rather than idol. So, as the album this track is culled from and the label name itself, Bunkai-kei(meaning “dissolve-style” or “disassembly-style”), prescribes, Hatsune and her song are dissolved into a slowly churning electronic pool. The emotional weight of the song is maintained through all of this, with the chorus allowing to soar and shine above the glitches.
Go-qualia and Joesph Nothing Orchestra both get a few tracks each, but Takahiro Kato’s album Loveplex also has high standing in this playlist. The second to last track is by Takahiro and is totally a song based on music from Chrono Trigger. It also features a rare human voice on this playlist.
The other track with a human voice is the Cost Kuts moombahton remix of a pretty old Jpop song, Dear my Friend. Besides the vocal, the song is unrecognizable, bouncy and fun. It’s a liberation of the vocal track, which is fine idol pop on its own, from the Final Countdown schlock of the original version. It’s also a rare moombahton track on L4C.
I’m still getting used to regular blog writing. As evidence of that, I missed posting about the radio show for last week. So I’ll include it in the write up of this week’s show. Both are available on my Soundcloud.
The show for 9/11/14 starts off with Ami Suzuki’s Stereo Love, which was composed, written, and arranged by Tomoe Shinohara. Well, no wonder it sounds so rad. I was honestly pretty surprised to learn this little fact, but the lazy and playful attitude of the song fits the style of latter-day Tomoe. The first part of the set is mostly dance music of one form or another, much of it from No-Disco Records, and then there’s a little Shibuya-kei interlude, before getting into some beloved vocaloid. I’ve been listening to so much vocaloid lately that I’m beginning to dream in it, and that rules. Some old favorites of mine were inserted into this mix: ACO’s blue-sky summerwave love song Punk Bung Heart, a theme song for an anime I’ve never seen, and Denki Groove’s Shangri-La. I have an unyielding fondness for anime theme songs, and Denki Groove were one of the groups that initiated me into J-pop. Roots, doggs. One day soon, I’ll write up nice blogs on Denki Groove and Tomoe Shinohara. Expect them!
Here’s the playlist: http://bit.ly/ZxV9dF
And now for a quick write-up of this week’s show, wherein I go even deeper into the vocaloid lands. That was my primary theme for this week, so I kept it somewhat electronic sounding until the end. There’s such a thing as too much vocaloid, hard as it is to believe. Some notable exceptions include the swirly Kinoko Teikoku at track five, the sweet as sugar guitars of Balloon Skirt’s Chocolate Junkie, and the further tweeness of three-weeks old lovesick puppy, Boyish, and Naivepop or Petitfool. The vocaloid selected this week come from a variety of sources, but a few tracks come from Ginga’s Galaxy Odyssey series, which includes some excellent producers, like Calla Soiled and Leggysalad. There will be more vocaloid to come, of course, when I finally finish my long treatise on the phenomenon of Miku Hatsune and Vocaloid in general.
I’ve done a public radio show (along with my pal Dave who blogs about tabletop games over here) since 2008. We started with two ideas: goof off and tell dumb jokes to an unsuspecting and sleepy/intoxicated audience(like one of my biggest influences did), and play music you won’t hear anywhere else(like another one of my biggest influences does). Early on, we decided the best way to fulfill the musical side of our scheme was to play mostly Asian music of various kinds, particularly, music from Japan, and today we still do that. Except now it’s weekly, and the scene is swelling with new music and artists across Soundcloud, Bandcamp, doujin circles, and a clutch of still active netlabels.
This blog will feature posts on all of those vectors for rad new music, but I will also write about the two hours of music I collect for my weekly radio show, the labor of love that has led me to these musical treasures.
This week’s episode featured selections from mixes done by the great and now sadly defunct Pachinko Overdrive. Two tracks from two of those mixes form an interesting pair, Yasutaka Nakata’s remix of Clazziquai Project, and Towa Tei’s remix of Bonnie Pink. Both are interesting because they highlight the singular sound of these two producers, that anything they touch becomes very much their own. The Towa Tei has some subtle hints of bossa nova, which goes nicely with similar elements in the Halfby, the Eel remix by Akakage, and even the house-happy 909state later in the show.
There’s many great tracks in this show. I’m pretty partial to the Ryan Hemsworth collaboration with Tomggg, the soaring raveup of Meishi Smile’s Tadaima, and the vocaloid decorations in the Hypo77 at the end. I hope you enjoy it too!