I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Ko Nakashima - drop

Hi, nikala here. I wouldn't say that I officially retired from blogging, but my life isn't the same as it once used to be to allow me such a luxury. The funny thing that in between all the outings, housework and a taking care of a baby I do listen to a lot of music, Japanese too, that livens up my apartment. It's just that I have no time to actually sit down quietly and write about it. On the plus side, I read articles Kayo Kyoku Plus a few times a week and am very impressed at how much this blog has grown thanks to new collaborators and the expansiveness of Japanese music itself. I'll try to blog here and there without neglecting my real life obligations.

I've noticed that within the past half-decade or so there has been a surge of musicians and singers reviving and modernizing the nostalgic sounds of City Pop: Especia, hitomitoi, Junk Fujiyama, just to name a few. One such artist that particularly impressed me is Ko Nakashima (中島孝), a young singer-songwriter from Saga Perfecture now based in Tokyo. I came across his name in mid-2016 when I read that he shares the same management company as Especia and Suiyobi no Campanella, Bermuda Entertainment Japan. I was led to his Soundcloud page where I listened to a bunch of his songs and became impressed. His approach to modern City Pop contains the right balance of acoustic and digital elements, though his later work has more of the later. The song I'm focusing on, drop, is from that earlier period. It was released in December 2015 as a Tower Records exclusive single and collaboration with an Indonesian City Pop band called ikkubaru (more on them here). A lovely song right here, with that really urban mood in the verses and the indie rock treatment in the refrain and especially the bridge. Not sure what the lyrics are about, but I welcome the introspective mood especially with Nakashima's soft and emotive voice.

From what I gather from his Facebook page and this Rooftop article, he got his start in 2010 under the pen-name Nakakoh and released several independent EPs before switching to his current name in 2015 and moving to Bermuda. You can pretty much listen to his entire discography on Soundcloud. As of late 2016, he also has been working as part of a synthpop group called INDEEA that includes members of another City Pop backup band Hi-Fi City.

Friday, March 16, 2018

KEDGE -- Complete Samples

Keiichi Tomita(冨田恵一), aka Tomita Lab(冨田ラボ), is a name that I've learned to keep an eye on whenever he's involved in any songs since discovering his 2003 release "Shipbuilding". I've grown to love the album because of the mellow groove that seems to course through a lot of the tracks like a long string, especially the cafe-worthy "Nemuri no Mori"(眠りの森)with Hanaregumi(ハナレグミ).

Now, "Shipbuilding" was actually his 2nd album although it was his first under the name of Tomita Lab, and "Nemuri no Mori" was his very first single. However, Tomita's very first album was released all the way back in March 1988 and it was titled "Complete Samples". Actually, I shouldn't say that it was merely composer Tomita behind the project since he was part of a duo named KEDGE with singer-lyricist Naoko Sugimoto(杉本直子).

Happily enough, I came upon three tracks from "Complete Samples" (so, no, not complete) on YouTube, and I'm quite impressed. The first track I heard was "Chime" which is indeed the first track of the album. And the sound is quite 80s technopop with a bit more stress on the pop aspect, but wow, Tomita Lab sure was different back then. "Chime" is catchy, and all of a sudden, I've got vibes of early 80s Akiko Yano(矢野顕子), Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)and Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一). For longtime readers of the blog, you know how much I love those three, and here is KEDGE giving a pretty good melodic shoutout to them. Plus, Sugimoto kinda reminds me of Mari Iijima(飯島真理).

Then comes "Narcisse" which continues the funky and quirky technopop. In fact, I think the arrangement here reminds me somewhat of the urban contemporary side of the Manhattan Transfer from the late 70s into the early 80s. Gleaming glass towers come to mind. I've only started to listen and appreciate KEDGE but there are similarities and differences that I'm starting to pick up on between it and another technopop band of that time period, PSY-S.

"Sostenuto"(ソステヌート)is another revelation in that Sugimoto takes on a delivery that reminds me of mid-80s Miharu Koshi(コシミハル)when she splashed into her own technopop phase. And then there's that music. Tomita's melody actually had the hairs on the back of my neck and arms standing up; it is that amazing, especially during the refrain. It is technopoppy, romantic, old-fashioned and bossa-friendly all at the same time.

The album is one of the rarest of the rare. "Complete Samples" can be found on Amazon but you may want to have a tissue handy since the price may induce a nosebleed! Someday, hopefully, it will get the remastering treatment.

Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi -- Junrenka(巡恋歌)

I was reading about veteran singer-songwriter Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi(長渕剛)who I first got to know through the songbook at Kuri, my old karaoke haunt back in my university days. There were quite a few tipsy and warbling customers who loved to croon "Kanpai"(乾杯)and "Tonbo"(とんぼ)in the lounge over a beer or a scotch. By the time I actually got to see him perform on TV in Japan, he gave me the impression of being one of the toughest-looking singing dudes with his crew cut and beefed-up physique. What furthered that image was his appearances in J-Dramas as gangsters or suffer-no-fools detectives.

So it was with some surprise on realizing that when he started his career from the early 1970s, he was this long-haired and skinny sort in a leisure suit. Furthermore, according to the Wikipedia write-up about him, he paid some pretty hard dues along the way when he was performing at some late-night venues and he got booed and had bottles thrown at him. So I think the toughening up part had already begun on the inside.

When I was reading up his biography at both Wikipedia and J-Wiki, I was a bit confused about his debut single since apparently, there were two of them. It took a look at the English side of things to figure out that at least to Nagabuchi, his official debut was in October 1978 with "Junrenka", a Take Two of sorts since he wanted to disown his original debut of "Ame no Arashiyama"(雨の嵐山...Arashiyama Rain)the year before because he so hated the arrangement that he felt was too close to enka. I will definitely have to cover that song then in the near future....not because I want to troll the fellow (I am not going to go up against a guy that solidly built) but because I am genuinely curious.

As for "Junrenka", the term doesn't seem to exist officially in the dictionaries but from reading Nagabuchi's lyrics, I gather that the translation can be "Roundabout Love Song". He seems to be singing from the woman's point of view; the woman is complaining that she just can't find Mr. Right because she always finds some sort of insincerity in terms of love within the men that she's dated.

Listening to Nagabuchi's music, it's definitely not enka but a pretty rousing folk with the guitar and harmonica. And when putting together the lyrical content and the music, I could imagine that "Junrenka" could also be a number that Miyuki Nakajima(中島みゆき)would have performed.

I also discovered through reading the J-Wiki article for "Junrenka" that he was obviously quite proud of his re-debut single since the footnote source was given in a 1981 book, "Orera no Tabi wa Highway"(俺らの旅はハイウェイ...Our Trip is the Highway)in a section called "Jishinsaku 'Junrenka'"(自信作「巡恋歌」...My Pride -- Junrenka). One of the pieces of information there revealed that the Yamaha Music Foundation which had gotten a demo tape of "Junrenka" contacted Nagabuchi to suggest that one of their up-and-coming aidoru could sing it as her debut single to which the singer replied, "I haven't even made my debut yet...I want to sing it!" Yamaha acquiesced and recommended Nagabuchi to enter the Yamaha Popular Song Contest once more (he had done so with "Ame no Arashiyama"). He ended up winning the Kyushu championship and was nominated within the final selection. After receiving some rave reviews, his Take Two took place with Toshiba EMI. Sounds like just the story for an NHK biography.

As it was, "Junrenka" only got as high as No. 173 on Oricon. However, the album that it was placed on, "Kaze wa Minami kara"(風は南から...The Wind is from the South)which came out in March 1979 ranked far higher at No. 15, and from looking at the recent video above, "Junrenka" seems to be a concert favourite.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Keizo Nakanishi -- Diamond Rain(ダイヤモンド・レイン)

As a lot of the readers for the blog have probably figured out, I have a pretty wide spectrum of singers and songs that I like. However, there are few artists whose general body of work have provided joy. I mean, every singer or band that has been covered on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" have given joyful songs but I can count on one hand the number of performers whose discography I usually equate with that happy emotion. Kohmi Hirose(広瀬香美), Sing Like Talking and PSY-S are on three of my fingers.

The one other finger has Keizo Nakanishi(中西圭三)on it. Of course, he has done melancholy ballads in his career but generally speaking, when I think of this singer-songwriter, his works provide a fine cheer-up. Case in point, this track from his 2nd album "Yell" (March 1992) titled "Diamond Rain".

It was never placed on the BEST compilation that I have for him, "Singles", and that's too bad. It simply comes across as one gloriously happy tune...which is ironic, since Masao Urino's(売野雅勇)lyrics have Nakanishi singing about the woman who not only got away but sent the poor fellow an invitation to her wedding. I don't think this is a consolation prize. Thank heavens I'm more of a melody guy to begin with. And believe me, I tend to believe in the joyful music with the happy soul and horns along with Keizo's great voice.  He and Takao Konishi(小西貴雄)were responsible for that.

"Yell" peaked at No. 4 on Oricon. -- Kongara Girl(こんがらガール)

Some weeks ago, my project manager at my translation firm had sent me a request from a client to translate the lyrics for eclectic duo's breakthrough "Hate" (2013). So I thought, "Wow! Providence!" since I had actually written an article here on "Kayo Kyoku Plus"  back in 2015 on the song. However, providence popped a leak since within an hour, I got word from my manager that the client cancelled the request. C'est la vie!

Still there was some providence left apparently. I found out through the Wikipedia page for that the duo has gone on indefinite hiatus since the end of January this year since DJ Gonchi decided to leave showbiz to help out with her family's business. Relatively short but sweet time but they did leave an impression with their songs and videos. In any case, I'm now motivated to talk about another one of their songs.

As you can see at the top, there is that object that resembles a day-glo pillbug. Well, I didn't know about it until I saw the video above, but that's a Tangle Teezer, a detangling hairbrush that was first developed in the UK back in 2007. It's been doing quite well in terms of sales, apparently.

From looking at it, the Tangle Teezer looks absolutely perfect for the Japanese market. It looks slick and cute (that pillbug look) and just seems tailor-made to be put on shelves at Tokyu Hands. Somehow, MC Itsuka and DJ Gonchi got involved and made a tie-up song called "Kongara Girl" (Tangled Girl) for release in 2015 with a music video in which the duo provides a twisted take on the superhero genre. Let's say that there is a comical "Twilight Zone" ending.

MC Itsuka took care of words and music with Chrysanthemum Bridge also working on the latter. As seems to be the case with's songs, the corporate life is once again the punching bag as the video shows.

Now that has perhaps gone into J-Pop history, I hope that MC Itsuka still decides to stick around for a while at least. I think she can still provide lots of punch in the industry with her beats and rap. Besides, I can always use a Tangle Teezer myself for the sparrow's nest on my head.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Yu Hayami -- Isoide! Hatsukoi(急いで!初恋)

It's been over a year since I wrote about the Hawaii-loving aidoru of the 1980s, Yu Hayami(早見優), and I did listen to that first disc from her large collection yesterday so it's time to revisit her discography.

Why not go back to the very beginning? This is her debut single "Isoide! Hatsukoi" (Hurry Up! First Love) which deals with the usual pining away for that love. Hayami's first release came out in April 1982 with Ikki Matsumoto(松本一起)providing the words and Yasuo Kosugi(小杉保夫)coming up with the breezy music.

"Isoide! Hatsukoi" managed to get as high as No. 36 on Oricon, not too bad for a debut. And I think for the purposes of this blog, the song is quite appropriate as it is White Day in Japan...or at least, it was...since as I am typing this out, it's already the Ides of March over there. I'm sure the chocolate shops were pulling some major overtime in the days leading up to the 14th.

It also happens to be Pi Day (3.14) which brings me to the fact that Professor Stephen Hawking passed away earlier today at the age of 76, so would like to give my tribute to him here. I did buy "A Brief History of Time". According to his Wiki biography, it seems that he wasn't all that religious so I can hope that his spirit has headed off into one of those alternate dimensions instead of Heaven.

Yellow Magic Orchestra -- Ballet(バレエ)

This is another fact, it is the first track....from Yellow Magic Orchestra's "BGM" album (1981). "Ballet" was written by YMO drummer Yukihiro Takahashi(高橋幸宏)and current media personality Peter Barakan with Takahashi also providing the music.

Not as much of a fan of this number as I am with some of the other tracks on "BGM" such as the cool and percolating "U.T.", but it still leaves an impression. My imagination has woven, especially from the intro, an absinthe-driven haze in a smoky German cabaret from the 1920s...with banks of synths. The J-Wiki description had Takahashi saying that his lyrics were inspired by a foggy Warsaw and the Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka (that must have been some absinthe!). I'm not sure if Takahashi had meant to do so, but I keep hearing shades of David Bowie in there for some reason.