“So I can be a girl, give me the color pink” – Oomori Seiko in Shibuya

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Photo: http://girlspiclive.com/vol03/report.html

It was the night before Halloween 2016. Girl’s Pic Vol. 3 was happening, the latest in a series of concerts put on by the television station Music-ru to promote women artists. After a band and a duo performed, a solitary young woman in a black glittering gown bound by a pink sash graced the stage of Club Quattro in Shibuya, holding an acoustic guitar.

“Zero songs,” she sang, the first line of the title track from her latest album, Tokyo Black Hole. “The mom-and-pop candy store in front of the station has been torn down/I used to think I’d destroy this city with water balloon bombs.”

The singer-songwriter Oomori Seiko presents to her audience a dichotomy of femininity and anxiety, girlishness and destruction. These themes aren’t contradictory: they’re inseparable. Her website profile calls her a “word magician of the new girl generation.” “Tokyo Black Hole,” the song and the album, begin softly, surreptitiously, but soon the pain beneath the description of Tokyo streets comes to the forefront.

“Hello hate,” Oomori intones. “That person who wanted me to die/Will die someday without anybody/And I will forget about it.”

In her albums, Oomori Seiko’s raw, pained lyrics are hidden in a soft, muted delivery, disguised within bubbly synth and pop beats. But on a stage, with just her guitar, she disguises nothing. She screams, strums, and sings, asking for the lights of the venue to be kept up so she can see the audience’s eyes. The connection with the crowd, for the sake of her own emotions and theirs, is placed center stage.

A little ways into Oomori’s second song, the lights started to go down and she said, still strumming, “Keeping them up is good!” The lights went back up, so she could see the crowd’s eyes.

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Photo: http://girlspiclive.com/vol03/report.html

The gentle, muted pop of Oomori’s albums is so at odds from her solo live performances that they might as well be completely different songs. The glittering synth is replaced with the metal of messy guitar chords, loud, loud, loud, with Oomori’s words pouring over them, drowning out any possibility of calm.

Her themes of innocence, sweetness, and girlishness do not mask pain, but instead, mix with it. Being feminine can be extremely painful. References to buying manga, distorted love affairs, and her at times strained relationship with songwriting run through her music.

“Music is not magic,” Oomori repeats like a mantra in “Ongaku O Sute Yo, Soshite Ongaku E” (“Throw Away Music, and, To Music”). “But music is…”

Oomori was never rawer than during the end of her set. At the climax of a song she stepped on a pedal to turn off her guitar and pulled away from the microphone while still playing, and sang directly to the audience, her voice reverberating in the small venue.

Not produced. Not edited in the studio. Just her voice and the sound of her guitar, nothing else. Vulnerability and pain shared with the audience as a way of mutual catharsis.

She did not perform “Magic Mirror”* that night, the song she wrote when she was thinking about quitting songwriting, or “Pink,” from her first physical CD (which makes an auditory cameo at the end of the “Magic Mirror” music video), but perhaps these songs are the most evocative of what it means to be Oomori Seiko.

“So I can be a girl, give me the color pink,” she sings in the song about the color.

What does it mean to be a girl? To have femininity?

“Why can’t girls play rock music?” she sings in “Magic Mirror.”

Oomori connected deeply with the audience, not only by making it a point to make eye contact and see faces, but also, changing lyrics to suit the fact that this concert was in Shibuya on Halloween weekend, and chatting about her day and the show whenever she paused between songs (which was not all that often). She was not trying to hide anything or present anything more or less than herself. Just be truthful.

Judging by Oomori’s popularity not only in Japan, but also among English-speaking fans, her complete honesty as a performer transcends boundaries of language. When an interviewer from Japanese entertainment website Natalie pointed out the range of ages and genders at Oomori’s concerts, she responded, “Everyone is interesting. I want to know about the lives of many different people.”

If the audience’s rapt attention in Shibuya was any indication, showing interest in others causes those people to be interested in your words, too.

*Please note that the “Magic Mirror” music video linked here contains nudity.

Website / Twitter / Facebook / YouTube

“So I can be a girl, give me the color pink” – Oomori Seiko in Shibuya

Shiina Ringo – Heisei Fuuzoku – 10 Years Later

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Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk.

Shiina Ringo‘s Heisei Fuuzoku came out in 2007 and served as the soundtrack to Ninagawa Mika’s movie adaptation of Anno Moyoco’s manga Sakuran. A collaboration with violinist and conductor Saitou Neko, who worked with Shiina on her debut album (playing violin on “Onaji Yoru”), the disc features re-arrangements of Shiina’s earlier tracks, a cover, and six new songs.

Ten years later, the album stands as a testament to the musical possibilities alive in the liminal space between the traditional and the experimental, the orchestra and the synthesizer, and the real and the otherworldly.

Heisei came out one year after Shiina released her second album with Tokyo Jihen: the mature, fully realized funk-rock LP Adult. It had been three years since she had released her critically acclaimed double platinum third solo record Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana. Shiina’s work with Tokyo Jihen had begun to move away from the sprawling pop experiments of her solo material to something more about genre and cohesion: creating more within limits. Heisei Fuuzoku lives in a space between the two. It is both sprawling and specific, eclectic and timeless.

The genre of Heisei is amorphous and multiplicitous. While “Gamble” and “Kuki” center the orchestra’s strings, other songs flirt with swing and electronica.

Perhaps the most impressive blending of classical and new, experimental and orchestral, is “Hatsukoi Shoujo.” On first listen it sounds unperformable (despite evidence to the contrary – Shiina opened Ringo Expo 08 with this song). Syllables stretch out and layer on top of each other. A single voice sings different sections of the same words, harmonizing with itself. Violins echo and reality warps.

“I want to know your name/Ah, so that I can call for you someday”

The self-covers, from Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana, Shouso Strip (Shiina’s sophomore album), and Tokyo Jihen’s debut, Kyouiku, deconstruct the originals while painting certain elements in contrast.

Take “Poltergeist.” It is an unsettling waltz on Kalk Samen, with ticking music boxes that swung into an orchestra by the second verse, and is performed by Shiina with a sense of steady assuredness. It is a song of love affairs and ghosts wedded with her frequent themes of uncertainty and dichotomy (real/unreal, joy/misery). On Fuuzoku, “Poltergeist” is orchestral from the beginning: slower, even more gentle, and swings not into steadiness, but a kind of uncertain sweetness. “I sing this for your sake alone,” Shiina sings, not in full voice like on Kalk Samen, but in a lilt that allows room for ambiguity. Perhaps the love she sings of is only a phantom.

On the other hand, the swing of “Meisai,” which on Kalk Samen was a skittering rumble anchored by Inoue Uni’s bass and a single violin, played by Saitou and descending into wailing chaos, is here oomph-ed into a fully-formed jazz number with masterfully quick delivery from Shiina. Now Saitou, as conductor, can craft his chaos more directly into the composition – and yes the dance does descend into perfectly orchestrated pandemonium, and yes, it is beautiful.

The ballad “Yume No Ato,” originally the closer on Tokyo Jihen’s debut, is a tender, dissonant step onto the threshold of the last track: Shiina’s duet with her brother, Shiina Junpei, titled “Kono Yo No Kagiri.”

The cheerful number is both Technicolor and fear. It is a joyful approach to the end of the world. But the song itself, enormous and orchestral, serves as a statement on what Heisei Fuuzoku is. The two harmonize, “I’ll make a song for you/Nothing too old and nothing too new.”

At the threshold of old and new stands something previously unheard. It comes from the violinist and the vocalist. The cat (neko) and the apple (ringo).

The real and the otherworldly, encapsulated within a single disc.

Shiina Ringo – Heisei Fuuzoku – 10 Years Later

Upcoming Release: ALI PROJECT – A Kyuu Kaigenrei

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http://aliproject.jp/information/archives/222.html

Prolific classical-pop duo will be releasing a new album, A Kyuu Kaigenrei [Class A Martial Law], on August 24, 2016. There will be two different versions. The CD + DVD version, as pictured above, will contain 10 tracks, plus a DVD showcasing 9 songs from their 2015 performance at the now-closed Shibuya Public Hall. The CD-only version will not come with a DVD, but the CD will include a bonus track: a new version of “Mousou Suizokukan” [“Delusion Aquarium”], the gently chaotic dance track originally included in ALI PROJECT’s 5-song 2001 release CLASSICS.

A Kyuu Kaigenrei tracklist:

  1. Eikyuu Kaigenrei [Eikyuu Era Martial Law]
  2. Ishu Kakumei [Heterogeneous Revolutions]
  3. Barabi To Yuriyasushi No Fushigi Na Hoteru [Beautiful Rose and Gentle Lily’s Miraculous Hotel]
  4. Zekkyou Tetsugaku [Philosophy of Screams]
  5. Saigo No Bijutsukan [The Last Art Museum]
  6. Showa B Kyuu Gete Kuidou [Showa Era Class B Bad Way of Eating]
  7. Onna Kasei Bugaku Zu [A Bugaku Scene of a Woman’s Metamorphosis]
  8. Madara Koi Tsubaki Gedou
  9. Ashiki Shinka [Evil Evolution]
  10. Nakimushi Ha Dari [Dali’s Faction of Crybabies]

ALI PROJECT will be touring Japan in support of the album come fall. The tour, entitled “Shitagawarazu Mono Kuu Bekarazu” [“He Who Does Not Work, Neither Shall He Eat”*], consists of the following dates:

October 26: Sendai Rensa

November 1: Nagoya Club Diamond Hall

November 2: Namba Hatch (Osaka)

November 3: Fukuoka Drum Logos

Tickets go on sale on September 10 and can be purchased online in Japan from e+.

Pre-order the album: HMV cdJapan amazon.co.jp

If you have any insight for clearer translations, corrections, or additional information, please comment below.

*Thank you Galen for the translation of the tour name.

Upcoming Release: ALI PROJECT – A Kyuu Kaigenrei

Upcoming Release: Charisma.com – Aidoro C

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Japanese electro-rap duo Charisma.com announced today that they will be releasing a new mini-album on March 2, 2016. The title is Aidoro C [Love Mud C?], and there will be two editions: the 8-track normal edition, and a Tower Records version with different artwork and a bonus track. They will both sell for 2,000 yen, plus tax.

The tracklist is as follows:

  1. Supliminal Diet (possibly a typo, with the intention of subliminal, or a pun, combining supplemental with subliminal?)
  2. Honenuki Ni Koishite (Fall in Love with Having no Backbone)
  3. Koshikake Rappu (Bench Lap/Rap)
  4. PH4
  5. GODcustomer
  6. Toushindai Guree (Life-Size Grey)
  7. Berusassa (People Who Go Home Right With the Sound of the Closing Bell – a slang term first popular in the 1980s, used to refer to students or workers who, instead of going shopping or playing on the playground, go straight home at the end of the day)
  8. Jido-ru (Self-ie)
  9. Buta (Pig) (Tower Records Bonus Track)

Normal edition:

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Tower Records edition:

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Note: As usual, this group has more puns and plays on words than one can shake a stick at. If you notice something has been mistranslated or has an additional meaning, please comment below.

Upcoming Release: Charisma.com – Aidoro C

Music You May Have Missed: July 2015

In Music You May Have Missed (MYMHM), we cover the new releases from Japanese musicians that may have slipped past your radar, and deserve a second look.

Sakerock – Sayonara

With influences from hard rock, jazz, Latin, and more, after being active for 15 years, Sakerock have decided to call their era of instrumental rock and roll over. Back in April, they released their final album, Sayonara. The soft energy of these last ten tracks easily serve as a soundtrack to summer, and signify the final, joyful musical explosion of a great band.

Salyu – Android & Human Being

Salyu has an origin of almost mythic proportions. In the early 2000s, she gave life to the fictional, ethereal pop singer idolized in the film All About Lily Chou-Chou. A few years later, she made her debut as a true-life vocal artist. Her easily identifiable voice layers over soft electronic beats, a new dance music far away from the electronic and acoustic mystery of her origin, but just as quietly haunting.

Shishido Kavka – K5

Drummer-singer Shishido Kavka has been gaining some well-deserved traction over the past two years since the release of her single “Love Corridor.” Her unapologetically pop tracks, paired with her skill as a long-practiced drummer, make her a talent to watch.

Charisma.com – OLest

The most vicious office lady MCs in the business are back, releasing their major debut after two independent mini-albums. The distorted, catchy synths of their previous CDs, paired with MC Istuka’s reputation for brutal attacks on Japanese society (the title of their first major single was the simple, but effective, “HATE“), made this mini-album one of our most anticipated releases of the year.

[Want to know more about Itsuka and Gonchi’s perspective on culture, politeness, and Japanese rap music, and get a taste of what their live shows are like? Check out MTV81’s subtitled interview with Charisma.com here.]

Music You May Have Missed: July 2015

New Shiina Ringo Single, Fall Tour 2015

Photo courtesy of kronekodow.com

Shiina Ringo has announced a new two-track single, Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri / Kamisama, Hotokesama [The Long and Short Festival / God, Buddha] to be released on CD on August 5. Both of the new songs are used in short form in two recent commercials: “Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri” in the new Coca-Cola ad, and “Kamisama, Hotokesama” in the isai vivid phone commercial.

The artist also announced a fall tour in Japan starting in October. The tour title is “Shiina Ringo To Aitsura Ga Yuku – Hyakki Yagyou 2015″ [“Shiina Ringo and the Others Will Go – Night Parade of One Hundred Demons 2015″]. There is a members-only presale for members of the Shiina Ringo fan club. Those who purchase the new single will also receive a guide to the presale. Dates and venues can be found on the official website.

New Shiina Ringo Single, Fall Tour 2015

New Music: March 2015

Newly Arrived:

Kojima Mayumi – On the Road (Instrumental)

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Photo courtesy of kojimamayumi.com

Singer-songwriter Kojima Mayumi released an instrumental version of her 2014 album On the Road. Without Kojima’s distinctly modern vocal hooks, the music sounds all the more surf-rock, complete with ’60s-esque rumbling rhythm and Fender guitar.

VAMPS – BLOODSUCKERS (International Version)

Longtime collaborators Hyde and K.A.Z. rereleased their band‘s fourth album in an international version. Three of the tracks from the original (“Ahead” – now titled “World’s End” – “Vampire’s Love” and “Get Away”) have been rerecorded in English. The prolific rockers will be supporting SIXX:AM on tour in the US all through April.

Polysics – HEN AI LET’S GO!

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Photo courtesy of polysics.com

If Polysic‘s 7-track mini-album proves to be as enthusiastically bizarre as any of their previous releases, fans of their precise musicality and unapologetic weirdness will no doubt be satisfied. The crunchy guitar of “Last Potato Memories” is punctuated by high-pitched “Hoo!”s, while “Dr. Pepper!!!!!”‘s relentless drumming feels decidedly punk layered beneath a singsong chorus reminiscent of the Powerpuff Girls end theme.

New Music: March 2015