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.

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.

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 & Upcoming Japanese Music – 2/12/15

Newly Arrived:

Violetta Operetta

Image courtesy of aliproject.jp

On January 21, ALI PROJECT released their (approximately) 31st full-length album Violetta Operetta, continuing their legacy as a decades-active classical-pop duo. The orchestral LP includes 5 original compositions, 4 variations on songs by classical composers, and a cover of the early Kate Bush track “L’Amour Looks Something Like You.”

Charismatic jazz vocalist Nakano Yoshie, better known as one half of ska-jazz group EGO-WRAPPIN’, released her second solo album on January 14. Titled Madokei (Window View), the CD strips down to the simple, with only a few instruments (mainly piano) backing ballads and urgent mantras alike. Nakano’s characteristic simplicity, playfulness, and scatting abound.

Coming Soon:

Sebastian X‘s performances seem driven by joy. Even in the more somber “Kokoro” (Heart), Nagahara Manatsu’s voice trembles with bright emotion as the piano falls like rain. Their upcoming mini-album of the same name will include 5 original tracks and a remix of the lead single by Parkgolf. Look for it on March 11.

Miyavi

Image courtesy of Miyavi on Facebook.

Hot off success from his first movie role as Watanabe Mutsuhiro in Unbroken, Miyavi returns to the music scene on April 15 with The OthersLittle about the album is known right now, but the phrase “guitar rock dance music” was included in the announcement. Here’s hoping this means we can expect something decidedly groovy from the guitar hero in the spring.

Super-duper electro-pop group Sugar’s Campaign are unleashing their cheery ’80s vibe onto the world with their debut full-length, Friends. Satisfy your sweet tooth on January 21, courtesy of Speedstar Records.

In just a matter of days (February 18, to be exact), electronic duo Capsule will release the new album Wave Runner. If the newly revealed “Another World” and album preview are anything to go by, Capsule appear to be moving to a style of EDM more influenced by the western scene, unlike even their last album, 2012’s CAPS LOCK. It will be interesting to witness their evolution, and thankfully, we don’t have long to wait to hear it.

Japanese Music News & Links – 1/26/15

Upcoming Concerts

Slap guitarist and singer Miyavi announced a newly-rescheduled Los Angeles concert for February 18. Tickets are $27.50.

Visual kei artist Kamijo (formerly of Lareine, New Sodmy, and Versailles) announced two North American dates for his 2015 world tour: one in Los Angeles on June 4, and one in New York City on June 6. Tickets go on sale February 1.

Upcoming Releases

Shiina Ringo is releasing a new single on February 25, to be used as the theme song for the drama series ○○Tsuma. The two-track disc will include the new song, “Shijou No Jinsei” (A Life Supreme), and the b-side “Donzoku Made” (To the Very Bottom). A 90-second preview for the new single can be heard on YouTube. The CD can be pre-ordered on websites like HMV. The CD is 1080 yen, including tax.

Momoiro Clover Z and Kiss’s will release their collaboration, “Yume No Ukiyo Ni Saite Mi Na” (Try To Bloom in a Dream of the Floating World), on January 29. The CD can be pre-ordered on websites like HMV. The CD is 1350 yen, including tax. There is also a special edition available, which includes a Blu-Ray of the music video but excludes the third track, “Samurai Son.”

“Welcome to the sugar” – Noise band ZZZ’s video for “dystopia”

Two months ago, Japanese post-punk / no wave trio ZZZ’s released a music video for their song “dystopia,” from their EP prescription. The video is a collaboration with visual artist and VJ Mamiko Kushida. The all-female band, which formed in 2011, has been featured in Tom Tom Magazine, and was named by Thurston Moore as one of his 2012 favorites on the Matador Records blog. They have just finished recording with Jonathan Kreinik as of October 2014. Updates on new releases and shows can be found on their Facebook page.