Getting Wild with Punk Guitars in the Early 2000s

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“Distorted electric guitar sounds not only sounded cool, but were radical…They proclaimed rebellion not only against the aesthetic codes that defined beauty in music but also against the social order and morality. Advocates of the new rock ideology celebrated the link between aggressively distorted guitar noise and political radicalism, both inside and outside Japan: to them, guitar feedback sounded authentic, artistic, and revolutionary.”

Michael K. Bourdaghs, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop (130)

One lazy January day, I lay flat on my stomach on the floor of my college dorm room and watched a punk rock Japanese film in ten-minute increments. It was called Kemonogare, Oira No Saru To (Getting Wild With Our Monkey)[1] and was out of print, except that some kind or devious soul had uploaded it to Nico Nico, the Japanese alternative to YouTube. It was shot in filmic reds and greens and reminded me of the artsy, cynical films of Terry Gilliam, and between the close-up shots of cockroaches and performances from satirical comedians, I was too tired to understand much of what was going on in the plot. But one thing was clear:

This was one of the best soundtracks I had ever heard.

Crunching guitar distorting into static, refrains of 1960s folk pop, tinny recorded drums that thundered into something beyond straight rock and roll – it was all chaos and glory at once

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Kemonogare is a 2001 adaptation of Kou Machida’s short story (which was shortlisted for the Akutagawa Prize), directed by the music video director Hideaki Sunaga (he’s done MVs for alt rock quartet Asian Kung-Fu Generation and the infamous 100-plus member idol group AKB48).

The incidental music is done by Aida Shigekazu, one of the guitarists for instrumental rock supergroup Losalios and a studio musician and producer for countless bands, including pop singer-songwriter Kimura Kaela, Nirvana tourmates Shounen Knife, bloodthirsty butchers (who are also featured on this soundtrack), multilingual composer-singer Bonnie Pink, and more.

Listening to the album that accompanies the story, you find a close-knit community of rock musicians – different bands who share members or who have worked together, all manipulating punk as a genre and culture as it moves into a new millennium.

Aida Shigekazu – Nepo ~ Music for the Scum of the People

The shittiest recording, the most marching guitar riff played by Aida opens the movie; it suddenly cleans up into quiet higher notes while metallic lullaby and whistling sounds play over it, and then the riff comes back. It’s punk rock filtered through 1990s grunge and spat out at the other end in 2001. The guitar is filtered through a distortion box that tastes like metal. All the noise is turned up as loud as possible at the end, halted, and then returns in the same kind of angry, snotnosed, middle finger in the face of the listener – did you expect a proper ending, a proper song? We wouldn’t give you such a thing.

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Image courtesy of Naver Matome.

RomanPorsche. – Henshitsu-sha + Jinkaku-sha  Anata (Pervert + Person of Character ≤ You)

(Song plays around the 26:17 mark to 29:36)

RomanPorsche. (yes, the period is a part of their name, like the idol group MorningMusume.) is extreme, minimalistic, techno-based, and humorous. They perform a hyper-masculinity that’s played slightly tongue in cheek over a kitsch love of 1980’s synths.

The song itself is video game rhythms dancing and bleeping over each other in relentless throbs, while vocalist Okite Porsche (who is credited on RomanPorsche.’s website as performing “all instruments” and “being in charge of preaching”) yells on top of it, “Whatever you do, you’re wrong. Look at me and talk! Explain yourself!” The crunchy synths and smooth keyboards interweave a faux chorus that suggests radio-friendly pop music while subverting it with not-exactly pop-friendly lyrics (“You are shit,” yells Porsche in between verses. “Goddammit!”). When the synths spin out of control so does the song, ending after three minutes with a few unresolved chords.

It’s collected on their best of 2008 album, Mou Sukoshi Majime Ni Yatte Oku Beki Datta (Had To Do It a Little More Seriously).

Aida Shigekazu – Push His Button

Clacking percussion and moaning vocals are overlaid with psychedelic guitar harmonics in another one of Aida’s incidental tracks. The rise and fall of distorted, tinny sounds is interspersed with low voices yelling every so often to the sound of a tape being wound down, until the next track hits a real groove.

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54-71. Image courtesy of JpopAsia.

54-71 – b.b.c.

54-71 is hip-hop in organic terms. Vocalist Bingo yelps (not unlike Number Girl frontman Mukai Shutoku) over a murmuring bassline, a vibrato-ridden guitar, and drumbeat driven by a closed hi-hat that all seem to be following different patterns but interlock in a massive puzzle. Bingo breaks off his English recitation to scat quietly; his delivery is detached while measured, every once in a while sliding into a low vibrato and then humming that “ba-tss-too-ba” line again. The whole song feels too cool, too smooth.

The song is from their 2000 LP untitled. 54-71.The band members consist of Bingo (vocals), Leader (bass), Bobo (drums), and Sniper (guitar), although they also used to have a guitarist called Scum Grinder. According to Sputnik Music, the band, which has been around since 1995, has been on a “mysterious hiatus” since 2011. Their wiki says that as of 2016, they are “practically inactive.” However, in recent years, drummer Horikawa “Bobo” Hiroyuki can often be seen performing with superstar slap guitarist Miyavi.

Aida Shigekazu – abdominal muscles

The psychedelic drumbeats and distortedly smooth guitars of “Push His Button” continue in new form here, complete with a more electronic tone and instead of vocals, the skittering of strings appearing every once in a while like a strange creature in the distance. The electronic beat is pushed harder, louder, crunching in the static, thumping until it disappears into the ether and is replaced with relentless guitar in the form of Yura Yura Teikoku.

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Yura Yura Teikoku. Image courtesy of Music 163.

Yura Yura Teikoku – Tsukinuketa (Pierced Through)

Michael K. Bourdaghs writes, “The new rock ideology that began emerging around 1968 located authenticity in the intense expression of emotion…in rock, the guitar is perceived to be almost a vocal instrument” (128).

That fusion of multiple decades of guitar culture is present in Yura Yura Teikoku. This three-piece formed in Koenji in 1989 and broke up in 2010. Vocalist Sakamoto Shintaro has released three solo albums since then. Bassist Kamekawa Chiyo now plays for the chill-groove of MANNERS, the solo project of Mishio Mai, former frontwoman of psychedelic rock trio Uzumibi. Two years after the disbandment of Yura Yura, drummer Shibata Ichirou released an electronic album titled Fly Electric under the name Ichirou. But before all that was the psychedelic rock of Yura Yura, grounded in the introduction of the fuzz box to rock music in the 1960s with a new punk sensibility from the 1980s.

“Tsukinuketa” starts with a relentless bulletfire of a noise-heavy guitar riff is faster than any classic blues track, with even more distorted vocals barely audible above it. An abrupt breakdown stops the song before it even hits two minutes. Over and out.

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Kikuchi Naruyoshi. Image courtesy of Dommune.

Kikuchi Naruyoshi – Zou Sakana (Elephant Fish)

This is the only short bit of score not written by Aida; instead, this piece is helmed by the jazz musician Kikuchi Naruyoshi. This track, which underlaid a scene of a surreal march Kemonogare, opens with harsh high-pitched horns, which continue, slightly off-beat, behind a thumping muffled bass drum off-set by noisy cymbals. As the song continues, more of the musicians make more mistakes, adding to the noise and uncertainty of the chaos. The sound is soon replaced with the steady riff of Aida, in the form of his band Foe.

Foe – Tokkuri

Foe is led by Aida, formed with with bassist Sato Kenji and drummer Komatsu Masahiru (from bloodthirsty butchers). “Tokkuri” originally appeared on Foe’s 2002 self-titled album. The song name refers to a sake bottle, the ceramic container with a bell-shaped bottom and a thin mouth from which sake is poured into guests’ cups.

The track itself is a grunge march, bass and guitar thudding along and picking up the beat with the percussion before heavily reverberated vocals, approximating notes. The chorus thumps in succession with comedic sound effects. The guitars distort into slinky metallic strings and feedback, and then that marching riff comes back and Aida keeps singing, steady into the future.

Aida Shigekazu – Truth Comes Dream

In another Aida track, old-fashioned surf rock riff is played through a filter, while piano and a steady cymbal move in and out of the right and left speakers, a throwback to an earlier time: a nostalgia for the 1950s and the introduction of the electric guitar. Kemonogare might have been released at the beginning of a new millennia, but it owes it’s rock and roll to an older history.

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Tokedashita Garasubako. Image courtesy of Natalie.

Tokedashita Garasubako – Kimi Wa Dare Nan Da (Who Are You)

This track came out in 1971 on a self-titled album, and was the only release by Tokedashita Garasubako. The band name means “Dissolved Glass Box.” The band was developed as a studio project by multi-instrumentalist Kida Tadasuke with folk singer Nishioka Takashi and singer-songwriter Saitou Tetsuo.

The 1960s and 1970s combine in many layers in this track. Acoustic guitars matched with electric, doubled harmonies, a steady bass moving up and down, static-y cymbals, and an insertion of horns. However, bizarrely, one minute in the song abruptly stops, then comes back in with slowed-down instrumentals, as though someone had lifted the record needle, then held their finger on the vinyl itself before finally letting the song come back.

Aida Shigekazu – The Prime of Manhood

Of course, modernity is essential, as this two-minute track throws together a bass guitar, hand claps, and saxophone with those yelling vocals from “Push His Button.” Hip-hop and jazz meet a funky electric guitar solo. And who could be more aware of the fusion of rock with other genres than the so-influential Number Girl?

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Number Girl. Image courtesy of Hatena Fotolife.

Number Girl – Zazenbeats Kemono Style

The song starts with Nakao Kentarou’s intimidating bassline, intercut with Mukai Shutoku’s vocal interjections, finally adding vibrating guitar by Mutoku and Tabuchi Hisako and some chimes in addition to the jittery stutters of Inazawa Ahito’s drums. The result, like much of this soundtrack, is a steady, distorted rock track based around a riff or five, never urgent, always attentive to the mood, and maintaining energy over a long stretch.

Nakao’s bassline is really the centerpiece of this track, but the disorienting layers of Mukai’s voice, calling out “Nai! Nai!” (the negative form of the word “to be”: the fact that something is not present) in quiet echoes as guitar chords ripple throughout the track, create a dim world.

This track appears to have been written for the movie, which came out (depending on who you ask) in 2001 or 2002, one year before Number Girl broke up and two years before Mukai formed Zazen Boys. In this song title, zazen refers to the seated position of zen mediation, while kemono means beast, brute, or animal.

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Asano Tadanobu. Image courtesy of HIFF.

PEACE PILL – SNAKEFIRE (HYPER POPULATION)

Asano Tadanobu is one of Japan’s most famous actors. He did not appear in Kemonogare, but he is known for Ichi the Killer, numerous Ishii Katsuhito films, and is part of the Asgardian ensemble in Marvel’s Thor movies. He also plays in a number of bands, including MACH-1.67 (with film director Ishii Gakuryuu, who presented another take on punk culture with 1982’s Burst City), Safari, Soda, and Peace Pill, in which he sings and plays lead guitar.

The track “Snakefire (Hyper Population)” appears only to be present on the Kemonogare soundtrack, although Peace Pill has released a number of albums. The song itself is relentlessly loud and uneasy, the guitar following a path of its own, sticking and not getting every note out, before distorted noise builds with the drums that thunder into oblivion. The drone of the bass feels violent, unavoidable. It feels uncomfortable and claustrophobic, perfect for a movie soundtrack.

Aida Shigekazu – a memento

At this point in the film, and the soundtrack, a move towards the experimental and ethereal and electronic is more apparent. Sparse synth notes extend over indistinct rustling, hinting at the distorted percussion that is yet to come to close out this album. Spacey, stark notes dances over the top.

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bloodthirsty butchers. Image courtesy of Sync Music Japan.

bloodthirsty butchers – Moeru Omoi (Burning Thoughts)

At seven minutes long, the song is a dense, echoing delve into the deep-set. Tabuchi Hisako’s guitar, not unlike how she plays with Number Girl, buzzes and trembles long after vocalist Yoshimura Hideki’s voice fades, muffled into the gentle crashing of Komatsu Masahiru’s cymbals and the warm vibrations of Imoriya Takeshi’s bass, heating the fire that burns through the song.

Formed in 1986, bloodthirsty butchers is named after a 1970 cult film about Sweeney Todd. The band has also released music with Tadanobu Asano. In 2011, a documentary about the band, named after their album 1996 Kocorono, was released.

Frontman Yoshimura passed away suddenly in 2013 of acute heart failure. In 2015, a film titled Sore Dake (That’s It) featuring Bloodthirsty Butchers’ music, including the song of the same name, was released on the two-year anniversary of Yoshimura’s death in tribute to him.

Aida Shigekazu – ME AND MY Candle

The bom-bam of low drums accents a flute humming over guitar and bells, all tuned through a distortion filter that becomes denser as the song continues. Not unlike Kemonogare itself, filtered through the grain of film, Aida takes pleasure in the way that imperfections can add something to art’s meaning. Even chopping up a voice can make a piece more evocative.

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Asa-Chang & Junray. Image courtesy of JaME World.

Asa-Chang & Junray – Hana (Flower)

The band’s name, Asa-Chang & Junray, refers to the founding member, Asa-Chang, and the portable soundsystem the group uses in concerts: Jun-Ray Tronics. However, the band is actually a trio, made up of Chang, who was originally the percussionist for and one of the founding members of the prolific Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, as well as programmer and guitarist Urayama Hidehiko and tabla player U-Zhaan.

The song itself is surreal, nearing seven minutes and opening with soft strings. “Hana ga saita yo” (“Flowers have bloomed”) say a man and a woman simultaneously, their voices hesitant and edited, choppy on top of the violins. Then tabla enters, tripling the vocals, creating a third language and incomprehensible rhythm. The result is a musical and atonal world created by the trippy combination of percussion and vocals, which speed up as the song continues. The words lose their distinction and meaning as they are diced on top of chopped drumbeats. The distortion ends the album and Kemonogare, moving from the chaos of punk rock to something entirely new: a new millennium, a new genre, a new way of approaching “rebellion…against the aesthetic codes that defined beauty in music,” as Bourdaghs wrote. Authentic. Artistic. Revolutionary.

[1] The more common pronunciation would be orera instead of oira, but the Japanese Wikipedia entry says “oira.”

Gifs were made by author with the Giphy app using this video.

Getting Wild with Punk Guitars in the Early 2000s

This week: Next Music From Tokyo

The annual Next Music from Tokyo tour of Canada is celebrating its 10th run in 2017. The weeklong tour showcases up-and-coming rock bands from Japan, and this year’s lineup is stronger than ever. Listen for the noise of Hyacca, the genre-bending guitars of Yubisaki Nohaku, and more on May 19-24 in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

The Taupe

With their first full-length album, Coelenterazine, released this past January, rock quartet The Taupe leans toward dream pop in tracks like “Kaigan Enjou” (“Coastal Blaze”), where Kawamoto Yuki’s soft vocals overlay Shouhei’s reverberating drums. “GORILLA GORILLA GORILLA” is relentless, burning steadily through Onodera Emi’s bassline before she interjects “In this city,” and the guitar noise of Kawamoto and Neil Patti Patti Patti layer on top of each other with Kawamoto shouting, “Gorilla, gorilla, gorilla.” “The Taupe is not a band,” clarifies their website. “It is a monster.”

Yukueshirezutsurezure

As a part of Codomomental Inc’s metal idol groups, Yukushirezursurezure released their first single in 2015 and have been performing ever since. From the punch-jump of guitar in “Ware Ware” (“Ourselves”) to the gentle bells and dance beat of “Shinjuku Cinema Connection,” the four women of Not Secured, Loose Ends combine pop sensibility with hardcore vocals, resulting in a new idol music.

Yubisaki Nohaku

Guitar-driven rock quartet Yubisaki Nohaku has been playing music since 2008, operating under the name Raditz until a moniker change in 2011. The versatile musicians are adept in styles from the fast-paced ballad “Sou,” the harsh funk noise of “Motageru,” and the danceable “Nanigashi” (above), which is grounded in a keyboard riff and a verse of “Hey, hey, listen for a second.” As they have yet to release a full-length album despite their experience and skill, Yubisaki Nohaku is a band to watch.

Bakyun the everyday

Backed by a rotating cast of drummers and bassists, guitarists and vocalists Nanamure Nobumi and Ino Yuji are the main members of Bakyun the everyday, but their commitment to collaboration is all to support a hard-rocking joy of playing music. In “SEIKATSU ♡ YOU,” Nanamure and Ino trade off vocals in an anti-love song, pop-punk in its roots but more mature in its execution. The riff and gang vocals of “BASEBALL PLAYER SONG” are based in punk, but Nanamure’s delivery is light and tongue-in-cheek. Bakyun the everyday perform with such delight that it’s easy to miss the sophistication of the harsh distortion and crashing cymbals that might belong in the post-rock section.

Hyacca

The experimental noise rock quartet Hyacca (who had also been a part of NMfT’s third tour) might be the heaviest of the lineup. Their tracks range from the staccato off-beat of “Stress” to the full seven minutes of “Angel Fish,” in which the sludge of distorted, repeated guitar lines hidden underneath angelically apathetic vocals from Kajiwara is awakened halfway through by the march of Harajira Seiji’s bass and Sasaki Kimihiro’s drums. Goshima Masaru and Kajiwara finally scream through their guitars and abandon vocals in search of a post-shoegaze, post-math-rock world.

Tour dates:

May 19 – Toronto – The Rivoli

May 20 – Toronto – Lee’s Palace

May 22 – Montreal – Divan Orange

May 24 – Vancouver – Biltmore Cabaret

This week: Next Music From Tokyo

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

Smashfest 2015: Photos from the Punk Festival

On May 23, summer in Niigata started off with a bang as punk bands from Japan and America congregated at G’s Longboard in Sekiya for the first annual Smashfest festival. There was dancing, there was noise, and good times were had by all. Check out photos below of just a handful of the bands that played: Guden, Night of the Vampire, and Graham Smith and the Drone Smasherz.

Guden

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Night of the Vampire

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Graham Smith and the Drone Smasherz

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Smashfest 2015: Photos from the Punk Festival

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

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.

New & Upcoming Japanese Music – 2/12/15

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.”

Japanese Music News & Links – 1/26/15