The Promotional Parade [July 2008]
Well, it’s been over a full year since I last did one of these. And why yes, this is oooooooooold. Half a year old. But I started this before my school term started again, before my Internet crashed, and before I lost my faithful laptop of 6-7 years. I have it, I poured hours into it, and so this is getting stuck up here anyways. Give it a look through anyways – if you have my taste in music you may find something new. Or you may just have fun when I poke fun too.
alan – Sora Uta: I haven’t mentioned alan once on this blog, I believe. Not even in that one overly-long response to a question about why I don’t cover Chinese music. alan is, if you haven’t heard by now, very much so Chinese. And following in the same Japanese bias, I’ve heard her Chinese covers and it still doesn’t compare (in my head) to her work with avex.
It must be said, though, that I was hooked on Ashita e no Sanka because of her classic Chinese opera-style wail, and both Hitotsu and Natsukashii Mirai haven’t really compared. Luckily, Sora Uta definitely brings us back to ethnic influences, and alan’s vocals steadily rise and fall in a way that makes up for the lack of that unique wail. I think with this, I can definitely say fans of Shimatani Hitomi will enjoy alan – who has a less rich voice, but her own strengths to bring to the table.
The video, though, is kind of boring. The presence of the sky (as if we could never have enough reminding that the song is indeed called Sora Uta) is undeniable, and the outfits of both alan and her dancers clearly have their inspiration in the air. That said, alan’s bunched up skirt is flat-out ugly. She’s a pretty girl, if looking a bit vapid at times, but she cannot save that skirt. There’s a few kaleidoscopic effects going on (to better use than a certain other video mentioned in this post), and they dance in a little puddle of water in front a screen playing a fast-forwarded video of the sky. Oh, and alan walks on a bridge through more sky. Granted, there are variations, but I look at my computer and watch music videos so I don’t have to lie on a hill of grass staring up at the sky. In short, not as striking as the imagery Ashita e no Sanka brought to table. But the song doesn’t need any such visuals to hold its own in carving alan a niche in the Japanese market.
Amuro Namie – Do Me More: The first of two new songs on Namie’s single collection BEST FICTION, it’s as good as any single on there. And actually, acknowledging that she’s already got another single collection is what really drives home the fact that she’s already 30 years old. Kind of a shocker, and especially since she still looks a fresh early-20s in this music video.
As a song, Do Me More follows her usual formula of catchy R&B with a darker dance beat and throws in the sex references. While not stripped of Namie’s vocal strength, she uses a softer voice while switching to a higher, somewhat sweeter tone for the choruses. There’s a bit of vocal layering used to add to the ominous atmosphere, also helped by the sharpness and quick stops of the vocal melody. If you wanted more in the lines of 60s70s80s or FUNKY TOWN, it’s not here. But if you’re like me and greatly prefer post-Say the Word Namie, join the party and Hear Her More.
Of course, always one for continuing a bad pun, I gotta say this isn’t a video where I want to See Her More. Taking a page from the book of misono’s early solo work, we’ve got a little fairy tale thing going on in here. A red-haired (highly young, and highly made-up) Alice gets lost in the hedge maze and is approached by two female… soldiers, we’ll say. They look much more like nutcracker-themed haute couture models. Which was probably the point. Our little heroine also comes across a sleep-inducing apple, and nearly gets raped by tree roots. Oh, Japan. You couldn’t keep your tentacle porn out of this, could you? Namie’s got seemingly nothing to do with this, other than offering an apple later in the video, but she’s as impeccably dressed as usual. One frilly white dress with varying tiny hats set a jaunty angle on top of curly hair; and then one sexy black-and-gold dance outfit with a mohawk-inspired hairstyle that seriously works with her tattoo. She’s also got unicorn-headed dancers, and there’s a lot of fun things about her sections, yes. But I really wanted to see what happened to the girl. Er, not the tentacle rape, though.
Amuro Namie – Sexy Girl: The second of the two new songs blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera… Yeah. Um, let’s just copy-pasta the entire first paragraph for the above video here, huh? Oh, also, Namie’s probably the only one in Japan who could pull this off without coming out looking like a serious slut. Especially with lyrics like “Hey baby let me see your sexy sexy hips on me”. (I wouldn’t mind her sexy sexy hips anywhere, though.)
Ahem. Video. Dance club. A private room, or perhaps the hallway outside leading into the main room of said club. More importantly, slightly dirty bathroom, presumably also of said dance club. And there’s apparently some action going on in one of the stalls, hyu-hyu~ Anyways. Most of the scenes focus on Namie flirting with the camera – permed version reigns all areas, while straight-haired stays mostly on the dance floor. About 2/3rds of the screen time is dedicated to the dance, which has a rather large amount of isolations and pop/locks. I especially adore the clock-and-snap move right after the vocal bridge.
If you’re a dancer or know anything about it, then the mention of pop/locks probably gives you an idea of the beats. Basically, the beats take prescedence over everything else in the song, even ruling the tempo of Namie’s singing. It’s very similar to Do Me More with the requisite Namie formula, but has a much less heavy air to it, aiming for seductive and proving that Namie is, every inch, the Sexy Girl.
BRIGHT – One Summer Time: You probably haven’t heard of BRIGHT before, so let me offer you a short introduction. BRIGHT is a 4-person girl group whose gimmick is that they can sing gospel. I don’t know why it was necessary for them to sing gospel, but they can sing gospel. They really just stuck in my head because the same week their debut mini-album Brightest Star was released, I headed to the second-hand greatness that is Book-off and saw that same mini-album sitting in the $3 CD section. …yep. Clearly not so great sales.
Perhaps in an effort to garner more attention, they decided to branch out and dance. Two thirds of the video is in smart outfits with white open-collar dress shirts and black bottoms, making for some nice visuals against the architectural interior of whatever building they were shooting this in. The final third has them in more casual outfits. Their dancing is pretty sharp, so we get a pretty good look at it even during the closeups. Speaking of the closeups, these are not the prettiest of the bunch, but they’ll satisfy someone, I’m sure. Unless you had your 4-person girl group with good vocals and decent dancing fix satisfied by Tenjo Chiki THE GRACE.
The song is a pretty generic pop affair with some strings to add a touch of elegance, but the main point is the strength of the girls’ vocals while still maintaing a variety in their tones and ranges. Which would be a good plan if your selling gimmick is their vocal abilities. A nice listen, but definitely not anything to stick with.
CHERRYBLOSSOM – CYCLE: It might seem a bit odd, but more than official artist pages, I adore official label pages. More specifically, SONY, Geneon, and PONY CANYON have preview clips for new releases from their artists. (VISION FACTORY also practices this, and it’s thanks to this same thing that I’ve discovered what Yu (of FLAME) and Hinoi Asuka have been up to, but I don’t know if any other management practices this.) And this is how I discover a number of new interests. In this case, CHERRYBLOSSOM.
The video, set in a parking lot, features the members of the band fighting a bunch of monster-costumed thugs (named Shigarami and Kanashimi) to rescue some civilian office workers. First the three instrument-playing (male) members fight – and get beaten up – then our two female vocalists rush in and save the day. All this while the band plays alongside. And then the civilians show that they had enough strength to break free of the chains of Shigarami and Kanashimi (ties – of the restrictive sort – and sadness respectively) anyways.
It’s not anything especially interesting, other than the metaphor of how you can fight through the named troubles yourself – CHERRYBLOSSOM clearly recommends you do it with their help by buying their latest single to listen to, though. And the main draw for me is the song, which hooked me when I first heard it. It’s upbeat and catchy pop-rock at its best. I’m highly amused at how this is sort of FLOW-with-female-vocalists, though.
Crystal Kay – ONE: So Kuri’s latest album COLOR CHANGE is out, and all I can think is “Wow, has it really been that long since Crystal Style?” Barely relevant, but hey, you’ll live.
But I bring up the album because every review I’ve seen of it has brought up Namida no Saki ni as the headliner. Whether because it’s the first track, or because they think it’s the best single off the album… yeah, guess what? I can’t deny it. It’s a fairly standard pop song, with a light melody and Kuri’s usual blend of high choruses and power adlibs.
Even the music video was better. Crystal Kay is a video chameleon to SONY – she’ll be as classy and artsy as Nakashima Mika in some videos (Kitto Eien ni, Koi ni Ochitara), all pop goodness in others (hard to say, I LIKE IT), break out the dance moves like Tamaki Nami (Bye My Darling!, Kirakuni), or shill as much as she can (Shining). Namida no Saki ni had its semi-story, but ONE is just boring. (This balloon stuff seems way too familiar, too. Except in blue.) Kuri’s pretty, but the random twirling dancers were much more interesting than looking at CK showing off her white teeth. (Their dresses were also much better.) I also found myself studying the female duos for comparisons sake, and winced when Kuri got paired with the singular white girl near the end. Obvious much? Though I guess if I were especially hard pressed, I might make a bukkake reference out of the randomly splattering white balloons.
D-51 – Travelers Of Life: Yu and Yasu have definitely had their ups and downs since bursting on the music scene. They’re probably never going to have another hit nearly as great as NO MORE CRY, but over three albums (four, if you count the best-of compilation that came after last year’s SEPIA) later they’re still hanging in there.
The peace sign motif is all over this video and kind of cute at that, while the director seems to have taken a route of nostalgia for its overall image. Unfortunately, nothing’s nearly so much as fun as the impromptu live performance in the final minute, with the mass of hands doing victory signs to the beat as Yasu and Yu sing. It kind of suffers, actually, because both men suddenly develop the air of amateurs when the camera zooms in to them singing. You’ve been in the business for over 3 years now, at least look good in a video that can be edited, please.
The song itself is a classic D-51 track, laid-back and showing the great combination of their vocals with energy. Unfortunately, by this point, they’ve also released one too many songs that sound like this, and there’s nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the pack. Next one, perhaps.
FLOW – WORLD END: It is an unfortunate cliche. If a song references an apocalyptic event in any form, that event will be portrayed in the video. If the reference is just a general thing, then we will inevitably see the apocalyptic aftermath.
And of course, that’s what happens. We get treated to scenes of a desert, a ruined building, a sandstorm, and a tornado brewing in the back. I mean, sure, it shows off the song’s power. And to an extent it’s aesthetically pretty. But I don’t really want aesthetics from FLOW. I can only assume with the opening that it’s a continuation from their last video, what with the mugshot lineup and the world’s destruction being what set them free.
The song’s almost as good as any that’s come from FLOW since I fell in love with their sound last summer, though. Their drum-driven rock mixes with a rising string accompaniment that adds a bittersweet feel. It doesn’t quite have the catchiness that Fuyu no Amaoto and Answer slammed into the listener’s ears, settling for volume that makes it mark. Considering it’s an anime opening, though, I guess that’ll be resolved by repeated listens for the viewers. I’m left with the uncertain feeling as to whether the video helps or hinders the song. I guess we’ll see on the Oricon charts.
GIRL NEXT DOOR – Guuzen no Kakuritsu: T.M.Revolution is 100% a SONY thing, yes? So I’m still trying to figure out just why he gets included in a-nation stuff. In the meanwhile, avex has come up with their own answer in the form of this new group. That or Suzuki Daisuke requires a pretty frontwoman.
GIRL NEXT DOOR is composed of vocalist CHISA (the girl you see throughout the video), guitarist Inoue Yuji, and Suzuki Daisuke (formerly the guitarist of misono’s ex-group day after tomorrow) on keyboard. Their sound? If Guuzen no Kakuritsu is anything to go by, electro pop-rock with a vocal passion akin to TMR’s. (Edit: I do know they’ve released two more singles and a whole album since with a more pop sound, but give me a break, huh?) While the song starts out light and gentle on piano, it soon gives way to a burst of synth and guitar. The stanzas themselves are slow and delivered sweetly, but then we climb to the chorus and the power increases. It’s really not an amazing or unique song, but it’s a great dance pop track and slightly refreshing, given how long it’s been since this sort of music has been paired up with female vocals.
The video. Let’s be honest. Chisa walking barefoot in the “movie”, hair and dress windblown, is the hottest image here. Perfect amount of skin shown, she looks like she has boobs… there is nothing to not like. Especially when she tosses the bodysuit from her supercar ride or starts shooting at the scorpion that apparently came from the second Spy Kids movie. Shame it only lasts all of a minute. The theater is pointless. If she’s going to flirt with me, please dress like it too. I want flirty women in tuxedos only from Takarazuka (or ex-Takarazuka). Peacock-dressed Chisa was a pleasant sight, but then it faded into the giant-mouthed clown sculpture. (She is also apparently the mime. Or a mime.) Rockabilly Chisa and her cohorts from the county fair look more than a bit lost too, especially when they’re dancing to her singing. I’d much rather have her singing in the peacock dress at a lounge. Then she’s in a funeral veil and dancing like a stripper with a cane around a chair, and prances down the theater steps in a very poofy skirt – also not amazing looks on her. But basically, this video is a giant scheme to promote the next Barbie doll of Japanese ethnicity. In which case, I’ll buy Desert Chisa as long as they don’t give her ugly bendy joints too.
Hi-Prix – Wipe Out: What do you get when you combine Surfin’ USA with a crazy reggae announcer and two cute Japanese girls? Apparently, this song.
When I say Hi-Prix are cute, I mean they are cute. One looks uncannily like Kishimoto Hayami at times, and the other has a Tamaki Nami-ish thing going on, but they are still cute. (Considering they’re both high school students, I’d sort of hope so.) Both Miki (the Hayamin lookalike) and HINA (the Tamaki-ppoi one) have some nice clear singing vocals that blend, but their rapping in this song is beyond lackluster. (Listening to Taiyou ni Hoero ~Uchira Ii Kanji~, a more hip-hop style track from the two, only confirms it.) The California surfing synth music is persistent to the point where it’s the girls’ vocals that brightens up the song, but then we get to the rap. SONY, is Japan’s music industry really so bad as this? Or is this a failed attempt to update Suitei Shoujo?
On the subject of the music video, it’s crack and has no artistic value whatsover. Unless you like abuse of cutesy effects and pointless green-screened interjections. Did SONY really think these two would do badly? The video’s just not worth watching at all, but I can’t deny the song’s not bad as long as the girls are singing. Put them to better use, stat.
HOME MADE KAZOKU – NO RAIN NO RAINBOW: It’s been a while since I mentioned these guys here, huh? Didn’t quite mean for my blog to become so Johnny’s-centric, but what can you do? (I suppose it should be noted – I gave FAMILIA a once over, but still haven’t really listened to it. Oops?)
Aesthetically, this a gorgeous video. From the lighting to the effects to the scenery and of course, the guys themselves. KURO and MICRO have long since ditched the hats, but they’re as common-guy good-looking as ever, and U-ICHI playing DJ on miniature galaxy-esque swirls is awesome. Sure, there are times when the effects get a bit overused – more specifically for KURO and MICRO’s solo scenes. But generally, I could use all the vocabulary in my repetoire (and as a person who aces her English classes even when she’s pushed the limit of failing for a normal person, I like to think I have a pretty good vocabulary) and still not be able to describe exactly how and why it’s beautiful. Do just click the link and watch it, hmm?
As for the song itself, it’s on the slower side and almost ballad-like in its buildup. Micro pulls out some breathy singing, and the music takes a very light approach, reminiscent of raindrops. While another relaxing track on par with HMK’s record, there’s nothing about it that particularly makes it stand out. But hey, I like it and that’s all I need.
Lead – Sunnyday: Oh, Lead. It’s been a while. How’ve you been? Y’see, while I heard of them back in 2003 and developed a clear favorite in 2004 (Hiroki, then Akira) and have even bought 2 (perhaps eventually 3) of their albums… we’ve just never clicked. w-inds. was and probably always will remain the clear favorite in my heart when it comes to PONY CANYON’s boyband trio. (Do we even get to call them a trio anymore? FLAME’s kind of dead.) There is one time of year that I will always head to them, though, and that is summer.
Lead in summer has been fun (and depending on the year, crazy or energetic) dance music for a while now. It’s always been a showcase of what they do best, too – “MC” (that is, rap, or song-rap) and dance. Umi was the recent exception, but Sunnyday goes back to that trend. The chorus is actually takes second fiddle to the rest of the song, but it is the rap stanzas that sets the upbeat mood of the song. Surpassing it all is the bridge led by Shinya, actually, as the perfect and catchy crowd-raiser. I’m a bit saddened by the fact that I can no longer distinguish between their vocals just by listening, but I’m not sure how much of this is that I haven’t listened to them closely in that long, how much of this is that they’ve matured vocally, and how much of this is the seeming inclusion of backup vocals on 90% of the lines.
Along with the fun song comes a fun video, of course. Including dancing with colored squeegees, popping out of trash bins, and oh-god-insane-Hawaiian shirts. It doesn’t quite match the “HOLY CRAP WE ARE BEING CHASED BY BIG BLACK GUYS BUT WHY” insanity of BABY RUNNING WILD, but it’s certainly colorful, fits the song, and the guys themselves are clearly having some measure of fun as well. If cleaning a huge pool can be fun, they are here to make sure we know how. (Part of the fun includes throwing buckets of water at the nearby cameramen, I would assume.) But someone do tell me why Hiroki is wearing a plastic neon green chain around his neck. Didn’t anyone ever teach him that doing such a thing is begging to be strangled? Neon green or otherwise.
Miura Daichi – Inside Your Head: Daichi, Daichi, Daichi. It has been far too long. What is this annual release thing? All the same, I can’t quite blame him when his track record has been nothing short of absolute awesome. Always quality music, always quality vocals, there hasn’t been a single release of his where I haven’t found something to love. Except maybe his looks. I’m sorry, he’s really not made for the camera anymore.
Which makes the fact that the director of his latest PV rather likes to show off Daichi’s face – remind you just who sang and is dancing to this song – kind of annoying. The overall idea is rather nice – it shows off Daichi’s strong points (his dancing) with backgrounds of literal nothing while having Daichi and his dancers wear contrasting clothing so you focus on them. There’s a few overlaid images that add frames of various sorts, and a scene where Daichi tries to win over an Aoi Yu-esque girl in a sundress with his sexy moves. (Most dancer/singers could stand to learn a thing or two from Daichi.) Unfortunately, we also see his mug way too many times for anyone’s good. Bangs over one eye does nothing for his looks, either. At least he looks like he’s having fun, especially at the end after the fadeout where he hugs his dancers.
However, the song is just as smooth as his dancing. Another R&B dance track making strong use of synth beats, there’s a lot less music to this one than there was with Flag. The melody flies solely from Daichi’s lips, and when you’ve got a voice as good as his, that’s never a bad thing. (As compared to a certain other avex release I finally got around to reviewing two months late.) The tempos vary between a confident drawl to a sudden rush, and it’s probably reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s recent releases. (Big surprise, guess who Daichi likes in his music choices?) There’s also a whispered portion just after the instrumental and right before Daichi brings out his softer vocals for the end that really breaks up the constant strength he blared for the first half of the song. While I do have the qualm that Daichi’s accent makes a lot of the English phrases in the song skewed… hey, it’s all good.
Miyawaki Shion – Flavor: Some of you may recognize that name. If not, here’s a refresher course. Last year (at least, I think it was early 2007), rhythm zone had a mini-contest between two potential singing talents. One released a single by the name of BOY. The other contestant’s single was titled JOY. The person who sold the most copies would win the contest and a contract with rhythm zone. Miyawaki Shion, in case you haven’t realized by now, was one of those two girls. She was also the winner.
So why are we only hearing from her again now? That… you’d, uh, have to ask rhythm zone about. I just write this blog. However, she does at least have a new PV for a new release (came out this past Wednesday, in fact). The song’s lackluster – an upbeat dance-y number that sounds like it’s waiting for BoA to pop up and lay claims. Shion pulls off the quick pace, but has a husky tone that seems a bit out of place.
The PV, though, is just too interesting to not watch. I started it and had to stay watching throughout. The background is bare, but what we’re doing is consistently scrolling through a lot of dancers of all looks performing different moves. By which I mean costumes, but still. You got some crossdressing males, your schoolgirls, a little kid in a cowboy outfit, clown-faced creeps, the requisite B-boys, some soccer players, dandies, masked men, street magicians… Just watch the damn video already.
Nakagawa Shoko – Shiny GATE: As you may know, while I adore Shokotan as an idol and as a person, my experience with her musical works has been limited to her two cover albums. Not to say that the rest of her works are good or bad, but I just really haven’t been into anime enough to have heard any of them. This video is actually my first time with her, and I’ve got to say, SONY kicked out a winner.
It’s the Tokyo 2008 ONLYPIC – obviously riding off the Olympics wagon – and we’re in the finals for singing women, Idol division. Shoko follows after a duo of two Caucasians, one blond and one brunette, from the USA named t.W.oT.o.o (I’ll avoid the obvious reference, though for amusement, the German group is named Sausage) who pulled a score of 9.883. Shokotan, however, is more concerned with her performance and sits in the waiting room listening up to the very last second and heads out to perform. The rest of the video is of this performance, a small training flashback, some ridiculous idol poses, and of course, the requisite overblown mess-up before we learn her score (an extra 30 seconds after the song finishes).
Right from the opening notes, the song automatically kicks in as one for an anime, with upbeat synth and loud vocals from Shoko. Funnily enough, it’s the theme song for the Tokyo 2008 ONLYPIC, which is an actual event of stupid sports, portrayed by both animated and live action short films. While the song itself isn’t probably going to be very engaging unless you adore happy pop (I don’t, or at least, not enough), the video with its parody of an Olympic event is an amazing incentive to stick through it.
Tsukishima Kirari starring Kusumi Koharu – PAPANCAKE: Here’s a not-so-newsflash. Koharu Kusumi (as Tsukishima Kirari) can’t sing. (Hell if I know whether she can otherwise.) A bit more of a newsflash? She’s probably the only thing since she joined Morning Musume that I’ve really listened to from H!P. Well, that I haven’t had to sing. Which automatically kicks out Egao YES NUDE, Onna ni Sachi Are, and Resonant Blue. (Oh god that last one hurt.) Back to Miss Small Spring. I really have no clue why, because I don’t even really like what she does as Kirari, and hell if I watch the anime. Perhaps I have self-destructive tendencies. Whatever the reason, I decided to give her latest release a try.
The opening guitar came on, as did she dancing on the TV. I thought, “Hmm, okay. Cluttered setting, appropriately idol-ish outfit, upbeat pop… this is about par for the course.” Then she opened her mouth to sing, and there are no words to describe how fast I regretted it. Koharu’s mastered the rest of idol behavior (whether it’s the frou-frou costumes or the always happy attitude), and while we don’t really expect to hear an idol singing well, is it too much to ask for a little improvement? I could swear “Kirari” seems to have gone downhill compared to Balalaika. The music never lets up, and neither does that whiny “I’m doing everything I can to sound like I’m not singing. NOW SAVE ME.” tone in Koharu’s vocals.
The rest of the video is basically an idol DVD condensed into 4 minutes. Though at first I thought they might actually try to do something cool with the kaleidoscope effect, it just gets wasted. There’s just no point to watching this unless you really adore Koharu. And sure, the girl is pretty. But there’s no way you can’t not get sick of this. So spare yourself before you start.
V6 – Tokonatsu VIBRATION: You probably haven’t heard, but I’ve fallen hard onto the V6 wagon. The adoration for Miyake Ken was always there (I’m still fairly certain he’s just the tallest 10-year-old in Japan, as far as voice and looks go.), and acknowledgement of the rest of Coming Century, but with much thanks to Chou and Ore janakya, Kimi janakya, 20th Century’s pretty high up there too.
I loved Chou perhaps way too much, so that combined with how bored Kamisen looks (and how especially hideous Kenchan looks), how overcompensating Tonisen is acting, and the sparse setting makes this PV pretty lackluster. For 75% of the PV they’re in solo shots, or shots with the requisite blond girl who’s all too ready to shoot at them. (Revenge for Kenchan’s sexual harassment, no doubt.) The remaining 25% they’re in a group, and only then do they look like they’re enjoying it. I know you’re in charge avex, but when will you learn? The best Johnny’s PVs are ones where they get to harass each other in the name of promotion. (And thus lots of activity in the background to actually capture the viewer’s attention.) Instead you leave Miyake to harass a blond girl and leave her to punish the rest of V6 instead.
Oh, and the song. Compared to the usual upbeat summer tracks, this one’s almost ridiculously laid back. Whether that’s because V6 is a group of old men now, or because avex is trying to be ~special~ I have no clue. That’s not necessarily a good thing, given how dull the PV ends up making the song seem. But it’s ridiculously funny to watch them all having a go at the rap stanzas. I may just have to hunt down live performances for the sake of watching that.