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TU-YU? To you? No, two Yuu.

June 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Since the airing of ROOM OF KING last fall, I have developed a love for the music of Kimaguren, the duo who pretty much singularly handled the soundtrack, along with releasing the catchy ending theme.

Apparently recently they hooked up and became good buddies with fellow (albeit with a much greater career lengthspan) musical duo Yuzu, after finding a common birthplace, common friends, and probably a common beer or three. They liked each other so much they decided that despite all members being males, they had to make a lovechild.

And so, my friends, I bring to you… well, two友 [two Yuu], the single released by ゆずグレン [Yuzuguren]. The name literally means “Two Friends”, but also sounds like “to you” and Tuyu (both the name of a CM group featuring Johnny’s – TU-YU – and a resort town – fully Mar del Tuyú – on the coast of Argentina). If you know me, you probably know I’d like to milk it for all it’s worth – but I think I just did.

To best describe the song probably requires a description of its creators. Kimaguren songs usually have a very laid back island melody with guitar worked in somehow and combined with a fast beat, which is admittedly the best setting for the sort of vocals ISEKI and KUREI provide. Normally KUREI does a half-spoken, half-sung, occasionally rap stanza – that grows all the more addictive as his voice grows softer and breathier – and then together with ISEKI wails out the chorus or hook with all the energy they can muster. Neither vocalist will charm over listeners by the power of their vocals alone – it’s the whole package Kimaguren makes, with some fun lyrics when the occasion calls for it, that draws fans in.

On the other hand, Yuzu, I am less qualified to talk about. They’ve been around since 1998, but the thing I most identify them with in my head is guitar ballads and folk songs. Which isn’t far off the course, as the two started off as street musicians. Based off this song alone, I’d declare their vocals of the standard Japanese nasally sort. And speaking of which…

Combining these elements into two Yuu creates a soothing and heartwarming song. Even though the stanzas – spoken by KUREI – are almost hypnotizingly lulling, they’re broken up by the song outburts of Yuzu (and possibly ISEKI) and there is a steady guitar strum that leads us through into the heartfelt chorus. The single also features an instrumental and a remix version – the latter of which introduces more instruments and synth effects. No matter which version you listen to, you will come away with a relaxed feeling, and perhaps the thought that these are four men who truly love music and doing what they do.

After all, they wrote this song to you.

HIMEKA may not have a meaning, but she had a goal

April 22, 2009 Leave a comment

HIMEKA, also known as Catherine St. Onge, is a success story that goes beyond the tales of other “overseas talent breaking into the Japanese music industry” tales.

For one thing, as far as we know, she’s not Japanese. (Everyone else has been raised in Japan – Crystal Kay – or partially East Asian. Even JERO had some of the blood… somewhere.) She’s Canadian. And while we’re on it, her Japanese skills aren’t that great either. She’s admitted as much herself.

For another, she’s 27. I don’t mean to be pointing out her age, but the Japanese business is renowned for the overall younger-is-better attitude they seem to have. Leah Dizon was 20 – or 19 – when she got her contract and moved to Japan.

And last, she wasn’t so much discovered sitting around in Canada with whatever overseas/international auditions were being held; she moved to Japan and won her chance in the Second Annual Animax Anison Grand Prix.

The result of this, a contract with SONY. So between you, me, and at least a hundred others according to her facebook fangroup… yeah, I’d say she’s done pretty well for herself.

Her first single, 明日へのキズナ [Asu he no KIZUNA], isn’t released until May 27th, but you can currently hear it as the opening to the anime series Valkryia Chronicles, or a short clip in the commercial for the single above. You can also find more videos of her performing and singing thanks to the YouTube fan user HIMEKAMediaArchive. While some may denounce her as an anime song artist and less “legit” than someone in the business without the anime tie-ins (Here’s looking at you, Raid!) – it’s what she wanted to do, and she made it. She sounds great doing it, too – her stage moniker, HIMEKA, doesn’t have an actual meaning beyond being the name of a character she once wrote, but you could easily substitute the characters 姫歌 (princess+song) and it wouldn’t be far off from the image she’s got now. Hint, hint to her marketers.

While this is obviously belated – congratulations, Ms. St. Onge! Or HIMEKA, as may be the case now. Girls with a similar dream are no doubt waiting for you to wow the world. You’ve wowed me already, at the least.

Categories: Anime, New Artists, SONY

The post where I drop all pretenses.

February 26, 2009 6 comments

If you have not yet heard Uematsu Hidemi, do yourself a favor and listen to her NOW.

Did you press play yet? No? What is wrong with you? Do it. NOW.

Okay, now that you have listened to/watched the video, we can move on. (You have, right?)

Because there’s already a blog dedicated to promoting Hidemi as a godsend, I’ll spare you my own godsend praises in giving you an introduction, short of her being a 23-year-old singer-songwriter. TRAUMA, the video above, is not her latest single –  but it’s the second of two tracks on her debut single (her second, Jidai, comes out early next month) and extremely touching.

As you have heard by now (I’m sure you’ve heard it, yes?), Hidemi’s got a strong voice and fairly unique. It’d be simple but unflattering to describe her singing as a mix of AI and alan (or perhaps as a friend of mine puts it, enka singing), but it’s the best description that comes to mind at the moment. As for her music, it seems best to reference Amano Tsukiko.

TRAUMA, above, is a powerful song combining a steady drum & bass with various grandstanding strings and a twinkling synth. The music alone evokes sad emotions and a rainy mood, but it’s Hidemi’s raw vocals that make the biggest impact on this song. If YouTube comments can be trusted, the song is supposedly about the father who left her and her mother, and explains the hook of cries to “daddy” (i.e., “I need you need you Daddy” and “I’m crying crying Daddy”) leading up to the dramatic (if amusing) “dundundundundundundun Remember” that ends the chorus. This will grow and catch on you, but it’s a moving track even without the draw of the hook.

Dear My Friends, the first track of her debut single, is a more acoustic track, with tempo kept by a combination of handclaps and drumbeats. Again, Hidemi’s vocals are the main focus of the song, soulful in their delivery. You pretty much expect a gospel choir to pop up, singing along with her in the chorus, and though they never appear, the song isn’t any lacking for it. That the music stops suddenly as she wails out “Friends” in the end adds a stronger emotion to the song, something that is oft used to the right effect but never quite as touching as it is here.

If you actually just read through this post without giving either of the above songs a listen, you should be ashamed of yourself. What are you reading my blog for if not for me to push things onto you? Hurry and give Hidemi a listen. If you have the same taste in music as me (and I would assume you might to be reading this blog), it’s not likely you’ll regret it.

Categories: Music, New Artists, PVs, Reviews

Do you get her?

February 20, 2009 3 comments

Recently a little girl by the name of Kylee has been making a fuss in the NEWS fandom circle.

If you’re used to my style of posting, just the fact that I’ve bolded her name tells you she’s not a fangirl, she’s important.

You see, one Tegoshi Yuya is currently filming a movie titled Nakushita Kioku, and early on rumors buzzed that Emma Roberts would be playing the role of his girlfriend. Then it became Kiritani Mirei, and now we have finally landed on Kylee. I’ve got to say the girl has some smart management, because amidst all this buzz, she released her first single VACANCY. I can’t tell you the sales data, but I obviously took notice of it.

According to her official MySpace, Kylee is a 14-year-old half-Japanese, half-American girl from Arizona. (Well, I would certainly hope she’s a girl.) Well, that’d also explain her lack of an English accent despite that she sings only in that language.

Kylee’s a fairly pretty girl, and considering she’s only 14, she’s got a nice voice and a good sense of how to work the camera. A bit unfortunately, her music sounds very much like one Avril Lavigne’s, sticking her in the guilty pleasure category for me; though it’s somewhat understandable given she lists various rock bands among her favorite artists. Go ahead, play the video for You Get Me above if you don’t believe me.

But what really gets me (no pun intended) is her mouth. You see, Kylee has braces. This by itself is not a problem. I have braces. And the girl is only 14, the approximate age when braces are most often worn anyways.

However, Japan is the land of magical teeth correction. They will either leave the bad teeth in there, or get surgery (but that sounds a lot better as “magical teeth correction,” don’t you agree?) Take, well, Tegoshi for instance. Early pictures of him in NEWS have him as a very very awkward teenager. In this picture, ex-bandmate Kusano (a full year younger so also very much in puberty) is much less awkward than him – and Kusano cleans up nicely without it being too unbelievable. But my Kusano bias aside, note Tegoshi’s teeth. Here’s another, frontal picture for your reference too.

Then take a look at the Tegoshi of now. This entire time he was in the spotlight, and even Invisalign couldn’t have taken more than half the credit for that. Hence, I say “magical teeth correction.” (Granted, I think Tegoshi got himself the whole fairy godmother schtick too, because NEWS seriously needed the eyecandy magic after both Uchi and Kusano got the boot, but sadly we’ll never have confirmation of that.) This is not only the case with Johnny’s, but everywhere. Think of Tsuji Nozomi’s fangs, once upon a time. The concept of crooked teeth has become viewed as a “cute” trait, but there is still an effort made to correct it. We just never see the effort.

So with all that as a precedent, Kylee is rocking out with her braces in full view is a very admirable thing in my opinion. It’s an added bonus for her as a singer that a newer wave of overseas Japanese pop fans and potential converts – that is, the teenyboppers – can possibly identify with (because they “get” her), but for others, there’ll be a bit of a hurdle to overcome. And despite my fixation on her teeth, I’ll be looking forward to what happens.

Categories: Music, New Artists

The Promotional Parade [July 2008]

January 26, 2009 1 comment

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.

Read more…

Don’t think about it.

January 10, 2009 2 comments

So, my first post of the new year won’t be on a Countdown of any sort. Surprise, surprise.

But that’s probably because I drew this one up before the year changed. Oops?

It’s both mean and pathetic to admit, but when it comes to male vocalists, cases where I think both the person’s vocals and looks are always good are few and far between. This has led to a distinct gap in my listening habits – for example, I adore Miura Daichi’s vocals, but the boy is just not photogenic. (That’s okay, though, I’m not either.) Then there’s the Johnny’s – enough said.

井上ジョー [Inoue Joe] is a bit of a toss up. Not always a good shot, and sometimes his voice comes off as rough. When it comes out good, though, it comes out good.

Recently, I downloaded his second (and latest) single, CLOSER. I still have no clue what compelled me to do so, especially since I’d never heard him before and when I downloaded the single, it was tagged as being the latest ending to the NARUTO anime. Which, I, uh, don’t watch. Whatever spurred the decision, I’m rather glad for it.

The titular track threads a catchy vocal melody through a throng of guitars. And I mean a throng. There are times when I listen to the chorus and have the impression that Joe’s vocals, even with backup, are battling with the guitars to be heard. It’s the same guitars that add power to the song, and they build up at just the right moments for that perfect shounen anime adventure feeling. There’s also a regal instrumental break after the second chorus that breaks the song’s pace, slowing it down until the guitars run full speed back into the foreground. It’s a well-put together song that flows through the ears fairly easily, overall – and the chorus has a very real danger of sticking in the head.

GRAVITY, the first B-side, maintains the rock mood and the guitars, though it ends with some light acoustic strums. Perhaps it’s because the song is completely in English, perhaps it’s because he starts out singing in a wistful tone and suddenly turns defiant without completely accomplishing it, but Joe’s vocals sound a lot less polished. This does add to the atmosphere of it being an emotional song, though. While it’s nice in its own way, it wears down after a number of listens.

The final B-side, 考えたくない ~Can a guy talk all night?~ [Kangaetakunai ~Can a guy talk all night?~], is a fun if crazy song that really holds true to its hook. Said hook being “I don’t want to think about it.” If you don’t understand Japanese (or lack someone who does to translate for you), part of the fun will be lost on you – that’s okay, it’s still a upbeat track between Joe’s singing and fast guitars. And perhaps the random toilet flushing. If you do, then you’ll be treated to a list of various situations that, uh, yeah. You probably don’t want to think about. It can be a fairly addictive song, though, and is probably what prompted me most to decide that yes, I like Joe. The subtitle of “Can a guy talk all night?” doesn’t completely hold no meaning, by the way. Just say the (full) title and you’ll see.

While not his first single, or even his first release on a major label, CLOSER as a single is a well-rounded piece of work that also showcases various sides of Inoue Joe as a musician, and perhaps as a person. (If that last track isn’t indicative of a sense of humor, I don’t know what is.) I’ll certainly be looking forward to hearing (and probably picking up) more from him, whether or not it was a fluke that got me started in the first place.

Baby, I can see someone else singing Like This.

June 26, 2008 6 comments

So I’ve got a bunch of posts waiting to be written – and this one, I confess, was done entirely half-assed.

Kuroki Meisa‘s PV for her first digital single, Like This, was released today. Maybe yesterday. Most of you readers, trailing over from the Yamada Ryosuke and KAT-TUN fans that make up International Wota, will probably know her as Sister Angela from Kame’s last drama One Pound Gospel. In addition to being an actress, she’s a model. And with her half-lidded eyes, she’s constantly drawing up comparisons in my mind to Yamada Yu, another model/actress turned singer.

Except the second time I was watching this music video, I started hearing Amuro Namie. Then I paid some more attention to her dancing, and her outfit in those scenes (with the tight and the black and the shiny), and I saw Amuro Namie.

We should all know by now the Japanese pop industry is anything BUT unique. You can only stretch pop so many ways. And to give Kuroki credit, it’s a nice synth R&B/hip-hop song, the dance beat catches on fast, and her voice isn’t so bad in it, though it lacks power. It’s stereotypical of the genre as found in Japan, but I could give this more than a singular listen. But from the layering of the chorus, to the semi-rap of the bridge, to the attitude permeating the song… it’s all screaming Amuro Namie to me. Kuroki even maintains the unchanging facial expression, though she showed some very lovely smiles in the drama. So was this done to have Kuroki coast on the tails of Amuro’s return to the spotlight? Or was this Kuroki’s personal choice of genres for her debut single?

Either way, Amuro with straight hair is utter sex. If the imitation was intentional (and I don’t doubt it was), Kuroki picked the right person. She’s not on the level of Yamada Yu, nowhere near the level of Amuro, but maybe she’ll grow into her own.