Japanese Celts

Garnet Crow must really think they’re from Ireland.

Even though the quartet’s brand of by-the-numbers pop holds as many surprises as an Onitsuka Chihiro piano ballad, there’s an almost Celtic hue to the band’s songs.

The chiming guitars on “Last Love Song” could have been lifted from latter-day Clannad, and the lilting “pray” almost sounds like a folk song.

If anything, Garnet Crow bears a very close resemblance to the Corrs in the way both bands mix poignant melodies with club beats and heavily arranged synthesizers.

Singer Nakamura Yuri’s resonant voice doesn’t do much to dispell that notion. If she sang in Irish Gaelic instead of Japanese, she’d be dueting with Maire Brennan.

It’s this subtle mournfulness in Garnet Crow’s songs that prevents the band from getting lost in Japan’s superhyper-pop music assembly line. Sure, it might be hard to tell “Timeless Sleep” apart from “Holy ground”, but there’s no mistaking Garnet Crow for, say, Hamasaki Ayumi.

But in the end, Garnet Crow is a Japanese pop band, and J-pop is more about singles than albums.

Like the last time, Sparkle ~Sujigaki Doori no Sky Blue~ doesn’t do much more than assemble the bands last few singles with a few other tracks to fill out the disc.

What does it say about a band when three of its four most recent singles are stashed at the beginning of the album? In fact, Sparkle consists only of 10 new songs — the last two tracks are remixes, one of a song from the last album.

The Japanese music industry tends to favor one-year turn-around times for artists, and those demands sometimes produce spotty results.

Sparkle ~Sujigaki Doori no Sky Blue~ is indeed a nice compilation of well-crafted pop music from a band incredibly adept at writing hooks and crafting slick studio product.

But that’s all it is, and something says Garnet Crow is probably capable of a lot more.