Yearly Archives: 2003

UA contributes to children’s TV soundtrack


NHK will release a soundtrack to the children’s show “Do Re Mi”, the network’s official web site announced. Among the show’s many guest performers include UA, The Kukicorder Quartet and Otomo Yoshihide. The soundtrack is expected to have 20 songs, including an original performance by UA, and a karaoke EP.

Fancy stuff optional

On his major label debut Sunestyle, Suneo Hair set out to reaffirm the breadth of his indie singer-songwriter roots.

He jumped from style to style — lo-fi, 70s SoCal, big guitars — but in the end, Sunestyle didn’t really possess anything that stayed with a listener long after it ended.

Suneo Hair’s second album, a watercolor, is less ambitious than its predecessor, and it works a lot better.

Instead of messing around with studio effects or switching styles on each track, Suneo Hair sticks to the basics — a rock quartet and a song.

The psychedelic synthesizer effects at the start of “Nobita Tape” are about as weird as the album gets — the rest of the album is straight-forward.

The six-note guitar hook that weaves its way throughout “Pinto” couldn’t get any simpler. The funky drummer beat, chiming guitars and string arrangement on “Aoi Sora” fit well together.

“New Town e Tsutzuku Michi” doesn’t attempt to hide its affinity to the Beatles, while the arrangement on “Uchiagehanabi” could best be described as pointillistic.

Perhaps the most fitting testament to Suneo Hair’s songwriting ability is in “Owari ne”, a stripped-down, slowed-down reprise of the album’s second single, “Uguisu”.

“Uguisu” is a no nonsense rocker — verse-chorus-verse, with which a pretty memorable chorus. But without the trappings of a fast tempo and a backing band, “Owari ne” reveals the song to have a versatile melody.

It sounds as fitting in one setting as it does in another.

Sunestyle may have established Suneo Hair’s credentials as far as ability is concerned, but a watercolor demonstrates his talent.

He’s a fine songwriter, and he doesn’t need much fancy work to prove it.


I wouldn’t have heard it if it weren’t pointed out to me.

Reportedly, the Back Horn attempted to go for an ’80s New Wave sound on its third major label album, Ikiru Sainou. The band’s eclectic music has always gone for seemingly incongruous elements.

But between Yamada Masahi’s throat-damaging singing and Suginami Eijun’s metallic guitar work, it’s a challenge to find that influence at all.

One thing is for certain — Ikiru Sainou ain’t electroclash.

Which is to say Ikiru Sainou has as many synthesizers as previous Back Horn albums: none. (Self-editor: Actually, there’s a very quiet one on “Koofuku na Nakinagara”.)

The 80s influence is certainly nowhere to be found on the opening “Wakusei Melancholy”, a song that isn’t melancholy in the least.

No — the 80s starts to creep in on the following track, “Hikari no Kessho”, perhaps one of the least successful channelings of the Smiths and the Cure. And that’s not a knock.

The Back Horn is too much its own band to really take a stab at being anything else. “Hikari no Kessho” isn’t the Back Horn pulling an Interpol and calling up the ghost of Ian Curtis — it’s a band that makes the Smiths and the Cure not sound like the Smiths and the Cure.

“Hanabira”, with its harmonica opening and jangling guitar, is also a very unsuccessful attempt to sound like IRS-era R.E.M. “Seimeisen”, with its disco beat, is unclear whether it takes its roots from New Order or Duran Duran.

The Back Horn deserves high marks for attempting to incorporate influences totally at odds with its num-heavymetallic sound.¹ Whether its a successful match is really up in the air.

On its previous album Shinzoo Orchestra, the Back Horn reigned in its eclecticism to produce a coherent album. It also helped the songs on the album were some of its strongest writing.

Ikiru Sainou is a terrific experiment, but there’s a sense the writing can’t quite live up to that challenge.

“Kodoku no Senjoo” may be passionate, but it’s mired in melodic clichés. “Platonic Fuzz” sounds like it wants to be playful but can’t help but being a bit menacing. And the monotone melody of “Joker” is simply flat.

Unlike past Back Horn albums that seep into a listener’s conscious, Ikiru Sainou doesn’t sink in. The band’s distinctiveness makes its latest creative turn feel more like a scattered message.

The album may not be successful in juggling its influence, but it’s still fascinating to witness the Back Horn give it a try.

¹No, “num-heavymetallic” isn’t a realy word, but browse the archives for a review of Number Girl’s album of the same name for reference.

Tommy February6 releases new single in February


Tommy February6 will release a new single on Feb. 11. The song has served as the theme song for the television show Okusama wa Majo since January. A coupling song for the single is currently being recorded. A vinyl pressing of the single will be released on Feb. 25. The single is the first new material from Tommy February6 since taking on production roles for Hinoi Asuka and the “cheer team” Tommy Angels.

Homogenous advantage

Bands that seem to write the same song over and over aren’t usually lauded for such a skill, but for eastern youth, that trait doesn’t come across as a liability.

The band’s U.S. debut, What Can You See from Your Place (original title, Soko kara Nani ga Mieru ka), at times sounds like variations on the same song.

Singer/guitarist Yoshino Hisashi follows a certain trajectory with his vocals — usually, whisper to a scream — while the long, fuzzy trill seems to be his favorite guitar effect.

Yoshino’s melodies, however, have a definite Japanese feel — it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine them stripped down and sung folk-style.

Still, there’s an inescapable feeling from track to track of “haven’t I heard this before?” And you have. Thing is, eastern youth pounds out performances that are pretty difficult to ignore.

However much I’m loathe to use the term, eastern youth is Japanese emo — loud and unshackled. The lung-busting abandon with which Yoshino sings is captivating in its own right.

In other words, who cares if the songs share too many similarities? It’s enough just to hear the band give it its all. Ganbatte, indeed.

All this doesn’t mean What Can You See from Your Place lacks stand-out tracks.

“Hakai Muzan Hachigatsu” feels more like Queens of the Stone Age in its unison precision. “Pocket kara Te wo Dasenaide Iru” shows a masterful command of the early-90s loud-soft aesthetic.

“Koe” wisely attempts to break the momentum by being the token slow song. And the entire last half of the album, with its shorter songs, balances the more long-winded first half.

Not as dischordant as Number Girl nor as eclectic as the Back Horn, eastern youth performs the same kind of unbridled, melodic rock.

What Can You See From Your Place aptly lives up to the underground acclaim eastern youth has built for itself in the States over the past few years.

Lost momentum

Momentum — it’s as important to music as it is to, say, driving.

Back when I was learning how to drive, my brother showed me a trick. To get up a hill, drivers should speed up before they reach the foot of the hill, then let momentum take them up the hill, so the engine doesn’t work as hard.

Back when I was learning music history, my professors said Ludwig van Beethoven stretched out his codas to slow down the momentum of his works.

What do any of these anecdotes have to do with Acidman’s second album Loop? The answer can be found between tracks five and eight.

For the first half of the album, Acidman build some great momentum. The songs pretty much conform to the sound the band established on its debut album, Soo — high-speed, ball-busting post-grunge bordering on emo.

Some of the songs are even better than ones found on Soo. The chorus on “Isotope” is pure sugar, while the music itself loses no muscle. Singer Ooki Nobuo nearly busts a lung on “Nami, Shiroku”. And the opener “type-A” is a blood pumper.

The title of “Slow View”, however, describes the song’s contents perfectly — and it’s that break in the momentum that breaks the album entirely.

Because immediately afterward is a nearly seven-minute mid-tempo track, “repeat” — also a descriptive title since that opening hook refuses to go away.

The instrumental “16185-0” is a three-minute prelude to the 6 1/2-minute “O”, essentially creating a 10-minute track. Together, those tracks attempt to rebuild the momentum lost in the preceding 10 1/4 minutes, but they fail because, well, they’re not terribly interesting songs.

The disco beat on “O” in particular just doesn’t lend much emo cred.

Acidman get back on track somewhat with the last half of the album, dishing out a second set of rockers, but the quality of the writing is spotty.

“dried out” can’t decide if it’s a distant relative to scat or a direct descendant of alt rock. “swayed” suffers from a repetitive structure that shoegazer bands have better skill pulling off.

By the time Acidman reclaims its songwriting chops, Loop is over.

The band fumbles the album’s momentum half-way through, and it doesn’t manage to get it back. Acidman sped up at the foot of the hill, but it didn’t manage to reach the peak. The group certainly tried, though.

And Loop had such a great start too.

Genteel tension

On the surface, neuma’s debut album Mado is all about the genteel.

The opening chords of “Ato Sukoshi” sound like almost every bossa nova recording made in Japan. (Bossa nova is pretty big there.)

And for the first half of the song, singer Shiba Rie and guitarist Yugawa Torahiko pretty much go unadorned. Then the rest of the band jumps in, with accordion player Satoo Yoshiaki making the biggest sound.

An accordion!

In fact, Satoo is responsible for most of album’s tense moments. Thereafter, the genteel surface of Mado gives way to reveal a tug-of-war between strong melodicism and even stronger dissonance.

Sometimes, Satoo stays out of the way, as on such pretty tracks as “Itsu Ka” and “Wa ~Arukinagara~”. On other tracks, he literally crashes in with wild harmonies, as he does half way through “Kujira King”. On “Zauberei”, the dissonance is front and center throughout.

Most of the time, the focus is squarely on Shiba’s languid delivery, with little more than piano or guitar backing her. “Nemuri Hana” calls to mind Talitha Mackenzie’s a capella interpretation of old Scottish folk songs.

“Mabataki” feels like a lullaby until a cello scrapes its way through an eerie solo. “Aoi Shizuku”, meanwhile, sounds like it was recorded on an old foil cylindar.

neuma could have probably left the genteel aspects of Mado alone, and it would have made for a nice, if not unremarkable sound. Thankfully, that’s not the case here.

Mado is a captivating listening experience in the way its dissonance highlights its melodicism. The songs on the album eschew the common perception that quiet music is pretty music, let alone dissonance is ugly.

More surprising — the band achieves this tension without relying on very many electronics. Save for a splash of synthesizer on “Mabataki” and a pulse on “Itsu Ka”, neuma is entirely acoustic.

Drummer Suganuma Yuuta follows a less-is-more approach, oftentimes letting a quiet boom anchor the band’s songs, while even contrabassist Moriya Hiroshi manages to sound huge.

In short, neuma is an impressive ensemble, spare and minimal but fascinating and tense.

UA releases new single in February


UA will release a single titled “Lightning”, the singer’s official site quickly announced. Details have yet to be determined, but the single is expected to have two songs and retail for 1,000 yen. The release is the first new song by the artist since “Dorobon” released back in December 2002.