Shiina Ringo? fra-foa? Cocco? NUMBER GIRL? Are they for real?
Why, yes, Holidailies reader, they are. If you regularly spend your Saturday late nights watching [adult swim], you’ve probably encountered some ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, Hajime Chitose, ORANGE RANGE or L’Arc~en~Ciel. Popular music from Japan is not an unknown quantity here in the US, but it’s not anything you would encounter on a Clear Channel playlist either.
And while there are sites catering to worldwide audiences of Hamasaki Ayumi, Musicwhore.org tends to focus on bands that, even in Japan, may not get a widespread audience. And there is room for Utada Hikaru as well.
If the last five days of entries seemed like a whole lot of music geek posturing, well … you’d be right. I don’t hang onto Pitchfork’s every word. I’m not out to outdo Fluxblog, Stereogum or Arjan Writes. I listen to what I like, and I write about what I’m listening to.
And most of that stuff is sung in Nihongo.
But as that correlation between writing and music with dancing and architecture attempts to illustrate, it’s probably best to hear music than to read about it. The 10 regular readers who stop by already know this music. They’re the ones who leave the comments after all.
You, Holidailies reader, have not. At least I’m assuming you haven’t. Unless, of course, you’ve got JPOPSUKI in your RSS reader.
So here’s an audio guide to some of the artists mentioned in the Favorite Edition Decade: 2000-2009 list.
(If you’re reading this entry through an RSS reader, you probably ought to visit the site to listen to the audio.)
Shiina Ringo, “Gips”, Shousou Strip
You’ll probably see a lot of Japanese music fans stumble all over themselves in praise of Shiina Ringo, till you hear her voice and wonder, “My gods! People listen to this strangled chipmunk?” Get past the voice and listen to the music. She writes some solid hooks, and she’s not afraid of a little — or a lot — of dissonance.
Cocco, “Mizukagami”, Rapunzel
Cocco, on the other hand, could probably have been successful at a standard pop career, but instead, she opted for a life of rock. Her first albums were quite the post-grunge workouts. Her later works have been much more mellow.
NUMBER GIRL, “DESTRUCTION BABY”, DESTRUCTION BABY
Channel the Pixies, Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth through a guy who could be mistaken for a salaryman, and you get NUMBER GIRL. The band broke up in 2002, but they were definitely one of the tightest live acts to emerge from Japan’s underground music scene.
AJICO, “Hadou”, Fukamidori
UA has been recording some really challenging albums these past few years, but she started off the decade rocking out with BLANKEY JET CITY’s Asai Kenichi.
SUPERCAR, “FAIRWAY”, Futurama
SUPERCAR owes a lot to British rock, and the band’s Futurama album found them fascinated by the Chemical Brothers.
ACO, “This Woman’s Work”, Material
ACO’s first few albums were billed as “acid jazz”, but as the teen idol got older, she got more adventurous. Adrian Sherwood produced a number of tracks on her 2001 album Material, including this pretty spot-on cover of Kate Bush. ACO did an even-better cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” for a b-side.
fra-foa, “Plastic Room to Ame no Niwa”, Chuu no Fuchi
Steve Albini recorded fra-foa’s debut album. Can you tell?
Hajime Chitose, “Rinto Suru”, Hainumikaze
Someone once described Hajime Chitose’s singing as a controlled burp, but for some reason, I like how she brings her traditional training into a pop context. When she debuted, the Japanese music industry said she possessed the “voice of the century.” This track was written by Eric Moquet of Deep Forest, who featured Hajime on one of their albums.
Utada Hikaru, “Be My Last”, Ultra Blue
Utada Hikaru usually performs very straight-forward pop — with a sound far more mature than the usual idol pop — but on this track, she dons on a guitar and departs for more singer-songwriter territory. It’s actually a pretty adventurous track, not just for her but on the whole.
Onitsuka Chihiro, “Innocence”, Insomnia
Onitsuka Chihiro is the queen of the Carole King-style ballad, but what draws me back is her voice, a bit burnished, not terribly powerful but completely expressive. This track was featured in a US commercial for Applied Materials back in 2001.