There are very few musical works I've waited for as eagerly as piano pop band Yuyake Lamp's debut single. Yuyake Lamp is, after all, the successor band to Orange Plankton, one of my favorite Japanese groups, and I know from seeing them live that they're unlike any other band; they create their own world on stage. Now, the single, Kokoro No Ki, is out, and it lives up to my expectations.
I think this three-song single is intended to be Yuyake Lamp's make-it-big work; in the past, their album production and marketing were very much do-it-yourself indie band style, but for this CD they got serious people to help them so that, for example, the single has been mentioned in Weekly Pia magazine and they are doing an in-store show at HMV music store. The title track itself sounds more hit chart-friendly than anything Orange Plankton did; very upbeat and filled with sound. But my favorite song is the second one, “Ao No Yukue”, which is just vocalist Yumi accompanied by a piano, highlighting her voice.
And what a voice it is... It's one of the most distinct Japanese high female voices I know, gentle but filled with emotion and personality. Yumi's voice is a big part of what has made me follow Orange Plankton/Yuyake Lamp all these years.
The third and final track, “Fuwari Fuwari”, is like Yuyake Lamp's “I Want You To Want Me”. Just as Cheap Trick didn't come up with a definitive version of the song from the start (and instead, found success with the Budokan live version), I don't think Yuyake Lamp has created the ultimate version of this tune, one of the best, most memorable and catchiest numbers they've written so far. The version on this single is very good, but it doesn't quite measure up to the renditions I've listened to at their shows. The band says “Fuwari Fuwari” is an important song for them—I think it's one worth revisiting in recorded form, maybe as a live recording.
Writing about the band Yuyake Lamp puts me in a tight spot of sorts. They are, after all, friends who I've known for years (back from their Orange Plankton days), and haven't you ever had a friends' band in your life that you thought was the greatest? In other words, maybe I'm not very objective about them.
But I like to think that isn't the case. I discovered their music before I met them in person—my being blown away by their music preceded my making their acquaintance. And I haven't necessarily fallen for bands of other friends. Also, I'd like to think I can separate friendship and my musical tastes.
What I know is that when I put my iPod on shuffle and swim through a long stretch of unfamiliar songs, the gentle piano pop of a Orange Plankton/Yuyake Lamp tune often feels like seeing land in the horizon.
The other day shuffle brought me to an Orange Plankton song I hadn't heard in a while: “Wakaranai no Uta [Song of I Don't Know]”, from their album Wishing For Rain Tonight, released in 2002. It still sounded fresh. 2002...already half a decade ago, and much has changed in the meantime (Orange Plankton no longer exists in that form, for one thing), but listening to the song brought me back to those early days, when I made my way to clubs all over the west side of Tokyo to see them, in my memory always the sweaty summer months, and I'm walking under a railroad bridge somewhere to my destination of beer and music.
Yuyake Lamp is on the road again on a national tour to promote their single, and I went to see the first show of the tour, at the Plug in Shibuya. It was an exhilarating evening as usual. At one point they had a children's hand bell ensemble from their neighborhood play one of their melodies, and they stole the show, as performing kids tend to do.
“Kokoro No Ki” can be translated to something like “The Tree of the Heart”, but that's not quite adequate, because “kokoro” is one of those Japanese words that's hard to render into a single English word. Roughly, it means a person's internal emotional core, but is used much more casually and in everyday conversation than that definition would suggest.