Friday, August 17, 2007

GREAT SONGS: Qypthone's "Chez Nice"

Whatever happened to Qypthone? It looks like the lounge/electronica/pop unit still exists in the sense that their website remains up and they haven’t announced they’re quitting, but they haven’t done any shows or released any new songs in quite a while.

Maybe their disappearance is merely the latest episode in their interesting career. When I first saw Qypthone (pronounced Kip-thone) in the late-90’s they did gigs at regular live houses like the 251 in Shimokitazawa, but stood out due to their vivid stage presence and eccentricities. I recall seeing them wearing Mao jackets and fezzes in matching dark colors; as she sang, the tall, model-like vocalist Izumi Okawara did this dance where she swung her elbows up and down, as if they were being pulled by a puppeteer. Then, one day, their live house gigs ended; they became a club band, and eventually their performances became limited to a monthly appearance at the Organ Bar, a small club in an alley in Udagawa-cho, Shibuya. Recently, even that has stopped. (However, band leader Takeshi Nakatsuka has become a well-known solo musician, and is apparently very popular in the club scene. He does a lot of DJ gigs.)

As their venues changed, so did their musical style. Their first album was straightforward, if a bit whacky, pop; later albums like Modernica in the House and Montuno No. 5 added styles like lounge, Latin music, jazz and electronica to their sound palette.

I went to one of their Organ Bar shows a few years ago, and came away from it with a sense of why they made the transition from live house to club. At a Japanese live house you play on a stage to audiences that you don't know; often the crowds are quiet and not very responsive, due partly to shyness and self-consciousness. An event at a small club like the Organ Bar, on the other hand, is more like a party—people know each other, they interact, and they actually dance along to the songs. I could see how a club event might be more enjoyable for performers. For an audience member, though, if you don't know anyone at the club you are liable to feel like someone at a cocktail party who has no one to talk to (which is how I felt at the Organ Bar event). The anonymity of live house audiences sometimes has its advantages.

I like the Qypthone of the early live house/weird pop era better than their later club period. Their later albums sound good too, but you can tell they are drawing heavily from trendy club music styles—Qypthone in the beginning sounded like no one else.

One of my favorite tracks of theirs is from the first, eponymous album, and is called “Chez Nice”. I like to think of it as a 'Shibuya-kei blues' song because it combines the casual stylishness of Shibuya-kei music with what might be an unconscious borrowing from blues—lines in the lyrics repeated several times to make an emotional point.

The song is about a relationship that has ended, but not without regrets. After a whimsical musical intro containing much whirring sounds, Okawara sings the repeated line, “I don't know why I came to see you today, I'm wondering can I leave”. Once that line sinks in through repetition, she goes on, “See, I might still love you/Even [if] I don't find my favorite bread in the fridge/Can you explain to me?/Don't you care for me any more sweet heart?”, after which she suggests they go together to Restaurant Nice, a favorite spot for the lovers, one assumes, in former days.

And that's it. Simplicity. Yet I think it's a great tune because just with those few words, you can visualize it completely: a Tokyo girl goes to her ex's place, but she doesn't know why she's there, or what she wants. The theme is a general one that anyone can relate to: a relationship that is ending but you aren't sure if you want it to. But the setting of the song is specific—the Japanese girl is modern and westernized, judging by how she talks about her “favorite bread in the fridge”, and she is a Tokyoite who dines at a French place called Restaurant Nice. Yes, I knew people like that, whose lifestyles were like the girl's, and who went through things like she did. The song brings back memories of Tokyo in the late-1990's, like few others do. (You can listen to it on Qypthone's MySpace page, here.)


“Chez Nice” is an actual restaurant in Nakano, Tokyo, and the Qypthone album included a map to get there. I wanted to check it out, so one day a few years ago I took a trip to Nakano in search for it. But when I went to the neighborhood where Chez Nice was supposed to be there was no sign of it, and after wandering a bit I gave up and went home. Later, I found out that the restaurant had gone out of business.

However, nearby in Nakano is a pasta joint called Orient Spaghetti, where advantage Lucy once filmed their video for “Sunday Pasta” (I think it's available on YouTube). Orient Spaghetti is a cozy, tasty pasta diner, with a staff that has superb taste in music. If you are in the area and are in the mood for Italian, be sure to stop by.

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