Saturday, August 11, 2007

GREAT SONGS: capsule's "do do pi do"

The duo capsule gets undeservedly negative reviews from some foreign commentators, who call them Pizzicato Five clones and so on. I couldn't disagree more—in my view capsule is one of the country's best bands, a unit that creates some of the most catchy, attractive and inventive songs out of Japan these days. Toshiko Koshijima's soft, lovely vocals are a key ingredient: her voice gives me synesthetic visions of faded pastel colors. There's a reason so many fans showed up to their gigs once that the fire department had to be called, to deal with the appallingly overcrowded hall—all those fans can't be wrong (though the fact that capsule doesn't do that many shows, and that they chose a smaller-than-appropriate venue didn't help matters).

Over the past few years capsule's music has been evolving from Shibuya-kei lounge pop into Daft Punk-like electronica. My favorite album of theirs at the moment, L.D.K. Lounge Designers Killer, released in 2005, finds them at about a mid-point in this evolution, and they take the best of both genres: the attractive melodies of pop and the crazy beats of electronica. The album includes great tunes like “twinkle twinkle poppp”, “tiC taC” and “Glider”. But one stands out for me, and it is called “do do pi do”.

In brief, the subject of this tune is: to diet or not to diet. A banal topic? I don't think so. In prosperous Japan, a country in peace, this is one of most important issues for the young.

The lyrics succinctly describe the conflicting desires:

Kawaiku natte, oshare shitaishi
(I want to become cute, and dress up)

demo chocolate toka, a- tabetai
(but I want to eat chocolate and other things)


One chorus simply describes what the protagonist wants to eat:

Pumpkin pie, pancake, ice cream soda,
Pumpkin pie, ice cream candy, French toast


And she goes on to say that all those tasty treats have a “magic” that makes you want to consume them. But she has to ignore these desires, so she can become “cute, and dress up”.

In the intro of the song, the protagonist explains what led to this meditation on dieting to begin with:

“Mo-sukoshi yasetara kawaiinoni” to
Kimi ni iwaretakara, Komatta...

(You said “You'd be cute if you were a little thinner”
And now I'm troubled*)


*'Komatta' is a hard word to translate.

(Seemingly not the most sensitive boyfriend in the world...)

What makes this song so great, in my opinion, is that this is such a fundamental dilemma—whether to give up on all those tempting, beautifully-crafted, heavenly-tasting delicacies out there in the interest of losing weight, or to yield to the desire, ignoring the calories—yet there aren't many songs dealing with this topic, especially not with such detailed lyrics, gorgeous melody, or imaginative beats .

Indeed, even though it's a song about, in a sense, hunger, there isn't anything dark or depressing about the tune, and instead, it's upbeat and sweet. It could be that the song wasn't meant to be a serious examination or whether to diet or not, and was instead created as a fun song, sort of a joke, or maybe just as a filler. The lyrics, after all, were written (as with all the other songs on the album) by Yasutaka Nakata, the male half of the capsule duo. And if you've ever seen a photo of vocalist Koshijima, you'd know she is a doe-like slender girl for whom losing weight should be the last thing on her mind.

But still, in spite of all that and despite the fun feel of the song, when I hear the way that Koshijima wails “Tabe, ta-i (I want to eat)” in a repeated chorus part, I do get the feeling that she, an envy-inspiring fat-free Japanese girl, really identifies with the girl in the lyrics, and in the end that makes this tune compelling.

***

YouTube is running several music videos by capsule, if you are interested in their sound.

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