Monday, April 30, 2007

A Few Favorite Bands' Videos Found On Youtube

Surfing YouTube, I found videos by a few favorite artists...

This is from Spangle call Lilli line's Koto civic auditorium show a few years' back. If you are a Spangle fan and don't own 68scll, you should try to track down a copy, because it puts them in a different light, the live strings adding even more colors to their gorgeous palette of sound.

Here is enigmatic, sweet-voiced pop unit Cecil's new single, "Namida No Tsubomi ["The Teardrop's Bud"...hmmm, not quite as poetic as the Japanese...]. This year they are supposed to release a new CD, which I'm very much looking forward to. 

Capsule sometimes gets a bad rap as Pizzicato Five clones and so on, but I think they're one of the better Japanese units around now. One of their recent shows apparently got shut down by the Tokyo fire department because too many people showed up. Beautiful imagery in this video too.

Time-travel back to 1992, when Grunge was big, Supersnazz was the next big girl band from Japan (after Shonen Knife), and they went on a long Europe tour... I think that's where this video is from. They rocked back then, and they still do.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Yuyake Lamp's Kokoro No Ki

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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ken M, A Magnificent Seven (In Italy)

I was asked again by the Italian music website to listen to Italian pop music and tell them what I really think as a foreigner. The last time I and the other foreign reviewers were collectively called the Foreign Legion, but this time we've been upgraded to the Magnificent Seven. Also, last time, I was assigned to review a CD by a crazed, screaming electric music dominatrix, but this time I was given an album called Non Voglio Che Clara that was totally my cup of tea, beautiful pop with strings and acoustic guitar and a guy who can really sing, and which I'd probably buy if I sampled it at some cool Tokyo import CD shop like Apple Crumble Record. Here's my capsule review.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Why I Walked Out On YMCK

I walked out on my first YMCK show last week even though I’m a big fan of their 8-bit techno jazz-pop music, for a simple reason: they prohibited photography.

The MC of the event told the audience before the show started that taking pictures and video-taping would be forbidden. And they seemed to have staffers standing around making sure no one did whip out their cameras. That put me off. I don't know the YMCK people or what was behind this prohibition, but it seemed needlessly uptight, especially for an indie band.

Plus, I listened to a couple of their songs and would have stuck around anyway if they were great performers, but, as far as I could tell, they were simply recreating their recorded sound on stage. They weren't adding that special thing that can only be created in a live show. It didn’t seem worth my time to stay until the end.

If people like to take pictures of bands, I don't see why they shouldn't.

Musicians may object that photo-taking by audience members disrupts the show. I could maybe see this if fans were taking pictures with a flash, but I never do.

Or, they might say they don't want their pictures appearing in blogs or other random places without their knowing about it. But to this, I ask: what’s the big deal? It isn’t as if the paparazzi are stalking them in their private lives—they’re on stage! Don’t they want the free publicity?

I don’t even see why major label artists are averse to getting their pictures taken. What would it matter if every other person in some arena show was taking photos? But there’s probably no hope of that ever happening.

What I wish for is more freedom. Music should be a free thing, and people should be free to enjoy it the way they like. Too often at Japanese shows, you are expected to enjoy the illusion of being free and eager music lovers when, in reality, authority figures are regulating everything you do, from the moment you line up to when you leave the hall. I dislike this this, and I avoid shows at the big venues if I can help it.

Smaller, independent shows shouldn’t be like this, but there will always be bands that want to take away the audience’s freedom. That’s their choice, but it’s my choice not to go to their shows or write about them (unless I want to—like today).