Sunday, September 20, 2009

GREAT SONGS: Quinka, with a Yawn's "Harunire"

Just one line from the Quinka, with a Yawn song has gripped me. It's a simple line. Vocalist Michiko Aoki sings, in the [Su] version of “Harunire”:

Anata wo shiawase ni shitai.

Translated to, not very poetically, “I want to make you happy.”

Or maybe the nuance is more like, “I want to bring happiness into your life.”

It's the way she voices the words. She takes them slow, filling them with emotion over a dozen seconds. They make you feel like you are eavesdropping on some scene of an outpouring of love that you're not supposed to be witnessing.

And there's also a whiff of the radical about the line, because this is something that usually, in Japan, you'd expect a man to say to a woman when proposing. She's going against conventions—it's as if a woman is proposing to a man.

I was talking with a friend about Quinka, with a Yawn, the solo unit of Aoki, and he said Quinka wasn't his thing because the music is just too pure, too unspoiled and unbending, and his adult taste was for music that was more crooked. I could understand the view, but I like the purity. Aoki has a distinct singing voice that may take some getting used to, but I've found that the direct emotions of the singing have always won me over.

This “Harunire”, which means 'Japanese elm', is the second recorded version, the first having made its appearance in an earlier album called Micro. I have to confess that I overlooked that version—the melody was pleasant, but it just didn't have the emotional impact of this latest version in Quinka's new album, [Su]. (The version in the YouTube video above is the first one, from Micro.)

It seems that Aoki has grown a lot as a singer. Or, maybe more accurately, she's gotten so she's able to express emotions more deeply in songs. This is just speculation, but I wonder if Aoki's marriage with singer Harco has helped with this—her singing in the two's combined work, Harqua, is also outstanding. The couple are environmentalists, and they collaborate on various shows and projects with 'eco' themes. From what I've heard, they are pretty adamant about the cause. Maybe the 'purity' that my friend mentioned makes her dive deep into the eco thing, and also lets her sing in a breathtakingly direct fashion about love. As an impure adult, I almost envy the steadfastness.

One other thing about the [Su] version is that many lines she not so much sings as she declares musically, and that highlights the poetry of the words. The lines leading up to the 'I want to make you happy' climax are especially beautiful:

Dorodarake no watashi, nagasanaide
(Don't wash away, mud-splattered me)

Toki ni ame yo
(Rain of time)

Chiisa na ai wo
(This little love)

By the way, the album title, [Su], is Japanese for 'nest', but 'su' can also mean 'plain', or 'unadorned', perhaps reflecting that this is an unplugged type of album, containing both new songs and gorgeous new covers of old ones. Recent tunes of hers like “Harunire” have convinced me that Quinka's Aoki is one of the best Japanese pop musicians out there these days.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Glistening Eyes Of Salome Lips

There they were, the band I'd been wanting to see, the 21st Century group that cherishes the 60's and 70's, the creators of a mini-CD called Theme of Atami Sex MuseumSalome Lips. To a bittersweet kayou melody that made you forget you were in Shinjuku 2009, two girls go-go danced in shimmering pink and aqua, while between them, the stunning diva sang. What I noticed most were her glistening eyes, on a little face always wearing a restrained expression—the eyes acknowledged the melodrama of the lyrics, and accepted it. They made her seem like from some other place, the eyes of a sad cabaret singer in a desolate port town, in a time long past. What an enchanting actress! She sang in a low voice while her partner, the bassist in 70's hair, boogied to the retro resurrection.

Salome Lips were beautiful and captivated me, but other parts of the Shinjuku Jam event made me realize that retro music for retro music's sake can fall flat. The mediocre stuff is at an even bigger disadvantage because the music is already so old. Lovers of past music still need to create their own sound—and I think of the epitome of that, the great Asakusa Jinta.


The Lady Spade's MC-narrated, hip, nostalgic karaoke is nice too, but the third time around, I knew the act, including the dancing. A first time Lady Spade sighting is a shock, and should be included in any music lover's Tokyo visit itinerary if possible, but for the benefit of the regulars I hope they continue innovating.

Wow, the Jam was packed though, and there was one bartending girl to take care of the whole, mostly all-you-can-drink crowd, resulting in long lines—I was thirsty at first. They were lucky it wasn't, say, an Australian or English audience.


I liked this article on Tokyo, by the way, though some of it seemed to verge on the fantastic. Still, it's true in many nameless, cramped buildings, you can feel like you are in a dungeon or maze of the unexpected, something that you don't experience much except in big Asian cities.