Sunday, May 30, 2010

Serani Poji's Laughing Frog

One of my favorite albums so far this year is Merry Go Round Jailhouse, the first work in five years by the unit Serani Poji (it went into 'hibernation' in 2004), and “Laughing Frog” is one of its best tracks.

Like other songs on the album, “Laughing Frog” is at first listen pleasant, catchy girl pop, but the lyrics are quirky (among the other tunes, for example, “Robot's Happiness” is about overcoming the fear of death and avoiding uncertainties by becoming a robot; “Toward the South” concerns a seven-year old girl planning her escape to a southern island with her groom-to-be). This one is a meditation on lies: it has to do with a man who was once a rock star that wrote popular ballads that were filled with falsehoods, and one day a witch in the audience cast a spell on him so that everytime he told a lie, a frog would pop out of his mouth. So now he lives away from civilization, selling his frogs for a living.

The album reminds me of Soutaisei Riron's Hi-Fi Anatomia, both in terms of its eclectic mix of music styles, and the unusual lyrics. In the past, most bands wrote songs about things they feel, or what their lives are like—these two units and other recent bands have more fun with the lyrics, using them to create stories. I wonder if this is an emerging trend in Japan, and if so, whether it reflects changes in musicians' attitudes toward song-writing and its purpose, and if so, what's behind that?

Serani Poji was formed at the end of the 90's to make songs for a Sega video game called Room Mania #203. A Sega employee named Tomoko Sasaki wrote the tunes. (A Wikipedia entry on her says she was also the creator of a song called “Dreams Dreams” that's considered a legendary classic for retro-gamers all over the world...) In previous Serani Poji albums other girls were in charge of the vocals, but in Merry Go Round Jailhouse, Sasaki herself does the singing. As far as I can tell, the unit rarely, if ever, plays live.

In one of those slap-my-forehead moments, I realized only a few days ago that in early Serani Poji songs, the vocalist was Yukichi, the singer for one of the bands I love most, Cecil. In the first album she's listed as 'Yuki', but, still, I should have realized that's who it was. For years I'd been listening to both Cecil and early Serani Poji, thinking to myself, Japan has such sweet female vocalists—when in fact, at least for those two units, there's only one sweet female vocalist involved. Still, she does sound a little different when singing for Serani Poji compared with Cecil: the former seems more stylish, whereas with Cecil she sounds like the most perfect girl-next-door who ever sang.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fabulous Soundscape Event At Nogizaka Bar Coredo

Time-traveling back to the not-too-distant past again, I went to a great event organized by Mr. Henachoko at a venue called Bar Coredo in Nogizaka, featuring the leading lights of the Tokyo indie pop scene, Little Lounge Little Twinkle, the Caraway, Humming Parlour and Lilacs in Bloom.

It was my first time at Bar Coredo, and it was an interesting place: describing itself as a hideaway bar plus theater, it's divided between a room with a U-shaped bar and a small performance area with chairs, almost like a lecture hall.

Little Lounge Little Twinkle

Perhaps unfortunately for Mr. Henachoko, the event, called Fabulous Soundscape, was on April 10, the tail end of the Tokyo hanami season, and, as most Japanese do in those spring days, I used cherry-blossom viewing as an excuse to consume abundant amounts of alcohol with friends, so that by the time I arrived at the Bar Coredo there was already plenty of wine and beer coursing through my blood vessels. In my happy state, I greeted Mr. Henachoko, who I was meeting for the first time, like an old best friend reunited after decades, shaking his hand energetically.

The first band, Humming Parlour, are advantage Lucy-gig going friends of mine, and they themselves are influenced by that sublime guitar pop group—sunny melodies, acoustic guitar, toy instruments.

Humming Parlour

The Caraway is Swinging Popsicle guitarist Osamu Shimada's side project, and my hanami companion DJ Kamaage shouted praises between songs, prompting Shimacchi to say, there's a strange man that I know in the audience tonight...

As is often the case days, Little Lounge Little Twinkle, pictured above, was the highlight of the event. They played songs from their excellent new album Stitch and newer songs too. This pop-classical-toy-lounge ensemble is one of the best Japanese acts these days: band leader Kida, a composer in real life, supplies the gems of songs; Keiko's viola is elegance made into life in musical form; and vocalist Miyuki, as I said in a previous post, has an incredible, intoxicating sweet voice.

Mr. Henachoko especially recommended the last band of the night, Lilacs in Bloom, but, as suggested above, I could already be said to be tipsy when I arrived at the Coredo, and by the time the final act came around I wasn't remembering much. But it's obvious Mr. H has fine taste in music, and so the Lilacs are probably worth revisiting.

Lilacs in Bloom

By the way, if you noticed that these photos look a lot better and more professional than the usual Japan Live fare, you are right, because these beautiful pictures are all by Mr. Henachoko friend Takanashi Haruno.