Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Plectrum, Rockers, 30 Boys Turning 40

A band called Plectrum turned fifteen and held their birthday gig. I used to feature them a lot, this power pop group that worships Teenage Fanclub, when I started writing Japan Live seven years ago (suddenly it's half their age!). But I haven't kept up the coverage, partly because Plectrum hasn't played as much, but also because I haven't been to all their shows. Sometimes you need reminders that there really was something there.

Plectrum reminded me. Of that feeling when musicians are able to pull you and the crowd into the songs, making you forget everything else.

Plectrum has a song called '30 Boy', written when singer Taisuke Takata was 30, and he said on stage he's about to become a '40 boy' but he wants to continue at it, heartened by predecessors like Mick Jagger sempai and Keith Richards sempai. The way he sang '30 Boy' that night... it had the weight of all those years and feelings.

There's a line in '30 Boy' that says 'I'm still not used to Tokyo/ but I don't mind how I'm left alone (mada Tokyo ni naretawakejanai/ demo hottokareruno wa iyajanai)', and it came alive when Takata sang it. He's a rocker born down south in Saga prefecture, and he's one of the many people from other places who gather in Tokyo, where things happen because so many people are together. For example, shows like Plectrum's, somewhere every night in this city, that open your eyes and make you feel you're living.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Waffles & advantage Lucy At Zher The Zoo

Advantage Lucy played at the Yoyogi Zher The Zoo after a six month absence from the live stage, and since they were opening for the Waffles, a band that vocalist Aiko said sings such sweet tunes, they also chose their sweetest numbers, including 'Sakuranbo', 'Kaze ni Azukete' and 'Memai' (and, fellow advantage Lucy fans, I'm sure you could appreciate what a delectable offering that was...).

The highlight for me was 'Hibikasete', that winter song, sung so beautifully it felt like the air around me shone. The last song on the mini-album Oolt Cloud, Aiko said its image was of winter in Hokkaido, icicles hanging. 'Hibiku' means to echo, reverberate, or just sound, so 'Hibikasete' could mean 'make (your voice) reverberate', in my imagination in a winter night in the north, the ground glowing white with snow, icicles on eaves.

The Waffles were celebrating a pre-10th year anniversary (it's next year), and they played a few nice songs from an album to be released in January called Tenpo, as well as oldies. What I liked was that from where I stood I could see a few fans in the front mouthing the lyrics to the old songs--these were a part of their lives. Toward the end they performed one of their best songs, 'Tsugi no Hikari', which means 'the next light'. I think it's about hopes of understanding another person (a lover) in spite of the obstacles of time and changes. The Waffles have been at it for nine years now, and many of their fans must have followed them all that time (I'm basically one of those). Wonder if they, we, have discovered the next light?

For the encore, the Waffles invited advantage Lucy back on stage, saying they are huge fans, and they did Lucy's 'Goodbye'--that classic--with the Waffles' Kyoko Ono singing the first part and Aiko taking over on the next. If you like both Lucy and the Waffles, you can imagine what a treat it was to listen to those two gorgeous voices singing together that brilliant tune. During the first verse, Aiko mouthed the words away from the mike. It was sweet to see.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Caraway, Reminding Me Of The Old Days

Once in a while there's a show that reminds me why I became so crazy about guitar pop around 2003, almost a decade ago now, when I sometimes went to several events in a week. This time it was Caraway, themselves playing for the first time in three years as a band. They're led by Swinging Popsicle's Osamu Shimada, the Beach Boys-loving guitarist that reminds me a little bit of Buddy Holly because of his spectacles and wholesome looks. Off stage, he is down to earth and polite, with just a hint of a charming mischievousness. On stage he's different, giving it his all, connecting with the crowd with his sound and humor.

The event was Guitar Shop Restaurant at the Nishi-Ogikubo Waver, and the flier for it featured a girl in a white dress, floating in the clouds holding a bunny and a kitten. Over drinks one night before the show, my friend DJ Kamaage and I chatted about this picture, which maybe reflected how a younger generation thought of guitar pop, but didn't feel right to us. Guitar pop isn't just sweet and gentle music. Some of us fans think it's a successor to the original punk rock, trying new things, with a Do It Yourself attitude. Or, as twee.net says, "Pop Kids everywhere know that the true spirit of Punk Rock lives on not in the mass-marketed "alternative" scene, or the sub-metal caterwauling of testosterone-poisoned grunge-rockers, but in the simple and pure efforts of kids banging out sweet delicious songs on cheap guitars. "

A certain feeling of being on edge can be seen in the live shows of bands like Caraway. In a different way, another group on the set that night, Three Berry Icecream, shows the true guitar pop spirit, creating beautiful, short tunes with accordion, viola, xylophone, just because those are the instruments that band leader Mayumi Ikemizu wants to use to create sounds.

This was a 'sold out' event, at a tiny venue I'd never been to before. Fortunately, and unusually for a Tokyo show, the audience could exit and re-enter the venue freely, which was good, because the place was packed. There's a relationship between how much you love a show and how much discomfort you are willing to put up with, and these days in my case the love really has to be there to stay at an uncomfortable event, whereas Tokyo audiences seem to be able to put up better with the lack of space, or maybe they just love the music more. Or, I might just be turning into an old grouch. It was good, though, to be able to go outside and walk around in Nishi-Ogikubo at night, a dense neighborhood of eateries and bars, including a huge yakitori joint called Ebisu that occupied multiple storefronts in one block.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Asakusa Jinta & OldFashion At The Kurawood

The Kurawood in Asakusa is such a nice live house, with a friendly vibe. I recommend it highly for any music-loving visitor to Tokyo, since you won't want to miss Asakusa in any case (and for that matter, anyone who lives in Tokyo should go too).

Kurawood's bar sells, in addition to the usual beer and cocktails, several types of shochu, sake, Denki Bran--'electric brandy'--that specialty of Kamiya Bar in Asakusa, a liquor that tastes like sugar and herbs dunked into brandy, and bar food, including oden for 300 yen, which is a good deal.

Hung from the ceiling of the stage area are paper lanterns that darken when shows start. They're inscribed with the characters for Sanjya festival, a big annual event in Asakusa.

I headed to Kurawood from Asakusa station, and the evening was autumnal, with a cool breeze swinging the branches of a willow tree next to an old restaurant with a black-tiled roof. The night's show was organized by Asakusa Jinta, so I knew it would be good.

The first group I saw was called OldFashion, an energetic, swinging outfit with three sax players, a wood bass, two guitars and a drummer. Nattily dressed in jackets and ties, OldFashion was one of those groups that was inspired by old jazz and pop. They reminded me a bit of Ego-Wrappin and Crazy Ken Band, and I liked them a lot.

Next up was a funny band led by the 'Mick Jagger of Adachi ward', and these guys really learned their stage show from Rolling Stones 101, complete with a lead guitar with Keith Richards mannerisms.

Then Asakusa Jinta came on, and the floor erupted into joyful dancing. An especially excited kid turned around and apologized when he bumped into me, and I felt bad because his hops and swinging dance and arm pumps were what I felt too, inside. Though by about the middle of the show, the music was so powerful, I jettisoned my inhibitions and joined him and the other fans in dancing.

One of the things that makes Asakusa Jinta great is that they've made music that sounds both retro and new, mixing western and Japanese styles. Others have tried this too, but I don't think as successfully. And they're master performers, fun and engaging to watch. It's a stupid miracle that you can still see these guys right up close at a little place like the Kurawood.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

This & That Volume 4 In Roppongi

Photo by Daniel H. Rosen

This & That Cafe is a neat event that a Tokyo-based artist named Daniel Rosen holds every two months or so at the Super Deluxe in Roppongi. First off, it's free, leaving you with more money to consume beverages including Tokyo Ale. Secondly, it features an eclectic mix of performances, which, when I stopped by a few weeks ago, comprised Yuyake Lamp, my beloved piano pop band, the Watanabes, a gaijin ensemble from Ehime Prefecture, another female vocalist and a flamenco group, a live painting, and animation projected on the stage wall. It's an ideal way to spend a Friday night, listening to good music at a place with a free feel.

The Watanabes, who started with a fun song about living in Ehime as foreigners, are based close to Yuyake Lamp vocalist Yunn's hometown in the western Japan prefecture, by coincidence. I wonder what it's like to be a foreigner band in a place like Ehime...

Photo by Tomohide Kimura

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Terayama Shuji Music Festival

I heard about Shuji Terayama a long time ago, but in one those things you never quite get around to, I'd never really read any of his plays or poems and other works of this avant garde writer. So, when I saw that there was going to be a 'Terayama Shuji Music Festival' at the Hatsudai The Doors club, and Asakusa Jinta was playing, I was interested. Plus, as a bonus, Panta, the singer of the legendary left-wing 70's rock band Zunou Keisatsu, or Brain Police, was also on the bill.

Terayama was active in the 60's and 70's, and a lot of the crowd in the small Doors club seemed to be about the age that they probably saw Terayama plays when they first came out. They were a quiet audience, with gray, fuzzy hair. Maybe they were once radicals, protesting, attending Brain Police shows, taking in Terayama's literary experiments. Maybe, to an extent, they are still radical, which is harder to be than, say, in your 20's.

It probably wasn't an easy crowd for Asakusa Jinta, accustomed more to playing for young punk fans, but they pulled it off, helped along by a few diehard fans in the audience who had come to see them, and getting polite applause from the Terayama followers.

MCing the event were a playwright named Ei Takatori, who had collaborated with Terayama and whose background is also interesting, with 'manga criticism' listed in his resume, and an idol singer named Mika Hashimoto, who is the 'chairwoman' of the School Uniform Advancement Committee, which is how I guess I'd translate an idol group called Seifuku Koujou Iinkai. I missed SKI's set, but they appear to be a group of about a dozen schoolgirl singers who motto is to be “pure, upright and beautiful,” according to their website. The special guest was the actress Hitomi Takahashi, a tall, somewhat fox-like beauty, who had been scouted by Terayama when she went to see one of his plays as a student in her school uniform.

Brain Police's Panta played as a duo with another guitarist. A 61-year old rocker with still-long hair wearing black clothes, Panta did an acoustic set, and the highlight was a song whose message confused me. It was a song that was ostensibly about a baseball team, and its nine players, but in reality it was about the nine hijackers of ANA's Yodo-go plane in 1970, the baseball theme invented to prevent the song from being banned. It seemed weird...I only have wiki-level knowledge of the Yodo-go incident, but the gist is a group of radicals took over the plane and had it fly to North Korea, where the nine would be able to join their comrades. It wasn't a critical song. If anything, it seemed to glorify them. Maybe the song made sense in certain circles at the time it was written, but, in 2011, it seems strange. I'm curious what Panta's take is on all this.

For the encore, all the performers got together and sang a famous song that Terayama wrote called , “Sensou wa Shiranai”, a beautiful, if somewhat sentimental song about a girl getting married whose father she doesn't remember died in the war. The title means, literally, 'I don't know war', but I guess the 'know' in this case means more than just knowledge or experience, and is talking about lives where war is no longer something that exists, at least not in Japan, for now.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

2011, From Here

2011, From Here was an earthquake charity event at the Club Que featuring a three-band roster that was hard to beat if you're into Japanese guitar pop: Harqua, the husband-and-wife collaboration of Harco and Quinka, with a Yawn, Kuki Kodan and advantage Lucy. Ticket proceeds, donations and sales of buttons made by artists (showing the prefectural birds of the quake-affected areas) went to a quake relief fund.

More than 200 people crammed into the Que, and the event ended up raising over 500,000 yen, about $6,000.

Highlights of the event for me included:

Harqua's performance. I'm a huge Quinka far, and chose her Field Recordings album as my favorite for 2008. I also like Harqua's CD a lot—I don't think there are many married duos that sing as beautifully together—and this was my first time see them on stage. One of their best songs is “Thank You”, the first tune on their album, and Quinka said that when she wrote it, the message was that you shouldn't miss the opportunity to thank loved ones closest to you, but after the quake, the message became bigger, and now it's also a song to thank people from far away, strangers with a heart. Enamored of the song to begin with, and thinking about its newfound significance, I was emotionally overcome during its performance.

Kuki Kodan's lyrics. Vocalist Yamazaki Yukari writes with everyday words that mysteriously turn into sung poetry that's hard to forget. I could see several fans mouthing those words that mean a lot to them. Yukari sits the side edge of the stage, singing as if she's alone in a living room, and then sometimes looking up, surprised she's on a stage in front of a crowd.

Advantage Lucy. The organizers of the show, whose intention was written on their website (and take a guess who translated it into English :) ). What can we do in this situation? We can start helping, from now, each in his or her own way—that was the philosophy.

But when vocalist Aiko first tried to address the audience, and saw how many had shown up, she was overwhelmed and covered her eyes with a towel. The words eventually came out, and they did a fantastic set of their new material, but for the encore, when they did “Kaze ni Azukete”, and she sang that line, one of my favorite of all Lucy lyrics, because it's so real:

Kimi kara koe ga todoitara nandaka

When your words reach me

Onaka ga suitekita

I start to become hungry

she choked up again. Maybe, I think, because we were there, the fans and musicians, and our voice, of support and agreement, did reach her. (And we did go grab a bite afterwards!)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pop Planet Nights In Seoul

One of the discoveries I made during a weekend of pop shows in Korea was a Japanese band—the Fishmans.

I knew about the 90's reggae-pop group, and owned two of their CDs, but it wasn't until I heard their music booming in a Seoul club called Kuchu Camp—itself the name of a Fishmans album—that it clicked. Now, back in Tokyo, I don't know how many times I've listened to songs like “Night Cruising” and “Shiawasemono (Happy Guy)”, bewitched by the high-voiced, yearning vocals.

At the Kuchu Camp, on the wall behind the stage is a famous photo of the late Shinji Sato, the Fishmans' singer, with eyes that are playful, challenging, penetrating. His image watches over every show at Kuchu Camp. Right now, somewhere there must be someone listening to his lines, from “Shiawasemono”:

Kanojyo no koto dake wo yoku shitteru

I only know a lot about my girl

Soshite ongaku ga mune no naka de itsumo natteru

And music is always playing in my heart

Kanojyo no koto dake wo yoku shitteru

I only know a lot about my girl

Soshite itsu datte yume no naka made oikaketekuru

And she always follows me into my dreams


On Saturday night, at Club Ta, decorated with a Middle Eastern feel with cloth on the walls, I remembered what a great audience Koreans are, clapping in rhythm spontaneously to songs, and cheering groups they were seeing for the first time (as well as excellent local bands, like my co-conspirator Wonyul's blues-rock ensemble One Trick Ponies and the veteran, sweet pop unit Linus' Blanket).

Yuyake Lamp translated one of their songs into Korean, and the pronunciation must have been rocky because vocalist Yunn doesn't speak the language. But despite that, after, and even during the song, there was a roar of approval. Yunn blogged—when she was memorizing the Korean words, it felt like learning magical spells, but when she actually sang them on stage, they were like a real magic spell that brought the audience closer.


I loved the casual elegance of my Korean friends' daily moves, the way they put a hand over the heart as they poured a drink for you, or placed a hand over a forearm as they received a drink. We're friends so pour my drink with one hand rather than two, don't be overly formal, said one friend. There were a lot more hugs, handshakes and pats than I was used to back in Japan.

After a few nights that went by so fast of music by great bands—Ninon, Kounotori, Three Berry Icecream, Yuyake Lamp and the vocalist Mayumi Hozaki from Japan and Do-Lu, One Trick Ponies and Linus' Blanket from Korea—and drinks, laughter and talk with new friends until dawn, we from Tokyo and Osaka were all smitten by Seoul, wanted to stay longer and return again soon—as I knew would happen.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Seoul! Pop Planet - April 16-17!

Seven years ago (but just yesterday!), I went to Seoul with a bunch of musicians—advantage Lucy, Plectrum, Lost in Found and Miniskirt—to attend a music event called Melody Go Round. It was one of the best trips of my life—getting to know my favorite artists in person, making new friends, and witnessing moving scenes of the musicians of two neighboring but very faraway countries creating beautiful sounds together. Seoul became a special place for me.

Now, some of us are returning. Bands from Japan will be performing together with Korean musicians at a two-night event called “Pop Planet” next weekend. On Saturday, April 16, they will play at Club TA, and on the 17th at Kuchu Camp, both in Hongdae. If you're in Seoul, come join us!

The bands are:

Linus' Blanket, a wonderful Seoul indie pop group influenced by bossa nova, French pop and Bacharach;

One Trick Ponies of Seoul, a cool blues rock band from Seoul, led by my friend Wonyul;

Do-Lu at the Kuchu Camp show, a charming trilingual (K-J-E) staff band of the Seoul club;

Three Berry Icecream from Tokyo, the brilliant indie pop unit of vocalist and accordionist Mayumi Ikemizu, a central character of the Shibuya-kei scene, who was a member of Bridge;

Yuyake Lamp, one of my favorite Tokyo bands, the unit of nature-loving, world music-embracing, high-voiced singing wonder Yunn;

Hozaki Mayumi from Osaka, the gorgeous voiced pop vocalist, formerly with a unit called Margarets Hope;

And, two Osaka groups associated with Minsung Kang, formerly of Linus' Blanket and the organizer of the Melody Go Round event mentioned above: Kounotori and Ninon. I haven't listened to them, but being Minsung's groups, I have no doubt they're excellent.


Minsung wants to do another Melody Go Round event in Seoul later in the year—its idea is to bring musicians of different countries together, going from one country to another—and this event shares his vision and features some great bands from both Korea and Japan. I can't wait for the evenings of music, friendship, soju and Korean food!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Apollo 18's Tokyo Landing

Apollo 18 landed in Tokyo—and then crashed through the ground and got stuck in the Basement Bar.


Well, OK, the space mission is actually an alternative rock trio from Korea, and the hardcore cosmonauts were flying back not from the moon but from the U.S., where they were on a two-week tour, including gigs at South by Southwest and The Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival. On the way back they were playing at the Shibuya Kinoto and the Basement Bar in Shimokitazawa.

I found out about the show because a music blogging comrade from Korea, Shawn Despres, got in touch about it. They were voted "Rookie of the Year" at the 2010 Korean Music Awards, he said.

The performance was great—Apollo 18 was spirited, intense, musically proficient...and funny. The probably unintended joke of the evening was that Apollo 18 was playing to a crowd that most likely didn't listen much to their brand of hard core and metal meet post-rock. It wasn't quite the Blues Brothers doing 'Rawhide' behind chicken wire. But judging from the other bands and the fashion, the audience was one that favored the sort of introspective, sentimental alternative pop/rock that seems common in Shimokitazawa these days (album covers showing a sunset bordered by Tokyo buildings...that kind of thing).

To their credit, Apollo 18 got even this crowd going, triggering modest head swinging and foot tapping and shouts in basic Korean and Japanese. The guitarist guy said “Konbanwa (good evening)” at the start, and then in English apologized that unlike the other 'country' music bands tonight (I think that's what he said...), they just did rock 'n' roll, before plunging into an explosive set, he diving into the audience at one stage and doing a solo from the floor.

I would love to see them again in Tokyo, but maybe next time playing with groups like Asakusa Jinta or henrytennis, if that could be arranged.


This was my first show since the quake. Nightlife is gradually reviving, and the streets of Shimokitazawa were fairly crowded, though not as much as pre-quake weekends. On the walls of the Basement Bar were signs saying that shows may be canceled if there's big shaking, that the hall may become dark if there's a blackout and that they are limiting the use of air-con and lights to save electricity.


Speaking of Korea, my friends are going to be flying in to Seoul to play two weekend events on April 16-17. The bands will include Yuyake Lamp and Three Berry Icecream from Japan and Linus' Blanket of Korea. More on that later...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring, Tokyo, 2011

Radiation, hay fever-causing pollen and floral scents in the air—what a strange spring this is.

After the disaster, Tokyo streets are darker and the crowds are gone at night. Shops and eateries close early to save electricity. Bottled water and bread are gone from store shelves.

I haven't been to any shows since the quake struck, but I imagine they're more subdued, with a smaller audience. Going down to basement clubs while aftershocks are still frequent isn't an appealing prospect, and there's guilt about using electricity for performances at a time of shortage. Some musicians I know are already playing, some as charity events. But I'm not ready to go back just yet.

I've been listening to a lot of Judy and Mary, whose CDs had been gathering dust in my room before the quake. Maybe it's a reminder of a Japan that's gone, temporarily. Now people are serious, public-minded, careful. All good things, but I miss the excesses, the crazy city noise and lights, the drunk crowds, flirtations and jokes. And Judy Mary, as you see in this video, vocalist Yuki over-the-top coquettish, the guitar and bass hyperactive, distilled all that energy into the form of a band.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Eel Nests At The O-Nest

I didn't get Eel at first.

The first time I saw the girl who calls herself Eel perform live, she was opening for advantage Lucy, and as it was one of the first times for me to see Lucy and I was overwhelmed by the experience, Eel didn't leave much of an impression other than that the performance seemed wild and chaotic (...not necessarily bad things).

The years have passed, and now I'm a fan. Especially after listening to her great new album, For Common People, and a compilation of her earlier works called Kung Fu People Etcetera, I wonder why I didn't get into Eel earlier. Her cute vocals, catchy melodies and inventive noises are things I like.

I headed to the O-Nest for the Tokyo leg of her For Common People tour. While at past shows she's sung karaoke fashion to music from a Mac, this time Eel had a band for the first half, in addition to an ever-present interpretive dancer guy in a pink suit and feather boa. She wore aqua-rimmed sunglasses, a green-yellow hooded sweatshirt and shorts over pink sweatpants.

At one point in the show she said, “I actually quite like punk”, in what context I can't remember, and it got me thinking. Wasn't punk rock when it started out a funny, eccentric, experimental style, and the cliches we associate it with now are later developments? And musicians' unhappiness about what 'punk' was becoming led to post-punk and new wave? Maybe then, someone like Eel, from Osaka, cute, colorful, stylish, outlandish, eclectic, is truly carrying on the legacy of punk?

It's an idle thought, and maybe Eel herself wouldn't feel the need to be bound by labels (her website says her style is 'cute and funky pop with electric punk music as a base'). In the meantime, like in an early punk show of my imagination a lot of wackiness is happening on stage, five male 'dancers', including the pink suit man and a guy with a wig, a paper cutout mask of Eel's face and the Stars and Stripes bopping to her tunes, and for the finale, as many of the audience as can fit the O-Nest stage join them to hop along to her song “Jump”.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tokyo Pinsalocks At The Que

What a perfectly casted band Tokyo Pinsalocks are.

Singer Naoko is the sunny, outgoing one. Bassist Hisayo is her lunar counterpart, cool and composed. Drummer Reiko is cute and petite. They look great on stage, though, in reality, it was probably coincidence rather than casting that brought them together, 11 years ago.

The girl trio played at the Shimokitazawa Que at the end of a Japan tour. Naoko wore a big cloth rose in her hair, which descended like a golden avalanche, and she had on a mime-like stripe shirt and what looked like a tutu. Hisayo, tall with long black and silver hair, wore a green blouse with an illustration of a parrot, and shocking pink-colored tights.

On stage there's the classic, rock-band fire and ice contrast between those two, but like the yin-yang symbol, the separation between black and white isn't perfect. Naoko is the show-woman, but you can tell some of it is an act. Hisayo is almost expressionless, but there's passion in her performance that come out to the surface.

They have a spare, New Wave sound, Hisayo pumping out aggressive, distorted bass lines, Reiko drumming in a precise, mechanical fashion, and programmed music from a Mac and Naoko's vocals taking care of the rest. Tokyo Pinsalocks just released a new album called Kurukuru to Guruguru, onomatopoeia for things spinning around, and they played one of the best songs from it, “Kimono Japonaise”, which is an internationally-minded Japanese pride song, with lyrics like:

We're sensitive to fashion [on stage, Naoko holds her stripe shirt]

And our hearts are sensitive too [she touches her chest]

Our legs are short [she points down at her legs, with a frown]

But we dance without care anyway [she dances]

Saturday, January 29, 2011

5 Favorite Japanese CDs of 2010

#5. Spangle call Lilli line

My favorite SCLL album since Or, View highlights the band's long, luxuriant stretches of indie pop melodies, guided by the fragile-sounding vocals of Kana Otsubo.

#4. Yuyake Lamp

These are musicians I've been following since 2004 (when they were called Orange Plankton), and they're now friends. So, maybe there's a bias, but I do think their piano pop music stands out. Vocalist Yunn has two gifts: an unmistakable, dazzling high voice, and a talent for weaving memorable musical lines. The piano, bass, drum and flute arrangements are often jazzy. The album title means 'forest in the ocean'.

#3. Soutaisei Riron

These guys have converted me. I liked their previous album, Hi-Fi Anatomia, but was put off by their strict policy against publishing their image, and wondered how they'd follow up on Hi-Fi. Synchroniciteen shows it wasn't a fluke. The melodies are still catchy and the lyrics playful, but what I noticed most was that vocalist Etsuko Yakushimaru's singing intensity had increased, from Hi-Fi's low-blood pressure whispers to something more rocking. It's a good change.

'Sanzenman Nen', or 'thirty million years', is my favorite track, with opening lines that go, ' I've been in love from thirty million years ago/I ride a train from Gakugei Daigaku-mae', an example of the eccentric way they arrange their lyrics. Soutaisei Riron's lyrics favor word play and sometimes the settings are science fiction or fantasy, things they share in common with other contemporary bands, whereas bands a decade ago seemed to be more into describing their lives and feelings with straight words. A sweeping generalization, and there are many exceptions, but that's the impression I get. What caused the change?

#2. Serani Poji
Merry Go Round Jailhouse

This is the first album in five years by a unit that started as a virtual girl pop unit led by a Sega musician Tomoko Sasaki playing music for the game 'Roommania #203'. Before, Yukichi of Cecil was Serani Poji's singer; this time, returning to recording, Sasaki herself is the vocalist of pop tunes that are like updates of the best of the 90's Shibuya-kei sound—my favorites are 'Toward the South', about a 7-year-old girl who dreams about running off to a southern island with her lover; 'Robot's Happiness', Kafka's Metamorphosis with a happy ending about a girl who enjoys her new life as an android; and 'Laughing Frog'.

#1. Ego Wrappin'
Naimono Nedari No Dead Heat

My biggest musical surprise of the year: I knew of Ego Wrappin', and even owned one of their albums, but didn't pay much attention, thinking they're a retro-jazz outfit, which isn't my thing. What was it that moved me to pick up this CD at Tower Shibuya? It led me to music that was both familiar and new. Some of it is like 60's psychelic rock, like 'Kuroi Sweater', an elegy about a granny who knit a black sweater for the singer. There's also jazz with horns in songs like the lounge-feeling 'Love Scene', which, despite my previous avoidance of Ego Wrappin's jazz, has become my favorite song of the album. Bringing alive this band's innovation and re-interpretation of classic rock and jazz are the powerful, passionate vocals of Yoshie Nakano, like a Japanese Grace Slick.


Returning to 2009, there was one album I didn't know about at the time, but has become a favorite of mine, not only for that year but for all time—Bice's Kaerarenai Koi no Tameni ('For Love that Can't Be Changed'). Sadly, the woman who was Bice passed away last year. The poems whisper-sung by Bice (pronounced Bee-che) are about love, life and death—one song is titled 'The Two of Us Will Be Gone In 100 Years'—and the directness of the emotions is something I've rarely encountered. One of these days I'll write more about a masterpiece of a song in this album, called “Ordinary Days”.


ビーチェ(bice) | Myspace動画