The Music Fix J-pop Mix (Vol. 1)
Welcome to volume 1 of The Music Fix J-pop Mix. Building upon last month’s Christmas special, which was both something a little festive and a bit of a tester for the site, we’ll now be taking you on a journey around Japanese music of all styles, covering the country's incredibly rich history of popular music. Although titled The J-pop Mix, we must emphasize that it’s more for catchy effect than playlist purposes, so expect to see a whole lot of variety down the line!
Kicking off this month’s playlist is prolific model, actress and singer Yu Yamada. In terms of musical output she’s only got one studio album to her name, but with a string of singles stretching back to 2006 which, while not having consistently set the charts ablaze, are at least notable for seeing Yamada approach a pleasing variety of styles. ‘Fly So High‘, her third single, is about as saccharin as her songs get, but it’s such a perfectly produced and uplifting pop number that it’s hard to resist sticking it on a loop during those heady summer days. The song is featured as the closing theme for series one of the animated adventure Blue Dragon, based upon the Xbox 360 videogame of the same name.
Def Tech has proven to be one of Japan’s most successful indie pop acts, often imbuing their tunes with positive messages set to reggae, hip-hop and rap stylings. Its members are Shenen (Shen) Brown and Yuki (Micro) Nishimiya; Shen, a Hawaiian native, is bilingual in English and Japanese, which naturally lends to their sound having popular western appeal. ‘My Way’ is taken from their eponymous 2005 debut album - the third best-selling of that year.
This leads into ‘Densha De Go!’ by Jun Togawa, who remains one of the Japanese music industry’s most intriguing figures. She started her professional career at the beginning of the 1980s, with emphasis being placed on idol appeal. However, she didn’t exactly fit the classic idol template, with an unpredictable personality and a unique voice that could effortlessly go from childish, naive tones to haunting screeches and sultry whispers at the snap of a finger. Time saw her defy conventions time and again with her experimental quirkiness and while her music remained quite popular in Japan, she ultimately became more reclusive as she fought personal demons, straying away from solo work and collaborating instead with many underground artists. Her influence on the Japanese music scene cannot be overstated.
Skoop on Somebody has gone through a couple of small changes since breaking out in 1995, from an early name change to alterations in line-up, but its music has always stayed true to its R&B and gospel roots. Since that time they’ve released no less than forty singles and ten studio albums. In popular mainstream culture their work has been heard across the globe; anime fans will know their music from hit TV series Bleach (‘Happy People’, fourth ending), while the movies have also benefited from their talents. ‘(Everything Will Be) Alright’ is the b-side to their 2006 single ‘How We Do It!!!’ Both songs were signature pieces for Tetsu Maeda’s heist comedy A Cheerful Gang Turns the Earth. The track, much like the film itself, is a rather fun outing, with its amusing lyrics somehow enriched by its broken English delivery.
Formed in 1999, SHAKALABBITS is a energetic punk-rock/ska band who started to hit their stride around 2003 when they also collaborated with punksters 175R. ‘Pivot’ surfaced during this time and subsequently featured on the band’s second studio album, Clutch, released one year later. With the added profile of featuring in an advertisement for Slim Beauty House, the song peaked at number 6, and remained defiantly in the Oricon charts for several months. Encapsulating the best of the genre, this short and sweet track of raw energy is always a joy to blast out.
Female artists Chiharu Tamashiro and Ayano Kinjo formed Kiroro in the mid-nineties, eventually releasing their first major album in 1998. Since then they’ve had steady success, but family commitments (both having children in 2005/06) has resulted in a decline of output. My favourite album is Kiroro’s fourth, Four Leaves Clover, released in 2002. ‘Yakusoku’ [promise] is the 11th and final song from the album.
What can be said of Southern All Stars? With over thirty-five years to their name they’ve cemented themselves as one of the most influential and biggest-selling rock bands in Japanese history, with over 47 million units in total sales. Currently they’re on a bit of a break (which hasn’t been an unusual occurence), its members enjoying various solo success but there’s promise of more stuff in the future. To date they have thirteen studio albums, and for this feature I’ve taken a track from their eleventh release Young Love, entitled ‘Soul Bomber’. Part of this is for nostalgic reasons, it being the first time I was introduced to the band in 2003 but one that's left a lasting impression. I’ll think you’ll see why.
Okinawan outfit HY are currently one of Japan’s biggest selling indie acts, the first in fact to reach a number one position in the Oricon weekly charts - an admirable rarity given their refusal to join a major label. Formed in 2000 in Okinawa, much of their appeal comes from their diverse melding of music styles; they throw everything at the kitchen sink, and none is more evident than with their massive chart hit second album Street Story. It’s almost a masterpiece in itself and as a result picking just one song for this feature is quite difficult. However, we’re going with its third track ’Toutan’, a song of wonderful harmonies and punchy riffs that’s guaranteed to make you smile.
Onto Yuzu, another pop duo, but whose roots lay in folk music. Yujin and Koji started out as street performers around the mid-nineties, until they scored a huge hit with their debut single ‘Natsuiro’ in the summer of 1998. Since then they’ve had over thirty singles releases and eleven albums. We’re gonna play it simple and take you back to where it all started with that first hit, taken from their first major album Yuzu Ikka.
Rounding things up is D-51, whose members Yu and Yasu enjoyed their first major success with ‘No More Cry’ in 2005. Its success was no doubt largely bolstered by it featuring as the closing theme for the second series of popular classroom comedy drama Gokusen. I don’t doubt it’ll get a few of you singing along to the chorus!
Until next time,