Songs I Would Rank on my Top Songs of 2012 – 2016

As the end of the year approaches I start to think about the best songs of the year for my year-end rankings. While I stand by most of my rankings and think I made good calls, inevitably I discover some song that I love from the previous year that really should have made the list but didn’t. So this list is me righting the wrongs of my past five years of lists. This isn’t exhaustive – there’s a lot of great idol music out there that does deserve recognition and that I’ve come to later. These are just particular songs that have come out within the past five years that I’ve regretted not putting on a best of list, and in no particular order.

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10 JPop Songs to get you into the Halloween Mood

Halloween is nearly here, and if you’re like me you’ll want to listen to some Halloween-themed music while you get ready to go to a Halloween party or get ready to welcome some trick-or-treaters. Because of this I’ve created a YouTube playlist with some of my favorite Halloween or otherwise spooky themed Jpop songs to listen to.

1. Philosophy no Dance – Like a Zombie

Philosophy no Dance has quickly become one of my favorite currently active idol groups out there, mostly because of their well-written 80s-inspired pop music. Like a Zombie is their funky take on Thriller, and one that works remarkably well due to a high-quality arrangement and some powerful vocals from vocalist Hinata Haru. Like a Zombie is easily one of the top two idol funk songs about zombies this year.

2. Niji no Conquistador – No Life Baby of the End

No Life Baby of the End is the other funky idol song about zombies this year, and while it ups the pace from Like a Zombie it’s still a great song, if perhaps more of an idol song than Like a Zombie. No Life Baby of the End is a bit all over the place, but it manages to be a great, upbeat funky song.

3. Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku – Oh My Ghost? ~Watashi ga Akuryou ni Natte mo~

This has been requisite Halloween listening for me for years, mostly because it was written by the great Maeyamada Kenichi. It’s upbeat, cute, but also delivers on some of its horror imagery, in part because of Maeyamada’s ghost noises in the background. It’s one of the most fun Halloween songs you’ll listen to.

4. AKB48- Halloween Night

Perhaps one of the most directly Halloween-based songs on this list, it’s a disco track about going to a Halloween dance party and it is easily one of AKB48’s most catchy songs in years. It’s one of the most danceable songs on this list, and with a fairly easy dance accompanying it it’s one of the most fun songs on this list.

5. Angerme – Mahoutsukai Sally

Perhaps an unconventional choice, Angerme’s cover of the Mahoutsukai Sally theme song has a definite Halloween-tinge. The song is an upbeat, fun song about a witch that has been modernized somewhat, but still has a classic idol feel and manages to maintain the witchy feel of the original.

6. P.IDL – Hello! Halloween!

While most of the songs on this list so far have been fun, upbeat tracks, Hello! Halloween! has a slightly darker feel. It’s still a great upbeat track with a great dance beat but the electronic music makes the entire sound darker. Still, there are some great vocals (the harmonies sound great) and this is ridiculously catchy, which makes it worthy of this list.

7. Rev. from DVL – Vampire

Rev’s last digital single before they released their best of album and disbanded, I don’t think I really appreciated Vampire when it came out due to the overwhelming feeling of Rev’s inevitable ending. That said, while it’s darker than the majority of Rev’s oeuvre, Vampire is a great dance track with a great beat and instrumentation. It’s only a shame that this had to come out just before Rev broke up, because dance pop Rev would have been pretty great. Vampire is a solid dance track fronted by Hashimoto Kanna that is well worthy of your Halloween playlist.

8. Tokyo Girls Style – Jūjika: Eiga Gakkō no Kaidan Noroi no Kotodama Ver.

Choosing a theme song for a horror movie feels like it’s a bit too obvious,  but this is a really solid song. Like always Tokyo Girls’ Style’s vocals are top notch, and the production is great, as expected from a Avex production. The entire song has a great beat but also a creepy feel to it.

9. Momoiro Clover Z – Saraba, Itoshiki Kanashimitachi yo

Another theme song (this time for a TV series), Saraba is one of Momoiro Clover Z’s most popular songs and for good reason – it has a great creepy feel, combining a rock feel with the occasional harpsichord song. It’s not Halloween but this combination always makes me feel like Halloween.

10. Youvex Rengogun – Hallo Christmas

Ending off with a joint Halloween / Christmas song (and a Yokai Watch ending theme), this joint Avex venture (with members from Super Girls, GEM and LinQ) is a solid place to end this Halloween playlist and get ready for the holiday season.

Happy Halloween!

Review: Morning Musume – Rainbow 7

2017 marks an important anniversary – it is the 20th anniversary of the formation of Morning Musume. While the group has had many iterations, 13 generations of members, name changes and both waxing and waning popularity over the years, 20 years is a major achievement for a group. This is especially notable given Morning Musume’s recent resurgence in popularity – while Morning Musume has been around for almost 20 years, I can’t see it going away any time soon.

To commemorate this I’ve decided to review all of the main Morning Musume albums through 2017, First Time through 14 Shou ~The Message~ or any Morning Musume album that comes out this year. I won’t be covering the two best of albums nor the updated album. The main goal will be to see just how Morning Musume has evolved over these 20 years.


Rainbow 7 is a weird album for me, personally. It’s after the peak of my Morning Musume interest, as an Ishikawa Rika fan, has passed, but before the first album I was aware of coming out, Platinum 9 Disc. It’s in a weird transitional period that honestly lasted quite a few years – the only member left who has any real ties to the golden era is Yoshizawa Hitomi, and while Kusumi Koharu has joined the group as the ‘miracle’ the group just didn’t have an identity at this time, really until the Platinum era with stuff like Resonant Blue. Maybe if you’re a particular fan of the intact 5th and 6th generations of the group this time is special, but for a long while Morning Musume feels particularly aimless. While this has happened again (I’d argue that after the end of the Platinum Era Morning Musume spent a good couple of years trying to figure out their identity as a group), it’s really the first time as a group, though it’d been a long time coming.

I do like the basic concept of the album, which is colors – quite a few of the songs have a color theme to them, which is a nice touch. Most Hello!Project albums are little more than a collection of songs with some added album songs, so giving a loose connection tying this together is a good touch. This is also one of my favorite album covers, so good job Morning Musume for having interesting album art (which can sometimes be rare, to put it lightly).

1. How Do You Like  Japan? Nihon wa Donna Kanji Dekka?

This song was made for live performances. It’s the perfect song to pump up an audience and to let the members of Morning Musume go a little wild while performing. There’s a reason How Do You Like Japan? has been performed more than any other non-single song on Rainbow 7 – it’s a great live song, and one that’s been performed (for good reason) outside of Japan for international concerts. It’s also a really great place to start an album, with so much energy.

How Do You Like Japan’s fatal flaw, though, is that it’s so geared towards live performances that it’s not really the most fun song to listen to when you’re sitting at home. It’s not a bad song, and if you’re looking for something to pump you up it’s a good one. But the instrumental can be a bit empty at points and the pacing is a little bit slow for solo listening without any cheering in the background. I don’t know if this is a bad thing – having a song aimed at live shows is fine. But it means that How Do You Like Japan is a song I’d be really excited for at a show but that I don’t listen to at home much. 7/10

2. The Man Power!!!

The Manpower is a fun song – it’s never been one of my all time favorites but it’s likewise never been a song I’ve disliked. I think the thing I like about it so much is that the song has a great energy to it. I like the repetitive nature of the song contrasted with Takahashi Ai and Yoshizawa Hitomi alternating vocals. It works really well and the entire song feels like it has power and energy in a way idol songs often don’t. I also particularly like the instrumental, though I think a lot of songs from this era just sound a little empty to me. There is a good contrast between some electronic sound and some horns that works well for me.

The Manpower isn’t extraordinary – it’s never blown me away as a single but it’s a nice, little song that has some power. It’s a little goofy, fun, and while it’s not quite on the level of something from Golden Era Morning Musume it doesn’t have to be. 7/10

3. Aozora ga Itsumademo Tsuzuku You na Mirai de Are!

I mostly know this song from the Dream Morning Musume cover, which I do prefer to this song. But I think it says a lot that one of the songs chosen for the Dream Morning Musume album, which mostly covered relatively well known tracks, to do this song from Rainbow 7. While How Do You Like Japan has had more concert performances, Aozora ga Itsumademo Tsuzuku You na Mirai de Are has had a huge impact, and for good reason – it’s a pretty great song. It’s the type of song that I’d expect from something like 4th Ikimasshoi, honestly – it’s endlessly positive and happy, with a great brass arrangement that makes the song work. I’ve complained a lot in the recent reviews about the arrangements sounding empty, but that’s not a problem here – the sound is lush, but it never overdoes it. It’s a happy, fun positive song that is pretty refreshing. It’s one of the highlights of this era of Morning Musume for sure. 9/10′

4. Osaka Koi no Uta 

While Osaka Koi no Uta has always been a personally important song (the last song of my favorite member of Morning Musume), it’s not one I particularly return to. While the gimmick of the song (that the entire song is sung in the Osaka dialect) works for me, and it’s a solid song, it’s not one of Morning Musume’s best. I do like the cool feel to the song, and the arrangement is mostly solid. The biggest individual issue I have with Osaka Koi no Uta is that Tsunku’s background vocals completely over Morning Musume’s vocals throughout a large portion of the song. While I don’t mind some of Tsunku’s vocals adding some depth to the vocals, here it’s sometimes difficult to hear Morning Musume over it. All the Morning Musume members who have solo lines sound excellent, so having to strain to hear them is pretty unpleasant.

All told Osaka Koi no Uta is fun. Its melody works and the members are at the top of their game. I just wish I could hear them more. 7/10

5. Indigo Blue Love

I’ve mentioned songs sounding dated several times over the past couple of reviews, which comes with the territory of reviewing music from the late 90s and early 2000s. But Indigo Blue Love seems like it would be dated even in 2006, far enough away from the late 90s R&B that inspired it. It’s not a terrible song, so if you’re feeling nostalgic for this sort of song it might be an option. The members (Niigaki Risa, Kamei Eri, Tanaka Reina) do a solid job with it and it’s a pleasant enough listen. However, it’s not at all memorable, and there are so many better songs in this kind of vein in Hello!Project’s discography. Aa, the subgroup featuring Tanaka Reina, put out First Kiss which is a better song, and I’d point to old school Hello!Project for better songs like this. The arrangement is OK but kind of mediocre (It’s pretty easy to tell there’s no actual real instruments) and it’s a bit grating at times. It’s not offensively bad nor is it a bad listen, its biggest crime is being just bland. 5/10

6. Rainbow Pink

Rainbow Pink is the textbook definition of love it or hate it. You either love this song or can’t stand it – I imagine it is purely polarizing. Personally, I can’t help but love it. They took the two worst singers of the group at the time, put them in a unit, and made a goofy, overly-saccharine idol parody. Rainbow Pink is the type of song where, if it was a serious attempt at a good song, it wouldn’t be very good, but since it’s pretty clearly a joke it’s a lot more palatable. All that being said, while Rainbow Pink is pretty clearly a joke, a parody, it’s a lot catchier than it has any right to be. Of all the songs on this album Rainbow Pink is the one I gravitate towards most.

Your tolerance towards goofy, overly cutesy idol pop is going to determine how you feel about Rainbow Pink, but, god help me, I love this song. 9/10

7. Iroppoi Jirettai

The first single to feature Kusumi Koharu, Iroppoi Jirettai feels a bit like the start of a new era and it’s a good start. The entire song has a Latin feel to it which work swell with Morning Musume continually shifting sound. Iroppoi Jirettai has a great melody, too, and it’s a super catchy song. The lyrics are a bit awkward, the repeated “sexy island” line being the most, but at the very least they are memorable. The whispered intro is also not my favorite thing, but at least it’s not a continued motif throughout. The arrangement and instrumentation featuring real brass instruments is my personal highlight, as it works a lot better than other Morning Musume songs of the time.

While Iroppoi Jirettai isn’t a song I come back to all that much, it’s well put together, catchy and definitely memorable. It’s a solid song for this era of Morning Musume. 8/10

8. Mushoku Toumei na Mama de 

The last small group song on this album and man this is even more forgettable than Indigo Blue Love. It’s not a terrible song, and in many ways it’s superior to Indigo Blue Love – the arrangement in particular stands out as being interesting, full of lush strings and a traditional Japanese sound. It reminds me a bit of Morning Musume Sakuragumi’s Sakura Mankai, which isn’t a bad thing. I actually really like the arrangement here, and the more I listen I like this song – it’s a solid ballad with some beautiful vocals and a  good arrangement. The biggest sin of Mushoku Toumei na Mama de is that it’s just not memorable. The melody is slow and kind of boring, and no matter how long I listen I just can’t remember it. I think the arrangement is so good that having it with this melody is a bit of a waste. While the chorus is decent, I don’t remember how the verses go while even listening to the song. 7/10

9. Purple Wind

Purple Wind is a lot more memorable than some of the other tracks on this album – unfortunately, while it’s in many ways a fun, funky song with an upbeat melody that is very welcome at this point in Rainbow 7, it’s also flawed too. The arrangement leaves something to be desired, with the background instrumentation empty and uninteresting during sung sections (though the opening of the song works very well), and the melody during the verses is very repetitive. Purple Wind has a fun feel to it, and I love the funk sound to it, but its arrangement and the songwriting are fairly mediocre. Purple Wind is the type of song this album needed, but I just wish it was better. Given what is there, it could have been an excellent song. 6/10.

10. Sayonara See You Again Adios Bye Bye Chacha!

Can someone give me a reason this isn’t the last song on the album? I feel like they had no idea what to do with the actual last two tracks of the album so they just stuck them on the end, when there was already a perfect ending song to the album. Sayonara See You Again Adios Bye Bye Chacha is a fairly nontraditional song on this album – while there’s sung sections that are slightly repetitive, a big bulk of the song is spent on all ten members doing a short spoken monologue over the others quietly singing in the background. While this makes the song slightly less re-listenable it seems like something that would work well in a concert setting more than anything else – you could fit in specific messages to the concert or with new members, and end out your concert on this. And in that way it works. Listening to an album, it works slightly less well, but at the same time the melody is catchy enough and the arrangement is solid enough that it works just fine. It’s a bit long, especially when you get to the last spoken sections, but it’s listenable. 7/10

11. Chokkan 2 ~Nogashita Sakana wa Ookiizo!~ (Mattaku Sono Toori Remix)

So another version of Chokkan on this album, after it was on the last one. Only, instead of putting the version released as a single, they put out a remix. While the remix has some interesting ideas, emphasizing more of a chant and some more drumming, it feels wholely superfluous and some of the other choices they made (shifting the pitch of the melody) just don’t work. The single version of Chokkan 2 is by far the best version of Chokkan, so the fact that neither album has it is a bit disheartening. This remix isn’t bad, but Chokkan 2 changes enough from the original Chokkan that I’m not sure why they thought this was necessary. This remix is fine to listen to, but I’m not sure why you’d choose to listen to this. 6/10

12. Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari 3

This is the third time I’ve reviewed this, so I’ll keep it brief. But it’s Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari again, and not very different from the other two. There are fewer Tsunku vocalizations than Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari 2, which is appreciated, and I do like that they kept up that the members sing their own introduction, but it’s the exact same song. If you like Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari and this is your preferred lineup this may be the version you want, but otherwise it’s pretty extraneous. 7/10

Overall: Surprisingly this is the most solid album since 4th Ikimassshoi. While there are individual songs I prefer off No. 5 and Ai no Dai 6kan, for the most part Rainbow 7 has a lot less filler and is paced well as an album. While some of the songs aren’t the best of Morning Musume, all are fairly listenable, and while the last two songs are mostly extraneous the first ten are a solid, neat package. I also really like the color theme to the album, which works well and I wish would be something that Morning Musume revisited for later albums. Rainbow 7 isn’t the album I’ll revisit very soon but it’s a solid addition to Morning Musume’s discography.

 

 

Review: Morning Musume – Ai no Dai 6kan

2017 marks an important anniversary – it is the 20th anniversary of the formation of Morning Musume. While the group has had many iterations, 13 generations of members, name changes and both waxing and waning popularity over the years, 20 years is a major achievement for a group. This is especially notable given Morning Musume’s recent resurgence in popularity – while Morning Musume has been around for almost 20 years, I can’t see it going away any time soon.

To commemorate this I’ve decided to review all of the main Morning Musume albums through 2017, First Time through 14 Shou ~The Message~ or any Morning Musume album that comes out this year. I won’t be covering the two best of albums nor the updated album. The main goal will be to see just how Morning Musume has evolved over these 20 years.


Ai no Dai 6kan feels to me like the start of a transition to me – it’s the last credited album of Iida Kaori, Yaguchi Mari, Ishikawa Rika and the last appearances by Kago Ai and Tsuji Nozomi. While Yoshizawa Hitomi is on Rainbow 7, the next album, this feels like the last hurrah of what could be considered Golden Era Morning Musume. While Morning Musume was still doing relatively well when Ai no Dai 6kan released, they were definitely not anywhere near the popularity level of the golden era, especially with the two centers of Abe Natsumi and Goto Maki long gone.

1. Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago

Let me just preface this by saying I like Konno Asami and Michishige Sayumi just fine – they’re fine members. However, I’m not sure I quite get the decision to have a ballad focused on these two, and to have it start off the album. Because yeah, Konno Asami and Michishige Sayumi are weak singers. Morning Musume eventually figured out how to best use Sayumi as a member years later, but having two of the weakest vocalists headline a ballad is a baffling decision. I’m not particularly fond of ballads but when I like a ballad it needs to have vocals that can back it up. I think the choice to have a song focus on two members who were often in the back is really smart, but the choice to have it be THIS song is strange.

The song itself is fine. It’s not a particularly great single, but it’s a pretty pleasant melody. The lyrics and arrangement are a bit too saccharine, and coming from me that’s saying something. This song has some decent ideas – I like some of the arrangement (the strings, particularly when pizzicato, are nice), but for the most part it’s treacly, saccharine and not very interesting. It’s cheesy as hell.

Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago isn’t the worst song ever and has a few decent ideas, but it’s too saccharine and helmed by two of the group’s worst singers which makes it just not work. 5/10

2. Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki is a fun, kind of goofy song that reminds me a bit like a laidback Piriri to Yukou. It has a slow feel but it still has that traditional Japanese feel. In fact, considering Ai no Dai 6kan and Piriri to Yukou came out in the same year, Sukiyaki may have very well been repurposed from Piriri to Yukou – some of the background vocals sound very similar.

Sukiyaki is a fun song, and I always like hearing a Japanese festival sound mixed with idol pop – both of those sounds work really well together and can be a lot of fun. That said, for being a 3 minute song, Sukiyaki drags in places. It feels like it’s five minutes long when it’s only three. I think a bit of a faster tempo might have helped, but the melody doesn’t really do the pacing much favors. I like the feel of this song and the instrumentation works really well, but this is a lot slower than I remember and it doesn’t work as well as I’d like. 6/10

3. Haru no Uta

This is the song sung by the four highest seniority members in Morning Musume at the time and someone needs to tell Tsunku that mature doesn’t mean boring. This is a cheesy R&B track that sounds like it should have come out in the late 90s – it sounds dated now and I bet it was dated in 2004 when this came out.

This is performed well – Yaguchi Mari, Iida Kaori, Yoshizawa Hitomi and Ishikawa Rika do a commendable job of doing this song justice. That said it’s mostly a boring song. There have been great songs written for mature groups before (Taiyou to Ciscomoon’s discography) and after (v-u-den’s discography) this song, so I’m not sure why this doesn’t work for me. I think the biggest culprit is that this (and No.5) were the start of Morning Musume shoving filler songs onto its albums

Haru no Uta is a pleasant enough song to listen to – the effort the four members put on it works well and there are some solid moments, mostly relating to the performance. It’s a fairly solid, if dated song. It’s just not particularly good and I’m not sure why it would be put here on an album, especially after two songs that tend to drag as well. 6/10

4. Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari

Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari is a fun song that has understandably become a Morning Musume classic, since it’s a great way to introduce members. The lyrics focus on each member of the group’s personality, and while some of the verses in this original version seem like they aren’t specifically about each member it’s a way to focus on each member. While I think it’s kind of interesting that this became a single rather than just an album song, it works well as a song to introduce all the members of Morning Musume. While future versions have the members sing their introductions themselves, I kind of like this original version where other members sing about the member being introduced.

As a song, Joshi Kashimashi is pretty basic – it’s the same verse repeated for every member and occasionally a chorus. Sometimes one of the verses is hammed up a little differently or made more dramatic by the arrangement, but for the most part it’s a basic song. That said, it works here where the focus is more on the lyrics than anything else. The arrangement/instrumental is very fun, with a great sax solo throughout. While Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari is a very basic song, structure wise, it’s a fun intro song that’s catchy enough to sustain itself for several years. 9/10

5. Chokkan ~Toki to Shite Koi wa~

Most people are more familiar with the second Chokkan song, Chokkan 2 ~Nogashita Sakana wa Ookiizo~, which ended up as a single. The story goes that the single was originally Koi wa Hassou Do the Hustle, but because that didn’t have a great reception they made Chokkan 2 the single and made Koi wa Hassou the B-Side. Chokkan 2 is very similar to this original album Chokkan except there’s an updated arrangement and some of the lyrics are slightly different.

Chokkan ~Toki to Shite Koi wa~ feels a bit like a prototype Chokkan 2, even if that wasn’t initially the plan. The energy is pretty much the same and it has a similar level of excitement between the two songs, and the melody works for both. However, Chokkan 2’s arrangement gives it a bit more bite, and some of the lyrics sound awkward in the first Chokkan – the phrasing is a bit strange and doesn’t work quite as well.

It’s not hard to compare both Chokkan’s and the single one is a bit more polished. That said, the melody is fun and I love just how strong the energy is for both. Chokkan is a fun song, no matter what version. It’s fun to hear all the members who weren’t there in Chokkan 2 perform this, which is why I put Chokkan 1 on from time to time, but for the most part Chokkan 2 is the superior version. 7/10

6. Dokusenyoku

Dokusenyoku is a really cool sounding song – it has a much darker tone to it than most Hello!Project songs at the time (or even on this album – compare this to Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago). While Hello!Project had already had some rap verses and the occasional rap-heavy song (a few T&C Bomber songs are more hip hop focused), this is one of the earlier Morning Musume songs to have two fairly long rap verses throughout. The other cool part of the song is the section at the start and repeated at the end where seven members sing a single word. It’s not quite as trippy as WHY off 3rd Love Paradise where members alternated syllables but it still works well.

The biggest issue I personally have with Dokusenyoku is the over-reliance on Tsunku. Fans have mixed opinions on the presence of Tsunku as a background vocalist in Morning Musume songs, but I don’t mind it if it’s used well. Here, he just makes the song busier and doesn’t really add much with his shouting. And honestly, there are other members that could have done it just as well – Ogawa Makoto only gets a single word sung twice in this entire song, and she has enough attitude to be able to do these background vocals. It takes me out of the song, and it feels totally unnecessary. That all said, Dokusenyoku is a lot of fun and not like many other Morning Musume songs. 8/10

7. Lemon Iro to Milk Tea

I will never not love this song. This song was one that I really loved when I first got into Morning Musume about 9 or so years ago, and it’s nostalgic. It’s not the most sophisticated song – it’s pure fluff, almost overwhelmingly cute after Dokusenyoku. In many ways it’s a fairly typical idol song. The construction of it doesn’t do much interesting, the arrangement is cute, and while the performances are all good there’s not much to even make a performance extraordinary – Fujimoto Miki’s solo near the end is quite good but it’s not particularly demanding. But while it’s in many ways not special, it’s the platonic ideal of a cute, fun idol song that doesn’t put too many demands on the listener. If you like idol music and like the typical idol song, you’ll most likely like Lemon Iro to Milk Tea. It’s delightful from start to finish. 8/10

8. Roman ~My Dear Boy~

On a personal note, I’ve always been fond of Roman ~My Dear Boy~ for a totally biased reason – it’s one of the Morning Musume singles to best utilize Ishikawa Rika, my favorite member of Morning Musume. But beyond my own personal bias, Roman is just quite good. It has a great pace, and a solid melody, though if you strip it down Roman’s melody isn’t that unusual or interesting. What makes Roman ~ My Dear Boy~ really stand out more than anything is the fantastic arrangement. The individual instruments are all great – the electric guitar and sax solos put the song over the top. At its core, Roman ~My Dear Boy~ is a great pop song, but layer on the perfect arrangement/instrumentation and some excellent vocals from Morning Musume and Roman ~My Dear Boy~ is a standout track of Morning Musume’s discography. It’s definitely one of my favorite single songs and has been a favorite for several years. 10/10

9. Koe

I feel like whenever I listen to Koe I do a complete 180 on the song midway through. The start of the song is so cheesy, sounding like a cheesy late-90s r&b ballad that was out of date when Koe came out. That said, once the song kicks into gear midway through it’s a pretty, pleasant song. It’s not particularly interesting, but it has a solid melody. It also features some decent harmonies that I just wish were more prominent – when the harmonizing is put to the forefront Koe shines. I think that’s the biggest issue with Koe, really – if they had used it as an opportunity for Morning Musume to work at harmonies and let itself channel early Morning Musume, Koe could have been a highlight of this album. Instead, while some of these sections stand out and for the most part Koe is perfectly pleasant, it’s not as good as it could have been. It’s not the worst ballad I’ve listened to from Hello!Project but it’s not as standout of a song as I think it could be. 6/10

10. HELP!!

Relased around the same time as the Ecomoni song Acchi Chikyuu wo Samasunda, which is another version of this song from Morning Musume’s musical HELP!! this is Morning Musume’s environmental song. While Ecomoni’s version is slower and most of the lyrics are spoken (I wouldn’t consider it rap at all), HELP!! is a faster, poppier version, which works a lot better. Acchi Chikyuu wo Samasunda is cheesy, and I’d say purposefully so, but it’s a bit of a slog. HELP!! is a lot of fun, and I can see it actually succeeding where Acchi Chikyuu wo Samasunda doesn’t, which is making caring about the environment actually cool. HELP!! is a very short, brisk song, coming in at just about two minutes and thirty seconds, essentially repeating the same verse and chorus a few times. It’s not very interesting and doesn’t go any interesting places, which is a bit of a shame. That said, it’s still a fun listen and a good version of an OK song. 7/10

11.  SHIP! To the Future

Another song from the Morning Musume musical that HELP!! came from, SHIP! to the Future is a solid place to end the album – looking to the future. The arrangement and performances are solid, if not particularly interesting. That said, the melody drags, especially in the chorus. It’s not a particularly bad melody, and when the pace gets quicker it’s enjoyable. But this song drags and drags in the chorus, especially when the chorus repeats itself. There’s just not a lot here and so it gets stretched out to fit a three minute thirty second that should really be the two minute thirty second song HELP!! was.

I really like the intent of SHIP! to the Future but I shouldn’t get bored in a song that’s under four minutes. The core of the song isn’t bad, if they added an interesting bridge and sped it up it could be pretty great. It just drags and overstays its welcome, which is unfortunate for such a short song. 5/10

12. Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari 2

I mentioned that SHIP! to the Future isn’t the worst idea for a song to end an album. Unfortunately, Hello!Project didn’t do that and added a second version of Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari. I get why they did this, in theory – the intent clearly was that each album would have its version of Joshi Kashimashi about the current lineup of members, since Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari 3 is on Rainbow 7. I also get that they wanted a version with just the current lineup and that they wanted the single version on here. But putting two versions of the same song on the same album is the worst kind of padding, and it just seems bizarre. If they wanted the single, they should have picked that. If they wanted the version with the current lineup, they should have picked that. Putting both on the same album just looks lazy.

The reasons I like Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari still apply, though there’s some bizarre Tsunku vocalizations that add absolutely nothing to this song and are just annoying. I do like that this version and future versions have the member sing their own introduction, which is a lot of fun. It feels more like the member is introducing themselves. But the weird vocalizations and this being on the album a second time makes it extraneous and lazy. 4/10

Overall: While there are fewer songs included just to pad the tracklist, Ai no Dai 6kan feels incidental, more than anything. There are some good singles (Roman ~My Dear Boy~ and Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari) and some decent songs (my favorite album track being Lemon Iro to Milk Tea with Dokusenyoku at a close second), but there aren’t many songs that are particularly great. Most aren’t bad, but Ai no Dai 6kan is just incidental, with some decent, but not great, songs to pad out the singles on the album. The most egregious addition is Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari 2, but there’s multiple songs that just got boring. The songwriting was uninteresting for most of the album songs, even the good ones. I don’t want to sound like i’m bashing Ai no Dai 6kan – the songs that are good are good, and most are pleasant to listen to. But it’s not the best entry in Morning Musume’s discography.

Review: Morning Musume – No.5

2017 marks an important anniversary – it is the 20th anniversary of the formation of Morning Musume. While the group has had many iterations, 13 generations of members, name changes and both waxing and waning popularity over the years, 20 years is a major achievement for a group. This is especially notable given Morning Musume’s recent resurgence in popularity – while Morning Musume has been around for almost 20 years, I can’t see it going away any time soon.

To commemorate this I’ve decided to review all of the main Morning Musume albums through 2017, First Time through 14 Shou ~The Message~ or any Morning Musume album that comes out this year. I won’t be covering the two best of albums nor the updated album. The main goal will be to see just how Morning Musume has evolved over these 20 years.


While 4th Ikimasshoi was historically my favorite Morning Musume album, I don’t really listen to No.5 all that much. I love the single songs on it a lot; Do It! Now and Koko ni Iruzee are both great. That said, the rest of the album songs aren’t anywhere near as well received as the ones on 4th Ikimasshoi nor are they performed all that much.The majority of these songs have been performed once or twice and have since fallen off the face of the earth. This doesn’t mean that much – there are plenty of early Hello!Project songs that haven’t been performed all that much that are fantastic. But of the post-Golden Era albums it feels like No.5 has had the least impact of any album. So is that deserved? I have to admit that I haven’t listened to most of these songs in a long while, so we’ll find out.

1. Intro

This is odd. This is a 9 second intro that’s basically a slightly different section from the chorus of Do It! Now. That’s it. I’m not sure why they didn’t just do an extended version of Do It! Now and start with that (though IMO another song on this album should be the first song). This doesn’t work at all, much less than the intro on 3rd Love Paradise, for example. The only thing I can think of with this is that they wanted to pad out the tracklist, because while there are new songs on this album it’s got a lot of existing stuff on it.

I just don’t think this should have been on this album at all. It serves no purpose.

2. Do It! Now

Do It! Now is great classic H!P song – it’s the type of song that just feels like the early 2000s era of Hello!Project in a way that’s hard to describe. It’s a mix of r&b and pop that has held up incredibly well. Do It! Now is notable in being Goto Maki’s last single, so she gets a fair amount of focus, but Do It! Now does well by all of the members – Goto Maki and Abe Natsumi get a lot of focus but so does then newbie Takahashi Ai, Konno Asami gets a suprising amount to do, and every member has a lot to do in the pseudo-rap break (I say pseudo in that most of the lines are actually sung, but it’s clearly supposed to be a rap break). It’s a song that works just as well for older members like Iida Kaori and Abe Natsumi as well as it works for the younger members like Konno Asami and Niigaki Risa, which is kind of incredible.

Do It! Now should be totally dated, in that it feels like it’s very much of its time, but it’s still a classic jam. Some things do feel dated, especially the Tsunku mandated sound effects (at least, I assume those are Tsunku-mandated). A couple of bits of this sound a little goofy. But at its core Do It! Now is a really solid classic pop song with R&B stylings, with a great melody. The chorus is the standout, but the verses work really well. The pacing of this song is great too.

Do It! Now isn’t a song I go back to as much as something like Souda! We’re Alive or Renai Revolution 21, but it’s still a very solid, very good offering from Morning Musume and a great song. 9/10

3. TOP!

TOP! should have been the first song of the album and it’s almost baffling it isn’t. It feels like they made the intro for Do It! Now, realized it would be weird if the next song wasn’t Do It! Now, but already had TOP! done so they just put it afterwards. The intro of this song, with the voice going through the names of all the members is a really great place to open an album, and I still think it should have opened it, followed up with Do It! Now, and scrap the intro.

TOP! has a lot of fun energy, and I like how much the members put into it. I love the feel of the song, and the lyrics focusing on aiming to be number one are a really good part. However, while I think the energy, members and lyrics work, the arrangement at points is a bit bland. It works about half of the time (the opening, some of the verses), but the chorus is kind of flat. Which is really bizarre, as the person who arranged this also arranged Say Yeah! Motto Miracle Night off of Morning Musume’s first best-of album as well as Country Musume’s Uwaki na Honey Pie and non-Hello!Project songs like Charisma.com’s Hate (which he fully wrote/arranged). He’s a quality arranger. So why does this feel a bit slapdash?

TOP is a fun song, don’t get me wrong, and I love a lot about it. The back and forth where each member sings “waratte” works so well, and the opening is fantastic. It’s a good song for the most part. It just could be so much better than it is, sadly. 7/10

4. Tomodachi ga Ki ni Itteru Otoko Kara no Dengon

This reminds me a bit of Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan, from 4th Ikimasshoi – at least it has the same, cute feeling and tone at a similar point in the album. Like Ii Koto this song has a really cute feel, but this time with an emphasis on electric guitar. The arrangement in general is pretty great for a song they could easily have played off as being the cute song, and I like the guitar solo.

While this isn’t quite on the level of Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan this is still a very fun, cute song. The chorus is particularly good but this has a pleasant melody, a good arrangement, and is a nice song. It’s not one I particularly need to listen to more than I do and it’s not one I feel the need to write a lot about but it’s solid, classic Morning Musume. 7/10

5. Koko ni Iruzee!

Koko ni Iruzee is a total gem and one of MM’s underrated tracks – I think people like it but it’s not quite as well liked as it should be. It’s a fun ska-inspired track with a great melody and some great performances. Each member has their own solo line or two and most of them tend to ham up their performances in a really fun way. The instrumentation is really great too, with some great horns and a solid bass line throughout. This song came at peak “Tsunku’s voice as part of the background and some of his vocalizations are extraneous, but that’s kind of a love it or hate it part of Hello!Project.

Above all Koko ni Iruzee is just fun – it’s a song that always energizes me and the “minna lonely boys and girls” section near the end, which comes out of nowhere, works so well and often gives me chills. I think the fact this isn’t a classic H!P song in the same way that Renai Revolution or Souda We’re Alive are is a testament to just how great Hello!Project was at this time – Koko ni Iruzee doesn’t quite live up to those heights but it’s a great pop song. 9/10

6. Suggoi Nakama

The fact that Suggoi Nakama isn’t performed more by Morning Musume or other Hello!Project groups is a total shame – it’s a very fun, almost goofy song about friendship that I feel like could be done well with the current group of H!P members. It’s even more peak “Tsunku has a separate rap section for each song and adds his own vocals” which I can’t quite decide if I like here. The rest of the song is fun enough, though, that if that’s not something you’re interested in the weird fun parts work. The arrangement was done by Dance Man, which makes the song work even more.

The biggest issue I have with Suggoi Nakama is just how repetitive it can be – the chorus is a single line that gets repeated several times. It’s not a particularly bad line nor does it get painfully repetitive, but there isn’t a lot there beyond it being fun and cheerful. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily – the line is super catchy. But it’s not particularly interesting, especially with multiple listens. That said, Suggoi Nakama is a lot of fun fluff that makes for a fun listen. 7/10

7. Tsuyoki de Yukouze!

Tsuyoki de Yukouze has gotten a lot of play and has been brought back for recent concerts in 2010 and 2016, which makes a lot of sense – Tsuyoki de Yukouze is a fun, short song with a fast, aggressive sound. It’s the type of song that seems like it would be a lot of fun at concerts – it’s fast and has a great energy to it. It’s a short song (it’s about 3 minutes long but has several seconds of lead up at the start) so it feels a bit ephemeral at times, but it’s a fun ride while it lasts. The arrangement is a great rock sound, but the real star of the song is the energy and the melody. More than anything else this feels like a song that would be great at a concert – it’s not a song I listen to much on my own but I can imagine this being a great song to jump around to. Tsuyoki de Yukouze is a ton of fun and I’d love to see it at more concerts. 8/10

8. Megami ~Mousse na Yasashisa~

Here we go, the first of the pocky tie-in songs. This was a song used in commercials for mousse pocky and I feel like that makes sense from first listen. Shorter versions were already put on the Petit Best end of year compilation so I’m not 100% why they needed to put this on No.5 and to be honest I don’t think it adds much of anything.

Megami ~Mousse na Yasashisa~ is a pretty dated ballad that sounds like it could have been dated back when this came out in 2002. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not holding up to me. The melody is solid and the performances (by mostly older members) and while the instrumental is cheesy as hell it’s not terrible. I’m not sure this really needed a longer version, above all – this is repetitive and not interesting enough to justify the full 4:00 minute song.

This song isn’t all that bad. It’s a pretty pleasant listen, especially if you’re nostalgic for this style of late 90s ballad. It’s just more than anything unnecessary – it’s a tie-in song that feels like it was added to pad out the runtime for this album. 6/10

9. Yes! Pocky Girls

Here’s the other pocky tie-in song, with all the members who weren’t present for Megami ~Mousse na Yasashisa. It also had a shorter version on the Petit Best album, and also doesn’t really justify its extended runtime. Yes! Pocky Girls is fun and definitely less dated of a song, but it’s mostly unremarkable. It’s cute and pleasant but outstays its welcome, and at some points the melody feels like it drags in a way it shouldn’t for a song like this. It doesn’t have the energy, drive or life to it to make this tie-in song work. It’s cute and not unpleasant but doesn’t justify its presence on this album at all. It’s a song that would work for a commercial but not for a song on an album. 5/10

10. HEY! Mirai

This is the first of two songs for the movie Koinu Dan no Monogatari which starred Morning Musume and the H!P Kids.Which also makes sense, because HEY! Mirai is a pretty standard, cute song but sounds like something that would make sense as a movie tie-in.

There’s not much to say about Hey Mirai, to be honest. It’s cute, it’s pleasant to listen to, and not poorly done at all, but it’s not particularly interesting. It’s a pleasant song for a kids’ movie, but it’s not fun enough to be a regular listen for when I want to listen to classic Hello!Project, nor is it interesting to merit any serious listens. It’s pretty paint by numbers classic H!P pop. I’m not going to skip this song if it pops up when I’m listening to Morning Musume music, but I’m also not going to seek Hey Mirai out. 6/10

11. Ganbacchae!

Ganbacchae is the other song from Koinu Dan no Monogatari, this time also featuring Goto Maki and the Hello!Project Kids. This is a lot more straight up cute but an also fairly straghtforward song about doing your best. That said, I like this a lot more than Hey Mirai, mostly because it has a great energy and a much more solid melody, which feels youthful and nostalgic in equal measure. It works well as a song that features both the older members of Morning Musume and the children in Hello!Project Kids.

The biggest issue in Ganbacchae is that the use of the kids can get a bit grating, especially when they are shouting seemingly random lines in the verses. It would have worked better if they’d done a few shouts throughout the song, sang the “ganbacchae” line with everyone and then sang near the end, if they’re not going to have them sing throughout the entire song.

Otherwise, Ganbacchae is a solid song and a fun one to listen to. 8/10

12.  Sugoku Suki na no ni …. ne”

Tsuyoki de Yukouze was a song sung by the younger half of Morning Musume, whereas this is a song sung by the older half. At the start of the song I always think this is going to be more of an 80s/90s callback than it is – it starts out with some synth sounds and heavy drums, but it ends up more of a standard H!P song. It’s not a bad one – i like that the older members are featured in this way. It’s just not one that stands out for me. Even though I have my problems with them, Tsuyoki de Yukouze, TOP, and the single songs are very memorable. Sugoku Suki na no ni … ne is just not memorable.

There are some interesting ideas – I like some of the background vocals and at one point the arrangement sounds like it’s supposed to be like a harpsichord. The members perform it well and I’m intrigued by the synth sound and the idea of a classic Hello!Project 80s throwback song. It’s just not at all memorable of a melody and a song in general. It’s a pretty solid song but just doesn’t stick with you. 7/10

13. Sotsugyou Ryokou ~Morning Musume Tabidatsu Hito ni Okuru Uta~

I find it interesting that they have a song that is explicitly for graduations in Sotsugyou Ryokou and they’ve only performed it once – this just hasn’t stuck like Never Forget or I Wish. The person this song refers to is Yasuda Kei, who graduated soon after this album came out. While I do love Kei I also find it interesting that she had two graduation songs (this and the Never Forget rock version), which is why I think this was intended to be used more but wasn’t.

I actually really like this as a graduation song – it starts off slow as ballad but then the tempo kicks up and is a remarkably positive song. I like how the song feels – it feels like the members will miss Kei but it’s also congratulatory, happy for the person making the choice to graduate. It has a pretty killer arrangement (strings, horns, some acoustic guitar at the start) and it works really well as a graduation song. It’s not quite as iconic as I Wish or Never Forget, but I kind of wish Hello!Project would bring this back for more graduations. I also like the song ending the album – it’s a good send off to Kei and to the album.

This song should be more highly regarded than it is – it’s a pretty great graduation jam. 8/10

Overall: There are plenty of great songs on No.5 – Do It! Now and Koko ni Iruzee are two of Morning Musume’s all time great singles, and I’m partial to quite a few of the other tracks. That said, this feels completely aimless as an album, with an intro added to pad out the tracklist, a song that should be the first song on the album (TOP!), and stuffed with tie-in songs for pocky and for a movie. It feels like they thought Morning Musume should have an album so filled it with these songs. There are no really classic songs beyond the two singles (and possibly Ganbacchae!) and for good reason – this album is fairly weak. Which is a shame, considering it came out while Morning Musume was doing really well and should have had an amazing album. I don’t actually dislike any of the songs here, but this doesn’t work as an album as a whole.

TIF 2017 Recommendations

The time is nearly here! Frankly, I initially thought Tokyo Idol Festival was the first weekend of September so I thought I’d have a bit more time to work on TIF posts. But, while I still have a ton of groups I’d love to profile and cover, here are some recommendations for the lucky people who are planning on going to TIF. Please note – I haven’t seen most of these groups perform live so I can’t really speak to the live experience, and the TIF experience may vary even further (as a festival). That said, these are some of my favorites that are going to Tokyo Idol Festival!

Idol Renaissance

I feel like Idol Renaissance goes under the radar for a lot of foreign fans but they are absolutely a group I need to follow more and you should too. While the vast majority of their music is covers (their first original song is coming out this year) they choose great songs and their performances are solid. Their album is now on American Spotify and I’ve been listening to it a lot lately – both YOU and Funny Bunny are two favorites of mine. They’re a remarkably solid group and one that deserves more attention.

Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari)

This is almost 100% a recommended group because their latest single, Upper Disco, is easily one of my favorite songs of 2017 and they are almost certainly going to perform it at TIF. But Up Up Girls is a solid group with members who have been at it for years and years and some really solid music in their discography. While they aren’t a group I follow all that much they are a group that reliably puts out some new great music every year and has solid performances. Up Up Girls (2) is also an option if you want newer members performing Up Up Girls songs (and probably smaller crowds).

AmiinA

This group is such an unexpected surprise of my TIF posts – their music is uniformly interesting, dreamy and unlike most other idol groups. I have been listening to their music since discovering them and have been really enjoying amiinA as an unusual group. I’d definitely check out their music before seeing amiinA because I feel like if you’re not into the music you may not be into them, but I think they have some really solid stuff.

S*Spicy

While S*Spicy doesn’t put out that much music and isn’t too active, they are a really fun group with a great vibe. The older sister unit with members in their mid-late 20s, S*Spicy is goofy and entertaining. I wish they were active and promoted more, but if the idea of an older group with a very Stardust sensibility then I’d recommend S*Spicy.

Osaka Shunkashuto

While some people would argue that Osaka Shunkashuto went downhill after they got bigger, I respectfully disagree. While songs like C’Mon and Chameleon Shoujo are the best the group has been, this year’s New Me is just fantastic and shows how great they’ve gotten. The main vocalist Maina is a powerhouse and the other members are great dancers/performers. If Osaka Shunkashuto isn’t on your radar it very much should be.

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru!!

This is another surprise. They have some excellent music they perform and are completely energetic. If you’re looking for an energetic fun group that might have a smlaler crowd then I’d give KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru!! a shot.

Kikkawa You

Kikka’s always had a solid solo career with some great music and great performances, but her latest work,specifically her music written by Oomori Seiko, has been fantastic. Yuu seems to be going more towards an indie sound and presentation, and if you know any of Oomori Seiko’s music you’ll know if you should be interested in Kikka. But I think she’s doing some great stuff and would love to see more from Kikka.

Keyakizaka46

Yeah this is going to be a tough act to actually go see if you’re at TIF. But Keyakizaka46 is easily my favorite 46/48 group right now and they’re backing it up with some great music – Silent Majority took the idol world by storm last year and their singles have all been great, with this year’s Fukyouwaon being pretty phenomenal. With their popularity actually getting to see Keyakizaka46 might be a tough ask, but if you’re thinking of seeing one of the 46/48 groups I’d go with Keyakizaka46.

Sasaki Ayaka

Yeah OK, this recommendation is painfully obvious. But Aarin is genuinely a wonderful person and performer AND is starting off her solo career this year with her first solo single. The entirety of her solo concert from last year is really great performances and I would expect nothing less from her TIF performance. Aarin has great stage presence and performing skills and should be really fun to see at TIF.

GEM

GEM is one of my favorite of the Avex idol groups – while opinions might vary on which Avex Idol Street group you like best, it’s pretty undeniable that they have strong performances and production value. GEM has a lot of personality and some great music – their single from 2017 “Sugar Baby,” which is almost certainly guaranteed to be performed at this year’s TIF, is addictive and wonderful.

Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku

While following Ebichu has been difficult for me in the wake of Matsuno Rina’s passing, they are undeniably a great group – they have some great performances and phenomenal music – their music is often not necessarily traditional idol music but well written and well produced. Ebichu should definitely be a group you follow at TIF and beyond.

Zettaichokkyuu Joshi Playballs

Yeah I had no idea I’d be interested in a baseball themed group but here we are. Playballs is a new interest of mine but they are incredibly fun, have some great music and seem like a fun group to see live. Their 2016 song Diving Catch has been one of my most listened to songs of this year, so I wouldn’t miss the chance to see them live at TIF.

Sora tob Sakana

Sora tob Sakana is one of the groups I’d like to follow most in the future – they have some really interesting music I’d compare to amiinA’s on this list, in a way – it’s very unusual music for idols and tends to have more of an indie rock / post-rock feel to it. The group often performs with a live band, which is something I love, so if you’re looking for a group with interesting music that doesn’t have an idolly feel I’d check out Sora tob Sakana.

Takoyaki Rainbow

Yes, another Stardust recommendation. Takoyaki Rainbow is one of the many Stardust promotion groups, but this time they’ve made their major debut with Avex which gives them some great production value. Quite a few of their songs have been written by Maeyamada Kenichi, my favorite songwriter, and they have a ton of energy in their live performances. Takoniji is a group that combines fun and great music so they are definitely a group that deserves attention.

Team Syachihoko

Another Stardust group, but of course I’m going to recommend Team Syachihoko. They have excellent music, members, and are incredibly fun to watch. They are an energetic group that puts on a really great show and my favorite idol group.

Chubbiness

Yes, Chubbiness is Avex’s chubby group. While I wish that more idol groups would have some body diversity, I know that’s not necessarily something that’s going to happen. That said, Chubbiness is a whole lot of fun. Their debut song Manmadeiya is really addicting and they have a lot of fun idol songs. I wish Avex would promote Chubbiness more because they’ve assembled a fun group of girls who are fun to follow.

Tsubaki Factory

If you told me this was the year I was going to become a Tsubaki Factory fan I would have probably laughed at you. However, after two stellar singles and a major debut I am hooked. Their singles this year have been really great, the members are all really fun, and this seems like a great group to follow. They’re still a relatively new group but that’s also fun too – it’s exciting to see where Tsubaki Factory goes. They are on a great path, though, and are making immense progress over a very short amount of time.

Tsuyogari Sensation

This group is almost 100% on this list because their 4th single, UG Stepper feat. MIZ, is one of my most listened songs of the year. But Tsuyogari Sensation seems like a great group with some great rock idol songs and some powerful vocals. UG Stepper is my favorite of their songs, but with a little publicity and some more polish Tsuyogari Sensation could go places.

Niji no Conquistador

Niji no Conquistador has become one of my favorite idol groups over the past couple of years. I think they hit a really great sweet spot where they have interesting songs, are a bit weird, have energetic performances and also do fun idol songs. Nijicon is a pretty indispensable group for me and one you should be following if you aren’t already – they are such a fun group that I know they’ll have a great showing at TIF.

Batten Showjotai

OK, yes, I am recommending yet another Stardust group, but Batten Showjo Tai fits in a niche I had no idea I was interested in – ska idol pop. Quite a bit of their music, including the wonderful Osshoi, is ska-inspired and it is just delightful. Aside from that they have the energetic performances and quality music Stardust has come to stand for. Batten Showjo Tai is still fairly new but have made a splash with their major debut singles and are very much worthwhile.

Band Ja Naimon!

In many ways Band Ja naimon is essentially another Dempagumi.inc but really more Dempagumi.inc isn’t a bad thing. Band Ja Naimon has some great music and great, energetic performers. I definitely prefer Dempagumi.inc but Band Ja Naimon has become a solid group in their own right, worthy of attention on their own. They’re a  group I want to follow more and one I’d recommend checking out.

Philosophy no Dance

I discovered Philosophy no Dance because someone sent me links on twitter saying they thought I’d like it. I don’t know if I just have super obvious taste but Philosophy no Dance is super fun – they have some great, funky retro music that is just a lot of fun to listen to – I’m After Time is really fantastic and definitely one of my favorite songs of 2016. They’re a group I pay more attention to the music to than anything else, but if you’re into music like Especia or any other group with retro sound I’d check out Philosophy no Dance.

RYUTist

RYUTist is a local Niigata based group which has some great music and even better performances. They’re really a music-focused group more than anything else. I was lucky enough to see them when they came to the US in 2014 and their performances blew me away. They are an incredibly sweet group and one I feel very lucky to have met and seen in person – I definitely recommend RYUTist.

Lyrical School

‘While I’ve always been more of a Rhymeberry fan when it comes to idol rap, Lyrical School is a great group (featuring a former member of Rhymeberry!) that’s more active and tends to be a bit more polished. They did a single with Idol Renaissance (a cover of Base Ball Bear’s The Cut) that is one of my favorite things from this year so far. Run and Run is also one of my favorite recent idol songs. Lyrical School is really good at what they do, which is idol rap, so if that’s something you’re interested in then you should follow Lyrical School.

Wa-suta

The World Standard is the platonic ideal of cutesy idol pop. Their music is upbeat, cheerful, but also often strange and bizarre. They really lean into the cutesy side of being idols. If you’re into that sort of thing, you will like Wasuta. Part of Avex’s Idol Street, they have well produced music and videos, and specialize in cute but strange things. They are a bit off the wall at times which is why they are a great group.

While this is a bit of an abridged list, these are the groups I would definitely try to make time to see if I was lucky enough to be going to TIF. Apologies if your favorite group isn’t on this list – there are plenty of groups I thought about putting on (LinQ, HR, i*Ris, etc) that I chose not to. There are a lot of other groups that I just don’t know about, so if you’re at TIF I urge you to explore the indie idols and groups that are present. If you’re into alt/anti-idols, I’d recommend checking out Gang Parade and BiSH, though Gang Parade and BiS have gotten kicked out of TIF before so these audiences can get a bit rowdy. There are a ton of great groups that I didn’t mention, so let me know if there’s a group I have to know about that’s going to TIF (or one I should cover on my blog sometime).

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 10

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru!!

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru is a five member unit based in Harajuku. Their aim is to be both cute and energetic, and just by looking at this image I say they’re on the right track.Formed in 2016, KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte Kuru has several original songs but no singles as of yet, so hopefully they’ll put something out soon. Their songs have some notable songwriters, the most exciting to me being KOJI oba who cowrote Momoiro Clover’s Hashire and has written or arranged for Hangry & Angry, Hello!Project, Band Ja Naimon! and others. So while they’re very indies they have some good songwriters working with them.

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte Kuru seems just really fun. They have the Dempagumi.inc / The World Standard style of being just completely off the wall in terms of style and energy. Their music is fun and their performances are really exciting. I really hope that KAMO ga Negi goes places because I’d love to see what they could do. They are a really fun group with a surprisingly high level of music and performance, given how new and how indie they are. I definitely recommend checking them out if you like Dempagumi.inc, The World Standard, Band Ja Naimon or any other groups in that vein.

Kikkawa You

Kikkawa Yuu (often styled as Kikkawa You) is a former Hello!Project trainee for several years after being a Morning Musume audition finalist. She performed as a part of Milky Way, the group for the Kirarin Revolution anime and was generally a fan favorite as a trainee. In 2010 she left Hello!Project and became a solo artist in 2011. Since then she’s been relatively active, putting out 3 studio albums, one cover album, one best of album and 11 singles over the years.

While Kikka started off doing pretty standard idol fare (the excellent Konna Watashi de Yokattara being one of my favorite idol songs), she’s since moved on to doing more indie, experimental music. Hana, her single from 2015, is a whopping 17 minutes and 25 seconds, aiming to be the longest idol song ever written. Her two singles released since then, Ha wo Kuishibare and Sayonara Standard, were both written by singer songwriter Oomori Seiko, who has a definite style to her music. While her sales haven’t been astronomical (which is a shame), Kikka has a style all her own and it’s been really fun to see – I hope she continues the path she’s on because Kikkawa You is doing some really great stuff you should be paying attention to.

Kimi iro Project

Kimiiro Project is brand new – they made their debut on March 25 of 2017 so they’ve been around for just about four months. They’re so new they were just added to the TIF site and don’t have any real info about them. They’re doing their first solo live in August so things are moving pretty fast for Kimiiro Project- they’re also doing the idol festival circuit and won a space to perform at TIF.

They have a YouTube page but there’s mostly only videos of introductions / solo videos of all the members. So if you like Kimiiro Project you should be able to learn about the individual members. Watching some of their live videos, they still feel really green and inexperienced. Which, to be fair, is expected after a group’s been around for only four months. All the members seem eager and energetic, which is fun to watch, but the vocals are pretty poor and the music is generic. It would be interesting to see a group like this after some training and some higher production values because I do like just how energetic they all seem – they’re just not there yet as performers.

GANG PARADE

Gang Parade is a part of the big surge of anti-idol / alt-idol groups that have popped up in the wake of groups like BIS and BISH. Co-founded by one of the former BiS members Kamiya Saki (who’s interestingly enough temporarily back with BiS until September), Gang Parade is a group with many names – first they were Pla2me then PoP and now Gang Parade. It’s interesting to see them back at TIF – back in 2015 when they were still PoP they got kicked out of TIF for their lives getting too rowdy.

I feel like at this point you know if you’re into the whole anti-idol / alternative idol scene or if you’re not – either it does something for you or it doesn’t. I kind of lie in the middle – I admire a lot of these groups for breaking the idol mold and want more groups to try this but the sound and the aesthetic of these groups is so far from what interests me. That said, Gang Parade might be the group that breaks through if you’re interested in this scene but are like me and don’t really gel with groups like BiS or BISH – a lot of their music seems straight up accessible. FOUL, a recent single, is very listenable, but Beyond the Mountain, their latest single, is genuinely fantastic and could very well end up one of my favorites of the year. If you’ve been thinking of getting into one of these groups but can’t get into something like BiS maybe give Gang Parade a shot.

Candy Zoo

Boy oh boy I feel like it’d be hard to find a group that contrasted with Gang Parade more than Candy Zoo. Candy Zoo made their debut in 2013 and their name is to represent that they want their personality to be like candy but also want to be watched like a zoo – while i don’t know if a zoo is what I want to compare idols to, it’s a cute name. They also used to wear animal prints but I’m not sure if that’s obsolete now.

I honestly  wasn’t expecting much from a group like Candy Zoo based off of their name and image but I was pleasantly surprised – the song and video for their song Kesshou is surprisingly great. While the other songs I have heard from them aren’t quite as good as this latest single their other songs are solid and seem well-produced. The group overall seems fun and while I don’t think they’ll wow everyone I think if you like cute groups you might be pleasantly surprised by Candy Zoo.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 9

Shoujo Koukyoukyoku – Girls Symphony

Girls’ Symphony (as I am going to call them because the Japanese part of their name literally means Girls’ Symphony) is a unit that was formed in 2015 but debuted in early 2016. Their aim is to have seven members who are all active doing their own thing (gravure, modelling, etc) but then come together to be in Girls Symphony. They put out their first and only single last year, Mahou wo Kakeru yo. Please note: There is a pretty popular Wake Up! Girls song that has the same name as this group, so if you search for this group make sure you aren’t actually checking out Wake Up! Girls.

Girls’ Symphony doesn’t have a ton of stuff out yet, besides some concert videos, so they’re very new. However, Mahou wo Kakeru yo is a good song and they cover some decent idol songs when they perform, such as NMB48’s Hoshizora no Caravan (one of my favorites). They have a really great classic idol appeal that might be a big appeal to some. If you’re looking for an idol group with a classic appeal / aesthetic I’d go with Idol Renaissance, but if you would prefer a group that does more idol songs then you might want to check out Girls Symphony.

KATA☆CHU

KATA☆CHU is a unit that was formed in 2016 with the theme of unrequited love, since the Kata in their name is kataomoi. So this unit’s goal is to support people who long for something or who have unrequited love. Since a lot of people go to idol music for comfort this is a very cute idea. KATA CHU also prides itself on having unique music that would be interesting to fans.

That said, they don’t have very unique music, at least not from the songs I’ve listened to on YouTube. They have some decent songs but they’re pretty standard idol pop in construction and performance. If you like standard idol pop KATA CHU is a fun group still firmly in the indie idol phase, but that’s where they are – pretty normal.

Kapushikigaisha Hyper Motivation

This is an office / company themed group formed in 2016 where the members aim to be cheerful, energetic and have high motivation. Each member has a “title” like if they were in a company, such as being the public relations department, human resources department, etc. and in general aims at office workers. This is a really cute gimmick,and I do wish that more idol groups would have themes like this, mostly as an office worker myself. Unfortunately, Hyper Motivation hasn’t put out any singles yet, but do have some videos on YouTube.

While I like the concept I’m not just seeing it from Hyper Motivation – their energy level doesn’t seem to be that high in performances and while some of their music is solid it doesn’t seem to fit this theme. With more time and effort I could see Hyper Motivation become the group they say they are, and I do think there’s some potential here – none of the members are bad at what they’re doing. But for a group that prizes energy and motivation I’m not getting it from Hyper Motivation.

Kamiyado

This is a five member unit based in Harajuku – their name has a few different meanings but KMYD, part of Kamiyado also stands for Kawaii Max Yell Dream, which is super generic idol phrasing but I kind of love it. They were formed in 2014 and have released 10 singles and one album since then, so they are a pretty active. That said, their first 8 singles all were limited to 500 copies so they’ve been very indie, though their most recent two singles are available for purchase online and are on a different label.

I like Kamiyado – they are still very indies but they seem to be aiming to be an indie group in the vein of MomoClo or Dempagumi.inc. Their music isn’t at all polished but it’s fun and has promise. Despite the lack of polish the music and performances are really fun and I can see big things for Kamiyado if they keep this up. I’m going to try and follow them more in the future and you should check them out.

Kamen Rider Girls

Kamen Rider Girls is the official girl group for the Kamen Rider tokusatsu series. Formed for Kamen Rider’s 40th anniversary in 2011, they perform theme songs for Kamen Rider series and things. Each member used to represent a protagonist from a Kamen Rider series, though for the past couple of years they’ve no longer done that. They’ve released several singles and are putting out a new album in August.

I feel like this group really most likely depends on if you are a fan of tokusatsu / a fan of Kamen Rider. As someone who hasn’t watched that series I’m not sure if Kamen Rider Girls are for me, really, especially since so much of their activity centers around Kamen Rider. Their production is solid and professional – since they’re partially produced by Avex that is to be expected. They do have some songs that aren’t used for Kamen Rider, so there is a possibility you might like them if you aren’t an existing Kamen Rider fan. but I’d mainly recommend them to people who like Kamen Rider already.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 8

elfloat

elfloat is a 3 member unit formed in 2014 by Blue Forest, a music video company. Their theme is fairies and they generally have that sort of elfin, fairy theme to their look and their presentation. Their first single “Tokioki Mermaid” was released this year and sold over 20,000 copies, but they’ve had some original songs for years as well as music videos, so they have other stuff to check out. They also recently did a solo show at Zepp Tokyo so elfloat is a group on the rise.

That said, even after watching several videos I don’t know if I really get it. They seem like a decent group, but I think the biggest disconnect is their stated theme and their actual impact. Musically they seem like they should be doing Armor Girls music – Irish inspired pop, while they have some decent rock music in their repertoire. Their videos are fun (Like a Tinker Bell is kind of goofy and pleasant) but don’t really fit either. Musically I like some songs but after listening to several none really stick with me. The group seems fun but not one that’s particularly memorable.

Elfoat is definitely a group to check out if you like rock-inspired idol pop but they don’t do much for me.

Electric Ribbon

Electric Ribbon was formed in 2007 though they’ve had several member changes since then, so this year marks Electric Ribbon’s 10th anniversary. They recently added several new members so that this group now has six members, and they recently released their first single with this lineup, “Twinkle in you,” though since this group has such a history they’ve put out several singles before that. Their goal is to have a girly, electric sound, so both electronic and cute/idol.

Personally, Electric Ribbon doesn’t particularly excite me all that much, but they do have some solid music – Twinkle in You is good, Eyeline is good. They have some solid upbeat pop music with an electronic flair, to the point where I don’t know why I don’t listen to Electric Ribbon more. They’re a very indie group but since they’ve been around for 10 years at this point I’m not seeing anything to indicate that they’ll be stopping anytime soon.

Okai Chisato

After doing my C-ute review post this is a familiar face! Okai Chisato was one of the members of the Hello!Project group C-ute which just disbanded earlier this year. Chisato over the years got more and more vocal parts and focus to the point where she was a main vocalist in many C-ute songs. While I’m not a huge fan of Chisato’s voice, she gained a big reputation for her vocals.

Chisato also has a flair for variety appearances which seemed to be where she was headed post C-ute. That said, appearing at TIF might mean more of a vocal career in her future? Time will tell. But if you were a fan of C-ute, you know who Chisato is.

Otome Brave

Otome Brave has perhaps my favorite idol group concept / gimmick ever – they’re RPG idols, where each concert they gain experience and level up. I wish that whole concept would shine more in their music and performances (at least the ones that I’m watching on YouTube), but it’s a really cool idea that feels pretty true to form in that performing more does mean they’d gain more experience.

Otome Brave has so far released one mini album back in April 2016 so they aren’t a terribly active group in terms of putting out new music. However, what music they do have is pretty solid – nothing extraordinary but Mikansei Braver is very fun and Yakusoudokukekishou, their main track of the mini album, is very catchy. There’s not a huge amount about Otome Brave out there, so it’s hard to follow them internationally, but they seem like a really fun group with a fantastic concept I’d love to see more from.

On and Go!

Formed in 2016, On and Go is a group based in Osaka formed of four members who went to the same high school. On and Go is one of the biggest groups I’ve wanted to follow more after last year’s TIF because the clips I saw of them were really fun, however there’s not a whole lot about On and Go online.

Earlier this year they released a self titled mini album as their first music release, with two different versions (with all different songs) so they have put out music. Unfortunately, even though the group is a lot of fun they just don’t have much out there for foreign fans or fans not based in Osaka – they currently have two concert videos on the YouTube channel of their agency so you can see why I like them a lot and like their music a lot, but that’s about it. Which is unfortunate because On and Go seems like a lot of fun.

If you are OK with investigating a group and not finding a lot I recommend on and Go, but be prepared to be annoyed with how little you find for them.