First off, I have to say I’m kind of thrilled I’ve kept this whole daily blogging thing up for 30 days – usually when I set out to do some blogging projects I forget or get distracted by other things, so it’s nice that I’ve actually stuck with this.
Osaka Shunkashuto recently put out the PV for New Me, their newest single. This song is really great and is potentially one I’ll feature in the future. However, Chameleon Shoujo is still my favorite Osaka Shunkashuto track. It works on many levels – the song has a catchy melody, which certainly helps. It also has a great beat, a rock sound, and incorporates some electronic music without that sound being overbearing with the rock sound. However, what really sets Osaka Shunkashuto apart (especially now that they aren’t produced by one guy, Soezimax, which is what made it unique in the past) is the lead vocalist’s vocals. Maina, the lead vocalist, has a real power to her voice and vocal skills that are rare from idol groups. Her voice isn’t just good, which it is, but it’s pure power. She’s able to belt, hit high notes, and pull off songs that other vocalists wouldn’t dream of – I don’t think I can imagine many other idol vocalists being able to pull off the songs that Osaka Shunkashuto does. While I love a lot of idol groups, the sad truth is that a lot of groups have replaceable members or could be performed by just about anyone. Osaka Shunkashuto can only be pulled off by Maina.
Perhaps it’s early to start thinking of my Top 25 list for 2017, but if this wasn’t a cover this would 100% be on that list. As it stands it’s most likely going to be a honorable mention. The Cut is easily one of my favorite recent idol songs and I’ve been listening to it pretty frequently for the past few weeks.
A cover of the Base Ball Bear original (featuring the hip hop group Rhymester), this is a collaboration between the hip hop unit Lyrical School and the group Idol Renaissance, that performs covers and generally has a classic idol feel to them. It’s not a collaboration that I would have expected but it works incredibly well – the sung vocals are lovely, and Lyrical School is on point. All the MCs in Lyrical School have fantastic flow and totally elevate the material.
I didn’t listen to the Base Ball Bear original until today, and while it’s different and great, I think I have to prefer the Lyricalnaissance cover – this cover has a darker feel to it, a darker beat to it. It’s kind of interesting, I don’t know if I’d expect the idol cover of anything to have a darker feel, but the background instrumentation has a dark, minor beat behind most of the song that works well.
The Cut is absolutely fantastic and it’s great to hear more interesting music coming from interesting groups. I hope Lyricalnaissance will keep up this collaboration in the future, because The Cut is fantastic.
I think this will be my last Valentine’s Day track of the year, and it’s a bit of an unconventional one.
While the other songs I’ve profiled this week have been cute and sweet, gentle, and romantic in one way or another. Senjou no St. Valentine is rough, has a dark feel to it, it’s more rock-inspired with electric guitar being the the base of the background instrumentation. It’s not a traditional Valentine’s song, which is part of what I find fascinating about it.
If you asked me to recommend an up and coming group you should be following, I’d potentially say Niji no Conquistador, and it’s this kind of disconnect that makes me like them so much. It’s a Valentine’s Day song, but it’s not in any way sweet or romantic. Instead of lyrics focused on a romantic love, it references battles, rivals, and is much more of a less romantic view of love and relationships than something like Valentine Kiss.
All the members of Niji no Conquistador are excellent and pull off this theme well, and the entire song has a great melody and is produced well. But more than anything this is such an unexpected, unusual look at Valentine’s Day that I can’t help but love it.
Every few months I do nothing but listen to Matsuura Aya’s music for a few days – even though it’s been years since she’s put out any music, she’s still one of my favorite performers. Her music was consistently great and Aya is incredibly talented.
Chocolate Damashii was the last major single Matsuura Aya released and it’s a bit of a weird one. At the tail end of Aya’s career she was performing a lot of ballads, a lot of jazzy music, things that would show off her vocal prowess more than her earlier pop hits. So a cheerful, fast, almost classic pop song like Chocolate Damashii feels like a departure from Aya’s singles around that time like Egao or Kizuna.
That’s not to say Aya doesn’t sound great in Chocolate Damashii – far from it. In this song she sounds almost effortlessly good. It’s not a song where she shows off, but instead one where she just sounds great. The song is also a nice, easy to listen to mid-tempo song. It’s not quite as fun and poppy as Aya’s early work, it’s not quite as interesting as her later albums, but it’s somewhere in between – mature but sweet. I think because of that the title of the song works really well, and it works well for its intended purpose – a Valentine’s Day gift to Aya’s fans.
OK, if you know Japanese music you had to know what was coming. Valentine Kiss is the most popular Valentine’s Day song in Japan, one that has been covered many times, and is just a classic. While I tend to listen to the Watarirouka Hashiritai 7 cover more than anything else (it modernized the song well and the new arrangement is a little more upbeat), the classic version is what I’m recommending today.
It’s hard to judge something that’s become a major classic, but Valentine Kiss has an addictive melody and lyrics – even though my Japanese skills are pretty mediocre, this is a song I know by heart. Also, given the success of covers like Watarirouka Hashiritai 7 and its continued popularity, Valentine Kiss holds up.
It’s the week of Valentine’s Day, so this week is all about Valentine’s songs or songs that are generally about love. While GEM’s most recent single Sugar Baby isn’t explicitly about Valentine’s Day (at least they don’t mention it in the song), it’s pretty undeniably Valentine’s day themed – the title and repeated phrase in the chorus about sugar, the whole theme of love, and the fact it’s being released as close to Valentine’s Day as possible (February 15).
Sugar Baby’s PV was released right on December 31 last year, and ever since I’ve been listening to it very regularly. It’s upbeat and peppy, and the title fully explains just how cutesy it all is. It’s the epitome of bubblegum pop. And yet, it is one of the catchiest songs of the year so far, and I’ve been listening to it almost nonstop since its release. If you like peppy, upbeat pop and are in a happy Valentine’s mood, Sugar Baby by GEM is definitely a good option.
Yesterday a friend of mine posted an older Fairies video on Twitter which just made me revisit Beat Generation, my favorite Fairies track. Beat Generation is a pretty perfect idol song – it has a cool image and a great beat, but it’s supported by lots of energy. Even though Fairies tends to be a group that performs more Western-inspired cool songs (i.e. Bling Bling My Love) they’re still full of enough energy that make me enjoy them.
Beat Generation also does something interesting where I feel like the dance and the song are almost completely connected – I can’t listen to the song without thinking of the choreography. I don’t mention choreography on this blog much because I feel completely unprepared to write about it, but Beat Generation’s one of my favorite dances – it works so perfectly with both the melody and the beat.
Beat Generation is fun and a favorite, so I’m glad I got to revisit it!
Lately I’ve been getting Facebook memories popping up about my study abroad trip to London five years ago. While the fact that this was five years ago is kind of a trip, I’ve just started getting memories finding out that Aso Natsuko was coming to London. Aso Natsuko was a soloist under Stardust entertainment who performed a lot of songs I loved, and ended up being my first idol show. Because of this, Natsuko has a special place in my heart, a special place that is only more special because her music is just great. After the first Natsuko concert at Hyper Japan 2012 (the convention where she performed) I bought a copy of her second album, Precious Tone, which became my London soundtrack.
While the entire album is pretty fantastic (I also recommend the titular Precious Tone as well as More More Lovers), Renai Koujou Committee is very accessible and a fun pop track. Natsuko’s vocals sound great, the arrangement is solid, and there’s a very catchy melody. It’s a pretty classic-sounding idol song, but one that’s done very very well. Renai Koujou Committee, perhaps more than any other song, reminds me of London and for that occupies a very special place in my heart.
This morning I was very excited to see a video of the current lineup of Country Girls with their supervisor, former Country Musume member Satoda Mai. This got me thinking about how one of the biggest mistakes in Hello!Project history was getting rid of the Elder Club, the lineup of graduated members. One of Hello!Project’s biggest strengths is its 20 year history, and one of the most fun parts of Hello!Project were when they had a wide range of ages and experiences.
While Satoda Mai makes me think of Country Musume, all of this just made me think of Ongaku Gatas, which is one of the more underutilized and underrated groups in Hello!Project history. Made up of four veteran members and several newbies (with the theme being they were all on the company futsal team), they had a surprisingly solid discography of music. Ongaku Gatas’ first and only album, 1st Goodsal, is an incredibly solid collection of pop songs and songs that sound purely original. One of the most fun tracks off that album is Ongaku Gatas’ first single, Narihajimeta Koi no Bell.
This is one of the tracks I was thinking of when I named my blog Happy Disco – it’s got a great disco feel to it throughout. It also has the happy sound to it – the song is upbeat and just pure fun. I don’t know if I can even be objective and review this, because this is just too much fun. While I wish that Hello!Project would spring and record using real strings and real instruments once in a while, the arrangement is good, the melody is infectious, and this song is one of my all time favorites.
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.
Released in July 1998, First Time is about as far from the current Morning Musume as you can get. With an emphasis on real instruments and heavy uses of harmonies, First Time sounds much more like an album of a band or an artist rather than an idol group.
1. Good Morning
I don’t understand why this song isn’t performed more as an anthem for Morning Musume, it feels energetic and still pretty fresh today – a pretty amazing feat, considering that this is not quite 19 years old. I think a lot of that has to do with the pace of the song – it’s not hyperactive like some of Morning Musume’s later songs but not a ballad. I think it also has a great arrangement – not much about it feels cheesy or outdated (there’s occasionally a few audio effects that are very 90s, but that’s about it). The acoustic piano sounds wonderful and does a great job in setting the tone. While there are some good harmonies here, they’re more subtle than some of the songs later in the album. Good Morning is a great start to the album – upbeat and cheerful while also having a great arrangement and a classic sound. 8/10
2. Summer Night Town
Summer Night Town is Morning Musume’s second debut single, and an interesting one in that the harmony and melody seem almost completely connected. The harmony is needed to make the melody sound even remotely interesting in some places – for example, the line that ends the chorus is “daikirai daikirai daikirai daisuki.” However, the interest is in the harmony (that goes higher with every repeat) whereas the melody stays on the bottom line, repeating the same three notes for each word. Just the melody line alone is pretty uninteresting, but the harmonies add a lot of interest.
The other thing I find interesting about Summer Night Town (and other songs on this album) are just how much they’re geared towards being performed by a group. Attempting to sing this solo doesn’t sound anywhere near as compelling. The harmonies are too significant, there’s a back and forth during the verses. It’s a group song through and through.
That all being said, Summer Night Town is still a great song. It’s a bit dated – it feels straight out of its era. That’s not a bad thing, though, and stands up as being a great song from 90s idol music. I love the harmonies throughout and how much they matter – all of that is a good thing. The members all do a great job vocally, too – it’s a shame that Fukuda Asuka left the group so early because she’s very talented. Abe Natsumi makes total sense as the front member of the group, and I’m very partial to Ishiguro Aya’s voice and she does very well with what she’s given here. The entire group sounds great, and share a strong level of vocal talent. It’s mostly the arrangement that sounds a little dated, but it works and I especially like how much percussion there is at times.
Summer Night Town is a song that would only really work with this group of members at this point in time, and it’s a great song. 9/10.
3. Dou ni ka Shite Douyoubi
I absolutely don’t know why I don’t listen to this song more because, if you know me, this song is way up my alley. It’s a upbeat disco track in the vein of Dschinghis Khan and is so retro in its stylings. The intro horns are probably my favorite part of the song, but the rest of the arrangement is great, including the strong bass line, the strings and the clapping. The strong brass sound works the best.
The only thing I can say negatively about this song is that it’s a little repetitive and pretty simple in structure – the verses are the same melody repeated twice, so there’s basically two repeats per verse, then the chorus, and then there’s an instrumental bridge. It’s comparatively fairly simple. However, the pieces that are there are so compelling that this doesn’t matter much. Dou ni ka Shite Douyoubi is a great song, and if you like the recent disco revival in idol music you should like this. 9/10
4. Morning Coffee
Much like what I mentioned with my writing about Summer Night Town, Morning Coffee is very much a song that can only be done with a group – it’s full of harmonies and overlapping vocals. While I’d say that Morning Coffee could be done solo more easily than Summer Night Town it would lose much of the flavor,
However, Morning Coffee is a much more easygoing song, much more in the vein of Good Morning but even then more mellow. While it might be easy to say this since it’s Morning Musume’s first major debut single, Morning Coffee has a really classic feel to it. While it has an old-fashioned sound, it doesn’t feel overly 90s or tied to its time period. I wasn’t listening to Morning Musume when Morning Coffee came out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was seen as being a bit old school when it came out.
That said, I really like it – it’s a song I’ve listened to a thousand times since getting into idol music. I love how acoustic the instrumentation is, how mellow it is. It’s perhaps not as exciting or ambitious as Summer Night Town, but it’s a very solid first single and it works. 8/10
5. Yume no Naka
Speaking of feeling dated, this is pretty retro sounding – like more of a 70s/80s classic idol ballad. This is the type of song that gets more interesting the more you pay attention to it. While it’s not necessarily my type of song, there are so many layers to the sound which make it a really rich sound. The back and forth harmonization of the vocals works really well, and so the vocal line is just lovely.
The instrumentation is beautiful as well – the strings sound old fashioned and romantic, the horns work really well too. Everything meshes well together – there’s never a part where the instrumentation sounds empty, nor does it ever sound too busy. There are a lot of things at play but it never feels overdone. It all works really well.
I’m not a big ballad person so Yume no Naka isn’t really a song that I’d gravitate to normally. But all the elements of this song work really well and the product is just lovely. 9/10
6. Ai no Tane
Ai no Tane is Morning Musume’s only indie single, the single they had to sell 50,000 copies of in five days before being a group. It’s bright, upbeat and a very peppy song – not a bad song to start a group out with. I find it kind of interesting, though – most of the songs on First Time so far have had a lot of focus on singing as a group and harmonies, whereas Ai no Tane is almost more similar to current Morning Musume songs – the verses are mostly solo lines and the chorus is mostly sung in unison.
Ai no Tane isn’t a bad song, far from it. It’s a really solid pop song with a great melody, solid production. However it’s a lot less ambitious than the other songs on this album. It’s a very good song, but not particularly interesting. 7/10
The two things that stick out to me about Wagamama more than anything else are how mature the vocals are and how much this sounds like an indie pop song rather than a major pop group. The vocals in this sound great, deeper than what I’m used to with Morning Musume. The instrumentation is very drum and electric heavy, which contributes to it sounding very indie rock. In fact, some of the electric guitar really reminds me of Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space album, which is a good thing for me.
Wagamama is more laid-back than a lot of the songs on this album and it’s not immediately my favorite. However, I love the guitar and vocals and the song works well. It’s not a song I come back to very often, but when I do I always enjoy it. 7/10
8. Mirai no Tobira
This is probably the album song off of First Time I listen to the most, and for good reason – it’s just a great song. It’s also one of the most upbeat, fun songs off the album – this is probably the closest to current Morning Musume we get on this album.
One thing I really love about Mirai no Tobira is the contrast between the verses and the chorus. The entire song is upbeat, but the verse has a laid back feel that transitions to a very different chorus perfectly. The lyrics are also performed in a silly, kind of laid back way – this isn’t beautiful in the way that Yume no Naka is beautiful, but this is fun and silly.
While this doesn’t have the elements that I’ve been praising First Time for as a whole (harmonies, lush instrumentation) it’s still probably my favorite track off this album. It’s just pure fun, happy disco music and I love that. 9/10
9. Usotsuki Anta
Now it’s back to more of the standard upbeat, heavy harmony songs, but I love this one too. The electric guitar in the instrumentation works really well, and the harmonies work really well. The phrasing of the solo lines is also pretty great – the melody and lyrics work well together in a way that is not something I hear a lot in idol music.
Really, Usotsuki Anta is in many ways more of the same with this album. That being said, it is its own song, and there’s nothing wrong with having more of the same when the same is this good. Usotsuki Anta is great. 8/10
10. Samishii Hi
I haven’t focused a whole lot on the composition of the album so far, but Samishii Hi seems like a bit of an odd choice for the last song on the album. Samishii Hi is one of the slowest songs on the album, a ballad with the backing being primarily an acoustic piano. Ballads can work as the last song on an album – Momoiro Clover Z’s album 5th Dimension ends with the fabulous Hai to Diamond and that’s a pretty perfect ending. That said, Samishii Hi is a weird place to leave off on. This is a song I’d most likely put in the middle of the album, after something particularly upbeat (Mirai no Tobira?) and end the album with something more upbeat and on a happier note (Ai no Tane maybe?).
Samishii Hi is a pretty good song – it’s a pretty standard ballad with a pretty melody, the acoustic piano works well, and I like the background vocals a lot. There’s a lot to like about Samishii Hi, and I think having a song this slow works well. However, I think this is a really odd place to leave the album, especially when it doesn’t feel representative of the album of a whole. 7/10
Overall: My scoring of songs is pretty arbitrary and mostly serves to be a guidepost to show how much I prefer certain songs to others. However, the ratings are all pretty high here because First Time is a flat out great album. All of the songs are well-written and well-arranged, using lots of varied, real instruments. Everything about this album works pretty well. Not all the songs are perfect, and I’d rearrange the album some if I was given a say. But the emphasis on harmonies, quality vocals, and quality arrangements makes First Time a treat. It’s wildly different from the Morning Musume of today, but that’s part of what makes First Time so fun. It’s the type of album I’d share with non-idol fans, I think it’s that well made and produced. I only wish Morning Musume of today could pull of this kind of music! 9/10