Review: Dempagumi.inc – Sakura Appareshon + Fancy Hoppe U Fu Fu

Hey guys! Happy Monday! Sorry I took an unscheduled week off. Partly, I desperately needed to get some sleep (work has been a doozy for a few weeks), and partly because I spent the last week perfecting my book proposal for the 33 1/3 series (333sound.com).

Dempagumi.inc is at this point the most consistently excellent idol group, in terms of both music and PVs. They might not be my overall favorite group, but I’ve gotten to expecting a certain level of quality from Dempagumi.inc. So here’s my review of their latest!

Sakura Appareshon

Song:

I feel like there are two types of Dempagumi.inc songs. The songs I love immediately on first listen (i.e. W.W.D) and the songs I love more after taking some time to listen (i.e. Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo). Sakura Appareshon is part of the second category. The first listen I didn’t know quite what to make of it, but after a few listens (mainly facilitated by how much I adore this PV!) I think I got a hang of this song.

The thing is, it’s not the sweeping orchestral epic of W.W.D II. But it’s not trying to be. It’s also not one of Dempagumi.inc’s quieter, sweet songs like Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo. But again, it’s not trying to be that. It’s one of the more middle of the road songs like Den Den Passion and Demparade Japan. It’s the type of song that is really excellent, and deserves a lot of praise, but ultimately doesn’t quite get up there in terms of top 10 lists. Which is kind of a shame.

Sakura Appareshon adds a level of traditional themes to the normal level of Dempagumi eccentricity. In fact, there is one section that is very reminiscent of matsuri songs; or at least the poppy version that I know from idol music. My favorite thing about Dempagumi.inc trying new things is that there is a very distinct sense of self in Dempagumi.inc’s music.

My first thought with both the song and the PV is that this is what I wish Momoiro Clover was doing now. Remember when Momoiro Clover was originally a group intended to have a traditional influence? They wore modified yukata for their first three PVs? When I first became a MomoClo fan, I was really excited for a group that would blend some of that traditional Japanese image with idol pop. Ultimately they went for something different, but Sakura Appareshon fulfills that desire I had.

Like I said, this doesn’t fit the dramatic highs of W.W.D, but this is still a memorable, fun Dempagumi.inc song that is more than worthy of an idol group of this caliber. 8/10

PV: I love this PV. Let’s get this out there right off the bat.

I have a particular fondness for PVs that have long takes. Limitations encourage creativity, and limiting cuts and visual effects does that. While Sakura Appareshon isn’t as extreme of an example as Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku’s Te wo Tsunagou, it still has a fair amount of practical effects and most of the PV is comprised of long takes.

Even if this isn’t the completely long take PV of Te wo Tsunagou or AKB48’s Dakishimecha Ikenai, this still really exemplifies why I have a fondness for this type of PV: it’s because it shows off idols almost better than any PV.

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The reason being is that, more than almost any other music genre, idols are dependent on personality. Sure, some idols survive on being strong singers or dancers, but personality is key to most idols’ successes. I’d say that having a strong personality to an idol group is one of the most important facets of a group’s success.

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PVs like Sakura Appareshon, that take place in one setting and are generally without many special effects, are dependent on the creativity of the team behind the group as well as the girls themselves. In the hands of another group Sakura Appareshon would be boring and uninteresting. It’s the girls of dempagumi.inc (and the creative team!) who make Sakura Appareshon fun to watch and rewatch. Dempagumi.inc is a personality driven group (in addition to their really high production values and fantastic music/PVs) and this type of thing suits them.

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That isn’t to say this couldn’t be improved; some of the stop motion speeding things up was unnecessarily added to make the PV more fast paced, I assume, but it made a friend of mine’s eyes hurt, which is a shame. It wasn’t a very necessary addition, either. I also think that the close-ups, while handled well, weren’t particularly necessary, and were in there a few too many times.

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Ultimately these aren’t huge complaints, and Sakura Appareshon is one of the most successful PVs of the year so far. 9/10

Fancy Hoppe U Fu Fu

Song: You know the song is a CM tie-in for candy because the word “flavor” is heavily included!

This song is pretty retro sounding, in JPop terms. I want this to be the opening of a late 80s/early 90s shoujo anime. Which is, from the PV, what I think they’re going for.

I have a feeling that this song is going to be hit and miss for a lot of people, but I like this song a lot. The first time I listened to it I was unsure of how I felt, but then the chorus stuck in my head and wouldn’t let go.

It’s not particularly Dempagumi.inc of a song but it’s pleasant and retro. While I want Dempagumi.inc to stick with a lot of what they’ve done in the past, this song represents the type of group I’d like more of. Stuff like Vanilla Beans and early Nogizaka46; groups that have that retro type of appeal.

Still, this is really pleasant, and a song I have been enjoying. 7/10

PV

This is a much more standard PV than Sakura Appareshon. Again, the word I would use is pleasant. Which does seem to be what they’re going for; this isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but it is nice to watch.

fancyhoppe1What people are going to notice more than anything is the low-contrast, soft focus filter that’s on everything. I have a feeling that this is going to be contentious; people may dislike this a lot. However, it feels to me like it’s keeping with the late 80s/early 90s shoujo manga aesthetic. They only needed to add bubbles or twinkles and the effect would be complete.

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It feels like a bit much at times, but, really, it feels like this is intentional.

Beyond this, the PV is pretty unremarkable. This is an exercise in adorableness. The cheerleading scenes are cute, and all the group scenes work nicely together. I do like when they write wktk on the screen; it’s a nice touch.

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This PV isn’t remarkable. It’s made well (as expected) and nothing is bad, but it’s just pleasant. Like the song. 7/10

Overall, this is a strong single. It might not be anyone’s favorite Dempagumi.inc single (especially with last year having W.W.D/Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo and W.W.D II/Not Bocchi… Natsu) but this is hardly a misstep for the group. If anything, it’s nice to have a mellower Dempagumi.inc single, to show that they can excel at this too.

 

Review: Dempagumi.inc – World Wide Dempa

This is an album that I have no idea WHY I didn’t review it when it came out. Musically, Dempagumi.inc was my top group of 2013. Sure my favorite overall group is still Team Syachihoko, but in terms of releases Dempa tends to be the best mix of exciting while being consistently good out there.

So here’s there latest album, World Wide Dempa, and my thoughts on it!

1. Hajimari ~ World Wide Dempa

Intro track! I actually really like this intro track, thematically. It takes a lot of separate themes and ideas and throws them together into one track, which is kind of what W.W.D does. So not only does this opening track get fans excited about the upcoming album and serve as an introduction, but it works very well thematically. Ultimately  it’s not something I’ll listen to unless I’m listening to the whole album right away, but it serves its purpose well. 8/10

2. Demparade Japan

I like Demparade Japan. Really, I do. It has a lot of energy and did a good job of introducing the current lineup (minus Atobe Miu and now with added Moga and Pinky). It feels like a typical Demapgumi song, and is generally well-made. However, after the other single songs on this album and the stellar music that Dempagumi has been putting out on a regular basis, Demparade falls a bit flat? I mean, I like the elements of the song, especially the chiptune background. Everything about this song is nice, and I don’t dislike any of it, but it just doesn’t live up to the high standards I hold for Dempa. Unfair? Perhaps. But I imagine a lot of fans might feel the same way. 7/10

3. Future Diver

Hyadain! Nostalgia! This is the song that I first listened to from Dempagumi.inc. At the time I really liked it, bti had no idea if the group would go anywhere. Future Diver is another song that doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the Dempagumi.inc oeuvre, but still skates by a lot on personal feelings. It is a pretty standard upbeat idol song, by many measures, but has a lot of cuteness and sweetness to it, as well. I particularly like the energy and excitement during the “Dive” chants. I also like the use of chiptune in here, as well. It’s kind of a match made in heaven, given Hyadain’s video game remix roots.

As a fan, I had a bit of a hard time getting into Dempa’s vocals (here it’s mostly Nemu and Eimi that I had an issue with), and if you’re a new Demapgumi.inc fan this might be the hardest song for you to listen to (unless you’re a Beastie Boys fan listening to Sabotage for the first time). However it’s fairly easy for me to get past, and once you get past the exterior Future Diver is quite nice.

4. Vandalism

I was sure with how unhinged this song was that it was written by Hyadain, but no; it was written by Tsutaya Koichi, a producer who has worked with acts like YUKI, Ikimonogakari, among others. I don’t see any other big idol acts among his acts, so this is a fairly unprecedented grouping.

In short, I love this song. It has a lot of attitude and manages to be an interesting, unique song while feeling still very much like Dempagumi.inc.

First off, while the vocals were slightly uncomfortable within Future Diver, all the girls here sound great. Risa in particular is a shining star with her vocals in the Danse Macabre-esque section at about 1:45. Risa’s always been the vocal talent of Dempagumi.inc,  but here she sounds lovely. I also enjoy the girls at the beginning; they have a lot of attitude.

The song passes through multiple styles and segments, but manages to maintain a fairly cohesive whole. As I mentioned, that’s what I feel this album and Dempagumi.inc as a whole have been going for, so this song goes even more towards that. Vandalism is another wonderful entry into the Dempagumi.inc library, and the most played of the new songs for me. 9/10

5. Sabotage

You guys know I love this. Before I became a big Dempagumi.inc fan, this is what I ranked in my top 25 songs list of 2012. Hyadain + Beastie Boys; it’s a combination that magically, against all the odds, works incredibly well. It matches the original song with some trademark Dempa oddness, and makes a memorable cover. It does what, in my opinion, a good cover should; it still has a lot of the flavor of the original song, but Dempa made it their own. 8/10

6. W.W.D

I’ve already written about this in my top 25 songs of 2013 so I’m going to keep this brief. But essentially, this song is brilliant. First off, the lyrics are lovely and personal, about where Dempagumi.inc started out. Then the song reinforces the theme of the song, how six unique girls formed a group, by having various unique styles come together into one unified song. It’s fun, moving, energetic, and one of the best songs from 2013. 10/10.

7. Nazo Kara

This was a tie-in with JOYSOUND and a B-Side of one of the versions of W.W.D II. Honestly, this song initially baffled me with its cool, KPop esque sound. This is still Dempagumi.inc, so there’s chiptune sounds in there and the chorus is high energy JPop again, but the rest of the song is trying to be dark, cool KPop. Or Lady Gaga maybe?

This isn’t terrible, but it’s clear that this isn’t Dempa’s forte. I do like how the arrangement has bits and pieces from Dempagumi.inc proper, but the shift in tone between the chorus and the verses doesn’t quite work for me. It’s all a bit sudden. I like some of the individual pieces of the song; the melody is fine, for instance. Just as a song this just doesn’t work. 6/10

8. Itsuka Haruka Kanata

Slowing things down! This is the start of the slower/sweeter section of the album, which might not be something you think of when you think of Dempagumi.inc, but these songs prove they do it quite well.

Unfortunately, Itsuka Haruka Kanata is a solid mid-tempo song, but it’s not the most memorable. Of the three new songs, Itsuka Haruka Kanata is by far the least interesting and the one I have listened to the least.

I enjoy the opening a lot (Pinky sounding her best), and the strong production of a Dempagumi.inc song is there. Unfortunately it falls into a weird spot; it’s not as sweet and pleasant as Kira Kira Tune and Fuyu e to Hashiridasou and it’s not the high energy fun songs. The arrangement is really good and the girls are great, but this doesn’t quite do it for me as much as I wish it would. 6/10

9. Kira Kira Tune

Hey, speak of the devil! This is the single song that might seem like the odd one out for Dempagumi.inc, but in a way that makes it one of the most interesting. It’s a guitar-heavy song that’s pretty mid/fast paced, but still sounds incredibly sweet and heartwarming in a way that I can’t really describe in writing. It’s the chorus, mainly, with the extended long notes by Dempa and the swelling strings. The whole song is very well written, in this way, and sounds great.

The thing that doesn’t get quite enough credit, I think, are the strange lyrics that subvert expectations about idol lyrics; Kira Kira Tune makes you think it’s going to be “kira kira” as in shining/sparkling, but it’s actually “Killer killer.” They sing at one point what sounds like “doki doki” (heart thumping) but it’s actually “dorky dorky.” It’s pretty basic wordplay, but I’ll take what I can get.

Kira Kira Tune is well-written and subverts what I expect about Dempa. 9/10

10. Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo!

This is a song that I didn’t fully appreciate until lately. It’s off W.W.D, so when that single came out I was really focusing on how much I LOVED W.W.D without listening as much as I should to Fuyu.

Fuyu is a perfect contrast and complement to W.W.D; whereas W.W.D is brash, out there, and almost aggressively strange, Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo is much quieter, mellow, and has a heavy emphasis on acoustic guitar. It’s still well-written and interesting, but in a much different way to W.W.D. The girls sound lovely and do well in this understated song. It is lovely. 10/10

11. Nantettatte Idol  Shangri-la

This takes a turn for the strange after a couple of simpler, lovely songs. This takes some of the kind of stereotypical non-Japanese but Eastern aesthetic (think GOUNN and Naniwa no Haniwa) and gives it a Dempagumi.inc twist. And do they ever; the girls’ vocals are at their zaniest and most unhinged. They aren’t unpleasant, but just odd.

That’s an accurate description of this song, in general. It’s almost shocking after Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo. There are a lot of pleasant things in here; I quite like the harmonization that goes on, and the melody is very pleasant. And I personally enjoy my fair share of weird songs, so this hits that spot.

If you don’t like weird or strange (why are you listening to Dempagumi.inc) this may not be your cup of tea, but I personally enjoy it. 7/10

12. W.W.D II

Again, I wrote about this at my end of the year stuff, so this will be a bit shorter. W.W.D II is a well-paced epic of a song, with a lot of energy and a lot of heart. It has the emotion of some of Dempa’s best as well as the energy of their other best songs. It’s an epic of a song, and one of the finest things to come out of 2013’s idol music scene. 10/10

13. Orange Rium

Oh man, I love the opening to Orange Rium too much. The arrangement of Orange Rium is one of my favorite bits of the song; the piano sounds lovely whenever it shows up, and there’s so much excellent stuff going on. And there’s a reason this stands out; as I found out from twitter recently, the guy who arranged this also wrote a lot of my favorite idol songs including Pera Pera Perao, Gingham Check and Kiss no Sono Oto.

But this is another sweeter, softer side to Dempagumi.inc, a side that I’m growing more and more fond of. While it’s easy to be drawn in by Dempagumi.inc’s weirdness, their songs are just well-written and good, and Orange Rium is yet another one of those examples.

This is really quite pretty, and pleasant. While the melody is nice, the arrangement is where Orange Rium shines. 9/10

14. Tsuyoi Kimochi Tsuyoi Ai

Oh man, the disco influence in this. I love it. Even though the song itself isn’t as disco-y as some of the other things that have come out as of late, this is probably one of the best arrangements of a song using that kind of influence. Aaand it was done by Hyadain. Of course.

This is another song that stands out most for the arrangement; I mean, I love how broad the melody is in the chorus, but the arrangement stands out more than anything to me. I’m not familiar with the original song, but while it sets up a good base the arrangement makes it much more worthwhile.

Thiough not quite as revolutionary as Sabotage, Dempagumi.inc’s other cover is certainly good. 7/10

15. Den Den Passion

Den Den Passion not getting on my top 25 songs of the year is a pretty big regret. It’s a great song, and one I love, but it doesn’t quite have the weight of either W.W.D. Den Den Passion being sandwiched between W.W.D and W.W.D II was a bit unfortunate, because it’s just so easy to forget how nice it is. It’s high energy and very fun, but at the same time it’s fairly restrained in structure. It feels like a typical idol song, polished and given a weird coat of paint to make it fitting for Dempagumi.inc.

That’s not to say it’s bad; it’s great. It’s wonderful.  It’s just not quite as unique as the others, which I think adds to the tendency to forget about it. But Den Den Passion is great, and feels like a fitting cap to this album. 9/10

OVERALL: This is a really great album. I love how the songs flow together; there’s a sense that there was actual thought and care that went into putting the songs together, which I always appreciate. I liked every song at least a little, and I straight up love most songs. This album really proves that Dempagumi.inc has some of the best music in the idol business, perhaps just THE best.

The biggest disappointment to me is just how few new songs that Dempagumi.inc had on this album. I understand that they wanted to get everything on there, and I appreciate that they didn’t make the album bloated and unlistenable. However, three new songs (and an intro) for an album of this length is frustrating.

Despite the frustration at the lack of new material, this is a very strong album and one that I highly recommend.

My Top 15 Songs of 2013 (So Far)

It’s hard to believe 2013 is about halfway over! And so, it’s a good time to look back on the year in idol music, as well as pick some of my favorite songs of the year.

The idol boom has been going on since late 2009/early 2010, and I keep expecting idol groups to suddenly start disbanding or fade into obscurity. However, things are going better than ever, all things considered. AKB48 broke records and sold massive amounts with Sayonara Crawl, Momoiro Clover Z keeps climbing up, and even Hello!Project groups are doing very well. Indie groups are growing more popular, and gaining traction. Groups are becoming diverse, with alternative acts like BiS, Alice Project and Babymetal growing in popularity. Honestly, I can’t think of a better time to be an idol fan, based almost entirely on how many groups there are out there. There are a lot of groups I’m not even putting on this list but are really good groups.

And so, my top 15 songs of the first half of 2013. Note that this is just songs that have been on a release through the end of June; Koisuru Fortune Cookie’s going to end up pretty high on my full list of the year. Honorable mention goes to Oomori Seiko’s Mahou ga Tsukaenai; not quite sure I’d classify her as an idol, but I love this song to pieces.

15. Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya – Juice=Juice

Can I put a song on this list for one sentence? If so, that sentence is “just listen to that saxophone!” Because seriously, I love every second that a saxophone plays in this song.

In all honestly, I wasn’t sure about how I’d feel about Juice=Juice. I didn’t follow any of the Eggs/Kenshuusei that made the group, and I hadn’t seen the hype about Karin. I thought (and still do) the name was silly to a fault. The early pictures had all the girls in white and it looked kind of boring. And while I’m not quite sure if I’ll ever be a super fan of Juice=Juice, I am a huge fan of Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya.

While I was just being silly with what I was saying about the saxophone, that’s actually pretty close. The sound’s so unique, and I can’t think of another idol song like it. Underneath, Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya isn’t that unique of a song. It reminds me strangely of Melon Kinenbi’s Amai Anata no Aji but sped up. The structure feels kind of similar, as does the tune (though I definitely don’t mind H!P bringing back Melon Kinenbi songs). I don’t think Juice=Juice is anything like Melon Kinenbi, mind you, but the overall song isn’t completely new. However, the entire thing put together with the saxophone arrangement, it feels fresh and interesting.

So yes this song is pretty much on my list because of the sax.

14. Kawasaki Junjou Ondo – Kawasaki Junjou Komachi

As I’ll be writing a bit more about later, I love songs where there’s a lot of genre fusion. While I like standard idol pop songs, there’s something really interesting about putting together genres like that.

Kawasaki Junjou Komachi is a group you probably haven’t heard of, unless you follow Tokyo Idol Festival and/or read my TIF posts religiously. But I found them from doing my TIF research posts, and was initially unimpressed by their concept of promoting Kawasaki, mostly because another group I wrote about had a very similar concept. However, Kawasaki Junjou Komachi really shines with their music and performances, the music being a really excellent fusion of traditional sounds with a modern pop sensibility, complete with a rap section. I don’t know Japanese instruments enough to tell, but it sounds like they’re using a lot of traditional instruments in there. In addition, it’s really catchy and fun to listen to and the vocals are really mature and lovely.

I think another reason I’m so impressed by Kawasaki Junjou Ondo is just how good it is for a local indie group. Lots of great music comes from indie idols, and I don’t want to put down indie idols. However, this is the type of song I would be very impressed if I heard it from a big, major label act. If KJK is able to continue this really great mix of traditional and pop and have this general level of quality, I predict they could grow and grow in popularity.

13. Brainstorming – Morning Musume

Late last year and early this year was when I first started to like Morning Musume again. I became a fan of Ishida Ayumi, I started liking (but not necessarily loving) the music, the other new members grew on me. I didn’t like the Help Me! PV, and the song was good, but I didn’t quite love it. However, because of Ayumi, I decided to listen to and watch Brainstorming as soon as I could. And I couldn’t get enough of it.

I think the biggest strength of Brainstorming is how fired up it works to get you. The instrumental works together with the vocals very well to make sure that there’s always something going on. Even in the slower solos (i.e. the solos Sakura does), there’s stuff going in the background. While Morning Musume has used dubstep influenced sound in Renai Hunter, and I really enjoy that song a lot, here the sound feels really integrated.

While I’m one of those people that misses old school Morning Musume a lot, really one of the strengths is in the arrangement. One of the biggest thing that makes me dislike a song is when the instrumental falls flat, and feels empty. Here, that’s not a problem, with so much going on in the back. However, nothing feels extraneous. There’s a lot going on throughout the song, but it feels warranted.

It’s also a great song for the group; it features a lot of the members doing shorter solos and mixed group bits. I don’t want to be one of those foreign fans who always complains about the line distribution, but varied groups like Morning Musume work at their best when everyone gets at least a little to do. Brainstorming really utilizes the members in a really great way.

Ultimately, this song is what brought me back and got me really excited about Morning Musume again. I actually preordered the single, because this is just that good.

12. Haste to Waste – BKA48

When I first heard there was going to be a unit of the members who scored low on the Mechaike special, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be something silly and not quite serious. And there are slightly silly parts. However, it’s a pretty standard mid-tempo song with a good deal of guitar and piano in there. A really good standard song, mind you.

Listening to the song and knowing the lyrics, though, it feels right that this is the BKA48 song; it’s silly, but it’s about being happy even if you aren’t necessarily smart. The thing that interests me is just how strangely epic the chorus feels. Perhaps it’s the lyrics mixed with the song, but it feels like it should be the theme song to the anime/drama about Kawaei Rina. Which I would definitely watch, by the way.

Honestly, this song isn’t necessarily the most interesting song on this list. But it’s solid, has a catchy melody, and I really love the lyrics. Especially the line that actually mentions Haste to Waste, taken word for word from the Mechaike special.

11.Sekaichuu ni I Love You – Rhymeberry

When most people got interested in the new Rhymeberry single, they really liked the song R.O.D.. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a great song. However, I was really taken by Sekaichuu ni I Love You, just because of how different it is. It’s 30s era swing/jazz (not sure if this is sampling or not) mixed with rap. I’ve never heard something like this before, and if you know of any other songs even remotely similar please tell me.

The instrumental is really entertaining; I love hearing all the instruments featured, especially the clarinet (which I play), but the piano is really what shines here. Miri, Hime, and Yuka all shine and they are really improving their skills. They really sell the song, too, putting a lot of energy into it, which is a marked improvement from their last single (where the live version is a lot better than what was recorded). There are also some fun lines in here; I appreciate the Han Solo reference, and I always giggle at “Dope the shit!”

I think I mostly like this because it’s such an experiment. It’s fresh, new, and something I personally have never heard before, which is really rare for music.

10. Walk my Way – Yokoyama Rurika


Yokoyama Rurika – Walk My Way by oshiruka

I think every time I talk about Idoling!!! I mention that I want to follow them more. Which still stands. I think they’re a really solid, interesting idol group with some great music, but I just don’t follow them. I heard about Yokoyama Rurika getting a solo single, but I didn’t need to read it. One thing changed my mind. Hyadain.

When I heard that this was a new Hyadain song and that it was good, I raced out to listen to it. And oh yes, it is good. The thing about this song is that it really works because of Rurika’s really strong vocals. From what I’ve heard Hyadain really wrote a song for her strong voice, and you can hear it. Hyadain, like always, writes a really strong melody, but here it fits Rurika perfectly, and her strong voice compliments the strong instrumental, or rather the instruments compliment her. This isn’t a very subtle song; this is something that’s meant to be belted out. That’s why Rurika’s voice fits it perfectly.

Steve from Selective Hearing wrote a very good analysis of Walk My Way here, and I suggest you all read it because I’m not going to write something this great about the song. One thing I can say is that, as a Hyadain fan, I love almost everything he does. His music really fits my tastes. However, since he writes almost exclusively for idol acts, I rarely get to hear music by him from an artist with a voice as strong as Rurika’s. So this song is really a treat for me, and I know it’s something I’ll listen to quite a bit.

9.Maji Kansha – Team Syachihoko

If you haven’t noticed, I really love Team Syachihoko. I wanted to put all four songs from their latest single on here, but I was able to narrow it down so that I’d have a more varied list (though another one of theirs is coming up).

One of the things I really like about Stardust groups is just how energetic their songs are, but that’s a bit of a curse as well; there aren’t many Stardust group songs I’ll break down crying while listening to, whereas I’ve cried at many AKB48 songs. And while I don’t think Syachi is going to move into serious ballads any time soon, I have to say I love their first song that seems a bit more serious, which is Maji Kansha.

I’m a sucker for strings and idol music; it’s actually something you could probably notice in this list. So when I first heard the swell of strings of Maji Kansha during a livestream of a Team Syachihoko event, I was hooked. The thing about Team Syachihoko is that if you’re looking for a polished performance with strong vocals, you’d best look elsewhere. However, the thing that I personally love about Syachihoko, that you can definitely hear in this song, is that they really work hard and push themselves. Their voices might not be strong enough to carry a song like this, but they give it their all.

It’s a really lovely song in general, and one I think could become a favorite to perform at Syachi concerts. It’s definitely the most normal Syachihoko song, but that, in itself, makes it the most usual. In a really good way.
8. Bokura no Eureka – NMB48

The easiest way to describe NMB’s summer singles is in comparison to other 48 groups. Whereas Nagiichi was much like songs like Ponytail to Shushu; happy and upbeat, Bokura no Eureka feels a lot more like Manatsu no Sounds Good. It’s a bit darker, more serious in tone, but still retaining a summer feel to it. Bokura no Eureka is a bit slower, very strings heavy (yes I do love that), and it just works.

NMB has had more mature sounding songs before (i.e. Virginity), but I didn’t really expect this song when I saw that it was an NMB48 summer song. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s so unexpected that makes me love it so much. It allows for something like their full PV, where the NMB girls are on a deserted island; even though it’s a summer song, and has fairly typical lyrics, it has a lot more emotion to it. It’s a bit darker, slower and more serious than I expected from this track, and I have to say I love it.

7.Megitsune – Babymetal

Babymetal keeps surprising me and taking themselves to new levels. Every time I hear a new Babymetal song it’s exciting, because I never know what it’s going to be like. Megitsune is a new direction for Babymetal, now incorporating traditional instruments and themes into their metal/idol pop hybrid. It completely works. It’s still one of the most ‘metal’ songs Babymetal has put out (though perhaps not as metal as Ijime Dame Zettai), utilizing Suzuka’s strong vocals and a lot of drums.

It’s kind of amazing, really, that all these elements work so well together. I’m constantly impressed by how innovative Babymetal’s music can be, in incorporating Suzuka’s voice, Yui and Moa’s shouting, the metal sound, while still being accessible to people who may not necessarily enjoy metal music. I know I never really listened to metal before Babymetal. And perhaps I wouldn’t be so fond of this if I was a metal afficionado. However, Babymetal does a really great job of creating accessible music for everyone that blurs the lines of genre in a really fantastic way.

6. Den Den Passion – Dempagumi.inc

2013 is shaping up to be the year of Dempa for me; I’ve known about them for a while, but I really got into them this year. Den Den Passion does one of the things I wish more idol groups did, and really plays off the fact that this is a group effort. Especially in the chorus, there’s a lot of vocal overlap, which fits really well. I really like what they did with the vocals in this single; the voices in the chorus often sound almost vocaloid-esque, or a high-pitched Perfume, but in a way that really fits Dempagumi.inc.

That’s the thing that I really love about this single. Everything about it fits dempa’s identity as a group, which, as a fan of the group, is something I love. The quick pace, the high pitched vocals, the focus on the group, the entire song feels very dempagumi. Even the rap section really fits the song (perhaps it’s the edited vocals in that section). Sometimes when writing reviews for this blog, as an exercise, I try to imagine another group tackling a song. This is a song that I can’t imagine anyone other than dempagumi doing.

It’s frenzied, energetic, and fun. While another song on this list convinced me to start following demmpagumi.inc (spoilers), Den Den Passion helped keep Dempagumi.inc as one of my favorite idol groups out there. It’s not one of their strangest offerings, but it’s a worthy addition to the dempagumi discography.

5. Te wo Tsunagou – Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku

Who else has spontaneously started crying during an idol song? Because uh, that’s the first thing I did when I listened to Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku’s latest, Te wo Tsunagou.

Ebichu is another one of the Stardust idol groups a long with MomoClo and Team Syachihoko. However, for whatever reason, Ebichu hasn’t quite clicked with me in the same way as these other two groups. However, I can’t deny how great their music can be (especially since they work closely with Hyadain a lot), and Te wo Tsunagou is just incredible. Instead of taking the usual energetic route that Stardust group often does, Ebichu does a really great job with a sweet, heartfelt song (though they have done some of this before, to be fair).

The song starts off on a great note with the strongest vocalist in the group, Kashiwagi Hinata, singing a capella. She sounds really lovely, and is a really great start to the rest of this song. This song has a really great pace, helped out by the strong percussion in the background, but ultimately it’s just how earnest this song feels, both with the song, the vocals and the lyrics, that makes me really love it.

This song isn’t quite as unique as the others on this list. It’s not even as unique as the other song on this single, Kindan no Karma, which is a much darker song. However, this song does pretty much everything right in being a really lovely, heartwarming song. As groups search for the next gimmick or style, this proves that what you need more than anything is a good melody, charismatic performers, and a strong arrangement.

4. Ijime Dame Zettai – Babymetal

I remember distinctly the first time I heard this song. This had been a very long awaited song for Babymetal fans, so I was very excited. I was doing a project for a class (auditioning people to be in a project I was managing), but I had to listen to this as soon as I saw the PV had been posted. It was completely worth the anticipation. I sat alone in the room I was holding auditions in, mouth open, completely in awe of what I was listening to.

I’d argue that Ijime Dame Zettai is the most metal of the Babymetal songs; you could potentially make a good case for the song Catch Me if You Can, but I’d argue the chorus gets too pop-y. IDZ, on the other hand, is pure metal, without the pop influence of other Babymetal songs, and it’s just good. One of the things that I love about IDZ are the slower sections; the piano-heavy section at the beginning, the slower section right at the beginning of the second verse, and the section before the big guitar solos. These do a really great job of pumping up the more intense sections, and making them exciting. All the guitar solos in this are incredible, as are the rest of the instruments; they do a really excellent job of pumping you up, and having a lot of energy.

Suzuka’s vocals, while they’ve since improved again for Megitsune, made a really big leap from Headbanger to Ijime Dame Zettai. She sounds amazing here, her strong voice really fitting the great instrumental. Yui and Moa take a bit of a backseat from their already limited roles, but their presence mainly serves to remind you that yes, this is actually Babymetal you’re listening to.

This isn’t metal-pop. I’d go so far as to say this is just metal, with pop performers. Suzuka sounds great, the instruments sound great, and everything about this track is phenomenal.
3. Shuto Iten Keikaku – Team Syachihoko

Figuring out which two Team Syachihoko songs made this list was a bit of a difficult decision, because the whole single is pretty amazing, but it came down to Maji Kansha and Shuto Iten Keikaku. Let’s just get it out of the way: I’m biased towards Team Syachihoko. They’ve quickly become my idol group of choice, and I can’t think of a song they’ve done that I haven’t liked. However, this is because they have really high quality music, and this has continued with their national major debut single.

This song was cowritten by Japanese hip hop artist SEAMO, and that’s pretty obvious. Even if there’s only one actual rap section (done wonderfully by Haruna), you can hear the hip hop influence throughout the whole song, which features a lot of spoken parts and a whole lot of attitude. According to wikipedia, one of SEAMO’s influences was MC Hammer, and I do get a bit of an 80s/90s hip hop vibe from this. This is honestly not a song I expected to hear from Team Syachihoko, but they really put a lot of effort into this song, with Chiyuri rolling her R’s and Nao putting in a lot of energy. All the girls really fit in this well.

The lyrics are one of the most fun parts of the song, featuring Syachi’s plea to make Nagoya the capitol of Japan. It’s a silly topic and the lyrics are silly, but Syachihoko actually sells it pretty well. There’s a pretty good translation on the PV on the official Syachihoko channel, so I recommend you check that out.

Otherwise, all the parts come together for a really fun and entertaining song.

2. W.W.D – Dempagumi.inc

W.W.D stands for “worldwide Dempagumi,” a very fitting title given Dempagumi.inc’s recent announcement of performing at Japan Expo USA this August.

W.W.D is weird. And this is coming from someone who loves weird music. Can you guess who wrote this song? If you guessed Hyadain, yep you’re right. However, while some people may criticize W.W.D for being kind of disjointed, in actuality it really fits the group. The song centers around the group of six girls, their individual stories and how they all came together to become one group. Therefore, the fact that the song has so many different styles in it actually makes a lot of sense, because it’s reinforcing this narrative found in the lyrics. I’m really glad they decided to work with Hyadain to write this deeply personal song for Dempagumi.inc; Hyadain is the master of writing very eccentric songs that somehow work, and W.W.D is one of those songs.

Because this song is based off the histories of the girls in dempagumi.inc, they perform it really well. The girls all have an interest in Akihabara culture, and as such really play up the shouted parts well. Groups in the past have called themselves ‘otaku groups,’ but you really believe it with dempagumi.inc. This song is so weird, but Dempagumi.inc manages to sell the slow/serious section as well as the energetic sections. They do well with a song that I imagine would be difficult for most idol singers to get.

If you don’t like your music weird, I doubt you’ll like W.W.D.. In fact, I have a feeling it’s the type of single that would be very polarizing. However, I really like Hyadain when he’s at his wackiest, which he is here. Combine that with the personal stories of dempagumi.inc, and you have a classic idol song on your hands.

1. Hai to Diamond – Momoiro Clover Z

If you read my review of Momoiro Clover Z’s album 5th Dimension, you’ll already know how much I love this song, so I’ll keep this brief. Hai to Diamond is incredible. It’s not necessarily the most idol-y song out there, but it’s a really beautiful song featuring orchestral instruments, many different sounds, and some really nice performances from Momoiro Clover. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, written very well and arranged even better. It’s gorgeous, epic, and has been an instant favorite ever since I heard it.

This is one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard, and I know I’ll keep coming back to it again and again in the future.

What Makes an Indie Idol Indie?

Recently, Ray of Idolminded and now Pure Idol Heart posted THIS on Pure Idol Heart. As a fan of Pure Idol Heart in general (having named it my blog of the year at Idolminded) and as a fan of Ray’s writing (at Intl Wota and now Idolminded) I was really interested to hear what he had to say.

A big part of this is because indie idols are near and dear to my heart. While I got into idols (like many people) with Hello!Project, and I have favorite idols in the current Hello!Project (Ishida Ayumi, Tamura Meimi) and in the 48 groups (Watanabe Miyuki, Oota Aika, Natori Wakana) as well as in Momoiro Clover Z (Sasaki Ayaka), if I had to name my favorite idol groups, or the groups I support the most it would be:

Team Syachihoko  (Major)

rev.from DVL (indie)

Rhymeberry (Indie)

Dempagumi.inc (Major)

BABYMETAL (major)

and MMJ (indie)

Notice that next to each group I put their status and they’re fairly evenly split. Rhymeberry, rev.from DVL and MMJ are all technically indie and Babymetal, dempagumi.inc and Team Syachihoko are technically on major labels. However, for me it’s almost hard to differentiate. To me, all of these groups have an independent feel to them, regardless of their actual status as being major or independent. Both Babymetal and Rhymeberry are really interesting in regards to genre-bending. Team Syachihoko still performs primarily locally in Nagoya, and are really local idols like MMJ (Hiroshima) and rev.from DVL (Fukuoka). My most recent favorite, dempagumi.inc, is technically a local group (for Akihabara), and, in my opinion, have done their most interesting stuff recently, after a roster change and spending some time on a major label (including their genre-bending cover of the Beastie Boys classic ‘Sabotage’)

All these groups have a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy, and a lot of excitement, moreso than some of the major acts I’ve encountered. In my head I refer to all of them as indie idols, even though that’s not exactly the case. As Ray mentioned, things aren’t necessarily very cut and dry.

To me, this reminds me a lot about independent films, specifically the current Independent Spirit Awards. As you might imagine, the Independent Spirit Awards is an award that is given out to independent filmmakers. This is something I really appreciate, given the power that the major film studios have. However, last year Silver Linings Playbook got four awards including best film, best leading actress, best director and best screenplay. Now, let me just say that I absolutely adored Silver Linings Playbook; it ended up as one of my favorite films of the year (though Moonrise Kingdom ended up being what I considered to be the best of 2012). However, I would be hard pressed to call it an independent film. It had a budget of over 20 million dollars (which to many films is a very small budget) and was partially produced by and distributed by the Weinstein Company, a major force in awards season films, especially. They distributed The King’s Speech and The Artist, both which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Again, I liked both of these films as well, but it’s hard to define these as independent films. Likewise, there are many films that come out from major studios that are almost designed to have an indie feel and appeal to the audience that likes that sort of thing. Indie, rather than a category for finances, has become almost an aesthetic and stylistic choice more than anything.

I also found what Ray said about pushing boundaries quite interesting. Because out of the six groups I named, the “safest” or most traditional (I’d argue) are MMJ and rev.from DVL, the two indie acts, whereas the major label acts are pretty eccentric. Innovation is happening both in the indies and in the now majors, so it’s exciting stuff.

I don’t know if I have much more to add other than agreement; it’s a tough and somewhat nebulous distinction to make, even if it initially seems cut and dry.