Song of the Day #71: Rev. from DVL – 50 Years

Last Rev song, at least for a while. They just had their last concert, so they are officially disbanded. I’m hoping the best things for all the members and hope to see them again in something else. While I’m sad I didn’t get to see them perform live once, I’m glad that they managed to have some level of popularity for a while – I became their fan when they were a tiny indie group not doing much except performing locally in Fukuoka, so I’m glad they were able to put out some quality music for a while.

50 Years is an interesting song to see Rev off with, in that it feels like a fitting wrap up. Even though I’ve already covered songs like Love Arigatou and Never Say Goodbye, 50 years concerns itself with thinking ahead, to the future, 50 years down the line. It’s a positive song, but it’s also a song about departure. It has a great beat to it, too, and it’s great to listen to.

I’m going to miss Rev a lot, but at the same time I’m glad Rev existed at all. Thank you, Rev. from DVL.

Song of the Day #70: Rev. from DVL – Ai Girl

YEP I’m not stopping with Rev songs, I’m too broken up about them disbanding. I’d say I’m sorry, but highlighting Rev is what I need to do now.

Ai Girl is a song featuring the most popular three members, Kanna, Miho, and Nagisa, and it’s one of the many songs Rev did for the Aikatsu franchise. I think what I like most about Ai Girl is the level of energy it has, and how it works this into the song – instead of having each member sing relatively long sections, each member sings individual phrases. It’s not as strange sounding as when each member of a group sings individual syllables (as in Morning Musume’s WHY) but instead the solo sections are broken up at the exact moment that would bring up the tension and excitement of the song. It works perfectly and I think is the type of song that would only really work with a small group like this.

The overall song is excellent too, but Ai Girl just shines with its energy.

Song of the Day #69: Rev. from DVL – Step by Step

Yep, even though I covered Rev from DVL’s last song yesterday, I just couldn’t help myself from covering another one. Step by Step is a B-Side to their second single, but it’s I think become one of Rev’s major songs pretty quickly. The thing about Step By Step (and most of Rev from DVL’s music) is that on the surface it’s a pretty standard idol song – it’s upbeat, it’s peppy, has a catchy melody. However, Rev took this formula and made consistently exciting, well-made, polished music. This is the ideal idol pop song for me – it’s not particularly interesting but what it lacks in interest it makes up in quality.

The other thing I love about Step by Step is just how well it integrates the song and the fan chants throughout. This is a participation-heavy song, and while some of the participation heavy songs seem to be just about that participation, Step By Step works on its own and it works when combined with the fan chanting. I think it works better with – if I’m sitting at home listening to Step By Step I’m probably doing the fan parts on my own. But it’s, in my opinion, one of the best songs to show how audience interaction makes idol music special.

Song of the Day #68: Rev. from DVL – Never Say Goodbye

Saying goodbye to Rev has been not a fun time for me – so having their last song be titled Never Say Goodbye is extra bittersweet for me.

That feel continues into the song, which is a mid tempo song with arranged with a lot of strings and acoustic guitar that gives it a bittersweet feel. It’s probably most reminiscent of something like Kimi ga Ite Boku ga Ita, for Rev, which makes it a pretty perfect last song for Rev. from DVL. It’s emotional and not an upbeat happy song, but it’s also not a sad ballad. It’s as positive as you can get while still being the last song from a group as it disbands.

Considering I didn’t really like Rev’s digital single Vampire nor was I particularly fond of their 2016 single (even though it was written by Maeyamada Kenichi), Never Say Goodbye is a welcome return to form for Rev, which, given the timing, is a little sad. I wish they weren’t saying goodbye.

Song of the Day #67: Especia – Kuru Kana

Since it’s nearly the end of July, time to feature some more Especia and Rev. from DVL as they wrap up before disbanding. First, it’s Kuru Kana.

I think one of the things I appreciated most from Especia, especially at their peak, was how easily they went against the grain. They found a niche that worked for them, this early 90s / vaporwave sound and aesthetic and while it could be seen as a gimmick it’s a gimmick that actually works by virtue of their music being legitimately excellent.

My love of Kuru Kana started as more of an interest in the aesthetic of the video and just how odd this all was. Then, as I watched the video more and listened to the song more, I realized what a great song this is. Even if the production is (very intentionally) dated, the melody is there and sounds great. And even though the song’s production is intentionally dated, it eventually ends up sounding really great.

Even more than I’ll miss Especia itself (which I will), I’ll miss having a group like Especia.

Review: Morning Musume – 3rd Love Paradise

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.

In many ways, 3rd ~ Love Paradise ~ is Morning Musume’s biggest pivot. While you could make arguments for different albums and different singles introducing new sound or something new, 3rd Love Paradise has the introduction of Goto Maki and Love Machine, the single that I’d say is the most influential of Morning Musume history. I mean, when it’s Morning Musume’s breakout hit it makes sense. But this represents a shift, from old-school era to golden era. From the era of artist Morning Musume to the era of idols. I’m making this sound more dramatic than it is – it’s not like they went straight from Morning Coffee to a recent song like Brand New Morning in nothing. The shift is still gradual. But it is a shift indeed. Also, it went from the Abe Natsumi and no one else era of Morning Musume (as emphasized in Furusato, the single which is all Natsumi all the time) to the Abe Natsumi Goto Maki led era, which in many ways feels like a template for the Takahashi Ai Tanaka Reina era a few years later.

1. ~Ohayou~

While there are 12 tracks in 3rd Love Paradise, three out of these are spoken monologues over music – one at the start, one at the end, and one in the middle. So there’s not much to say. I like the idea of bookending an album like this – v-u-den did it well with Suite Room Number 1. But ~Ohayou~ veers into being too long. It’s well put together – the music in the background is mostly orchestral, which feels very old-school Disney Princess, with a strong hip hop beat underneath it, and each member doing a short spoken peace. I’m not sure if it’s necessarily what I want to wake me up in the morning (Ohayou being ‘good morning’) but it’s fine. Individually I don’t want to give this a score, but I’m not sure why this was chosen to be the opening, knowing what the next song would be.

2. Love Machine

The one, the only. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to be critical of a song quite so legendary as Love Machine. It’s Morning Musume’s biggest hit and it’s still a widely known song. I’d also say it’s for good reason. I’ve been listening to Love Machine for nearly 10 years, and it still gets me pumped up to listen to. It’s paced pretty perfectly, with enough interesting sections so that the song isn’t just homogenous. It’s arrangement, by Dance*Man, is just perfection. It’s got a great bass beat underneath the song, the melody is catchy, it’s weird in the best of ways. The only thing I wish from Love Machine is that there would be a few more real instruments, but even then it’s perfect as it is now, glossy and exciting. Love Machine is well deserved as Morning Musume’s most famous song. 10/10

3. Aisha Loan de
While Love Machine certainly does this, I feel like 3rd Love Paradise as a whole is really the move from old school Morning Musume to what the group became afterwards, which is an idol group. While it might be possible to name both singles, Love Machine and Koi no Dance Site, as flukes, the rest of the songs in 3rd Love Paradise reflect this trajectory. For example, while there are some harmonies in Aisha Loan de, they’re kept to the background and the focus is on solo line taking the melody. Gone are the complex vocals of Summer Night Town, which is a little bit of a shame. That’s not to say Morning Musume’s pop-focused trajectory is bad, but it’s just easy to see how they got there.

This song is a little bizarre in its execution. It’s generally a catchy pop tune, but all the vocals are clipped and short. Where you might expect someone to sing out, most of the vocal lines aren’t held very long, which makes for an interesting effect. It’s also not executed perfectly – there’s a couple of lines sung by a group where one member sings much longer than the others, which just sounds strangely sloppy, as if they were in a rush to get this record out and didn’t have time to rerecord those vocals. The background instrumental is strange and fun, and has some good parts, but the best part of the instrumental takes place when none of the members are singing.

Aisha Loan de is a pretty cute song, and relatively fun to listen to. However, it’s not one that I find particularly memorable. 7/10

4. Kuchizuke no Sono Ato

I really like the feel the acoustic guitar gives this song – it has a real folk /unplugged feel to it, even though there are more instruments than that acoustic guitar by a long shot. It’s specifically going for a laid back but still upbeat song, and I think they succeeded.

Much like Aisha Loan de, there’s one or two lines that are extended a little too long. Both times seem to be Ichii Sayaka, so it feels like they brought her in for a different time to record these songs and just didn’t direct her in the same way? It’s just bizarre and a little distracting, once I’ve listened.

The song that weirdly enough reminds me of Kuchizuke no Sono Ato is Iida Kaori’s solo song Aegekai ni Dakarete, especially in the chorus. I don’t know if this was an inspiration for Kaori’s Mediterranean inspired pop career, but that’s the feel I get from a few lines of melody and a little of the instrumentation with the acoustic guitar.

More than anything, though, while Kuchizuke no Sono Ato is nice it’s not particularly memorable one way or another. It’s pleasant to listen to, and it has a nice melody, but it’s not a song I’ll revisit much. It’s not quite as vocals driven as early Musume but not as polished as later Musume. 6/10

5. Koi no Dance Site

I’m finding it incredibly hard to be in any way critical of classic, golden era Morning Musume. While my personal knowledge of the group mainly kicks off starting with the introduction of the 4th generation (considering I’m an Ishikawa Rika fan), Love Machine and Koi no Dance Site are still incredibly familiar songs to me. And while I have a lot of nostalgia and love for Koi no Dance Site, it’s not without its flaws.

It’s in many ways based in some stereotypes of Indian people, which they’ve also used in songs like Happy Summer Wedding and Odore Morning Curry. The bridge section that’s just “Uh! Ha!” lasts about twice as long as it needs to. And yet, it’s still just a fun song.

I think it’s to Morning Musume’s credit that they went with something very different but with a similar energy to Love Machine. When a group has a breakout hit, it can be easy to just want to emulate that hit over and over again. And yet, while it bears some resemblance to Love Machine, there’s no denying it’s a very different song fundamentally.

Even though it’s flawed, Koi no Dance Site is goofy, fun, and a good choice of a song for Morning Musume. I love this unabashedly – even though it’s not on par with something like Love Machine, that’s an unbelievably high bar. 8/10

6. Lunchtime ~Rebanira Itame~

I don’t even know how to review this. This is a three and a half minute interlude that’s set up like a radio show, except it’s more often than not nonsensical and just strange, with Morning Musume just repeating the phrase “rebanira itame” (which is a leek and liver stir fry) over and over. But then that phrase occasionally gets remixed into kind of a dance track for a few seconds? And the majority of the spoken part is a male announcer?

I’m of two minds on this one. On the one hand I like just how goofy and weird it is – doing stuff like this is what made me interested in Hello!Project in the first place. Having a strange spoken interlude of nonsense is just great. I just don’t know how it works in the album. 3rd Love Paradise isn’t conceptual in the way that, say, v-u-den’s Suite Room no 1 is. Aside from the opening, the ending, and this middle interlude, it doesn’t feel like any sort of concept album. It also goes on a bit too long – three and a half minutes of this is a lot, especially if you want to listen to music. It kind of breaks up the flow of the album in a way that I’m not sure I like.

7. DANCE Suru no Da!

Man I love this song. I mean, it is kind of in my wheelhouse, having a funk/disco feel to it, but it’s a great, happy song that almost surprises me to come out of this era – it feels a lot more like something that should have been on 4th Ikimasshoi, with 4th and 5th generation members.

Much like Koi no Dance Site and Love Machine, this is arranged by Dance Man and that’s where this song shines. The melody is pretty basic, but the arrangement makes it all shine, with a lot of strings and a great bass sound – I almost wish the bass took a more prominent role in all of this, but most of the instrumentation is in the background to the vocals, which isn’t unexpected for a Morning Musume track.

Partly cheesy and partly Jackson Five inspired, Dance Suru no Da is silly, fun, and an incredibly catchy tune. It’s not a top tier song in the way that Love Machine is, but again that’s a tough comparison to make. 9/10

8. Omoide
This feels a lot closer to old school Morning Musume than something like Dance Suru no Da – it’s jazzy but with some Spanish guitar thrown in. Probably my favorite part of Omoide is the vocal performance – the vocals are soft and breathy, but they’re also clipped and short at points. The vocal production of this is solid, and all the members sound great. This is the type of song that suits Iida Kaori well. All the members sound like they fit a song like this, though.

I also like the vocalizations in between the chorus and the verse – they work really well. The whole mix of the song works well, with the drums, the strings, the guitar, bass, etc. The overall sound of this is built up well. At certain points in the verses the instrumental isn’t quite as impressive, but the vast majority of the song works really well.

Omoide is, ironically enough, not the most memorable song for me but I really do enjoy it. It isn’t quite as good as some of the other tracks on this album, but it’s very well put together 8/10

9. Harajuku 6:00 Shuugou

Much like Omoide this is more of a jazzy sound, but one that I’m not entirely sure about. The entire song sounds too busy throughout. There are a lot of background sounds that are pretty constant, even some animal sounds which are a little bizarre. The song is so busy that it’s distracting.

That all being said, once you peel back the layers and busy sounds it does have a nice melody and some lovely harmonies. The song itself is good, and, to be fair, the extra noises do make it pretty interesting. That said, it’s mostly just distracting.

Harajuku 6:00 Shuugou is in general good but not necessarily memorable, and the extra background noises make it a song that I don’t really feel like revisiting much. 6/10

10. WHY

This song exists almost entirely as a gimmick – each member of Morning Musume sings a different syllable of the song except for a few lines. While it is a gimmick it mostly works – all the members sing this ina breathy voice and so all the members singing individual lines gives it a dreamlike, almost ethereal effect – it has a very interesting sound to it that I appreciate.

The arrangement is great too – it’s very laidback, with guitar and an r&b type sound. It works really well with the dreamy vocals, to create an interesting overall sound.

The only baffling section is that about 2/3 through the song there’s a much louder, much noisier section – it’s almost like a dubstep break except over ten years too early. I appreciate the change of pace, but I’m not sure it entirely works.

WHY is the type of song that should be pure gimmick, but it manages to have an interesting sound that I love. 9/10

11. …Suki da yo!

The last real song of the album is an upbeat, disco/funk track, which you know I’m all about. Suki da yo was arranged by Dance*Man, so it is understandably a polished and well put together track. It also had a separate arranger for horns, which makes sense because the horns are just fantastic – I’m a sucker for pop songs with a solid horn section, so Suki da yo makes me happy that way too.

As I mentioned with my last couple of Morning Musume album reviews I look for the last song as a place to leave the album. Suki da yo does that perfectly, as it is just a delight from start to finish. The melody’s fun, there’s a great bass line, and I love the section near the end where various vocal sections overlap each other. Suki da yo is pure fun, and a worthy track. I wish it was performed more – I think it would be an interesting song to hear from the current slate of Morning Musume performers.

The only thing is that initially I wasn’t sure how I liked the vocal mixing in this – the vocal line is kind of quiet and the vocals aren’t sung with quite as much gusto as with Love Machine. However, this still works well in Suki da yo and I don’t have any other major complaints. Suki da yo is a total joy. 10/10

12. Oyasumi
One last spoken monologue, with music box music in the background. It certainly fits the theme of being the “good night” monologue and as a bookend with Ohayou, but at the same time I don’t know if I like where it ends the album. Suki da yo ends on such a big, positive, happy note, and Oyasumi takes all that energy and gets rid of it.

It’s certainly not a bad monologue, and I wouldn’t mind a more structured, thematic Morning Musume album. I just don’t know if 3rd Love Paradise is it.

Overall: 3rd Love Paradise is an interesting beast. On the one hand, it is a collection of some very good music. None of the songs are particularly bad, and even the songs I like least I still like a lot. It might not be quite as musically challenging as something like First Time or Second Morning, but it also has some very solid upbeat tracks like Love Machine, Dance Suru no Da and Suki da yo. It signifies a move to these more upbeat tracks, but still maintains some interesting stuff – WHY is interesting and fantastic.

The biggest issue I have is that the framing device feels unnecessary. It makes me think of v-u-den’s album Suite Room no 1 – that is structured in a very similar way, where the start of the album is checking into a hotel and the end is checking out. However, the album songs are structured carefully and in a way that makes sense. Aside from the three framing monologues, I don’t feel like 3rd Love Paradise is structured in a way that warrants this device. It feels like they wanted to get an album out fast to capitalize on Love Machine and Koi no Dance Site’s popularity, but needed something to pad the tracklist from 9 tracks to 12.

That being said, it’s not a huge deal, especially if you just want to listen to the songs. Purely on a musical basis, the nine main songs of 3rd Love Paradise are excellent and well worth your time, especially if you’re a newer Morning Musume fan looking to explore the group’s discography.

Song of the Day #66: Team Syachihoko – Maji Kansha

When talking about idol songs I think I really put things like emotion and feelings on the backburner. Since idol songs generally are written by an outside songwriter for the group, I think it’s rare for a song to really become genuinely emotional, and even then it’s songs that are co-opted for a specific reason (i.e. Morning Musume’s I Wish became a lot more meaningful when it started being used for member graduations.

However, some songs just end up having a lot of emotional meaning to them, and one of them is Team Syachihoko’s Maji Kansha, which eventually started being played as the last song of each concert, as a bit of gratitude from the group to the fans. This version is from their latest concert, which was at a venue they’d been aiming for for years, but this song keeps popping up again and again. At one show they changed the lyrics to be more immediately personal to the members, at another early show due to technical difficulties the mics didn’t work so the audience sang along to the song. It’s a song written with a lot of emotion, but due to how it’s been performed it’s taken a really emotional feel to it.

Maji Kansha is a sweet song in general, but its use has made it a really emotional thing for me.

Song of the Day #65: Takoyaki Rainbow – Meccha Disco

The other day I discovered that Takoyaki Rainbow’s first album is on Spotify, so I’ve been listening to a lot of the group’s music. While Dot JP Japan is still one of my favorite songs and there are a lot of great songs, Meccha Disco is so far up my alley that I have to recommend it.

In the vein of Meccha Funk and Meccha Punk, Meccha Disco is Takoyaki Rainbow’s take on a genre and it just happens to be Disco. Much like other Stardust groups, Takoyaki Rainbow succeeds mainly in just how high energy they are – they take these genres and make them fun and energetic. Meccha Disco feels like disco but modernized enough to be a workable dance song today. When other groups have done disco-inspired tracks I’ve liked it a lot, but I’m not sure how it would play in a non-idol setting. Meccha Disco sounds like a song that would be really fun to dance to or see in concert, and a song that takes the best parts of the genre but modernizes it enough to make it danceable.

I think Meccha Disco is a song that shows just why I love the current disco/funk influence in idol music a lot, and why I’d like to see it continue into the future.

Song of the Day #64 – Momoiro Clover – Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo

I think it takes some talent to craft a song that is good enough to have lasting appeal. Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo came out around seven years ago (wow how time flies!) and even though I’ve listened to it hundreds of times and it’s performed at nearly every Momoiro Clover Z show, it still gets me pumped up every time I listen to it.

I prefer the original Momoiro Clover version to the Z versions, but both are incredibly catchy songs with a lot of audience participation involved. Even when listening to these by myself it’s hard not to say the audience participation bits to myself. It’s the type of song that succeeds best live but at the same time has that same kind of energy if you’re listening at home.

Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo is a modern idol song classic, one I’m sure will be played for years to come. And for good reason, it’s just that great.

Song of the Day #63: Takoyaki Rainbow – Genki Uri no Shoujo ~Naniwa Meika Gojussen~

Yesterday I found out that the Stardust Promotion YouTube channel no longer was region-locking its content, so I went through and rewatched quite a few music videos on that channel. So the next few recommendations will probably be from that channel.

One of the groups I focused a lot on was Takoyaki Rainbow – Takoyaki Rainbow made the move to Avex for their major debut, but at this point they only have two singles and an album through Avex, and most of their best music is from their indie days. Genki Uri no Shoujo is probably my favorite indie Takoyaki Rainbow song (though tomorrow my favorite might be Meccha Funk).

Genki Uri no Shoujo is pretty much up my alley in every conceivable way. The song was written by my favorite composer, Maeyamada Kenichi, it has a disco sound/feel to it, it’s high energy and it’s just weird. A lot of the best parts of the song are either strange by design (the extended comedy routine performed by Ayaki Sakura and Negishi Karen for one) or hammed up by the members (Hori Kurumis’ solo afterwards). That’s the other great part about this song – Takoyaki Rainbow is just perfect at it.

Honestly, if you wanted to find the exact song that combines all the things I really like in JPop / idol music, it would probably be Genki Uri no Shoujo.