Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 3

Ueno Yuuka

Ueno Yuuka is a soloist under King Records. After winning one of the major awards at King Records Presents Dream Vocal Audition, she begun her career with an immediate major debut with King Records. She recently released her 8th single, Tomodachi Gokko, and has also released an album and a mini album earlier this year, Sweet Dolce. Her singles don’t tend to rank very highly on the oricon (often around the 50 spot on the weekly charts), but her songs have been used for movies, TV shows, and CMs, and Yuuka herself is aiming to be an actress in addition to being a singer, appearing in some movies and TV shows.

Musically, Yuuka feels much more of an artist than an idol. She has some beautiful vocals, and a lot of her music reflects how great of a singer she is. She does quite a few ballads, laidback songs, though she has some more upbeat fun stuff. Her music doesn’t really appeal to me, as I’m not a big fan of ballads myself. However, if you are into ballads and like quality female vocalists, Ueno Yuuka is totally someone you should be following. If you’re looking for a more talented idol who feels more like an artist who is starting to do more non-music work, Yuuka is definitely someone you should check out.

HKT48

I feel like if you’re an idol fan you probably know if you like HKT48 or not, and if you’re interested in them you know how to follow them. HKT48 is one of the sister groups of AKB48, the most popular idol group in Japan and one of the many local 48 groups including SKE48, NMB48, NGT48 and STU48 (not even mentioning the international groups). HKT48 is based in Fukuoka and has their theater based there. There are as of right now three teams (Team H, Team KIV and Team TII) that perform in their theater as well as ten trainee members. Like all 48 groups they separate their activity over the various theater performances, TV appearances, radio appearances, singles, and concerts. They just released their latest single, Bagutte Iijan.

If it sounds like a lot, it is – there is a lot to pay attention to if you like the 48 groups, and it’s possible to spend a lot of time watching 48 content. Currently, I’m not a huge 48 follower – all of my major favorites have since graduated (my favorite HKT48 member and original AKB48 favorite, Ota Aika, just graduated in April), and I’m not a huge fan of their current music. I also wish that HKT48 would get an original stage for their theater performances. Still, HKT48 tend to be an energetic bunch and one that I liked following when I did – it’s a bit old, but HaKaTa Hyakkaten is one of my favorite 48 TV programs. Their older singles are still very fond for me – both Suki Suki Skip and Melon Juice are two particular favorites of mine.

If you’re an international fan and want to get into the 48 groups, it can be a bit tricky as a lot of 48 content is region locked on YouTube. However, there’s a pretty strong international fan community, so if you want to be a fan of a very popular group that has a TON of music and a lot of members, HKT48 isn’t a bad option. Even though I’ve mostly moved on as an idol fan (though I do like Kato Minami in NGT48 and I’m looking forward to the debut of a member in STU48 who used to do dance covers on YouTube), I do miss my 48 fan days – there’s just so much to follow, it can be a lot of fun.

X21

I feel like I have to make the same tired joke every year, but no they’re not X-23, the X-Men character, they’re X21. X21 was formed of finalists from the 13th and 14th Japan Bishoujo Contest, a fairly long-running beauty contest there. Formed in 2013, the group made its major debut with Avex in 2014 where they have stayed since. Last year they put out their 9th single, “Kagami no Naka no Parallel Girl” and they just put out their second album, “Beautiful X,” earlier this year. They tend to do OK on the charts (Kagami no Naka no Parallel Girl got #12 on the Oricon Weekly), but not spectacularly so, so they’re still relatively small – they’ve performed some shows at Harajuku Quest Hall which holds about 400 people.

That said, despite being a relatively smaller group, they have some great production values and their music is largely pretty great. I think it could be easy to write off X21 as just being about looks, considering their origins, but I recommend you don’t do this as their music is largely fun, polished, and generally well-written. It reminds me of classic 48 group music, in the best possible way. The songs are largely sung in groups of members (solo lines aren’t really a thing with X21), they have a mostly upbeat sound with a lot of polish. I don’t know if I’d say they’re exactly the same (certainly not), but I can see following X21 more to fill that 2008-2011 era of AKB48 that I still miss. The group doesn’t have any of the same gimmicks, but they fill that gap.

X21 is a really solid group that I’m honestly surprised isn’t bigger. I don’t know how much I’ll actually end up following them on a regular basis, but they are a really appealing group you should probably check out. Their most recent music has all been great, but if you want another song to listen to last year’s “Yakusoku no Oka” was one of my favorite songs of 2016.

Erabareshi

Erabareshi is a subgroup of Bakusute Sotokanda Icchome, which I’ll be talking about later, that performs as a part of the Akihabara Backstage Pass cafe. Since Bakusute is a group comprised of all the employees of said cafe, there are a lot of members. Erabareshi is a group with a static lineup, and as such is a lot easier to remember, especially if you can’t actually go to the Akihabara Backstage Pass cafe, so if you’re interested in that cafe and Bakusute, Erabareshi is a good possibility for you.

Formed in 2016, Erabareshi has since released three singles, including the latest being Basket Queen. Unfortunately they’re region blocked on YouTube for me, so if that matters to you it’s pretty tough to follow them. Honestly, following Erabareshi internationally seems pretty tough in general. Bakusute and Erabareshi seem like interesting groups to follow if you are interested in idols, living in/near Tokyo, and you have enough money to regularly attend the cafe. If I was in Tokyo I would eat up the entire Bakusute gimmick and would probably frequent that cafe. If that was the case, Erabareshi would appeal to me. However, I feel like while these groups have some good music (I like Bakusute’s two indie singles, Produce and Yoropiku Pikuyoro a lot and Seishun Chronicle is good), so much of the enjoyment would come from going to the cafe.

That said, musically their songs are definitely solid. Basket Queen was written by noted Hello!Project producer Tsunku, so if you’er a Tsunku fan in particular checking out Erabareshi could be useful. The B-Side to this was used as a theme song and is particularly catchy. While I personally don’t think that the music distinguishes them enough to put in the effort if you’re not actually based near Tokyo, if you’ve been looking for a way to get into Bakusute then Erabareshi is a good option.

Osaka Shunkashuto

Osaka Shunkashuto was known in its indie years for being managed by only one person, Soezimax, who did everything (songwriting, PV, business, etc) relating to Osaka Shunkashuto. While they have moved on from this, now operating under Fujiyama Project Japan, they still have a big selling point which is the quality of performance. Osaka Shunkashuto is GOOD, and while all the members are good the vocals of the lead singer Maina are some of the most powerful, quality vocals in idol music today.

They recently released their new single, New Me, after not putting out any new music in 2016. While a lot of people prefer their older music, and I agree that Chameleon Shoujo and C’Mon are their best song, New Me is fantastic and definitely worth checking out if you liked the Soezimax era stuff but have been reluctant to check out their newer stuff. Most of their music is more rock-influenced, but New Me is a bit of a departure, having a bit more of an old-school feel to it. The group is generally pretty fantastic about performing, and while Maina is the lead vocalist all the other members seem really fun too. I haven’t explored this group much more than musically, but if this music sounds up your alley then you should listen to some of their songs.

Osaka Shunkashuto is well worth checking out, and I definitely recommend you give some of their music a shot.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 2

Appare! Harajuku

Appare! Harajuku is a pretty new group joining the TIF lineup. They made their debut in July 2016, so about 10 months ago, and just recently put out their first single, “Kono Saki e.” So if you like following an idol group from the start, Appare! Harajuku should be of interest to you. This six-member unit is, as noted by their group name, based out of Harajuku and as such focuses a lot on Harajuku fashion (every member has their favorite brand listed on the website. If you like the cute fashion of Harajuku, this may be a good group.

Honestly, Appare! Harajuku has had a really solid start with their album and single. They have some decent music (though nothing’s particularly excellent, mostly solid), and their performances seem fun. Their YouTube has a lot of performances, and a lot of them seem like they’re a slightly more mellow Dempagumi.inc, in a way. They seem like they’re a fun group and I like a lot of what I’ve heard so far, so if you’re looking for a new group to follow I’d suggest checking out Appare! Harajuku.

Afilia Saga

Another familiar group for following TIF! Afilia Saga was originally Afilia Saga East and they were formed in 2008. All the members are “magic students” that work for the Afilia Group of cafes and restaurants. All the members also have magical sounding stage names like Nana Dorp Bijoux and Raymee Heavenly. They’ve put out 3 albums and 19 singles and have done well for themselves, their most recent singles tending to rank at around #6-8 on the Oricon weekly singles chart. So they’re doing well for themselves. They do anime / video game music, so if you’re into anison then you should already be paying attention to Afilia Saga.

Personally, I always wish their singles and videos would do more with the gimmicks they have. Their magic user schtick is a cute idea but they don’t go anywhere near far enough with it. They have one song that I particularly love (Neptune Sagashite, which I still listen to very frequently) but the other songs I’ve heard have been pretty middling and haven’t done all that much for me, personally. That said, they do have a very anison sound / aesthetic, so if that’s your thing and you aren’t following Afilia Saga I suggest you check them out. Unfortunately their YouTube activity is region locked but some videos are still available elsewhere. They aren’t the easiest group to follow abroad, but if they sound like they’d be up your alley you should try to find some of their stuff.

amiiinA

amiinA is a group of two girls, Ami and Miyu. The group was formed in 2012 and named after the two members at the time, Ami and Miina, but Miina left in early 2016 and Miyu joined shortly afterwards. So the name is now an acronym (awake mind into ideal naked Avalon) rather than being a combination of names. Since this they’ve put out their 4th single, their first album, and this year will bring their first mini-album. So while Ami and the group have been working pretty steadily since 2012, 2016 is when they’ve started to pick up some speed and momentum. They’ve also, interestingly enough, released a version of their first album, Avalon, that’s just an instrumental version and they’re releasing a 12-inch LP later this year too.

Before  writing this post I had never heard of amiinA and was ready to spend about 10-15 minutes researching them and forget about them. But man, groups like amiinA are the reason I absolutely love doing these TIF posts, because I’m so glad I’ve heard of them now. Above all else, their music is fantastic.Their summary on the TIF website mentions they do post rock and electronica influence in their music, but while they do some genre bending I think that sells short just how high quality their music is. Their first album, Avalon, is available on US iTunes so I’ve listened to most of that so far and it’s all interesting and all just great. Beyond that, watching some of these videos, Ami and Miyu seem to both have a flair for performance which makes their concerts look like a ton of fun.

Their music isn’t terribly idol-y. If you want your idols to mostly do pure idol music, amiinA might not be for you. But if you like good music, you should definitely give amiinA a shot. They are just fantastic, and are now immediately going on the list of groups I follow just because of how much I love this music.

Ange☆Reve

Ange Reve is a group from the Arc Jewel agency that produces idol groups like Lovely Doll, Doll Elements, Luce Twinkle Wink, etc. The group’s name means Angel Dream, and currently has seven members, growing from previous numbers. Their big goal was a major debut, which they have achieved as Pony Canyon is their new major label. Since moving to Pony Canyon they have released three DVD singles, the most recent being “Colorful,” and just this past week put out a mini-album, Lumiere, which has two different versions that have completely different setlist. So they’ve been busy, and slowly climbing up the charts.

At this point I’ve mostly been familiar with their indies singles, as both Yuukan na Koi no Serenade and Kiss Me Happy are particular favorites of mine. I don’t think their major debut songs are quite as catchy, but they’re still really fun, upbeat idol songs. Stare is particularly good, and the new songs they’ve previewed off of Lumiere are fun too. Personally, I don’t love their music enough to go seek out both versions of Lumiere, but that being said if you like idols doing the cutesiest of cute idol music, Ange Reve is probably a good choice. All the members seem fun, so if this is your favorite type of idol music I recommend Ange Reve.

Ayumikurikamaki

I feel weirdly proud of Ayumikurikamaki. Formed in 2012 as just Kurikamaki, they first went to TIF when they were just formed by themselves and putting out videos of them in one of their bedrooms, and now they’ve gone legit. The group originally formed as a DJ unit where they performed wearing bear costumes, but added Ayumi, a singer, and have since done away with the bear costumes. Since their formation they’ve done well for themselves – their music is distributed by SME, they put out an album last year, and regularly put out singles.

While I tend to favor their single “Jet Kuma Star,”  their music I’ve all heard is all solidly produced. Despite its origins DJing, it’s not a hip-hop unit – instead their music is mostly solidly – rock inspired. That said, it’s all really solid music, and I definitely recommend checking them out if you like solid idol music with a rock twinge. While they don’t do too much with the DJ thing anymore, at least from what I know of their videos (Kurika DJs but steps out from behind the booth pretty frequently), their music is solid and their live shows look like a ton of fun. I’d definitely check them out if you like rock music or you just want to go to what looks like a good live show. Their newest single, “Gomas Slipper” (or is it “Gomas Ripper?” I’ve seen it both ways) is pretty fantastic.

 

Review: Morning Musume – 4th “Ikimasshoi!”

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.


4th Ikimasshoi comes after two years and multiple changes in Morning Musume as a group – in part because Morning Musume’s first best of album came out in between that featured several singles. Even though I’m not reviewing that album (way too much overlap between it and my previous three reviews), all the singles that are only on that album are great, and the original song, Say Yeah! Motto Miracle Night is genuinely one of Morning Musume’s best.

4th Ikimasshoi comes after the 4th and 5th generation members have been added. While 3rd Love Paradise still had some more experimental, interesting tracks that were reminiscent of Morning Musume’s start, 4th Ikimasshoi comes out when Morning Musume is fully a pop idol group. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if I was pressed to name a favorite Morning Musume album it would probably be 4th Ikimasshoi. But it’s definitely a shift in style.

While Love Machine is Morning Musume’s biggest track, I’d say 4th Ikimasshoi is Morning Musume’s golden era album. It still features both Abe Natsumi and Goto Maki, is mostly pop-centric, and feels like Morning Musume at its peak, even if realistically it’s Morning Musume just slightly below its peak.

1. The☆Peace!

Starting it off strong – The Peace is a great album opener. It’s energetic, upbeat, and a feel good song. It’s on the level of something like Love Machine that, even if you’re not a Morning Musume fan, this is still a great song. Last May a friend of mine and I went out to do karaoke together. Near the end of our karaoke time one of the employees came in to tell us our time was almost up while we were singing The Peace together. The employee ended up joining in for some of the “Peace Peace” bits at the end, that’s just how infectious this song is.

Arranged by the one the only Dance Man, The Peace is a jam from start to finish. There’s an energy throughout the song that’s great, and it doesn’t let up. I might just be a biased fan here, but even Ishikawa Rika’s spoken monologue has a decent energy to it as well.

I also really love the lyrics to The Peace – a lot of them are nonsensical and jump from one thing to another, sure, but that makes it true to life. It takes small ideas about not being able to choose what size pizza to order or signing up for English conversation classes and elevates them. The idea is that being with someone you love elevates these small things to becoming major, to becoming important, and I love how it works in The Peace.

The Peace is one of my favorite Morning Musume songs ever. It is a nonstop joy, and if you’re one of the five Morning Musume fans who don’t know it then go and listen immediately. 10/10

2. Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan

This isn’t one of the more well known songs off of the album, but it’s kid of an underlistened gem for me. It has a great 1950s pop sound that is just happy and pleasant, which is created by a great melody and a great Dance*Man arrangement makes this song work. It’s perhaps not quite as ambitious as some of the other songs on 4th Ikimasshoi, but that doesn’t detract from this.

One of the things that strikes me about Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan is the vocal mix – the vocal production and overall sound of this song is super polished and works really well. At this point Morning Musume had a decent mix of performers who could sing well (Abe, Goto, Yasuda) and those who weren’t as great at singing (Tsuji, Konno, and yes, Ishikawa), but all the voices sound great here and mix well here. The actual instrumentation and arrangement work well too with strings, background vocals, what sounds like a glockenspiel, etc. This is a really well put together song.

I don’t know if I’d consider this a personal favorite song of mine from the album because there are so many greats and Ii Koto isn’t one of the more memorable songs. That being said, I think it shows the overall quality of the era to have such a well put together song not be the memorable one. 8/10

3. Mr. Moonlight ~Ai no Big Band~ (Long Version). 

The Peace was technically the Complete Version, because the end of the song got to the end rather than fading out. Instead of something like that for Mr. Moonlight, there is now a roughly 3 minute spoken skit at the beginning with all of the members. It’s kind of interesting, but it’s mostly extraneous. Some of the members have some funny bits (Yoshizawa Hitomi hams it up and it is just delightful), but it’s a bit long and not gold all the way through – there’s a bouncer at this party who inexplicably has a lot to say. It’s fine, but if I just had 4th Ikimasshoi I’d fast forward through this after the first few listens, as it doesn’t add much of anything.

The rest of the song is classic Morning Musume gold. It perfectly incorporates a big, brassy, big band sound (hence the title) while also being a tribute to the Takarazuka theater. The arrangement is lush and fantastic – obviously the brass is the star here, but there’s a great bass sound to everything, the drums are particularly good, and everything works well with that. The performances are great by the main three, not being afraid to ham it up a little but being appropriately suave. Yoshizawa Hitomi was a perfect star of Mr. Moonlight, and her performance works very well here.

Mr. Moonlight is musically fantastic – every note, every element works perfectly. I’m not a huge fan of the extended intro for the long version, but the original is one of the absolute greats of Morning Musume’s discography. 9/10

4. Hajimete no Rock Concert

The most immediately noticeable thing about Hajimete no Rock Concert is that there’s no real rock sound to it – aside from a short electric guitar note near the end of the song, there’s nothing about this that feels like rock music at all. It’s much more late 90s / early 2000s r&b than anything. This isn’t bad – I actually really like Hajimete no Rock Concert as a song, but there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance between the title / subject matter and the actual music.

The song works really well, and I like the mix of electronic sounds and strings – the more classical strings are great here, and I like whenever they’re more pizzicato. I also really like the dark feel of the song. It’s not the song that’s aged the best out of this album, but it’s still a fun listen.

This is a unit song, with only six of the members of the group on it. I actually really like how many small units are on this album – I think that’s something more idol albums should do, actually. The only thing is, while most of this group sounds great, Tsuji Nozomi’s voice sticks out like a sore thumb. I get they didn’t want all of 4th generation on Densha no Futari, the other small group song, but I’d rather hear Kago’s voice on this than Tsuji’s. Her part is pretty short, but it takes me out of it whenever I hear her. That said, all the members sound fine, and Ogawa Makoto’s spoken monologues work really well here – she’s a member who I really think should have gotten a better shake within MM.

Hajimete no Rock Concert is probably my least favorite song off 4th Ikimasshoi, but that’s not a bad thing – it’s a solid r&b track with some good strings and good performances. I think more than anything that shows just how solid of an album 4th Ikimasshoi is. 7/10

5. Otoko Tomodachi

Four albums in and we still need to have an Abe Natsumi-driven song on every Morning Musume album. That’s not a bad thing, though, because Otoko Tomodachi is so great. In fact, the lyrics make me feel like this isn’t a song that could be done as a group – the song lyrics are very specifically about one person and are focused on this one person’s experiences. Natsumi also performs it pretty perfectly and, beyond her being the lead singer of the group, it fits her perfectly. So even though some Morning Musume fans at this time felt something of a Nacchi fatigue, I don’t think this would work quite as well with Goto Maki, Takahashi Ai, Yasuda Kei, or any other member of the group – Nacchi’s vocals and vocal performance carry Otoko Tomodachi.

The rest of the song is relatively simple, rock-inspired pop song but it works because the melody is so great, the performance is great, the lyrics work, the background vocals work. Everything about this is the ideal standard pop song – it might not be breaking ground in the same way something like Mr. Moonlight does, but instead this feels like a carefully, well-constructed song with a catchy melody and great vocals.

Otoko Tomodachi is a classic, and a deserved one. 9/10

6. Souda! We’re Alive

I recently wrote about Souda! We’re Alive for my Song of the Day posts, but I’ll say it again – Souda! We’re Alive is underrated. Not because it’s unloved or disliked – it’s not. But I think it’s genuinely one of Morning Musume’s best tracks ever and is genuinely pretty perfect, blending a variety of genres and sounds to make something really special, I’d say even on the level of a Love Machine or Renai Revolution 21 in terms of quality.

More than anything I’d say this is one of Dance Man’s finest arrangements – the bass sound adds to the funk feel of much of the song, and he handles how much the song changes with panache. My favorite part is definitely the great bassline, but the entire song works.

If you’re familiar with current idol composers this feels in many ways like a proto-Hyadain song in the best way – there are various sections in this song that feel completely distinct (the sung/shouted “doryoku, mirai, etc.” lines, the sweeter chorus, the funky verses, the vaguely Russian/funk bridge), but despite how much things change over the song it all works together well. It also has a ton of energy – the repeated “doryoku, mirai, etc.” lines build up really well, as do the rest of the verses, and I love how the pay off to this build up is the sweet, poppy “shiawase ni naritai” chorus. The tone of the song varies, but the energy is always solid and I love how different the song sounds throughout.

Souda! We’re Alive is a masterpiece, and one of the best songs Morning Musume has ever done. 10/10

7. Dekkai Uchuu Ni Ai Ga Aru (Album Version) 

Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru is a fairly simple song, not quite as strange as a Souda! We’re Alive, but it still is a good one and comes in at a good place in the album – after an off the wall, strange song like Souda, having a more subdued (but still upbeat) track be the middle track of an album works really well as a little breather. The song is mostly sung in unison and has been performed during some charity events because of its relatively uplifting / positive lyrics. I think it fits this role really well – it’s supposed to be a heart-warming song but it doesn’t veer into being too cheesy or saccharine. I also like how upbeat the song ends up being – it could easily be a slow dirge of a song but it works well at this tempo.

Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru isn’t as original or interesting as some of the other songs on this album but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a very well put together, solid pop track with a great instrumental. It’s not a song I turn to a lot, but when I do I end up liking it. 7/10

8. Ikimasshoi!

After the relatively restrained Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru comes another more upbeat song with Ikimasshoi. Ikimasshoi is pure energy, even more so than the other songs that have been featured on this album. While not quite as well written or as interesting like something like Souda! We’re Alive, Ikimasshoi is like eating pure sugar. In a good way. In many ways, Ikimasshoi feels like the start of a lot of current Hello!Project, emphasizing energy over refinement. The song is great, to be sure, but the arrangement in some ways leaves something to be desired, as it mostly seems to eschew real instruments for whatever they can do electronically. This works a lot here, but I wish that there were some real strings at the start of the song rather than the computer approximation sometimes. It works in a song like Ikimasshoi just fine, but it feels like the lesson from 4th Ikimasshoi was that this would work for most songs, which it really doesn’t.

All that being said, don’t get me wrong- Ikimasshoi is pretty wonderful, and it does what it sets out to do well. It’s supposed to be high energy, the song to pump you up – this is a song that would be so much fun at a concert. I’m not sure it set the best precedent for H!P, but it’s still a great song. 8/10

9. Densha no Futari

The second small group song after Hajimete no Rock Concert, Densha no Futari works a little bit better. It’s one of those songs where I’m surprised at the restraint – Abe Natsumi is in this and yet she generally takes a backseat. The style of the song also works well with making the lesser vocally talented members like Ishikawa Rika and Konno Asami work well, often having a more breathy sound to their vocals.

Densha no Futari is one of the more underrated tracks off of 4th Ikimasshoi, which is a shame because it has a great, almost darker sound to it. It’s fast paced, but it’s much more subdued than something like Ikimasshoi, which gives it an interesting energy. I’d say there’s more tension than pure energy in Densha no Futari. It also has a pretty solid arrangement, with melding electronic sounds, a solid beat, an acoustic guitar.

If you haven’t listened to Densha no Futari, check it out. It has a really interesting sound, makes good use of all of the members on the track, and every element works well. 9/10

10. Honki de Atsui Theme Song

This is the other majorly underlistened track on 4th Ikimasshoi, which is a total shame. This is yet another collaboration with Dance*Man, and as evidenced with his other songs it works really well. Honki de Atsui Theme Song also had a separate arranger for the brass/horns, which is a good sing for me liking a song. And it works here, there’s a lot of brass sound throughout which works well. That said the entire arrangement works well – there’s a great guitar solo near the end, there are some great background vocals throughout as well.

Honki de Atsui Theme Song is a funky, upbeat song that I’m surprised didn’t catch on more or that wasn’t used more. I love how energetic it is, but I also love just how this song needs to be sung with a lot of passion. And all the members do a great job of infusing it with this level of energy and putting a lot of effort into it.

All that being said, the melody is great as well, and this song further cements just how great the collaboration between Tsunku and Dance*Man was. Honki de Atsui Theme Song is one of those songs where you should absolutely give it a shot if you haven’t yet. 10/10

11. Suki na Senpai

Suki na Senpai is one of those songs where I don’t know if I can easily separate the song from what it’s become. Rather than just being a pretty standard pop song, it’s become a Hello!Project institution, sung by new members of Hello!Project groups fairly regularly. I’ll do my best, but Suki na Senpai is one of those songs that is kind of bigger than the actual song itself.

Suki na Senpai is generally a pretty solid, standard pop song, but I think it stands out in the lyrics and performances. The first line sung by Konno Asami about loving to sing even though she can’t do it well just feels real in a way that not a lot of idol songs feel – even though the song is theoretically aimed at someone in a school, the lyrics are all focused on the questions and worries of someone new to something. This is the perfect song for new members of Morning Musume, as it feels like it leans into the insecurity of being a new member to an established girl group rather than pretending things are going just fine. I think there’s a reason that this still gets performed very frequently.

Suki na Senpai is, on its surface, a pretty standard pop song, but is elevated by the lyrics and performance. 8/10

12. Renai Revolution 21 (13nin version)

I feel like this goes without saying. While Love Machine is Morning Musume’s best known song, I believe that Renai Revolution 21 is Morning Musume’s best song. It’s a perfect mix of a catchy melody, fun performances, and one of Dance Man’s best arrangements. Renai Revolution is epitome of classic Morning Musume and classic Hello!Project’s disco pop sound and it does it near perfectly. It’s also the type of song I’ll never get sick of. Over the past 9-10 years I’ve listened to Renai Revolution 21 countless times and it still pumps me up every single time.

There is nothing I can say against Renai Revolution 21. Every element works well together perfectly. One interesting element is that with all the various parts sung by the members of the group and all the vocals, the song almost always has vocals on top of the instrumentation. However, it’s one of those things I never really think about because all the various layers of vocals and instruments work just perfectly.

Every element is perfect. All together this song is perfect. Renai Revolution 21 is perfect. 10/10

13. Nanni mo Iwazu ni I Love You

I actually don’t listen to this version of the song that much, because I honestly prefer the version performed as a cover by the group v-u-den. That said, this version is still solid. It has a good melody and I love the feel of this song. While this isn’t necessarily as upbeat or as interesting as many of the other songs on the album, this is a pretty nice way to end the album, with a warm, positive feeling. It’s maybe not the song I would have chosen (I might be inclined to end 4th Ikimasshoi with Honki de Atsui Theme Song), but it’s a nice song.

The song starts off in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s aged well (it feels very 90s and not in a great way), but as the song progresses and more members start singing it works very well. It has a heartwarming feel in general, even if it’s a bit cheesy with it. I still think that v-u-den’s version is a bit better, but that’s partially virtue of being released several years later and it not feeling as dated.

Nanni mo Iwazu ni I Love You isn’t the best song on 4th Ikimasshoi but it is a very solid way to end this exceptional album 7/10

Overall: 4th Ikimasshoi is a pop music masterpiece. Every song is great, and there are several songs on this album I would consider to be Morning Musume’s finest. The songs are well written, well arranged, and this group of members performs them well. After listening and reviewing 4th Ikimasshoi I have to say that I stand by my insistence that it is Morning Musume’s finest work.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 1

That’s right, everyone’s favorite Happy Disco series that takes way too much time is back, the profiles of every group appearing at Tokyo Idol Festival 2017! This year should prove to be bigger than ever, with HKT48’s Sashihara Rino as the chairman of festivities and the festival continuing to be over three days.

AIS‐All Idol Songs-

AIS – All Idol Songs is a group that was formed in June 2016 as a sister group of Idol Renaissance, with the idea that they’d cover 21st century idol songs. So while Idol Renaissance tends to do either older songs or non-idol songs, AIS does a LOT of idol songs from the 21st century, some which you may be familiar with. Taking a look at AIS’ youtube channel they’ve covered Matsuura Aya, Berryz Koubou, Watarirouka Hashiritai and others. Their first single is the fantastic “Doki! Kou iu no ga Koi na no” by Canary Club (which you may know from the game Rhythm Heaven), with Tomato n’Pine’s “Captain ga Kimi da” as the B-Side. A group like this is much more fun if you’re versed with idol music, as they have a pretty interesting and eclectic mix of songs.

Unfortunately, their YouTube channel is region locked, so it’s going to be harder to follow them as a foreign fan. From what I can tell, while the group is definitely still rough around the edges (considering they’ve only been around for less than a year this isn’t surprising) they could be a lot of fun. And since Idol Renaissance is such a great group themselves, AIS seems like they could be worth it to follow, especially if you like idol music and want to hear a fun group cover some familiar music.

Idol College

Idol College is one of the mainstays of the Tokyo Idol Festival so it’s great to see them back again! I’ve covered them for several years so it’s always interesting to check back in. Formed in 2009, the group was originally B.L.T Idol College, for the magazine B.L.T. However, they reformed with totally new members in 2010 as Idol College. Their theme is personal growth as idols (hence college), and they seem to be doing well – one of their singles reached #6 on the Oricon Weekly, so they seem to be performing well. They put out some singles within the last year and an album, with their latest single “Pantastic” coming out on April 10.

Despite having followed them for TIF for years, Idol College has never really grabbed me. They’ve always given me the impression of being pretty fun to follow in person but not really that fun to follow overseas. That said, they have put out some pretty great music over the years. I mostly tend to like their cooler, dance music more than anything – I frequently listen to 2015’s “Tokonatsu Joshi Kibou” and their 2016 single “Niji to Tokimeki no Fes” is pretty great. Their production value and quality of performances seems to only be going up, so if you are looking for a new group to follow I definitely recommend checking Idol College out.

Idol Renaissance

Speak of the devil, here’s AIS – All Idol Songs’ sister group, Idol Renaissance! Over the past few years Idol Renaissance have started to make a name for themselves and it is totally deserved. Formed in 2014, the group’s theme is performing classic songs, meaning that they perform exclusively covers of songs that are considered classic/masterpieces, regardless of how old they are or their genre. That said, Idol Renaissance has a really classic idol feel to them, and despite only performing covers they’ve managed to have a unique style and feel to the group. They’re putting out their first original song in June of 2016, which should be exciting!

This year they put out a joint single with the hip hop idol group Lyrical School as Lyricalnaissance with a cover of Base Ball Bear’s “The Cut” and it is genuinely one of my favorite songs of the year. Idol Renaissance has been doing a lot of collaborations and members have appeared doing other things (one of the members showed up in Up Up Girls’ PV for “Party People Alien”), which makes them an exciting group to pay attention to.

Honestly, the only thing that is difficult with Idol Renaissance is that they haven’t embraced promoting themselves worldwide – their music is unavailable on iTunes and their YouTube account is region locked. However, if you can get past all that (they do have a lot of performances on YouTube), Idol Renaissance is well worth following. They are one of my top groups I wish I had the money and time to follow, and if you are going to TIF I would definitely check out Idol Renaissance.

 

Akishibu Project

 This is the fourth time I’ve covered Akishibu Project for this series, I believe! Formed by former BiS member Rinahamu, Akishibu Project aims to combine the cultures of Akihabara (among other things idol culture) and Shibuya (more fashion-focused / trendy), hence Akishibu. The group has had a solid year, noting on their TIF profile that they sold out a solo at Akasaka Blitz and held a solo show at Zepp Tokyo, which is a pretty solid venue for an indie act. In 2016 they put out an album and a single, their single reaching 9th place on the Oricon weekly chart, which isn’t a bad ranking for a new indie group at all.

While they say they’re combining Akihabara and Shibuya, everything I’ve seen of theirs tends to err on the side of Akihabara. Their first single, “Summer Summer” is very catchy idol pop and their concerts seem to have mostly an idol fan audience, at least as far as I can tell. Still, they seem to focus on fashion enough that if you were interested in that you could follow Akishibu Project. They also seem to be relatively ambitious – they performed some songs with a live band during their Zepp Tokyo show, which I always like to see.

I don’t know how much Akishibu Project really meshes Akihiabara and Shibuya together, but they have some fun songs, their members seem to be energetic, and they seem like a fun group to follow. “Summer Summer” is super catchy, and if you like that the group has plenty of videos posted on YouTube about their Zepp Tokyo show. Their music has been a lot of fun and upbeat lately so I know I’ll keep listening to some of their music after this.

Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari)

Up Up Girls is another mainstay of TIF, and one I’m betting a lot of readers of this blog are familiar with! The group formed as a group of former Hello!Project trainees (Hello! Project Eggs) that had not been put in a group themselves, so they initially started to perform as a KPop cover group called UFZS (which they kept up with) and then as their own Jpop group called Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari) starting in 2011. Since then they’ve released quite a few singles (both as an indie act and after they made their major debut), three albums, and have been a very active group performing live. They recently added five members as Up Up Girls (2), initially as second generation members, but they’re kind of doing their own thing now, performing as back dancers for Up Up Girls’ latest single. Two of the members, Sengoku Minami and Sato Ayano, are planning their graduation soon, so if you wanted to see the whole group then TIF is an option for you.

Lately the group has found a groove of their own with more dance-focused music. Last year’s Party People Alien was a definite success, and this year’s Upper Disco is proving to be one of the best idol songs of 2017. Their music has consistently been good, but the past couple of years of dance/EDM driven music has been increasingly good for UUG, finding a niche for themselves. They are a fun group to pay attention to and I wish I paid them more attention. They have fun, high quality performances with solid music, and you should definitely give them a shot if you haven’t yet.