Reverse N° 1
BBBD has always been a blog focusing most of its time to the new, the current, the hip. Keeping up with the modern is only half of the fun of listening to music, though; revering the old, the past, and the seminal is just as important -- if not more so -- as hailing the up-to-date, though, and BBBD has been deficient in remembering what once was. We proudly present you Reverse, a new column that highlights the music of before from all corners of the globe. With N° 1, we look at some older Japanese groups you all may not be terribly familiar with.
Japanese pop music -- on all levels -- has been too neatly categorized and grouped for comfort. As we all know, musical scenes, eras, and loose communities serve as a good way to make sense of the tradition of music, but not a whole lot more. Few artists -- and certainly barely any of the authentic, sincere, and respectful ones -- begin making music of a certain variety to conveniently fit into a specific genre. Such is the case with the much discussed and revered Shibuya-kei movement of the early- to mid-1990s. While Pizzicato Five, Cornelius, Fantastic Plastic Machine, and a handful of others certainly share similarities with each other, the short-lived Shibuya-kei episode of Japanese music was more complex and detailed than we're led to believe.
The Shibuya-kei period of outrageous musical creativity was not confined solely to and rooted only in a rebirthing of the post-punk guitar-pop of the Postcard Records outfits and a rediscovery of the 1960s lounge pop. Indeed, there was a segment of creators who could more aptly be tied to the twee styles of the late-1980s ... the early bedroom pop artists and lo-fi folks of the C-86 crew. Citrus was one such band. (Néojaponisme has a great interview with Emori Takeaki -- Citrus' frontman and brain -- online now that's very worth reading through.) Their tunes are eternally rooted in the spastic early days of punk (and ridiculous and goofy crap of 1980s Boredoms), hyperactive, neon-lit streets of Shibuya, and the modest production qualities of say, Mt. Eerie. A bizarre and utterly compelling mix to say the least.
The more ignorant of us perpetually assume that Japanese composers merely ape other musical varieties. Everything is derivative of something else -- and clearly so -- and never completely unique unto itself. Listen to any of Citrus' songs, though, and you'll find it difficult to pinpoint their sound. The band sprouted in 1993 and dissolved in 2000/1 and truly served only as a predecessor to today's Japanese pop rather than another imitator that hopped on one of many fashionable musical bandwagons.
The below two songs are quite possibly BBBD's favorite Citrus cuts. "Colo Colo Meets the Stripes" represents one of Trattoria Records' crowning achievements -- a world of tense and angsty guitar-driven punk with an oddly soothing lightness and eccentricity that only a Tokyo band can deliver -- and one of the Shibuya-kei era's most significant works. Not one band in the scene today would admit to not knowing this track and it's undeniably just as important in terms of setting the stage for future generations of musicians as Y.M.O. was for electronic music or Plastics was for Japan's retort to American New Wave. Rock out.
Citrus - Colo Colo Meets the Stripes (from Bend It! Japan '98)
Citrus - Your Building (from Wispy, No Mercy)
When discussing Japan's infatuation with clean, crisp guitar-pop a la Aztec Camera and Orange Juice, Keigo Oyamada's (AKA Cornelius and the founder of Trattoria Records) outfit, Flipper's Guitar, is usually the one and only seminal group namedroped. A true shame as there were, obviously, many, many more equally exciting bands that ran in the same direction and with the same crowd and were just as intriguing. Kaji Hideki's pre-solo endeavor sextet, Bridge, is BBBD's favorite non-Flipper's Guitar ensemble.
There's not a tremendous amount of information floating around the Internet concerning Bridge, but the early 1990s band was very, very cool -- trust. The band served as the connector, in many ways, between the distinctly foreign in quality of Flipper's Guitar and specifically Burt Bacharach-esque of Pizzicato Five. Strangely, Bridge sounds like one of the most Japanese products of the Shibuya-kei movement. Mami Otomo sings in the way that any other J-Pop vocalist circa 1980 - 1990 would've, and in terms of production, Bridge sounds sparkling and shiny in a karaoke arrangement manner as opposed to a post-punk sanitary sort of way. That being said, Bridge was most definitely influenced by the sounds of Western countries -- Hideki now lives in both Tokyo and London, for example -- but erred more on the aesthetics of easy-listening J-Pop. Bridge -- which disbanded in 1995 -- brought plenty into the equation (Latin rhythms, loungey horn and string arrangements, easy-listening guitar melodies), but rarely pushed the envelope or forced native Japanese listeners to reexamine their musical preferences and likes. Listen and you'll understand.
Bridge - Watermelon Bikini (from Paper Bikini Ya-Ya)
Bridge - Pool Side Music (from Preppy Kicks
After Bridge's 1995 breakup, Kaji Hideki traded in his bass for a guitar (or rather, added to his repertoire everything else one needs to make an de facto one-man band) and released an EP, Muscat, the following year. Hideki is very interesting for one reason in particular: he crystallized Japan's indie-pop obsession with Sweden, and never turned back. Instead of drawing primarily from the Sounds of Scotland, 1980, Hideki pulled specifically from the awesomeness that was Swedish pop, 1995. It wasn't hip to be in love with Sweden back then -- certainly not like it is today -- and the fact that Hideki brought that country's music up to a new level of admiration while simultaneously constructing his entirely unique sound is the simple and fair reason to appreciate the forty-one-year-old.
Hideki fully realized his aesthetic in the late-1990s, though, so listen to the below tracks and note the development, progression. Stunning. "You Can Work It Out" may be one of the most uplifting songs ever written. He's a new LP out now called Towns and Streets that BBBD would kill to hear ...
Kaji Hideki - Eggstone (from Mini Skirt)
Kaji Hideki - Peanuts (from Tea)
Kaji Hideki - You Can Work It Out (from Bend It! Japan '98)
In BBBD's humble opinion, Salon Music is/was Boris before Boris. The duo has been recording music with some regularity since 1981 with the single, "Hunting On Paris," never settling on one specific sound or approach to creating songs. Now, they resemble more of a kraut-rock outfit with disco-infused beats and spacey arrangements, but they used to subscribe more to the shoegaze sound and at one point settled for more straightforward J-Pop in the Shibuya-kei tradition.
They moved to Trattoria Records in the 1990s, tying them to the Shibuya-kei sound by contract and affiliation, but not by much else. The pair were first noticed by Western journalists, critics, and labels, further cementing their place in the international scene rather than in the Japanese indie movements they lived through. Regardless, Salon Music is a dense and worthy addition to the body of music Japan has produced. Listen to a couple songs from two very different and distinct LPs below. Hopefully they'll come out with something new soon!
Salon Music - I Could Love (from Chew It In A Bite)
Salon Music - Disko Eskimo (from New World Record