X Japan: Bootlegged Beginnings

•2010/08/01 • Leave a Comment
Yoshiki and Toshi

Yoshiki and Toshi in July of 2010 after a press conference in Paris.

It was the winter of 2006 and the blistering cold stabbed right through my coat even after I walked into Shin-Osaka station. I’d just witnessed my first Yo La Tengo concert with a good friend of mine and, in an attempt to get to know him a bit better, I delved a bit deeper into his musical leanings. His favorite band, he explained to me as we climbed the escalator to the train platform, is the Beatles, but not because they wrote Sgt. Pepper or sold more albums than Jesus. No, he prefers the Beatles because of the wealth of bootlegs treasured and fawned over by music aficionados while the rest of the public remains content knowing what they know about the Beatles: Please Please Me through Let It Be.

Ah, the bootleg. A not entirely legal, yet time-honored tradition in music fandom that sets the truly dedicated apart even if only in their own minds. Still, legit or not, it can’t be argued that these scratchy recordings often taped by smuggled audio equipment can provide some insight into how the band so meticulously edited and polished on their official albums came to be.

At least that’s what I hoped when I began listening to some long-forgotten bootlegs from X Japan’s past. I’ve known them only as the sold-out Tokyo Dome kings of Visual Kei that they were in their heyday. What, I wondered, could they have possibly sounded like without a full stage crew or a legion of fans screaming their lyrics back at them. What did they sound like at say, their high school festival in 1983? I was about to find out. Continue reading ‘X Japan: Bootlegged Beginnings’


New York Times on Japanese Reggae

•2010/07/25 • Leave a Comment

Japanese homegrown reggae icons U-Dou & Platy.

“Japanese Reggae?” So posed a headline in the New York Times Style Magazine online last week when it ran Jonathan L. Fischer’s post on the subject. In it, Fischer suggests that Japanese Reggae has evolved from its imported roots and turned into something nihonjin can claim as their own.

I’m not terribly versed in reggae (Japanese or otherwise) so I did a little digging on one of the bands mentioned in Fischer’s piece. Called U-Dou & Platy, one of Fischer’s sources suggests they may represent the current state of Japanese reggae. Give ’em a listen below. I did and they’re not half bad.

Anamanaguchi Single Airbrushed Up for Download

•2010/07/20 • Leave a Comment

Anamanaguchi's Airbrushed features animated cover art from Paul Robertson

It’s quiz time. What’s the Japanese name for what we Americans know as the Nintendo Entertainment System? Answer: The famicon short for “family computer.” The original system featured a red and white design with hard-wired controllers that actually fit on to the system between rounds of play.

Why am I fussing over Nintendo’s ancient history? I do so in an attempt to rationalize writing about a band who merely sounds Japanese. Fast forward almost three decadess from the release of the Famicon and you’ll find a New York City-based band called Anamanaguchi who pumps out kick ass tunes played in part on a hacked NES. It’s a flimsy link, but let’s go with it, okay?
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X Japan: How Japan’s Biggest Rock Band is Poised to Achieve American Success

•2010/07/18 • 1 Comment
X Japan

X Japan

Reading a list of X Japan’s accomplishments on a press release issued by their American promoter’s Web site is like checking off a wish list for every Japanese band hoping to make it big on American soil. “They are the biggest rock band in Japanese history,” it says before continuing their list of accoldes. They’ve sold out Japan’s Tokyo Dome, a venue that holds 55,000 screaming fans, 18 times. Their album sales are more than 30 million world wide. They’re credited with pioneering a genre of Japanese music called Visual Kei. Their song “I.V.” appeared on the Saw IV soundtrack and on Rock Band 2 as downloadable content.

And yet, the press release says, “even with all of this success, you may have never heard of them.”

It seems no matter how much success a Japanese band enjoys, there will always be an invisible wall preventing them from receiving mainstream recognition in the States. Polysics have toured here for years and produced English versions of their albums. Yet next time they roll through your town you can bet they’ll be relegated to a tiny venue, not an arena (if they play your town at all). You’ll probably never hear a radio station play Shonen Knife despite the cult following they’ve earned by touring with Nirvana in the ’90s. If Grunge Rock’s most idolzed figure can’t propel a Japanse band to stardom, who can?

My yen’s on X and if you’ve kept an eye on what they’ve been up to lately, it’s easy to see why.
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Asian Kung Fu Generation: “Maigoinu to Ame no Beat”

•2010/05/18 • Leave a Comment

“Maigoinu to Ame no Beat” or “A Stray Puppy and the Beat of the Rain” by Asian Kung-Fu Generation.

In anticipation of the single’s May 26, 2010 release date, Asian Kung-Fu Generation has released a promotional video for “Maigoinu to Ame no Beat.” The track was originally announced as the theme song for the upcoming anime series Yojo-Han Shinwa Taikei (The Tatami Galaxy) though it will also appear on the band’s upcoming 6th album Magic Disk due for release in June of this year.

Incidentally, The Tatami Galaxy features character designs from Asian Kung-Fu Generation cover artist Yusuke Nakamura.

Macross Frontier Star Megumi Nakajima’s New Album and the Importance of a Theme Song

•2010/05/16 • 1 Comment
Mari Iijima, Lynn Minmay, Megumi Nakajima, Ranka Lee

Mari Iijima and her character Lynn Minmay (left). Megumi Nakajima and her character Ranka Lee (right).

In June, Megumi Nakajima will release her first album called I Love You. The album features twelve love songs for the twelve months of the year including a song composed by Nakajima herself called “Call Me.” While it’s the first work Nakajima has recorded under her own name, it’s hardly her first album.

Nakajima is better known to fans of a Japanese anime series Macross Frontier as the “Super Dimensional Cinderella” Ranka Lee. In the series, Ranka follows her dream of becoming a pop idol eventually usurping the wildly successful songstress Sheryl Nome (played by real life Japanese idol May’N); a story not so different from Nakajima’s own. Nakajima entered the Victor Vocal & Voice Audition in 2007 where she won her Macross Frontier role and started down a path of of musical success culminating her new album next month.

You may think the idea of landing a singing career by being on a cartoon sounds like a rare occurrence. It’s not…at least not in Japan.
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Perfume: Fushizen na Girl/Natural ni Koishite

•2010/05/14 • 3 Comments

Perfume - Fushizen na Girl

Perfume: Nocchi (left), A~Chan (center) and Kashiyuka (right).

What’s my guilty pleasure? Perfume.

Here’s what you need to know: Perfume is an electro-pop group from Hiroshima consisting of members Nocchi, Kashiyuka and A~chan. What perfume does is fill your life with pure, audio candy so packed full of sucrose that you’re guaranteed to develop a sweet tooth. The group has released three albums that have essentially been collections of previously released singles with a few surprises. They have also released several, amazingly executed music videos often available as CD+DVD packages. In my experience, it’s the videos that are the ultimate hook. How can I say no to not one, but three choreographed, dancing, Japanese, idols?

In April, Perfume released their first single since One Room Disco in March of 2009. This new release, Fushizen na Girl/Natural ni Koishite features two new bubble gum tracks every bit as infectious as their previous works. Check out the new music videos after the jump.
Continue reading ‘Perfume: Fushizen na Girl/Natural ni Koishite’