I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

KIX-S -- Mata Aeru...(また逢える…)

Some time ago, Fireminer inquired about some of the female pop-rock bands that had been prevalent around the late 80s and early 90s, and he mentioned about the group KIX-S. I knew about Princess Princess and Pink Sapphire at the time but that was back when I was residing in Gunma Prefecture. KIX-S was also a band that I had heard about but didn't really get to know partially because I was back in Toronto for a few years, and at the time, if I were getting CDs through the "Eye-Ai" mail order, I was focusing on those singers that I knew and was comfortable with. As far as I was concerned, KIX-S was another one of those units alongside ZARD, ZYYG and WANDS which seemed to get its names in all-caps after being inspired by a Scrabble game.

KIX-S consisted of vocalist/lyricist Tsukasa Hamaguchi(浜口司)and guitarist/composer Miharu Ataka(安宅美春), and had their run between 1991 and 1999. Releasing a total of 14 singles and 8 original albums during this period, their most successful single was their debut "Mata Aeru..." (We'll See Each Other Again) from July 1992.

If there were the ideal song to accompany a woman heading up to the top of a windy hill to yell out her undying love for that special someone, "Mata Aeru..." would probably be it. Written by Hamaguchi and composed by Ataka, this has become the pop/rock ballad to signify amore for that lover who has gone far away for the next little while. Indeed, it's wistful, powerful and declarative and a message that distance is no obstacle for the feelings between two folks. Plus, that arrangement has become quite natsukashii.

"Mata Aeru..." was their greatest hit as it reached No. 2 on Oricon and became the 28th-ranked single for 1992. It has been included in their 3rd album "One Night Heaven" from June of that year which peaked at No. 24, and there has also been an acoustic version in their follow-up album "Virginity" from December 1992. That got all the way up to No. 14.

Also participating in the chorus for the original recording were guitarist Seiichiro Kuribayashi(栗林誠一郎), who has helped out bands such as DEEN, B.B. Queens and ZARD, and 90s hit singer Maki Ohguro(大黒摩季).

Yoko Maeno -- Cobra/Secret Desire(コブラ・シークレット・デザイアー)

Still digesting my buffet lunch at The Dragon Legend earlier today. Even at my advanced age and inclusion of wisdom in using pacing and conservatism when it comes to the number of rounds and choices at the buffet tables, I still ate a goodly amount of food. The Dragon Legend comes by its name quite honestly.

Anyways, I start my night on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" from a rather extraordinary setting this time: the toilet in my host family's house while I was on the JET Programme. Yup, you heard me. Ironic that I had started with a report on my huge lunch today and have now transitioned to the end of the digestion process. Well, luckily I will spare you the gory details but the reason that I start here is that by the porcelain god, there was always a pile of manga.

Now, I've always heard about the age-old tradition of taking some reading material into the washroom when you need to do your business. Take in stuff while disgorging stuff. Though that was never something I did while growing up here in Canada, I have to admit that I did pick up a few of those manga and leafed through them. One of those comics was the sci-fi epic "Cobra"(コブラ)about the titular man-of-adventure surrounded by plenty of gritty settings, sex and violence. I didn't convert into a fan but at the time, I kinda wondered if there had ever been a Hollywood live-action adaptation, a merging of Dolph Lundgren and Harrison Ford would have been in order or a really kick-butt version of Owen Wilson.

Getting back to the music aspects of the original 1982 anime "Space Cobra"(スペースコブラ), I was at my buddy's place during anison hour when the opening theme for the series came on. Simply titled "Cobra", I was automatically entranced by that epic jazz orchestra and the silky and sultry vocals of Yoko Maeno(前野曜子)who had been the first vocalist for the 1970s pop group Pedro and Capricious(ペドロ&カプリシャス). Of course, the music was composed by Yuji Ohno(大野雄二)who could come up with some very spicy theme songs. "Cobra" is a stylish and rousing romp with some spectacular horns and strings. Kayoko Fuyumori(冬杜花代子)provided the lyrics.

The same trio of Maeno, Ohno and Fuyumori was also responsible for the ending theme, "Secret Desire" which keeps the jazz. However, whereas "Cobra" is sweeping and action-packed and spy-jazzy, the ender is playful and relaxed with a more swing jazz arrangement. Even Cobra needs to unwind once in a while in his favourite gin-soaked watering hole-in-a-wall. Both songs came out as official and separate singles for Maeno in 1982.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Miharu Koshi -- Kimagure Highway(気まぐれハイウェイ)

Miharu Koshi fans probably already know this, but the above album actually reflects the time when the singer-songwriter turned into a New Wave chanteuse around the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, at this point, this is the only thumbnail photo I could get of her.

Nope, tonight I'm featuring a song from her very early AOR/City Pop days (so the name during this period is in kanji「越美晴」instead of the katakana「コシミハル」 that she's been identified with for years). In fact, this is her 2nd single, "Kimagure Highway" (Whimsical Highway) from March 1979.

Written and composed by Koshi, it starts with a Scott Joplin-esque piano tootle before a warm and honeyed guitar takes things into a happy road-trip type of City Pop. Koshi relates the story of a couple who may be taking that drive anywhere (out of the city, around the city, through the city) just for the equivalent of a one-night stand, but that's OK with them. They just want to cram in as much fun as possible during the evening.

Koshi's bouncing off the piano is ever-present but I also love the sunset strings. "Kimagure Highway" contrasts with her first single "Love Step" from the previous year in that I've always seen that song as something quite Junko Yagami-ish and firmly planted in downtown. This second single takes the happy couple outbound.

Well, I managed to scavenge this actual shot.

Tatsuro Yamashita -- Circus Town

As I was mentioning to fellow City Pop aficionado Jerry a few weeks ago, Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)has such a wide and acclaimed discography of singles and albums spanning 5 decades that it's been awfully easy to get focused on one particular period of his music since it's so good. For me, that has been the early 1980s with albums such as "For You".

I've had to be nudged somewhat to get away from my obsession with Tats' body of work of that time (as wonderful as it is), and realize that he did make good music before and after that period. So Jerry told me about some of his favourite music by Yamashita from the 1970s, and I did find a number of songs that have struck my fancy. Notably, there is the title track from his solo debut album "Circus Town".

"Circus Town" is indeed a gorgeous song by Yamashita, and it's also one of the first songs featuring the lovely partnership between him and lyricist/singer Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子). Starting off whimsically with Julius Arnošt Vilém Fučík's "The Entry of the Gladiators"*, which is that familiar little ditty which folks can associate with the circus (as much as I try, I really cannot imagine Russell Crowe striding in to this song!), against the background of some mellow urban funk and whirling windstorm strings, the first track to his December 1976 album is a paean to New York City where "Circus Town" and the rest of the tracks on Side A were recorded. Try to imagine Yamashita soaking up the sun as he strides up and down the streets of Manhattan while dreaming up the arrangement.

Now I can imagine why I should be looking further afield again when it comes to his material. "Circus Town" is a City Pop song by Yamashita but it's not the City Pop song that I had gotten accustomed to from his 80s stuff. Whereas I think that the tracks from "For You" such as "Morning Glory" and "Loveland, Island" are urban contemporary AOR songs that reside in Japan, "Circus Town" just feels like a Sunday morning in The Big Apple (shall we get brunch at Rockefeller Center or talk a walk through Central Park?). There are those certain hits on the piano keys, the whirling strings and the way that the percussion sets the beat that also has me thinking 1970s soul. Of course, I can't forget those welcoming horns including that sax solo by Lou Marini from Blood, Sweat & Tears and then later, the Blues Brothers Band.

(empty karaoke version)

"Circus Town" might imply the noise of New York but there is nothing visually gaudy or obnoxious hinted in Tats and Minako's love letter to the city. It's just about inviting folks to explore and enjoy an exciting metropolis that is quite different from the largest city in Japan.

*Ah, yes, "The Entry of the Gladiators". From what I read in the J-Wiki article for the album "Circus Town", the liner notes in the remastered CD stated that the piccolo was tooting away "The Oklahoma Mixer" at the beginning. However the writer of that part of the article correctly stated that it was indeed "The Entry of the Gladiators". Believe me, I know "The Oklahoma Mixer". I had to dance to the "Oklahoma Mixer" during the group folk dancing segment of the Sports Day festivities at my school in Gunma. I'm quite glad that I don't have to do that ever again.

Kirinji -- New Town(ニュータウン)

It's Good Friday here although meteorologically speaking, it's far from it. Rather cold, wet and dreary out there, but I hope that it is a better Friday wherever you're reading this.

About 6 weeks ago, I put up Kirinji's(キリンジ)"Jikan ga nai"(時間がない), their fun spacey disco single from 2018. Well, I'm now going back 20 years to the Horigome brothers' early days, represented by "New Town", a track on their very first album "Paper Drivers' Music"(ペイパードライヴァーズミュージック)from October 1998.

Written and composed by Takaki Horigome(堀込高樹), the setting is a rainy one but it doesn't seem to bother the couple (at least, not the guy anyways) as they take a romantic stroll in the New Town neighbourhood. I couldn't find out who arranged "New Town" but from the sounds of it (and they are indeed pleasant), I'm betting it was Tomita Lab(富田ラボ)! "Paper Drivers' Music" peaked at No. 99 on Oricon.

New towns used to describe the bedroom communities that rose up in the suburbs surrounding big cities like Tokyo while the economy was revving up. With those huge danchi concrete apartment buildings going up like some Brutalist fetishist's dream, the neighbourhoods didn't exactly amaze visitors visually, but nowadays the 21st-century versions have picked up a bit more style.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Heavenstamp -- Stand By You

Wow! Hard-rockin' nurses with black stripes over their eyes? Ringo Shiina(椎名林檎)must be near by.

Not exactly, though. It's actually the band Heavenstamp with their first major single "Stand By You" released in May 2011. The vocalist/guitarist Sally#Cinnamon, though, did start listening to Shiina and the band Spitz(スピッツ), before also being drawn in by Radiohead, according to a Tower Records Online interview. At the time, Heavenstamp consisted of her, guitarist Tomoya.S, bassist Shikichin and drummer Mika, although the last two left in 2012 and 2013 respectively, so that it's a duo as of now. According to J-Wiki, Heavenstamp wanted to incorporate guitar rock, shoegazer and dance music into their output.

I do like the video with all of the colours and the nurses and "Stand By You" does have a catchy beat which somehow reminds me of some of the music from New Order back in the 1980s.

The single made it up to No. 39 on the charts. In April 2016, the electro duo 80kidz made a remix of the original song, and I see that the Dancing Baby is back! So far, Heavenstamp has released 4 major singles and 2 albums, along with one mini-album in 2014.

Takao Kisugi -- Sparkle

Y'know...I've once again come across one of those instances of where a purchased album that I had initially didn't think much of has finally blossomed in my mind and soul. Either those two things mellowed out enough or the album was allowed to cook on the shelf for a good long while. That first example was Taeko Ohnuki's(大貫妙子)"History: 1978-1984", the very first example of Tabo's works that I had ever bought. It took many years for it and me to come to an understanding.

Well, it's possible that the gap between purchase and final acceptance was even longer with Takao Kisugi's(来生たかお)"Sparkle", the singer-songwriter's 6th album released in July 1981. Unlike Ohnuki, though, I had already known about his famous "Goodbye Day" (which is on this album) and some of his works through other artists. I may have bought "Sparkle" on CD all the way back in my Gunma days 30 years ago; I can't quite remember (although that CD case feels quite heavy). All I know is that I only played the album very sparingly on the stereo and then just put it back on the shelf to occupy space between other discs for years. Didn't quite get his stuff, I guess.

But then last night, I saw the thumbnail for the YouTube video of "Easy Drive" which is Track 2 on "Sparkle", and I said "What the heck?". And it's a good thing that I did activate the video because on hearing it (again), I finally saw the (light, mellow and summery) light! "Easy Drive" was indeed an enjoyably nice n' easy AOR number about a guy playing side saddle for a change while his girlfriend is behind the wheel of a really nice car bombing along the coast.

Kisugi took care of the soothing music while his sister Etsuko(来生えつこ)provided the lyrics. In fact, the Kisugi siblings created all of the songs on "Sparkle". A couple of things that stood out was that AOR/City Pop darlings Tohoku Shinkansen(東北新幹線), i.e. musicians/songwriters Etsuko Yamakawa and Hiroshi Narumi(山川恵津子・鳴海寛), were on backup vocal duties on "Easy Drive" (although they wouldn't have the moniker Tohoku Shinkansen until the following year for their lone album), and this song is the second example of a singer going "Awooo", just like on another beloved City Pop piece.

Going through the liner notes of "Sparkle", I also noticed that there were some other veteran session musicians helping out including Shigeru Suzuki(鈴木茂)on guitar, Jake H. Concepcion(ジェイク・コンセプション)on sax, Tsuyoshi Kon(今剛)also on guitar, Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利)on bass and Masataka Matsutoya(松任谷正隆)on electric piano and synthesizer.

Some of those people along with Tohoku Shinkansen helped out here with "Yume no Hada"(夢の肌...Dream Skin)in which Kisugi is admiring a particular young lady on the beach who may have the looks of a Brigitte Bardot. "Yume no Hada" strikes me in terms of Kisugi's delivery and the overall rollout of the song as very reminiscent of what Akira Terao(寺尾聰)was releasing at the time. The interesting thing is that although 95% of the song has that feeling, the last 5% suddenly veers headlong into a West Coast pop/rock guitar riff as if the fawning admirer returns to his too-cool-for-the-room act in front of his buddies who've just arrived on the shore.


"Tasogare no Ichigo"(たそがれの苺...Sunset Strawberry), which is the final song on Side A of the original LP, has that weird echo of Paul Anka's "My Way" and a Boz Scaggs ballad. There is a lot of intensity placed on that poor strawberry since my feeling on the lyrics is that they and the title seem to be relating the end of a relationship as represented by that fruit as it inevitably gets sliced up. Masamichi Sugi(杉真理)handled the chorus arrangement here while Izumi Kobayashi(小林泉美)was on the synthesizer.

I don't think that I had ever heard of any kayo kyoku being inspired by a script from a Woody Allen film, but according to J-Wiki, the first track on Side B, "Sparking Head", is indeed one of those cases. The story of a guy who's whipping himself into a nervous breakdown about his love for a woman is illustrated through this interesting strut arrangement involving horns, synthesizers and a clacking and haunting guitar.

Speaking of 1970s comedy film inspirations, the following track "Good Luck, My Girl" was inspired by the 1977 film "The Goodbye Girl" starring Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason. A breezy waltz with a jazzy set of horns including Concepcion's sax, it's an urbane but comical swing of music.

My final song of the article is "Madobe no Hito"(窓辺の女...The Woman by the Window)which is a return to the mellow AOR with a slice of wistfulness. Etsuko Kisugi made her lyrics envisioning an older woman who has yet to know love looking out the window in a library. Many sighs apparently ensue. The description for the song on the J-Wiki article has the lyricist stating that actress Uma Thurman was the ideal woman for "Madobe no Hito", although the quote must have been from a much later interview since Thurman would have probably been all of eleven years of age when this song was first written.

Well, as you can see from the time and pixels that I've put into "Sparkle", Kisugi's album does now sparkle for me. Once again, "Better late than never" is something that I would quote here as I finally enjoy and appreciate it. I've mentioned Boz Scaggs as a reference but some of the other tracks also bring to mind Gilbert O'Sullivan. Heck, maybe with further listenings, I will be able to pick up on some of those other AOR singers. The original LP peaked at No. 54.