Credits

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, May 25, 2019

Kinmokusei -- Futari no Akaboshi(二人のアカボシ)

Demae Itcho...in stores now!

Being back in Toronto, I've been able to slake my ramen fix through the instant stuff and the ramen shops that have now become part and parcel of the local cuisine tapestry. Still, whenever I do visit my old stomping grounds in Tokyo, I will go to a ramen shop at least a couple of times. There is something very shibui about the taste and the atmosphere of the place. The one thing that I regret though is that I never got to have a bowl of the good stuff at those ramen wagons that pop up on the street at night. I guess that I've always been more of an indoors man.


I had no idea about this band or the fact that they did make it onto the 2002 Kohaku Utagassen with this song. In all likelihood, I had been back here for the Holidays since I was still fully engaged in my Ichikawa life but frankly, the Kohaku was no longer must-see TV for me.

The band is Kinmokusei(キンモクセイ)which can also be written in kanji as「金木犀」 , meaning fragrant olives. Starting up as a 5-person unit from Sagamihara City in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1998, their 2nd single from January 2002 became their only Top 10 hit thus far, "Futari no Akaboshi" (Morning Star for Two). Written and composed by Kinmokusei vocalist Shungo Ito(伊藤俊吾), looking at the J-Wiki article for the song, the title's akaboshi may be a more lackadaisical reading for its kanji, myojo(明星)as in Myojo Foods which makes those packs of instant ramen such as Charumera(チャルメラ).


In terms of the words, there is no mention of any ramen shops or wagons, although the CD cover for the song has a ramen package motif, and the lyrics do mention the actual title but I think that akaboshi in that context actually refers to the morning coming for the couple. Still, the music video is focused on a woman enjoying a bowl of ramen at a wagon.

Kinmokusei, according to J-Wiki, covers a number of genres: pop, rock, kayo kyoku and New Music. Those last two genres took me slightly for a loop since I thought that those were categories that no longer had a place in the 21st century. However, it's been stated that the band has a love of Japanese popular music from the 1970s, and I could pick up on that influence in "Futari no Akaboshi", especially through the keyboard work. Ito's lyrics paint a landscape of life in the big city as it looks like two lovers are meeting up one last time before parting for good. Strangely enough, with the mention of highway bridges and street lights, I couldn't help but get images from any Michael Mann movie.

"Futari no Akaboshi" hit No. 10 on Oricon and is Kinmokusei's biggest hit as well as the 49th-ranked single of 2002. The song can also be found on their debut album "Ongaku wa Subarashii Mono da"(音楽は素晴らしいものだ...Music is a Wonderful Thing)which was released in July of that year. That also peaked at No. 10. The band had its initial run between 1998 and 2008, a return in 2011, and then a second comeback in 2018 which is still continuing.

Just for trivia's sake, the woman in the music video is singer and poet Megumi Takeuchi(竹内めぐみ). And no, she has no familial connection with Mariya.

Some tan tan at Sansotei!

Mitsutoshi Ambe -- Hoshi no Tabi(星の旅)


Over six years ago, "Kayo Kyoku Plus" writer nikala had written about a song by singer-songwriter Mitsutoshi Ambe(あんべ光俊)called "HEART" from 1983 which moved her a fair bit. It is something that struck me as being a distinct and dreamy pop song, helped along with Ambe's sweeping voice.


Nikala then mentioned about Ambe's folk roots with his band Hikousen(飛行船...Airship)in the early 1970s. Following that band's breakup, he pursued a solo career, and so I managed to find the first song from his second solo album "Hekikuu to Umi no Sukima kara"(碧空と海のすき間から...From Between the Blue Sky and the Sea)released in December 1978.

Titled "Hoshi no Tabi" (Trip Through the Stars), this was also created by Ambe in which he sings about what seems to be a man trying to reassure his distraught significant other while he goes away for a while (or maybe it's something more permanent, although my gut tells me it's the former). It's a mellow and jaunty folk number that has me thinking of other folk/pop singers such as Kozo Murashita(村下孝蔵)and Masashi Sada(さだまさし). There's a bit more of a lower growl to his vocals when compared to his dreamier delivery of "HEART" some years later. The interesting thing is how "Hoshi no Tabi" slows down so much near the middle that I thought it was ending only for the engine to get revved up again.

Kidorikko -- Momoiro Kingyo(桃色金魚)


Happy Saturday! And I hope everyone in the States is enjoying the start of their Memorial Day long weekend.

I remember when Yellow Magic Orchestra became a phenomenon, it seemed like the synthesizer and any other instrument associated with technopop music started seeping into the production of a whole lot of other pop songs in Japan for several years going far into the 1980s. And of course, even bands and individual artists with that computer music vibe started popping up during that time, inspired by the teamwork of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi(坂本龍一・細野晴臣・高橋幸宏).

However, I've realized that a lot of those technopop bands never entered my radar until very recently, thanks to the presence of YouTube. It's like my discovery of City Pop with a lot of people in the genre figuratively taking up residency in the 9/10ths of the music iceberg under the water...there may be a number of those technopop bands underneath the surface as well.



One such band which I found out about in the last few months was called Kidorikko(きどりっこ). I couldn't find anything about this particular band itself on J-Wiki, but one of the members has his own bio there. Keyboardist/composer Kimitaka Matsumae(松前公高)got together with Ryuichi Sato(佐藤隆一), another keyboardist and composer, and vocalist/lyricist Chiyumi Ten(てんちゆみ) (who, at least from the image above, looks a lot like actress Yumi Adachi!) to form the band around the mid-1980s.

From another blog's (Wakarimi/後悔日和) page devoted to the band, Sato apparently went for "...a progressive pop sound with a children's song-like quality", fitted with Ten's happy-go-lucky high-pitched vocals. In 1986, Kidorikko's debut mini-album, "C'est L'elegance na Tanoshimi" (セレレガンスな愉しみ...Enjoyment of This Elegance), was released with one of the tracks being "Momoiro Kingyo" (Peach-Coloured Goldfish). The song was also their debut single from April 1985.

I gotta say that those particular synths caught my attention immediately. That adorably chirpy sound really reminded me of some of the techno beats that Ryuichi Sakamoto put forth for Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)in the early 1980s. Plus, Ten's voice would probably have certain seiyuu listening in envy today. Although Kidorikko has also been pegged as a New Wave band according to this English-language description of them, I'm not quite sure if "Momoiro Kingyo" would apply as a New Wave song but I will leave that decision to you once you listen to it.

Wakarami also mentioned something interesting, stating that the entirety of "Momoiro Kingyo" brought back memories of the old Bubble Era. I think that there is another brand of keyboard work in City Pop that has also elicited that feeling.

(2:17)

A full studio album was released in August 1987"Ryukou Tsushinbo" (流行通信簿...Trend Report Card) . Several of the tracks from "C'est L'elegance na Tanoshimi" and tracks from this full album were put together to form a joint album called "Kidorikko" in 1989.

For Matsumae, he left not too long after "C'est L'elegance na Tanoshimi" had been released. He then got involved in other projects and bands including the group hi-posi during their indies days and SST Band.

Not sure if such a book has ever been published, but I think like my genre bible "Japanese City Pop", perhaps there could be a similar publication titled "Japanese Technopop" covering those bands from the late 1970s and beyond.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Akira Kurosawa & Los Primos -- Ginza Blues(銀座ブルース)


Always a grand area. Even if folks have said that since the Bubble burst and the 2011 earthquake, the lights of Ginza haven't been the same, I've never particularly agreed with the opinion that Tokyo's most famous neighbourhood has lost its gleaming luster. It's still a fine walk, day or night and whether or not the street is closed to vehicular traffic for its weekly pedestrians' paradise.


With the title of "Ginza Blues", I would have thought that this would have been an easy single for the Mood Kayo group Akira Kurosawa & Los Primos(黒沢明とロス・プリモス). After all, this was the group that performed a number of Ginza-based tunes such as "Ame no Ginza"(雨の銀座)and "Tasogare no Ginza"(たそがれの銀座). However, it was included as a track on (I'm assuming) their February 1970 album, "Sakariba no Yoru ni Utau"(盛り場の夜を唄う...Sing to the Night on a Busy Street), although the YouTube video just has "Yoru ni Utau" as the identifying album.

The song also did sound rather familiar, then I figured it out. "Ginza Blues" had been recorded previously in the 1960s and by a number of different artists. In fact, I had already written about the ballad just a few months earlier with Hiroshi Wada & Mahina Stars(和田弘とマヒナスターズ)and Kazuko Matsuo(松尾和子), among others. But what I found out was that the cover version by Los Primos, compared to the jazzier and swingier versions by those from the other article, has more of an intimate Latin feeling especially with that lone guitar. I imagine, for example, that the Mahina Stars and Yujiro Ishihara(石原裕次郎)would have performed their covers in a classy brightly-lit supper club in Ginza while Los Primos would be in closer surroundings with the spotlight placed right on them.

Yoko Maeno -- Ai no Hitojichi(愛の人質)


Another Friday night is upon us so hey, let's go with City Pop here. I found this song by Yoko Maeno(前野曜子)titled in a sultry way "Ai no Hitojichi" (Hostage to Love).


A track from her 7th and final album "Twilight" from 1982, "Ai no Hitojichi" is this urbane but wistful song with a slightly sexy streak thanks to Maeno's vocals. I like some of that twiddling on the keyboards and the horns that accompany her. Just my opinion, but I think from Maeno's singing, this sounds like a 1970s City Pop tune given some of that 1980s arrangement.

I wasn't able to find out who took care of words and music but I do appreciate that nighttime vibe that emanates from the song. It kinda reflects a very smart evening out on the town. Finally, I also like that cover on the album. Simply stated, I have a soft spot for twilight-themed photos.


Miki Imai -- Doshaburi Wonderland(どしゃ降りWonderland)


While folks in Japan are going through an early version of a typically torrid summer over there, we here in Toronto have been having cold and wet weather to the extent that it seems as if spring had been cancelled. But it seems that over the past couple of days, despite all the rain last month, we may have a sliver of spring in between the big guys of winter and summer.


Although I don't think that April was basically the re-enactment of the climate that launched Noah's Ark, the rain was fairly steady. However, it seems like the story in Miki Imai's(今井美樹)"Doshaburi Wonderland" (Downpour Wonderland) has one lady who's more than happy to traipse around like Gene Kelly in the famous scene of "Singing in the Rain" (and yep, Imai even gives a shout out to him in the song). And that's because she in L-O-V-E! Nothing like that particular emotion to make anyone completely oblivious to changes in the weather.

"Doshaburi Wonderland" isn't going down as one of my very favourites in the Imai oeuvre but it's fun and snappy enough. This was the first track in her 2nd studio album "elfin" from September 1987 and was created by Masami Tozawa(戸沢暢美)and Satoshi Takebe(武部聡志). It's interesting enough with a Prince-like funk guitar riff launching things and some rather nostalgic synthesizer. Moreover, considering some of her later, more dramatic-sounding hits, hearing the light-as-meringue "Doshaburi Wonderland" early in her career can bring a smile to my face.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Tokyo Q Channel -- Ni-juu-kyuu-sai(29歳)


Of course, here in Canada, we've got Tim Horton's. It's not technically a Canadian company any more since it's majority-owned by Brazilian/American investment firm 3G Capital, but heck, we can still dream about the man the donut-and-coffee emporium was named after, the late Toronto Maple Leaf Tim Horton. Over in Japan, I think the leading donut place is still Mister Donut even with that craze over Krispy Kreme and other gourmet donut establishments almost a decade ago. There was even one branch by my old subway station, Minami-Gyotoku.



When I was visiting Tokyo in 2017, I decided to stop by for a morning snack at the Shimo-Kitazawa branch of Mister Donut. I ended up with a straight coffee and a double-chocolate donut. Compared to the yeast-raised donuts at Timmies, Mister Donut's donuts are more on the cakey side. It's all good!


Anyways, my donut-filled pre(-r)amble has nothing to do with the song here; I was just musing wistfully. But speaking of wistful, I would like to introduce this really pleasant ditty, "Ni-juu-kyuu-sai" (29 Years Old) by the musical duo Tokyo Q Channel (or TQC, for short). Enjoying a short run between 1994 and 1998, the band's name does sound somewhat like a home shopping network but it was indeed a singing act comprised of vocalist Mayumi Sudo(須藤まゆみ)and keyboardist-guitarist-composer Yasuhiko Warita(割田康彦).

"Ni-juu-kyuu-sai" comes from TQC's first of two albums "Switch On!" which came out in June 1995. With Sudo and Warita creating the song on their own, it sounds more like a tune from a decade back, maybe more along the lines of something that Hiroshi Sato(佐藤博)or Katsuhisa Hattori(服部克久)in AOR mode would create in the 1980s. All those wonderful strings and twinkly keyboards surround a story of a young lady looking back as well as forward while she is in her final year of her twenties. Sudo has that lovely crystalline voice and my compliments also go out to Warita. "Ni-juu-kyuu-sai" doesn't seem to reflect any regrets and is very uptempo...perhaps just the song to adorn an Iwaki Credit Association commercial which it did.

Although there is a J-Wiki bio for Tokyo Q Channel, there isn't much outside of their discography. I found out that the duo had released eight singles along with their two albums. But Sudo and Warita have their own articles from which I did discover that Sudo is from Gunma Prefecture, has backed up a number of other singers such as Miki Imai(今井美樹)and Maaya Sakamoto(坂本真綾), and has sung a lot of other commercial jingles. Meanwhile, Warita, who also hails from Gunma, was discovered by composer Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)in 1990 after which Warita made his own debut as a composer. He has created melodies for acts including SMAP, Ribbon and Hikaru Genji(光GENJI).

I had the entire 2nd floor of Mister Donut to myself!