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.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Marcos V.'s Special Selection -- 2016 Edition

The picture has nothing to do with the post itself, being just one of the random photos I took while walking around in Rio de Janeiro at night (I'm not a good photographer, though).

This year, my Author’s Pick list is comprised solely by songs released in the past 12 months. They’re all new entries, so I’m not repeating songs I covered through the year. Also, most of them were a big part of my year, just to make obvious how personal this list is in the first place. I can only hope you guys like some of the songs I’ve chosen.

10) AKB48 -- High Tension (ハイテンション)

This one was a last-second addition – by the way, dethroning a (でんぱ組.inc) single –, and I feel somewhat guilty for liking it so much right now... but AKB48’s “High Tension” conquered its spot in this list fair and square. Probably due to the fact I started watching the drama it’s related to with my best friend very recently (it’s the theme song for AKB48’s drama “Cabasuka Gakuen” [キャバすか学園]), the song’s catchy factor just impregnated in my mind – the chorus, albeit full of silly repetition, is engaging, and the brass section in the background just helps it standout. In the end, even though it’s AKB48 in safe mode – they recorded similar disco songs in the form of “Koi Suru Fortune Cookie” (恋するフォーチュンクッキー) in 2013 and “Halloween Night” (ハロウィン・ナイト) in 2015 –, I liked its straightforward approach very much. Easily the funniest AKB48 single this year, hands down!


09) NAOMiRUSTY -- La Niña Night (ラニーニャ夜)

NAOMiRUSTY’s “La Niña Night” (released in January) is that type of exciting hyper processed Hi-NRG song that was so common in mainstream pop music during the late 80s. I don’t know why she chose to record this straightorward 80s-sounding thing – with all the "cheese factor" involved – in 2016, but it easily works for me. Also, kudos to the amazing instrumental breakdown with the screeching synth playing alongside the relentless bass line right before the final chorus. In some way, it reminded me of Tommy February6’s songs, and that’s not a bad thing at all.


08) Namie Amuro -- Fighter

Okay! By now, after almost 25 years of watching Namie Amuro’s (安室奈美恵) evolution in the J-Pop landscape, it’s obvious that she’s only worried about following Western trends and recording unashamedly in-your-face pop hits. Is there a problem with it? No, not at all. Especially when Amuro really commits to it, and this catchy dance number called “Fighter” (released in October), while far from being something revolutionary – and that was never her proposal, after all –, showcases very well how she can still mantain her relevance in the industry after so many years.


07) Monari Wakita -- In The City

Released in November, “In The City” is Monari Wakita’s (脇田もなり) solo debut after parting ways with aidoru group Especia earlier this year. The song, while a little bit more mature and far from the quirky sounds charmingly explored by Especia during their prime days, is still close to the overall 80s-inspired City Pop sound from the group. In the end, even though I was sad when I read the news about her departure from the group, it’s great to follow both the renewed group’s trajectory and Monari Wakita's solo efforts as well. After all, it’s more modern City Pop and 80s fun to us.


06) Especia -- Danger

This year, Especia lost some members and changed their sound a little bit, trying to be more mature and laidback. With this in mind, I must say that “Danger” (released in December) and its great combination of groovy bass line with Philly strings is Especia’s best song in a while (last year’s “Aviator” turned out to be my favorite Especia song), even if the choice to sing in English may sound a little bit odd at first.


05) Perfume -- COSMIC EXPLORER

When I received my copy of Perfume’s latest album “COSMIC EXPLORER” from the post office and put in the stereo, my father quickly asked if the Perfume girls’ were now recording Progressive Rock-inspired songs... and I couldn’t answer him properly at the time. However, Yasutaka Nakata (中田ヤスタカ) undeniably embraced past sounds while creating “COSMIC EXPLORER”, and even a whole mentality of retrofuturism that was so alive around the 70s and 80s. In the end, even though the album itself was below the expectations (it’s nice and fun, but not as good as past works), the title track alone – with its futuristic arrangement coupled by Perfume’s airy yet sad vocals, or even the mishmash of influences that ranges from Italo Disco to the aforementioned Progressive Rock – stands out as a very strong song that showcases a more mature group still capable of interesting things in the Technopop soundscape. It’s a pity Nakata didn’t stick with this sound for the whole album, but I understand he had some commercial obligations to fulfil...


04) Boogie Idol -- Kinmyaku Rettou (金脈列島)

Few things are more escapist than dreaming about Tokyo in the 80s/90s. Based on that, indie producer Boogie Idol’s aptly named “Kinmyaku Rettou” is a true ode to that space and time – with a video full of footages of urban life in one of the world’s biggest metropolis. However, if the video wasn’t enough, there’s also the exciting Eurobeat-esque piece of retro electronic music, which makes for a full futuristic yet nostalgic trip.


03) Minami Kuribayashi -- Patria

Veteran anison singer Minami Kuribayashi (栗林みな実) returned to the spotlight last August after two years of absence (she put the career on hold for a little bit because of her pregnancy) with a strong number called “Patria”. The song is not that different from what she’s been doing for some years now – a mishmash of hyper-speed rock and electronic music with classical touches –, but the celtic (I think it can be called that way) flourishes were very nice additions. Also, the vocals are strong as ever, even if her pitch is still a little bit high (it’s an old characterist of her, though). The only difference is that, right now, she’s just called Minami, as, somehow, the Kuribayashi “surname” got lost in the way (I think it has something to do with record labels, but I’m not sure). Anyway, it's good to see her back.


02) Rena Matsui with SHARAN-PO-RANTAN – Shabon (シャボン)

Ex-SKE48 Rena Matsui (松井玲奈) teamed up with cabaret-styled duo CHARAN-PO-RANTAN (チャラン・ポ・ランタン) for this little number called “Shabon”, which was released in March. Even though I find it hard to classify, I assume it brought some inspiration from Showa Era Kayo Kyoku – but with some quirky twists here and there. The arrangement is quite rich with all the accordion – courtesy from Koharu, one of the CHARAN-PO-RANTAN sisters –, but Rena Matsui was able to shine on her own as well. It was nice to see the famous aidoru out of her confort zone for a bit – releasing music with one of the wackiest acts of nowadays –, and I hope she continue to do so in the near future.


01) Nogizaka AKB -- Mazariau Mono (混ざり合うもの)

My number one position goes to a collaboration between AKB48 and Nogizaka46 (乃木坂46), called Nogizaka AKB (乃木坂AKB). A very unusual song for AKB, but maybe not so much for Nogizaka, “Mazariau Mono’s” power relies in how beautiful the melody in the chorus is. Also, it’s not a hot dance number, not a proper ballad, but I like how classy it sounds – even if the video seems a little odd. For me, it’s one of the rare moments when one – or two, in this case – of the infamous “48 family” groups truly shines.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Marcos. Thanks very much for the lineup. It just goes to show that there are songs and artists out there that are waiting to be explored.

    There are 4 standouts for me. Boogie Idol's "Kinmyaku Rettou" will have all those guys and gals who reveled in the Bubble Era get all weak in the knees. I just thought that this could have been a song done by Denki Groove if they had been invited to perform at the old Juliana's Tokyo disco. Some of the scenes in the video were old but it can still act as a promotion to get people coming over to Tokyo.

    Of course, AKB48's "High Tension" is fun. It seems to be that there will always be one disco tune per year from the group to get folks parting with their yen. Plus, there also has to be that one song to entertain everyone during the Kohaku.

    I also enjoyed Rena Matsui with SHARAN-PO-RANTAN's "Shabon" since it plugs into that style of music reminiscent of early 20th-century jazz and pop that I like especially from acts like Ego-Wrappin'. I have to look more into SHARAN-PO-RANTAN.

    But the big revelation for me was Perfume's "Cosmic Explorer". Considering what I've been seeing of their performances on the Kohaku over the last few years, I was worried that the girls were starting to fade into history. However, this song is really quite epic with that booming rhythm and the minor chord melody. It also reminds me of the Pet Shop Boys which is also the reason that I've enjoyed it twice already. That video also had me wondering if that was done like a retrospective of the first decade of Perfume.


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.