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.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Hiroshi Sato -- Awakening (Follow-Up)

Well, I would have written up this follow-up on Hiroshi Sato's(佐藤博)"Awakening" (1982), one of the representative albums of City Pop, sooner but another one of those staffing bombshells at the White House went off again and then there was the news about Major League Baseball's trading deadline which will hit in a few minutes. And it looks like the Blue Jays will be getting Norichika Aoki's services for at least a few months. I don't think he's quite as goofy and lovable as Munenori Kawasaki, though. So, no bush parties (inside joke).

(full album)

Anyways, I listened to "Awakening" again after a while and it's still smooth as fine butter. I've already covered some of the tracks in the original article from 2013 along with individual tracks "I Can't Wait" with singer Wendy Matthews and the bouncy "Say Goodbye". And back in that article, I mentioned that Sato had a number of influences and that the album itself gave off vibes of Gino Vannelli and Boz Scaggs. Listening to it again, I then figured that there were even a couple of Steves in there: Steve Winwood and Stevie Wonder. Perhaps "Awakening" is even more well-titled then since with every listening, some new insight or echo of another singer may come to mind.

First off, I have to give an apology since I omitted a key player in the production of "Awakening" and that person is Lorrain Feather who wrote all of the English lyrics for the tracks.

Track 5, "Love and Peace" at 15:50 is a really low and slow mellow and funky/bluesy instrumental by Sato which is the equivalent of a satisfying sparerib dinner with your favourite liquid poison.

"From Me To You" at 20:29 (it was the first track on Side B of the original LP) is a track that I've talked about before in the original article. It's the cover of a Beatles song so Lennon and McCartney were responsible for it, but the notable thing about Sato's version is how much he sounds like British 80s singer Howard Jones.

Track 8 is "It Isn't Easy" at 28:39. Wendy Matthews is back to sing about getting back on one's feet after the end of a relationship and although she's well on the mend, she still misses the lug. There is an interesting Asian element in the music.

The instrumental title track as Track 9, "Awakening" at 33:13, has a near-YMO vibe. Perhaps it's not surprising since I think there are at least a few of the instruments used that Yellow Magic Orchestra has taken control of such as the Synclavier. It's the most technopoppy and trippiest track of the album.

Here's hoping that the album stays up for a little on YouTube while at least and that at least some of the listeners will decide "Awakening" is deserving of a spot somewhere on their shelves.

Saburo Kitajima -- Ni-sen Nen Ondo(2000年音頭)

The above picture has nothing to do with the song of this article but I figure that I had to talk out the semi-angst about the contraption in the photo. It's an arty container for an air freshener operated by motion sensor that I got at the local Shopper's Drug Mart about 10 days ago. Basically if I pass by it in my room or a shadow falls upon it, it will send up a quick whiff of scent. The crazy thing is that it's the best thing to deodorize my room in years outside of opening the windows for several hours. My only pet peeve about it is that it throws up that puff with a sound that's halfway between a creak of a door in a haunted house and a mini-umpire crying "YEEEEEEEERRRRRRRR OUT!" Seriously. Depending on the time of day and my state of mind, it can unnerve me...and after I saw that photo of the creepypasta meme Jeff The Killer after midnight one night when the freshener activated...erk.

Anyways, to finish up my Sunday night going into Monday morning here, I've decided to bring in an enka song that I heard earlier today on NHK's "Nodo Jiman"(のど自慢). I had no idea that enka legend Saburo Kitajima(北島三郎)got into all that year 2000 hoopla 17 years ago but apparently, he wrote and composed this song under his regular pen name of Joji Hara(原譲二)called "Ni-sen Nen Ondo" (2000 Swing).

My memory of going from the 20th century to the 21st century simply centered about the Y2K thing and the fears that society was going to be thrown back to the 17th century due to one computer glitch. Well, it didn't happen, and I guess for Sabu-chan, he was all for welcoming the big 2000 with open arms. And who doesn't love a big festival in Japan?

"Ni-sen Nen Ondo" doesn't seem like one of Kitajima's biggest hits and just from the title and the lyrics alone, it probably has dated itself out of regular performance although the fellow who sang it on "Nodo Jiman" didn't seem to mind. However, it's still rousing Saburo Kitajima festive fare so the fans will probably still love it for karaoke and the odd celebration.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Plasmagica -- Have a nice MUSIC!!

Considering all the music that has been pumped out of the two seasons of the game-turned-anime "Show By Rock!!". the actual category for the show here on the blog has been extremely sparse. Mind you, I did say in the first article for the show that not all of the songs became earworms for me, at least. However, there have been a few which have managed to hang on over the months although Season 2 ended its run (in somewhat disappointing fashion...sophomore jinx?) almost a year ago.

I always knew if I were to start up the "Show By Rock!!" category for "Kayo Kyoku Plus", I would have to include at least one or two of the songs by main heroine band Plasmagica(プラズマジカ), especially since the first article was for a band, Dolly Dolci(ドーリィドルチ), that wasn't featured too often during the series but had such a killer song on YouTube. So it's wonderful that the ending theme for the first season in 2015, "Have a nice MUSIC!!" is such an earworm.

Taking things out of the Midi City universe for a few lines, Plasmagica has got quite the celeb seiyuu lineup. Although Eri Inagawa(稲川英里)as Cyan is still new to me, she's backed up by veterans Manami Numakura(沼倉愛美)as slightly tsundere Retoree the bassist, Sumire Uesaka(佐倉綾音)as guitar-wielding ChuChu, and Ayane Sakura(佐倉綾音)as drummer Moa. Going back in-universe, Retoree and Moa came up with the super-cheerful song but in the real world, it was lyricist Aiko Takase(高瀬愛虹)and composer no_my behind the tune.

The entire song is fine but it's that line "GO GO LUCKY Have a nice MUSIC!!" followed by some appealing Shibuya-kei strings in the first verse that have permanently hooked into my cerebellum. Have a cup of coffee in the morning while listening to this, and Mondays won't seem to be too blue heading to work or school. I'm fairly confident that my anime buddy may have taken this advice to heart.

I've got no idea how "Have a nice MUSIC!!" did on the charts but considering a number of the other various anison climbing onto Oricon, something as catchy as this must have made some progress.

Naoko Kawai & David Foster -- Live Inside Your Love

Had a good talk with JTM last night and something that came up was how back decades ago for a few years, a number of famous session musicians, songwriters and singers from the United States and America had actually helped out in the creation of singles and albums for Japanese singers. Members of Chicago and TOTO come to mind, and I remember saxophonist David Sanborn contributing to the exquisite "Hoho ni Yoru no Akari"(頬に夜の灯)by Minako Yoshida(吉田美奈子)in 1982.

Another singer was Naoko Kawai(河合奈保子)who surprised me with her album "9 1/2" from 1985 because it wasn't only a record that was fully produced in Los Angeles but it was far from my image of her as one of the quintessential aidoru of the early 1980s. The music was so American AOR that the album should have been wrapped in a pink sweater and served a Perrier!

Little did I know that "9 1/2" wasn't actually the first foray by Kawai across the Pacific Ocean. About 18 months earlier, her 9th album "Daydream Coast" was released in June 1984, and that was her first album produced overseas in LA.

I haven't had a chance to sample the entire album as of yet but I did get to hear one track titled "Live Inside Your Love ~ Ano Natsu Mou Ichido"(あの夏もう一度...That Summer One More Time). I snarkily mentioned above about that Yuppie sweater and the Perrier? Well, this song also should get the same treatment because it just about screams AOR at you. And Kawai is doing the duet with the David Foster. Glad to hear about a Canadian connection with a Japanese aidoru.

David Bryant and Tony Haynes were the songwriters for this mellow tune with a squeeze of bossa while Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)provided the Japanese lyrics. Having both Kawai and Foster sing their parts in their mother tongues works out pretty well surprisingly and that title "Live Inside Your Love" sounds perfect as one for an 1980s mid-tempo pop ballad. I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been used for a cigarette commercial in Japan. That keyboard work had me reminiscing over a lot of radio-frequent songs from my high school days.

The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles were just a few weeks away from starting up when "Daydream Coast" was released, so the timing couldn't have been better in terms of marketing.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Makoto Saito -- I Surrender

Saturday is looking fine out there. Warm and sunny for the most part, the weather will hold firm for the rest of the weekend, and so of course, Torontonians will take advantage of the meteorological good graces since we haven't had a full weekend of the good stuff in many many weeks.

I've got just the song for today. Courtesy of singer-songwriter Makoto Saito(斎藤誠), this is "I Surrender" which I heard on the "Twilight" disc for the "Light Mellow" series yesterday. Sounding similar to mellow singer Jack Johnson, I want to plant myself into a hammock for the rest of the afternoon while sucking back a Rum and Coke as I'm listening to this. Saturdays were made for this one.

"I Surrender" was Saito's 15th single from February 2002 and was also placed as a track on his 10th album "Careless Memories" which came out at the same time. Speaking about the same time, by wild coincidence, I wrote up the very first article on Saito exactly one year ago today!

Miyoko Ai -- Mikan ga Minoru Koro (ミカンが実る頃)

Saw this song several weeks ago and found it so adorable and innocent in that old-fashioned way that I bookmarked it for reference. For a kayo fan like myself, listening to something like this is a wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee-on-a-Sunday experience.

As much as I've remarked that the 80s were a time for tons of aidoru to go through the revolving door of the geinokai without ever becoming stars, I think there was something similar for the previous decade. In recent months, I've been encountering folks who have uploaded songs from the 1970s by songstresses that I had never heard of before.

Miyoko Ai(藍美代子)is one such lady. Born in Miyagi Prefecture in 1954, she was learning singing, piano and Japanese dance from a young age. In 1970, she won the televised All-Japan Kayo Contest and made her debut at Columbia Records under her first stage name of Eriko Jun(純エリ子). She released 5 singles for the next couple of years before retiring from the spotlight for a spell.

In the following year, after winning another TV contest, she made another go of it under the new stage name of Miyoko Ai. She re-debuted with the song "Mikan ga Minoru Koro" (When The Oranges Ripen) in August 1973, a sweet ballad featuring Ai's high vocals about a young lady working in the orange orchards while biding the time before her beloved beau comes back from another bigger town or city.

Michio Yamagami(山上路夫)provided the lyrics while the late Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)composed this tune which almost takes the music into an enka vein. With Ai's looks and her high voice, I had thought that she would have been groomed as a 1970s aidoru but I guess her training was so polished by that point that nothing less than being called a proper kayo singer would do. Judging from the comments on YouTube, there were folks who were pleasantly surprised about this hitherto unknown lass or who were glad to make her re-acquaintance. I'm in the former category.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find out how well "Mikan ga Minoru Koro" did on the charts, but Ai continued to release 6 more singles and 2 albums up to 1976. In 1978, she left her management company and went over to the United States to widen her singing abilities. A few years later in 1981, she opened her own little pub, Biene, in the city of Sendai, and is currently a jazz singer. She even released a 2005 album covering the standards titled after her establishment. After Biene the pub finally closed down in 2015, she moved over to Tokyo and started up another Biene in Ginza. Her real name, by the way, is Miyoko Miyazawa(宮澤美代子)although I'm not sure whether that is her birth name or her married name.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Momoko Kikuchi -- Blind Curve

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, I can apply that question to Momoko Kikuchi(菊池桃子): which came first, the City Pop or the aidoru songs? I only ask this because I first got to know the 80s singer through her appearances on shows like "The Best 10" or "The Top 10" singing aidoru ditties such as "Sotsugyo"(卒業)and "Say Yes!". And yet, I've only discovered relatively recently that the singer was not only singing some pretty slick City Pop fare on her albums but she had been singing them even before the aforementioned singles came out. Perhaps her career was similar to that of Yoshimi Iwasaki(岩崎良美)since I found out that before her most famous hit of "Touch"(タッチ), she had been singing some urban contemporary fare as well earlier in the decade.

Case in point: "Blind Curve" which is a track on her debut album "Ocean Side" from September 1984 is a cool and light funk number. And she acquits herself well with a song that sounds like something that a band like Omega Tribe could also handle with aplomb. It's not too surprising to make that statement since the composer is Tetsuji Hayashi(林哲司)who could handle these sort of songs in his sleep, and he also provided the hits for Omega Tribe. Future Onyanko Club and AKB48 impresario Yasushi Akimoto(秋元康)provided the lyrics.

I also have to say that seeing her in the above video standing behind the keyboard and dressed up to go to a Roppongi disco makes her look less like the aidoru that I used to see on the ranking shows and more like City Pop specialists Junko Yagami(八神純子)and Yasuha(泰葉). She looks real peachy up there!

A Brief History of City Pop by Van Paugam

As many of the readers of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" have probably figured out by now, my favourite genre in Japanese pop music is City Pop. Although I have enjoyed songs from all over the kayo/J-Pop spectrum from enka to rock, there has always been something about City Pop that has made it my home base. It's a combination of factors: my falling in love with the grand megalopolis of Tokyo when I landed there in the summer of 1981 and also getting into music in general (especially R&B) on my side of the Pacific at about the same time. Heck, I even bought that bible "Japanese City Pop".

Well, a few nights ago, I encountered "A Brief History of City Pop", a 15-minute YouTube video made by Van Paugam, one of the fellows that I've subscribed to, and it's a nice little course done up as a long-form Vaporwave/Future Funk creation (love the John Travolta commercial in Japan) while sultry narrator Meikonishi gives a description of the genre juxtaposed against and influenced by the history of modern Japan from the mid-1970s and well into the 1980s. A few performances and some of the finest albums of City Pop are shown with the mini-doc even touching a bit upon New Music and technopop.

As someone who ended up collecting the entire series of "Jazz" by Ken Burns on DVD, though I'm grateful for the book "Japanese City Pop", I've always wondered about something televised not only on this genre but on kayo kyoku and/or J-Pop on the whole. So I'm glad that Van Paugam was able to create this video. And also as someone who had his brief immersive experience of Japan during the heyday of the Economic Miracle in July 1981 with the video game cafes, skinny cans of Coke and YMO, there was a fair amount of sepia seeping into the neon glow of the images. All that bass fed by a thousand vitamin drinks and the Fender Rhodes piano would become the theme song for my memories there.

The wording can get a bit pithy at times, though. There is that one quote at 10:48:

Newer genres called Vaporwave and Future Funk emerged around 2011 and would come to rely heavily on sampling City Pop but often not crediting the original artists, leaving the source materials as obscure relics only to be plundered to create disaffected and often dystopian themes of mindless capitalism.

I mean, I've read and heard the whole thing behind Vaporwave as a somewhat satiric slap at the party-hearty 80s, but I wasn't aware that slowing down a pop song to quarter-speed could squeeze all that philosophy out. Geez. Plus, if the original songs were initially seen as obscure relics, I think that for a certain group of people including myself, they haven't stayed that way for long. I've seen comments on YouTube for individual Vaporwave/Future Funk pieces which inquired about what the original songs were and how they could be acquired. If those folks are like me, they have most likely gotten their own copies through download or the old-fashioned medium of CD or even vinyl. So, not so obscure. I kinda wonder whether the originating recording companies or shops such as Tower Records and CD Japan have been surprised by any uptick in demand for these City Pop albums from overseas. All in all, I'm just happy that this subset of Japanese music has started to gain some traction with a subset of folks from around the world.

To be honest, I was gonna mention the above as a mere prelude to one of the songs featured in the video, Momoko Kikuchi's(菊池桃子)"Blind Curve", but it looks like my ardor got the better of me. Therefore, "A Brief History of City Pop" has gotten its own article. Many thanks, Van Paugam!

Michiko Takada -- chocolate

Chocolate is no longer one of my major food groups in my surprising as that may sound to those who know me quite well. I don't indulge anywhere near as I used to as a kid and I think I eat a chocolate bar perhaps twice a year. And something as rich as the chocolate cheesecake as pictured above is very much a rarity in my oral cavity; to be honest, I think I now prefer Japanese cheesecake from Uncle Tetsu's.

(excerpt only)

Still, the odd craving is always welcome, usually around the Holidays. So I can understand singer-songwriter Michiko Takada's(高田みち子)feelings when she came up with the smooth and velvety "chocolate" from her 2004 album "Night buzz". Actually, I encountered the song in one of the "Light Mellow" discs that I own.

"chocolate" has got some nice groove to it with a hint of Latin in there. Melodically, I guess it can be compared to actual chocolate laced with a touch of chili, although the overall ear feel in this case is very mellow. The lyrics are the usual ones about finally overcoming a bitter end to a past romantic liaison, but still remembering the old flame's face and voice as some lovely chocolate. That last part about the chocolate comparison is what makes things interesting.

Not a whole lot of information about Takada in her J-Wiki profile. She graduated from the Tokyo College of Music after which she did a whole variety of work such as teaching in a technical college, participating as a session musician and taking part in chorus and studio work. After providing a demo tape as an audition in 1999, she released her first two albums in 2002, "MICHIKO SONGS" and "Cocktail". As of this writing, 5 albums have come out. I also found out from the liner notes in the "Light Mellow" CD that she provided the flute solo in "chocolate".

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nona Reeves -- Yasumou, ONCE MORE (休もう、ONCE MORE)

Tokyo is a great walking city...provided you don't do the walking during the dog days of summer (at that time, you would most likely be melting). Neighbourhoods of many types abound such as ritzy Ginza and Akasaka, the older town of Sugamo, the Teen Mecca of Shibuya, and trendy Harajuku among others. Plus, there are smaller dense sections where I believe, due to looser zoning restrictions, establishments such as a coin laundromat can be squeezed between a Gundam figure shop and a convenience store. It's kinda like the Forrest Gump theory of that box of chocolates.

About 10 years ago, during Golden Week, I even decided to walk above ground along the length of the Ginza Line from Asakusa all the way to Shibuya. The subway would take 30 minutes to traverse from end to end; it took me close to 6 hours. My feet were reduced to stubs somewhere around Akasaka-Mitsuke, and they loudly vented their anger at me for the next couple of days of the holiday. But before the pain set in, it was a glorious sunny walk through many different areas of Tokyo.

I think in a way that is what the band Nona Reeves(ノーナ・リーヴス)is also espousing through their sunny tune, "Yasumou, ONCE MORE" (Let's Take A Break Once More). The fellow in the lyrics has kinda reached the end of his rope and wants to refresh his body, spirit and perhaps his relationship with his girlfriend. It's one of those happy ditties that encourages folks to stop and smell the roses once in a while. It surely sounds like something that would make a fine musical companion during a walk through someplace in the big city.

"Yasumou, ONCE MORE" is a track on Nona Reeves' 12th album "POP STATION" from March 2013 with vocalist Gota Nishidera(西寺郷太)and Naohisa Taniguchi(谷口尚久)taking care of words and music. Usually, I've heard the band go more into the funky side or a neo-City Pop mode but this one is just a pleasant straight-ahead pop song, and this time, each of the three members has his time behind the mike, so it is a nice thing that it was placed as the finale for the album. The album itself only got as high as No. 80 on Oricon, and the highest-ranking album that Nona Reeves has had to date is their most recent BEST compilation from this year at No. 46. It would be nice if the band could receive a little more love.

Then again, the Oricon rankings are one thing. Having a small but faithful fan base is another. So, as the band espouses in the song, let's not sweat things too much and just handle things as they come. It's a philosophy that I've been adopting for a few years now.

Do As Infinity -- Break of Dawn

Ahhh....yes. Staying out late with the gang during my university days and nights. Back in those crazy 80s and early 90s (my JET experience from 1989-1991 stayed those tendencies although the schools and Board of Education had their own periodic nights of carousing), there would be dinners out, karaoke, dancing, later meals and even having fun at friends' houses until the wee hours. Unfortunately but sensibly, I can no longer physically handle that sort of mayhem but it's still nice to remember some of what I can remember.

Listening to this song brought back those memories. I've been going through JTM's ginormous collection of music over the past several months, and I'm convinced that the adventure will most likely outlast my life expectancy. Still, it was good to come across a Do As Infinity album in there. And the band's title track from their debut album "Break of Dawn" (March 2000 release) is a short but sweet intro about having those good times and staying up long enough to see the sunrise.

Written and composed by the band guitarist D.A.I., it's got quite the mellow hippie vibe as vocalist Tomiko Van(伴都美子)sings all of "Break of Dawn" in English. But before listeners forget that Do As Infinity is indeed a rock band, the guitars and drums come crashing in like thunder although that soft flute can still make itself heard. The album peaked at No. 3.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Keiko Tohyama -- My Guy ~ Cafe Sign(マイ・ガイ)

It took me the purchase of "Japanese City Pop" to find out that R&B singer Hitomi "Penny" Tohyama(当山ひとみ)even existed, and just out of pure luck, browsing through YouTube unearthed her older sister, Keiko "Myrah" Tohyama(当山恵子). There was some more digging for me to find out that Myrah was indeed Penny's older sister.

The anthropological dig continued as I gradually found out that perhaps the elder Tohyama released one single and one least. The one single apparently was released in 1984 and was titled "My Guy ~ Cafe Sign", a mellow ballad with a hint of Motown in its music and lyrics by Yoshihiro Yonekura(米倉良弘), the same fellow who came up with "Sexy Robot", Penny's song that I wrote about last night.There was one other person involved in the lyrics but unfortunately I couldn't read his kanji due to the size of the photo of the liner.

Myrah has a slightly higher voice than Penny, and she definitely has got that feeling of some of that 70s soul. "My Guy" is also a track on that first (and perhaps sole) album "What Can I Do?". From what I've read, both the single and album are the rarest of the rare.

Haruo Minami -- Tokyo Gorin Odori (東京五輪おどり)

Hard to believe that almost 4 years ago, I wrote about Haruo Minami's(三波春夫)"Tokyo Gorin Ondo"(東京五輪音頭)just when it was announced that Tokyo was indeed getting the 2020 Olympics. Well, last week, it was announced that an updated version of the song will be the official song for the Tokyo Games. No surprise, there...I was fully expecting that it would be used in some capacity at the Opening Ceremonies. With "Tokyo Gorin Ondo" as the official song, there would be no worries about tracking down hotshots from the recording industry to craft a new tune, and the 1963 song is overflowing with Japanese culture. Plus, it's festival season in Japan in the summer so it works in that sense, too.

As for those who might be disappointed in the decision, there will be other more contemporary songs being put out at the Opening Ceremonies, and I'm positive that each of the TV stations will have its own Olympics theme songs up and ready. Personally, I would still love to hear Yellow Magic Orchestra get together for one more go at "Rydeen" in the new arena or if Sakamoto and Hosono are not physically up to it by that time, maybe Yukihiro Takahashi and METAFIVE can take over. Just a thought💖.

"Tokyo Gorin Ondo" is already up here so to commemorate its status as official song, why not talk about the B-side? That would be "Tokyo Gorin Odori" (Tokyo Olympic Dance) which was written by Jun Kobayashi(小林潤)and composed by Yoshiji Nagatsu(長津義司), the same fellow who came up with another Minami chestnut, "Chanchiki Okesa"(チャンチキおけさ)all the way back in 1957.

Now, frankly speaking, the two songs "Tokyo Gorin Ondo" and "Tokyo Gorin Odori" are different but still quite similar in arrangement, and I cannot tell you the difference between an ondo and an odori. I know the latter means "dance", but the ondo also invites dancing. Perhaps the difference lies in the rhythm, but perhaps my two friends in the Japanese dance community, Laura and Aja, can set me straight on this question if they read the article.

In any case, going through the record's liner, I found out that "Tokyo Gorin Odori" had been produced for the Tokyo Haha-no-Kai Rengokai(東京母の会連合会...The Tokyo Federation of Mothers' Associations), and it's a similarly festive number by Minami. The liner even has illustrations on how to dance to both songs, and you can see the one demonstration for "Odori" above. I also found out that the original 45" cost all of 290 yen!

I didn't realize that the video I had brought in for "Tokyo Gorin Ondo" also contained the B-side at 3:55 so you can hear the original here as well. One wonders whether there will be similar instructions to dance at the Opening Ceremonies. Still, I can only imagine that Minami who passed away in 2001 may be looking down at Tokyo quite happily to see one of his famous hits being brought back again for another Olympics.

As a PS, apparently Teichiku Records decided to have the Vocaloid people come up with their own version of Haruo Minami, known as Haruo-roid Minami(ハルオロイド・ミナミ)last year. So, it was a foregone conclusion for "Tokyo Gorin Ondo" to be performed.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Shizuka Kudo -- Trinity

For all these years, I've had a few of Shizuka Kudo's(工藤静香)CD singles but only one album by the 1980s aidoru superstar. And that was her 7th studio album, "Trinity" from March 1992, which after one or two listenings post-purchase, I placed it back on the shelves for years. I simply wasn't that much of a fan of hers for the album to merit multiple plays on the the time.

First off, though, I do feel that I have to go off on a tangent here since one of the things that I had long been wondering about was Ms. Kudo's vaunted English ability...well, that and her apparently mutant-like ability to stretch out the skin on her cheeks to Mr. Fantastic levels...but I will leave that one alone. Anyways, I did hear that she spoke English quite fluently and with an English accent, to boot.

Well, I took a look at the footage from the NHK variety program "Eigo de Shabera Night"(英語でしゃべらナイト...Can You Speak English?)that had its run during the 2000s. I used to watch it from time to time since there was a curiosity factor within me about which geinojin had that fluency in English....after all, I was teaching the language for a quarter of a century. In any case, Kudo made her appearance and I have to say that she was quite proficient (aside from the usual prepositional errors). If I were to place her in a level under NOVA, which was my old school in Tokyo, she would be around Level 4 or even Level 3 which is for an advanced student. As for any English accent...err, I don't really think so. However, I think she and Mr. Kimura could make a nice life of it here in Canada.

Back to our regularly scheduled article. As I said, "Trinity" came out in March 1992, and finally putting it back into the CD tray after so long, I realized that Kudo was pushing a variety of musical genres to the extent that I really started to wonder if she could really be categorized as an aidoru anymore although that's what J-Wiki is still pegging her as for this album. Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利), who was the composer for a number of her earlier hits, took care of the composition work and arrangement for all of the tracks.

The first track is "Mechakucha ni Naiteshimaitai"(めちゃくちゃに泣いてしまいたい...I Really Want To Break Down And Cry), her 15th single from January in the same year. This was the trigger for me to give another chance to "Trinity" since remnants of the song still remained in my memories over the years. Listening to it on the stereo and then seeing performances of it on YouTube, I discovered...finally...that it is quite the interesting mix of old-time soul and gospel with contemporary pop. I even get a hint of the old 1950s when I hear it as well. Longtime Anzen Chitai(安全地帯)associate Goro Matsui(松井五郎)provided the lyrics of heartbreak.

"Mechakucha ni Naiteshimaitai" did very well by peaking at No. 4 and ending up as the 73rd-ranked single of 1992. The song also got Kudo her 5th of 8 appearances on the Kohaku Utagassen that year. At a Hong Kong concert in 1993, the entire audience joined her to sing it which had her acting out the title.

Unfortunately, I think the first track is all I could find to represent "Trinity" on YouTube or the other video sites. However, there is the relatively generous Apple site.

Track 2 is "Moonlight no Sei ja nai"(MOONLIGHTのせいじゃない...Don't Blame It On The Moonlight), and I realized that this was the one other track from which I had some memory. Now, after some years of a jazz phase back in Japan, I appreciate this a whole lot more. Actually, it's more of a neo-swing jazz sort of fun. Matsui was also responsible for the lyrics of this song which brings images of an old-fashioned night on the town. Kudo also has a nice delivery here, reminiscent of a jazz chanteuse behind one of those ancient and huge stand microphones at NBC Studios in Manhattan.

"my eyes", Track 3, has Kudo plumbing closer to her old sultry style along with a 70s soul-rock feel. This was the Kudo that I was accustomed to hearing and seeing on the music shows back in the 1980s, and frankly the Kudo that I was afraid of crossing in a dark alley. Veteran Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子)provided the lyrics here.

That's all I will do with "Trinity" right now since I am still in the process of re-acquainting myself with the album. Yup, once again, it's one of those albums that I have to come to appreciate with new ears, so it's not going back onto the shelf quite yet. Perhaps, then, I may be brave enough to try out Rie Miyazawa's(宮沢りえ)"Mu" again soon. In any case, "Trinity" reached as high as No. 3 on Oricon, and once I get more of a handle on the songs, I can do a follow-up or cover some of the tracks individually.

The above is a karaoke cover of "Mechakucha ni Naiteshimaitai" with its original arrangement.

Hitomi Tohyama -- Sexy Robot

About a couple of months ago when we were on that cruise in the Western Caribbean, I didn't find much different with the layout of the Harmony of the Seas (which is currently the largest cruise ship on the planet until the Symphony of the Seas gets its launch early next year) when compared to the Oasis of the Seas that we had shipped on a few years ago. Deck 5, which I guess would be called the Promenade Deck, had most of the shops that we remembered on the Oasis in the same positions on the Harmony. But there were two differences.

One was that the cupcake shop was no longer there (darn!). The other was that there was The Bionic Bar. Two robots, Bio and Nic, and a rotation of handlers took care of their share of the cocktails in one corner of Deck 5. It was one of the few instances that I had ever witnessed where the bartenders garnered more attention than the drinks themselves. And on the fourth day of the cruise, I finally relented, went into the bar and made my order via a Samsung tablet for a simple Rum and Coke.

Not quite sure who took care of my order, Bio or Nic. But one of them dutifully pressed out the requisite cola and double shot of rum, and poured the mixture into my plastic glass. I have to say that it was a good Rum and Coke....probably too good, though. I was fairly floating for the rest of the evening. And if I had stayed at the Bionic Bar, I probably would have found the (TORTURED SEGUE ALERT) robots sexier than the comely young handler/systems operator who handed me the tablet.

OK, first off...I have no idea how Japanese R&B singer, Hitomi "Penny" Tohyama(当山ひとみ)nor the creators of this song, lyricist Chinfa Kan(康珍化)and composer Yoshihiro Yonekura(米倉良弘), came up with the idea for this song "Sexy Robot", the title track from her 1983 5th album. Perhaps they had some potent Rum and Cokes, too...or they were inspired by some of the robotic forms of breakdancing that were hot at the time in America and elsewhere.

In any case, it's an intriguing funky tune about someone who has apparently fallen for the Cybermen or the Replicants from "Blade Runner". And I can't doubt Tohyama's vocals which go all in for the song. Another notable observation is that she sounds quite a bit like another City Pop singer, Miki Matsubara(松原みき), with this particular song.

I'm sure with the pop cultural references of robots in Japan, there are most likely a lot of Japanese music fans who will listen to "Sexy Robot" and see the title, and figure that it's a most appropriate tune. For my part, I would just like to ask Tohyama and Kan about how the title and lyrics came about. There are many more R&B tunes from both sides of the Pacific that I would place higher than this one, but it's a pleasant enough ditty that does its part to add to the goofy and mystical side of Japanese pop.

My question is whether Bio or Nic was
able to pick up and drop the lemon wedge
into my Rum and Coke.

Hachiro Kasuga -- Yama no Tsurihashi (山の吊橋)

Hore yuuuraa yuuraaaaaaaa

Just last month, I was thrilled to able to live out one of my favourites by Hachiro Kasuga, "Yama no Tsurihashi", by standing and walking on a suspension bridge that happened to be in the mountains. The bridge I was on wasn't in the mountains of Japan, rather it was near Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, Canada - close enough. While it was a little intimidating at first, considering how high the Capilano Suspension Bridge is from the ravine and the fact that it sways (just as Hachi sang), it turned out to be a quite an exhilarating experience - thank goodness I don't have vertigo. I likened it to walking on a boat. 

Not a fantastic picture, but you can kinda see the Capilano bridge.
Also, that was the biggest Canadian flag I've ever seen.

Anyway, coming back to the song itself, "Yama no Tsurihashi" is a rather jolly tune in terms of both its music and words. Kenji Yoshidaya (吉田矢健治), known for creating Kasuga-bushis, composed a lighthearted melody that moves along a steady rhythm which I equate to someone, perhaps a local villager or a tourist, taking a leisurely stroll, and the sharp blare of the trumpets and flute gives the impression that said person is in high spirits. Responsible for the lyrics was Hiroshi Yokoi (横井弘), and it could be about our main character observing those who cross the swaying suspension bridge. There's a hunter with his dogs going bear hunting, a girl who seems to be waiting for her lover to return from the city, and a charcoal maker who enjoys his sake. On a whole, "Yama no Tsurihashi" could be fit for a "Minna no Uta", with the scenes being played out in a colour pencil-drawn MV.

"Yama no Tsurihashi" was released in September 1959 and was one of Hachi's hits. I came across "Yama no Tsurihashi" along with Michiya Mihashi's (三橋美智也) equally jaunty, "Iwate no Osho-san" (岩手の和尚さん) via Kouhei Fukuda (福田こうへい) in that same episode of "Shin Nippon no Uta". You can check out Fukuda's version below. He did a pretty good job, though it sounded like he just managed to hit the lowest note.

Hmm, ASKAMae-KiyoTachi, then Ha-... ... OH, NO. Nah, just kidding. You thought Hacchan was my next muse? Pssh, t-that's... crazy!😰

Oh geez, it's high time a line be drawn.

Monday, July 24, 2017

(K)NoW_NAME -- Morning Glory

Going into the Summer 2017 season of anime, perhaps a lot of us fans may be going through "Little Witch Academia" withdrawal after that wrapped up its 2-season run. It certainly helped me since it bridged from the goofy and happy Winter stuff that we were seeing into the relatively more serious fare that we caught during the Spring.

But I've still ended up missing some of the Spring 2017 fare as well including "Little Witch Academia" although the new stuff right now such as "Made In Abyss" and "Action Heroine: Cheer Fruits" have been very promising. Plus, we have another anime that's been bridging the gap once more with a 2-season run, "Sakura Quest"(サクラクエスト).

As I mentioned in the article on the ending theme for Season 1, I compared the show to an anime version of a typical Fuji-TV live-action comedy-drama regarding the character of Yoshino who reluctantly ends up as the Queen of Manoyama, a rural town that has seen better days and needs a heavy dose of tourism and optimism to get back to health. At the time of writing that, I had just watched the first couple of episodes and since then, Yoshino and her newfound friends have had to come up with all sorts of crazy schemes despite the hard-bitten resistance from some of Manoyama's de facto leaders.

However, going into Season 2, it looks like the gang has slowly seen some upside to their efforts, and yesterday, my friend and I were able to see some of the past generation's youthful years to find out how they became how they are now.

The opening theme, "Morning Glory" has slowly grown upon me due to its hint of early 1970s pop/R&B (I'm reminded of the Jackson 5). As with the ending theme of "Freesia", it is performed by (K)NoW_NAME with the vocalist here being NIIKIE with members eNu and Makoto Miyazaki(宮崎誠)responsible for its creation. Listening to it, it does sound like the beginning of a brand new day in Manoyama...a nice jolt of orange juice or ocha to get folks up and at 'em.

I'll see how the opening and ending themes for Season 2 go.

Mariko Takahashi -- dear (Follow-Up)

Hope all of you had a fine weekend. Had my usual anime-and-food routine with my friend yesterday. I may have overindulged a bit with the noshing, though. A lot of protein in that round.

Anyways, one of the nicest things that I have discovered recently is that the folks at Apple iTunes have been uploading a lot of Japanese albums past and present online. Nope, it's not like the online music163/NetEase where you can hear the entire song. It's more along the lines of song excerpts but the length of time for each song is a fair bit longer than what I could get at, for example. Furthermore, especially when there are certain singers for whom only a few select songs get onto YouTube, the Apple iTunes site has been quite useful since there is more variety.

That is the one reason that I'm going over "dear" by Mariko Takahashi(高橋真梨子)again. Another reason is that "dear" is the first album (Takahashi's 6th from April 1982) that I ever covered on "Kayo Kyoku Plus" all the way back in 2012, and, no pun intended, it is truly a dear album to me.

Along with the first article on the album, I have also covered certain other tracks from "dear" individually: "Stop My Love", "Farewell" and "Samba Magic" so you can all take a look at them, too. Basically, I'm just wrapping things up here.

The first song I will be covering is Track 3 as shown on the iTunes site, "See You Again...Kaze ni Kuchitsukete"(SEE YOU AGAIN ・・・風にくちづけて...Kiss The Wind). At first, I had been planning just to cover this one individually but realizing that Apple generosity, I decided to take on the remainder of the album. However, the reason I wanted to write about "See You Again" is that it is the very first Mariko Takahashi song that I ever heard, thanks to "Sounds of Japan" one night. That song, along with a few others by folks such as Iruka(イルカ)and Junko Yagami(八神純子)convinced me that there was interesting music beyond aidoru, YMO and enka.

Now, as I said above, Apple only provides snippets, as generous as those are. But since that snippet for "See You Again" is available enough, I can at least let you know and let you hear that discovery that was wondrous pop for me. I mean, it is a Western-sounding pop tune but I don't know I would have ever heard something like that in Canada or the United States. Written by Akira Ohtsu(大津あきら)and composed by Kisaburo Suzuki(鈴木キサブロ), it is a melodic paean to the saying "Parting is such sweet sorrow". But it has quite the warm and lush arrangement with the Joe Group strings and the other musicians which frankly did bring the city of Tokyo into my head. And although unfortunately the instrumental bridge isn't included in the excerpt, the guitar solo is soaring. To my delight, I found out that the solo was by Fujimal Yoshino(吉野藤丸)who is already represented on the blog, and partially thanks to him and the beautiful voice of the singer herself, I determined that the works of Takahashi were meant to be further explored.

Yup, this is probably one of the longest opinions about a single song that I've ever written in an album article but "See You Again" was one of the linchpins for me where kayo kyoku was concerned.

Track 6 is "Chiisana Metamorphoze"(小さなメタモルフォーゼ...A Little Metamorphosis)is the perfect dusk/dawn song. I would probably go with dawn (although the lyrics have the setting of night) since Takahashi's delivery and the arrangement by Nobuo Kurata(倉田信雄), who also handles the keyboards here, hint at something wonderful coming over the horizon. Jake H. Concepcion provides another wonderful solo on soprano saxophone. Kingo Hamada(浜田金吾)came up with the slightly coy music while Yoriko Kido(城戸依子)provided lyrics.

Track 8 is "Tear", definitely a night time tune of sophisticated pop for broken hearts. Takahashi seems to love a number of ballads with strings.

The final track is "Hyoryusha e"(漂流者へ...To The Castaways)which always sounded like a lullaby to me. But it's one of those tear-inducing ballads about women being the ones who love while men being the ones who drift away for various reasons. I think the killer part is at the end when Takahashi and the music box both slowly turn down for the night...or forever. Ouch! Ami Ozaki(尾崎亜美)provided words and lyrics here.

Yup, as I said, they are just excerpts but hopefully they are long enough so that the album might be worth purchasing if you are a purveyor of the lusher and urbane side of Japanese New Music. A few of the tracks got me started on my path for appreciating Japanese pop music at last.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Naoko Ken/Kuniko Fukushima -- Bossa Nova (ボサノバ)

I took a look at that listing I wrote up on the Red and White teams for the 32nd edition of NHK's Kohaku Utagassen on New Year's Eve 1981, and I've written individual articles on some of the songs that were performed that night such as Seiko Matsuda's(松田聖子)"Natsu no Tobira"(夏の扉)and Hitomi Ishikawa's(石川ひとみ)"Machibuse"(まちぶせ). But the fact is that I haven't covered all of them due to failing memory.

One such song is "Bossa Nova" as performed by singer-actress-tarento Naoko Ken(研ナオコ). Listening to it again after so long, I remember that rock guitar starting things off. And as I heard the song, I realized that although there was some Latin, it didn't sound anything like a bossa nova tune at all.

In fact, I would say that it was straight-ahead City Pop. And looking at the lyrics (and music) by singer-songwriter Kuniko Fukushima(福島邦子), the bossa nova was actually a plot point and not the description of the melody. To explain, the story involved a woman remembering with a dollop of bittersweetness about the end of a relationship through a final dance to a bossa nova tune. In short, she would dearly love to get rid of the bossa nova from her memory. I think Ken's demeanor as she sang it above in the video pretty much said it all. I love the melody and her smoky vocals.

"Bossa Nova" was Ken's 28th single released on December 21st 1981. I mentioned the exact date since she did get onto the Kohaku a mere 11 days later so I'm kinda wondering how she was able to get onto the NHK stage in such a short time especially when the single got no higher than No. 69. Not that I'm complaining too much since my re-acquaintance with the song has me enjoying its City Poppiness.

The single was also on Ken's 9th album "Renairon"(恋愛論...Theory of Love), a collection of cover singles released in November 1981.

And that brings me to my next point in that Ken's single was indeed a cover of the original single by Fukushima herself. In fact, "Bossa Nova" was her 4th single from 1979. Judging from her performance on Fuji-TV's "Yoru no Hit Studio"(夜のヒットスタジオ), the original version by the Okayama-born singer-songwriter had that same Latin-tinged City Pop feeling but was lacking that oomph of the electric guitar in the intro and perhaps those smoky vocals of Ken. Still, her style is reminiscent of Junko Yagami(八神純子)and early Miharu Koshi(越美晴). The song was also on her 2nd album "To" from May 1980.

I'm glad that I was finally able to get this article about a Kuniko Fukushima song on board since I had come across another song by her in the past several months but have yet to put it onto the blog. Now I've gotten that kick to put more of her material into play. Born in 1954, she debuted in 1978 and released 15 singles and 11 albums. Along with Naoko Ken, Fukushima has also provided songs for other acts such as Anri(杏里), Checkers(チェッカーズ)and Akina Nakamori(中森明菜).

According to her J-Wiki profile, she is a writer but going to her official website, apparently she is still giving concerts even in the United States and teaches piano and voice.

Agnes Chan -- Hoshi ni Negai wo (星に願いを)

In tribute to Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)who passed away in the last 24 hours, I've already written about one of his songs as a singer in the 1950s. However, I also want to pay my last respects through one of the many songs that he had written for others.

Therefore, who better to select than Agnes Chan(アグネス・チャン)since Hirao was the one who brought her over from Hong Kong, where the singer had already become famous, to Japan. Hirao also helped create four of her tunes, including her hit "Sougen no Kagayaki" (草原の輝き).

Another song that can be included in that quartet is "Hoshi no Negai wo" (Wish Upon A Star) which was her 5th single from February 1974. Another typically bubbly and bouncy number for Chan, the lyricist was Kazumi Yasui(安井かずみ)who had also written the lyrics for "Sougen no Kagayaki". I realize that Hirao whipped up songs for so many singers but it was hard for me to imagine that a rockabilly singer such as this fellow was able to create such 70s aidoru-tastic tunes like this one.

"Hoshi no Negai wo" went as high as No. 4 on Oricon and finished the year as the 26th-ranked single. I'm positive that the next "Uta Kon"(うたコン)will be providing some news and tributes to Hirao on Tuesday night so perhaps I won't be surprised if Chan or enka singer Hiroshi Itsuki (五木ひろし)appeared on the program.

Masaaki Hirao -- Diana (ダイアナ)

The announcement came out just a couple of hours ago so I think the folks in Japan are still getting the news although I've read a few YouTube comments here and there. Sadly, singer-songwriter Masaaki Hirao(平尾昌晃)passed away on July 21st at the age of 79 due to pneumonia in a Tokyo hospital.

Hirao was definitely one of the big songwriters for the kayo age, and along with other songwriters such as the late Yu Aku(阿久悠)and Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆), the list for his songwriting contributions to the plethora of singers over the decades on J-Wiki is so large that it has to be alphabetized. However, all the way before he started becoming more well-known as a composer, he was one of the big rockabilly singers during the 50s and 60s.

One of his earliest singles as a singer was a cover of the classic "Diana" originally by the Canadian-born singer Paul Anka. Created by Anka and Joe Sherman for release in July 1957, the Japanese version was released in 1958 with King Records director Go Makino(牧野剛)providing the Japanese lyrics under the pen name of Takashi Otowa(音羽たかし). Listening to Hirao's version, the lyrics come off as being a little stumblier than with other Japanese-language covers of American pop at the time. However, there's no doubt that Hirao had the golden voice.

Although Hirao didn't perform the song each time he came onto a music-variety show, it was still enough that I always pegged him as much as the Japanese "Diana" guy as I did peg him as the fellow behind the duet for "Canada kara no Tegami"(カナダからの手紙). And I think he really enjoyed performing it at concerts and TV shows.

We've had a few kayo songwriters pass away during the existence of this blog, and yesterday, we lost another one of the major composers for the old music. However I am grateful for the many many songs that Masaaki Hirao left us whether it be in the pop, aidoru and anison genres. May he rest in peace.

I also wrote up a Creator article on him last year so there is some biographical information about him there along with a number of his other creations, thanks to J-Wiki.

You can take a listen to the original by Anka.

ASKA -- Too many people

It's already been four years.... Imagine that being said in the low, husky voice of Ryoko Kinomiya (来宮良子).

Okay, it may be a tad dramatic to want to have sentence read by the late "Enka no Hanamichi" narrator, but that was what came to mind the moment I saw that ASKA was making a comeback after said period of time.

Actually, I was a lot more subdued than I thought I'd be at first, considering the fact that I used to be nuts over this half of the popular duo. Remember some of those nutso Mae-Kiyo or Hiroshi Tachi/Itsuki articles I wrote? Yeah, it was pretty much on the same caliber. But I guess with me shifting most of my attention to other artistes and falling down the enka-yo watering hole, it's probably no wonder my reaction to the singer-songwriter's anticipated return was more on par with encountering and then greeting a long lost acquaintance with a little smile, albeit a happily surprised one. I wonder if it's also due in part to that slight underlying paranoia I have that history might repeat itself and he'd end up in even more trouble than what had happened 4 years back. I really, really hope that he's turned over a new leaf, and will remain more stable now.

That, however, didn't stop my excitement levels from going through the roof when I finally retrieved "Too many people", as well as a Haruo Minami (三波春夫) twin-pack, from the post office after my vacation in June.

Here's the track list for "Too many people":

2. Be Free
3. Rehearsal (リハーサル)
4. Tokyo (東京)
5. X1
6. Sore de Iin da Ima wa (それでいいんだ今は)
7. Too many people 
8. To, Iu Hanashi sa (と,いう話さ)
9. Genki ka Jibun (元気か自分)
10. Toori Ame (通り雨)
11. Shinjiru Koto ga Raku sa (信じることが楽さ)
12. Mirai no Kunsho (未来の勲章)
13. Shabon (しゃぼん)

On a whole, I find that the tracks in "Too many people" very listenable and a whole lot more exciting than those in his previous original album,"SCRAMBLE", as they incorporate more of ASKA's different musical styles over his career rather than just being too 'one note', if you know what I mean. I've also noticed that the lyrics he penned for most of the songs seem to highlight his road to recovery and possibly giving reassurance to fans that he's fine now.

Moving on to the notable tracks, the first tune I'd like to talk about is track no.7, "To, Iu Hanashi sa".

Whoa, that coat looks like the one in the "Naze ni Kimi wa Kaeranai" (なぜに君は帰らない) MV.

"To, Iu Hanashi sa" was the first of ASKA's recent works I came across a few months ago after what seemed like an eternity. Admittedly, there was a hint of trepidation mixed into the eagerness when I saw the unfamiliar thumbnail and title, probably because of what I mentioned at the start of the article, but that disappeared as I watched the MV. Cool would be the word I'd use to describe "To, Iu Hanashi sa" and its monochrome MV featuring the guitar-wielding ASKA and his band. I don't know what's being sung, but I do love the way how each verse is being growled out with the boisterous beat of the drums. The piano in the back during the intense electric and acoustic guitar-filled instrumental portions is also a great addition, as it provides a mellowness to a very brash-sounding tune. That bit reminds me of the arrangement of his self-cover of C&A's past hit, "Meguriai" (めぐり逢い). Overall, this was a pretty good way to bring ASKA back into my radar - yeah, he kinda fell out for a while...

It's been a while since I've seen him so jolly.

After "To, Iu Hanashi sa", I discovered more of the other tracks in "Too many people" through other MVs and a medley of the album, and the one I came to like the most was "Tokyo".

This one is ASKA's ode to the metropolis that is Tokyo. It's melody is bright and catchy, but the cherry on the cake here is the tolling of the bells, which are reminiscent of "YAH YAH YAH" or "Senten wo Homeru nara Yugure wo Mate (晴天を誉めるなら夕暮れを待て), and gives an airiness that are in most songs I easily gravitate to. This makes it quite the contrast to its album counterpart, "FUKUOKA", a soft and heartfelt ballad. I'm guessing it's because the latter is directed at his home prefecture, hence the nostalgia and sentimentality, whereas the former is where there were new experiences and when things kicked into high gear for him (maybe too high... Sorry, no pun intended...), hence the fun atmosphere.

Another song that's grown to be one of my favourites is "Mirai no Kunsho". I'm not able to find the original at the moment, so I've put up a pretty solid cover instead. My reason for liking it is similar to that of "Tokyo" in that it's jaunty and easy on the ears, plus there's this hint of hopefulness in it. I don't watch much anime, but I can imagine "Mirai no Kunsho" being an opening theme for one like "Natsume Yuujincho" (夏目友人帳).

Up to this point, I've largely been talking about the uptempo tunes, so I'd like to shine the spotlight on the slower paced pieces, starting with "Toori Ame", which sounds like it came right out from his 1998 album, "kicks". "Toori Ame" is a laid back and feel-good ballad with a nice acoustic guitar solo that's got a certain coziness to it, like when watching the downpour from the warmth and safety of your home.

Next is "X1" (pronounced as cross-one). I wouldn't consider this R&B-inspired song a favourite of mine, but I thought the title was interesting. Initially, I had no idea what a name like "X1" had got to do with anything, but considering how the lyrics have got to do with a friend (s) helping one through a rough patch (again with ASKA's own experience) and how the "X1" is incorporated into it, I have an inkling that "X1" is sort of a homophone for "close one". If my hypothesis is right, objectively speaking, that's an ingenious play on words... or sounds.

Finally, out of all the the works in "Too many people", the one that I found the strangest and the one where ASKA sounded the most... distant, for want of a better word, was the one the album was named after. I don't exactly know what's going on in "Too many people", the song, either, somehow I feel that it lacks the warmth the other tracks have... Eh, maybe it's just me. You can sample the first bit of it in the medley above, and the rest of it pretty much sounds the same, just more fleshed out with the drums and bass joining the piano. It is pretty amusing to hear ASKA spitting out a whole string of words as fast as Minami in "Jan Naito Jan" though.

To round things up, here's some information about ASKA's 8th original album: It was released early this year on 22nd February 2017, and did well on the Oricon charts, peaking at 7th place on the Weeklies and selling around 22 000 copies within the first week it came out. If I recall correctly, there was an article on the Oricon site that mentioned ASKA planning to do an Asian tour, with Singapore included on the list. Oh geez, I hope that happens in the near future. Tom Jones and Rimi Natsukawa (夏川りみ) were great, but I'd like to see an artiste I love on stage here.

Well, I'll leave things off here for now. I might talk about the songs individually some other time, or maybe not, depending on whether I have the time.

In spite of that uneasy feeling, I'm still glad he's finally back.