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.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

microstar -- Yuugure Girl(夕暮れガール)

Back in the 1980s, I was getting into all sorts of music whether it be New Wave, AOR and R&B along with the rest of the Billboard pop hits. However, although I wouldn't profess my interest in jazz until many years later during my second stint in Japan, I confess that there had always been some spark that was attracted to the genre that's pretty much a century old now. Part of it was due to growing up to those old records of standards and another reason was hearing those hits from The Manhattan Transfer such as "The Boy From New York City" and "Tuxedo Junction".

And then there was the above song that I used to hear on heavy rotation on both AM and FM radio. It was a one-hit wonder for the group with the memorable name of Elbow Bones and the Racketeers but man, did I like their "A Night in New York" from 1984.

I've got the same vibe with this snazzy number by a unit called microstar, "Yuugure Girl" (Sunset Girl) from September 2011. There's a bit more technology involved here when compared to the Big Band instruments from "A Night in New York", but there's no denying to me that it is one lovely tribute to that age of jazz. Still, I'm having some trouble categorizing it since although there is that obvious jazz edge to it, I'm also wondering if it can also be included in pop or even Shibuya-kei.

Putting on my music sommelier's hat right now, that snazzy description I used in the previous paragraph had me also thinking of "Yuugure Girl" as something reminiscent of EPO's "Doyou no Yoru wa Paradise"(土曜の夜はパラダイス)since EPO can also be said to quite snazzy in her songs and vocals. Plus, for some reason, I also hear "Who Are You?", the duet with Fujimal Yoshino and Haruko Kuwana(芳野藤丸・桑名晴子). "Yuugure Girl" is a melodic reason to be happy about strutting down the city streets and painting the town red and flashing a lot of green.

Trying to look up what this microstar is all about, I eventually tracked things to the J-Wiki entry for Seiki Sato(佐藤清喜), a music producer, composer and arranger from Iwate Prefecture who made his major debut for a band called nice music in 1993. In 1996, a bassist and vocalist Yuko Iizumi(飯泉裕子)who participated in nice music's concerts joined up with Sato to form microstar as a duo. They've released 5 singles up to 2016 with "Yuugure Girl" being their 3rd; there are also 4 albums to their name.

For the YouTube comments underneath "Yuugure Girl", I kept seeing references to Kanashii Android Apartment(悲しい ANDROID - APARTMENT...Sad Android Apartment). Not knowing what this was all about, I found out that it was another unit or individual doing a bit of Japanese Future Funk/Vaporwave (not sure if that latter concept has become too dated) treatment to the song to form "Lonely Highways". Once again, thank you, Artzie Music. And of course, thank you microstar. I now have a theme song to which I can walk on the streets in Ginza and Akasaka to. I may not be able to enter most of the establishments there but I can certainly walk (or swing) proudly around them.


  1. Good afternoon J-C: great post. I'm a subscriber to Android (I have his T-shirt ;) but missed this one. Listening to the microstar original I was reminded of Cherchez La Femme (Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band) from the mid-70's. It was a pop song but heavily jazz/big-band influenced. Swings like this does.
    How would you define "Japanese Jazz" ? What little I've heard sounds like "jazz"; I don't feel the unique twist I can hear in other KK-pop music (let alone Enka or aidoru). The jazz-fusion of the 70's (e.g. Weather Report, Herbie Hancock) mated with Kraftwerk and led very easily into YMO; jazz-y but maybe not Jazz? But I won't get pedantic - it's all good music.

    1. Hello T-Cat,

      I think the Japanese treated jazz music like they treated classical music. They studied and then played the music straight, no chaser. If someone did put a unique twist to it, at least in popular music, then I haven't heard it yet.

    2. Hello, T-cat and Chasing Showa.

      Yep, I'm not as familiar with Japanese jazz and their artists such as Sadao Watanabe and Kei Kobayashi but I would probably agree that it's played pretty straight. Which is kinda strange in a way since one of jazz's essential qualities is the ability to improvise...taking the basic core of the song and then spinning off into various directions.

      If anything, I think genres such as folk and City Pop got that Japanese twist. For the latter genre, I couldn't imagine some of those urban contemporary songs such as Tatsuro Yamashita's "Someday" and Akira Terao's "Ruby no Yubiwa" ever cropping up in America or Britain. I think there's something intrinsically Japanese in their DNA, so to speak.

      From what I've read of YMO's history and listened from their earlier songs such as "Firecracker" and "Cosmic Surfin'" is that Hosono, Takahashi and Sakamoto were basically taking a bit of good-natured fun with some of those old non-Japanese genres such as exotica and surf rock and putting them through the synths. I think they were about as shocked as anyone that the experiment paid off in such huge dividends.

  2. Hello J-Canuck,

    I knew you were going to find out about this group eventually. I discovered them a month or two prior as I l was lurking in the City Pop sub-user group on Reddit.

    Although that group doesn’t have many commenters but their posts of Youtube links lead to some wonderful music.

    Thus I encountered microstar’s “Tiny Spark” which just blew me away!

    I needed to find out more about them so I found this following post with more information.

    (Japanese language only)

    This post had links to other songs they had put out including “Yuugure Girl” which made me do a double take because the music is lifted from a song from my childhood. As T-Cat stated, this song is called “Cherchez la Femme” from the group Dr. Buzzards Original Savannah Band.

    Also Dr. Buzzards Original Savannah Band was started by the brother of another artist I remember from my childhood: August Darnell aka Kid Creole, with the Coconuts!

    TBH, microstar is not the only group to lift the music from that song, I heard Ghost Face Killah from Wu-Tang also sampled the song on one of his solo records.

    Even I was kind of torn if microstar is more Shubuya-kei instead of Neo-City Pop. In the end, I don’t think it really matters.

    1. Hello again, Chasing Showa!

      Always love it when I come across a group like microstar. I also heard "Tiny Spark" after "Yuugure Girl" and loved the disco. I will probably talk about that one later next week. May even decide to invest in one or two of their albums.

      I'm listening to "Cherchez la Femme" right now and yep, I'm enjoying this one, too. I think Hosono was kinda doing something similar in the days between Happy End and YMO.

      Kid Creole and the Coconuts is a band I also remember from the 1980s mainly through "My Male Curiosity".

      But both you and T-cat are right in that the exact category of music doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things since it sounds great regardless.

      I'm starting to think that Japanese musicians and songwriters were really quite hook-happy way back when. The City Pop guys loved lifting stuff from the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan.

    2. Good evening J-Canuck!

      Ah, Hosono's dive into exotica. I remember coming across Hurricane Dorothy from another Youtube recommendation.

      He was doing Jimmy Buffet better than he could. ;)

      I knew then that I must karaoke this song before I leave this life. I have yet to find a karaoke version of this song but when I do I feel my life will be complete. If I die quickly from a freak occurrence(car crash, heart attack etc.) or a slow one (cancer, early onset Alzheimer etc.) I feel I've lived a worthy life.

      As long as they blast Hosono's (original) version of Furaibo when they scatter my ashes upon the Hida river in Takayama I'll be content.

    3. Hello, Chasing Showa.

      For me, I think my karaoke days...and nights are probably over but I will be happy enough to listen to these tunes to a ripe old age, provided that stores still sell CD players and record players. :)

  3. Good evening J-C and Chasing Showa: unfortunately J-C uploaded this about 1 hour after I placed an order with CDJapan; but microstar will go on the next one! I spent the afternoon listening to other trax of theirs. One of the unexpected "fun" parts is finding small samples of Western pop inside KK. The first time my wife heard Mariya Takeuchi's "Let's Get Married" she literally screamed "Beauty School Dropout !!" (from Grease). But in general they seem to lift just enough of a wedge to then fashion an original (not copy or derivative) song, and whatever subsequently is done is the "twist" that makes this so appealing. Perhaps Jazz is amorphous enough in what falls under it that almost anything qualifies ..... ?

    1. Hi, T-cat.

      Yup, I think I will have to place microstar on my own next order although that probably won't be until closer to the summer (or if I feel happy enough after I pay my income taxes).

      Good heavens..."Let's Get Married" and "Beauty School Dropout"! Now that you mention it...!

      It seems as if singers on both sides of the Pacific, if they last long enough, end up doing a jazz album for some reason. I'm not complaining since I like the genre but it's an interesting observation.


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