Archive for category J-Rock

New Album: Horn Again by The Pillows

Another Punny Album Cover

Out today is The Pillow’s 17th full album release. The title of the disc is Horn Again. Similar to past CDs, it has 10 tracks, but this time all with English names. The regular CD costs around $33 in Japan and there’s a DVD Limited Edition for about $38. I’m not sure of the best way to pick it up in the US. I’d recommend popping over to eBay or cdJapan. However you get (legality aside) it I’m sure you’ll enjoy the band’s latest musical feat.

Album cover courtesy of pillows.jp

Advertisements

Leave a comment

New Album: Discharge/Yamanaka Sawao

The Pillows continue pumping out new music year after year, but until I can listen to this latest album I’m unsure as to the direction the band is heading, and here’s why:

Generally The Pillows produce one album a year with about 10 songs on it. This year is no different, and a music video is already out for one of the songs on the disc. DAWN SPEECH is track #3 according to The Pillows’ Japanese website and the video has been on youtube since the beginning of June, but the clues as to the movement of the band are in the video as well as the album title.

Within the video for DAWN SPEECH the anomalies are readily apparent. First off, where is Manabe, their lead guitarist? Ignore the bassist, because he’s not really a member of the band anyways, but who the heck is that girl on rhythm guitar? In addition, The Pillows’ drummer seems to be missing, too. So that’s 66.6% of the band that is not present, and I don’t know if I can identify the people who are there (other than Sawao who’s on lead vocals and, unusually, playing the solo guitar part). As for the girl playing guitar I have two hypothesis:

  1. She is the vocalist-guitarist from The Noodles, a band that toured with The Pillows on the Delicious Bump Tour in 2008 and recently on the VAMPS’ tour in California during May 2010;
  2. She is Miho, a member of Pop Chocolat (myspace), another band that toured on the VAMPS’ tour along with The Pillows;

As far as the drummer goes I have no idea who he is. Perhaps he drums for the VAMP. His style wants to be a little more aggressive, which is not a traditional Pillows feel, but overall it fit in.

So what’s the deal with the band? Not being entirely positive, my idea is that Sawao is just doing some experimental stuff with other musicians. There is not any news of the band disbanding, and considering that Yamanaka’s name is right there in the title it implies that this might just be a project he worked on with the people he was on tour with. Not much else can be said about this album until I can actually hear the whole thing.

Addressing the song DAWN SPEECH itself the qualities are very familiar. Sawao continues to mix Japanese and English together use English and the tonal structures of his vocal work have a sort of melancholy to them. With the addition of some Na-na-na’ing the chorus flows and sticks in one’s mind fairly easily. The guitar both use a pretty sharp distortion with very little reverb and a lot of sustain on the melody. I’d say the best part of the song is the female’s vocal support that adds an interesting quality the tune. While The Pillows traditionally use only Sawao’s vocals this addition (the woman) really spices up the track and makes it unique.

The video is pretty chill. It focuses primarily on the band with few shots that deviate from them. Every once in a while there is a pan to a screen that is projecting video of the musicians on the side of the stage-area. Also, a few close up shots of the drummer and female allow us to see who they are, though I don’t know exactly who that is.

There ya have it. The Pillows have some new music out and it’s “non-traditional.” It’s exciting to see that they are continuing to grow. Hopefully they’ll be together for another 20 years.

Until next time, Find the Beat or the Beat will find you.

6 Comments

The Seatbelts – Part 2 (Diving In)

—Note: Any songs I refer to in my posts will be available to listen to via http://www.grooveshark.com. I encourage you to pop over to listen to the songs as they come up for a better understanding of what I am writing about.


The Seatbelts – Part 1 left off with the foundation of the band and their background/influence in anime. Now it’s time for the knitty-gritty: the music.

To start let’s look at the opening theme for Cowboy Bebop, which happens to be a song titled Tank! and it is a jazz fusion of sorts. The song bursts forth blaring horns, spiced with a splash of drums, and quickly moves into a bass riff. Hand drums then pop in and continue for the rest of the song while a melody is played with the saxophones and the rest of the horns. The tune swings and sways all over the place with squealin’ rhythms and an awesome sax solo at around 1:45 into the song. If this is any indication The Seatbelts know how to throw down the jazz and blend in a few instruments. This tune is important for the Cowboy Bebop series because it captures the lifestyles and characters of the show. These people move and jump all over the place, like the crazy squealy horns in Tank! One minute they’re chasing a bounty on Mars and the next they’re back to earth searching for a Beta player in a flooded skyscraper. It’s chaotic and spastic, but beautiful and full of energy.

Moving on they have other more melodic pieces like the simple song Pitiful Faye. This melody is made with only a piano and, like it’s character, leaves the listener wondering what more it could be hiding. Elegant  and beautiful, it charms the ears with a melancholy that pervades to the depths of mood and tonal texture.

Now Fingers, a tune used in Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, is another of their wonderfully mellow songs, starts with some chimes or some kind of wooden percussion with a drum track running in the background. Once more the piano sweeps in to lay down a voice and then at around 1:05 some vocals slide in with an Erie otherworldly feeling. Within the series, songs like Fingers and Pitiful Faye are used to create depth in the people. As I’ve said, each character in Cowboy Bebop gets a thorough investigation and by the 26th episode the viewer is exposed to the past that Spike or Jet are trying to run away from. These songs pop in at those tender moments and help to add tone and color. It’s simply beautiful to watch this show and feel the music blend in so wonderfully. The Seatbelts also use reoccuring sounds to bring segments back to the center and act as flags to deeper expressions. Stella by the Moor and Goodnight Julia are instrumentals whose sole purpose seems to be as triggers into characters and their pasts.

The antagonist of Session #20, Pierrot le fou is a man who had been tested on, gone insane, and attempted to kill Spike with his insane weaponry.

Of course, the songs that blend in are not only used to help characters “spill their guts” so to say. Most are there in the background creating the proper mood overall. Take for instance the episodes such as Session #11: Toys in the Attic and Session #20: Pierrot Le Fou. These episodes are outside the normal Bebop realm because they are not focussed on the centralized theme in any way. That is to say that they do not take the crew closer to the bounty they are chasing or towards their personal fulfillment, but rather they do allow us to delve into the characters psychologically. Thus, the music for these episodes is more low key, in the background, but weird none-the-less. Such songs are Eyeball and Cosmic Noh (Eyeball is on grooveshark while Cosmic Noh might not be).

Ok, so we’ve got one fast paced jazz based song and a couple of slower melodic pieces. What else makes their tracks “dynamic.” To make it simple, here are a couple of lists that groups their songs into genres.

Jazz/Blues:

  • Spokey Dokey: Begins with a set of amazing harmonica blues riffs and slides into a soul rattling blues tune. Slide guitar comes in to add emphasis and flavor, this jam is astounding.
  • Don’t Bother None: This time slide guitar begins the song with a sweet solo. Eventually the guitar fades into rhythm and female vocals come through delivering a story about a woman . After the first chorus harmonica comes in and plays in the background adding to the overall bluesy feeling.
  • Forever Broke: A guitar based blues song, the slide guitar uses a variation of slide techniques along with tapping and false harmonics to make this come alive inside the listener.
  • Digging my Potato: Harmonic + light drums in the background. Simple.
  • Bad Dog No Biscuits: Ok…this song is odd. There’s some kind of weird synth scratching that goes through the whole song, but it is mostly horn based. A jazzy, punchy melody like a chase scene that eventually turns into a carnival ride. That’s how I choose to describe this. Kind of polka-ska. Make sure to note that horn at 1:35 and on.

Country Rock:

  • Go Go Cactus Man: This tune begins with a flare of spanish guitar and then slows with a chorus of whistling. The distinct character of this screams of a man on a horse in the old west. He rides out to the sunset and gallops away with his beauty clinging tight to his waist. As they run away the guitar and whistling moves back and forth countering one another. Whammy bar is used quite a bit on guitar to add to the Spanish/Southern sound.
  • Diggin’: A quick country guitar riff and then country vocal patterns begin this song. This jam relates the character’s past, and then laments this past as a traditional country song does. Of course there’s a guitar solo at 2:40 beginning with the opening riff repeated. This goes until around 3:25 and then the chorus rings out once more. It ends on the opening guitar riff like all “good” country-origin songs.

Epic Ballads:

  • No Reply: Huge string section + vocal dynamics + major phrase changes throughout the song = No Reply.
  • Blue: Played at the end of the final episode, Blue is the most tender, emotional songs of the series. A children’s chorus opens the song and goes into rounds. As the song breaks out a guitar with light distortion plays as female vocals come in slowly. At 1:50 the song builds and builds with cymbals reverberating into the chorus. The lyrics are here and the video for the final 10 minutes is here, too. To get straight to the music browse to 5 minutes into the video.
  • Is it Real:  Is it Real is hands down an amazing song. Light piano chords are the backbone of this song. The beauty lies primarily in the male vocal work.

International:

  • Mushroom Hunting: This is a strange tune which uses a lot of percussion. A narrative voice guides the listener through the song by pointing these instruments out and a distinctive African sound comes through. Eventually horns pierce into the song and the vocalist lists off countries for some reason. It’s a fun song, but I can only listen to it every once in a while.
  • Doggy Dog I/II/& III: These songs have gotta go here mainly because they are remixes that use such a variety of sounds.
  • Go Go Cactus Man: This song also fits here because of its traditional “Western” sound and, as I said earlier, that “Hispanic” guitar flare.

Well, that’s not all of their music, but it is quite a bit. Not only do The Seatbelts have all those categories covered, they also use Techno sounds, instrumental tracks, game-culture beats, and much more. Seeking to capture a larger production, this band had it cut out for them but in no way let us down. After seeing Cowboy Bebop and then listening to the music, going back to the show and tuning into what was happening tonally only heightened the awe inspiring aspects of both artistic realms. The two are in sync with one another, and this is one of the key reasons why The Seatbelts are amazing. Of course, if you have never seen Bebop, there’s no risk in checking it out, and if you do not want to then The Seatbelts’ music will still be a really awesome and a surprisingly diverse source of entertainment.

Thanks for reading, and as always, Find the Beat or The Beat will find you.

3 Comments

The Seatbelts – Part 1 (Background & Foundation)

—Note: Any songs I refer to in my posts will be available to listen to via http://www.grooveshark.com. I encourage you to pop over to listen to the songs as they come up for a better understanding of what I am writing about.


My exposure to Japanese musicians began way back in the day, and it all started with a group called The Seatbelts. However, I never realized that this was a specific band for quite some time until a friend pointed their music out to me. During these years my tastes in music were oriented in other directions, but growing none-the-less, and it is easy to imagine that my acquired set of diverse musical tastes may have started with this very band.

Characters from the popular anime Trigun. Lead guitarist from The Seatbelts lays down amazing riffs for the show.

Background: The Seatbelts are a confusing band, because they both exist and don’t exist. In addition, they not only do/don’t exist now, but also in the future. For instance, their track Radio Free Mars Talk 3 establishes this confusion (this track was used in Cowboy Bebop) by creating rumor about the band itself. Confused yet? Let me explain it this way: The Seatbelts are a Big Band that have primarily recorded tracks for certain shows, and more precisely, anime. They’ve recorded albums for shows such as Trigun, Wolf’s Rain, and Ghost in the Shell. It is important to note here that these shows are fundamentally different from one another in nature, thus the type of music The Seatbelts developed for each show is unique to that broadcast. It is because of this that the music from one show, my favorite, will be looked at more in depth: Cowboy Bebop.

More Background: For those who are unfamiliar with Cowboy Bebop, you should get familiar to understand the musical diversity that The Seatbelts bring to the show. This dynamic adds such an important element that it should be considered another character, just as crucial as the other main characters. Now Cowboy Bebop, to my knowledge, was the first show in that list I made earlier to air on television, and this is one primary reason to look at this show first. The anime focuses on two Bounty Hunters, Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, in the year 2071 who travel the galaxy attempting to catch that big fish so they no longer have to chase bounties. Each episode throws a new challenge at the crew and by the end of the show the ship (named the Bebop) adds 3 crew-mates (Radical Edward, a super-awesome-goofy hacker girl; Faye Valentine, a mysterious woman with a huge debt; and Ein, a lovable, ultra-intelligent welsh corgi). While each episode in Cowboy Bebop revolves around one central adventure for the Bebop crew the series as a whole slowly leaks details about the characters, filling in the gaps, giving them more depth and uniqueness, and in the last few episodes we learn that each of the members had seemingly been running from a past, and this past finally resolves itself with them.

Cowboy Bebop's protagonist, Spike Spiegel

So, where do The Seatbelts come in? As I said earlier, The Seatbelts, led by Yoko Kanno, contribute all the music for this show, and they do so in such a way that their musical contributions match the episodes to a T. Whether it be an episode about chasing an illegal mushroom dealer, to running from/taking down a psycho with crazy powers, The Seatbelts meld a blend of musical elements from all over the world to create one of the best show soundtracks ever.

To perform this feat the band does a couple of things:

  1. They use an amazingly diverse set of instruments;
  2. They have a crazy-ton of people involved;
  3. They mix instrumental with vocal tracks;
  4. They seemingly have no central genre;
  5. They have fun.

Of course, to play all these instruments The Seatbelts have gotta use a ton of people, so points number 1 and 2 are intrinsically related. Primarily based in Japan, their local musicians are comprised of around 30 people, some playing only one instrument, and others playing multiple or the same instrument. This consists of the traditional drums, bass guitar, guitar, and percussion. In addition this core group also uses trumpet, trombone, saxophone, flute, tuba, harmonica, various strings, and synth. If that isn’t a list of dynamic instruments I don’t know what is.

So, if these are the musicians, where does that chick Yoko Konno I mentioned earlier come in? Yoko is the primary sound designer and coordinator for the group. Essentially she writes the music, and they all get together to play it and make it sound just right. Because of this the vision of each song is unified under one person allowing for a more concise listening experience. To understand this it is a good idea to delve into some more songs and how they work, but that will happen in Part 2.

4 Comments