July 4, 2007

Guest post: My little brother defends his musical honor, schools us on Japanese music

Last weekend I posted something that my little brother out in San Diego had recommended to me, and I made a tiny dig at his past musical interests (who am I to talk, I liked NKOTB). Brian graciously called me on it, told me he actually still likes Japanese music, and suggested he write a little something about it to school all of us. An excellent idea, fitting in with the World Music Wednesday feature that I can’t seem to find enough time to maintain these days, but am still very interested in.

In addition to trying to teach me the fine points of guitar playing (pictured above, harder than it looks), he also loves to talk music just like his big sis. So it’s a pleasure: take it away, dude.

I am Brian, and you are Heather’s friends. My whole family, it seems, has this deep love for music in one form or another, and I could probably fill Heather’s entire daily blog with music of my own tastes, because like her, music is my life. I love studying music, learning new types of music, spending hours listening to it, and constantly growing my library from which I can draw the beautiful sensations which music always delivers. Music is my fuel, which would, in some strange reorganization of words, making my sister my drive in life – but I guarantee you that is not the case. Since I breathe, eat, sleep, and drink music day in and day out, I thought I would share some of my tastes with you, Heather’s faithful readers.

I have learned something as I’ve aged [editor’s note: he’s all of 25, folks], and that is that if someone who claims to love music cannot listen to music they don’t understand, or music belonging to a culture with which they do not associate, they are lacking in something. I want to open the doors to what is in my opinion wonderful music, that like a fine wine may take time getting used to and learning, but will grow on you if you give it time. Sit back, relax, and take a second to try to enjoy music that you might not normally listen to.

A note about Japanese music before we start: One thing that you should remember is that English is very popular in Japan – having song titles in English, using English in the chorus line, or as the background vocals – is very popular, widely accepted, and almost standard across the Japanese music industry. I understand that (to the best of my knowledge,) there is no English-speaking country where another language is so prevalent in its music as it is in Japan, but try to keep that in mind as you listen. It is not out of the norm – rather, it is the norm.

Pizzicato Five
Busting onto the scene in 1985, and calling it quits later in 2001, Pizzicato Five have been one of the longer running bands to have fame in Japan. They are one of the most individualistic, non-conforming, “we’re going to play whatever the hell we want to play” bands I have ever heard. Their poppy, sometimes odd music is something that takes a little getting used to. The band’s two members, Yasuharu Konishi and K-Taro Takanami, take turns singing and playing the instruments in the songs, so each song is a good reflection of both of them. Their best CD in my opinion is Playboy & Playgirl (on Matador in the U.S., 1998).

La Depression – Pizzicato 5
I Hear a Symphony – Pizzicato 5
Such A Beautiful Girl Like You – Pizzicato 5

[Heather's addition:]
Twiggy Twiggy – Pizzicato 5 (I never get tired of this one)

Utada Hikaru

Well shoot. How do I even write about Utada Hikaru and NOT take up like fifteen pages? Ahhh, bullet points. So – tell me, how many of these things have you accomplished in your life:

  • Released 7 studio albums totaling over 40,000,000 in sales
  • Become pretty much THE most popular musical icon in all of Japan, following the release of your first CD, at age 16 (and if you’re thinking, “oh, it’s the Japanese Britney Spears…. no. No no no.)
  • Had the most number one songs of any artist ever in Japan, including 12 Golden Disk awards (like our Grammy award)
  • Released full albums in both English and Japanese
  • Fricken. Rock.
  • Be born in New York, have a massive international audience, be popular all over the world, and…. still have no one in America know who you are, save Asian people.

That pretty much sums it up. I got into Utada Hikaru during my junior year in high school, 1999, when her first album, First Love, came out. She was 16, pretty much the same as all the girls putting out poppy little bubblegum CDs here in America, like Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, Christina Aguilera, and all the other crap that was popular at the time, but my high school, being around 65-70% Asian, had a slightly different tilt to it, and so naturally, I was sucked in.

I believe Hikaru is one of the only artists in the world who can claim the number 1 spot on the charts for seven straight albums. Hit after hit after hit – and they never stop coming. She has diversified herself from electronic-y late ’90s music to beautiful ballads, albums in full English, and almost every type of music you can think of. She is more than just an icon to Japanese listeners, she carries with her so much talent, with such a great voice, creative sounds and lyrics, and it will be so hard to give you just four songs of hers. You really need to check her out. Now.

Automatic – Utada Hikaru (off her first CD)
First Love- Utada Hikaru (title track to first CD, at age 16)
Simple and Clean – Utada Hikaru (all in English)
Colors – Utada Hikaru (off her latest CD)

Kiss Destination
To be honest – I don’t know a lot about this artist. To my knowledge, she only has one real album (and a host of singles) but her one disc, released in 1999, didn’t really go anywhere, and she’s not around anymore. If I were so lucky to have someone reading this that actually owns this CD, I will buy it off you. I can’t find it anywhere, but the five or six tracks I have from the CD are all amazing.

Kiss Destination was the project of a band we’re going to cover later, Globe –one of the biggest Japanese rock/electronica bands in the last 20 years– and singer Asami Yoshida (featured to the left). Asami’s voice is melodic, and she mixes her flavor of pop in with a little bit of rap and very memorable melodies.

Over and Over – Kiss Destination
Long and Winding Road – Kiss Destination

Finally! I’ve been waiting to write about Ketsumeishi since I started this post last night, because they are absolutely amazing. Ketsumeishi is an awesome blend of pop music, amazingly talented rappers, great voices, and awesome beats. I don’t want to lay down some blanket statement about an entire genre of music, but when most people think of rap, it has the impression of American popular rap. “oh. that.” This is NOT what you’re thinking. Japanese rappers are incredible — the way that Ketsumeishi can flow is unlike anything I’ve ever hear out of American rap, so I highly encourage you to listen to these two tracks of theirs.

This is where I REALLY need you to put on your culture hat, and try to get past the fact that you do not understand this, and that the style of rap is totally not what you’re used to. Please, do it for yourself. You will be a better person for liking Ketsumeishi. They consist of four members, Ryo, Ryoji, 大蔵, and DJ Kohno, they have released 4 albums and are working on a new release for 2007. To date, they have sold more than 4,000,000 copies. Call me crazy, but try to watch the Sakura music video without crying… I’m just a sucker for love stories.

Yorukaze – Ketsumeishi
Sakura – Ketsumeishi


m-flo is a Japanese hip-hop group consisting of two guys that I would just love to go out and drink with, DJ Taku Takahashi and VERBAL. Apparently the original name for the group was meteorite flow, but their producer said that it was too long, so they shortened it to the now famous m-flo. Formed also in 1999, (seems like a popular year in Japan musical history!) with their third member, Lisa, they released 5 albums and had amazing success before she decided to leave the group in 2002, citing artistic differences.

For the first several years, m-flo put out several awesome CDs and singles, and were more the type of group to have a killer CD over a ton of number one hits, but for the last few years m-flo has made their largest impact on the music scene by working with other famous artists to produce “m-flo” remixes of popular songs. Produced under the name “m-flo loves [artist] – [title]” their work has become internationally known and recognized as some of the best hiphop and remixing work in the world. I love m-flo, so again, it’s going to be hard to just choose a few tracks for you to listen to, especially since both members speak perfect English and often-times interweave English and Japanese in the same sentence, or have English in the left channel and Japanese in the right – it’s pretty awesome to listen to. I wonder if it would give you a headache if you were fluent in both…

m-flo loves yoshika – Let Go
m-flo loves chemistry – Astrosexy
m-flo loves ketsumeishi & Lisa – Tegami

Every Little Thing
Last, but definitely not least, is the band that is probably most responsible for my love of Japanese music, other than Utada Hikaru. I learned about Every Little Thing around 2000 – 2001, and instantly fell in love with them. They sound a lot like an ’80s rock band full of power chords, distorted guitars, synthesizers, and killer guitar solos. Some of their music has a softer quality to it, like many of the late ’80s bands who would put crazy soft ballads in the middle of two hard songs.

There isn’t anything that I can say that would explain why I love ELT so much — they don’t do anything better than any other group in this list, they don’t have the best vocals, the most catchy sounds, or the most difficult guitar parts, but something about the sound just . . . captivates me. They have released so many CDs over the years that they were able to release 4 CDs of greatest hits, entitled Every Best Single, Every Best Single 2, Every Best Single 3, and Every Best Ballad.

So needless to say, they have a huge history of fame on the island to the west. They are semi-impervious to time, it seems, as they have not been caught up in much of Japanese pop culture (much like Pizzicato 5) and have really just done their own things, sticking to their deep rock roots regardless of what time period it is now.

Every Little Thing – Dear My Friend
Every Little Thing – Shapes of Love
Every Little Thing – Jump
Every Little Thing – Futari De Jidai Wo Kaetemitai

So . . . I hope this was a nice venture into the land of Japan for all of you who read Heather’s blog. I might just come back and do more international music sometime in the future. Feel free to email me about any of the bands listed here, if you just have any questions in general, or if you just want to be my friend and talk about music. I’m way cooler than Heather. You can reach me at powel033@csusm.edu


  • You forgot Electric Eel Shock, which might have been one of the best punk shows I’ve ever seen.

    brian s. — July 4, 2007 @ 9:23 pm

  • Brian,
    My young daughter loves j-pop. She has studied all of the artists on her own. While I purchased “Joan As Policewoman” (Real Life/Anyone/The Ride)she asked the cashier for Nana Kitade and showed him where she was listed in the system. She started with BoA and loves Ayumi Hamasaki. She was delighted to listen to Utada Hikaru and we were off to Kinokuniya tomorrow anyway for yet another manga. The cds are very expensive so she hops over to the japanese itunes. You are both awesome and we’re lucky relatives.
    We share music in the car all the time.
    Piers Faccini to you heather ;).

    Thanks Brian

    debs — July 4, 2007 @ 9:23 pm

  • Fantastic selection, and I’m sure you’ve heard of these guys, but everyone else should too – the pillows!

    I’m not entirely sure how to classify them (rock? pop?) but give it a listen – possibly one of my favourite bands ever – in my dreams they’re featured on guitar hero.

    Anonymous — July 4, 2007 @ 11:57 pm

  • Check out 2 great Japanese ska bands I saw at SXSW this year….Pistol Valve and Oreskaband. They were both great.


    Brian — July 5, 2007 @ 5:41 am

  • I love Pizzicato Five! They’re so…different. (I can’t explain it any other way).

    My favorite J-pop band has to be The Pillows. I can’t get enough of their Pixies-like sound!

    Thanks for the post!

    Steve — July 5, 2007 @ 11:47 am

  • Excellent post… But you can’t leave out Toshiyuki Honda (in my humble opinion)…

    - Buby

    Anonymous — July 5, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

  • Sugoiiii J-pop!



    Anonymous — July 5, 2007 @ 5:49 pm

  • Thanks for the excellent primer on Japanese music. If you haven’t had a chance yet, check out Roland Kelt’s Japanamerica. It is a wonderful book discussing the relationship between Japanese and American pop culture.

    jonsnow — July 6, 2007 @ 6:43 pm

  • You forgot my favorite, Dreams Come True. It’s ok. You’re young.

    Todd — July 8, 2007 @ 2:20 am

  • What about one of the most unique, talented, and successful Japanese singers or any singer for that matter; Shiina Ringo? Her work is simply spectacular, spanning genres from punk and rock to pop and orchestral jazz, across languages from Japanese and English to French and German.

    Anonymous — July 9, 2007 @ 7:36 am

  • What the hell?! No Shena Ringo?! :(


    Monkey Bastard — July 9, 2007 @ 3:30 pm

  • Oh, someone already mentioned her. With better spelling and everything.


    Monkey Bastard — July 9, 2007 @ 3:33 pm

  • I like Lullatone.

    glenn gould — July 9, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

  • There’s way too many good J-pop/rock artist now-a-days like L’arc en Ciel, Hirai Ken, etc. Best way to get in contact with a lot of J-pop/rock is actually anime and J-drama.

    Nitpicking I am, but it’s a petpeeve of mine. Every Little Thing’s Futari de Zidai wo Kaetemitai should be Futari de “Jidai” wo Kaetemitai.

    MML — October 2, 2007 @ 2:23 am

  • Oh and whoever said BoA, strictly speaking she’s a K-pop singer because she’s Korean… but yes she’s active in both Korea and Japan.

    MML — October 2, 2007 @ 2:27 am

  • I SO fell in love with your blog ! wanna link exchange with me ^_^? thanks for putting up J music on your blog and all my faves too ^_^ *huggles* ^^

    Tamahome No Miko — March 6, 2008 @ 2:40 am

  • i love hikaru utada
    i have hikaru utada
    at asia star
    Hikaru Utada

    Pakpong — March 16, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

  • Thanks!

    Absolutely love m-flo’s “Loves…” collabs. And actually, it doesn’t give you a headache being fluent in both languages and listening to it.. it’s actually quite fun.

    Other people have mentioned a few other artists, but what about bands such as Remioromen? And you have to tell something about the rock side of the music scene; my favorite area.

    Ever heard any Jrock? Bands like MUCC, Dir en grey, D’espairs Ray, lynch., Kagrra,, The Underneath, and solo artists, most prominently Kiyoharu and SUGIZO… I can go on and on. I’ve got an endless list of music if you’d like to hear some.

    Serena — April 13, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

  • Good Job! :)

    Martin — June 8, 2008 @ 8:33 am

  • Personally, I love Shibuya-kei. It’s definitely a niche, but with Japanese music you either love it or hate it.

    I has a penchant for Cibo Matto as well.

    Great post!

    PVLN — November 9, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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