July 2022

Radio Star by Analogfish

Released: 22.07.20 / Label: Self-released

We’re finishing up the week of reviews here at J-Indie so I thought I’d throw in a group I’m already a fan of. This isn’t the kind of jacket cover I’d expected from them, but it peaked my interest so here we are. Before we get into talking about the band, I just want to say: This site has been going for about two months now, and it started out as a bit of an experiment. I’ve been trying to find my rhythm and voice for the posts and this week is the first time I’ve felt like things are going smoothly. So I wanted to say thanks for being part of the early audience. Expect some changes, little tweaks here and there, and feel free let me know what you think. And thanks for reading! Ok, let’s talk about the band.

Analogfish is a three-piece rock band formed in 1999. They’ve played some of the biggest festivals in Japan and have had a track used as a closing theme on Naruto. They debuted on a major label in 2004, but returned to the indie world just a few short years later in 2008, where they remain today. Which is perfect, because that means I get to review them! The group has released an impressive 11 albums to date. Each album has it’s own unique feel and their entire discography is definitely worth a deep dive. Today we’re listening to their latest single Radio Star, written for Idol Konoka Matsuda’s new radio show on Nippon Broadcasting System. If you’re like me and don’t know what any of that is, I researched it for us. It’s a theme song for a radio program. Now I bet the song title makes sense. Ok, let’s check it out.

Oh. Oh no. This isn’t what I was hoping for at all. Attempted J-Pop from an alt-rock group is not a good match. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of J-Pop when it’s good, but this just doesn’t cut it. It’s exactly what I would expect a group of guys who don’t listen to J-Pop to write if they were asked to compose a J-Pop theme for a radio show. The music is lifeless and feels uncomfortable, the range is too high for the vocals, and the whole thing is a never ending loop of boring. Man, talk about a let down.

It sounds like they attempted to shake it up a bit by adding some interesting harmonies. (They feel out of place.) They also mess with the meter for a split second at 1:24 and 1:53. (It just feels like a glitch.) They added a stylish effect to the solo. (I’m not even sure what instrument it is or what it’s playing now.) But they got a couple things right. The bass line is pretty spot on, grooving like it should. The last chorus is done right, with the band dropping out until the big climax. And the lyrics are dorky but completely on brand for this kind of music sung to a melody that fits the genre. They did forgot one of the most important parts of J-Pop though: Bells that play along an octave above the melody. You gotta have that somewhere if you’re making J-Pop. Instant classic.

So, what’s the takeaway here… Stick to what you know? Only make art if you have something you really want to say? You don’t have to take every job you’re offered? I don’t know. But I do know this. You should probably just skip this track and go listen to some of their other music, because it’s so much better to hear them in their element. I’m going to have to review another song by them to make up for this… I’ll see you next week.

Verdict: Skip (1.1/5)

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previous night by The Insomnia Club

Released: 22.07.20 / Label: Self-released

I feel this album artwork in my soul. What a great illustration, and a great band name to go with. This is my first time listening to The Insomnia Club, but I feel like I’m already qualified to be a member.

So I did some research and think this may be the least I’ve been able to find out about a band before. It’s a creative group with multiple members, and they’ve been active for a little over a year now. All the rest of this is just my best guesses, because this group is mysterious. It looks like a four member group, their Twitter account follows four people. And I think it’s both musicians and artists working together. Looking at the credits for their music videos, there is a pretty big team working on the releases. Their music videos are really cool and definitely worth checking out if you like their stuff. Other than that, I came up empty. I guess we’ll have to let the song speak for the band here, but kudos for keeping it mysterious.

What a beautiful voice this singer has, and such a clear tone. I dig it. The track itself is a darker pop tune that gets good about 30 seconds in, it’s pretty simple except for a really good piano jam that pops in between the vocals. The chord changes are pretty basic, and really common for darker pop here in Japan thanks to a hit by Shina Ringo. Things take a creative turn about two minutes into the song, and some new ideas are explored, but abandoned a bit too quickly to develop. Chalk it up to inexperience, but it’s a good sign for future releases.

There are only a couple negatives that really stuck out to me, one of which really hurts the song. The main synth sound has a panning effect on it that takes it back and forth between the far right and far left and it’s just too much. I tried to listen on headphones and it was rough. Speakers made it easier to listen to, but it’s still really prevalent throughout the song. So a warning to anyone with ear buds especially. Other than that though, everything just sounds a bit young. The group has some room to grow and I’m excited to see where they go from here. I would love to see a new music video.

Verdict: Worth your time. (3/5)

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Reality by Living Rita

Released: 22.07.15 / Label: Orange Sunshine

Reality is the first track out from the upcoming double release “Reality/UTOPIA” from Living Rita. I love this minimal cover they’ve chosen. The RGB shifted almost flower-like object gives it a mysterious and spooky quality. No idea what it is though, so I guess that fits the title pretty well. I’ve not heard of this group before, so let’s do a little digging and find out who they are.

This duo is a spin-off project by Masami Takei (Ba/Vo) and Mai Takahashi (Synth/Vo) both of popular indie group Czecho No Republic. Turns out I did know who they were, I just had no idea they’d started this new group. Their band Czecho is well known in Japan and their music has been used as the ending themes for two recent Dragon Ball series. But Living Rita is a much newer and lesser known group. It seems that the two wanted to explore songwriting outside the music they were making with Czecho and the Corona lock-downs gave them the opportunity to get started. They’ve had a few large shows, one with Luby Sparks who we’ve reviewed before, and they’ve got another big event next month to celebrate this release. I’m very interested to hear what they’ve created as a smaller unit, so let’s check it out.

Wow, that was a strange song. It’s not like anything I’ve heard recently, seeming almost late 60s or early 70s in its composition. The melody is extremely slippery, velvety smooth but all over the place harmonically. At the same time the backing band is super chordal and straight forward. The players all have the occasional fill at the ends of phrases that attempt to give the track life, but it sounds more like a backing band at a bar show. Not lazy playing, but a kind of bored feel to everything. By the second listen I was a little bored, too. Not to say that the song is bad, it’s just not interesting either. Everything seems very stagnant and all the interesting bits come off as decoration.

The band sounds great though. It’s clearly a group of stellar musicians, especially the two main members. The recording is clean and the mix is nice if a bit washy. The short guitar solo sounds great, but has little impact on the song. Which is a pretty good summary of the overall vibe here. Not something I’d recommend, but I won’t hit the next button if it comes up on shuffle. I’ll be sure to check out the second single from this release when it comes out, Hopefully that will give me a better read on the group.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.8/3)

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Hiyashichuka by Sunny Day Service

Released: 22.07.15 / Label: ROSE RECORDS

Hiyashichuka is a Japanese dish (also known as hiyashi ramen or reimen) consisting of chilled ramen noodles with various toppings often served in summer. This EPs jacket (seen above) is an artist depiction of a hiyashi chuka restaurant, and just looking at it makes me hungry. Sunny Day Service (SDS) have done a great job naming this summer release, but let’s learn a bit about the band before we take a listen.

SDS is a three-piece band that’s been on the scene since 1992. While this year would technically their 30th anniversary, the band took a break from 2000 to 2008, so really it’s roughly their 22nd year together. The group made a huge impact early on in their career, bringing new life into a music scene that was hungering for something fresh and Western. While labeled a ‘rock’ band they’ve made music spanning a variety of genres including Shibuya-kei, folk, garage, neo-acoustic, and hip-hip. This is a band that’s been a major player in the J-Indie scene for three decades and they’re still making music today. Hiyashichuka is the title track from their latest EP which just dropped on July 15th. So let’s hear what they’ve put together for us this time.

As the lyrics point out, “Hiyashi chuka has begun.” Ok, that’s not exactly what they meant, but still. This song is beautifully played and the incredible mix and intricate extended outro really make it shine. SDS has such a unique sound and incredibly varied writing style. In this one track there are pop ballad melodies, Clapton-like guitar riffs, a groovy funk break, and 70’s style harmonies in the chorus. All these styles flow seamlessly into each other. It’s a real achievement making a song this all over the place feel homogeneous, and they pull it off in the most relaxing way possible.

(Sadly this song doesn’t know how to use the vibraslap effectively (at 1:47). For notes on proper usage see this review.)

The lyrics are one of the sticky points for me. I’m already not a fan of food analogies, and while I understand the use of a summer food to express a relaxing summer mood, this just seems a bit bottom-of-the-barrel. The English lyrics are equally lazy. It makes me think they didn’t spend as much time on the lyric writing as they did the music.

As for production value, the recording, mix, and mastering of the track are at the level I’d expect given the group’s tenure. Yet I was still left feeling like something was lacking. I’m not sure what that could be, maybe an issue of personal taste. But it’s still nice to hear a band this confident. And a necessity for a song that’s meant to put you at ease.

Verdict: Worth your time. (3.5/5)

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Twinkle Star Girl by the quiet room

Released: 22.07.20 / Label: mini muff records

Some beautiful artwork to start the week off! Not so sure about the name of this track, though…Twinkle Star Girl seems like the name of an anime princess type character.

the quiet room is currently a three-piece rock band from Ibaraki Prefecture. I say currently because they’ve been through three drummers since the band started in 2010 and there used to be another guitar player, so who knows how it will change in the future. Looking at their discography it seems like the band is crazy busy. They have releases every year since 2011 and they’ve done a ton of competitions and tours. Those competitions eventually landed them with a pretty successful label in 2015, so it seems like it worked out. This track leads into their 2023 national tour, coming up in January. Let’s hear what kind of song they’ve come up with.

Well that wasn’t rock, or the kind of song I would expect given the cover, but I love it! It’s much more of an alternative-pop song with a couple world grooves thrown in for good measure. The band definitely knows how to write a song. The whole thing is designed for the vocals, so the instrumentals are left in the background most of the time. Which is fine, because the singer is fantastic. Definitely much more of a pop style, which is perfect for this track. The song is about a character helplessly falling for a call girl, the ‘twinkle star girl’ from the title. I won’t go into translations here, but it’s funny and really well written, which is rarer than you’d think in Japan.

When the instrumentals do get a chance to take the lead they do a great job, the double time guitar solo at 1:50 is killer. (As are the Radiohead inspired choked chords at 2:24. Nice.) The flying guitar solos throughout, and the chorus parts work perfectly together to create motion and pad the top end of the mix. Ending the song with a bass solo section is a nice touch as well. The drummer plays well here too, but seems a bit robotic in comparison to the other parts.

The production is also incredibly well done and deserves a shout out. Everything sounds amazing, and the mix is just right for the genre. Incredible work. I’m actually hoping for a music video for this one. I’ll let you know if it drops.

Verdict: Must listen. (4.3/5)

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Macguffin – Re Make by SHIROIRO

Released: 22.07.03 / Label: Self-released

Ok, I need a bit of a breather after yesterday’s review. Something that’s going to relax and refresh my ears for the coming weekend. This cover seems about as calming as you can get, so let’s see what’s up.

SHIROIRO seems to be a newer two-piece unit, a composer who goes by the name “I love full moons.” and a singer named Shion. They’ve released quite an album, an EP, some singles, and a few music videos if you want to check that out. Today’s track is actually a release of a song from their EP “Dessert” which I’ve not yet heard, so I’m going in blind. A good song may lead to a full album review though, so let’s see what they’ve made!

What a pure and adorable little J-Pop song they’ve made here. Right off the bat I loved the singing, she has a great voice. She’s got the soft tone common with a lot of the current singer-songwriters, but when she switches to a fuller voice there’s a strength that really helps sell the arrangement. Speaking of arrangement, what great instrumental writing as well. The samples and midi are low quality, probably due to budget constraints, but the parts are so well written that it doesn’t really matter. The song’s composition is simple, but the guitar playing early in the song makes all the difference and keeps it from feeling cliché. Then in the second verse, as other instruments are added, the complexity of the track hits a sweet spot. Just enough motion to be interesting, but not too much to take away from the vocals. While the mix isn’t incredible, it’s not hurting the song at all. It’s nice to know that we’ll be able to watch the group grow as they release more music. And I certainly hope they do! I might have to go back for a deep dive on their other tracks.

Verdict: Worth your time (3/5)

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Oblivion Sheep by Bakudan Johnny

Released: 22.07.06 / Label: Yarakase Records

To the moon sheep, to the moon! I love this album art, and the song title is equally epic. This band is also one that I’ve not heard from in a while, so let’s see what they’ve been up to.

Bakudan Johnny is a 5-piece band that formed 12 years ago in Hokkaido. They made some pretty large waves on the music scene and it looked like they were about to take off, but then in 2014 the band was put on hold due to health problems. They started back up in 2016 and have released two full albums since then, one in 2020 and another in 2021. Oblivion Sheep is actually the lead single from their upcoming third full album, LOVE, out August 3rd. So it seems they’ve been incredibly busy, but this is honestly the first I’ve really heard of them since 2014. So it seems the steam has been let out of the group’s sails so to speak. From what I remember they were a rambunctious rock band with killer shows and pretty wild pop-rock music. But that may have changed over the last few years. Let’s find out!

Ok, the first thing I have to get out of the way is the Hello Goodbye section in the middle of the song. Now I like the Beatles as much as the next guy, but if you’re going to use their stuff you have to actually have a song that’s worthy of it. This is not, and I can’t being to explain how irrationally angry that section makes me. It’s definitely going to cloud my view of the rest of the song, so I wanted to let you know up front. Now…

This is a pretty boring J-pop song that somehow gets the most fundamental parts of pop wrong. It lacks the catchy melody and hooks required for it to have any impact, the instruments are poorly arranged, and the lyrics are way too messy and cliché to have any real meaning or power. There’s a random guitar solo that meanders alongside the song without actually impacting anything. The bass interrupts the vocals with a random slap section out of nowhere. And there’s a weird empty arrangement after the first chorus where the singers play ‘pass the phrase’ for no reason. The choice to put an entire section of a popular and well written Beatles song in the middle of this track.. I mean. It’s like it’s there to try and trick listeners into believing that this band respects or has learned anything from them. They clearly haven’t.

Ok, wow. Sorry for that. I didn’t expect to be that harsh right off the bat. I should mention the things I liked about the song too…

The instruments are mostly recorded well. And they can definitely play in time together. Oh, and the cover is awesome.

On to the verdict.

Verdict: Skip (1.8/5)

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When You Fake Sleep by Fake Creators

Released: 22.07.06 / Label: I want the moon, not records

Talk about an awesome album cover. I have no idea what I’m looking at, but its both beautiful and unnerving. This is a new group, but it’s actually a project by two names that may be familiar to you. Let me explain…

Fake Creators is a new collaborative project between artists LITE and DE DE MOUSE. LITE is a well known four-piece Japanese instrumental rock band. They’ve been together for almost 20 years, and have made a name for themselves as killer musicians and pioneers of the complex math-rock genre. They’ve teamed up with DE DE MOUSE, a keyboard playing DJ who has made an art of combining world and club music. He’s brought his unique live performances on tour all over the world, and done collaborations with artists from many different fields.

I was already a big fan of each group individually, so the two groups having come together to form an entirely new project is super exciting. I can’t wait to see what they’ve made together, so let’s take a listen and find out!

When You Fake Sleep is equal parts calm and frenetic, with literally no transition between the two moods. It definitely peaked my interest from the get go. The soft guitar chords and clock-like rhythm lulled me into a sense of peace, only to have the song take off with an insane amount of chaotic energy. The B sections are all fast rhythmic phrases and bass lines that sound almost organic. Everything is linked together with a strange, spliced vocal line that seems like it has something to say, but never quite gets there.

I love the sound design they’ve used here. They’ve managed to get a really beautiful blend of both rock band and electronic production. Organic sounds and contrasting sections aren’t a new idea, though. This track reminds me a lot of what Bjork was doing 10 years ago with Biophilia. It is nice to hear a version of those ideas in Japan in 2022.

I enjoyed the song overall, but there are definitely areas that feel lacking given the experience these artists have. The two chord approach to the songwriting is disappointing. I think with a more complex harmonic base the song would have felt more developed. As it is, I don’t think there’s enough being said here to justify the second half of the song. After the first big explosive break they repeat back into the soft section and basically play the whole song again, but without adding anything or developing any of the ideas. So the track ends up feeling stretched to fill out a full length song. That being said, I definitely like the direction they’re heading and I hope to hear more in the future.

Verdict: Worth your time (3.3/5)

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Whoopie is a Punkrocker feat. Stephen Harrison by CHAMELEON LIME WHOOPIEPIE

Released: 22.07.06 / Label: CLWP Records

Ok, I know I’ve been doing a lot of songs with Chi- lately, but she’s been incredibly busy! And, after that last one, I think I need to hear her back in her element.

We’ve covered a CHAMELEON LIME WHOOPIEPIE track recently and I loved it, Mad Doctor. You can read up on the band there if you’ve not heard about them before. Even more recently we caught the singer Chi- doing guest vocals on a track I didn’t like so much (link above). Now we get to hear CLWP bring a guest into their own track. Non other than the delightful Stephen Harrison. He’s an American guitarist who currently plays with the band Fever 333, and played previously with The Chariot. I don’t know a lot about him, but he looks incredibly badass and I’m excited to hear him play with this awesome group. Let’s get into it.

Well that was way harder than the punk rock sound I was expecting. This whole song is incredibly fun, and the amount of different sections they crammed in makes it feel way longer than it is. The guitar definitely changes the sound of the group for the better, it’s a playful band at heart so the over the top riffs fit in perfectly with the cute glitchy sounds and cheesy bass lines. And these riffs go hard. They pull the band along with them and I love where they end up. Talk about a great sound, I don’t know who did this mix, but it’s perfect in so many ways. The depth of the sounds is incredible and yet every part is perfectly audible throughout. The sound is also genre appropriate, which, given the number of genres they cycle through in this 2:22 song, is unbelievable.

I’m also really happy that they decided to go almost completely Japanese with the lyrics. I’ve had problems with the English in the past, and I feel a bit vindicated after hearing the quality we’re getting with the change here. The emotion behind the words is so clear and gives the song so much more power.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the only thing I could find wrong with this song is how short it is. I really hope they do a track together again. And we’ll probably be seeing CLWP again in the near future.

Verdict: Must listen (4.8/5)

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A.O.U by illiomote

Released: 22.07.06 / Label: SPILD

What an interesting choice for an album cover. I wonder if they make a physical copy of the album will the disc will have the same print as above? Or maybe they’ll release without a cover? Intriguing. A.O.U is the lead single for illiomote‘s new album, side_effects+, dropping on July 27th. (That’s right, I’m way ahead of the release this time!) But I don’t know anything about this band yet, so let’s do some digging!

This relatively new duo is based in Tokyo and have been making music since 2019. Members YOCO and MAIYA have been friends since kindergarten. After getting their start on YouTube, the two have released one full album along with several EPs and singles. So they’ve been busy the last three years, and they’re showing no sign of slowing down. They mention in their bio that their music ranges from rock to pop, so let’s see what kind of song they’ve decided to create for us today.

An interesting club sound to this track. It’s a very minimal electronic arrangement with some really beautiful vocals on top. I’m loving the voice, and the harmony work is really well done as well. The chorus synth work is also really light and easy to listen to. The track overall has a lightness to it that’s rare for this style in Japan. I’m used to a really busy arrangement, so the relaxed mood here is refreshing. It does start to feel a bit like sample loop city at the halfway point. It’s clear that they’ve got an idea of where they want to go, but maybe they aren’t quite sure how to get there yet.

A.O.U also suffers from a lack of dynamic contrast in the parts, which is typical of this kind of loop based electronic arrangement. Sadly it means the song feels a bit flat overall and lacks any real climax. The mix doesn’t help here either. While the instruments are placed well and the atmosphere the track creates is admirable, it’s a very stagnant sound. I think with a bit more panning or playing with stereo space the track would come to life. Definitely room for improvement, but that will all come with experience and time. They’ve got the groove and melody down, so I’m excited to hear how the album sounds when it releases later this month.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.8/5)

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