Ame by Keishi Tanaka

Released: 22.06.15 / Label: FRIENDSHIP.

Another artist working with Friendship for their release. Friendship is a distribution service, so I’m not sure how much they actually contribute to the track, but it will be interesting to see what kind of music they favor. I’ve not heard Keishi Tanaka before, but if he’s anything like the previous band we reviewed from this label, it’s going to get funky. Although looking at the cover it may be something a bit more subdued and melancholy. But before we listen, let’s see what he’s about.

Keishi Tanaka has been active in the Japanese music scene since 2002, beginning his journey as vocalist of the J-pop band riddim saunter. They broke up in 2011 and now he is touring and writing music as a solo artist. It looks like he performs with a back band, sometimes up to 11 people, for the big shows. And it looks like he’s starting a ‘Summer Rains Tour’ this month with a three piece group. Let’s see what the tour’s leading track has to offer.

Well that was way more of a pop song than expected from the opening groove. I’m guessing that our singer plays piano on the recording, because the bass and drums are walking all over him in terms of musicality. Surprisingly the vocals sound completely average. Nothing about the melody is unique, the harmonies are pretty flat and don’t pop at all. That last one may be a mix problem, though. I think the best part of the song may be the bass. He’s having a really good time with this part.

The message of the song is a pure one, about overcoming depression and finding the strength to go on. Sadly it’s written using only the most cliché J-pop lyrics of the last 20 years, so it’s hard to hear any real sincerity in the words. The way he sings them makes me wonder how many times he’s said the exact same phrases during his 20 year career.

The production itself seems pretty basic, they clearly know how to record, mix, and master J-pop. But it certainly isn’t anything special, and the vocals in particular could have used a little more love.

Verdict: Skip (1.9/5)

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Released: 22.06.08 / Label: FRIENDSHIP.

In Japanese the full band name is: “I’m not going to the beach in my pajamas.” so I’m a little disappointed in the version they chose for English, PAJAUMI.

This band is a crazy mix of talented individuals. The whole project is the brainchild of Kazuhiro Bessho, an incredible pianist/composer/lyricist/more, who has played with a ton of artists here in Japan and is a member of the incredible group Gentle Forest Jazz Band. He also has credits in a lot of commercial and theme song work, some movies as well. He’s great, and he’s using his formidable composing skill to take this group’s music to the next level. The other members are equally impressive, but I don’t know how many are permanent so more on them next time.

This song is a smooth as butter. The composition is fun and the playing is superb. The slip beat and super active bass line groove hard, and combined with the killer keyboard work it all feels fresh and exciting. The vocals are good too, but definitely feel like they’re in the way a lot of the song. They bad lyrics really aren’t helping things, especially in a genre where rhyme and theme are so important. The lack of skill here really brings the song down. Which is too bad, because musically it’s on par with some of the best R&B and soul groups I’ve heard. With all the jazz theory in the band the lack of lyric theory is a bad look though, and I think it stands out enough to keep me from listening again. Or at least from listening too closely. I’ll definitely be checking back in for all their new releases in the future.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.7/5)

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