1/5 - Skip

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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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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No.8 by Ribet towns

Released: 22.06.22 / Label: Self-released

Am I about to listen to a perfume commercial? I don’t know what to make of this cover or this song title. I love the use of color though. Ribet towns is a new name for me, so let’s learn a little about the band before we listen.

Ribet towns is a 12 member pop band hailing from Kyoto, and from they’ve written in one of the bios I read that they also have a bit of Celtic flair. This is my first time listening to their music, so I don’t know what to expect but just looking at all the instruments they’ve got in their group I’m excited to find out. The band has been around since 2016, so with six years under their belt I’m expecting some quality arranging. Let’s give the track a listen.

Well that was straight J-Pop with a bunch of toys added on top. The song itself has nothing really unique or innovative happening, it’s certainly not a bad song by any means, just average. The extra members outside the basic four-piece band just kind of stack on top of the song. Unfortunately they’re actually kind of distracting most of the time. I don’t think they’ve worked out how to compose shared melody lines within the group, and there are parts with three or four separate independent melody lines playing at once. It reminds me a little of Gamelan music. The only part where it felt like they got it right was at the ending of the song, literally the last 2 seconds. So, kind of a let down.
The mix is pretty messy, but I think that’s probably due to all the extra instruments playing in the same range as the vocals. Actually given that fact, it was probably a challenge working on this song. So, good work Mr. mix engineer.

Verdict: Skip (1.7/5)

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Released: 22.06.22 / Label: felicity, P-VINE

Rolling is from OTOGIVANASHI‘s newest album US. I don’t know much about this band except that they love using capital letters and simple words. Let’s find out a bit more about them before listening to the song.

A band that started in 2000 but really rose to prominence with the release of their first album in 2007. I’ve not heard the name before in my decade in Japan, so I’m not sure just how well known they still are today, but judging by the numbers I see on socials they’re still very active and have quite the following. I’m excited to see how the 22 years of experience has treated the band, so let’s get to the music.

That was surprisingly messy given the amount of time the band’s been around. I’m getting the feeling that this might be a better song when listened to in the context of the album. As a solo track it’s pretty boring. They’re emulating a bygone era of rock that I personally don’t like, but objectively they do a pretty poor job of making it interesting. All the parts are there but it sounds almost like they don’t really have any special love of the style. For an example of a good era-driven piece check out the track from Who Do You Love? I reviewed last month. The comparison is should be like light and day.

I could go on into detail about the parts of the song that work, but I don’t think it’s worth the time. I’ll check out some other stuff by the band another day because it seems like with 20+ years of playing they can do better than this.

Verdict: Skip (1.5/5)

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Honey – Luby Sparks

Released: 22.05.11 / Label: AWDR/LR2

Honey is the lead single for Luby Sparks‘ latest album Search + Destroy. They’re releasing through AWDR/LR2 who we’ve seen before working with Satoko Shibata. The name Luby is probably a play on the fact that the Japanese spelling for Ruby and Luby are the same. But that’s just a guess! Let’s do a little research and find out.

A 5-piece band from Tokyo, Luby Sparks is described as alternative rock, dream pop, or indie depending on where you look. Which gives me the impression that they either combine all the genres or have changed sound since they began in 2016. According to their bio on, weirdly, their YouTube channel, the band has had quite a lot of international collaboration behind the scenes on their music. They’ve also opened for a lot of bands on tour in Japan from overseas. No info on that L though… Let’s give the track a listen!

Wow. Well that was definitely pop. Weirdly I think I heard an exact guitar riff from a Jimmy Eat World song in there too. Overall it felt pretty flat for a song of this kind, which may be the styling of dream pop, I don’t know the genre very well, but it doesn’t really work for me. The vocals, rhythm guitar, and sparkly synths are all in the same range and it makes the song very top heavy. Without that sonic contrast it just feels a bit weak. The guitar and bass players are killing it though. Really great playing from them.

The lyrics seem to have a nice love story for us, but English is definitely not the singer’s first language. There’s no rhyme scheme, the grammar is pretty bad, and the pronunciation makes the whole thing hard to understand at all. I find this strange given how much work they seem to have done with international artists. The production is pretty bland and poorly balanced overall. And the single’s cover is needlessly risqué given the song’s lyrics. The album’s cover is much more subdued and would have worked fine here too. Obviously not my cup of tea, but let’s check out the verdict to finish today’s review off.

Verdict: Skip (1.8/5)

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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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FOG by ego apartment

Released: 22.05.18 / Label: NihyakuWIND

FOG is the lead single for ego apartment‘s newest self-titled album, and I’ve got to be honest here, this sounds super rushed. Coming from a group that has some great songs in their catalog, this one is just disappointing in so many ways.

The track’s opening is cliché, but it redeems itself with a great pop melody in the verse and bridge. I love the use of ambient noise and guitar fiddling to add texture and motion, but the rhythm section is glaringly bad. The drums are lazily written and the general groove they’ve gone with is flat out boring.

The vocals are well-sung and emotive, something I’ve come to expect from the group, despite one singer not having any idea what he’s saying… The first verse is just unintelligible, which is a shame because the second verse sounds great. I don’t know why they had the tenor sing in English here, he clearly needed more practice. He usually just sticks to the Japanese parts and sounds great doing it. It’s confusing why they would shake things up on a lead single. The FX work is top notch, and it seems like they had fun crafting it, but the programming is very robotic and lacks dynamic nuance.

The recording and mixing process seem rushed. It sounds like they were working under pressure to get this single out before the album dropped, but I wish they had spent a bit more time improving everything. The drums sound like they’re in a gigantic room while the guitar sounds muffled, at the same time the vocals need to be re-recorded and tweaked in post. Whoever mixed this really did an already shaky track a disservice, the balance is all over the place and nothing pops. I don’t know why the song is called FOG, but they’ve certainly achieved that sound.

This is what happens when a group has no time to polish a track. What could have been a powerful driving pop song comes up short.

Verdict: Skip (1.6/5)

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