How to collect Japanese pop music, part five: the J-rock course

How to Collect Japanese Pop Music

How to Collect Japanese Pop MusicLast week’s focus on J-pop soloists had me wondering: why so few men? Well, for one, this look was never going to be exhaustive, and I am pretty sure there are many solo male musicians in Japanese pop. I’m confident I have written about a few of them, although admittedly they’re not on the pop side – is there a male equivalent to Ayumi Hamasaki? And two, those male musicians tend to be on the rock side of things, and Japanese rock is a different beast altogether – an essential part of J-pop, but a scene with a history and heritage of its own.

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Review: Cara y Cruz by Peryodiko

Cara Y Cruz by PeryodikoIn the grand scheme of things Peryodiko is a quiet performer. Content being relatively under the radar rather than pursuing mainstream success, reliably turning out good tunes despite many line-up changes. Cara y Cruz, their third full-length, marks a decade in the scene, and as it’s powered by a crowdfunding round, there’s an all-round air of gratitude. And it’s a strong album, a good reminder of just what they can do. While opener “Headrush” is a good introduction as any, the rush (sorry) gets much more irresistible in the second half: the one-two-three punch of “Sing”, “Huling Byahe” and “Bahid” presents a mix of sing-along, a touch of indignation and that hard-to-describe feeling of wanting to stand up and just pump your fist in the air, or something. And it’s all over in just thirty minutes. Cara y Cruz is a potent, necessary reminder to all of us of what came before and what lies ahead. [NB]4/5

Review: Starboy by the Weeknd

Starboy by the WeekndThe Weeknd has forged a reputation for some classy-slash-grim pop delights, the sort that flies under most people’s radar but hits really deep for those rendered receptive. Everything reaches a peak with his last release, Beauty Behind the Madness, and with its follow-up, Starboy, expectations are really high. But one can’t help but have the impression that Abel Tesfaye buckled under all that weight. That’s not to say Starboy is a terrible album: there are flashes of brilliance in them, points where his trademark icy tension bubbles over strongly. But, at 18 songs totalling 68 minutes, the record is a sprawling collection of tracks that don’t quite know where they want to go. Maybe it’s his recent ubiquity, or the recent ubiquity of his sound, but most of the record feels like a retread. There’s no redeeming spark. It all feels uninspired. Maybe I would feel better about this if the fat was trimmed around it. I don’t think we need most of the collaborations on this record – Lana del Rey aside they feel like “look, he’s done good” exaltations for the sake of it. Maybe then we can get some idea of where this is all heading, but I am not so sure. [NB]2/5

“Two weeks paid vacation won’t heal the damage done.”

“We Used to Vacation” by Cold War Kids | All right, I am not posting this because Kuala Lumpur went terribly. It didn’t. We had fun. (Even the Singapore detour was, more or less, despite our last-minute plans falling apart.) I’m writing this because I have crammed way too much writing this past week to the point that I forgot to pre-schedule something to be written here for today. Sure, I have stuff on the inbox, but I think I can go work on that next week. I need to rest. We need to rest. And so, a song from Cold War Kids, a staple of my mid-00s initiation to British indie. (Only they weren’t British. They’re American. I did not just know about this recently, no.) We’ll get back to regular business tomorrow, with a couple of album reviews, but for now, a slice of almost a decade ago. [NB]

“I’ve been waiting for someone like you.”

“Armor Love” by the Urban Renewal Project featuring Gavin Turek | By the time you read this, we’re already back from Kuala Lumpur (and Singapore). This should mean a crash – both in mood (the vacation’s over?) and in spirits (we’re just tired, aren’t we?) – because things are back to normal, but, hey, kick it up a notch, yes? This one’s from the inbox: a lovely disco track that, I really think, is built for me. (Or at least sent to me because I will really like it.) The Urban Renewal Project is a 13-member group from Los Angeles, led by multi-instrumentalist R.W. Enoch Jr. They’re prepping for a new album called 21st Century Ghost, and this track’s off it: a really uplifting groover that mixes a bit of carnival, a bit of jazz, and a lot of disco. Perfect for my state of mind. I think. I’m pre-writing this a whole two weeks before. But I’m sure it’ll fit. [NB] (Have things I should hear? Drop me a line here.)

“왜 몰라주니 내 마음을?”

“I Don’t Wanna Go” by Kate | “If I like the album art, I might get the song,” Shalla once told me last year, when we were building that K-pop library. I ended up adopting that rule now I’m expanding it. This is one of those songs – and what a find it is. Kate Kim is one of those YouTubers who end up making it big somewhere – in this case, in Korea. Not sure if she’s half-American or just raised there, but she did study at UC Davis and says she intends to study musical theater in New York. As for this song – well, it is a love song, but the title applies considering today we fly back to Manila after a little over four days in Kuala Lumpur (and five hours in Singapore). This one bounces happily: a simple piano beat, a vocal that slides like honey (reminds me of another Korean indie delight I found this year) and that capability to give birth to an earworm. Okay, that was a bit gross. I did not have to go there… [NB]