Written by Jason Fetters
Written by: Jason Fetters
I first started listening to J-pop because I happened to be at the mall in Pinellas Park that had a Shonen Knife CD back in 1994. In the early 90s the whole grunge thing was going on and I honestly didn’t care for it due to the whiney lyrics and repetitive riffs that got old quick. I was looking for something different, so I picked up Shonen Knife’s Rock Animals (1994), which was a pop-laced punk album. I liked Rock Animals back then mainly because it offered something that grunge wasn’t.
My second exposure was as a college student during the 90s. Hiro, my Japanese roommate from college, had a girlfriend who was coming to visit him from Kyoto and he asked me if I wanted any gifts. That made me recall an old catalogue from Video Search of Miami that had an ad for the J-pop singer Chara. Wanting to look cool and in-the-know, I said I wanted a Chara CD. I got lucky with that one since she had a hit single, Yasashii Kimochi, high on the charts. I stumbled into that one.
So, his girlfriend arrived 2-weeks later with a copy of Chara’s 1997 release Junior Sweet. Hiro and Junnichi, my other roommate, suggested that I learn to sing Yasashi Kimochi to make a good impression when I went to Japan, for singing at karaoke bars. So both Hiro and Junnichi translated the song and wrote out the lyrics in romanji since I couldn’t read the kanji. As an aside, it’s great practice for Japanese learners to take a CD and learn to sing a couple songs for karaoke.
So that was the begining. As I plunged further in, a whole new world opened up when I discovered J-Indies. As the name would suggest, this was the Japanese independent music scene.
In college at Kansai Gaidai Unversity, a language school in Osaka, I was listening to standard J-pop by Morning Musume, Suzuki Ami, Hotei, Dreams Come True, and Speed, and all the groups that were popular with college students in the late 90’s. Like grunge before it that sucked.
Looking for something different, I met up with my good friend Eric, who had a vast knowledge of J-Indies. We would jump around various Virgin Megastores and Tower Record stores all over Osaka and Kyoto, looking for something different that was outside the mainstream.
At Virgin Megastore, I found Fantastic Plastic Machine (FPM.) Back home in Florida, I had their 1998 album Luxury (1998) , so I didn’t hesistate when I saw the first FPM album, aptly titled The Fantastic Plastic Machine. Created by DJ Tanaka Tomoyuki, FPM is a musical project that mixes dance club beats, Bossa Nova, and Latin rhythms. FPM has a lot to offer the anime fan because the music is fun, upbeat, has a goofy humor about it, and the singing is in English.. By the way, the single from that that first album, Bachelor Pad, was used during the opening sequence of the second Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me.
But it wasn’t until Eric and I found a cool store in Osaka’s Amerika-mura that I made the final switch from mainstream pop. In it, across from Tower Records, is a cool store that is in the basement, underneath a clothing store. That is where I found a lot of “Shibuya-Kei” CDs that have enormous appeal to the Anime fan.
A little background: Shibuya-Kei is an eclectic mix of jazz, pop, dance music, Bossa Nova, French Ye-Ye, and lounge music. French composer Serge Gainsbourg strongly influenced Shibuya-Kei. While Shibuya-Kei was popular in the late 90’s and then started to wane, it is still currently holds an influence on current stars in the mainstream.
Here are some of the CDs that I accumulated from the basement store, and occasionally from Virgin and Tower Records and other online shopping sites. All bands listed either sing in English or sample songs with English lyrics but that’s just not terribly important. With Shibuya-Kei, it’s more about the music and not so much the words.
800 Cherries Opuscula (2000) A great CD that is able to convey a wide range of emotions from the uber-happy whimsical, Le Papillon Et La Fleur (Lucky Butterfly) to the bittersweet melancholy of Winter Calling (Once Again, Alone.) 800 Cherries is the perfect music to create an interesting background for your next party. At least one of the tracks is bound to spark your emotions and move you. Possible Western equivalents would be Stereolab and Lush.
Kahimi Karie Kahimi Karie (1998) It’s rare that I like a US release from a Japanese artist but this self-titled CD is a good place to start. Since I liked Chara, I was recommended Kahimi since she has a similar whispery singing voice. The music here is very jazzy and it covers some simple lyrics like “Good morning world / it’s so nice to be a beautiful girl,” in the song Good Morning World to the darker subject of Lolita love in Candyman that has “Candyman everyone says that you’re too old for me.” My own personal favorite is Lolitapop Dollhouse, written by Momus, because of the way it looks at Lolita Goth in the following lyrics:
"I’m sick of being Alice in Wonderland
Sick of Living in Victorian England
I’m sick of being a porcelain girl in a porcelain world
Is that all you ever wanted me to be?"
Yukari Fresh - Cityrama (2000) This is a highly addicting album that draws you in from the very beginning. When I listen to this CD I have to keep listening to it until it is over. I can’t just listen to one track and stop. Cityrama has very happy sounds mixed with cute singing and cartoon music. It reminds me of all the good cartoon theme songs used in 70’s and 80’s Saturday morning cartoon shows.
Various Artists - Very best of PUNCH THE MONKEY! in the mix (2000) This is a compilation of Lupid the Third remixes by Shibuya-Kei and mainstream artists like Crazy Ken Band. In particular, I like the remix by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra because it combines ska and jazz and is just a fun song to listen to. Another cool aspect to this CD is the Lupin the Third dialogue samples used throughout the tracks.
Plus-Tech Squeeze Box Cartoom! (2006) Next is this offering that takes the cartoon theme song approach of Cityrama and speeds it up. I like the songs Dough-Nuts Town’s Map and Uncle Chicken’s Drag Rag because they are both whimsical and upbeat.
MacDonald Duck Éclair Short Short (2004) This is a group found in the aforementioned basement stores. They take French Ye-Ye music with punk guitar riffs and keyboard pop. A good place to start is the opening track of Short Short called Mac Teenage Riot. MacDonald Duck Éclair reminds me of Polysics and Devo.
Okay, that’s enough for now. I have thousands of CDs that I might get around to discussing in future articles if anyone is interested.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and not neccessarily those of Anime3000 or it's staff.
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