J-music Vs. UK(and US)-music – A view of the Japanese mentality towards Western culture
July 1, 2006
The title for this post was going to be a homage to Nagato Yuki’s awesome guitar skillz, but I couldn’t quite get the pun together O_o. Anyways, the useful part of today has been spent tapping away at the computer listening to “God knows…” and “LOST MY MUSIC” on loop in Winamp, with the occasional strains of “Koi no Mikuru Densetsu” creeping in when I got tired of them. (Thanks go to Jason for posting the links for those mp3s ^_^).
Watching the concert scene for the third successive time got me thinking back to a post I wrote notes for ages ago but then lost my notebook; on why a person like me who is into rock and metal also loves J-pop and J-rock when the genre differences are evident even to society isolated hermits. First, I should give a disclaimer: all R ‘n’ B and rap fans (and I’m not talking about “Rhythm and blues”, you people can stay), please stop reading now, for fear of severe insult.
As I said before, I am a massive rock fan. I also love punk, ska, metal (not death metal though ^_^), jazz and rhythm and blues, and even barbershop. Basically, I tend to like music that shows off musical talent, and though I acknowledge that R ‘n’ B takes some musical talent, I can’t believe that it is a major issue (I assume the major selling point of R ‘n’ B is the size, shape and consistency of the female singers’ butt). Rap as well, I’m sure takes talent, but musical talent it is not.
So why oh why would I like J-pop and J-Rock which is obviously not written by the performers for the most part (since the performers are either idols or seiyuu and probably have no music writing talent whatsoever). As an example, let me take apart one of the Haruhi Insert songs to show people why I like it so much.
Aya Hirano and as yet unknown backing band sing “God Knows…” (actually, seriously, if anyone knows the backing band or the writer of either/both of these songs please tell me. This information seems to have slipped me by)
1. Starting Riff
I have to admit I was impressed by the starting riff, simply because it was quite technically fiddly and shows off immediately that the guitarist knows what she (I’ll stick with the anime band genders for now ^_^) is doing. However, in contrast to its technical difficulty, it doesn’t overshadow the other parts, most notably the drums which are simple and effective at highlighting changes in tempo and verse/bridge transitions with changes in rhythm. Bass is technically rather disappointing, but then I always criticise this – there aren’t many good female bassists ^_^;;
2. Verse – “Kawaita kokoro de kakenukeru/Gomen ne nanimo dekinakute”
Aya Hirano’s singing fits this song. The high female vocals fit most J-rock rather well, since the songs are more upbeat and happy and don’t require growling. Conversely, however, female vocals do not suit Western rock as generally it is more minor (and dare I say “emo”), so high female voices don’t provide the bass rumble that goes well with the music. Gruff female singers who smoke more than 40 a day such as The Distillers and The Donnas are exceptions to this rule. Guitar and drums play simple rhythms with good buildup to the bridge.
3. Bridge – “Muku ni ikiru tame furimukazu/Senaka mukete satte shimau”
Nothing special here. Leads on nicely from the verse with a new drum rhythm and a good transition into the chorus with the drums. I’m not sure if they are using simple shift harmonisation (i.e. Aya is harmonising with herself shifted to a different key) or if there are really 2 singers. Either way, female vocal harmonisation makes me cry with joy. Beat is insistent and gets under your skin, making you want to tap your feet and nod your nead in a rock-music fashion. If you’re tapping your feet now there’s no hope for you now…
4. Chorus – “Watashi tsuiteku yo donna tsurai/Sekai no yami no naka de sae”
The swell building up during the verse lets loose with a flurry of drums and power chords. Fans like me start waving their fists in time with the music in front of their computers and anyone who was tapping their feet in the bridge starts fully rocking out. Most of all, Aya Hirano’s powerful vocals really shine through here. The power lacking in most female rock vocalists in J-rock shall not be spoken of in her presence. The emotion she puts into the Engrish at the end puts a tear to the hardened rocker’s eye.
(Opening Riff 2, Verse 2, Bridge 2, Chorus – Not included in TV version – i.e. I don’t know the lyrics ^_^;;)
5. Middle 8 – “Anata ga ite/Watashi ga ite hoka no hito wa”
After the second verse, Haruhi takes a break in the middle 8, which, again is pretty standard – Measured beats by the drums back emotion filled lines as a prelude to the final repeated choruses. Meanwhile, Yuki’s guitar howls in the background and Aya Hirano hits a high note harmony with such power that even Matt Bellamy would be impressed. Shivers run down the spines of the crowd. (NB – NOT an emo-distortion)
6. Tension stop (well, that’s what I call it anyway) – “Dakara…/Watashi…”
I love “tension stops”. I have no idea what they are called in the music business, but I coined the term to encompass parts in (mainly rock) songs where the usual beat is abandoned for a few bars and the pause in between notes which are not of the expected length builds tension in the crowd, which causes people that know the beat already to flail their hands in the air in time with the off beats. That would be me, of course ^_^.
7. Outro solo
Hammer on/pull off galore as Yuki’s fingers become a blur in this outro solo. Haruhi’s rhythm guitar even joins in at one point ^_^. Bass still boring though. End on a lovely discordant, but melodic chord. Blogger lets out a sigh of pleasure. End of Song.
Hmm, that was fun to write ^_^. I do like overanalysing music. Maybe I will do a similar one for “LOST MY MUSIC” sometime. (when I can be bothered)
Anyway, my point is that Japanese rock (and indeed some examples of pop) music is not unusual. In fact, I could probably name 10 songs off the top of my head in Western rock where all of those devices were used (except the female vocalist, of course!). However, the genius in which some Japanese rock and pop songs are written, I believe, is embedded in the way they embrace Western culture.
Let me give you an example. I went to Japan last year, and one of the things that made a great impact on me was bakeries. You can’t go 500 yards inside any largish Japanese town without finding at least one bakery. And these aren’t your regular run down British affair, oh no. Bread is an extremely big business in Japan (as are cake stores), but the types of bread on offer may surprise many Western bakers. For instance, Kare-pan; a deep fried doughnut type bread with curry inside, when the most adventurous thing we put inside ours is jam. Even more controversial, Meron-pan – the fusion of two different kinds of dough (cookie dough and normal sweet bread dough). Also, the existance of potato croquet and yakisoba sandwiches.
It’s as if Japanese bakers took one look at Western rules for baking, gave it the finger and just did whatever they wanted. In the UK: starchy things like potatoes in sandwiches? BLASPHEMY!
It seems that they have taken the same approach to their music as well. Since J-Rock/Pop is a relatively new phenomenon, it too suffers from the same fate of Japanese “mix ‘n’ match”, and unlike the boringly uniform UK pop music (which is now almost completely R ‘n’ B), you get exciting mixes of styles from sugary sweet pure pop songs like “Miko miko Nurse”, Pop-ska in the form of “Guri guri” (Sato Hiromi), even Pop-jazz in the case of Scramble by Horie Yui (the first School Rumble OP). Happy bouncy rock songs such as “LOST MY MUSIC” are written and suit the female vocalists that sing them, something not found in Western rock at all. Guitars, often with rather good soloage feature heavily in J-pop, to excellent effect and overall, the effect, in my opinion is rather refreshing.
Japanese rock pop will seem to cover multiple genres of music, since J-pop has no real concept of the genre boundaries and just seems to play what sounds good – For instance, compared to “God Knows…”, “LOST MY MUSIC” has a definite punkish feel to it thanks to the off beat drums, but still maintains a very “rock and roll” feel of guitars and vocals.
The thing I really love about Japanese pop-rock is simply that the songs are really upbeat and happy, something I think is really missing from the rock music coming out today, which is getting more and more emo as we speak. In short, J-rock makes me happy. And it knocks out solos that would make a Western indie band tremble at the knees. Also, untrained female voices harmonise much much better than untrained male voices, which is always a plus in my book.
If I had to make a concluding comment, I would have to say that J-pop/rock is by no means better than Western music, but it’s habit of going against conventional musical ideals and mixing styles means that once in a while it comes up with absolute jewels which are refreshing in this age of conformity (at least in the UK, anyway ^_^).
Apologies for the long ramble, just think, it would have been longer if I had analysed “LOST MY MUSIC” as well ^_^. Oh, and as a knee-jerk complaint – all you Japanese “band” girls who pretend to play instruments in your videos – don’t bother. Just do what you’re best at and look pretty with your strange synchronised dancing and maybe we’ll forgive you for not being able to play your instruments.
That is all.