2002年09月07日 土曜日

Culture-Cuisinarted Coolness

by Tosh Chiang

Features, Music

Cornelius, the Boredoms, Melt Banana, Guitar Wolf: four bands from Japan that season with western fixin's whilst still keeping the entree nihongo-styled and original in some way:

melt banana

Sneakers off the ground and fresh music pushing through the air, you're listening to your favorite Japanese import acts and loving it all. But no, we're not talking about the Japanese pop stars, but the acts that please and inspire in America. For lots of Japanese bands yield loads of influence on the American underground music scene. And conversely, many Japanese bands chop up their own pickings from various genres and blend-fuse 'em into something new.

For most of the following bands offer a quirky fix of energy and creativity, an off kilter jolt of unthought-of techniques and sounds that simply awe the ears while still pushing that experimental musical envelope towards more sonic indulgence, towards more culture-cuisinarted coolness. For example: Georgia's the Apples in Stereo share an affinity for the Beach Boys and Beatles, so does Japan's Cornelius - the Apples end up recording on a creatively structured Cornelius tune and everyone basks in the niceness of it all; somehow there's a bit of cultural dialogue there - like the transcendence of musical aesthetics despite differing cultures and such.

Of course the Japanese intermingling with American music is not always so up-front and personal. Rather, there's something about Japanese music which always seems to stand out in terms of yes, quirkiness and exploration - a kind of flair that both seasons with western fixin's whilst still keeping the entree nihongo-styled and original. The following bands all do this in some way-- by either standing out or creatively weaving components together. Here they are:

cornelius horns
You can't skip this guy. Himself a pop idol of the booming Shibuya-Kei music scene, a scene inspired by Bacharachesque pop and jazz dance music (think Pizzicato 5 and Fantastic Plastic Machine), Keigo Oyamada spins up a tasty mix of pop, rock, and electronic craziness. Much like Beck and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Cornelius is successful at throwing together layers of studio-worked sounds that fit together in eclectic and exciting ways. The music is both immediately gratuitous and challenging-- constantly redefining the listeners expectations. His 1997 must-have release "Fantasma" is literally like flipping through the fuzzed-out channels in his mind. For alongside musings of samples and synthesizers, of computer generated voices and distorted guitar hooks are tributes to the Beach Boys and The Jesus Mary Chain, are beautiful three-part harmonies and fragile moments of delicacy. Cornelius is simply quite good at producing extremely dynamic music. His latest release, "Point," is an acoustic driven venture into sonic minimalism - the exact opposite of "Fantasma". The album has less density but totes a cover of "Brazil" as sung by a computer generated voice! It's simply amazing: the ways in which everything between american hard-rock and classical music can be maestroed and mastered by young Mr. Cornelius. He gets the gold ribbon for Chanponized music; the songs are sung in both Japanese and English with references from everything including surfing to a 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Boredoms
the boredoms
Both frontrunners and staples of the kickin' noise-rock scene in Japan, Osaka's Boredom's are a solid example of the kind of instrumental experimental music that is gaining appeal and influence in America. Basically the Boredoms push out extended jams of droning drums, unorthodox guitar and surges of odd if not sometimes unlistenable noise. But in it all they explore time rhythms, sound textures, production techniques and even the logistics of your average pop tune. Albums like "Vision Creation Newsun" are epic compositions of experimentation and madness - there's audible density to be unpacked in each moment. For much like Sonic Youth (who even got the Boredoms signed to contract in America), the Boredoms deconstruct the listener's expectation of how music should operate, flow and move. It's experimental but energetic; all kinds of musical tastes can appreciate it - even John Zorn fans can dig something from the band. But above that is simply the creativity of the music. Western music never takes the same approach as Japanese bands do. And because of their different angles, the music never sounds the same; it's this difference that has many Boredoms albums in the top ten lists of American indie record shops.

melt banana
One of my favorite bands, Melt Banana is a Tokyo based melt-your-face-off four piece of guitar, drums, bass and shrieked vocals. A quick description would liken them to an insta-caffeinated Sonic Youth with a heavy and fast influence from hardcore punk. The band shreds out a wall of noise with all the intensity and power of a Ramone's tune. And because of this, MB has gained a legion of fans in America - more so than they even have in Japan. But what makes the music good is that it distills elements of punk rock into something out-there and different - kinda like what Ornette Coleman's shear improvisation did for jazz. For it's MB's isolation from the American hardcore scene which has allowed them to create something condensed and original, an abstraction which is faster and certainly more playful than the average American act; they've been allowed to truly perfect something. And if 'yer curious about an album, get either "Scratch or Stitch" or "Teeny Shiny". Scratch or Stitch is the classic but Teeny Shiny is more listenable. Nevertheless, stateside stereos can't stop pumping their tunes out.

Guitar Wolf
Of all places, Japan sports the most rock and roll band as of now; Guitar Wolf is a jetset jeans and leather clad three piece of rock and roll fury. Their album "Jet Generation" is the loudest album off all time - that's to say that if you standard CD goes to ten, this one goes to eleven. And it's all recorded with lo-fi boombox technology! Yet the music itself is a harkening to the good ol' days when rock was loud and fast and only had three chords - even the band goes to eleven. But though many bands have done this before, Guitar Wolf is different because of the shear honest intensity and raw roughness in the music; they are not imitators. For rock and roll as an institution and artform should be raw and dirty - a shake-inducing soundtrack to get your fists in the air for a good time; it should never be too thought-out and "nice." And that's one idea that Guitar Wolf seems to understand. For somehow one of America's best exports has returned with an exuberant punch. Rock and Roll is here to stay - not thanks to dainty wannabe acts like "The Hives" and "The Strokes," but because of gritty Guitar Wolf.

Want more? Check out Nobukaza Takemura, Rovo, Takako Minekawa, Acid Mothers Temple, Hi-Standard, and Pizzicato 5.

Tosh Chiang attends Bard College in New York, where amongst late-night coffee-fueled madness and pancake free-for-alls, he plays in two bands (the ex-jean jackets, The Broken Bottles), edits and writes for the Bard Free Press, thinks about building tiny electronic toys for integrated arts classes and studies a lot of Sociology. He likes to write too, and sometimes enjoys the occasional cup-o-joe to a finely tuned donut.

Posted by Tosh Chiang at 2002年09月07日 08:55

1- Gen


I appreciate the article, but none of those artists do much for me.

My favorite musicians from Japan include Monday Michiru, Calm, Kyoto Jazz Massive, Mondo Grosso, Nobukazu Takemura, Yukihiro Fukutomi, and of course United Future Organization and that's just acid-jazz and house music.

If you want to go over to the techno/trance side of things, you have Ken Ishii, Satoshi Tomiie, Fumiya Tanaka, Kiyokazu Hamawaki and many others.

Then on the drum'n'bass tip there's Makoto, who makes amazing music as well. This list is definitely not complete...


2- tosh

I couldn't agree more with you more; this list is certainly incomplete. In its optimal form I would have actually done research and really extended into the other forms of music out there. Theres's really quite a lot to cover and all of it should be given a go. So I thank you for pointing out the shortcomings of my rock oriented article. Maybe you could write something of the same for all the elements which I missed?--thereby completing the incomplete "chanpon music fix?"

BTW i love Nobukaza Takemura, was in fact listening to hoshinokoe today and am thereby puzzled that some of the bands that I listed, which in many respects share the electronic quirkiness of the thrill jockey star, were found disinteresting to you. The boredoms have borrowed much of their improvisation from the free-jazz foundation of acid jazz and have even slid some electronic aphex twinisish sounds and 4/4 backbeats from the techno side of things. Also, there are some rather interesting music videos for Ken Ishi and Nobukaza T at sputnik7.com.
take it easy

Tokyo is a truly cosmopolitan city, with an unusually vibrant arts scene. Sometime you should check out the stuff us resident foreigners are up to.

Tokyo is a truly cosmopolitan city, with an unusually vibrant arts scene. Sometime you should check out the stuff us resident foreigners are up to.

5- Jonny Gnasher

yeeaaahh!!!! Guitarwolf Rocks!!!!
number 1 band!! I have "jet generation"
and "run,wolf,run" super great,tottaly awesome!!!!

6- Richard

I've just stumbled upon this website through Google and I feele that I must share my love of The Boredoms. They are one of my favourite bands at the moment. I found a website that described them as "Osaka's noise terrorists", so I went to my local HMV and asked them to import a copy of Super Æ (1998, Birdman), I don't regret it. (Unfortunatley, in England, no commercial record shops sell CDs of Japanese Noise-acts - people are missing out). I purchased it in blind faith, and now it is almost permanently on my CD player.

Listen to The Boredoms. Through the 'white noise', the most extraordinary pop tunes emerge. I love it.

Richard Forrester, England (UK)

7- tosh

sad news everybody. BIlly, bassist of guitar wolf fame has recently passed away of a heart attack in tokyo.

i recently spoke with him at a show; he mentioned that vodka was his drink of choice.

let's everybody have a drink to bass wolf "billy!".


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember Me?