Thursday, December 18, 2014

A look at pop songs in general and Japanese pop and eventually a review of Kenji Omura

This is a throw away post, feel free to not read it.  

I think I know what it is that interests me about Japanese pop.  I'm not saying, by the way, that all Japanese pop is like this, and I'm also not saying that other pop is not like this.  I'm just saying that if I really love a Japanese pop song, it has these qualities...

1)  Somber, solemnly spoken and sung, unfocused vocals.  This for me is the number one key thing that will determine if I like a track.  I like the sort of downbeat, very tired, end-of-the-day sounds to a song, with not a lot of focus on the vocals, not a lot of stress on the voice or weird vocal noises.  I like to have the singer almost drowned out by the music, like maybe they mixed it wrong or just didn't give a flying fuck.  
2)  Synthesis.  Yes, I will eternally love a good Moog or a synthesizer of any kind.  I love the electronics especially if they clash with other real instruments, if you have a guitar and real drums but then some weird singular or multiple sound effect going on, that sells a song for me.
3)  Focus on the drums.  Don't fucking have the drums do that same boring shit as every other song.  This is one of the reason I truly love Yukihiro Takahashi and why Phil Collins is great.  Singers that have a knowledge of what drums should do in a track are often better.  Yes, certain songs just need the beat and that's fine.  But every once in a while I think there should be a focus on the drumming.  I love a song that has a strong focus on good, interesting drums.  
4)  Slightly off kilter lyrics.  One of the things I love about 80's songs and Japanese songs is that when it comes down to it, what the fuck are they saying, and WHY?  Japanese songs you can blame translation, you can blame their accents, you can blame a lot of things, but personally I just love it.  I love the lyrics to a song like Haruomi Hosono's Focus as sung by YMO, especially how sometimes it's in Japanese and sometimes in English...  I love the nonsense sentences in Ryuichi Sakamoto's tracks.  I love it as both an interesting look at how they might view our language and culture, singing in their second language, but then also it lends a real interesting dynamic to the song, showing that it's not important to focus on what they're saying and why, it makes you focus on how well the lyrics blend with the rest of the music.  I find that with a lot of regular pop bands, the focus gets put on letting people sing along, rhyming schemes, and if it makes sense.  Look, it's music, music is art, and art as a form doesn't have to make sense, nor should it.  5)  Repetition.  This does goes without saying, it seems to be the nature of a lot of music, but it does need to be mentioned because there is a right way to do it and a lot of wrong ways for me.  This one is hard to say what is right and wrong...  I don't know if I can elaborate on it too much.
6)  The ability to do a lyric free song, do it well, and not only do one.  One of the things I love about Genesis was that often each record had a lyric free jam session song, or two.  I loved this because it gives the band a time to focus on just the music without the bother of lyrics.  I truly believe not every track should have focus on lyrics, nor should some tracks even have them.  If your song without lyrics is just the same 8 sounds and a drum, its probably not a very well written track.  A song should be able to stand on it's own as just an instrumental endeavor.  I think it's very important to properly weigh a song.  Next time you're listening to the radio, try and cut out every sung part of a song and focus on the instruments only.  It's amazing how very simple some songs are, it's literally like 5 chords, a repetitive bass, and the same drum pattern the whole track.  
7)  Uncertainty about a sound.  For me, this is like an Easter Egg in a movie.  I love small details, hidden things, small homages, and peculiar sounds.  It adds a certain level of intrigue, like a riddle to an otherwise pretty straight forward medium.  Even if I don't understand it, if it means something only to the writer of a track, if it's too insignificant to matter, I still just love to find these things.  I still remember when I was listening to a song and I discovered one of the drum sounds was actually a voice, chopped up, altered, and then inserted into the songs, and it actually functioned as one of the drum beats!  What?  Why!?  You know?  It was interesting, and upon re-listening to the song I couldn't believe I missed it for so long.  It just makes me wonder what the story there was.  Why would the band do this?  It just adds something neat to the song, to the band, and to music in general.
8)  Darkness.  Yes, it's no secret I'm depressed.  I'll be the first to tell you.  Not like the funny kind of depressed either.  The "What the fuck is the point of life?  Fuck it." depressed.  I like things I can relate to.  Hence, songs about loss, pain, etc.  Or at least songs that question the norms.  You won't easily find this in your radio hit.  People seem to much too preoccupied with dancing, with feeling good, with positivity.  I say fuck all that bullshit.  Why not embrace the fucking darkness that infests humanity, that is inside all of us, and that I've felt like I relate to more than anything else for my entire life?
9)  The kind of song that takes your mind to a certain place, emotionally, every time you hear it.  This is just as indefinable art.  This is when you know you're listening to a good track.  I'm not talking about a track that makes you want to dance, that makes you sad, that makes you happy.  I'm talking about a track that makes you feel a very certain, specific, different way.  I remember listening to a Fennesz track once and I had the oddest feeling.  I listened to it again, and again, until I identified it:  Curious.  This track made me want to discover things.  Learn things.  This track made me want to research things, know things, it filled me with a lust for knowledge, mainly knowledge about how in the world Fennesz made these sounds, grant you, but that is a weird way for a song to make one feel, agree?  I love the way certain tracks make me feel, especially the ones that make me feel better when I'm angry and upset.  That's a skill that is great for a musician to have.  It's a necessary thing too, in my case, since I seem to be angry a lot.
10)  The live experience.  Now, my artists I like seemingly never tour, at least not in the US, but my wife likes a lot of bands that do tour, and that I've seen, and I can say that I pretty much know what makes a good show.  One thing the artist can't obviously control is who comes and how drunk and or idiotic they are, so you have to forgive some bad live experiences.  But, if they're just up there playing the songs and asking the same questions every band does, and they kind of seem like they'd rather be asleep, or anywhere else....not the best show.  Just sayin.

So on to Kenji Omura.  Mr. Omura is no longer with us unfortunately, having passed away almost 20 years ago in 1998.  Which is terrible, because he was an extremely skilled guitarist, he had a great melancholy singing style, and if you like jazz, he did some very famous (in Japan) jazz tracks.  He definitely had number 1-8 down to a science (that's such an odd term, when you think about it).  9, he's maybe going to get there for me one day, and unfortunately, 10 can never happen.  So check him out.

(not the song I would've chosen, but not much on youtube, apparently)