Hello AramaJapan readers and welcome to this week’s installment of #1 Song Review! Last week, Leo Ieiri beat Sexy Zone to come out on top. This week though, we have 2 new acts battling it out in addition to a returnee from previous weeks! Find out what various staff members thought of the songs that topped the physical and digital charts this week and share your thoughts on them too!
Oricon: AKB48 – Kibouteki Refrain (Recochoku #11 / didn’t chart in the iTunes top 10 all week)
Ronald: Confession: I don’t hate this. There’s something in the chorus here that draws me in. I normally really hate the layering of vocals that AKB48 and their sister groups do but this one seems different for some reason. It reminds me of Perfume’s “Polyrhythm.” This song easily fits into AKB48’s sound scheme but it seems as if there was an attempt to make an improvement upon said sound scheme. 5/10
Ryusenkai: I would just leave the usual disclaimer here, but given events that have occurred here over the past week or so, I would like to go through the full reasoning for that once more. When I review idols for this feature, I typically start said reviews with some permutation of the phrase “I’m not really an idol fan”; this might give the impression that I’m whitewashing the entirety of the idol music genre and saying that it could never possibly produce anything that I’d like. To be brief: no, that’s not why the disclaimer exists. It exists because based on my experience with the genre, I’ve found that I’m generally not a fan of the sound palette(s) and vocal styles used within it; this means that yes, I have made an effort to look into idol music in the past and still do on occasion. While I can and have been pleasantly surprised at times, and am also aware that there are certain acts that do produce music which is considerably more varied than one might expect (Domoto Tsuyoshi or Especia, for example), songs which come from this genre typically aren’t my thing. As a result, I’d like to be up-front about that so you know the perspective that the review is going to come from and can judge and make use of it with that knowledge in mind. It’s better to be open about bias than try to pretend that it doesn’t exist.
All of that said, AKB48′s “Kibouteki Refrain” doesn’t really appear to be one of those exceptions which I was talking about earlier. I get a very “anime theme”-esque vibe from the song, both from the relentlessly upbeat pace of the music and the style of singing being used here. The choral method that appears to be AKB’s standard was never a favored style of mine, and it makes it kind of hard to distinguish voices from each other here. “Kibouteki Refrain”‘s instrumental is fairly safe (synthy jazz instruments and some bass), though I have to level a particular criticism at the mixing that’s been done on the chorus; you can barely hear any of the rest of instrumental over the beat there, so it almost sounds like the group is singing over just the bass. The lyrics are pretty much pure cheese about love and don’t really have any particular aspect that sets them apart from other pop songs that approach this subject, so not much to say here. On the whole, I really don’t think that “Kibouteki Refrain” is a terrible song, just one that seems really safe for both the genre and for them (recalling what I’ve been recommended from the group in the past). It’s innocuous cotton candy, effectively, but of a flavor that is decidedly not for me. 2.5/10
Recochoku: Che’Nelle – Happiness (Oricon #40 / iTunes #3)
Ronald: Same review as before – Don’t get me wrong, Che’Nelle has a really nice voice but most of her songs leave a lot to be desired. They’re just so standard, so expected, so generic. She’s that foreign girl who sings generic ballads in Japanese. I hear this and I just think “God, haven’t I heard this a million times before?” It’s like… was May J. not available? 4.5/10
Ryusenkai: Same review as before – Che’Nelle is another in the group of singers like May J. who have a particularly pleasant vocal tone to listen to, but really could use a bit of work on their overall vocal technique. Che’Nelle in particular needs to get a better handle on her breathing, since it’s something that you can’t help but notice once you’re aware of it. That said, I still do quite enjoy the R&B-tinged vocal performance that Che’Nelle gives in “Happiness”, since I’m something of a sucker for these emotional styles of singing – particularly at this time of year. Her command of both Japanese and English is also to be praised, since it’s not something that you see done this well all that often. The lyrics are trite and the instrumental sparkling and pretty. Over time this song has started to wear on me, so I might drop it half a point. 5/10
iTunes: BUMP OF CHICKEN – Parade (not release physically / Recochoku #5)
Ronald: Easily the best song this week. This is probably the most electronic song I’ve heard from BUMP OF CHICKEN. Even with all the electronic elements of the song, you can still hear the rock here. It’s not as if the band has been replaced by the electronic elements. It’s nice blend of rock and electronic. I tend to me drawn to bands that mix these elements together (I am a big Sakanaction fan after all). One thing I don’t like that much about this song is all the autotune. I could use a bit less of it. I guess since they were doing a more electronic song, they felt this was a good thing to use. The autotune reminds me of Yonezu Kenshi. I like him so it isn’t a completely bad thing. 8.5/10
Ryusenkai: Alright, before I say anything else about this song I’m going to complement its music video, which is utterly excellent and absolutely worth watching. Now, onto the actual review: this is one of the rare times that I get to review a song from an artist that I really, really like, so I’ll ask you to keep that in mind going forward. BUMP OF CHICKEN’s “Parade” is the band’s first true dip into an electro-rock sound, though they’ve certainly toed that line before with songs like 2010′s “Pinkie”, and more recently “Niji wo Matsu Hito” and “ray” off of their latest album. “Parade” is a different beast than any of these though, taking on a much heavier and wholehearted approach to the whole idea, even going so far as to put lead singer Motoo’s voice under autotune for the entire track. And yet, despite this being a fairly significant departure from Bump’s traditional sound, everything still seems to come together just as well as it does during their more typical tracks.
Instrumentally, I complement the band for taking some risks (in particular for using a more industrial set of electronic sounds rather than just opting for something like EDM), but never straying away from the fact that they’re a rock band; you can still hear the band set playing in tandem with the eletronic overlay. I was admittedly rather unsure about the idea of having Motoo autotuned this much, but for an effect meant to be invoked on this singular track it works wonders, adding an entirely new texture to his voice that meshes well with the rest of song. While there’s regrettably no full translation of this song out there yet, based on what I can pick up and my experience with Bump’s lyrics in the past, I don’t think there’s that much worry about these being any less thoughtful than Motoo’s usual output. Now, despite all of this praise, I would actually say that this song’s ending is… pretty sudden all things considered, and seems to kind of cut off rather abruptly. This might make more sense in the context of an album, but here it is just a little bit weird. Still, that minor critique aside, I think that “Parade” is a stellar entry into BUMP OF CHICKEN’s back catalog and one that makes me very curious what direction they’re going to be pursuing in the future; easily my Pick of the Week.
9/10 (For the record, “Fighter” would have been a 9.5 – largely because of excellent synthesis of sounds and an incredibly strong vocal performance. Once I get a full translation of its lyrics though, and if they’re as good as I expect they are and as I’ve heard, that song just might become one of my elusive 10′s.)
1. iTunes #1: BUMP OF CHICKEN – Parade
2. Oricon #1: AKB48 – Kibouteki Refrain
3. Recochoku #1: Che’Nelle – Happiness
1. iTunes #1: BUMP OF CHICKEN – Parade
2. Recochoku #1: Che’Nelle – Happiness
3. Oricon #1: AKB48 – Kibouteki Refrain