#1 Song Review: Week of 5/27 – 6/2

Hello Arama Japan readers and welcome to this week’s installment of #1 Song Review! Last week saw AKB48 beat out E-girls. AKB48 is back again this week, going against 2 newcomers. 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 #1: AKB48 – Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai (Recochoku #14 / iTunes #29)

Ronald: Same review as last week – Well this is different. The first thing I think of when I hear this is SEKAI NO OWARI’s “Dragon Night.” It has that mix of country and electronic sounds like that song had. I find it interesting in this case because it doesn’t sound like a million other songs I’ve heard from them. There’s a very prominent acoustic guitar here. There are also these really squelchy synths that are an interesting touch and make you think the song is going to go to some other places (it doesn’t). The main thing I don’t like about this song is that it’s very flat. The vocals are so lifeless. And the song drags on, it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s just there. 4/10

Ryusenkai:  Same review as last week – As per usual, idols might not be my favorite thing in the world, but every song that comes my way deserves to be given a few fair listens. I’d initially assumed that the (electric) guitar riffs that opened the song’s rather lengthy music video were actually part of the track, but as it turns out “Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai” begins with some acoustic guitar that is quickly overlain with various synths. This combination becomes the main driving force behind the track, the guitar always faintly audible beneath its electronic veneer. While it strikes me as a tad different from some of the AKB songs that I’ve heard in the past (though it also doesn’t really seem to ‘go anywhere’ over the length of the track), the vocal melody somehow remains fairly consistent to what I’m used to from this group. I’m not sure if it’s the cadence of the vocals or just the general blending together of voices due to the amount of singers on the track itself, but it still feels oddly familiar no matter how I try to skew it. Lyrically the song seems to be an anthem supporting peace and love, which while a welcome break from the topic of young love still comes off as both cliche and somewhat simplistic. “Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai” is definitely better than the last AKB48 song I reviewed (“Kibouteki Refrain”), but it’s still not something that I can ever really see a reason to come back to. 3.5/10


Recochoku #1: UNISON SQUARE GARDEN – Sugar Song and Bitter Step (Oricon #13 / iTunes #2)

Ronald: I feel like I should like this song more than I actually do. Everything looks good on paper. It has all the ingredients, but it’s missing that extra something. I have a vague familiarity of UNISON SQUARE GARDEN, but I’ve never heard anything that made me want to look further into them. I still feel that way. This band, like this song, is ok. Nothing all that great, but in no way bad or unlikable. I like the rhythm of the song, the fusion of rock and jazz, the emotions of the singer’s voice, but… it’s just not making the mark with me. Now that I think about, I think if Gesu no Kiwami Otome. covered this, it would probably make the mark. I just feel as if this song would appeal to me more if it was in more capable hands. But congratulations to UNISON SQUARE GARDEN because this song is getting their name out. It’s a pleasant surprise. It’s good for the indie boom as a whole. 5.5/10

Ryusenkai: Here’s another name that I honestly never expected to see pop up here. I’ve always found UNISON SQUARE GARDEN to be a ‘pretty alright’ band, but this song in particular has managed to catch my attention a fair bit. “Sugar Song & Bitter Step” incorporates a combination of rock and jazz influences (slightly more of the former) to create an intriguing groove that really helps carry the melody of the track. Surprisingly enough, this is actually a bass-led song, which is a nice change from all of the guitar-led tunes we’ve had in the past few weeks, though the drummer and the guitarist certainly do make their own sizable contributions to the overall composition (which sounds fairly distinct from the other songs in their back catalog). The playing is adroit and on point and complements the vocals nicely; the singer could stand to control his breathing a bit more, but his delivery is honestly rather excellent from what I can tell, particularly when he emotes. As to the song’s lyrics… well, I’ll be frank, these are probably some of the most interesting words I’ve seen put to a melody since I’ve returned to this feature this year. They’re definitely whimsical in a way, but there’s a good amount of substance to the narrative that the song is attempting to convey, so a big thumbs up to UNISON SQUARE GARDEN for that. If my complements haven’t made it obvious yet, “Sugar Song & Bitter Step” is my pick for song of the week, since it’s just such a nice mix of technical aptitude and charm. Check out the rest of the single it’s on as well; the listen is well worth the time, I promise. 8.5/10


iTunes #1: Superfly – Beautiful (not released physically / Recochoku #2)

Ronald: Superfly has one of the best voices in Japanese music today. This song does a great job of showing it off. Her voice is full, emotive, and versatile. In the verses, she is a bit softer, but not weak. And you can just feel that this massive chorus is coming, and it does! Her voice rises to the occasion, soaring along with the instrumental. Speaking of the instrumental, this one is an interesting one. I think by now, people know that I like a bit of contrast in my songs. A mix of fast and slow, hard and soft, highs and lows. This song does that. The intro starts of with a simple guitar, before giving a peak of what is to come with that soaring chorus. It then goes back to that softer verses I spoke of earlier. But that chorus! It’s like a big breath of fresh air! It really gives the song a great energy. 7.5/10

Ryusenkai: I’ve kind of been hoping that I’d get to review a Superfly song for this feature eventually, so it looks like I’ve finally got my wish. “Beautiful” starts as a mellow rock track, a lone guitar ushering us into the song proper, where the arrangement grows and grows, adding piano, drums, synths, and finally a series of soaring violins as the chorus begins. The structure of this song relies very much on the idea of peaks and troughs, the contrast between the stripped down verses and the powerful chorus one of the most intriguing aspects of the composition. Superfly’s vocals are of course excellent, capable of providing both the softer, breathier tone necessary to sell the slower sections of the song as well as the clear and commanding style needed to make the build-up in “Beautiful” truly pay off. Lyrically this is very much a ‘life’ song, which I can appreciate; the words are poignant, if a tad cliche, and some of the imagery present is really quite vivid. While not my favorite Superfly song, “Beautiful” is a track that’s quite solid and that I’ve listened to more than a few times over the past couple of months. During other weeks this easily could have ended up as my favorite, but here it will have to settle for being close. 7.5/10


Ronald’s Rank:

1. iTunes #1: Superfly – Beautiful

2. Recochoku #1: UNISON SQUARE GARDEN – Sugar Song and Bitter Step

3. Oricon #1: AKB48 – Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai


Ryusenkai’s Rank:

1. Recochoku #1: UNISON SQUARE GARDEN – Sugar Song and Bitter Step

2. iTunes #1: Superfly – Beautiful

3. Oricon #1: AKB48 – Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai