#1 Song Review: Week of 6/10 – 6/16

Hello Arama Japan readers and welcome to this week’s installment of #1 Song Review! Last week saw UNISON SQUARE GARDEN win out over Kanjani8 and Superfly. UNISON SQUARE GARDEN and Superfly are back again this week, along with a newcomer. 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: B’z – RED (not released digitally)

Ronald: Ehh, I’m not really feeling this… I have a strange relationship with rock music, I don’t know if I’ve said that here before. I only really like the indie stuff. The more classic / hard things don’t really appeal to me, so B’z has never been an act that I’ve been on the lookout for. This song is ok for what it is. It doesn’t really strike me as all that unique for them or in general. This sounds like a B’z song, but then again I could imagine a lot of bands making a song like this. It has a great energy, I will say that. And the country part, coming from the banjo, is a somewhat interesting twist. It reminds me of a harder country song somewhat. 5/10

Ryusenkai: I honestly hadn’t been expecting another B’z song to show up on this feature so soon after their new album, but I won’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth. “RED” doesn’t venture too far outside of what the duo have established as their current wheelhouse, but it does some interesting things even so; the banjo part that opens up the track, for example (when was the last time you heard one of those in a hard rock song?). On the whole, I think that the biggest difference between this song and their previous single (“Uchouten”) is that there’s a sense of momentum and progression here that was notably lacking in the latter effort. I still miss some of the melodic movement that colored their singles towards the end of the 2000s, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

In terms of composition, there’s a surprising amount of layering at work here, from the aforementioned banjo, to the guitar, to the clapping that overlays pretty much everything present. Vocally we see Koshi at some of his more aggressive moments in recent years, particularly as he belts the line that leads into the song’s bridge. That said, he controls his breathing as well as always, never allowing it to intrude into the instrumental. Lyrically, I actually rather appreciate what’s done here, even though it’s nothing revolutionary; there’s some poignant imagery that contributes well to the song’s energy and ultimate purpose. At its core “RED” is a fight song, and one that isn’t afraid to throw some punches of its own. While not my favorite B’z track, “RED” remains a great summer rock tune and provides hope that I might enjoy the material leading to their next studio record a bit more. 8/10


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

Ronald: Same review as last week – 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: Same review as last week – 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


iTunes #1: UNISON SQUARE GARDEN – Sugar Song and Bitter Step (Oricon #16 / Recochoku #5)

Ronald: Same review as last week – 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: Same review as last week – 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


Ronald’s Rank:

1. Recochoku #1: Superfly – Beautiful

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

3. Oricon #1: B’z – RED


Ryusenkai’s Rank:

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

2. Oricon #1: B’z – RED

3. Recochoku #1: Superfly – Beautiful