#1 Song Review: Week of 6/3 – 6/9

Hello Arama Japan readers and welcome to this week’s installment of #1 Song Review! Last week saw Superfly win out over AKB48 and UNISON SQUARE GARDEN. Superfly and UNISON SQUARE GARDEN 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: Kanjani8 – Tsuyoku Tsuyoku Tsuyoku (not released digitally)

Ronald: I’ve had to review Kanjani8 songs a few times for this feature, and they’ve released some of the most crap songs out of all the acts I’ve had to review for this. They got one of the few 0’s I’ve given out for “ER2”, “Ittajanaika” got a 1.5, “CloveR” got a 2, and “Gamushara Koushinkyoku” is the bright spot with a 4. So Kanjani8 doesn’t really a great track record with me. But maybe things are changing… “Tsuyoku Tsuyoku Tsuyoku” is actually a really good song. They’ve dropped all the cheesy, childish happiness of their previous singles for something that actually sounds like something a bunch of men around 30 would sing. There’s a maturity here that I really like. This song has a great melody. There’s a softness to the verses that I enjoy, along with the tad harder chorus. The chorus is a good sing-along chorus that gets stuck in your head (and in a good way unlike those of the other songs by this group I’ve had to review). I really like the guitar work on this. This song isn’t really unique, but it’s strangely familiar, comforting even. I’ve expressed my like for this song before, and some of the fans said that they have plenty of songs like this. The thing is though is that I am approaching this song as an outsider, like any non-fan would. How am I to know that they have a bunch of songs like this when their A-sides are these insipid upbeat pop songs? Maybe they should put more of a focus on these songs as opposed to the things like the other songs I’ve had to review. 8/10

Ryusenkai: Well, it’s been a little while since Kanjani8 have done a band song as a single; thankfully, I tend to like these a good bit more than their more upbeat pop. “Tsuyoku Tsuyoku Tsuyoku” is a tad slower than most of the other songs of this style that I remember, but on initial listen it still comes off as a fairly refreshing, if a bit sterile pop-rock track. I actually quite like the vocal melody for this one, which is always a pleasant surprise, and think that it ultimately blends well with the background instrumental. That said, there feels like there’s… something missing from the mix and I’m not quite sure what it is. The composition is well done, if not overly complicated, and has a lot of moving parts to it, from the more conventional guitar and drums to the chimes and the surprisingly subtle use of synths over the whole song. Lyrically I’ve found this to be mostly alright based on what I can pick up by ear; nothing amazing, but I don’t think there’s anything too bad either. I actually quite like “Tsuyoku Tsuyoku Tsuyoku”, but for some reason that I can’t put my finger on that ‘like’ never quite changes into ‘love’. All of the right pieces are there, but it’s missing the glue that would just tie everything together for me. 6.5/10


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 #11 / Recochoku #2)

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. Oricon #1: Kanjani8 – Tsuyoku Tsuyoku Tsuyoku

2. Recochoku #1: Superfly – Beautiful

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


Ryusenkai’s Rank:

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

2. Recochoku #1: Superfly – Beautiful

3. Oricon #1: Kanjani8 – Tsuyoku Tsuyoku Tsuyoku