Issue #49: Blossom
Discussing the new Kana Hanazawa album, "Moonlight Densetsu," and the new Wednesday Campanella singles
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When Kom_I announced her departure from Wednesday Campanella last year, I didn’t worry so much about whether or not her successor Utaha would be a worthy heir. It’s a fool’s errand to search for another performer like Kom_I, and it doesn’t benefit anyone to demand Utaha to exactly follow her predecessor’s footsteps. The bigger question, for me, was how Wednesday Campanella’s music would now be without its founding member. Will the new songs still sound singular as they once did or will it be more “Utaha produced by Kenmochi Hidefumi,” indistinguishable from the dozen of other pop acts who the producer has worked with during his group’s inactivity?
Wednesday Campanella’s new singles, “Maneki Neko” and “Edison,” fortunately prove the case to be the former. The production of course features classic Hidefumi touches also carried over to his outside contributions. Glossy house synths color the verses of “Maneki Neko,” exploding into a future-bass burst come the chorus; the percussion moves giddily on the feet, channeling his love of genres like footwork. Hidefumi shows off his signature moves loud and proud in the chorus of “Edison” with drops of big house-piano stabs and vocals spliced into squeaky gibberish.
What feels unique to Wednesday Campanella in “Edison” apart from Hidefumi’s outside works is the song’s playful approach to language. The group’s previous release “Buckingham” placed it as its primary focus with its lyric sheet unreeling a hypnotic word salad. But while “Buckingham” felt self-satisfied providing an overload of information, “Edison” displays a more fun, charming deconstruction of the pop lyric. Utaha re-arranges the syllables of the titular inventor’s name into different sequences until it becomes mere sounds divorced from its original meaning. Utaha endlessly typing up the arrangements of the name on a typewriter in the music video illustrates the Wednesday Campanella process: they beat proper nouns into a pulp, reducing it into musical particles.
That said, like many of the group’s proper-noun songs, “Edison” also looks to the biography of its namesake for inspiration. Utaha sings a loose narrative that re-imagines the famed inventor as being also a DJ/producer on the side. “Got DTM on my laptop / my software is Ableton Live,” she coolly raps. “But what I want to create right now is the gramophone.” She keeps rolling out detail after detail—an unexpected viral hit! A major-label debut!—and the momentum behind her flow thrusts you without giving much room to question the premise. In between, she sprinkles puns and references1 as if she’s trying to hyperlink her entire lyric sheet to further expand its universe.
The world built in “Maneki Neko” has an exceptional gravitational pull. While the song once again lives and dies by its title with its narrative centered on the titular cat figurine, the group carves depth and personality out of a seemingly simple concept. The description of its anatomy in the opening lines already does wonders to present the figurine in a different, otherworldly light, and Utaha continues to sing an origin story of the cat as a divine creature sent to rescue fledgling businesses. “One day, it answered to the call from the heavens / and now so much power lies in its paws,” she sings straightly, like she’s reciting a generational fable in the form of a dance-pop track.
While the group creates a colorful world full of its own history and lore, the appeal behind “Maneki Neko” is seeing Utaha play around in it with such excitement. “Kyaku wo maneki irerunoda! (Let’s pull in more and more customers!)” She shouts in the chorus with her quaint, old-timey conjugation coloring her into a young, money-hungry royalty, ready to rake in the big bucks. She sounds so one with the song’s world, fascinated by its own myths, and her infectious exuberance elevates the shallow premise behind the song. Like the best Wednesday Campanella tracks, describing what “Maneki Neko” and “Edison” are about ruins the magic. You got to listen close to get the full experience.
Heads up: the next issue will be out a bit later than usual to give myself more time to work on its contents. I have it scheduled right now to publish on April 20, so about a month from now. The upcoming issue is going to be different from the regular ones—maybe the number that will be attached for it might be a hint as to why. Hopefully, you’ll find it worth the wait once it goes live.
For this one, I go long on a hit song known as a classic in the anime world for the Oricon look back. We also have an anime-adjacent record for our Album of the Week. If you want a break from cartoons, dive right in to the selection of new singles for this issue.
Oh, I reviewed the new JYOCHO album, Let’s Promise to Be Happy, for Tone Glow! It’s a contender to be my Album of the Year so far. You can read words on the album from me as well as other wonderful writers here.
Album of the Week
Blossom by Kana Hanazawa [Pony Canyon]
While a move to a different label makes for a prime opportunity to start anew, Kana Hanazawa envisioned her sixth album, Blossom, to be more a revisit than an overhaul. “When we did the meeting for the album, I told them that I want to sing songs by people who’ve worked with me in the past, written for me now in the present, rather than ask new people to contribute,” she told Natalie in February, and her assembled team have helped define the voice actress’s music career since the beginning. The resulting album, however, creates for itself a peculiar, alluring sense of time as its contributors carry the artist’s decade-long history while eagerly interacting with today’s popular pop.
Blossom can’t help but look at the past for inspiration. Though, the dive into nostalgia from the arrangers seems more a result of the retro, the ‘80s in particular, being popular material of today’s pop. The most obvious dip is the bright new wave of “Don’t Know Why,” which blatantly lifts from a-ha’s “Take on Me” to follow the footsteps of The Weekend. The lush glow of “Ibuki in the Wind” and its snapping synth-funk also call to mind the more opulent pop decade filled with elaborate TV stages. “Harbor View from the Hill” meanwhile serves as the easy-listening escape with Hanazawa’s breezy voice patiently strolling through the hi-fi soundscape.
If the Showa-minded moves from the arrangers or Hanazawa’s mission statement of a comment suggests Blossom to be a retrospective of her career, the opening track “Yumenokioku” does away with any perceived throwback tendencies. Wooshing synths zigzag across the music from the very start, transporting Hanazawa from her live-band past into a post-Soundcloud future. Other entries similarly feel like electronic remixes of her soft-pop works. A four-on-the-floor drum beat smacks across the sparkling jazz-pop of “Miss You,” and “GSSP” slices and dices the sleepy pop into microscopic particles.
“Moonlight Magic” represents the best of both worlds in Blossom. Producer and longtime collaborator Shouri Kitagawa hands in an electro-pop take of the sprightly string-pop familiar to Hanazawa, and the production draws out the electric feelings flying throughout the love song in practically literal way. The voice actress, too, sounds the most alive with her personality on full display: the onomatopoeia of the cutesy chorus sticks with you, especially after watching the little choreography that goes with it, and she quiets the track to break the fourth wall, directly inquiring if feelings are mutual. While Hanazawa can seem like a tourist in her collaborators’ production in other tracks, her feelings take center stage in “Moonlight Magic” and inform the unfolding music.
Hanazawa gestures in a few tracks at a want to innovate her works beyond a revamp in production. Fitting for her main gig, “GSSP” places her voice as its focal point with her soft voice as tactile as the prickly synths popping throughout the song; she briefly tries her hand at a series of whisper-raps, further drawing out the ASMR-ness. The most challenging performance comes from a song sourced from an act new to Hanazawa’s catalog: Polkadot Stingray switches their nervy, crooked rock into synth-pop mode in “Shinobi-Nai,” pushing the voice actress more and more to match their pace.
The blending of retro funk and today’s electronic pop keeps Blossom from becoming too reliant on the currency of memories of old pop, but the songs are, admittedly, straightly written with only few curveballs thrown to upset the consistent mood. Perhaps what comes next will tell more of how Hanazawa plans to forge a new identity by embracing these styles new to her—or if she plans to adopt these styles going forward at all. For now, the quality of the resulting songs satisfies enough to justify for a lack of stylistic innovation. If “a fresh start” was the driving commercial concept behind Blossom, the team delivers a promising new beginning as advertised.
“Trail” by Metome [Stolar]
While Metome’s previous chilled-out releases in 2020 allowed my tired mind to freely wander, the Osaka producer returns with new house tracks designed more to get me out of my seat and get to moving. A woozy fog of a synth casts over “Trail” to provide a weightlessness familiar to the artist’s work, but the four-on-the-floor drums kick loud and with a purpose. The wonky bass bobs along as if to respond to the kicks and claps, and the piano writes in a peppy riff to add to the mix. “Trail” is perhaps still an introverted kind of disco laid against, say, Guchon and his recent EP, but the it’s a delight to hear a less reserved and hermetic dance cut from Metome.
“Labyrinth” by Mime [Situation.Tokyo / NF]
Mime reveled in the possibilities during the twilight hours in last year’s Yin Yang, but “Labyrinth” sees their once-gleaming R&B wind down into a lonesome quiet storm. As the rhythm section chugs out a downtrodden beat, vocalist Hikari patiently builds the scene as well as the emotional landscape. “I just wanted to be touched / but I couldn’t touch you / it was all a dream,” she sings in defeat while the guitar solo finally vocalizes her late-night yearning. “Even if I wake up / if I can meet you / that’s all I need.” “Labyrinth” tries to frame her sudden, acute desire for affection as a symptom of insomnia. Though, the intensity poured by Hikari suggests the song’s core stems from something deeper than sleeplessness.
Listen to the song on Spotify.
“Atatakai Hikari” by Miram [P-VINE]
The laid-back ease flowing in Miram’s beach-ready riff of “Atatakai Hikari” befits the casual yet curious relationship unfolding throughout, and the candid connection between the singer-songwriter and her significant other provides the song its charm: “You look lazy because you have to go to work soon / that’s the person I want to keep stealing my heart,” she sings, delightfully by an unusual, if not mundane detail only she can admire. Miram relishes in the moment with the breezy indie rock lightening her crushing into a low-stakes affair, just satisfied she even has developed some feelings towards them at all.
Ducky is out now. Listen to the album on Spotify.
This Week in 1992…
This section is usually dedicated to the Oricon number ones throughout the chart’s history, but for this issue, I’ll write about a hit that did not make it at the very top.
“Moonlight Densetsu” by DALI [Nippon Columbia, 1992]
Did not chart | Listen to it on YouTube
“Moonlight Densetsu” hinges upon an innocent yet evocative lyric. “I won’t forget that look / from the time we met,” idol group DALI sings in the original Sailor Moon theme song. The idols are so enchanted, they reason their meeting must be the work of celestial powers bigger than they can imagine—in other words, destiny. Their sweet, dreamy sigh is captivating enough to make us, the listeners, swoon. And this fateful encounter sets in motion not only the story behind this single but arguably the narratives driving the songs of the entire Sailor Moon franchise.
The music and lyrics live up to the song’s self-proclaimed reputation as a story of legend. Lyricist Kanako Oda pens in “Moonlight Densetsu” a romance written in the stars, destined to manifest in this lifetime as well as the next. The shadowy strings cast the track with a mythical aura that lays fertile ground for poetic forces like fate and destiny to become the engine of the song’s world. “Present, past, even the future / I’ll always be hooked on you,” DALI sing, and the eternally aged music further flattens the concept of time as though the unfolding events have always been one foretold.
The song feels removed from a particular time, elsewhere than the modernization happening in pop at the time, and the text itself also seems to now belong to no one in particular as if it’s public domain. Part of that is a result of countless retelling: it has inspired many beloved covers from Shoko Nakagawa, Momoiro Clover Z and more. Though, such a fate seems inevitable when the original storytellers disbanded as soon as the single was released. Assembled as a subunit of performance group Actions, DALI only have “Moonlight Densetsu” to their name; two former members formed a new group MANISH right after, debuting a mere two months after “Moonlight Densetsu.” The record has outgrown all of the surrounding acts, dwarfed of course by the popularity of its associate anime.
For all its galactic scale in content and context, the mystifying details are all smokes and mirrors dramatizing a rather suburban tale. A few slipped details tease the truth behind the unfolding “miracle romance.” “Midnight when I can’t talk on the phone,” DALI whine about their curfew; “Once again, the two of us, weekend / lord, let it come true, happy end,” the idols pray to the stars. Parse through the grand music and banner phrases, and the so-called Legend of Moonlight sings of a simple, teenage yearning present in the most classic of girl-group pop: the idols want to dial up their crush, and they hope to meet them again while out on the weekend.
DALI believing in ideas like destiny charms from their willingness to see life in such a romantic way, even if the feelings at its core express a rather simple desire like hoping to bump into The One again at, say, the mall. “Moonlight Densetsu” falls in the tradition of fiction romanticizing everyday details into something dreamier or of myths in how it helps articulate the mysteries of the world while expanding how we perceive it. The story of Sailor Moon after all centers on a middle-school girl, whose world of suburbia changes into something else entirely after she takes on her true identity as one of the Sailor Guardians. The song’s point of view appear as wide-eyed in perspective as a young girl assigning order, meaning and drama into the random.
While their romance is written in the stars, DALI are also somehow star-crossed with them traversing different universes and timelines just to reunite with their crush. As blissful as the idols sound as they reminisce about that unforgettable look, they also sing those lines as though they are clutching it close to their heart, trying to not let the memory fade away as much as possible. They are still at the mercy of chance despite living in a world predetermined by fate, and that deep uncertainty makes that key lyric so resonant: the memory becomes a precious totem that allows them to spot their dear one out of countless galaxies, and it’s what keeps them going as the world seems to conspire against them.
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A favorite is in the chorus when Utaha as Edison declares “Sonna hatsumei-oh ni ore wa naru! (I’m going to be the King of Inventors!)” like she’s One Piece’s Monkey D. Luffy.