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Issue #52: Gokigen
Highlighting the new chelmico album, YUI's "My Generation" and Gen Hoshino's song for Spy x Family
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Gen Hoshino focuses on the concept of the family as a home for the ending theme of the anime Spy x Family. “After pretending to be normal, I realized / Who decided this,” he sings over boom-bap ‘n’ B that glows as sunny as his lyrics of domestic bliss. “My light was always here.” Not once does the singer-songwriter utter the word “family,” however, and he instead cherry-picks the lyric “comedy” for its title. Hoshino writes around the word as though he’s playing a game of reverse association, gesturing at the essences of the subject without saying it out loud.
“Comedy” by Gen Hoshino
Hoshino’s decision to tiptoe around the matter at hand suits the associated anime and how it defines family. The show’s main trio of Twilight, Yor and Anya try their best to perform the father, mother and daughter, respectively, of the fake Forger family. The characters’ backgrounds are dramatic in setting—a spy, an assassin and an esper trying to assume normalcy—but the allegory nonetheless hits on a truth that every family is making it up and figuring it out as they go. “Perhaps many families throughout this world are somehow putting on an act,” Twilight says to Yor in one of my favorite episodes, consoling his partner who struggles to be the perfect wife. The structure of their household and the circumstance around them don’t fit into a traditional narrative yet the anime also argues that it goes the same for all families.
Each of the three sticks to the script for their own reasons. Twilight assembles the three as part of a covert spy mission, which remains secret to the others; Yor buddies with him to shoo away those around her who keep prying about her private life. But as unique as their own goals are, it all comes to down to creating stability for themselves, and the family act ends up providing them with a domestic comfort that has eluded them all of their lives.
“What should we eat tonight,” Hoshino asks in the chorus of “Comedy.” “Here’s what happened today / That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.’” Out of everything about their newfound company that they’ve gained, I like to imagine that the Forgers most cherish the privilege to share mundane dialogue like these with each other after living a rather lonely life. Hoshino singing about an almost miraculous encounter and the epiphanies had from them warm the heart, but what strikes me most from “Comedy” is when he reminds about the simple bliss of having someone waiting for you at home. He doesn’t discriminate who is waiting for you or what that home looks like, just the joy of lovely company welcoming you back after a long, hard day.
It takes only the fourth episode of Spy x Family to find the Forgers in danger of being separated. They need to pass a family interview in order to admit Anya into the country’s most prestigious academy, but they might as well have blown their chance after Twilight raises violence during the interview. “I have to go to school, or we won’t be together anymore,” sobs Anya, a former orphan, thinking about the worst.
While it’s too early for the story to end right then and there, the episode gets you to suspend disbelief for a second and ponder on the possibility of the Forgers split apart forever. Yor tries to briefly imagine the worst case scenario of her going back to her former life and yet she quickly refuses to accept such a fate. I don’t blame her for holding on to hope despite the odds being against them. “Any and every day / is a comedy if it’s with you / dancing on a creaking bed / rolling in laughter,” Hoshino sings in the chorus of “Comedy.” “We’ll keep on with our ridiculous life.” After you finally found your family, whatever that may look like, it’s too precious to let go.
As you now probably know, I started the anime Spy x Family during my vacation from writing, and it’s been the highlight of my Saturday nights. Not only has it got me to love its ending theme by Gen Hoshino, it also inspired me to re-consider the music of Official HIGE DANdism, whose song, “Mixed Nuts,” for the anime has grabbed my attention for the past month. I recommend the music, and I definitely recommend the show.
This issue is pretty exciting because it has a guest writer in charge of a review for the Album of the Week! The Singles Club section got a few Bandcamp selections, and this issue’s Oricon look back slips into 2007.
Album of the Week
This issue features a guest review for our Album of the Week! I’m excited to give the floor to longtime reader and first-time contributor Jack Wannan to write about one of his favorite groups working. Jack heads the MMA blog Knockdown News as well as the Five Albums music Substack. He also previously shared a list for This Side of Japan’s Best of 2021: The Friends’ List.
gokigen by chelmico [Warner Music Japan]
by Jack Wannan
Chelmico have never been one to box themselves in. While a “pop/rap duo” may accurately describe them, it sells short how much rappers Rachel and Mamiko have to offer. Their four full-length albums keep you guessing, and the same can be said for their latest, gokigen. True to their brand, the two dive into sounds new to them but with a comfort that seems like it's all their regular beat. The changes in style often connect while the differing tracks offer a disorienting yet oddly flowing listening experience.
Song after song, chelmico makes you wonder what’s going to hit you next in gokigen. The two serve a vogue-worthy club hit in the early album highlight “December” while sampling what sounds like an ice-cream truck in the quick-hitting, chiptune-esque “ISOGA♡PEACH.” The album can drag around at the halfway point, with songs like “Touhikou” and “Where you at?” buffering the track list, but the overwhelmingly positive “bff” saves some of the momentum by providing a jolt to the arm with its pop-rock beat and high-praise lyrics.
“bff” utilizes a rock sound that chelmico hasn’t tested out before. Rachel and Mamiko often rap and sing over more synth-filled pop beats. They usually break into their solo rap verses—Mamiko has the soft, polished voice and Rachel’s bold and more pronounced—and convene later to sing a chorus in unison: a trend you can chase back to some of their oldest songs, like the 2017 cut “Timeless,” or the more recent “Disco (Bad dance doesn’t matter).” Yet the group settles into the new genre comfortably in “bff.” The move from the drums-only intro into a full-on band sound tracks a growth in confidence particularly from Rachel, who eventually gets settled enough in her own skin to unabashedly proclaim “out of everyone I know, you’re the strongest, smartest and most beautiful person ever ever ever!”
Chelmico’s best works in gokigen sound like controlled chaos. The beats sound hectic and even stressful at times, like the audio form of a room due for a cleaning, but chelmico’s vocals remain sharp and focused. A track like the tofubeats-produced “Meidaimae” is the rowdy collection of noises expected from the group. Or a quick song like “Sanokuen,” which has shades of 2020 track “Limit” in the way it throws chelmico over a loud and in-your-face beat but sees them keep a calm demeanor in their performance. Rachel and Mamiko groan about waking up every week to do the same thing, coolly demanding “give me 300 million yen every month,” or roughly 2.2 million USD, and tax exempt, in the chorus so they can make life a bit easier. The absurd yet hypnotizing hook sticks with you as chelmico turns a catchy song into something of a workers' anthem.
Gokigen is much the same from chelmico, in that it is not like anything else they have made before. They continue to deliver upon the unpredictable, sprawling sound that’s consistently expected from them; Chelmico can only fail to deliver by playing it safe. Both the duo and those who work with them know what makes their projects such a great start-to-finish listen. Eclectic, messy, all over the place—Whatever you want to call it, that’s what chelmico are and that’s what they remain to be.
“warai_motoko” by age [self-released]
Age already teamed up with Rave Racers head JUBEE earlier this year as a part of the band gato, and now the producer/vocalist turns in a track for the newest installment of the crew’s SPEED WAY compilation. The hard-trance loop of “warai_motoko” builds itself a venue that specializes in a different kind of rave night than what’s imagined from the head-stomping club of their previous collaboration. The spiky song remains in perpetual gestation, though it doesn’t hesitate to go for the attack with the drum breaks clobbering through the path just to show you it could.
SPEED WAY 2 is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
“Hukayomi” by kallaqri [BAD HUT]
Kallaqri is first up to bat in Bad Hut Records’s 5-Way Split that introduces a spoil of Japanese skramz and hardcore, and the Aomori band kicks off the compilation with a searing opening statement in “Hukayomi.” The five piece’s brutal screamo turns into a space in which they confront the fear of facing one’s self, with its structure shifting according to the stage of their self-interrogation. The relentless thrashing eventually comes to a complete halt in wishes of vocalist Shunya Yoshida. “Either die or keep it to yourself until you do,” he ends his intermission of a personal story with an all-body scream, the onslaught of guitars then coming back into the track as if to return him to where he belongs. Kallaqri reserve six-and-a-half minutes as the show opener, but they don’t waste a second of what they’re given.
5-Way Split is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
“Koeyo” by Yuta Bandoh ft. Moeka Shiotsuka [Sony]
Composer Yuta Bandoh couldn’t have picked a better artist than Moeka Shiotsuka to pen lyrics for the title track of a NHK sci-fi drama centering on an experimental city government led by a diet of young twentysomethings. Shiotsuka already wrote more than a few anthems representing the up-and-coming generation with her indie-rock band Hitsujibungaku, and an exploration of a teenage mind up against a generation of adults deeply skeptic of the youth is a well suitable topic for the frontwoman.
The music accompanying the collaboration, however, sounds more ambivalent than triumphant. Arranger Goro Okuta pieces together patters of drums, shards of piano and cut-up synth signals like a mosaic into a fragile, vacuous production. While the pensive atmosphere inspires self-doubt to creep in, Shiotsuka responds by writing a kind of soothing lullaby. “We probably can’t go back, it’s like a fairy tale,” she sighs in the chorus. “But even then, I won’t forget / the miracle I swore on with you.” Her level-headed perspective yields yet another precious set of lyrics regardless of the shift in sound and feel from her usual.
Listen to it on Spotify.
This Week in 2007…
“My Generation” by YUI [STUDIOSEVEN, 2007]
YUI scored her first number-one with a textbook example of a singer-songwriter record—the kind that puts down the artist’s truth into song without an outside power cutting into the message. Her songs musically don’t go as far as to stand in actual opposition of an industry-backed pop song; the polish as well as the flourishes added in the production of, say, her most known single “CHE.R.RY” are products imported from said industry-made pop. But YUI in “My Generation” sings of a punk narrative that springs from the artist’s own life, prizing an singular authorship as a claim to real quality.
YUI as this earnest singer playing with nothing but an acoustic guitar had been built in as her public image from early on, memorable enough to be adapted to the big screen. Then still up-and-coming on the charts, the singer-songwriter played an aspiring teen musician in the 2006 film Taiyou No Uta. She didn’t exactly play herself in the movie: her character Kaoru Amane busks at night due to her xeroderma pigmentosum preventing her from stepping out into the sunlight. But her singer-songwriter image easily transferred from reality to film, and the movie in turn boosted the hype around her actual music, starting from its tie-up song, “Good-bye Days,” credited under the moniker YUI for Kaoru Amane.
“My Generation” is real as it gets when it comes to a song expressing feelings true and direct from the author. How can it not be when it lifts from her own biography? YUI returns to the head space of when she decided to drop out of high school after the first year to pursue music. “I don’t want to lose to 16-year-old me, who threw away her uniform,” she sings. Never mind that Sony couldn’t help but blow up that pull quote of a lyric to market the song, calling attention to how the rock sound as well as the guitar solo performed by her are also genuine expressions.
YUI didn’t share her past out of the blue. She wrote “My Generation” as a tie-in song for the TV drama Seito Shokun! The serial centers on the relationship between a fresh new middle-school teacher and her troublesome students whose antics drove other teachers away from the school. The singer-songwriter appears to be on the students side, sharing their dissatisfaction within as well as beyond the walls of the classroom. “Even after the bell stops ringing / reality / would move forward even faster,” she pouts before she revs up the electric guitar to sing of a more blunt truth in the chorus.
Any skepticism expressed in the lyrics, though, gets solved by the song’s flourishes. The rush of power pop thrusts the music forward and only forward, coloring any moments within it as acts of triumph. YUI writes of scenes revealing doubt, isolation, and tear-soaked nights throughout, but the music’s upward scaling frames these details as expected checkpoints in the path to see through one’s dreams. “Take back the times always spent in tears / the moment you can strongly believe what you dreamed up / is when it will all change, my generation,” she sings in the chorus, drawn partly from experience. Going off the typical life path doesn’t sound exactly romantic, though “My Generation” certainly makes the choice feel freeing.
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