Rampant Satisfies With ‘Umami’ Metal


So last time we were talking about branching out. Well, in the natural order of things, now I’m obligated to tell you onto which branches I’ve been climbing. This past week I’ve been spending a lot of time scouring Youtube (at risk of entering those bestial paddocks of Oshare-kei PV pasture), and following through leads in MP3 shops (30 second previews are inherently evil), and as a result I have hardly touched my old collection.  I’ve been digging around without bias (well…)– it doesn’t matter what genre it is, or if it’s five days or ten years old. All I want is something that gives me some Kiai! Something that actually inspires some headbanging or air-guitar. Something that’s catchy, fresh, innovative and interesting in any way. Last week I was wondering if that was a tall order — whether it was or not, a gorgeous girl and a pack of surly sirs confidently stepped up and answered it.

Not enough can be said for how little appreciation I generally have for female vocals. exist trace, Danger Gang, and school food punishment started to thaw my icy bias out more and more, but that’s about as far as I’ve been able to go. It’s not that I think all female vocals are inherently bad – I just can’t help but judge them harshly. When I hear female vocals, I want them to fit into the music as naturally as if they were made for one another. Like perfectly tailored clothing. I want a female vocalist to rock so well that the idea of it being a woman vs. a man never even pops into my mind. I don’t want to think anything like “I like her style, for a female.” I want it to be a pure, undiluted, “…damn.

…You know, you guys, I think she’s The One.

The One-fronted hard-rock band Rampant originated in 2005 (I’ve been missing out for so long) in Osaka (the origin of many good things), with HIroko on vocals,  Atsushi playing lead guitar, Tomoya on rhythm, Hajime rockin’ the bass, and the guy with the best name on drums – KA+U. They released their first mini-album, CHAIN, two years later, and started doing shows around Japan with other bands. In 2008 they released a full-length album, CHOICE OF LIFE. According to their official mobile site, they will be releasing a new album in the autumn of this year.

Although their music almost has a Western-rock feel to it at times, Rampant still shows the filial devotion to awesome, powerful melodies that roots us right back into Jrock. Heavy grunge rock characterized by striking riffs that actually make you stop and listen, and the clear, low vocals of HIroko, Rampant‘s collection so far is comprised of individual pieces, all of which pack a punch and call you back over and over. From the full-bodied, goose-bump-raising, soaring choruses of Silence (one of their best pieces), to the aggressive, pounding rhythms of Nude, each of their songs is edgily creative, interesting, and good in that rich umami way that is too professional feeling for indie metal, and deeply outweighs the stretched-thin feeling of many major-label releases.

This is one of the few bands I’ve picked up lately that has truly inspired in me a genuine desire to actually listen to a song over and over. Check out their simple yet awesome PV for the song Silence, which is a spectacular piece of metal magic.

Rampant‘s releases are available as MP3s at JapanFiles, or for order at CDBaby (USA)

Rampant official website (Japanese)

Also check out their official MySpace (English) to sample some songs.

News Flash: H&MC

H&MC with Maakii

That probably sounds like a weird Swedish clothing brand to you– don’t worry it’s a Jrock band. If it was Swedish, it wouldn’t be allowed on here. As anyone who reads regularly will know quite well, I have never featured garage rock-band High and Mighty Color on here before. I used to listen to some of their stuff all the time during my very early Jrock days (before it stopped being infatuation and became a life-long commitment). To be perfectly honest in a rather sexist-sounding way, I hardly listen to any Jrock with female vocalists. It’s not really anything against them…I guess the thing is that they always seem to lack that certain je ne sais qua. I tend to be a lot picker about female vocals than male vocals. Don’t nail my hand into the desk, please. Everyone has their ‘type’, and mine is male vocals (which is why VK works for me). But come on, every Jrock fan has to admit that they started out with Ichirin no Hana from HIGH AND MIGHT COLOR…don’t they?

H&MC is part of what I call “the Okinawa team” — i.e. the huge slew of Jpop and Jrock groups/idols that sprung from the sunny islands in southern Japan (trivia: Orange Range, also from Okinawa, is apparently H&MC‘s ‘sister band’. Which is possibly why I have trouble differentiating between them). H&MC started out as a Metallica cover-band that later moved on to original music, called Anti-Nobunaga.

H&MC had a relatively modest debut, the details of which seem pretty standard for the average rock band. Their big ‘moment’ arose when the band released their first official single in 2005, Pride, which was going to be attached to a soccer event…? Apparently people play soccer to H&MC in Japan– which is why I must move there. Go H&MC!, a scout discovered Pride and it was agreed that it would appear, instead, as a song for Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny— which is a LVLUP from soccer, if you ask me…Especially considering that Gundam Seed Destiny was, at the time, the #1 anime in Japan. That helped sales up a bit, and Pride has remained their top-selling single.

Their music is rock with some heavy/screaming and rap textures that add more dimension to music that would otherwise, in my opinion, be kind of average. I have enjoyed the vocalist, Maakii, because she doesn’t sound like melting gumdrops. On that note  in July, 2008 Maakii married Dreams Come True bandmember Nakamura Masato (who has at least 20 years on her age), and announced that in late 2008 she would be leaving the band. And she did, indeed, leave the band and had a baby in due time. Shortly thereafter a new vocalist was announced, the surly looking little lady under the tough name HALCA.

H&MC with Halca

With the change in lineup (it’s usually pretty dramatic to change the vocalist, isn’t it? I mean, H&MC has been around for a while), many fans were hoping that they would show their, er, high and mighty true colors and whoop out some new hits. They did indeed release a single titled XYZ, followed by a full-length album Swamp Man, and H&MC have announced a summer single for August 11 titled Re:ache — however, this announcement comes as a mixed deal. The band stated that simultaneous with the release of Re:ache, H&MC would in fact be disbanding permanently. They labeled their reasons as being musical differences, and a desire to reach out for greater, different opportunities.

Whether you’re a hardcore fan, or just someone who was helped to catch The Line with their music, it’s always a little depressing whenever bands like these break up. Although, as I stated earlier, I haven’t listened to their music in years, it’s still sort of like seeing the aunt and uncle who used to babysit you getting a divorce.

In any case, let’s wish them all well in their future ventures, and hope that they find out there what they couldn’t achieve within HIGH and MIGHTY COLOR.

Remioromerodies and Remiomerons

Okay, okay, okay, what is with the Jrock web-world just committing seppuku simply because half the bands are on tour? I know you’re all depressed that they’re not touring in your continent/country/town, but really, pull yourselves together!

I really cannot believe how bloody fast time goes by. It’s unbelievable… You think that it’s still the middle of March, only to wake up one morning to the rude realization that it’s actually the middle of April already. Suddenly it becomes inefficient to continue avoiding the ominous To-do-list dated from March 24th, and you understand fully that although there are buds on the trees that may or may not bloom shortly, there is no avoiding the inevitable thought, “I exist in an arctic hole”.

In any case, it’s actually starting to feel springish here. I’m feeling nostalgic about the fact that cherry-blossom season is probably in full swing now in central/northern Japan. I guess it’s time to pull the hanami (cherry blossom-viewing) playlists out, and the first artist that I would start shuffling on there: Remioromen.

The very image of spring cheer...

I discovered Remioromen not long ago, suggested by someone whose music tastes I really have a lot of faith in: GACKT. GACKT covered their flagship song, Konayuki (“powdered snow”) for an all-covers, guys-only Christmas live session he did in December ’09. This song, one of the ballads of the century, was initially made extremely popular due to its use in the drama Ichi Ritouru no Namida (One Litre of Tears)–yeah… it is as sad as it sounds.

Without knowing much about them at all at the time, I started listening to the original version of the song, and, surprisingly, was interested enough in their rough-around-the-edges indie feel and unusual vocals to go through the serious hassle of locating a copy of their 2006 album HORIZON (just to get this clear, tons of their stuff is unavailable through sources such as YesAsia or CDJapan. I’m not sure why exactly, but it mostly seems to be out of print.). If I started out with the consolation story of “if all else fails, Konayuki is great,” then I was in for a majorly pleasant surprise. This CD’s success with my play-count led me to look into more of their stuff, and well, it just went from there.

Although the three-member group may just look like the boys next door jamming away in Otousan’s cramped tool-shed…well, I was going to plunge ahead boldly with “actually they’re anything but,” however, now that I look at them…that’s sort of more or less what they are. At least on first appearances.  Despite having only moderate renown (probably because they aren’t affiliated with Johnny’s Entertainment.), these indies are a surprisingly unique, refreshing breath of fresh air, dishing up a musical scramble that neatly bridges Jpop and Jrock.

Speaking of GACKT, I already mentioned this in the tour announcement I did this past week, but this is one of the most frustrating names ever. Say “Remioromen” out loud ten times fast. What the hell, I mean, I can’t even say it two times fast! I just do the typical linguistically-frustrated-Japanese thing and skip the middle syllable. It comes out inevitably something like “Remiorem” (although, I think they are just referred to as “Remio“). Again, this is a repeat story, but I felt a lot better when GACKT says in a video that the first time he saw the name, he pronounced it “Remiomeron“. At least my version doesn’t make them sound like some sort of exotic variety of star-fruit.

The first thing that you will probably have to adjust to, is the guitarist/vocalist’s, Fujimaki Ryouta’s, voice. And that’s not a warning, by the way, the guy has a great voice. But it’s probably not the kind of voice a lot of Jpop junkies are used to hearing. There’s nothing of the ultra-melodic, nasal, faintly gruff a-typicality featured on so many albums these days. Fujimaki’s vocals are slightly high, strained, gentle, and a bit rough around the edges. This is a great contribution to the band’s overall unique and indies feel.

Fujimaki’s splendid strumming is accompanied by fellow bandmates Maeda Keisuke on bass, and Jinguuji Osamu on drums. All the guys are great musicians, and yet their music retains a sense of self-consciousness in some way, a slight hint of awkwardness that lends a particular quality to the music, a simplicity, a sense of daily-life, as it were.

The god-father to laid-back pop-rock acts such as Flumpool, Remioromen isn’t as young as you might guess. The band was started in 2000, and is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year with a massive nationwide tour spanning over several months, and many uncountable prefectural cultural citizen’s former war pension assembly center (big hall). [it’s an inside joke].  The band has done moderately well, with 6/7 albums staying in the top 5 of Oricon charts. They are best known for their songs Konayuki, Tsubasa, and Sakura, which probably a lot of you have heard without realizing it…

Their most recent releases include the singles summery Starting Over (July ’09), heart-torn Koi no Yokan Kara (Nov ’09), and sweet Kachoufuugetsu (Feb ’10).

With strong drums, simple yet satisfying guitar riffs, great bass, and unique vocals working together, Remio create catchy, laid back, heartwarming pop-rock pieces packed with feeling. To me, at least, their music is highly nostalgic of being in Japan, and I don’t think this is just my dementia kicking in. Truly there seems to be a kind of cultural sensitivity to their music. It has realism, humility, charm, and confidence all in one. With that, I think they make an awesome trio.

Binging on School Food Punishment

Although I never thought I’d say this, school food punishment is a pleasure. That’s not the kinky statement you think it is! Seriously, this not-so-new band, founded in ’04 by vocalist and guitar Uchimura Yumi (who also writes all of the lyrics), blends poppish melodies with the bold, trashy heaviness of honest-to-god rock and jazzy, electronicky elements that uplift the entire listening experience. This is not the grunge metal you first think of when you hear the name, and it’s not the pransey chicka-mecca you think it might be when you see the vocalist. Okay, I’m sexist– female vocalists either have to have me swooning in five seconds or I’m not inspired to pursue.

Along the genre lines of Flumpool and Remioromen, but heavier, the instrumental composition is terrific. Bold, brash, noisy, and yet polished, precise, and funky. Good, strong bass-lines, thick drums, and weird influences all across the musical board. Although Uchimura’s vocals have the potential to be pretty and poppy, she manages to bridge genres skillfully and is neither too gloomy nor too kawaii. Balance is a tricky subject with female vocalists, I think, but Uchimura is brilliant.

The production work on this group is also interesting and new feeling. They use keyboards not necessarily just to set an atmosphere or effects, but, as they stated in an interview, “more like a lead-guitar or vocals”. All of their songs have an even production quality, and their music leans a lot on bassist Yamazaki, which is cool and refreshing, bringing forward a real underground feel.

school food punishment has a varied menu spotted with dishes like Fiction Nonfiction which sound weirdly Asian-inspired, electricky, and bass-heavy, while sporting super-cute vocal melodies:

…stretching to moodier snacks like Futuristic Imagination, and ballads like Set Low, Fine. For any electronica or atmospheric music lovers, you’ll find Egoist, which has sort of a the-Imogen-Heap-of-Jrock feel, to be a keeper.

And pure-pop that is charming and unique, despite having that generic electric-poppiness of so much Jpop princesses, in the form of Sea~ Through Communication. (Man… the main effects in this sound extremely familiar, but I can’t remember which song they remind me of).

Their best songs are the grungy heavy ones, in my personal opinion. The Jpop scene doesn’t really need any more cuties, and what school food has going strong in their grumpy rock stuff is exactly what the Jrock scene is starving for right now. Check out some awesome pieces like You May Crawl.

The four-member lineup includes: Uchimura Yumi (guitar, vocals, lyrics), Hidai Osamu (drums), Hasuo Masayuki (key), and Yamazaki Hideaki (bass, chorus). The members are all in their thirties, and bring a maturity and sensibility to their music that seems like a winning trait.

Although they started up in ’04, so far no mega album has hit shelves. They have released 4 singles, 3 EPs, and one indie single. Their fifth single, double A-side future nova/ after laughter will be released March 10th, and April 14th will witness amp-reflection, their first full-length album. In May they will go on a nationwide tour to promote the release of amp-reflection.

I highly recommend this group, and they should definitely be added to your up-and-coming lists. Although it may have taken a while for them to gain some recognition, now is the moment, so hook up your headphones and check this unique rock group out.

school food punishment Official Website

SFP Official MySpace

I Love You

Today is Valentine’s Day– just, you know, in case you forgot, or didn’t notice, or don’t care.

"Ai" ~ Japanese character for the word "love"

Whether you’re crazy in the throes of love, or lonely… scrolling through blogs where other lonely people talk about how much they hate this holiday and thus make yourself feel better, I have just the thing for you!

Love has to be about the most common theme in music since the beginning of time. Whether it is jilted love,
un-reciprocated love, or full-on-merciful-mutual adoration, it probably comes up in about 7/10 songs.

At least as far as Jrock is concerned, just about every single band has a song called “Love Letter” and, more to the point, “I Love You”. For that matter, they probably have a whole other set of songs called “Aishiteru”, or some other conjugation of the Japanese verb “to love”.

True as this may be, few songs have as much right to that title as one in particular.

But first– the man who wrote it.

Ozaki Yutaka (1965-1992)

Iconic tear-jerker ballad I Love You was written by ’80s pop figurehead Ozaki Yutaka. Ozaki was born in Tokyo on November 29th 1965, and died at the tender age of 26 on April 25 1992, after living-hard-and-burning-fast in the whirlwind world of the pop-stars.

Ozaki was multi-talented, starting with piano and later moving on to guitar, harmonica, and vocals. All of which were present in his compositions.

Despite his stance as a bit of a lone-wolf and outcast, Ozaki was one of the first truly famous pop stars in Japan. He revolutionized the Japanese pop scene with his raw, angsty, extremely heart-felt lyrics about real feelings in every-day situations, his striking good looks, tender charm, and powerful stage-presence.  Even TV performances show packs of women in the audience, openly crying, swaying, and singing along to the emotional pop-rock music. Calling out his name, their lives were probably momentarily in the realms of Nirvana when he smiled sweetly at them.

However, despite an incredible rise to heights of fame, an impressive repertoire, and a life worthy of legend, Ozaki burned out fast, and in 1992, at the age of 26, he was found dead in an alleyway. Although originally the cause of death was attributed to a long-standing sickness, Ozaki’s family later attempted to re-open the case on the grounds that it was possibly homicide. Ozaki left behind a wife and son.

Ozaki is another example of the typical Japanese heroes, living-fast-dying-young…amidst fame and excess. It is no wonder that he has become a symbol of nostalgia in the pop-music culture.

His tear-jerker ballad, I Love You, was released in 1991 and is considered not only one of Ozaki’s greatest hits, but one of the greatest hits in Jpop history period. The song has so much sentimentality and nostalgia radiating off of it, that it has been covered by several contemporary Jpoppers, including ayaka, Nakashima Mika, and Utada Hikaru,

Not only does the song talk-the-talk, but it walks-the-walk, all the way. The ballad is a masterpiece of angst-ridden young love. It captures the
coldness and difficulty of love; a youthful desperation and sadness,
rather than the more dream-like idealisms or cheesy spins we hear
regurgitated so often today. And not only are the lyrics depressing
and heart-wrenching, the emotion Ozaki puts into the performance
makes you want to lay down and die.

So here you go– I Love You, for barentain dei <3

I love you ima dake wa kanashii uta kikitakunai yo
I love you nogare nogare tadoritsuita kono heya
Nani mo kamo yurusareta koi jyanai kara futari wa marude sute nekomitai
Kono heya wa ochiba ni umoreta akibako mitai
Dakara omae wa koneko no youna nakigoe de

(*) Kishimu beddo no ue de yasashisa wo mochiyori
Kitsuku karada dakishime aeba
Sore kara mata futari wa me wo tojiru yo
Kanashii uta ni ai ga shirakete shimawanu youni

I love you wakasugiru futari no ai ni wa furerarenu himitsu ga aru
I love you ima no kurashi no naka de wa tadori tsukenai
Hitotsu ni kasanari ikiteyuku koi wo yume mite kizutsuku dake no futari da yo
Nando mo aishiterutte kiku omae wa kono ai nashi de wa ikite sae yukenai to
Repeat (*)

I love you 今だけは悲しい歌 聞きたくないよ
I love you 逃れ逃れ 辿り着いた この部屋
何もかも許された 恋じゃないから
二人はまるで 捨て猫みたい
この部屋は 落葉に埋もれた空き箱みたい
だからおまえは 小猫の様な泣き声で

きしむベッドの上で 優しさを持ちより
きつくからだ 抱きしめあえば
それからまた二人は 目を閉じるよ
悲しい歌に 愛がしらけてしまわぬ様に

I love you 若すぎる二人の愛には 触れられぬ秘密がある
I love you 今の暮しの中では 辿り着けない
ひとつに重なり 生きてゆく恋を
夢見て 傷つくだけの 二人だよ
何度も 愛してるって聞くおまえは
この愛なしでは 生きてさえゆけないと

きしむベッドの上で 優しさを持ちより
きつくからだ 抱きしめあえば
それからまた二人は 目を閉じるよ
悲しい歌に 愛がしらけてしまわぬ様に

それからまた二人は 目を閉じるよ
悲しい歌に 愛がしらけてしまわぬ様に

+Official website+

Utada Hikaru ‘s cover

ayaka‘s cover

School’s Back In Session

School’s back in session, but this semester we’ll be getting a lesson in serious rock– courtesy of Jrock’s best-kept secret, full-throttle super-group abingdon boys school.

Although they could be called a ‘kid-band’, as they only started in 2005, there is nothing kiddie about this hardcore Jrock group. abingdon boys school, fondly contracted to a.b.s by fans and the band alike, was founded by programmer and keyboardist Kishi Toshiyuki and vocalist Nishikawa Takanori– perhaps better known for his pop-prince solo act, T.M. Revolution. They recruited guitarists SUNAO and Shibasaki Hiroshi, both of whom have worked closely with Nishikawa on his “Revolutionary” activities throughout the past decade.

However, let me say this: for anyone who came to a.b.s expecting more of T.M. Revolution’s futuristic sub-Gundam electro-pop, two words: Not. Happening. Seeing as three of the members have indeed (and do still) work together in the Mobile-Suit pop world, I think (yeah, I read the blogs too) a lot of people were surprised that this amazingly (absolutely no offense intended) fruity, and possibly the shortest pop-star in Japan, could front a project so dramatically opposite his solo work, as abingdon boys school.

Well you can put it in red marker and add a star-shaped sticker too, for the versatility of Nishikawa’s unbelievable vocal style. Whether he’s draped in supple snow-white  leather suits, or nerding out in thick-rimmed glasses and a private-school uniform, Nishikawa’s high, heady, terrifically strong wail is unlike any other. Honestly, I have to say that Nishikawa’s vocals are some of the most impressive, innovative, and mind-blowingly awesome in the pop/rock world.

Aside from the singular vocal talents of Nishikawa, the rest of the a.b.s lineup may be names you haven’t heard– but we can quite quickly decapitate that disturbance and move on, because the sooner you hear them, the sooner you’ll be thanking yourself.

Part of the problem may be that these are not blooming heartthrobs. Nor are they young, with the most-junior member scraping a mature 39. I mean– Nishikawa has this kind of aura of studliness, but let’s face it, it’s an aura. If you look at the aesthetic of today, and it’s being represented by Visual Kei hot-topics such as the GazettE and Alice Nine… and all those guys, they’re like puking good-looks. (BUCK-TICK’s early lineup was concerned about their vocalist being tall enough…they apparently never considered hiring Nishikawa, who maxes out at 5′3″.) Well, I’ll tell you, a.b.s may not look like much, but these guys know where and how to pack a helluva punch. These guys are deadly.

a.b.s is comprised of the aforementioned 4 members: Nishikawa (vo.), Kishi (keyboards, programming), SUNAO (guitar), Shibasaki (guitar). The other two necessary organs that make a band breathe and pump blood properly, drums and bass, are supplied by session musicians. And by session-musicians, I mean that these two musicians have a pact with holy deities so advanced and beyond us, that they can’t really officially join bands. Although these two backing members are mysterious strangers to most of a.b.s‘ non-Japanese fan-base, let me try and shed a little light.

Bassist IKUO, who can slap and pop so hardcore you practically want to die, is an extremely in-demand figure in Jrock. In summer ’09 he tore a hole of throbbing thick-stringed bass madness on GACKT’s Koakuma Heaven. And that’s just one name– wherever fame has been mixed with Jrock, IKUO has probably been at some point or another. Any guess as to where GACKT picked this guy up? Possibly on a certain [b]ass-kicking (forgive the inexcusable joke) album that rocked the custom-shredded socks of the Jrock kingdom in 2007…

However, the drummer, who incites the greatest rage of curiosity within, is carefully hidden, his face turned at every sneaky shot during TV performances and lives. You see a sharp cheek and some wild long hair, and that’s about it. His name is Hasegawa Kozy, and he has surpassed being “the drummer” and become “the drums”. Hasegawa Kozy has worked with pretty much every influential Japanese pop and rock band ever– and guess who has him now?

The mastermind behind the project, as it were, is really Kishi Toshiyuki, programmer and keyboardist, who splits most of the compositional duties with guitarist Shibasaki. ‘Programmer’ ‘keyboards’ yes– turn tables.

NO, just don’t even say it. Turn-tables in a rock band? Gundam-suited pop princes in a rock band? Yeah, I know. No, no, no, I’m not trying to rope you into some kind of weird sub-trance group…This is rock– no, this has transcended rock. Turn-tables. And rock. These oh-so-questionable turn-tables spin a.b.s into a whole new arena than the other rockers out there– turn-tables allow for incredible mixing both on stage and in the studio. Kishi adds layers of intense effects and remixing to the already heavy hard-rock style double guitars. You can hear the mixing, but Kishi’s taste is impeccable, and by the end of the first song, it’s all you’ll be talking about.

Not only that, but this is pioneer work as far as Jrock is concerned. Few to no bands up until this point have been interested in mixing turn-tables and rap elements with rock. However, since a.b.s has seen a spike in popularity in the past two or three years, many notable Visual Kei and rock bands have been inspired by them. This includes D’espairsRay who, in 2009 released FINAL CALL, which was produced by Kishi; and girugamesh, whose latest album, NOW is all rap and turn-tabled-out.

On top of the unique music, their image is incredible. However, it’s sort of like, what’s with the getup? What’s in a name? The name abingdon boys school comes from the name of the school in Abingdon-On-Thames, England. The story goes that Nishikawa, after some research, chose the initials a.b.s, partly because he likes sports cars and the initials corresponded to automatic-breaking-system, and partly because when spoken with a Japanese accent, the pronunciation (ee bii essu) is very similar to that of the word “Ebisu”, which is the name of the town where the band was founded.

Abingdon School

However, after some further research, they discovered the school, which is renowned for being the birthplace of famous British rock band Radiohead.  Since the four members [of a.b.s] would all be in the same year at school, they agreed that it would be a fun image to all be school boys together once again. Therefore the image is in keeping with this ideal– the members dress in private-school uniforms (with an a.b.s badge, of course), and one would be hard-pressed to find any one of them devoid of some good old tartan.

As mentioned earlier, the band is only 5 years old. Started in 2005, a.b.s runs alongside T.M.Revolution’s solo projects, to which Nishikawa, Shibasaki, SUNAO, and occassionally even IKUO devote time both in composition and touring aspects. So in all that time, what were the boys up to? Good question, really. It wasn’t until 2009 really that a.b.s took on a full-time project quality from the members. From ’05-’08 they had only released one full-length album and 4 singles, however, ’09 saw the release of 4 more singles, their participation in the major V-Rock Festival in Tokyo, and an intl. debut with their hit European tour. January ’10 saw the release of their new album, Abingdon Road, in March a DVD of music clips and documentary footage from the Europe tour, and a nationwide Japan tour.

As well as having done the OP song for the ultra-popular anime series D Gray Man, many of a.b.s’ singles have been used in shows and anime. This has been credited to a personal love of anime and video games by Nishikawa. Nishikawa claims that he’ll never make a song for a series he doesn’t like, but if he likes it, then the game is on. But it doesn’t stop at anime. a.b.s has been invited to work on several memorial albums– Nishikawa belted out stay away for fictional punk rockers THE BLACK STONES on the Love for Nana ~Only 1 Tribute~ album; their cover of Luna Sea’s Sweetest Coma Again was a hit on Luna Sea~ Memorial Album, and their cover of Buck-Tick’s DRESS absolutely stole the BT cover album: Parade~ Respective Tracks of Buck-Tick.

Check out the original:

a.b.s‘ discography may be relatively small, but it is growing as the band is expanding and growing themselves. Each song is a powerful tornado of musical experience that is, quite frankly, unlike anything else in the music scene today. Their utterly unique sound and image set them apart from the mainstream influx of 20-something cutie-boys, and their devotion to amazing music elevate them among the ranks of long-standing classic favorites. Do yourself a favor and pick up their hot-off-the-press album Abingdon Road, released January 27th ’10.

Class dismissed.

Official Website

Official Fan-club (A.B.S.F.C) [Japan only]

Further reading

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Simply… B’z

B’z was born in the height of the Japanese rock boom, in the early eighties. Although B’z followed on the heels of big-wig (literally) bands such as Buck-Tick (1984-present), and X-Japan (1982-1997), these bands were veering off into the creation and development of the scene we know of as Visual Kei. B’z was founded by guitarist Matsumoto Tak and vocalist Inaba Koshi in an effort to create something different from what was filling the music scene. Where many bands were using heavy electronica in their music and big band status, Matsumoto and Inaba felt that there were two things that comprised the soul of rock music, and these could not be replaced or imitated: Guitar and the human voice.

Kudos to them. Matsumoto, already an established soloist, began doing tryouts for vocalists shortly after the release of what would be his last solo album (at the time), Thousand Wave. Enter Inaba Koshi, then an aspiring amateur taking voice lessons and preparing to become a math teacher. Although I can’t vouch for the truth of this information, apparently Inaba silenced his dream of teaching when he discovered he would have had to cut his hair.
Inaba tried out, and the two immediately bonded and agreed to start a duo, which became B’z. Kind of a funny beginning for the top selling, most renowned, internationally famous band in Japan ever.

Matsumoto and Inaba in the early days...sensei's in rock

Where Visual Kei was digging its roots deep in the music scene, it seems only a few musicians were exploring pop and classic rock (think Yutaka Ozaki of great national fame)– at least only a few were doing it with any lasting style (Japan was about as cool as anywhere else in the 80s, perhaps even slightly more awkward because of its intense cultural transitions that had taken place, so it’s pretty amazing that we’re still listening to their 80s, 90s and Today so to speak). B’z came in, with Matsumoto’s monstrous guitars and Inaba’s high, strong vocals and powerful wails, and paved the way for Japanese classic rock and pop as we know it.

On September 21st, 1988, B’z debuted with the album B’z and the single Dakara Sono Te o Hanashite.
They debuted in a time where most Japanese bands believed it was necessary to perform live immediately after releasing an album. However, B’z had figured out their game plan, and did not perform immediately after the release of B’z. Instead they waited it out, making more music, refining their style and quality, and creating enough material that they could perform, and perform well, for at least 90 minutes.
This campaign resulted in another full-length album: OFF THE LOCK, released May 21st, 1989. After the release of LOCK, they decided to tour. Thus began LIVE-GYM, kicking off in Nagoya, infecting Osaka,and looping back up to Tokyo to completely overwhelm Eastern Japan with the need to listen to B’z.You have to remember that, at this time, awkward shoulder-pads were popular.

I could go on for page after page listing their chronology, year to year, month to month. But I won’t. Now that you have an idea of how they came to be, let’s address who they are and where they stand in the music scene.

At the beginning, B’z was very contemporary in sound, relative to their musical peers such as T-Bolan. However, they quickly started to discover their own influences and inspiration, and their music took form in a way that hasn’t been seen much elsewhere in Jrock. B’z is a classic western-style rock band. Tak Matsumoto has refined the long-haired, leather-jacketed, Levi-jeans of the a-typical American rocker to that point that even the western rockers look less “rock-star” than Matsumoto.

And it doesn’t stop at face-value. B’z definitely pulls their musical influence from Western rock. All the great bands from way back when, the ones that were melodic and beautiful, while paving the way for American rock (which no longer holds any claim to these adjectives). Perhaps part of their appeal to the Japanese is their Japanese-ness paired with their Western influences. Often when I have my playlist on shuffle and a B’z song comes on, I sit for the first 30 seconds trying to figure out which Western (albeit cool) music somehow infiltrated my impressive defenses, and then Inaba starts singing, and all order returns to the world.

B'z--off the 2007 album, ACTION

B'z-- ACTION album cover '07

Their music is a huge slew of whatever they so happen to want to play, mostly sticking to rock and pop, without ever leaning over to the heavy side too much. Their music is usually upbeat and fun, with some upbeat danceable stuff (Bad Communication getting a good poke here), a little orchestral-rock (Love Phantom), and with their ’07 release Action, some fantastic straight-up rock.
I have to say, considering what they’ve done for the Japanese rock scene and Japanese music fame in general, it really gives me a bad itch whenever someone presenting Jrock doesn’t even give them mention.

Despite having such an intensely strong run as B’z, both the honorable gentlemen have made time for solo endeavors. Matsumoto has worked with a wide range of different artists from around the world, both on their projects and his own. Meanwhile, Inaba embarked on his own solo work, utilizing skills not only in singing and composition, but also in a variety of instruments including guitar. As a solo artist, Inaba released 3 singles, 3 albums, and collaborated with several western artists on their projects. Matsumoto has released 11 albums and 4 singles under his name.

To throw a bit of trivia at you: Steve Vai personally invited B’z to put their hand-prints in Hollywood’s RockWall–the first artists from Asia to do so. Their discography includes 41 consecutive #1 singles, 23 #1 albums, and they have sold more than 77 million records in Japan ALONE!

The gents are as classy as ever in '09

The guys are still going as strong as ever. In 2009 they released two singles (Ichibu to Zenbu/DIVE, and My Loney Town), and the full-length album MAGIC. In early ’10 they hit up Japan with an impressive arena tour around major cities. And in Summer ’10 they will split up briefly to work on solo projects, Inaba with a solo tour and Matsumoto to tour Japan with American jazz guitarist Larry Carlton, they will release an album in June 2010, entitled Take Your Pick.

Official Website (English, Japanese)

House of Strings Official Website [Matsumoto’s solo project] (Japanese)