It’s Morphin’ Time

Yes, I know everyone who follows me on Twitter thinks that I’ve been being mischievous all day. After posting that faux KAT-TUN banner I just know we’re going to have trust issues. The purpose of this post is to inform you all, if you’re reading this, that all of my Tweets from this afternoon were entirely genuine. This is my new favorite song…

Ah ah ah, wait, wait, not yet….

A little backstory: I was killing time when I had no time to kill, watching a bunch of completely random VK videos that I found on this website through this PV bot that I follow on Twitter. (First of all, I was appalled at my own snobbishness. I think the sheer weight of my sighs stopped half the videos 53 seconds in…). This is how I used to discover most of the music I listen to, after all, so it’s not the uncommon to find me immersed in the endless oceans of Visual Kei PVs. In fact, sometimes I end up doing it without even thinking about it. Usually when I have something important to do, like composing important emails or writing business plans, or reorganizing my Netflix queue, I just sort of “come-to” on Youtube, clicking through suggested videos and playlists of the low-budget PVs of the lesser minions of avex’s ‘happy family’- well, if avex’s family is happy, then these guys must be the black sheep. The importance of how exactly I ended up there is always determined by the quality of the videos I discovered. On a scale of 1-5 (1 being the lowest) the quality of the discoveries made in the forty minutes I spent between writing non-diatonic chord progressions in the key of G and making dinner would have to be….wait for it. 5.

First of all, I thought it was from the ’80s. I had no idea PVs made in the ’90s were such poor quality… I mean, this is really…So yeah, anyway. The actual quality of the PV aside, it’s the content that we care about anyway. And I would watch this ten times in a row even if they took it back in time and remade it in 1948.

The artist is Chisato [千聖], the guitarist for ’90s VK band Penicillin. I’m not much of a Penicillin fan, and that’s my excuse for how I’ve been in the dark for so long. Initially, I heard Wake Up!, which was ok, but then scrolled down a little bit, and, like a young beggar on a cold night in the middle of the desert clinking two pieces of a jeweled scarab together, I parted the sands and there it was- the diamond in the rough. Chisato’s Cyber Rose.

Electronica that should only have existed in the 1980’s. Latin influences. The type of soaring melodies that laid the foundation for anime theme songs as a whole– the kind of melodies that, if we were Power Rangers, we would Mighty Morph and fight badly to-, and one of those voices that we stopped hearing after GACKT made the tenor go out of style in the year 2000.

The steady beat of the song could potentially be annoying after two minutes, but the chorus is killer, and I was totally digging the random (intentional?) Fur Elise clip that just sort of happens. The construction of the song is awesome, the licks are totally catchy, and the whole thing is just exuding raw character. The acoustic salsa-esque guitar solo steals the whole show…well, it might, were it not for the fact that Chisato is wearing a cowboy hat, which is so ’90s Jrock, isn’t it?

Cybernetic Axeman. I couldn't have put it better myself.

Thanks to Dreamsprite.

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Diamond in the Rough

Since it’s the new year now, I’ve been doing a lot of surfing around the web, following through on some leads and suggestions to discover new bands and listening material. I have mostly given up by now on the clicking-through-Youtube method of discovering bands, although I did run across some great ones that way (D, Alice Nine, MUCC). For one, lately I just haven’t had that much time on my hands, and two, at this point there are so many new Visual Kei groups popping out of holes in the ground, it can be like trying to find the right cologne– eventually they all start to smell the same, and it’s time for a coffee bean.

I have come to find that collaboration works and session-musicians are a great way to seek out new blood– after all, what better way to find music you like than following the “suggestions” of your favorite artists? If there is a better method– please let me know. In the meantime, I will carry on haughtily as if I have found the key to the future.

Today I would like to part the sands and brush off a diamond in the rough, so to speak, of Visual Kei. Admittedly, I had heard the name tossed around quite a bit, but sort of lethargically assumed it was just another indies clique passing through. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only is this band pretty vet, but they have quite a unique sound, and man…they can rock.

 

DuelJewel

 

DuelJewel was founded by guitarist Shun, drummer Val, and bassist Psy in January, 1997.

And may I just interrupt the broadcast long enough to say….damnit. I mean. What is with all of these bands being 8, 10, 12, 15 years old? Next someone is going to tell me that Shou from alice nine is 45 and married to an enka star (well, I took preemptive preventative measures against heart-attack by researching that one early on). Pretty impressive, in any case, to imagine that there’s a band that goes back even farther than D’espairsRay and Nightmare (which, despite looking like they’re all 17 and 18 years old, is a band that will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year).  And I thought GACKT was an old-timer…

In any case, ’10 will be marking the 13th anniversary of this band– but if you’re now imagining a bunch of crotchety old VKers in alice nine outfits, think again.

DuelJewel had a bit of a rough run the first few years. Their original (unidentified) vocalist left the band only a month after formation, and this was only the beginning. After the departure of vocalist “??”, DuelJewel recruited songbird Hayato to replace him, as well as secondary guitarist Takeshi. However, in summer of ’97, the lineup continued to change, including the departure of Hayato and bassist Psy. The band persevered, thankfully, and continued with their demo tape, Kaze~The Winding Garden~, which they distributed for free.

’99 brought more ups and downs, with the departure of Takeshi, the influx of new bassist Ka-non, and the return of vocalist Hayato. They released a second demo tape, which was also distributed for free, called Tsuki to Tawamure, a unique venture into Enka-rock-fusion with lilting melodic vocals and chill, rockin’ instrumentation. In December of ’99, Takeshi’s place was filled by session-guitarist Yuya, who, in 2000, became a permanent fixture in the band.

DuelJewel continued to build a repertoire and fan base, distributing a few more limited-run tapes, and debuting with their first one-man live. They spent the next few years building on the foundation they laid with their debut show, including signing with an indie label, and, once again altering their line-up by replacing Ka-non with bassist Natsuki. This would be the final lineup change, leaving us with the members we know today.

In 2002, DuelJewel gallivanted overseas to Texas (about as far as you can culturally get from Tokyo?), for an international debut at A-Kon in Dallas. Fortuitously located in about the hugest state a band could ask to perform in, A-Kon turned out to be a massive success, not only setting the foundation for a Western fanbase, but also increasing popularity back home in Japan. They released their mini album Noah, but due to a focus on promotional activity, this was the band’s only release at the time.

2003 came with adding four walls and windows to their American fanbase, with DuelJewel returning for not just one, but a whopping four anime cons. Including their previously-wooed A-Kon, DuelJewel cleaned up at Katsukon, Anime Central, and Anime Expo. Basically, they came, they saw, they conquered. At this point Japanese fans were probably complaining much the same as we do over here– when are they going to tour here?! Well, they were not disappointed. DuelJewel scheduled a nation-wide tour that not only wooed, but won, Japanese fans from coast to coast.

Their successes continued to develop, their efforts constantly expanding and increasing — along with their fan-base, popularity, and discography. They continued to please American fans with performances in 2006, and yet another return in 2007, this time for the almighty JRock Revolution music festival in L.A. along with other Visual Kei artists such as MUCC and D’espairsRay.

More recent activity includes guitarist Shun performing alongside GACKT for his latest single, December 2009’s Setsugekka~ The End of Silence, as well as appearing in the PV. An honor indeed.

But what’s done is done– and there’s really no point in crying over all of those Texan concerts none of us (or rather, some of us) were able to attend. Or even knew to attend, for that matter.

Getting on with it, aka actually starting to talk about the really important aspect of the band– their sound–(not my fault, they’re prolific. And they’ve had a rough life.).

DuelJewel has quite an individualized sound, blending heavy riffs, hardcore drumming, and the occasional thrash session with the boyish, almost gentle vocals of Hayato. Their works are quite varied, with the acousticky-strummed ballads (such as Promise) and more mellow pieces, as well as some strong rock (Trust). I tend to classify them as the more pop spectrum of Visual Kei, as much of their music is pretty soft. This works nicely for Hayato’s voice, and is pulled off well by all talented, versatile members. However, I don’t want to give the impression that these guys are some kind of Visual Kei Arashi. They can rock heavy when they want to, and their music can be quite dark. In my opinion, this versatility and ability to genre-hop while still staying true to their defining sound and quality is one of the greatest assets a band can work with in Visual Kei music, and DuelJewel does so with swag.

(Azure, one of DuelJewel‘s poppier pieces. They keep things fresh by playing whatever they want, without reference to what is expected of them.)

Hayato’s vocals are well-rounded and full bodied, but youthful, providing an interesting, super-melodic contrast to the heavy rock riffs these guys can pull out.

DuelJewel refuse to be confined to one shape or style, and as a result, have a portfolio of music to suit your every Visualist mood and taste. It is no wonder they have collaborated with artists such as GACKT– they have earned it over the years, and are continuing to go strong.

I look forward to exploring this band’s works further and becoming more familiar with them. In the meantime, I highly recommend them to anyone looking as a new classic to add to their repertoire, and remind seasoned fans to pull them out of the CD case and listen through. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.