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)

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Hitting the First Pain-Barrier of ’10…?

Today we are officially two weeks into the new year! How are everyone’s resolutions holding out?

Although I decided not to make “resolutions” this year, because I never seem to remember them past the first two days of the new year, I did make some decisions as to what was going to be different this year. I think I’ve been holding to them well so far…

Remember, it has been scientifically proven that it takes about 30 days for the human brain to fully reprogram itself, so if you started on the first, you’re probably hitting the major pain-barrier right now…I know I am! The other day I had my first moment of doubt, and thought I would sleep in a little. But I didn’t give in! I’ve been busy with some different things than usual for a few days, but now I’m fully ready to jump back in.

mou sukoshi ganbatte kudasai! (Please just keep it up a little longer!).  Here’s some motivation, presented by abingdon boys school in honor of their long-awaiting 2nd album’s release date being nearly here!: Freedom

Gloomy news is hittin’ the headlines
So depressin’, not a surprise
Public places, there are no boundaries
Supervised like we can’t be wise
Who’s in control of the disaster?
Who’s in control of your life?

Now it’s the time to break out of your cell
Unchain yourself, don’t hesitate
Pressures like these, unnecessary
You are here to emancipate
Just let go of what is inside you
Show what you got! Go ahead and do your thing!

I’m goin’ out there
I’m gonna meet you there
Stand up and get a kick out of life!
I wanna be free yeah!

I’m gettin’ up there
I’m gonna take you there
It’s the beginning of the renaissance
In the name of freedom!

Bumpin’ into gossips, they bore me
No interest to join the game
Suffocatin’, so ordinary
Every moment is not the same
Just let go of what is inside you
Show what you got! Go ahead and be yourself!

I'm going out there...


Youshikibi~ Playing the Part (Final)

More than just a bunch of complicated ideals and aesthetics, however, Visual Kei is a social stage upon which we are all acting out a role we have created for ourselves. It’s not just looks; it’s about playing the part.

Traditional Kabuki makeup

Having discovered Jrock and Visual Kei after already having a basic understanding of traditional Japanese culture, my first thought when I started watching videos of Visual Kei bands was This is Kabuki, if it was put on by a French opera company played out by metal-bands. I was surprised to find that Tiffany Godoy, the author of the photo book Japanese Goth took the same approach. There is no doubt about it: Visual Kei is a descendant of the Noh and Kabuki theaters of traditional Japan. Only instead of acting out a play with a script, the bands are acting out scenes and characters with their costumes, personalities, and music.

Versailles~ Philharmonic Quintet (3rd Gen.)

Each member is using costume, makeup, and personality (whether natural or affected) to play out a particular role, within the band as well as within the music itself. This is perfected in the affected personas of idols such as GACKT (ex-Malice Mizer), who says that he is a Vampire born in the 16th century, and Mana (Moi dix Mois, ex-Malice Mizer) who dresses entirely in Gothic Lolita and refuses to speak, claiming that the only modes of expression he needs are that of his music.

Gackt, Mizerable era (1999)

This “role playing” carries over into the topic covered in the “Manpires” post, where many of the vocalists and frontmen for Visual Kei bands assume a role of a protagonist or hero figure. This “hero” is often depicted as being the ideal man, repeat: like a character out of a historical romance novel. This role-playing and literal acting of the part selected, is part of what creates the allure and attraction around these rockers. They are like a palette onto which you can project whatever ideals you have, and your dreams will never be crushed, nor fulfilled.

It Started on January 12th 2008….

And nobody TOLD ME???

That’s right, boys and girls… That’d be me– Gacktpause, oh one who lives under the rock. That aside, what’s important right now is that I found out sooner or later.

That’s right– it started on January 12th, 2008: Quintillion Quiz.

qq-4038-mi

myco

myco

Quintillion Quiz being the hard-rock project of Masanori Mine on gt.(worked briefly with Girl U Need alongside ChaChamaru of Gacktjob), myco on vo.(formerly of Changin’ My Life), and Ju-Ken (of Gacktjob fame) on the holy bass. What stands out in this lineup, is that Ju-Ken, the great session-musician and, in his own words, ‘the bassist who wanders endlessly’ has actually agreed to settle down enough to be considered an official band-member.

So how is it? It’s freakin’ incredible is how it is! I mean, come on! How can you honestly go wrong with that lineup? (yeah but who cares who’s in it, what’s the sound like?) The music is really strong and refreshing, with a sleek production quality. Most importantly, really– myco’s vocals are actually new and different sounding. She foregos the typical candy-pop sound for bold, powerful lady vocals that complement perfectly the ready-set-go hard-rock music.

You can hear samples of Killer Rouge and Midnight Express QQQ on their website. Look forward to the release of their singles (according to the website, the singles are under status of ‘now printing’.) And yup– they’ve already performed live. Pictures can be seen in their gallery.

Quintillion Quiz official website (Japanese)


When the video starts, myco says “We are QQ, be kind to us, okay?” and at the end of the video she says, “next is the album!”

QUINTILLION_QUIZ

Get Honey-Sweet this Summer with B’z

If you’re sitting around feeling like summer is already halfway over, probably the best advice anyone could give you right now would be to suggest you kick off some fresh summer-ready energy with Japan’s favorite feel-good rockers— scratch that, Japan’s favorite rockers. Period. B’Z.

Loose

Did you want to spend July hanging out with a cool band in a recording studio, ideally in some poorly air-conditioned recording studio on the 7th floor of some Tokyo high-rise? If you’re like me, and that was your unfulfilled summer plan, I have just the thing for you. Let’s head back to the hive and let loose with a 90’s release you may be overlooking amidst this deluge of summer new releases: B’z’s LOOSE.

LOOSE, what should be a Japanese national treasure, opens with spirit loose, probably the roughest, rawest, most transportational intro to an album I’ve ever heard. Raw guitar shredding, and Inaba Kohshi’s high-pitched wailing and revved up waaaaaaaaaaa OOOHs have you in that hot Tokyo recording studio within the first ten seconds. It’s probably the closest you and I will ever get to chilling with B’z, but hey, it’s not so bad this way.

LOOSE is full of the B’z classic sound. On first impression it seems almost like Western rock at its finest– and as interpreted by two Japanese. Only Western music could never sound this good. Inaba’s unrivaled vocals and Matsumoto Tak’s unbelievable rocking-out, doused with a lighter-fluid of vocal melody and dry tinder of instrumental foundations give us a bonfire that has raged already for over twenty years– and is going strong.

Something about B’z is that their music is all…well, forgive the pun, but loose. At the end of a song, you will often find yourself hitting Repeat, thinking, ‘what did I just hear?’ Often a straight-forward melody can be hard to put your finger on. The music and melodies both are surprising, always fresh, and unpredictable.  Sometimes you feel like Matsumoto just started jamming and Inaba came up with a melody on the spot, they recorded, and the album sold millions. Their sound can be shockingly organic, and as a result, sucks you in– never to return. Their rough-around-the-edges attitude and astoundingly mixed-genre rock’n’roll is a world of aural delight that satisfies on all levels.

Bz

spirit loose lets us test the water a little bit, settling us into a sense of camaraderie with our musical hosts. By the second track, ザ ルーズ (The Loose), we’ve been hooked, pulled into the undertow of the album, unprepared for its oceanic swells that ebb with powerful, melodic ねがい (“BUZZ!!” style) [Wish “BUZZ!!” style] and flow with crescendo into BAD COMMUNICATION. Along with its upbeat and sometimes borderline-heavy rock tracks, LOOSE is ripe with that soulful, back-and-forth-swaying melancholy and jazzy bass that has us meandering along the sunset beach, toes sinking into the mushy cool sand (消えない虹). However, far from letting us get too sentimental, we cruise on into love me, I love you which lifts your mood unstoppably and unbelievably high…

We’d be here all night if I covered the euphoric coolness of the remaining tracks. With a beat count at 14 tracks, it sounds like a tall-order to have every single song be so packed with energy and sheer awesomeness that you would actually consider every last one a standing favorite– but that’s precisely what B’z delivers with LOOSE. From the intro to the ending, they pack in such a continuous stream of hits, each as full of B’z glory as the next, that all we can do when the album closes, is start it all over again.

Video: Love Phantom, 8th track on LOOSE

Inaba Kohshi (L), Matsumoto Tak (R)

Inaba Kohshi (L), Matsumoto Tak (R)

Learn more about B’z (Japanese)

Mana Speaks

I’ve been watching a lot of VERY early Malice Mizer videos. I really respect MM’s solidity of appearance and attitude. They decided who they wanted to be, and didn’t sway from that for anyone.

Something that I find really entertaining when watching MM interviews is that Mana-sama won’t speak. He has said –or signed, or however he went about articulating it– that his music is his voice, so he has no need to express himself through speaking. Therefore whenever the band goes to an interview, Mana-sama either answers a question with a gesture that’s either obviously a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or if it’s obscure then a band member will try and translate it. If the answer is elaborate (har har, as if) then Mana-sama will whisper the reply to one of the band-members and they will answer for him.

I watched a hilarious video of them doing a pre-performance television appearance. The first question all of the girls ask is “shaberenai??” (he won’t talk?) and Gackt, the spokesman, says “un, shaberenai.” (That’s right, he doesn’t talk.) The girl asked if Mana-sama did sign, and Gackt said that he did, and either Gackt or Kozi translated it. The girl tested by asking Mana-sama two questions. Gackt guessed the first one, and then had to laugh at the second and say, “chotto…wakarenai kedo.” (actually…I don’t really know what he said.)

The video is of a very, very early MM appearance on Hotwave in ’96 where Mana-sama slips and accidentally introduces himself! Very funny– he catches himself and refuses to answer through the rest of the interview. :)