Having been lucky enough to attend his pre-re-debut US tour last summer, I was able to get a brief taste of what was to come, from the stage. Now, several months gone by, as I writhe slowly but steadily into the wallowing pit of half-life that is devoid of live shows and crisp, thrilling studio releases, this jaded mind had almost totally forgotten what it was like to be utterly blown. Fortunately for me, the shattering of concepts of the mundane due to brain damage caused by the revelation of a perfect rock’n’roll album exploding in one’s ear-canals and making one sick with awesomeness was in my future.
It took a few months, and the genius idea of ordering something already released with something not yet released, before I finally found that sacred, green-paper-filled brown box waiting in my mailbox, fresh from Japan. In it, enthroned in the tender folds of bubble-wrap and the crisp lines of album obis, was the long-awaited, characteristically chaotically bookleted newest album from superstar and (as of recently) father of 2 “little monsters”: WHAT’S MY NAME.
01. WHAT’S MY NAME?
04. CHILLIN’ CHILLIN’ MONEY BLUES
05. I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, AND I HATE YOU.
11. SUPER HERO (album ver.)
12.すてきなみらい (Suteki na Mirai)
13. FUTURISTIC LOVE
14. SURVIVE (Album ver.)
15. SURVIVE (Acoustic Instrumental ver.)
The 15 track collection, MIYAVI’s first full-length album since ‘08’s This iz the Japanese Kabuki Rock, announced the re-debut of Japan’s true guitar hero and ex-PSC prodigy. A stark contrast to its preceding [original] album, WHAT’S MY NAME strips MIYAVI completely of the over-mixed kabuki rock symphony that filled an entire stage and brings him back to the bare bones, back to the core: just guitar, vocals, drums, and keyboards. No fluff, no extra stuff. Just pure, undiluted MIYAVI backed by the artists that supported him on his tour. WHAT’S MY NAME is it– MIYAVI on the rocks, straight up. And, although the releases sandwiched between WHAT’S MY NAME and GOKUSO MIYAVI-UTA were excellent in their own right, the 15 tracks that unfold on his redebut release made me realize that MIYAVI on the rocks is all you need.
The album is about as close to perfectly produced as an album can get. The right length, the perfect amount of songs, and generally flawless in its layout and contextual mapping. Solid blues, rock’n’roll, hardcore, heavy metal, ballad, funk, fingerstyle, slap, and bass solos spring from the solo guitar, cycling through the tracks in a full circle of astounding compositional magic and rock miracles.
The sound quality is extremely tight and close, creating a warm, intimate sensation that, with the right stereo system, could practically put you right back in the livehouse. MIYAVI’s playing is unbelievably refreshing and incredibly smokin’, blending styles with panache, blowing any preformed projections of what Jrock or rock’n’roll at large ought to be right out of the water. While listening to the progression of the songs, it’s impossible to be anywhere but right there in the album. This is, in my mind, the way an album should be.
The album develops in several segments that I’ve psychologically isolated into thirds. The first third opens the album in, although fresh, a somewhat traditional way. All of the songs in this segment are moderately upbeat, lively, and funky. WHAT’S MY NAME and Chillin’ Chillin’ Money Blues are both totally jammin’, while I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, AND I HATE YOU. closes the first third with its grainy, noise-filtered guitar work and more standard vocals. The guitar is excellent in this track, and the vocals are, although not particularly innovative or striking, simple, sweet, and touching.
The next segment opens with the bittersweet melancholy of Moon, and the cosmic middle of the album. Emotionally, all of the album’s tension is built in this segment, playing by the rules of plot-development and the three-act system to satisfy primal psychological patterning. The brightness of the first segment fades away, like a stage guest who, although he was cracking jokes and showing off a moment ago, is now sitting quietly off to the side, listening reverently.
Moon, with its staggered chords, staccato rhythms and ethereal, otherworldly MIYAVI vocals at their best lays out a 4 minute long interlude. The even progress of the piece, without climax or any particular sense of development, ebbs and flows with the undulant motion of wavelets lapping the shore, giving it the same sense of an intro piece. Which, in a way, it is. The tide finally goes out, leaving us high and dry in the emotional core of the album.
Silence, unsatisfying silence, closes Moon and opens GRAVITY. Deep bass chords and tinny overtones of finger picking reverberate, opening for airy, raw vocals. A play of sparsity and overwhelming heaviness, emptiness and form, GRAVITY is, in my opinion, the most striking, affecting song of the entire collection (and possibly the year?). The first 2 minutes of the track progress evenly, picking up tempo slightly, the chords becoming more dense and collected, winding, winding, winding, MIYAVI lending more wispy desperation to the vocals, leading you deeper and deeper in, until finally a single arpeggiated chord is strum, a pause, and…and I feel like explaining the further development of the song is similar to telling you what I’m giving you for Christmas. To do so would deprive you of a magical experience.
Although I like to think I listen to a helluva lot of damn amazing music, there are still not that many songs that, if they were a physical manifestation, would be able to just stick their hand right in your chest, rip your still-pumping heart out, hold it in front of your eyes and, holding open your jaw, feed it to you bite by bite.
That about sums up GRAVITY. Get your best pair of over-ear stereo headphones, go somewhere comfortable, turn off the lights, and listen to it as loud as your ears can take it- it’s a religious experience. At about 2:20 in, I got goosebumps
and, to be perfectly frank, kind of freaked out. That’s when I realized that GRAVITY is one of those songs. The kind that invoke such an intense emotional reaction in you that you become, quickly, too scared to listen to them (I have a list going).
Following GRAVITY, Universe eases us back into real life smoothly. Although the feel is consistently heavy, the hollow emotional quality has morphed from heart-string-plucking to more rallying and strength-inducing. Universe continues to build the tension with its passionate lyrics, hallowed vocals, and heathy guitar. This cosmic pocket of WHAT’S MY NAME was easily my favorite segment of the album.
Unbreakable brings us into the third and final segment of the album, easing us out of the climactic tension of the universal middle peak. Dark and metal-ish, Unbreakable adds yet another dimension to the endless faces of WHAT’S MY NAME, showing that metal doesn’t need a full band, just an acoustic-electric and a beyond-sick growl. The chord progression is satisfyingly classic to hard-rock/metal in some way, with the high pitched howling slightly reminiscent of Western metal from twenty years ago. However, he really has the miyavi touch, where every musical inspiration he touches instantly turns to gold.
Funky Shelter ties the entire middle back to the beginning, creating contextual congruency while staying consistent with how the album has developed into a darker, moodier, more reflective feel. The rhymey, bluesy English lyrics and empowering messages about true freedom are catchy, and the fulfilling progression of the piece make it another of my favorite tracks.
Shelter leads into Super Hero, with which I believe we’re all pretty familiar at this point. Another terrific MIYAVI classic, I was glad to see he remastered it for the album. Its sweetness and sense of reverent melancholy make it fit in perfectly with the universe-y middle tracks, and its funky beat breaks and hollering create congruency with the heavier tracks. Super Hero works comfortably into Suteki na mirai (beautiful future), one of those simple, sweet, happy ballads that M is known for, the simplicity and sweetness of which, after the passion of MOON, GRAVITY, UNIVERSE, and Shelter, failed to leave any lasting impression on me. A nice way to wind down the album into the work of pure genius that is Futuristic Love and the mainstreamy, gritty Survive and its acoustic instrumental “remix” to close.