Just in Case giru Sets a Precedent…

It would seem that what started out as a few b-average, slightly disappointing releases has developed into a straight-up crisis in the grumpy wonderland of Visual Kei. Disappointment begins to develop into suspicion, which becomes paranoia, which becomes pressing your headphones into your ears as hard as you can, head cocked slightly to the side, thinking to yourself, I know they’re about to use that crappy synth….wait for it…wait for it… You don’t have to worry until you start feeling a glowing sense of self-satisfaction whenever such neurotic obsessions are fed.

However, dark times such as these happen, and we are left un-fulfilled by the big-name boys for whom the pressure is apparently becoming too much to deal with, to the point that they would rather fail repeatedly than regroup, re-assess, and be reborn in a tide of awesomeness and singles gushing with solid rock, oozing masterful metal, and practically vomiting creativity and inventiveness that makes us want to die, our fingers mashing the repeat button.

In these dark ages, it becomes apparent that our own creativity and inventiveness has a need to come out. If Visual Kei record labels refuse to dish up the goods straight, it’s time to roll up your sleeves, find your best set of headphones, crank up the volume, and you guessed it– branch out a little.

In some ways I actually find it really fun when it starts getting to this point. Just sort of knowing who you like and what you’ll buy, what you’ll listen to, the same artists on your iPod all the time, even if the music stays awesome, you have to admit it’s sort of boring. If there’s more amazing music to be discovered, there’s no point in thinking what you have is enough.

I know that originally I said that I was going to be returning to all of my old CDs and re-listening, re-appraising, and possibly reviewing; but actually I’ve been much more drawn to discovering new stuff than trying to get it going with my old collection once more. It seems like finding new artists is such a no-brainer remedy for this predicament to begin with. Maybe once you stop obsessing over everything The GazettE releases, and listen to something different for a while, you’ll have craving to go back, and then it will be refreshed automatically. Who knows, let’s give it a try.

I still think girugamesh should apologize for COLOR.

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Zen Visual Kei

I apologize for not being very active lately. Truth be told, I haven’t really been feeling inspired by anything enough that I would want to write about it/review it. Most of what I’ve been listening to this past month has been pretty much the same old stuff. To put it in internet layman’s terms: meh.

So, recently, instead of listening to tons of music, I climbed into the mountains to hear the sound of the birds, and live off the land, miles and miles from the nearest tub of Gatsby Moving Rubber, without a perm in sight…And while I was in retreat…I wish I could say something like “I became enlightened”, but unfortunately my realization was somewhat lesser. I realized that I’ve been kind of snobbish, mostly because I’ve become paranoid in recent days about the creativity involved in the recent Visual Kei (and Jrock at large) releases. Some of them have felt more than a little mainstream, and of late, I’ve been waking up from gloomy nightmares, the word Commercialism…commercialism…commercialism… echoing around the room.

However, thankfully before my threats of KAT-TUN rebellion actually resulted in the buying of best-of albums and switching my banner out for one of Kamenashi Kazuya with his hair knotted up in a pink hair-tie, I started thinking more about where things stand, not in regards to the music industry and commercialistic totalitarianism,  but in regards to being a Visualist, and the listening to music aspect of our fandom. (I made the new banner just in case though!)

Just being annoying...

I like the Japanese word “Hajime” 「始め」 which means “beginning”. What I like about it is the kanji because it’s an extremely common and simple character, 始, but it has multiple parts, which, in my eyes, kind of represents the causes and conditions that need to be in place for anything to “begin”. In Japanese, the phrase meaning “Nice to meet you/How do you do” is “Hajimemashite” 「始めまして」 which means, literally, “it has begun”. I like this sentiment because, unlike “Nice to meet you”, it has a feeling of continuity and progressiveness.

In the same way that a personal relationship has a “it has begun” moment, which then develops and progresses into a “now we’re bros” plateau of mutual acknowledgement, media and music has the same patterning (in fact, most things do). In this case, you’re hearing a song for the first time– that’s the “hajimemashite”. Then, if you liked that song enough to look into it further, you will continue to explore that artist’s works (music, movies, media), to the point that maybe you will even travel to foreign countries to see them perform live (is the personal-relationship equivalent engagement? just kidding).

A while ago I read a book called Zen Guitar, which, you guessed it, applied the concepts of zen to playing guitar. The format of the “method” in this book was that the “student” was supposed to think of playing the guitar in the same way you would practice a martial art. The first thing the author tackled was the “black belt” issue. People wanted to know what it took to become a “black belt”. Sparing you the sentiments about how “one will forever be a student” and all that (he doesn’t spare you, but I will), I did like his comment on the topic. He said (paraphrased, as I can’t remember it verbatim) that “in the way of Zen Guitar there is only one belt: the white belt. The student must always return to white belt, every time. The only way that you can attain a “black belt” is by practicing to such an extent that your white belt becomes soiled, and steadily, blackens from use.”

Now, taking all of this philosophy into consideration and then looking at the actual experience of this developing relationship with the experience of listening to certain music, there is no definite point of fulfillment, is there? And yet we rush (it’s a side-effect of visualist dementia– don’t worry, we all have it) forward as if there’s some sort of finish line, or black belt. Essentially, there isn’t one.  At least I don’t think there is– not for me, anyway. And yet it’s interesting to see how, even with something as circular in nature as the appreciation of music, impatience develops. We obsess over when new material will be released– forgetting that there are still songs on old albums that we haven’t even listened to properly.

Essentially, it’s hard to avoid becoming jaded to something. At first and for a while it’s exciting, but if you do something enough, live it and breathe it enough, it becomes a habit – something done without thinking. Even if new material comes out, are we really as excited about it as we were right when we first started listening to The GazettE? I’m not trying to speak for anyone else, or state that this is just how it is. But for me, at least, Visual Kei and Jrock isn’t just a “phase” or something that I will lose interest in after a while. I would never “break up with it” as it were, just because I’ve hit a flat area. These are the points in ones relationship– with anyone and anything– where it actually starts to take awareness and conscious action to keep something alive, strong, and healthy. When you stop appreciating something properly, the jadedness creeps in, lethargy soon follows, and then who knows what’s next– gangrene, maybe. Or even worse, you find yourself actually checking out DBSK albums on eBay (don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying I’ve done that. Not yet, anyway.).

What I’m going to do about it, to both help refresh my appreciation of Visual Kei, and bring some new material to SG, is go back through all of my albums/singles/DVDs/whatever, many of which are dated from several years ago and haven’t been reviewed (I won’t do repeats) yet. I will do my best to listen to them with a “white belt” ear, and review them. It will definitely help me get back in touch with the older stuff, hopefully it will help newcomers to VK check out some classics, and maybe it will send some of you vets back to your dusty collections. Who knows, right?

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.