MONKEY MAJIK - Sora wa maru de

review - 27.05.2008 22:00

A review of MONKEY MAJIK's summer release.

Musically speaking, summer is often an empty season made of hits already heard in the past, artist compilations and even techno-trance songs for club. But in the middle of all this is Sora wa maru de, a subtle mix of pop and hip-hop. MONKEY MAJIK's fourth release is fresh and worth listening to.

The sound of the band has been all about mixing several inspirations from the beginning. Indeed, Maynard Plant, a Canadian who came to Japan as an English teacher, formed the band with drummer Takuya "tax" Kikuchi. Later, his little brother Blaze and then bass player DICK joined, thus creating a cosmopolitan band. It is a rare thing in Japan where foreigners usually have some difficulties making a breakthrough. Songwriters Maynard and Blaze draw their influences from famous world renown pop stars and add a perfect amount of acoustic and Japanese flavor. But the real strength of the band is the cleverly embedded hip-hop in their material.

The perfect example is the brilliant SNOW IN DECEMBER. With an omnipresent bass guitar, resting keyboard and background guitars added to alternating singing and rapping, the song is vibrant.

Even if we are stunned by the capacity of the band to produce such brilliant songs, we cannot deny that the main explanation for their success is their knowledge and luck. Since the band has joined Avex, MONKEY MAJIK has gotten to do the ending for the anime "Saiyuki", something that helped them garner recognition. Being able to work with m-flo and SEAMO didn't hurt either.

Picture Perfect is done with m-flo, though it sounds more like a B-side track than a song worth being on the album. Sotsugyou Soshite Mirai e features Maynard’s rap lyrics mixed with the instantly recognizable sound of SEAMO. It is the flagship song of the album which deserves its place on the Oricon Charts. Then, with little time to breathe, it’s time for a more traditional Japanese sounding song featuring the shamisen heroes: the Yoshida Brothers. The Japanese tunes and the voice of the two brothers fit perfectly together and give birth to one of the most beautiful songs of the album.

Of course, only mentioning these songs would be a mistake because you would miss the great Futari, in which you can feel the inspiration from Coldplay, and the funky PRETTY PEOPLE and the touching I MISS YOU. Maynard's and Blaze’s voices turn out soulfully, and the most beautiful song of the release is also one of saddest songs by the band. The album ends with a seventies-inspired Around The World, which Blaze fills with a high-pitched voice styled like the Bee Gees, and the beautiful Gandhara, a pop rock song straight from India.

MONKEY MAJIK is an amazing band. Culminating from a clever mix between Asia and the Western world, pop and hip-hop, the music they create is absolutely unique. Sora wa maru de is an excellent album with plenty of originality, and could be the perfect gateway into the world of J-music.
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