Letters from the JaME Editors #5
The fifth installment of the "Letters from the JaME Editors" comes from Claire.
I first got into Japanese music about six years ago when I started watching anime, with my all-time favourite series being "One Piece". To begin with, I enjoyed listening to songs from the series I watched, including theme songs and image songs, but while searching for this music I found several names that kept cropping up, such as GACKT, MIYAVI, LUNA SEA and L’Arc~en~Ciel, so I began to look into these artists. This started my initial passion for visual kei, with a firm favourite being Alice Nine, though I enjoyed a wide range of styles from DIR EN GREY to An Cafe.
While visual kei comprised a large section of the music I listened to I have since moved on from this, while still maintaining a nostalgic enjoyment of particular bands. I feel in many ways that I have grown out of visual kei, and that it has perhaps not evolved in any obvious way over the last five or six years, as many recent visual kei bands seem to be almost indistinguishable both in sound and appearance. For a music scene which is so heavily influenced by visual aspects, it seems strange for bands to adopt such a similar styles.
With this being said, it is clear that visual kei is a very popular genre outside of Japan, with surprising amounts of visual indie bands playing overseas, especially in Europe. Germany in particular seems to be a place where music of almost any genre is emphatically accepted, with European tours of just about any artist invariably including multiple German dates. This must be a great feeling for some of the smaller bands who have yet to find great success in their homeland to be accepted overseas. I think that the popularity of visual kei in the west is due to the fact that the dedicated styling is so unlike that of American and European bands, as well as the numerous links with anime through both costume and music.
Although there are some visual kei bands that I still keep up with, as well as retaining a fondness for their older songs, I find myself less inclined to keep up with new releases and new bands within the visual scene. Having, for the most part, moved on from visual kei, I enjoy a wide variety of Japanese music. For a long time I have been a big fan of BUMP OF CHICKEN, having first of all heard the beautiful Namida no furusato, which still remains one of my all-time favourite songs. Their music style is quite folksy, with a lot of acoustic guitar and quite chilled-out songs, though they know how to turn up the rock when it’s needed. I would especially recommend their debut album FLAME VEIN, originally released in 1999 and re-released with an extra track in 2004, as it is full of great songs and shows a good range of their musical style.
Another long-standing band whose music has remained a firm favourite of mine is Mr.Children. They are one of those bands whose name you have probably heard, though perhaps you have not listened to their music. Having come across their name many times, I finally decided to look into them a few years ago and was really impressed by what I heard. While some of their songs can be rather slow and perhaps a little too toned down, their albums are also full of great upbeat songs, as well as more atmospheric tracks which are often very beautiful and unique. Their 1999 album DISCOVERY contains a great range of musical styles, including lively rock songs like #2601, as well as beautiful and melodic songs such as I'll be. They are a talented and diverse band with a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy.
One band that I am particularly into at the moment is UNISON SQUARE GARDEN, who, despite being young and only consisting of three members, manage to create a really impressive sound. Their debut self-titled album is one that I can listen to on repeat for days at a time – and frequently do. Their songs are playful and upbeat with a strong rock edge and Saito Kosuke’s unusual voice really makes every song a special listen. Their recent album POPULUS POPULUS, released this summer, has been at the top of my playlist of late, as it is full of catchy songs which put you in a brilliant mood as soon as you hear them. A particular highlight of the album is the delightful Kimi no moto e, which is bound to get stuck in your head.
While my tastes have evolved to include diverse music from Dio –distraught overlord to Arashi, it is clear that music is a very important part in our lives. Being a part of JaME I am proud to be able to help to bring more music into people’s lives and to experience more myself from the wide variety of music that Japan has to offer, and I hope that if you haven't already, you will look into some of these bands.
So those are some of my all-time favourite albums, but we want to know, what are some albums you just can’t stop listening to?