Always expect the unexpected. Sound advice for anything involving BiSH mastermind Junosuke Watanabe.
It was certainly a surprise when the newest and youngest BiSH member AYUNi D popped up with a mini-album, zoozoosea, in 2018. The accompanying music video for lead track Jiritsu Shinkei Shucchou Chuu kept the surprises coming.
Aside from the fact that AYUNi D had her own side project going, the video goes on to reveal the band’s guitarist is Hisako Tabuchi, of the hugely influential 90s grunge band NUMBER GIRL, and finally AYUNi D is handed a bass
guitar that she plays with an easy rock star nonchalance.
While BiSH fans were going “Wait! What? AYUNi D is in a band?! – with Hisako Tabuchi?! – and she plays bass?!”, some sections of the fandom were getting bent out of
shape that zoozoosea was released on the same day as CENT CHiHiRO CHiTTii and AINA THE END’s election solo double A-side single, Youji to
Tsuki no Hime / Kienaide – feeling that the new girl was stealing their limelight. But that’s Watanabe and his WACK production company all over. He’s constantly looking to mess with people’s expectations. In the end, fans bought both records
by the boatload, shooting them into the Oricon top ten, so no harm done.
It turns out that zoozoosea was no one-off WACK guerrilla marketing exercise either. Barely a year later, PEDRO returned with a full album, THUMB SUCKER.
Having said that, this record still has WACK’s fingerprints all over it, as does the off-the-wall pre-release promotional campaign, which saw a version of the album issued as thirteen individual 100 yen singles and plastic severed thumbs dished out as
gifts. Most of the music is written by Kenta Matsukuma, the producer/composer behind BiSH, while their production company SCRAMBLES takes care of the arrangements.
Watanabe even chips in to help with the lyrics on NIGHT NIGHT under his JxSxK songwriting moniker.
For all that, AYUNi D is not just the pretty face fronting all of this. She’s written most of the lyrics and it looks like she might have a gift for it, as many of the songs expose some raw and painful emotions. Starting from scratch,
she’s turned herself into a competent bass player in less than a year and she gets the bass credit for Nekoze Kyousei-chuu,
SKYFISH GIRL and EDGE OF NINETEEN. Presumably time is money in the recording studio, and getting a rookie musician to hit thirteen tracks perfectly is a big ask.
PEDRO put out a big sound for a three-piece act, with some supplementary guitar added, and drummer Shota Mohri’s busy, all action attack propels everything along at a rapid clip. The understandably straightforward bass lines are complemented
by Hisato Tabuchi’s sharp guitar work. There’s no denying AYUNi D has an idol voice, that high-pitched, slightly nasal tone that’s ubiquitous in Japanese pop music. The production has dirtied up her vocals to fit the indie rock style and
she gives it plenty of attitude. She snarls and sneers her way through SKYFISH
GIRL. Nobody’s really buying her
John Lydon act though – it only serves to make her all the more adorable. She takes it a step further with EDGE OF
NINETEEN, a Sonic Youth blast of discordant grunge, delivering a defiantly tuneless vocal over the top of it.
THUMB SUCKER is a fun collection of songs, varied enough to keep your attention but still managing to maintain a consistent sound. From the punky thrash of STUPID
HERO to the upbeat pop rock of NOSTALGIC NOSTRADAMUS through to the dark and difficult EDGE OF NINETEEN, there are plenty of different flavours to enjoy here. It even heads back to idol territory with the album’s closer,
Love to Iu Song, a cheery rock ’n’ roll number with the vocals layered over and over to summon an AKB48-sized platoon of AYUNi Ds for the choruses.
Perhaps the true genius of Junosuke Watanabe is how he takes oddballs,
misfits and weirdos and turns them into stars. He spotted something in AYUNi D, an introverted petrol station attendant who took a chance to break out of her boring life in Hokkaido, even though she made a mess of her audition. As a member of BiSH she has always seemed an oddly diffident sort of idol, but with PEDRO it looks like she’s found her happy place.