Before I get into Christmas mode, I figured I would tackle a list I'd been meaning to do for some time. Be gone, Procrastination! I've always enjoyed a wide range of music, but it's only in the last several years that I began listening to a lot of artists from Japan. I've tried to pick artists from various genres, and while I can't expect everyone to like them as much as I do, I think each are entertaining in unique ways.
These are in no particular order. Brace yourself for my eclectic tastes and a barrage of links.
5. Monkey Majik (Pop-rock/Hybrid-Band)
Woah, hold on, Shane. You said this was a list of Japanese bands and suddenly I'm looking at some white dudes. You can't fool me.
No, no, I can't. Monkey Majik is made up of two Canadian brothers (Maynard and Blaise) who teamed up with two Japanese musicians (tax and DICK). Since 50% of the band -and lyrics - are Japanese, and I can't find their albums in Canada to save my life, they fit the list. Their songs are catchy and fun, and occasionally use traditional Japanese instruments; a good example of this would be the song 'Change'. Their first hit single was 'Fly' and several albums later the band is enjoying a growing popularity and have even become goodwill ambassadors of Japanese-Canadian relations.
FUN FACT! DICK became Monkey Majik's bassist after the other three members invited him to a bar and forced him to drink until he agreed to join. Sounds like something a Canadian would do.
4. M-Flo (J-Hip-hop/Space Rap?)
I'll never really understand why I love this group so much. You'd think not understanding the lyrics would hinder the experience of rap, but when it's mixed with utter madness, everything just works out. The group is made up of MC Verbal , DJ Taku, and ... some other person (usually a female singer). Every song I know by them is a collaboration with another artist or group, and that adds to the fun. Listening to M-Flo opens you up to a whole world of music; it's how I came to know Monkey Majik for example.
The group seems to have some strange obsession with space as can be seen in their album names: Planet Shining, Beat Space Nine, Astromantic, and Cosmicolor. Even the 'm' of M-Flo stands for 'meteorite'. Their lyrics are always scattered with English words that never seem to make a whole lot of sense. With crazy lyrics and an over-the-top style they are somehow the best/worst/best rappers I've ever heard. Just watch any, ANY of their videos to get a sampling of the absurd randomness they deliver. The first video I saw was this one (they certainly beat Lady Gaga to the punch for dancing in nonsensical outfits), but I recommend 'Dopamine' as their Madness-Opus.
EXTRA POINTS goes to the person who spots all the diamond encrusted items in 'Summer Time Love'. Jewel encrusted fishing rod? Yes, a thousand times, yes.
3. Tomoyasu Hotei (Rock/Samurai)
Everyone knows this guy, even if you think you don't. He's the reason this movie entrance was so memorable. And he composed the score for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The guy is an amazing guitarist with a solid 20 year career of rocking people's balls clean off. While not the most astounding singer, he writes some frigging amazing songs. I own two of his albums, my favorite being Doberman. All I can say is check this guy out. As a taste, watch this performance of 'Great Escape' from his "Rock the Future Tour".
SAMURAI? Well he did star in and write the music for a movie called Samurai Fiction. He also has an album called Electric Samurai. And he loves swords.
2. Fantastic Plastic Machine (Shibuya-kei/House)
FPM is not a band, but instead the stage name of Tomoyuki Tanaka. He's kind of like the Japanese Fat Boy Slim but in my opinion, much better. His music covers a lot of genres and styles, yet still feels connected. Many of his songs have jazz, bossa nova, and lounge music influences, especially in his album Luxury. The music is relaxing and soothing; not just your usual repetitive electronic buzzing. Take a listen to 'City Lights'
DID YOU KNOW? In the past Tanaka has been a fashion magazine editor, a radio show host, and part of a rock band called "Margarine Strikes Back". Is there anything he can't do?
1. Shugo Tokumaru (Indie Folk/ Pop)
I listened to Shugo's album Exit on a whim, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable albums I've ever heard. The effort that went into putting Exit together is quite astounding. Not only did he write all the songs, but this guy played about 50 different instruments on the album, including sampling sounds from household objects, and then recorded and mixed it all together on his laptop. You want to talk about a motherfucking labour of love.
His music reminds me of many other things such as the soundtrack to Amelie, and the Beatles. Turns out The Beatles were a major inspiration for the album. My two favorite songs are Button and Parachute.
The music is cheery and energetic, and somehow sorrowful, as if he may actually be singing about the saddest things imaginable. Even if you can't understand the lyrics to a song, singing is just another instrument in the composition of a song, and all that matters is how it complements the rest. Shugo Tokumaru's music is a true demonstration of music being the international language.