Music Matters — Japan Night

It was last Thursday when I attended the Japan stage of Music Matters 2014, where the 3 bands: Cream, the Oral Cigarettes and Naoto Inti Raymi came to Singapore to perform for about 35 minutes each. You would have seen who these 3 performers are from a previous entry, so I’ll dive down to the live analysis.

Overall

Overall I would say this is a far cry from last year. It had Flumpool and SID, so there was obviously no comparison. The main difference, I think, is that the performers this year weren’t as focused on singing properly as they were on making us all excitable. There was a lot of cheering, shouting, asking us to sing along, until it struck me that they weren’t singing many of their better tunes. Maybe it’s also something to do with the discomforting heat that they chose the much easier songs to sing, but it basically felt more like watching a series of stage circus performances than actually listening to professional singers.

That said, both Cream and Naoto had a large crowd of fans who came to support. I guess this would be a memorable night for them, because I would think indie fans get even less of a chance than us mainstream fans to see their idols live on stage.

Cream

The woman in Cream, Minami, wore a gigantic bra and baggy exercise pants. I kid you not. It is a strategic gesture on her part, as the weather is simply unbearable, but it was still quite distracting to see her necklace over her cleavage and her bared stomach dripping with perspiration. And when she’s jumping up and down you swear those pants are going to come off. Oh, and she tied her hair into 2 buns on her head. 1 side of her hair is a lighter blonde while the other side is brown, so it’s rather artistic.

What’s going for her is that she speaks English really well, with an American accent to boot. And she’s quite friendly so the atmosphere was still nice. The rapper guy spoke less but he wore his trademark sunglasses and his rapping was of course pretty good. There was 1 dumb song where they kept going “sake and sushi, sake and sushi, sake and sushi” in English. So you can see what I mean by the kinds of low-quality songs you hear on stage.

However, 1 memorable song they sang, which was their last song, was Shooting Star. Minami belted out the “shooting star” part with great strength, but for some reason always needed to kneel on the ground when she did it. Like as if she can’t sing powerful parts while standing up.

The Oral Cigarettes

Well, I frankly didn’t expect much more from the Oral Cigarettes anyway. There was one time when they asked us to chime “maou … something… sanjou” which supposedly meant “the demon lord has arrived”, which was the first line of their next song or something. Which is quite dumb because I’m sure nobody really wants to mutter this line repeatedly. Sounds almost cultist. Then again, their band name isn’t particularly clean and pure anyway.

But yeah, this is absolutely a band that’s just starting out. They don’t have any spectacular songs yet. Oh, and the guitarist has the most stupid action. He likes to basically lift his leg in the air, put it down again, then lift it again. It makes him look like a dog about to pee! I’m sure that someday their managers will tell him to stop doing that.

Naoto Inti Raymi

First thing I noticed is that he must be hot under that cap, scarf and jacket. Unfortunately that is his style. He also brought along 4 men as backup dancers and did what looked like a bunch of comedic routines. You know in Japanese videos you sometimes have people behind doing absurd dances while you sing? That’s what those men did. I mean yeah they danced well, but you get the feeling the whole thing is not very funny. They are energetic though, which is good.

Naoto himself is pretty okay I think. He doesn’t have very many fast songs, so he’s got to sing some slower ones. He did a Japanese rendition of that Coca Cola World Peace song. I forgot its name but you should look it up. So yeah, it wasn’t altogether bad, but his songs are a little bit too country for me.

The Juveniles

Before Japan Night began there was a band doing an opening act, called the Juveniles. The Juveniles sound perfectly English, so it’s hard to believe they’re French. However, they do look distinctly French. The vocalist has a nice boyish look, and he looks cute rummaging his curly hair often. However, there came a time when he started doing it a bit too often, and I started wondering if it was on purpose. There was also a black, I believe, who did something nifty with these electronic plates that make noises when you tap them.

Come to think of it, the entire band is made up of some strange instruments. There are those plates, and there was a keyboard, and there was a weird radio transistor-looking thing that the vocalist would fiddle with and make the sound higher or lower. There was once he made it so high and loud that everyone just covered their ears. So, yeah, not entirely a comfortable experience.

At the end of the performances the bands would say that they wanted to come back again. We would of course politely cheer, but I would think to myself, “please come back only if SID isn’t intending to come back; I wouldn’t want you to take their place”. Or Flumpool or Weaver, really.

But still, this is a good chance to get exposed to Japanese up-and-coming performers. I do look forward to seeing who would be coming the next time.

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Singing Gestures

My friend recently showed me a stage performance of his favourite Japanese duo, Chage & Aska. They seem to be an oldish duo who sing rather oldish songs, but what struck me the most was the humourous repetitive gesture of 1 of them (Aska, I believe). As he was singing, he kept holding out a finger, moving it upwards, then putting his finger behind him, before holding it out again, rinse and repeat. It’s a pretty funny gesture if you’ve spotted it, which brings to mind some other signature moves by other artistes on stage.

For instance, we all know LiSA’s signature body jerks on stage, much like how she does it in her music videos. FLOW has some signature moves as well, like holding their hands out. And of course, SID has probably carefully orchestrated their every move and rehearsed it many times over. Even so, Mao has some moves he always uses when performing, like holding up 2 fingers when singing “futari”. I’m sure fans of SID will know of many other moves that appear regularly.

Contrast that with Faye Wong, the Chinese singer who is famous for not knowing how to dance, at all. She always stands stoically straight as she sings, refusing to move her body more than she is comfortable with. Well she has always been known as being a bit of a diva, but her vocals are so great that her temperament is forgiven. In fact, some find her endearing, because she tells you what she thinks without sugar-coating her words. If she doesn’t want you to interview her, she’ll just tell you to your face, “no, I don’t want.”

And really, sometimes I pity rock or metal bands. Not only are their songs quite taxing to sing, the vocalists are also required to make exaggerated body movements, jumping, screaming at the audience, cheering. And yet they have to preserve their voices for singing 20 to 30 songs at 1 go. I can imagine that much of pre-concert preparation goes towards arranging the songs to be least demanding on the throat.

And how do you move when you sing? I know a friend who shakes his head whenever he sings in karaoke, so he’ll be singing and swaying the microphone and shaking his head. Most people will move their non-mic hand in some way, though usually in a repetitive motion that’s just as funny. You may want to take a look yourself at how you move when singing, especially when you’re not using a microphone. Do you stand still or sway, and are your hands tucked obstinately to the side?

The Search for the Tune of Old

When people talk about their favourite game music, they mention things like, I don’t know, Harvest Moon? Pokémon? Sure, I love all the different instrumentals representing different cities in Pokémon games, and am amazed at the vast number of quality works that can be produced for each game. However, my favourite game music, the one that struck a chord with me most, is for the game whose name I’ve forgotten.

It was a handphone game, back when I had my… was it the Nokia phone? Yes, it was probably those times. I was about 17 or 18 then (so not too long ago) and I loved these games on my phone. No, no, I’m quite sure now it wasn’t in my Nokia… it might have been in the one before that… what phone did I have before my Nokia? One’s memory can be so alarmingly flawed.

Either way, I was really good at that game. It was basically a variant of Tetris, I think, where different kinds of seashells fall from the top of the screen and you position them such that 3 seashells of the same kind form a line and disappear. A pretty boring game (then again, look at what people are playing nowadays. Candy Crush Saga, not much better) but the music was so soothing, sometimes it sent a tear falling down my cheek. Even today, even when I cannot tell you the name of the game, I can still hum the tune as if I had heard it only yesterday.

And yet, without the name of the game, I simply cannot find the music again. It was a very peaceful, tranquil sort of tune, slightly jaunty and upbeat, but not at all the stressful, adrenaline pumping kind you expect in things like Space Invaders. It was so stress-free, so pleasant, it felt as if the tune understood me. And so the game became a relaxation. I was in no hurry to beat the game — the game was supposed to please me. And so whenever I was bored or miserable, I would open the game just to listen to that sweet and well-done music again. It was a simple game, and probably wouldn’t be very popular, but it was like a hidden gem that I had uncovered, and so it felt personal to me.

Sometimes these little undiscovered tunes are what stir the heartstrings. You feel as if you’re the only one with that emotional connection to it — the 2 of you had met, long ago, in a secret, private place, and sought a mutual understanding and bond that the outside world does not comprehend. They do not see the true meaning of the tune. Have you had such an experience? Perhaps only instrumentals can forge such an effect.

And this is why I constantly hunt for that tune. Someday, someday I will find it again, and we shall be reunited once more, dancing in the wild pastures of my imagination, free from society and its new-fangled mobile phone games.

Something New

It’s always good to discover new music. Discovering new music is like discovering new books. The process is uncertain and tentative, and it’s like stepping out of your comfort zone. How would you know the music would be something you like? If a band or artiste isn’t very famous, I tend to think that it can’t be very good. I am absolutely not a fan of indie music after all.

However, sometimes the opportunity arises when I hear of certain new groups. For instance, whenever I hear that new Japanese bands are coming to Singapore, I would take a look at the type of music they play. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad.

3 bands are coming to Singapore for a free-of-charge performance in May. They’re relatively unknown, and although I don’t like them as much as Weaver, One OK Rock or Flumpool, they do offer quite a unique style of their own.

1. Cream

Cream is a 2-member group, a man and a woman. They follow a very American style in their music, which is very refreshing. They have some great rapping, powerful vocals and a strong New York flavour. That, and the man looks like Kohshi in his sunglasses. However, I’ve seen other videos where he doesn’t wear sunglasses, and his eyes are like a traditional Japanese, tiny.

I read their profile on their website, trying to decipher as much of the Japanese as I could. It seems they’re releasing their second album soon, and that the guy’s name is Staxx T and the woman is Minami. Staxx T is a rapper, and Minami was born in Hong Kong. Both of them have written songs for many artistes. Minami has written songs for Kylie Minogue and BoA, for one!

2. Naoto Inti Raymi

Kids, if you ever become a singer, please don’t give yourself a name like Naoto Inti Raymi. It’s lengthy and meaningless and will not help you score any fans.

Naoto Inti Raymi seems to be the name of a single person, who started off being just “Inti Raymi”. He’s a pretty ugly person, but he has travelled the world and acquired the styles of music of many different countries. His voice is pretty gentle, and he sings pretty decent ballads.

He started off in 2010, so is fairly prolific.

3. The Oral Cigarettes

I congratulate them for having not only a suggestive name, but also the most suggestive logo I’ve ever seen of a band, and that’s even including visual kei.

The Oral Cigarettes is a typical rock band, trying to follow in the footsteps of One OK Rock. Their sense of style is not particularly fixed yet, which is why their dress sense is still quite uncoordinated. And gawd, the hair in front of the eyes. So many bands love it. It must be really ticklish.

However, I do not understand why that video must be 7 minutes and 5 seconds long. It is frightfully long for an uninteresting video. Oh I think the video actually comprises 2 songs. 逆恨み小僧 is one song and “mist…” is another. I… couldn’t tell at first.

The camera action is also really shaky and dizzying.

That said, the voice can make it big in the future.

When Music Videos Don’t Work For You

A lot of the time, our impressions of music are related to the visuals they come with. I don’t mean just music videos. For instance, during a movie, when a certain soundtrack starts to play at the climactic scene, you’ll always associate the music with the feeling of titillation you felt when watching the scene. Just hearing the song afterwards will bring to mind once again the scene, and you’ll feel more favourably towards the song than if you hadn’t watched anything.

Sometimes the associated video dictates the mood of the song, and different videos present the song in different, even contrasting, lights. A very good instance is Burst the Gravity by Altima. It is the opening song of Accel World, and if you watch the Accel World opening, you’ll find it reflects a typical anime mood — fighting, pensiveness, working together as a team, cool mecha. However, if you watch Burst the Gravity’s PV instead, the entire video is a comical, slightly unpalatable twist on gym exercises. The word to use here is “corny”. In an instant, the dance beats of Burst the Gravity take on a different significance, and you can’t help but bop about good-humouredly when listening to the song. The visual elements play a larger part to music appreciation than one may realise.

Which brings me to the point (which I’ve already introduced with Burst the Gravity) of terrible PVs that destroy a song. I am particularly moved by this sentiment when I discovered that I had not yet watched the video of Flow’s Ai Ai Ai ni Utarete Bye Bye Bye. The song itself, I thought, had been pretty okay, just something fast-paced. The video, however, was pretty painful to watch. Many of Flow’s videos tend to border on the extraordinary (such as Hey!! and to some extent, Colors) but this one was probably one of the worst. Basically everyone was in a suit, and this cute young woman was some kind of baseball player who was for some reason very furious with their singing. I’m not sure what the lyrics to the song are, but from her reaction they couldn’t have been very polite. And so what does she do? Throughout the video she throws baseballs at them as they sing. The balls hit various body parts. Kohshi falls to the ground.

Seriously, the “people being slapped in the face by a woman” part has been done in Nuts Bang! and more importantly, Kohshi crumpling to the ground while singing has been done in Re:member (which, by the way, was also an example of a weird video destroying an otherwise great song; but at least that video was hilarious). So, no, people being hit is not funny. Flow being hit is even less funny. Flow has had some pretty awesome videos (notable ones being Word of the Voice and Days) but somehow their video quality has deteriorated in the past few years. Fortunately the songs themselves are still good to listen to so I shall turn a blind eye to these silly videos.

Another kind of videos, while not silly, that I dislike as PVs are concert footage. Flow has also shown me those examples nowadays (in fact the PVs of Tokonatsu Endless and Cha-La Head Cha-La were of the same concert). Concerts are cool when you’re watching them live (or it’s SID) but otherwise they’re just footage of people perspiring on stage, with insufficient lighting to see anything properly, and boring scenes of audiences waving lightsticks. Yes, I do not take kindly to shoddy PV filming.

Which PVs have you watched that were particularly bad, and ended up lowering your impression of the song?

Nostalgia

Once in a while I’ll find myself humming some tune from the past, and I’ll take some time to remember just where the tune came from, and when I do remember, it brings back memories of the first time I heard it, how old I was then, and various other things that happened during that time period. It happens a lot for UVERworld and LM. C, 2 bands that have seen a dip in activity these few years (LM. C, for example, only released 1 album and 1 single last year, and released 1 album this year). Usually at such times, I’ll lament how their recent songs sound like sub-standard versions of their songs in the past, and then I’ll start to wonder, do all bands inevitably face a drop in quality after some time?

It seems to be some kind of pattern with me. I’ll discover a cool band, listen to their past songs and think they’re awesome, look forward to their next single or album, think it’s the greatest thing ever, and then somehow the subsequent songs seem to drop in quality. Flow’s latest album seems to be a drop in quality compared to their previous one. UVERworld’s Life 6 Sense seems to be a drop in quality compared to LAST. And the recent songs by LM. C sound terrible compared to a few years ago. Do they honestly think that they have changed for the better, or that they didn’t really change at all? Is it a problem with me instead?

I’m a faithful fangirl type. No matter how sucky a band I like becomes, I find it hard to tear away from them completely. But it’s hard to continue being a fan when their new songs fail to excite me anymore.

Most Japanese bands have a “best of” album, where they basically insert tracks over the years that have been popular. UVERworld had a “Neo Sound Best”, Flow had one storing all their anime hits, SID had 2 albums of all their best B-side songs, and LM. C has one too. I never appreciated the value of these “best of” albums before, because why pay for a new album that has only old songs? As the years go by, though, I realise the potency of nostalgia. New songs may be good in their own ways, but they simply don’t match up to the epicness of the old ones. And having 1 album that conveniently collects all your favourites is convenient when you just want to spend an hour or so listening to the good stuff, the tried-and-tested, the proven hits.

Another fact I must learn to accept is that the celebrities I like will fall out of favour someday. I have reached the stage where my favourite people are slowly fading out (Irino Miyu, Koike Teppei etc) and it’s time to be open-minded and look out for new celebs to support and look forward to. However, it’s just as important not to forget the people I used to like. After all, every one of these celebrities has played a part in one stage of my life. They had occupied my thoughts, been proudly paraded, and have provided solace when I needed it. Fangirling is never about replacement, but addition.

And now I shall embrace a new generation of people to add to my life story.

26 a Go Go!!

After a long time waiting and hunting on the internet, I have at last landed my paws on Flow’s newest album, released end of March. If Flow wants to combat piracy, they sure are doing a good job of it. But now that I have the album, I thought I shall dedicate this entry to a review of the individual songs.

1. Introduction -collage-

My instrumental senses are pretty bad, so if this is a collage, I don’t know what it is a collage of. The tune definitely sounds like a mish-mash of things, but whether they’re a mish-mash of all the songs in the album requires some re-listens to determine. That said, it itself is pretty good.

2. Ai Ai Ai ni Utarete Bye Bye Bye

Supposedly the all-star of this album. This song is the latest single and also the opening of the anime Samurai Flamenco. I can’t say it’s bad. It’s funky and fast, but I don’t see it as anything particularly new. It’s pretty expected Flow things, which is sometimes the drawback of anime songs.

Pretty easy to sing along, though.

3. Senkou no Uta

It starts off with some solid rapping, followed by a promising leading guitar riff, then some solid singing. The chorus kinda gets me. It’s not epic, but it shows off their singing skills adequately. It’s overall an adequate song, and when compared to Ai Ai Ai I do prefer this one.

4. Marionette

The beginning sounded like it was going to be generic, then the chorus came and I liked it. The chorus has 1 part that reminds me of the first line of Junjou Spectra by Zwei. Which I like. Therefore this song is nice.

Objectively speaking, though, the song is a bit messy with not much of a real focus on what mood it wants to exude. That, and the song name reminds me of something much spookier, but this seems to be a normal concert feel-good song.

5. Love Sera

The song name was messed up on my computer, but I think this is the name.

By this point in the album, I’ve grown just a tad bored of screaming songs, which this brings another dose of. Nothing good about this song, not even the chorus.

6. Smile Smile Smile

Ahhh! A refreshing change to the album! Most people would know that I like slower songs, where the vocalists’ voices are clear and non-screamy. Smile Smile Smile, being an optimistic song like its name suggests, is bright and cheery.

“You make me smile smile smile” is the trademark line of their chorus, and that is probably the best part of the song. That, and Keigo trying to sound cheery, which he does a better job of than Kohshi.

7. Tokonatsu Endless -album version-

What the album version brings to the table is a strange out-of-place piano instrumental at the beginning. I don’t expect any more from album versions of singles though.

Tokonatsu Endless is the other single featured in this album, and in some ways it is arguably more anime-ish than Ai Ai Ai. It is generic, but when have Flow’s generic songs ever been bad? Anything that lets Kohshi sing ridiculously high notes cannot be bad!

8. GLORY DAYS

There is a part of this song that is nice, which is towards the halfway point of their chorus. I can’t describe it, but I like when vocalists sing gradually low notes and then steep up again. That adds a cheery feeling to the song. Other than that there’s nothing to set this song apart from any other rock song.

9. Someday

Any song that allows Kohshi to expend his singing prowess right from the first line is a great song in my book.

‘Nuff said.

10. Interlude -departure-

I… really don’t know what to make of this. This sounds like some short clip recorded in the streets of India with a croaky old man.

11. Wanderlust

This is one of the rare songs where I like the background instrumental more than the vocals. I find that the vocals were too generic and destroyed the Oriental feel of the instrumental. Maybe I was sensitised to the background instrumental because of the previous Indian-seeming track. It must have been a prime!

12. Mata au Hi Made

My track had 2 misleading titles. One was “mata au hi made” and the other was “mata au nichi made”. It’s explained by the fact that the Japanese character for “hi” and “nichi” are the same, but listening to the first line fortunately clarifies that “hi” is correct.

My favourite part of this song is the middle when Keigo basically spews single words without any variation in tone. Somehow such elements feel right at home in Flow songs.

13. PRIDE

This is the last song in the album, and usually I hold high expectations for songs placed last. This one did not disappoint at the start, where it promised to be epic.

However, I’m really irked by the strange rapping that belongs to neither Kohshi nor Keigo. Maybe research will tell me who did it, and what it’s for, but rapping tends to break the flow of the song.

And then the monologues irked me more. It felt like this song was supposed to fit some kind of TV drama that I’ve been left out of the loop for. Perhaps if I understood Japanese I could understand the monologue raps better, but right now they’re just nonsensical rambling. So hmmm, I think Someday would fit better as the last song.

14. Conclusion -pride-

The instrumental version of the previous song, with some electronic elements. I’d say this is much better than the actual song itself and deserves to be background music for some IT commercial. Bravo!

Aaaand my analysis has ended. What do you agree with? What don’t you? Would you want to give the album a try now?

Singaporean Music Stars

There’s been a lot of talk about the music circle in Singapore about “supporting local music”. The “support local …” movement extends into things like the performing arts as well, or any other kind of creative talent. Singaporeans just instinctively look outside of their country when it comes to the arts. That said, I do believe that there are some good and still relatively unknown musical acts that you may want to take note of. Being a good blogger, Exalted Salvation will personally listen to some of their songs for you.

1. The Sam Willows

NUS Radio Pulze invited the Sam Willows to perform at Live Lounge once, and we were completely unprepared for the turnout. It was almost like a genuine concert, with fans gushing and cheering. And they should. The Sam Willows is an indie band formed in 2012 (that’s not long ago), and have been performing in places like Australia, Korea and North America, not to mention MediaCorp Singapore’s Countdown Party in 2013. They’re signed on to Warner Music too, so it shows great promise.

This is their PV, “Glasshouse – Lillywhite Edition”, so named because it was reworked by Steve Lillywhite, a Grammy Award-winning producer.

After listening, I wouldn’t say this is my favourite song, because it sounds like choral singing, and has the flavour of a National Day song. That said, good voices!

2. Cashew Chemists

Cashew Chemists is reluctantly appealing. It’s the kind of style where once you listen to their music, you’re like “shit this is so 80’s” and then later it’s “shit I can’t stop listening”. It’s the kind of song which sounds like it belongs to the era of the Carpenters, and that’s also the reason why it simply doesn’t stop giving off good vibes.

Also the lead singer is Yuji Kumagai (I don’t know if he’s Japanese though), who has apparently earned some fame on his own.

3. Pleasantry

Pleasantry was formed in 2010 and consists of 6 members. Their music belongs in the more surrealist kind, or at least, the one I’m listening to is definitely surrealist. This is pretty experimental and isn’t at all catchy. I appreciate their effort though, but I can imagine that this is the reason why Singaporean music just doesn’t catch on like overseas. The members believe too much in following their own style.

That said, the trance-like quality captures one’s attention.

4. Take Two

The new hot campus band in NUS, Take Two drew crowds partly because they played Butterfly by Wada Kouji in the Supernova rock concert in school. Maybe. Other than that, they’re pretty good for university students! They’re also a traditional rock band, so if you’re thrown off by the unique and distinctive styles above, try some down-to-earth rock with this track!

I would recommend a few more, but I don’t know any good ones and it can take a long time to sift out the good from the bad, so I’ll just leave this task to you! After hearing these entirely arbitrary recommendations, you may be encouraged to plunge deeper into the Singaporean music community. Give it a try!

Music Streaming

I’ve been trying to broaden my horizons lately. I consider downloading Flipboard — for those who know about it — a step in the right direction, because Flipboard exposes me to news articles from all around, and being up to date with the news is definitely a good way to know more about the world. That, and it’s a trendy practice. People I know are reading more news articles on their phones, and subscribing to feeds like Reddit and Feedly. General knowledge is trendy, and Flipboard has a pretty appealing interface in my opinion.

So the next step, logically, is music streaming.

I gave Deezer a try, I did, with my free trial account, but it simply didn’t have enough (read: any) Japanese songs to keep me hooked. I know we’re supposed to expose ourselves to new music (broadening horizons, remember?) but without a base to work on, I can’t even tell, from this sea of music in there, what I would like. Being Japanese is a very good indicator, but without it, everything sounds sub-par at best.

And Singaporeans don’t use Deezer much. They’re mainly on Spotify.

The main thing that’s been holding me back from Spotify is undoubtedly paid membership. Spotify does have free limited membership — which I hear can be circumvented, because there’re people who have been members for years and haven’t paid a single cent — but I’m just not sure if it’s going to be worth my while. What if after downloading the thing, I find that it has no Japanese music that I like? Then it’d have been a waste of time and computer space.

But who knows, maybe the new changes coming to it will change my mind.

It seems Spotify is layering out a few changes right before its competitors like Apple iTunes, or even YouTube (yes, YouTube’s coming out with its own $5 music subscription service soon). Some changes are meh, like changing the website into a dark background. I mean, yeah, dark is awesome, but it’s not going to be a pull factor for new users.

What I’m looking forward to is the tweak to its Browse feature. It’s now going to have themed playlists according to the time of day (like Mid-week Midday for Wednesday afternoons, which will play lazy afternoon songs, maybe. I came up with this name, by the way) which sounds interesting. In addition, it’s going to have a Your Music feature which sorts your music into albums, not just playlists. So you can have a big collection that’s carefully and neatly categorised.

I still don’t know if there will be Japanese music. This is irking me.

Ah yes, I found a website that says that Spotify is still really lacking in Japanese music. Guess I’m still giving it a miss then.

At any rate, hold on tight to those free streaming memberships that you have, for critics are still (as always) breathing down the necks of streaming sites, telling them to clear all free memberships for the sake of the suffering artistes. I don’t know if this will ever happen, but the pressure may just cause them to make small changes that inconvenience free members, bit by bit by bit.

Find out more about the debate at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/02/spotify-redesign-itunes-youtube-david-byrne

EXILE

Not sure if you’ve heard of them, but EXILE is the new cool group I recently discovered.

It all started with Great Teacher Onizuka (the 2013 remake). My mother was quite fascinated by it, so when I saw that GTO Season 2 (2014) is coming out soon, I told her immediately. She was also quite fascinated by the actor of the male lead, who turned out to be Akira from EXILE (in the remake, that is; the original GTO had a totally different actor). Now I’ve heard of EXILE — seen them on Oricon charts and winning awards and such, but I never bothered to find out what they were. I mean, it sounds like the name of some cheesy boy band, maybe visual kei, doesn’t it? But since my mother swore the actor of Onizuka was pretty good, so I must see his singing prowess as well. So I checked out some videos of EXILE.

Akira doesn’t sing.

Oh well, he must be a bassist then, right? Onizuka was such a rugged character, and rugged people tend to be the bassists.

Well no, he doesn’t play an instrument either.

So what does he do in this frigging band? Well, I never said EXILE was a band.

EXILE is a dance group. I believe some of you may have heard of Flower, the many-women girl group who sang Forget-Me-Not ~Wasurenagusa~, the ending song of Gundam Age. If you haven’t heard of them, please go check them out because that song is great. More importantly, these women dance in the video. Now many women dancing would probably remind you of K-pop, and I wouldn’t blame you for that. EXILE is literally the male version of Flower (though EXILE came first, so it’s the other way around), but you would be really wrong to think they even remotely resemble male K-pop groups in any way.

First of all, EXILE is made up of 14 members. 2 of them sing exclusively, and the other 12 dance exclusively. So it’s not the case of K-pop where somehow the people can sing and dance at the same time (or should we say the autotuned recording is the one doing the singing? Heh). And the people in there are not artificially-beautified pretty boys, making gestures resembling some kind of exercise workout either. These guys in EXILE are pros. It’s like watching Step Up, without all the cheesy adolescence. You know these guys dance for a living.

That, and the men are relievingly not-pretty. They don’t look alike, for one. In fact, all of them look possibly middle-aged, so you would be inclined to call them “men” rather than “boys”. There’re the slightly thinner, younger ones, and the older, gruffer-looking ones. The leader of the group is quite evident — he takes centre stage during the dancing, and thankfully is pretty recognisable, looking rather like a silent gangster who stands up for the weak, that kind of image.

Aside from the mind-blowing dancing, the singing’s pretty good. I have a soft spot for 1 of the singers, who looks kinda young-ish (but not Mao kind of young, still) and has dimples. Awww. And the other guy follows Kohshi’s style (Kohshi from Flow, meaning sunglasses). Not only is the singing good, but EXILE’s videos have big budgets. They have wonderfully impressive backdrops to dance in, and their costumes are tastefully designed. Basically EXILE videos are a visual spectacle.

EXILE is not the kind of group whose songs you would put in your MP3, unless you want to dance to them. You would always want video accompaniment. Also, probably due to the dancing, their songs tend to be on the long side (5-6 minutes). But yes, I’m happy for them that they’ve shown that not being pretty boys doesn’t mean they can’t become famous, through hard work and talent.

Curious now as to what they’re like? I’ve thoughtfully provided a list of videos you should catch!

1. http://www.jpopasia.com/group/exile/videos/exile-pride-konna-sekai-wo-aisurutame::33056.html

This is my favourite video of the lot. It has everything I described above, and very well done.

2. http://www.jpopasia.com/group/exile/videos/no-limit::37472.html

This is a more generic video, but still has great effects.

3. http://www.jpopasia.com/group/exile/videos/flower-song::34914.html

Not much dancing at all. This song emphasises the singing, and lots of Manly Looks to be had.

4. http://www.jpopasia.com/group/exile/videos/performers-pride::38440.html

On the contrary, this video is all dancing. No singing at all, but this is American street dancing at its finest.

Enjoy!