Because you never really do forget your firsts after all 😉
How’s it going? 😀 Hopefully well and good, now that you’ve found yourself back here again for this month’s J-Music Exchange/Rate!
Some of you might already know this by now, but all the same, the Exchange/Rate is the monthly tandem album review series between yours truly and my good friend and fellow Japanese music enthusiast Al over at Omunibasu, wherein we trade each other albums from our respective libraries of stuff we listen to, for us to then talk about and review in our blogs. We’ve done quite a few of them already so if you missed one or two, do feel free to check them out over here (or just click on the J-Music Exchange Rate on the menu up top). If there’s an album you’ve wanted to try for the longest time, or you want to compare your thoughts about a certain album with ours, there’s a chance you might find it among the ones we already covered.
As always we do try to incorporate a theme of sorts when we pick out albums to review, and the theme that Al chose for this month’s Exchange/Rate is “first discoveries“, or albums that were one of the first ones that we listened to when we started getting into the hobby of listening to Japanese music. I more or less already chronicled the beginning of my own journey thus far in the first post I ever wrote about Japanese music, and from there you can already get a rough idea as to what I picked. This month’s theme is interesting to me too because it was only when I started listening to albums in full that I really started to feel I was becoming a fan of Japanese music, as opposed to me just singling out songs that I heard through anime or games.
After much deliberation on my end, I ended up giving Soutaiseiriron’s “Hi-Fi Anatomia” for Al to listen to and review. To which, Al responded in kind and gave me DADARAY’s debut album DADASTATION.
DADARAY is a three-member avant-garde Jazz/Pop unit that consists of indie piano stylist/singer-songwriter REIS, support pianist katsyusha, and bassist Kyujitsu Kacho of Gesu no Kiwami Otome fame. The famous/infamous Kawatani Enon, founder of the aforementioned GesuKiwa, stands as the band’s primary composer. “DADARAY” is derived from a combination of ‘DADA’ taken from ‘dadaism’ (an art movement centered on ‘deliberate irrationality’) and ‘RAY’ to mean ‘light’. The band, through both their name and their sound, hope to convey that they are “the light (which will) destroy the established order and common sense”
(＊Spotify link to the full album)
０１ 少しでいいから殴らせて/sukoshi de ii kara nagurasete (i wanna slap you a bit)
０２ 場末/basue (outskirts of town)
０３ 大人やらせてよ – DADA ver./otona yaraseteyo (lemme try being an adult)
０４ 美しい仕打ち/utsukushii shiuchi (special treatment)
０５ 誰かがキスをした/dareka ga kiss wo shita (someone you kissed)
０７ 友達/tomodachi (friend)
０８ WOMAN WOMAN
０９ 僕らのマイノリティ/bokura no minority (we the minority)
１０ For Lady (remix by YYIOY)
１１ イキツクシ/ikitsukushi (living out my life)
１２ 東京∑/tokyo sigma (tokyo sigma)
１３ 優しく鬼に/yasashiku oni ni (treat the demon kindly)
Ａ ｌ : During my early days of listening to Japanese music, when I let Spotify recommend some songs at random, I stumbled upon a track from this one band called DADARAY and immediately loved their sound. Mature-sounding pop music, a main vocalist who sang like she was born to be a frontwoman of a band, and a dual piano-bass instrument combination I’ve never seen before; so many new things were being thrown into my ears and you can say they made a great first impression on me. And listening to their first studio album release, DADASTATION, made me appreciate their music even more. With songs like “Sukoshideiikara Nagurasete” and its fast pace or the melancholic atmosphere (and sick bassline) in “Ikitsukushi”, I think a lot of people would enjoy this group’s interesting spin on the J-pop genre.
Plus, the astounding amount of connections this band has with groups like indigo la End and Gesu no Kiwami Otome, including Kawatani Enon himself having a role in producing their music, should be a good sign.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０１ 少しでいいから殴らせて/sukoshi de ii kara nagurasete
An important thing to keep in mind as you listen to DADASTATION is that all of the songs in this album were composed by Kawatani Enon. Of course, it’s not as if you would need to be reminded of that fact any more than just by listening through most of the tracks here. I mean, for as much as of a talented composer Kawatani is, he isn’t exempt from defaulting to his favorite sounds and song structures. To that end, I do think Sukoshi de Ii kara Nagurasete is actually the worst culprit of that for better or worse, as it is the one that is most reminiscent of Kawatani’s handiwork out of all the songs here. In a way I do think this was somewhat of a strategic choice as lead-off track in that regard, as it starts off with a sound that fans of Kawatani are familiar with.
In particular, one of Kawatani’s favorite tricks to use in his compositions is fast and repetitive multisyllabic lines, which he emphasizes greatly with odd time signatures (primarily with the guitar and the drums), with the piano and the bass usually acting as a sort of rhythmic anchor. Of course, the vocals are crucial for this to work the way it should, and REIS handily delivers with her tremendous dynamic range. One need only to look at Gesu no Kiwami Otome‘s lineup to know that Kawatani just has an ear for talent, seeing as he handpicked the members himself. I would surmise he did the same for DADARAY and its members, that does notably have his trusted “Kyuujitsu Kachou” on bass once more, as well as katsyusha who he had worked with already before.
０３ 大人やらせてよ – DADA ver./otona yaraseteyo – dada ver.
The third track Otona Yaraseteyo – DADA ver. stood out to me for a fair number of reasons. I couldn’t help but be a little bit curious as to why they needed to designate their own song as a ‘DADA ver.’ when this is a DADARAY album from top to bottom. I have since come to find out after a little bit of digging that this track is actually a cover of a song originally performed by the Japanese idol group Yumemiru Adolescence. Which… is curious, to say the least. Whilst oddly enough being a nice fit thematically, the inclusion of an idol cover song of all things feels very much random. However, after looking into it further, I discovered that the original song was written and composed for YumeAdo by none other than (you guessed it) Kawatani Enon himself.
This song reinforces a sort of theory I’ve had for a while now about Kawatani in that I believe he, as a composer, treats the voice as just another instrument for him to use at his disposal. I mean, it’s not often you get to hear someone tranpose and repurpose their own songs like this, more so across two genres that are so far apart; from Electro/Synth Idol Pop in the case of YumeAdo, to DADARAY’s Jazz/Pop. The instrumention is of course different as a result, and the repitition and rhythm changes are still there, but REIS and katsyusha make easy work of it regardless (especially in relation to the rest of the songs on the album). It’s both so strange and fascinating that Kawatani actually can do something like this, and even managed to pull it off here.
０９ 僕らのマイノリティ/bokura no minority (we, the minority)
In as much as I’ve made this review for DADARAY’s debut album all about Kawatani Enon thus far with my ramblings, make no mistake, the band members themselves are very much talented in their own right. I would argue at the very least however, that said talents are at times overshadowed almost by Kawatani’s otherwise unique and distinct composition and sound signature which is present in varying degrees across the majority of the tracks of DADASTATION. One of the few exceptions I found while was Bokura no Minority which is a track that is tonally different from the rest of the album (except maybe for the remix of “For Lady”) that comes after, and more importantly does not at all sound like a song Kawatani would make.
Odd as it may sound, “Bokura no Minority” actually reminds me of an idol song, sung in a Jazz/Pop tune (xD) Of course, the visuals presented in the PV does kinda support that in a way with the whole choregraphed dance that they do, but the pet theory I have is that this was songs some sort of response to Keyakizaka46’s Silent Majority; with the latter dealing with the narrative of girls being forced to conform to the standards people have for idols, while the former talks about the standards people set on girls in general, but I digress. I think it was in how… different this song was compared to the songs prior that made me appreciate both the vocals and the instrumentation all the more. The shift at around 03:11 in particular is insanely good.
１１ イキツクシ/ikitsukushi (living out my life)
Towards the tail end of DADASTATION we circle back to the very first song I’ve heard from DADARAY in what was their debut song Ikitsukushi. That said, it’s actually been quite a while since I last heard this song (possibly ever since the PV for this first dropped even) as I’ve admitted not have done that good of a job following this band’s releases, so it was a nice little throwback for me (which, in hindsight, kinda fits well for the theme of our Exchange/Rate). It would be at this point too while I was listening through the entirety of the album that I realized how much of a bait-and-switch this track ended up being, both for me and I surmise a lot of people as well who first caught the band when they first came out.
One of the immediate takeaways from the band’s explosive start was that right out of the gate they came out as an immensely promising Jazz/Pop outfit, which is otherwise not a fairly crowded genre in the context of the current Japanese music landscape, and at best is represented every now and again by the likes of well-reknowned Hoshino Gen and the lesser-known (but still remarkable) LUCKY TAPES to name a few. What set DADARAY from them at the onset though was their darker, grittier, and edgier approach which in turn made their music all the more… tantalizing. Suffice it to say, Ikitsukushi was the track that lived up to that promise the most out of all the songs in DADASTATION at the end of the day I feel like.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ＤＡＤＡＳＴＡＴＩＯＮ＞
I already knew a fair bit about the circumstances that surround the scandal that involved Kawatani Enon in late-2016 prior to listening to this album because of my being a fan of his work. In line with that, I couldn’t help but think about the peculiar timing of DADARAY’s subsequent debut which happened not long thereafter Kawatani’s decision to keep away from the public eye in lieu of the largely negative press coming his way. Whether DADARAY was just a means for him to pay off bills in the meantime or the result of the artist in him being driven to create despite everything going on in his life is perhaps irrelevant for some when talking strictly about the music he ended up making here in the form DADASTATION, but I personally do find it interesting.
It’s almost as though working with Kawatani Enon is in itself both a blessing and a curse. His sense of rhythm is second to none, and any song he has a hand in creating becomes audibly sensational as a result; from his work as a part of Gesu no Kiwami Otome, indigo la End, Genie High, as well as his song-writing ventures for other groups and artists like the aforementioned Yumemiru Adolescence and more recently virtual YouTubers Kizuna Ai and 花譜 (KAF) to name a few. DADARAY is but another of the projects he has found himself involed in and consequently the band enjoys a fair bit of notoriety because of his involvement. Not to diminish the efforts of the members themselves, but Kawatani’s influence (as evidenced by this album) can’t be denied.
In that regard, I can’t help but find it a bit unfortunate that despite the fact that almost anything Kawatani touches turns into gold, it also inevitably gets tinged in both his musicality and his image. Whenever the man involves himself with other artists like this, I can’t help but be reminded of the time when GesuKiwa were first in talks to break into the anison market when they got offered to perform a theme song for Crayon Shin-chan (one of Japan’s most popular anime franchises), only for them to get the rug pulled out from under them when the offer got scrapped following one of Kawatani’s big scandals. I think of that, and as I listen to DADASTATION, I do end up feeling conflicted, knowing that the band’s ceiling may very well be only just as high as Kawatani makes it.
４.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
９ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ１０
This album is a good example of how sometimes we really just have to separate the art from the artist (though I’d argue that should go for basically anything that Kawatani Enon makes at this point). DADASTATION is a fantastic album from top to bottom, with nearly all of its songs being standouts in their own right. Apart from the ones I talked about already here, the entire first half of the album (which also includes the tracks “Basue”, “Utsukushii Shiuchi”, “Dareka ga Kiss wo Shita”, “WOMAN WOMAN”, and “Tomodachi”) is a phenomenal listen. Kyujitsu Kacho’s stellar bass-playing is a given, but REIS’ absolutely lush vocal work in particular is a treat, emphasized to great effect by katsusyha’s backing harmonics.
＊If you want to read up further on Kawatani Enon and his many projects, check out Al’s own write up on the man from one of his Rounup posts!
What are your impressions of DADASTATION?
Is separating the art from the artist something you subscribe to as well?
Let us know in the comments down below!
Lastly, after this, don’t forget to catch Al’s review of Soutaiseiriron’s “Hi-Fi Anatomia” over at Omunibasu!
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Your point about Kawatani’s reputation possibly affecting DADARAY was an interesting one to read about, and I guess I never really thought about that specific issue before. As I’ve said in my Kawatani round-up post you included (which, thanks btw lol), I do also believe in separating art from the artist and I think as long as their work has nothing to do with their particular issues or controversial beliefs, it would make sense to split those two things apart. I mean, despite the terrible actions some well-known entertainment figures have done like Michael Jackson or John Lasseter, people will still put on Thriller during Halloween or watch Pixar films regardless. I would assume it’s pretty obvious but watching a Toy Story movie doesn’t ask the consumer to be complicit with the past actions of the film’s director, simply because the narrative of Toy Story has nothing to do with whatever bad shit he did.
But back to Kawatani, whenever I listen to an indigo la End or Gesu song (with the exception of that music video for ‘Image Senryaku’), none of his scandals go through my mind since his music doesn’t reflect any of that, I’d assume. But I also understand, like you mentioned, how damaging his reputation can be for his associated acts. Thankfully, I don’t think DADARAY has been affected that much, one possible reason being that he doesn’t actually perform with the group, plus I personally believe they feel/act different enough to not be known as just another Kawatani-associated band.
The whole concept with ‘separating art from the artist’ is definitely challenging for people to decide upon, and if someone doesn’t want to further affiliate themselves with a troubled celebrity, that’s completely acceptable. But I also don’t think people with those beliefs should ridicule others who just want to enjoy that celebrity’s work without having to think about any unrelated background info (of course, I’m talking about here in the United States but how Japan’s society deals with controversies revolving around famous figures could paint a different picture).
Also this might be a reach but Kawatani recruiting that one musician, who was also involved in a pretty big scandal, to Genie High was… interesting to learn about lol
I think for me it was because of how peculiar the timing of it all was, Kawatani being caught up in that scandal of his and the subsequent inception of DADARAY just months after, that I couldn’t help but end up thinking of these things (lol). Like, I do wonder if DADARAY would’ve even existed had it not been for Kawatani inducing a short hiatus on GesuKiwa and indigo la end as a result of his proclivities. Of course, it’s a bit of a moot point as things have since died down, but I do find it interesting how much of a focal point one man can be for a number of succesful musical acts.
While I do agree that Kawatani’s persona doesn’t really bleed into his work as a musician (there are numerous reports that state that the guy is actually kind of a dic-), there are definitely times where I think about whether the words he’s singing are born from the bizarre circumstances that surround him. I find this to be the most true for the songs he sings for indigo la End, which often portray a forlorn romance. That said, I also agree that DADARAY does come across as fairly distanced from Kawatani owing to his presence as being just that of the band’s composer.
A lot of it too is because… you don’t really hear about these sorts of affairs for Japanese artists in general. Which is why when these things do happen, they tend to be quite the spectacle of their own (the Hirano Aya incident comes to mind). So while it’s easy to separate the art from the artist from a Western persepective, where scandal and intrigue is just part of the experience, I would surmise that there’s a bit more of a lasting stigma to it when one experiences it through Japanese media.
Genie High is an interesting case to say the least. The whole thing about the band’s pianist was insane ngl (XD) and I can definitely see Kawatani being able to empathize with him somewhat yep.
That said, Ikkyu Nakajima’s inclusion was for me the most intriguing decision, if only because Ikkyu isn’t really a… very public presence compared to the rest of the members. She’s a craftswoman that’s as far removed from popular mainstream media as once can be, whilst still holding a fair bit of notoriety owing to the cult success of her band ‘tricot’.
I can’t help but think of this as yet another calculated move by Kawatani to get someone as neutral as Ikkyu to counteract his infamy (if that makes sense, lol). That, and it again shows his ear for talent, picking out Ikkyu who isn’t really that known for Pop-oriented singing, yet here we’re seeing her just knock it out of the park with Genie High.
Hmm, interesting. I don’t know a ton about them but I would’ve thought Ikkyu and tricot would be a lot more well-known, given their unique sound within the J-music/rock industry and dedication towards the math rock genre. But I guess the people who are avid followers of J-music would see it from that perspective.
And yeeeeah, I agree. I feel like the Ikkyu in tricot and the Ikkyu in Genie High are almost two different people, and it’s great to see her have the ability to also perform in that Kawatani-pop style.
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