How would you know if you like something if you don’t try it out first?
At the very least, that’s what my mom would say to me every time I hesitate about trying something new. Anyway (lol), welcome back to the J-Music Exchange Rate!!
The Exchange/Rate of course is the tandem album review series between myself and my good friend Al from Omunibasu.blog, wherein each month we trade each other albums from our respective libraries, for us to then talk about and review on our own blogs. Last month Al alluded to the fact that he was very much surprised at how long this journey has been for us already thus far, with us already having quite the handful of reviews between ouselves (all of which you can check out here btw). I can’t help but share in that sentiment, considering the history of the inception of this project, and I can only credit its longevity to our shared appreciation for Japanese music.
I would like to think that a lot of said appreciation is born from this sense of never-ending discovery, the more we get to listen to new things; be it new bands, new artists, new songs, new genres, etc. Not new, in the literal sense, but music that might be new to us personally. In line with that, I chose this month’s theme to be albums that introduced us to or made us appreciate a particular genre. I thought this would be interesting to talk about, given how at times we (myself included) tend to just look at genres when we’re looking for something new to listen to, and I figured this would be a nice way to highlight this process of discovering.
I picked out Uchu Conbini’s Tsuki no Hansha de Miteta, which would be my first real tase of Japanese Math Rock for Al to listen to (check out his review here!), whereas Al went and pitched me Suchmos’ THE KIDS.
Suchmos, derived from the nickname of legendary Jazz icon Louis Armstrong “Satchmo”, is a six-man “Black Inspired” Japanese Rock band, incorporating Jazz and Hip-Hop to create a unique blend of Western sounds in their music. Despite the band’s relative youth (having only started activities in 2013), Suchmos already holds several recognitions, including going second place in the Oricon charts while also topping Billboard Japan’s Top Album rankings during the first week of the release of the band’s sophomore album, THE KIDS.
０２ STAY TUNE
０７ INTERLUDE S.G.S.4
１０ ARE WE ALONE
Ａ ｌ : Like I’ve mentioned in a previous review, there aren’t a lot of popular Japanese artists that base their music on more Western-oriented genres like jazz, blues and/or hip-hop. But whenever I stumble upon a J-artist that does, it’s always an interesting experience to go through. Suchmos probably has been one of the more intriguing discoveries in my time as a music fan, simply because they definitely make some unique music. Combining blues and hip-hop with a genre like rock sounds unusual but I believe this band does a sufficient job at doing so, especially in their second studio album THE KIDS. The smooth basslines, catchy beats and frontman Yonce’s deep vocals mix together well and are certainly good representations of each performed genre. “Snooze” with its focus on rock or the more mellow vibes in “Tobacco” and “Body”; while I’ll admit that the general composition can be all over the place at times, I think this album can spark some curiosity in Japanese music fans who want to hear something different.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
I should preface this by saying that prior to making this album review for THE KIDS, I haven’t actually heard any song by Suchmos. If I have, at the very least, it would’ve been very briefly in passing. Not to say that I was actively choosing not to listen to them, just that I believed the overlap in terms of musicality between these guys and the stuff I normally listen to must’ve been that narrow that their releases don’t normally make it to my YouTube recommendations list as much as other popular bands and artists do. Suffice it to say I didn’t have the faintest clue what exactly Suchmos was about, and A.G.I.T. sorted that out for me almost instantly with its opening riff.
I find it interesting how A.G.I.T. almost comes across as a soundcheck after you listen to it for a while. I don’t really mean that in any negative way of course, and what I’m mostly getting at is that the song does a good job of building up to what we can ultimately call Suchmos’ sound, which in itself ended up being quite the cognitive dissonance for me personally. I couldn’t put a finger as to exactly why I felt as much until much later in the album but I think the biggest surprise to me from this track specifically was in how agressive it started out, which was then followed by another surprise in vocalist YONCE’s otherwise deep and smooth vocal stylings.
I tend to read up on the band or artist whose album I’m doing a review of, as I do think it’s important to get a grasp of the context surrounding said album to understand the thoughts and emotions that went into making it. One of the things I came across that I found both kinda funny (lol) and fascinating about Suchmos is how much the band collectively abhors being called a City Pop band or even being associated with the City Pop genre. Now, I chose to bring this up here because PINKVIBES as a song does in fact remind me of the aforementioned genre a fair bit, but after finding out about the band’s stance on it, a whole new depth to the song suddenly opens up.
It’s almost as if the band actively decided to deconstruct City Pop with this song. Now, comparing PINKVIBES to actual City Pop songs given that proposition, some key things stand out. It’s important to keep in mind that one of the main appeals of City Pop is that it evokes a retro aesthetic, and while Suchmos do fashion themselves with a rather vintage look, everything about their sound is still very modern. While there might be some similarity in instrumentation, the energy is a touch different. Like, they’re not so much paying homage to the old school with this song than they are overwriting it almost with their youthful vibe and new school attitude.
I mentioned at the start of this review that there was something peculiar about how the band sounded to me that I couldn’t explain, and whatever that peculiarity was I feel started to rear its head at this point in the album. While it is in fact true that Suchmos’ sound is quite unlike a whole lot of what I’ve heard from other Japanese bands prior, after having listened to SNOOZE was when I began to realize that theirs might not be a sound that’s completely alien to me after all. I think, more than anything, the genres and sounds that Suchmos really seem to gravitate towards oddly enough aren’t ones native to Japan but rather those largely from the Western parts of the world.
If you look up Suchmos like I did you’ll see the “Acid Jazz” being thrown around left and right as being one of the primary music styles that the band incorporates into their music, alongside what the Japanese call as “Black Music” to mean genres popularized primarily by African-American artists like Soul and Hip-Hop. Not gonna lie, I don’t know if I’ve even heard an Acid Jazz song (lol), but what I *have* heard before (and was subsequently reminded of after hearing SNOOZE) is English Pop/Rock. I would come to find out later on that Acid Jazz actually has European roots, and it was then that I knew I was on to something.
１０ ARE WE ALONE
At the very least, I felt I was starting to understand what exactly Suchmos was bringing to the table that other Japanese bands before them (and even at present) haven’t, and in this context ARE WE ALONE does end up becoming a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy for the band. If I’m reading in between the lines properly, the band may very well be ‘virtually alone’ (as the song goes) in what they were trying to do, which various media outlets took as the band trying to become Japan’s Maroon 5. In hindsight, quite the tall order, but at the time it did appear that this was well within the grasp for Suchmos given the band’s relatively quick rise to fame.
That being said, Suchmos being compared to Maroon 5 in itself proved to be intriguing. The song again sounds very much in the vein of English Pop/Rock mixed with their own unique flare, and given these Western influences to the band’s sound, I can totally see why people would make these comparisons. To be honest though, I can’t help but see all that as somewhat of a disservice to Suchmos. Not to demean Maroon 5, but what I ended up getting out of ARE WE ALONE, especially once the second half of the song starts and the drums pick up, and the guitar starts to kick in (my favorite part btw), was the shift in mood from chill and laid-back to just this ever so slight hint of frustration.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ＴＨＥ ＫＩＤＳ＞
I latched on to how aggressive THE KIDS started out with A.G.I.T., primarily because I wasn’t really expecting that kind of sound from Suchmos going in to this review, wherein I thought they would be more “bright” and Pop-y (like say, Official Hige Dandism or Awesome City Club). I believe that sentiment carries over across most if not all of the tracks that follow, and the more I learned about Suchmos’ stance with regard to what sort of band they are and how they wanted to be viewed as, the more I began to realize that what brought about this sense of aggression in their songs might have been expectations like the ones I had.
I think it’s fair to say that frustration was the main driving force behind the aptly named THE KIDS, with Suchmos having to deal with some growing pains brought about by their being pigeonholed by mainstream media as just another City Pop band on the rise. The bulk of their irritation, according to interviews, more so came from how they want to be seen as more diverse rather than be tied down to just one sound. Instead of disparaging the aforementioned genre however, the band opted to just let their music do the talking, which is in turn why I believe Suchmos come across as having a bit of a chip on their shoulder with their songs here.
Something that I want to touch on before I end this review (as it pertains to this month’s theme) is in how predominantly Western most of their song sound. As someone who has been exposed this style of music at a young age, it shouldn’t really sound all that new to me, and for the most part it doesn’t. I do however find it interesting how Suchmos ends up being so unique in the narrower context of Japanese music. A lot can be said about the universality of music in general, and in how band can make something truly their own regardless of how foreign it is to them natively, but more than anything I do see that as what made THE KIDS such a successful release.
３.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
Something I noticed after listening through THE KIDS a couple of times, and I’ve described albums like this before in previous Exchange/Rate’s as well, is that the album is very top heavy. I never do mean that in a negative way, it’s just that the way I listen to music (which would be albums from first track to the last) generally ends up affecting how I feel about an album as a whole; and for THE KIDS in particular with three of the band’s main A-side tracks (A.G.I.T., STAY TUNE, and PINKVIBES) playing back-to-back-to-back right out of the gate, there were times where I felt like I already got my fill of what I wanted not even halfway through playing the album. Let that not take away from the many bangers that this album has, with TOBACCO and SNOOZE being stands outs for me, and overall should be an interesting listen to anyone looking to see what Suchmos has to offer.
What do you think of Suchmos’ THE KIDS? Let us know in the comments down below! Likewise, what are some albums that introduced you to or made you appreciate certain genres? I’d be curious to know, and I would love to talk about ’em 🙂
Lastly, don’t forget to check out Al’s Exchange/Rate for this month at Omunibasu.Blog!
Till next post~