The theme for this month is hidden gems! 😀
Yooo! I feel like I just saw you guys! But, I guess that’s what Februrary does to ya (XD) All the same, welcome back once again to the J-Music Exchange/Rate! Can you believe we’re now in middle of March!? Geez, time, slow down…
Of course, as some of you should already know by now, the Exchange/Rate is the tandem album review series between yours truly and my good friend and fellow Japanese music enthusiast Al from Omunibasu.Blog, where every month we pitch one another an album to listen to and subsequently review. If you would take a quick peek at the Exchange/Rate page, you’ll notice that we’ve done quite a few of these already since we first started up the project back in May of last year, so do check those out if you haven’t yet. We do these for fun, as well as being a way to try out new music between ourselves, and we’d love it if you guys accompanied us in this venture 🙂
Now, as always, we do have a theme for this month’s album picks. This time it was Al’s turn to decide on one, and (as I pre-empted before the cut) he thought it’d be interesting if we went and chose hidden gems from popular artists. Specifically, it would have to be albums/songs that people wouldn’t normally reference when talking about or recommending a particular band or artist. Admittedly, them having to be “popular” did already cull my library of albums that I could potentially give Al to review by a significant margin (LOL), but I was able to eventually settle on one that I think was a pretty good pick considering the criteria
I don’t think there’s anyone out there who would recommend BAND-MAID‘s April-Fool’s-prank-turned-surprise-hit BAND-MAIKO other than me (though it should say something that it was actually though BAND-MAIKO that I started listening to BAND-MAID, but I digress), which is why I gave that to him to review 😀 Al, on the other hand, has me doing a review on Sakanaction’s third studio album Shin-Shiro.
Let’s get right to it then!
Sakanaction (サカナクション) is a five-member Electro Pop/Rock band hailing from Hokkaido, and lead by lead vocalist and main composer Yamaguchi Ichiro (山口一郎). The band derives its name from the combination of the words “sakana” (meaning ‘fish) and the english word “action”, as they aim to swiftly maneuver the ever-changing currents of the Japanese music like that of a fish swimming in water.
（＊Spotify link to the full album)
０１ Ame (B)
０２ ライトダンス (light dance)
０３ セントレイ/sen to rei
０４ ネイティブダンサー (native dancer)
０７ 黄色い車/kiiroi kuruma
０９ 涙ディライト/namida deraito
１０ アドベンチャー (adventure)
Ａ ｌ : Like many other people, I discovered the band sakanaction from the one song that probably everyone knows or has heard before: “Shin Takarajima”. And yeah, I would agree with the general consensus: it’s most definitely a catchy and fun track to listen to. That being said, “Shin Takarajima” also made me interested in the other works and compositions this particular band has made, and after I stumbled upon their 2009 studio release Shin-Shiro, I realized that there really was more to sakanaction than a viral song.
The band does a good job displaying a style combination of pop rock and electronic that tends to be low-key and even relaxing at times. It generally had a nice balance between the different genres, as they fused electric/acoustic guitars and drums with subtle and almost space-like electro sounds. This allowed a lot of the songs to sound pretty easy-going, which I personally enjoyed. Main vocalist Yamaguchi Ichiro also adds to the overall atmosphere of this album with his deep yet pleasant-sounding vocals. And one of the more interesting things about this album is that none of the songs really felt like super catchy, viral-worthy tracks, which can be seen as an intriguing contrast to what this band is usually known for.
Whether it’s a track like “Light Dance” that makes you want to, well, dance or songs that have mellow vibes such as “Bustle” and my personal favorite, “Namida Delight”, this album could be good if you want something that’s more ‘subdued’.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０３ セントレイ – シンシロ ver. /sen to rei (thousand and zero)
I think it’s pretty fair to say that Sen to Rei is the most important track off of Shin-Shiro. Now, I’m not saying that it’s my favorite track on here (something I’d actually reserve more for the songs I’ll be featuring following this one), but if I had to pick out a song that best represents what the album is all about, then it really can’t be anything other than this song (at least in my opinion). I would even go so far as to say that Sen to Rei is very much the heart and soul of Shin-Shiro, and I do think I would actually be remiss to not give the song a mention in my attempt to write a review for Shin-Shiro, so allow me to lead off with it here.
This song is actually the product of a re-recording of a previous unreleased rendition of it (hence “Shin-Shiro ver.”), which, according to lead vocalist and songwriter Yamaguchi Ichiro, he had meant to have a softer and more melancholic sound. The entire inception of Shin-Shiro as an album largely revolved around bringing out the creativities of the entire band as a whole, that involved (among other experimental practices at the behest of Yamaguchi) the independent production of demo tracks by each member of the band that they would then rework amongst themselves, all in an effort to create songs that would best represent all of their individualities.
０４ ネイティブダンサー (native dancer)
Something that I found a bit pertinent to take note of as I was writing this review was how Yamaguchi seemed to very much be ahead of his time with regard to his musicality. After being exposed to Electronica at a young age, thanks to his father’s establishment that regularly had foreign music playing in the background (European Electronica to be exact), Yamaguchi attempted to incorporate elements of Electronica in his own compositions well before the genre was even a thing in Japan. Despite being met with dissenting opinions from his then-bandmates, Yamaguchi continued to pursue the sound he yearned to make, which then lead to the formation of Sakanaction.
According to Yamaguchi, going with traditional Japanese Rock arrangements would simply not enough to be able to bring forth the imagery he wished to convey. Native Dancer I feel best represents the solution that he found for this particular quandry that he faced, and why he was subsequently so adamant in making it a reality. Yamaguchi believed in the potential that Electronica had with regard to creating music, and the end result of him doing just that was the development of this unique and transformative Electro Pop/Rock sound that Yamaguchi and Sakanaction as a whole would best be known by even to this day.
０６ 雑踏/zattou (bustle)
This to me ended up being the track that took me by surprise me the most, in large part due to how… different-sounding it ended up being compared to the sound that I would usually expect coming from Sakanaction. Where the tracks leading up to Zattou put on display the band’s penchant for Electro Pop/Rock, the song, oddly enough almost, is bereft of any sort of Electronica barring the subtle beeping effects that you’ll hear midway through. I would come to find out later on, after I started reading up on the album a bit more, that the track was actually a composition of Yamaguchi’s back in the earlier days of the band that he left unchanged from when he wrote it.
Specifically, Zattou was written back in 2005, which would’ve been at the height of Japanese Alternative/Indie Rock. I personally found this quite interesting. While one could see this as a bit of a departure from what many would consider as Sakanaction’s prototypical sound, it does instead very clearly evoke the musical trends of its time, being a song reminscent of the more prominent names of the genre (like say, suneohair or Asian Kung-Fu Generation). This was a bit of an eye-opener for me, as I don’t think I would have ever put Sakanaction in the same category as the aforementioned bands before having listened to this song.
０７ 黄色い車/kiiroi kuruma (yellow car)
What I liked most about Shin-Shiro, after giving the album a couple of spins, is how you can hear both sounds that Sakanaction still go for even in their newer releases, as well as sounds that you don’t really hear all that much anymore from them. Of course, with this being somewhat of a crossroads release for the band, it makes sense that that would be the vibe that this album would give as a whole. I can only say so much though, being someone who primarily knows of them through their more recent offerings, but at the very least I think it’s fair to say that Kiiroi Kuruma is a good representative of the last vestiges of Sakanaction’s Alternative/Indie Rock.
There’s a more noticeable application of Electronica here compared to Zattou, but it’s still mostly secondary in the overall arrangement, which is otherwise still heavy on the drums and the guitars. That said, the aliteration and the repetition that Yamaguchi (as the band’s main composer) chose to employs in Kiiroi Kuruma‘s lyricism and song structure, is pretty much the trademark Sakanaction sound that you’ll hear in a lot of their newer, more Pop-oriented songs. In that regard, the way the band was able to transpose and further rework this style to the one that they now have today is very impressive in hindsight.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｓｈｉｎ－Ｓｈｉｒｏ＞
2009 was an interesting time for Electronica in Japan, being just barely a year removed from Perfume’s iconic release of “GAME” (April 2008); the idol group’s first studio album under famed Techno/Electro Pop composer Yasutaka Nakata. The album dominated the Oricon charts during its time, and is universally recognized as a revolutionary work that completely redefined Electronica in the context of Japanese music in the years that followed. This era saw to the rise of “Electronic Rock” bands; most notable among them being school food punishment and negoto, both of whom are seen by many as some of the true pioneers of Japanese Electronic Rock as a genre. Enter, Sakanaction.
One might come to expect Sakanaction as also being a band that pioneered Electronica in their early years and while that may very well be true today (over the course of their now-storied career), as you’ll come to find out for yourself as you listen to Shin-Shiro, that wasn’t entirely the case back then. Taking advantage of the growing popularity of Electronica at the time, the album was created as a result of a lot of experimentation, mostly centered on the implementation of Electronic Pop in touches to Sakanaction’s otherwise traditional Alternative/Indie Rock style (much in the same vein as that of the band’s contemporaries such as suneohair and Asian Kung-Fu Generation).
It’s fascinating, seeing how the band has since evolved and further refined their Electro Pop/Rock sound to what we’re used to hearing from them today, as you do still hear traces of that style that they now have in spots here in Shin-Shiro. Sakanaction as a band take pride in their ability to cope with the changing of the times (as per their namesake), and this album is simply just a testament to that. During a period of time when bands like suneohair and Asian Kung-Fu Generation were already a dime a dozen, Sakanaction chose to evolve and keep pace with the likes of school food punishment and negoto, and that I think is very commendable.
４.２５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
８.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
All that being said, it’s also important to note that Yamaguchi Ichiro is himself also just an absolute madman (lol) of a musical talent who, in his insistent pursuit of creating music with Electronica, basically willed Sakanaction (and Shin-Shiro by extension) to existence. There was so much thought and effor tput into this album that makes it real hard not to appreciate for what it is, though it does help of course that the album itself is just a fun listen by itself. Ame (B), Light Dance, and really most of the entire second half of the album being standout tracks on their own, even now over a decade since Shin-Shiro‘s initial release. Definitely an album I would recommend.
There you have it!
Have you had the chance to liste to Sakanaction’s Shin-Shiro before? If so, what are your thoughts on it? If not, what are your thoughts on it now after having read this review? Lemme know in the comments section down below!
Likewise, I’d be curious to know what are some albums/songs that you feel are “hidden gems” or releases by certain arists or bands that you believe aren’t as referenced as much as they should, so feel free to link those too 😀