Kicking off the summer with a new album review!
That’s right, you heard me :p We’re back again for yet another round of J-Music Exchange/Rate, coming to you now in the heat of summer! For those of you who love the sun, I hope y’all are having a blast, and for those that don’t, I equally hope that you guys are able to find comfort inside your home (XD). Either way, whether or not you’re outside or indoors (and whether or not it’s still summer by the time you’re reading this) you’re here now, so let’s get the music pumpin’
Of course, if this is your first time here, the Exchange/Rate is the tandem album review series between myself and Al (from Omunibasu.Blog), wherein each month we go ahead and pass on to each other Japanese music albums from our respective libraries based on a theme that one of us would decide prior, for the other to then discuss and review. This project has been a way for both Al and I to broaden our horizons in terms of what we listen to, and I believe I can speak for Al when I say that we hope that by making these reviews you guys too can find something new to listen to and enjoy on your own time. It would make us incredibly happy if you did.
I mentioned that our album choices are based on a theme and for this month, Al suggested that we pay homage to what can be considered a tradition of sorts in the world of Japanese music, in the form of Rock Festivals. To that end, Al thought it’d be nice if we can talk about upbeat, feel-good, summer-like rock albums to in a way celebrate this summer hallmark in lieu music concerts not having been much of a thing in the past year or so. At the time of writing, the annual Fuji Rock Festival (traditionally held in the summer) has been cancelled due to the still-ongoing pandemic. This is of course no substitute for that, but at the very least we do wish to keep the spirit alive.
Al wasted no time giving me go!go!vanillas’ Magic Number to review for you guys today, and likewise, I didn’t have to think all that much before tossing Hump Back’s Ningen Nanosa over his way for him. Check out his review here!
We’ve got a couple of rambunctious bands to go over this time around so I hope you guys are ready 😀
go!go!vanillas are a four-man Japanese Rock band consisting of Maki Tatsuya (Vo./Gt), Hasegawa Keisuke (Ba.), “Jett Seiya” (Dr.), and Yanagisawa Shintaro (Gt.). Having first formed in 2013, the band has since made a name for themselves over the yearsas one of the better known names in the genre, ushering in what they have taken to calling “New Generation Rock and Roll”.
（＊Spotify link to the full album)
１０・ライクアマウンテン/like a mountain
Ａ ｌ : When I think of rock music that reminds me of summer, one album that immediately comes to mind is definitely Magic Number by go!go!vanillas. There are times where I find myself going back to this album, simply because of how much it radiates fun and upbeat energy. Song after song, you get to hear some fast and catchy melodies that can certainly keep you interested throughout. Whether that be “Magic” and its speedy chorus or how “Like a Mountain” sounds like a track you’d hear during a beach scene in a teen movie, go!go!vanillas does a great job composing an album with a consistently fun atmosphere; one that can really put you in a good mood when you listen to it. Heck, I’m sure “Ema”, alongside the amusing, dance-filled music video, can get you in the mood for the summer season.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
Right as you start listening to go!go!vanillas’ Magic Number by way of the album’s first track Selva here, you will immediately be greeted by what would be the band’s predominant sound throughout the album. As sound that is best characterized by fast percussive drum work, reverb-heavy and shimmering guitar riffs, lively gang vocals, and claps. The band has taken to calling their style of Japanese Pop/Rock as being ‘Bo Diddley’, in honor and reference to legendary American Blues Rock icon Bo Diddley, of whom the band has taken great influence from through Western bands that the members were fans of growing up such as The Beatles and The Sonics.
Personally, I found that their style really reminded me of what may would call ‘Surf Rock‘ or ‘Surfer Music‘ which carries a lot of the same musical elements as listed above, albeit with a more zany and ‘plucky’ sort of delivery; like the kind of songs you tend to hear blasting from the speakers at some sort of beach or poolside party. Going by the theme of this month’s J-Music Exchange/Rate, it would seem that go!go!vanillas’ offerings fit well enough already, at least in terms of the summer-y vibe that their music provides for their listeners, and I would reckon the same sentiment would also apply in a live concert setting, wherein I can totally see Selva getting a crowd going.
Speaking of the theme for this month’s reviews, that being upbeat/feel-good/summer-like rock albums reminscent of the kind of music you would hear in Japanese music festivals that would be going on around this time, I thought it’d be interesting to frame our discussion of go!go!vanillas’ Magic Number in the context of how fitting the songs on it would be when performed in some open air stadium in front of hundreds of their fans. Of course, I could just as easily go and look up clips of the band performing live and call it a day, but that would defeat the purpose of the theme I feel, as it takes away from the imagined scenery (so to speak) that we’re trying to look for here.
To that effect, Ema does come across as the kind of song that you can see a huge crowd of people just jumping and jiving to as they twirl their towels in the air underneath the hot summer sun. It’s an immensely lively track that’s full of the same energetic riffs and plucky reverbs from Selva ramped up to eleven. Curiously enough however, in as as much you’d expect a song that sounds like this to be about all the things I just described, Ema actually comes across as a bit more existential in how it talks about the pursuit of happiness. In an interview with Natalie.mu, Gt./Vo. Tatsuya Maki mentions wanting to be able to convey what he wants to convey in his lyricism.
Magic comes in as the third track off of Magic Number and almost seamlessly plays directly off of Ema with how it sounds, again sharing largely the same qualities as of what is now the previous two songs. Present still are riffs, the gang vocals, and the claps. Energy levels are still at their peak, and going on back to the narrative by which I proposed we look at these tracks, it feels as though go!go!vanillas are all but ready to just tirelessly jamming away on stage without any signs of stopping. It would be around this point in the album that I began to wonder, how long *are* they gonna be able to keep up with this fast-paced and high intensity sound. More on this later.
The song talks about a ‘myriad-colored magic’ and, continuing with what I said earlier about vocalist Tatsuya’s approach to writing lyrics, the band as a whole seem to value universality, longevity, and their own sense of identity when creating music. They want to be able to reach as many fans as they can, for as long as they can, with the kind of sound that they want to make. I would surmise that this is the magic being referred to here and, considering that this song is from the band’s first ever studio album, I do find it commendable that from as early as when this album came out they’ve already established for themselves what kind of band they want to be remembered as.
The aforementioned sentiment carries over all the way up until the final track of the album Teenager’s Noise, while at the same time promising ‘this isn’t all we got’ or so the song goes. A bold statement, preceded by the line; ‘never-ending story’, which just goes to show the eagerness that the band posseses. This in turn reflected by the unrelenting energy in their songs, that does manage to hold up greatly for what I can say now is the entirety of Magic Number. Vocalist Tatsuya even goes on record to say that the album took a lot of energy to make, even jokingly remarking that there was no way he and the band can keep going in that sort of pace.
This he would then follow up by saying that he’s already looking towards the future, imagining what sort of sounds would resonate with people from then on, and how they can’t just ‘stick to Rock ‘n Roll’ moving forward. Together the band recognizes that they need to be flexible for them to be able to accomodate the changing of the times, whilst still keeping an ‘old school spirit’. In closing off Magic Number, go!go!vanillas are saying that they are here to stay and, seeing as this album came out back in 2014 and how they’re still to this day one of the most popular Japanese Rock bands out there, I would think it’s quite fair to say that they made good on that promise.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｍａｇｉｃ Ｎｕｍｂｅｒ＞
Something that you’ll often hear come up here on the J-Music Exchange/Rate, whether you’re on this side of it or on Al’s over at Omunibasu, is the idea that albums sometimes end up having a predominant sound to them. I talked about it before in passing when I reviewed SHISHAMO’s SHISHAMO 3, and just recently Al discusses the opposite of it for his review of Ieiri Leo’s DUO. For the purposes of this review, and succeeding reviews thereafter (as I realize that we’ve yet to really concretize this concept despite it having come up a fair number of times already), do allow me to call this musical quality of sorts that an album might posses as ‘uniformity’.
Uniformity for me occurs when songs share largely the same elements over the course of an album. One might say, well of course they would if it’s an album being performed by a single band/artist, but as you’ll be able to glean from Al’s review there are times where that’s not the case. This is different from what we can refer to as ‘cohesion’, or in how well songs mesh together in album regardless of how similar or not they are to one another, although as you can imagine the two could most certainly go hand in hand. go!go!vanillas’ Magic Number for example is very much a cohesive album in the way its songs flow from one song to the next, yet it is also very uniform.
Now, I personally don’t find uniformity inherently good nor bad, and for the most part it’s just something that’s present or not. That is to say, I don’t believe an album necessarily needs to be uniform or otherwise for it to be a good album. However, as someone who listens to whole albums at a time, it’s a trait that I can’t help but notice after a playthrough or two. This was especially made noticeable by how exactly go!go!vanillas sound, which is again a sound (at least for Magic Number) greatly characterized by a seemingly neverending rush of energy in the form of fast percussive drum work, plucky reverberating riffs, lively gang vocals, and spirited claps.
３．５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
And because go!go!vanillas sound the way they do from start to finish of this album, I found myself just a little bit fatigued by the end of it. Perhaps that in itself is fitting for this month’s theme, as I really did feel as though I just got done attending a live concert after listening to Magic Number. Though I guess to be more precise, it was like I had to leave early while the concert itself was still going with no clear signs of stopping. It’s a fun, upbeat, feel-good, summer-like album no doubt, but you kinda also need to be in the mood for all those things too to truly enjoy the songs on it to the fullest. Not to say they can’t be enjoyable at the onset of course, just remember to stay hydrated (XD)
What did you guys think of this month’s review? Have you listened to go!go!vanillas’ Magic Number before? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Lemme know in the comments section below! Likewise, if you haven’t had the chance to listen to it prior to this review, what do you think of it now after having read what I have to say about it? Let me know too. I’d love to hear it 😀
Don’t forget to check out Al’s review for this month’s J-Music Exchange/Rate if you haven’t yet. Again, it’s gonna be for Hump Back’s Ningen Nanosa, which is an album that I’m personally quite fond of, so by all means do check it out.
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