Hello, and welcome everyone! Good to be back, as always, to yet another installment of the one and only J-Music Exchange/Rate! 🙂
The Exchange/Rate of course, if you don’t already know, is the tandem album review series between myself and my good friend and fellow Japanese music enthusiast Al from Omunibasu.Blog. Each month we go and “exchange” albums based on a certain theme from our respective music libraries, for the other to then talk about and review on their respective blog. Along with being able to share with you guys some of our favorite albums, the Exchange/Rate has also been a nice way for both myself and Al to expand our horizons so to speak in terms of what we listen to. It is our hope that this series does, if it hasn’t already, the same for you 😉 We’ve done quite a bit of reviews already so if you’re curious as to whether or not we’ve reviewed a particular album, you can go on ahead to Al’s listing of all the Exchange/Rates we’ve done so far.
As I mentioned, the albums we pick out from our libraries are based on a theme that we go over beforehand. Al and I take turns on who gets to decide the theme, and for this month we throw it back to Al, who gives us the theme bands/artists that you’d love to hear live/attend one of their concerts in person. I mean, I would attend any concert of a band/artist that I listen to in a heartbeat if I could (and more importantly if they were in my relative vicinity, lol), but there’s definitely a couple that I would much prefer to see perform live over the others, factoring in stuff like how much better would they sound in a live setting or whether or not I would actually pay to go see them live (lol). As much as I was able to narrow it down with all of that, it still took me a while to decide, but I think I managed to end up with a good one.
In my search of what would be a good pick for this month’s Exhange/Rate, I remembered that I personally owe Nakagawa Daijiro a visit to one of JYOCHO’s lives, so I couldn’t not go with a JYOCHO album. Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle is an asbolutely beautiful album by a band with with one of the most beatuiful sounds you’ll ever hear, so I tossed that one to Al (check out his review here!). In return I will be reviewing Official HIGE DANdism’s first EP/mini-album Love to Peace ha Kimi no Naka for you guys today in what ended up being a fairly unique listening experience for me personally.
With that, let’s get right to it 😀
Official HIGE DANdism (Official髭男dism) is a four-piece multiple-time gold/platinum selling Japanese Pop/Rock band comprised of Vo./Key. Fujihara Satoshi , Gt. Ozasa Daisuke, Ba./Sax. Narazaki Makoto and Dr./Perc. Matsuura Masaki. The band initially formed in 2012, with their first official release as an indies band, Love to Peace ha Kimi no Naka, coming out three years after. “HigeDAN” would make their major record label debut in 2018 with the single No Doubt under Pony Canyon.
Love to Peace ha Kimi no Naka / Official HIGE DANdism
０２・恋の前ならえ/koi no mae nara e
０４・雪急く朝が来る/yukiseku asa ga kuru
０５・始発が導く幸福論/shihatsu ga michibiku koufuku-ron
０６・愛なんだが・・・/ai nan da ga…
Ａ ｌ : There is no denying that Official HIGE DANdism is currently, without-a-doubt, one of the hottest Japanese bands in the industry. And while I’ve really enjoyed their newer hits like “Pretender”, “Cry Baby” and especially “Mixed Nuts”, I would say that their earlier releases are equally as enjoyable, at least in my opinion.
It’s really interesting to listen to and compare HIGEDAN’s 2015 album Love to Peace ha Kimi no Naka to their newer stuff, as this particular record expresses a much more toned down and light-hearted energy from this band. Their instrumental lineup is the same and Fujihara Satoshi’s vocals are still pristine but the more upbeat, fun and carefree nature of this album can definitely show a much different side than what, I assume, most people who have listened to HIGEDAN are used to. I love the youthfulness of songs like “Yuugure Zoi” and “parade”, and the light-rock feeling of certain tracks such as “Yuki Seku Asa ga Kuru” and my personal favorite “SWEET TWEET” are all really enjoyable. Plus, to connect this all with this month’s theme, the way this band performs music, even nowadays, seems like it would be so much fun to watch in-person. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear Satoshi’s vocals with their own two ears???
That said, I think if you really enjoyed all of the viral and/or anime-related songs that this band has done, I’d say it’s worth checking out their earlier releases such as Love to Peace ha Kimi no Naka, as this is pretty much a fascinating display of HIGEDAN’s roots as a musical band. And to be honest, this album is essentially one of the things that made me a HIGEDAN fan in the first place.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
Starting things off for us today is none other than the lead-off track for Love to Peace wa Kimi no Naka in Sweet Tweet here and right out of the gate if I had to name one thing that I would think most people listening to HigeDAN for the first time would home in on more than anything else is of course vocalist Fujihara Satoshi’s singing. Most noticeable in that regard would be his lisp, which is a sound that immediate jumps out at you with a song that you’re listening to for the first time generally, but more so when it’s as pronounced as Fujihara’s. Might be a bit of an acquired taste for some, some might not mind or even notice, but I figured I’d get that one out of the way early.
Perhaps the more important thing to take note of is *the way* Fujihara sings. Specifically with how he almost always sings at the very top end of his voice, as you’ll hear here in Sweet Tweet and… really nearly ALL the songs in this album, something that I’ll get back to later. In singling out this track though, the chorus incessantly reminded me of Awesome City Club for some reason (lol). The little trail-away at around the 00:46-second mark also made me think of 00:50 of Manatsu no Cider that just released (at the time of writing) by Sarasa Kadowaki. The melodies of the two songs are different but the structure is for the most part similar which I thought was interesting.
０５・始発が導く幸福論/shihatsu ga michibiku koufuku-ron
It’ll take you five tracks deep into the album to find a song where Fujihara sings even remotely in a lower register in Shihatsu ga Michibiku Koufuku-ron, though it helps that this song (and the ony following it right after) has a calmer and more subdued feel to it compared to the rest of the tracks on Love to Peace wa Kimi no Naka. Two things to take away from here, with the first being that I think that in the context of the album (and HigeDAN’s music as a whole) this is where you can start to appreciate the depth of Fujihara’s singing in terms of how much he can actually vary his pitch relative to how high he seems to preferrably choose to sing.
The other thing I wanted to point out is the instrumentation. One of the things that surprised me the most after listening to this album in its entirety is in how varied the songs ended up being in terms of sounds and genres HigeDAN tried to go for over the course of only eight songs. Like, if you took away Fujihara’s singing, it’s different enough that it’d be reasonable to mistake it for a different band altogether. On the subject of different bands, Shihatsu ga Michibiku Koufuku-ron made me think of MaRuRiToRyuga’s Linaria, specifically the former’s pause in the beat with extended syllable at the 01:30 which I couldn’t help but compare to the opening line in the latter.
０６・愛なんだが・・・/ai nanda ga…
Continuing with the trend of what you can consider to be lower energy tracks in stark contrast with how lively and energetic the album starts out in the first couple of tracks is Ai Nanda ga here, which sounds like an even further departure from the kind of sounds that HigeDAN has had to offer thus far. The song comes in with a bit of a more Blues-y Jazz arrangement this time around but with a splash of some reeeaaally slick electric guitar work. Something that I personally find (at least in my opinion) to be oddly reminiscent of some of Yorushika’s more recent offerings, and really just n-buna’s handiwork in general, namely Haruhisagi and Bremen.
Kind of Ironic, considering the overarching thematic narrative surrounding Haruhisagi as it relates to its inclusion in Yorushika’s Tousaku (lit. plagiarism) album, but it does dovetail nicely into my overall thoughts regarding this album. I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve been making more comparisons to other bands and artists in this review compared to previous ones, but this is now the part where I tell you that this too was purpusely done in service of a point that I’ll be making later on. I’ll make it clear now though that I’m not and I won’t be saying that these bands/artists I mentioned ripped off of HigeDan or anything of the sort. That’ll just be outrageous (lol).
You would think that a track titled parade would be the liveliest one of them all but it’s arguably the most measured song in the album (lol), which in turn gives the song a more nuanced feel, especially in regard to Fujihara’s singing. This is something that I first brought up when I talked about Kamishiraishi Mone for my review of note, but Fujihara might have that same quandary too where I think his voice really needs space to operate at its full potential, and that slower tracks like the one here might be the way to go compared to songs with faster melodies that by nature make it sound like he’s singing even higher than he already does… if that makes sense (XD)
While I wouldn’t say it’s entirely the reason, Fujihara’s more controlled singing for parade here, it does in all honesty play a part in how much I favor this track over the rest of the songs in the album. I also just really like the stuff going on in the instrumentation here, from the hammering chord progression, the xylophones, and the hi hats all worked incredibly well together here in my opinion (with the implementation of the last one in particular being my favorite). I also have one last comparison to make before I wrap it all up in a nice little bow; the outro at 04:02 is really close to something that you’ll hear in the outro for Kusunoki Tomori’s Akatoki at around 04:55.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ
Ｌｏｖｅ ｔｏ Ｐｅａｃｅ ｗａ Ｋｉｍｉ ｎｏ Ｎａｋａ＞
Something interesting that I found out while gathering resources over the course of writing this review for Love to Peace wa Kimi no Naka were the origins behind Official HigeDANdism’s name and how integral it is to their philosophy behind their song-writing and just their drive towards music as a whole. From what I gather, the band chose to name themselves as such (particularly ‘higedan’ meaning “bearded man”) because they wanted to create music that both themselves and the youth of today can both appreciate, and still look fondly at in a future when those very youths have all started to grow beards. A lasting spirit of Japanese Pop, so to speak.
Now seven years removed from its initial release, I think the album embodies that spirit fairly well in my opinion. Going back to all those comparisons I made to more recent J-pop songs, this is the part where I would like to reiterate that the point was not to show how these artists are somehow copying HigeDAN’s style, but rather to show to you just how much in tune the band is with what works and what sounds people end up liking in J-Pop/Rock songs. I’m sure countless other bands/artists have also done the same things as the ones I highlighted, but you have to also consider the fact this is also not only just one band, but this is also their first major release.
As such, Love to Peace wa Kimi no Naka can be seen as a collective of a lot of good ideas (especially for its time I would imagine, given the prevalance of the stuff they were doing back then in today’s music) by a band in HigeDAN who as early as their debut already showed this much promise with what they had to offer in terms of their musicality. Of course, we have seen them ride this early momentum as well, being now one of the most popular and succesful J-Pop/Rock bands active today (at the time of writing), but it was also just a fascinating experience listening through this album, and the amount of times I’ve had to stop and go “Wait, I think I heard that recently.”
３.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
This isn’t a common “criticism” (if I can even call it that) that I give out, partly due to the fact that I don’t nearly delve into male vocals as much as I do female vocals, but also because you don’t really come across this this kind of dissonance between vocal prowess and the utilization for male vocals specifically. Fujihara goes from zero to a hundred in pretty much every song (lol) and I do honestly believe that that’s just going to be an acquired taste for some as it had to be for me while I was listening to this album. Not to say that he’s a bad singer in any way, but it’s definitely a style that’s gonna take a bit of getting used to to be able to truly enjoy their songs. Fair warning.
What are you guys’ thoughts on HigeDAN’s Love to Peace ha Kimi no Naka? Let us know down in the comments section below! Likewise, who are some bands/artists you’d love to hear live/attend one of their concerts in person? We’d love to know 😀