Chillin’ with these summer beats 😎
Before we get the party started, I want to first welcome you guys back once again to yet another installment of the one and only J-Music Exchange/Rate! For the uninformed ー
The Exchange/Rate is a tandem album review series releasing every month conducted by yours truly alongside my good friend and fellow Japanese music fan Al from Omunibasu.Blog. Each month we both decide on a theme that will be the basis for which album we’ll pick out from our respective music libraries. After determining our picks, we then “exchange” those albums to one another so that the other person may then listen to it and subsequently write a review on it. This project has been a way for us to expand our musical palate so to speak in terms of what we listen to as well as to provide opportunities for us to potentially see our favorite albums in a new light. It is our hope that this series is able to do the same for you and that you either find something new to listen to and/or we give you a fresh take on some of *your* favorite albums 🙂
Al and I alternate between ourselves on who gets to decide the theme for the month, and this month it was Al’s turn. Coincidentally, this month I also published my first couple of playlist videos on my YouTube channel (check them out if you haven’t yet!), one of which is called “chill japanese music for those hot summer nights” (lol). Al saw this and figured it’d be good to have as this month’s theme considering how the summer season just rolled in. Specifically it’s going to be chill albums to listen to during the summer. I’ve talked in passing about my growing fascination with Japanese Hip-Hop and R&B in the past year so suffice for it to say I had a deep well to draw from this time around. Al’s in a similar head space at the moment as well according to his own roundup post that went up not too long ago, so we should be in for a good one here.
I picked out salasa’s Inner Ocean to review this month. The album basically took over December 2022 for me and I’ve been chomping at the bit for an opportunity to recommend this one so I’m glad I got to do so here (catch his review over at Omunibasu.Blog). Al went ahead and gave me WAVE MOTION by SHE IS SUMMER, which ended up being a bit of a reunion type of moment for me.
After the band’s dissolution in 2015 following the untimely death of one of its members, singer/songwriter and former Phenotas frontwoman MICO started a solo project the following year under the name SHE IS SUMMER, wherein she remained active up until 2021. At present MICO has embarked on yet another musical venture dubbed ‘GIRLS FIGHT CLUB’ which launched in 2022.
（＊Spotify link to the full album)
CDJapan Affiliate Link(s):
Wave Motion / SHE IS SUMMER
０４・CALL ME IN YOUR SUMMER
０６・夜に溶けないように/yoru ni makenai you ni
０７・おとなになるね/otona ni naru ne
０８・会いに行かなくちゃ/ai ni ikanakucha
０９・希望の街/kibou no machi
１１・誰より僕ら、未来を探そう/dare yori bokura, mirai wo sagasou
１３・Bloom in the city
Ａ ｌ : Found out about SHE IS SUMMER from a ways back, when I discovered the fantastic song that is “CALL ME IN YOUR SUMMER”. Absolutely loved the chillax and smooth energy that was displayed in that track, as the simple beats and synths, alongside MICO’s higher-pitched and cutesy voice, all came together to create a really great summer track to vibe to. It’s honestly been a while since I last listened to SHE IS SUMMER’s music and WAVE MOTION in particular, but I feel like I definitely have a bit of a better opinion on it, four years removed.
I do appreciate the overall electro-pop sound that’s heard throughout this album, giving a lot of these songs a really upbeat and vibrant tone. Songs like “Ai ni Ikanakucha” having a mellower atmosphere with the subtle-yet-bubbly electronic sounds, or even the strong 80s city-pop influence shown in “Bloom in the city”… many of the tracks on WAVE MOTION are solid, composition-wise, and MICO’s unique and light vocals just help bring everything together. All in all, I’ve always enjoyed SHE IS SUMMER’s music and this album is totally something you can put on when you wanna chill during a warm summer evening.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
The album opens up with something of a short preamble sound check in (wave motion) (also the title track of the album), that then leads into the first “actual” full length track for WAVE MOTION in Darling Darling here. While I do think just the opener alone paints a fairly accurate picture of the kind of sound you should expect to hear from SHE IS SUMMER, at the very least in terms of how the rest of the songs on the album are going to be on both a tonal and a conceptual level, Darling Darling is about as representative in my opinion of her overall style as it gets, which is in turn a great way to start it all of for us if you weren’t all that familiar which what she has to offer.
If anything I do think what you’ll latch on to right away with her music is this… fuzzy sort of atmosphere that’s generally just present all throughout the album that gives the songs retro kind of feel to them which I do believe is the aesthetic MICO was going for here. This is further accentuated by the grainy distortion along with this almost old school Surf Rock-y guitar riffs that are both of abundance in the track. Even the PV itself is purposely trying to give off a dated look with the blurry film filter and the classic 4:3 aspect ratio to go along with it as well. Suffice for it to say, there is a clear centralized theme for WAVE MOTION and she’s all in on it for the most part.
We very quickly move on to what is actually my favorite track off of WAVE MOTION in CRY BABY here, which is a song that I like for a fair number of reasons, some you might have seen me raise up before in previous reviews if you’ve been following the Exchange/Rate for a while now. Worth noting in that regard, speaking of things that I generally lean towards, is that CRY BABY is one of the faster songs, if not ＊the＊ fastest song off of the album, almost to the point that it’s an outlier compared to the tempo of most of the other tracks. The instrumentation is also more synth-oriented here, with the guitars being more Funk-y compared to how they were in Darling Darling.
This song also has the most layering of the vocals with how its mixed, especially with its VERY catchy main hook. This is something that I talked about before in my review of Seeds of sound but the reason why this works, especially for singers like DFC’s Yaho Hinaki and MICO who have the kind of singing voice that they have which occupy the top end primarily is you want to fill in that mid to low end to make for a fuller sound. I’m always gonna be a fan whenever this kind of layering is implemented in Japanese Pop music specifically as there are a lot of singers that do fall in that same category and whose songs could really benefit from this somewhat underutilized technique.
０９・希望の街/kibou no machi
My preference for “faster” songs aside, in my own honest opinion I do believe this is where MICO does her best work here as we come up to yet another song in Kibou no Machi that has a lot of the same things as CRY BABY going for it, coupled with things unique to the track itself that make it stand out if at least for me and my own musical tastes. We again have a more upbeat tempo here which, along with the vocal layering that’s present here as well, might just be things that I innately want more for singers with a naturally higher vocal register in general to be doing as a personal preference. Might have to make a mental note on that moving forward.
Something to note here too is that Kibou no Machi is, as far as I’m able to tell after having listened through the entirety of WAVE MOTION, the only track in the album that has an acoustic guitar in place of an electric one. The former, in tandem with the piano, is a configuration that I’ve always really liked over the other. Kinda gives the song this “natural” feel to it, especially with how minimal the synth work is for this track wherein you can really hear the piano come alive in the overall instrumentation as a direct consequence. Even the little things too like the finger snaps that you hear add so much to the song. A completely unplugged version of this would be insane.
１３・Bloom in the city
We’ve reached the end of the album here with the final track off of WAVE MOTION, Bloom in the city, bringing us back in time once more to wrap this all up. In that sense it’s actually fitting too considering how reminiscent this song is to what you’d hear from an 80’s-90’s ending theme for an anime from that era, which part of thinks to be the exact rationale for making it the album’s closing track if not a part of the reasoning for it. Something to note is that this album came out right around the time City Pop was beginning to have its resurgence that it now continues to enjoy, so I do wonder too how much that played into the conceptualization of the album.
That being said, part of me wants to believe that even if City Pop didn’t blow up in popularity, this album would still sound the way that it does. In that sense, I did find it curious how, despite WAVE MOTION came out around that time, there isn’t really a track you can classify ＊as＊ City Pop despite the otherwise retro-inspired undertones of the album. Of course, obviously not all old school J-Pop is City Pop, but I think it’s important to highlight given the timing of this release. I do think it’s kinda neat that MIKO’s vision for SHE IS SUMMER, at the very least in so far as this album is concerned, is completely 100% her and not just a product of the times.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ＷＡＶＥ ＭＯＴＩＯＮ＞
Back when I was in college, the person who… essentially started me on this journey of Japanese music discovery, talked to me once about an indie Electro Pop band with whom he had the pleasure of getting to know while he was out in Japan. He was telling me about, how they were a band led by the sister of Wednesday Campanella’s then-vocalist KOM_I, which was another group that he adored. I wouldn’t really find anything to support or deny this claim even to this day (lol) but I do remember which band it was that he was telling me about (even shared a link of them on Reddit around that time). It was none other than Phenotas; MICO’s first music venture.
I felt the need to bring this up, mostly to highlight how long MICO’s been in the game for, but also to show a through line across all her projects (Phenotas, SHE IS SUMMER, and now GIRLS FIGHT CLUB). See, if you take the predominant genres of each; Electro Pop/Discotheque, 80’s-90’s Pop, 80’s-90’s Club; you’ll notice there’s actually this very specific inclination towards retro genres. Earlier I talked about how, regardless of whether or not it was that ＊in＊ thing when it came out, WAVE MOTION would still sound the way that it does. I think this is just further proof of that. That is to say, MICO had a clear idea of what she wanted to do, and she executed it.
I struggle to think of another album that shows its uniformity to a genre from a particular time period, at least to the level that WAVE MOTION takes it. In that sense, it does make me wonder who the target audience of this would be. People from that era? People who like the music from that era? People who haven’t listened to music from that era so that they might grow more appreciative of it? Hard to say. I mean, really it could be all these, and even then you’ll find that the album still might not be for everyone. At the very least, I can see how someone might pass it up simply because they don’t see themselves belonging to any of these groups of people.
４ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
８ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
WAVE MOTION is a very easy album to get lost in for the first couple of listens, specifically the first half, mostly because of how cohesive and uniform it is. After a while the songs do start to set themselves apart; the aforementioned songs aside, tracks like CALL ME IN YOUR SUMMER, Ureshikunachatte, and Ai ni Ikanakucha and are all vibes, and MOONLIGHT in particular does some interesting things that I also really liked. However, the overall style might not be for everyone as I mentioned. In addition, MICO’s singing might also be an acquired taste for some, as another potential barrier for this album. Otherwise, not a problem if you’re cool with those.
What are your guys’ thoughts on WAVE MOTION by SHE IS SUMMER? Let us know down in the comments! Likewise, what are some of your favorite “chill” albums to listen to during the summer? Drop us a link and we’ll for sure check them out! 😀