One of those, if I ever travel back in time things.
Helloooo! And welcome back to the J-Music Exchange/Rate! Hard to believe it’s already been a month since the last one but here we are, back again in your guys’ screens (lol). That being said, if this is actually your first time here, as a quick little primer ー
The Exchange/Rate is a tandem album review series conducted every month 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 talk and write a review on it. This project has been a way for us to not only explore Japanese music beyond just our personal libraries as well as to provide opportunities for us to potentially see our favorite albums from a different perspective. 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 offer you a fresh take on some of＊your＊favorite albums
Al and I take turns on who gets to decide the theme for the month, and this month it was my turn. Now, this particular… feeling, to which our reviews will be revolving around, is something that I do believe should resonate with a lot of people. At the very least, I think it can apply to all sorts of things too, not just Japanese music. For me personally though, I get this a lot when I randomly come across and start liking a band or artist that I’ve been aware for quite some time already, just that I never got around to actually listening to them until that very moment that I saw them again. The feeling of, I＊could’ve＊started listening to them much earlier and thus could have enjoyed their music for that much longer had I tried out their stuff a lot sooner, is the feeling that Al and I will be trying to capture (and hopefully convey) in this round of album reviews.
I went ahead and gave Al JUNNA’s debut EP Vai! Ya! Vai! for him to go over with you guys (check out his review at Omunibasu.Blog if you haven’t yet). JUNNA’s an artist who I’ve known of for a while now because of her involvement with popular franchises like Macross and Magi, but it was only recently that I got hooked on her stuff (if I only knew…). Al in turn gave me chelmico’s POWER to listen to, which, coincidentally is another artist (or, pair of artists) that I’ve known about for the longest time but never got the chance to listen to until this Exchange/Rate so yeah, let’s have at it!
chelmico, a duo that perhaps for a lot needs no introduction, is an iconic Japanese Hip-Hop/Rap unit comprised of Watashiga Rachel and Suzuki Mamiko. Their names comprise the two halves of their unit name; ‘chel’ from Rachel and ‘miko’ from Mamiko. Together they and their music are best known for their zany high energy tracks, eclectic instrumentation, and at the centerpiece of it all their ability to rap.
CDJapan Affiliate Link(s):
Power / chelmico
１４・Love Is Over – 1UP Version
Ａ ｌ : I first heard about chelmico when I watched an anime called Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na. It was a fantastic little gem of a show but I feel like if you were to ask people what the most memorable part of it was, a majority would probably say the opening theme song. “Easy Breezy” was a very catchy and fun track to listen to every week, as its more technical-sounding composition and chelmico’s sweet flow when rapping made it difficult to skip over. Plus, the fact that rap music isn’t all that prevalent when it comes to the overall catalog of anime opening/ending theme songs, it was a neat breath of fresh air that deserved its popularity.
Years later, as I let Apple Music give me some cool tunes from their Chill Mix playlist, I ended up stumbling upon chelmico once again; this time in the form of a way more relaxed and chill-hop type track, “UFO” from their 2018 album POWER. And being someone who has gotten more into Japanese hip-hop/rap as of late, checking out more of chelmico’s music felt like something that aligned with my current tastes. That said, a handful of the songs on POWER seemed to further show off chelmico’s specific approach of hip-hop/rap-based music where, similar to “Easy Breezy”, the duo takes unique sounds/styles/instruments and just slaps some bars on them. It definitely feels more like ‘pop rap’ with the more positive vibe and accompanying trumpets in “OK, Cheers!” or “Date” being a completely unexpected-yet-pleasant tune. Yet at the same time, they also show off their ability to perform over more conventional hip-hop type beats like in “E. P. S.” and even within the song titled “BANANA”.
I will admit that some may find these varying styles and instruments to be a bit odd or out-of-place, but as an album from a duo like chelmico, it kinda makes sense. It’s an interesting tracklist that is certainly reflective of who Rachel and Mico are as musical artists and I enjoyed it for what it was. And c’mon… their rapping is pretty dang solid.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
I do think that talking about Player is a good way to start off this discussion of chelmico’s POWER, apart from it being essentially the lead-off track (as the title track Power does lend itself to being more of a sound check type of track) as well as arguably being the premier A-side track of the album, accounting for a decent chunk of the total album plays on Spotify. That’s because Player also has within it most if not all the album has to offer. Now, I don’t mean that to say that the album is completely lost without it, just that the song is by itself a complete representation of POWER in terms of the kind of sounds that it has, what I liked about it, and also what I thought could be better.
Right out of the gate we get treated to chelmico’s textbook high energy Pop/Rap by way of Rachel’s sharp cuts and Mamiko’s smooth deliveries in the opening verses and as the duo’s bread and butter for the most part these are about as clean and fun sounding as you would expect. However, and this is a trait that would persist over the course of the album, I feel like as a direct consequence to this sort of jovial type of flow, the chorus ends up sounding very… sing-songy. I wouldn’t say it’s bad (it’s still catchy fwiw), and I do think it’s more of a clashing of styles thing for the genre so it really can’t be helped, but it does take a way a little bit from the listening experience.
Another thing that’s fairly consistent throughout POWER is the instrumentation present in the tracks which feature either or a mixture of Brass and World/Tribal percussion of all things, the latter being in full display here on Get It. I’ll just say this right now, this song is my favorite off of the album. It’s actually a fairly reminiscent of my favorite track from another Exchange/Rate we had in Photon Maiden’s Into the Storm which I also talk about in my review of their 4phenomena (check it out too if you haven’t yet!) where in it I mentioned that the song gave off this “epic” big battle feeling to it. I get a lot of that same sort of vibe in Get it here with its very menacing beat.
The song also features probably the “bar” I liked out of all the songs on the album, which comes in around the 01:39 mark and goes ‘P-A-R-T-Y is O-V-E-R kono tsugi doushiyou itteru himanai wan nai owannai mondainai mondain-ai’. I mean, it’s an innocuous line really (party is over, what are we doing next, no time to say, never-ending one night, no problem no problem), and it’s actually sort of unfortunate that they already do the whole spelling thing in the track right before this in OK, Cheers! so the novelty of doing it again in such close proximity to one another in the album kinda gets wears off on you a little bit but it just flows sooooo much nicer here.
Allow me to start this section of the review out by saying I really didn’t want to like BANANA as much as I do now. I mean, speaking of innocuous lines, like, I know odds are I shouldn’t really expect anything deep or profound from a song literally named “banana” (lol) but the vast majority of the lyrics here really are nonsense. Which is fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Half of the time I’m not even paying attention to lyrics in general anyway. It’s just that I feel as though there’s some supreme irony at play here when, as goofy as the main hook and chorus for this is, BANANA is still the track that goes arguably THE HARDEST out of the entirety of POWER.
I’ll talk about this sense of disconnect a bit more in my closing thoughts, as it does dovetail into how I feel about the album as a whole. For now though, I wanted to talk real quick about lyricism in Japanese music, specifically in the context of Rap. The Japanese language, being syllabic in nature, has very low information density. What that means is (in broad terms) you have to ‘say more’ in order to convey something that takes less ‘time’ in other non-syllabic languages (like English). Taking that into account, it’s actually easy to understand why Japanese Rap (barring of course those that rap in double time) have lyrics that tend to be simple and to the point.
While I do personally like Get it over Summertime, the latter does feel like the more “complete” listening experience, and as such is in a lot of ways the “better” song of the two for it objectively speaking (at least in my opinion) especially considering how the second half of the former is a hollowed out instrumental portion which could’ve been fleshed out a bit more. You might say ‘But Leap, you said Player represented the entirety of POWER. How can that be if it’s actually Summertime that’s the more “complete” song?’ Of course, I still stand by what I said earlier, and in addition to that, I’ll also tell you that both can very much be true at the same time. More on that in a bit.
Summertime has the Brass and the World/Tribal percussion in near equal parts as opposed to having one over the other, which I thought was really nice. It’s another song too that builds up nicely, giving it that “big” explosive feel once the chorus hits. And speaking of the chorus, since we just compared the track to Player, it does also have that sing-songy kind of vibe, though I do think the implementation of it ends up working a little bit better here too. It could be personal preference but I wanna say it’s mostly because the chorus is significantly slower so their singing, along with the vocal layering to (presumably) simulate gang/crowd vocals, has more room to breathe.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ＰＯＷＥＲ＞
So why is it that Player is the one that sums up POWER for me when it’s a song that has parts that I would have preferred to have been done differently? It’s because I share almost the exact same sentiment for the vast majority of the tracks on the album. Summertime is one of the few exceptions, but just take the other three songs that we talked about; Player could do with a different chorus; Get It has the sound that I like the most, but it has a relatively weak second half; BANANA’s beat goes hard, but it has a wacky hook. It’s like, there’s definitely something in all of these songs that I do find enjoyment in, just that there’s also always seems to be a caveat to them too.
Extending it to songs that I didn’t talk about in the review; OK! Cheers actually has a pretty neat chorus but the Ska-y synth drums weren’t quite doing it for me; UFO has a nice vibe-y beat (and a sick instrumental break) but I could’ve done without some of the singing parts; Date is an interesting idea from a purely instrumental perspective, but the rapping style they chose to implore for the verses kinda took me away from the song a bit. You get the point, Now, to be fair all of this does sound very nit-picky on my part and to be honest it more than likely is. It’s just that I also can’t recall the last time I had things I wanted to pick out from so many songs in an album before.
To not dredge up that point any further, another thing I noticed after listening to POWER for the past couple of weeks is that it has a bizarrely steep drop in energy smack dab in the middle of the album (just after Summertime). Like, I always talk about having breaks in an album as generally being a good thing to have so the listener doesn’t feel fatigued, but here it feels like it doesn’t really pick up anywhere near how lively it started, at least not until, like, maybe Highlight towards the tail end of the album, but even that’s already followed up by the most melancholic track of the album in Gogo as a closer. Kinda makes POWER feel a little top heavy as a result.
３.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
At the end of the day, the whole really is still greater than the sum of its parts, and the many neat and fun things you hear in the songs on POWER are still definitely worth giving the album a listen. In as zany and rambunctious as it might come across, the album has a surprising sense of uniformity to it that you wouldn’t really expect at the onset. Japanese Rap might be hit or miss for a lot of people, if not straight up intimidating, but by itself the album is actually fairly inviting for the most part. I mean, who better to start off listening to Japanese Rap for the first time than arguably one of Japan’s stalwart and most recognizable acts of the genre in chelmico right?
What are your guys’ thoughts on chelmico’s POWER? Lemme know down in the comments!
Likewise, let us know too, who are some bands/artists who＊you＊wish you could’ve listened to sooner rather than later?
Lastly, don’t forget to check out Al’s review of Vai! Ya! Vai! by JUNNA over at Omunibasu.Blog if you haven’t yet!