Music is＊the＊universal language.
Sounds like a no-brainer right? If not, maybe I’ll change your mind by the end of this review 😉 For now though, I would like to welcome everyone back to the one and only J-Music Exchange/Rate! Returning readers would already know of course, but if you’re new and don’t exactly know what to expect from here ー
The Exchange/Rate is the tandem album review series releasing every month conducted by myself as well as my good friend and fellow Japanese music fan Al from Omunibasu.Blog. Each month we both decide on a theme that will serve as the basis for which album we’ll be picking out from our respective music libraries. After which, we then “exchange” those albums to one another so that the other person may then listen to it and write a review on it. This project has been a way for us to not only explore music we might not have otherwise tried out ourselves, but it has also provided us opportunities to offer a different perspective for some of our favorite albums. It is our hope that this series is able to do the same for you and that you either find a new album to try out and/or we offer you a new take on some of＊your＊favorite albums
Al and I go back and forth amongst ourselves on who gets to choose the month’s theme for the reviews as I mentioned, and this month it was Al’s turn to do so. This is something that comes up in conversation a lot for both me and Al; whether it’s during his medorēs, the Roundup here on the blog, or even just whenever we get to talking about Japanese music over chat; and it’s in our shared growing fascination for multilingual/multicultural Japanese artists. That is to say, Japanese artists who showcase a multilingual/multicultural facet to their music, whether it’s in their songwriting, the manner and style in which they perform, or a mixture of both.
To that end, I went ahead and gave Al the album You Were Wrong by the mysterious reina (check out his review of it here over at Omunibasu.Blog!), and Al in turn has given me Misato Ono’s something invisible.
Let’s give it a go!
After serving as the band’s second guitarist from 2012 to 2017, guitarist ‘Misa’ made the decision to leave Japanese All-girl metal band BRIDEAR, citing creative differences with her then-band mates. Prior to her departure she had, however, promised her fans that she will continue to make music. Come 2019, singer-songwriter/producer, Misato Ono began her solo career with the release of the single “sway”.
(＊Spotify link to the full album)
CDJapan Affiliate Link(s):
０４・toi et moi
Ａ ｌ : I don’t mention this a whole lot to- really, anyone but I love the pop/singer-songwriter genre within Western music. I grew up listening to a small handful of artists that fall under that specific style of music such as Jason Mraz, Ed Sheeran, Vanessa Carlton, John Mayer (more recently) and even my boy David Choi. Their music is melodic, deals with interesting topics, and most importantly, feels very personal. Given that it’s primarily them singing and composing these songs, I think it’s a bit easier to listen to/take in and fully enjoy, compared to the other pop artists out there.
Why I’m suddenly mentioning all these great 2000s-2010s artists is because I couldn’t help but to be reminded of them when I listened to ‘something invisible’ by Misato Ono. Not only because this album is entirely performed in English, but I strongly believe she does a superb job of creating music that is very reminiscent of that particular area of music. I loved the low-key melodies throughout, such as “small talk” having a very relaxing vibe to it or the 90s city pop-esque sound in “toi et moi”. But honestly, Misato Ono’s skills at guitar and singing were some of the things that really stood out to me. The slow and melancholic guitar riffs and solos in “bluebird” were incredible and felt very Mayer-esque, and the way she harmonized with herself throughout many of the songs on this album were done incredibly well.
It’s not the most captivating album I’ve given to Leap, but maybe that shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. It’s a cool, simple collection of songs, and if you want something easy to put on, I would totally suggest giving this album a try.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
I would like to think that, as someone who listens to a lot of Japanese music/artists on the regular, the most striking thing when you queue up something invisible and you hear small talk for the first time is Misato Ono’s diction and the overall manner in which she sings considering that she’s singing in complete English. Of course, it’s not completely unheard of for a Japanese native to be fluent in that language, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that Misato might’ve spent a considerable amount of time living/studying in a place that does speak English as its primary language (based on the subtle accent that I could pick out in one of her videos, it might be Australia)
Why this matters is that it ties into how this song, and really all the songs on this EP are written, in that the ideas and messages contained in the lyrics are conveyed clearly and deliberately. Like, I think the best way I can describe it is that never at any point in small talk does it ever feel as if something got “lost in translation”, as is the common pitfall of Japanese music that incorporates English in its lyricism, simply because nothing was ever translated in the first place (in a purely lexical sense). The words flow very naturally and the rhyme scheme is intact and isn’t forced in the slightest as well which is another commonality with the other songs on this release.
０４・toi et moi
I do find it funny that after saying all that about how impressed I am with Misato Ono’s English, the next song I talk about as part of this review is one that ends up having a French title (JK XD) toi et moi is also the first of two tracks featured in something invisible that are produced by A.G.O, who himself has worked with a veritable who’s who of Japanese Hip-Hop/R&B artists of the modern day, most notably the likes of SIRUP, CHIAKI SATO, and haruno. Something to note here is that both toi et moi here and sayonara later on, are at present the two most listened to songs on the EP, at least according to Spotify’s metrics (by a fair margin at that).
Now, while a lot of that is most certainly the result of Spotify’s algorithm doing its thing (the “A.G.O” tag pulls this song into automatically generated playlists related＊to＊A.G.O and his works for example), let that not take away from just how well-produced the song actually is and how much it does deserve that many plays (at least in my opinion) regardless of whether or not it got pushed by Spotify. The beat is very vibe-y and the bass is pretty killer here as well, but what I want to bring emphasis to the most is actually the subtle synth brass in the chorus. Could’ve actually gone harder on it even, but it really gives the song… color which I thought was pretty neat.
I chose to wait until we got to bluebird here to talk about Misato Ono’s vocals. As was mentioned earlier in my short little artist profile at the beginning of this review, Misato was formerly a member of Japanese Metal band BRIDEAR (which is absolutely crazy to think about as it is). In addition to her having been the band’s second guitarist for the better part of five whole years however, I would also like to point out that Misato was also the one primarily in charge of providing the harsh-sounding vocal work (ie growls) which are a staple of the genre of the songs they performed. I want you guys to let that fact sink in while you listen to this track here.
Misato has a relatively deep vocal register which, I’d surmise helped her with the harsh vocals she was doing as part of BRIDEAR, similar to how I’d imagine a higher vocal register helps with ‘screams’ instead. That being said, it’s probably fair to say that a voice like hers is of much better use with her as a singer than as a band’s designated growler if I’m being completely honest and it’s not hard to see why. I mean, at this point in the EP we already know how smooth her delivery is, but bluebird is the only song off of something invisible where Misato extends her vocals a fair bit where we get to hear this really nice velvet-y texture to her voice.
If there’s a song in something invisible that encapsulates the very essence of this month’s Exchange/Rate theme of Japanese music being “multicultural”, it’s gotta be sayonara. I mean, it’s a song that; has a romanized Japanese word for its title; which is also a word that has seen a fair amount of use as a loanword in the English language supposedly since all the way back in the late 1800s; and is being used in a song otherwise written fully in English, in the proper context of what the word means, and is being pronounced in the song in the same manner that a non-native speaker of the language would say the word “sayonara” (complete with the soft “R” sound) !
While I do like the song quite a lot already because of everything that I just said (lol), arguably my favorite track even out of all the songs in this EP, I mentioned earlier that this also happens to be the second of the two A.G.O-produced songs featured on something invisible. Again, hard to say whether or not that directly correlates to the amount of plays the song currently has on Spotify, though still a solidly arranged song nevertheless. The chill Blues-y guitars are the highlight here I would think, but for me personally, I particularly very much liked the way Misato does a nifty falsetto/pitch glide in the pre-chorus that then seamlessly rolls into the chorus.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ｓｏｍｅｔｈｉｎｇ ｉｎｖｉｓｉｂｌｅ＞
I think it’s fair to say that ‘ what makes Japanese music “Japanese” ‘ is the underlying question at the heart of this month’s Exchange/Rate theme, or at the very least one that reared its head while I was drafting this review. Is it simply the language used when writing the song? The themes and ideas explored through lyricism? The collection of sounds used during composition? The genre? The nationality of the performer? Their cultural identity? It’s an interesting quandary I feel, and one that I admittedly don’t readily have an answer for at the moment. For the purposes of this review however, allow me to latch on to two of the things that I just mentioned: language and genre.
It’s easy for anyone to say that someone is singing in a more Western/American style of music when they’re singing in English regardless of whether they’re from the West and/or were American. Sure, YOASOBI’s E-SIDE self-cover tracks for example are one thing (seeing as they are covers of a song originally written in Japanese), but what about something like Utada Hikaru’s Find Love which was initially written in English? Is that no longer “Japanese music” just based off of that? No, of course not. That’s just silly … But why is that though? Obviously there’s something more to it; something intangible, something… invisible (pun notwithstanding).
If not language, then what about genre? Here’s where I give my two cents and say yes… and also no, but mostly yes. Specifically, I think it’s in the way that the genre is expressed, the application of musical influences rather than the influence themselves, are what ultimately gives the artist’s music its identity. For example, I do actually hear a lot of Norah Jones and John Mayer sounds in Misato Ono’s songs here in something invisible. Does that make this a Western/American Pop music release? I don’t believe so. Is it Western/American-inspired Japanese music? Yes… maybe, or at the very least I would like to think that it is and leave it at that.
３.７５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７.５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
I mean, what really truly matters though is if you enjoy the music or not right? 😛 something invisible is most certainly enjoyable and I think that’s the more important takeaway to be had here. If I had to say, while I do personally enjoy Japanese R&B, I do kinda wish that Misato had leaned even more into the more AcoGui/S-SW Fujiwara Sakura-type of sound that she has. I really enjoyed hearing her sing in bluebird as I mentioned and, seeing her covers on her YouTube channel (which you guys should definitely go and subscribe to if you haven’t already), it seems like she enjoys making that kind of music a whole lot anyway. Looking forward to see where she goes from here.
What are your guys’ thoughts on Misato Ono’s something invisible? Let us know down in the comments! Likewise, lemme know what are your guys’ favorite albums by multilingual/multicultural artists!
Lastly, don’t forget to check out Al’s review of reina’s You Were Wrong over at Omunibasu.Blog if you haven’t yet 🙂