Top ten albums of 2015, #8: E-girls’ E.G. TIME

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egirlsappE-girls: E.G. TIME

So here we are. The 2015 J-pop magnum opus. The album that quietly dropped on the very first day of the year and still beat out hundreds of other J-pop albums to make this list. You’re not going to find any surprises on E.G. TIME: this is unadulterated dance music, Avex Trax-style, with elements of idol pop’s optimism and verve, touches of trendy EDM showers, and the conspicuous vowels of Japanese punctuated by American words and phrases. It’s an update on 2014’s COLORFUL POP, tweaking the tracks for the ultimate frenetic dance-pop, a brand that EXILE does more or less successfully. It’s a massive girl-group firing on all cylinders, optimizing their key members for optimum vocals and choreography. The album comes charging in with singles “E.G. Anthem -WE ARE VENUS-” and “Mr. Snowman;” they’re no “RYDEEN ~Dance All Night~” but for mood-setting, you can’t get closer to this album’s raison d’etre. Add in a chunky Yasutaka Nakata production, a cover song, several other successful tie-in singles, and the album closes with some merciless reminders of how E-girls have pretty much always been this good, even if it took you this long to notice.

Limited editions of this album also come bundled with footage from E-girls LIVE TOUR 2014 “COLORFUL LAND,” one of the best concerts to be released this year: the opening performance of “RYDEEN” is still the most exciting cold open I’ve experienced all year, and possibly this decade, since Ayumi Hamasaki’s DOME TOUR 2001 A, with it stratospheric production value. It’s also the most fun I’ve had watching a concert performance in a long, long time: COLORFUL LAND is packed with costumes, color, movement, and the crackling exuberance of a group of girls who look seriously thrilled to be doing what they’re doing for their audience.

2015 was the year E-girls proved you can no longer write them off as just another double-digit girl-group cash cow. Any misconceptions you have about pop music from Japan are finally put to rest on E.G. TIME; it’s a vibrant and unique approach to pop that can’t be replicated by anyone else, anywhere else.

Friday night Oricon (August 17, 2009)

An every Friday in a while look at the weekly Oricon Top Twenty Singles Chart.

Summer has always been the de facto best music release season; there’s just something about warm weather that motivates the song writers of so many idol groups. Indeed, in Japan it brings nothing less than shame to an artist who dare not release a ballad or something of sentimental value during the winter, and so it is The Summer Single that I anticipate to effectively wash away the grime of winter coats and snow boots that still cling like crusted salt to less than warm springs.

But though I admittedly enjoy the riff after the chorus, B’z’s “Ichibu to Zenbu”/”DIVE” (#1) is pretty unfulfilling. I’m tempted to play the irrelevance card, or even the age card, but the fact is that you really aren’t ever too old to rock, there just comes a point when you stop doing it as well. Let’s put it this way: if I went to see B’z play live, I would politely tolerate “DIVE” so I could hear “Easy Come, Easy Go” and “BAD COMMUNICATION.” And so it goes.

This is the second week EXILE’s “THE HURRICANE ~FIREWORKS~” (#6) is on the charts, and listening to it again only solidifies my opinion that this song had a lot of potential before something went horribly awry. The whole traditional Japanese instruments against a contemporary beat is a bit overdone in the frenzied, happi-wearing, Japanese  masturi summer, but it’s a conceit I don’t hate as long as it’s done well (a personal favorite is 10nin Matsuri’s “Dancing! Natsu Matsuri!” – and by the way, I just watched that PV for the first time ever today and I feel really embarrased for them). I don’t necessarily hate EXILE, but it’s worth noting that they have released thirty-one singles and I have liked zero of them.

Speaking of zero, that’s how much potential GIRL NEXT DOOR has. There’s a sort of euro-dance vibe to “Be your wings” (#4) but the song is fatally flat. This group is relatively new, but as cool the PV was, I’m not holding out for anything spectacular.

I do like Alice Nine’s “Hana” (#8), though there is something desperately abingdon boys school about it. I haven’t listened to much Alice Nine since a few years ago and it’s kind of like, where did the VK go? I mean, the song is so tame, it’s almost housetrained. While suits don’t make guitar solos sound better, they do make you look classy in ways leather shorts and checkered uber-belts can’t, especially if you’re singing in front of a really large staircase on some old-timey estate. Even so, it’s like Sherlock Holmes without a pipe, or Joseph Chamberlain without a monocle; something’s just missing, you know?

On that note, my favorite single on the chart this week is STRAIGHTENER’s “CLONE” (#15). I’m not going to pretend that I’ve ever heard anything by this band before, because I haven’t, but this song is more than adequate. There’s something about the way the insistent drums belie the overall melancholy state that made me do a double-take. The guitars are a bit much, but it’s still the greatest song ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION couldn’t pull it together to write in the past three years. It may not have been the summer jam I was expecting, but at least it doesn’t rely on past glories or a gimmick.

Oricon’s top 100 selling singles/albums of 2008…so far

Simply put, the Oricon Charts are Japan’s equivalent to the Billboard. A portmanteau of “original” and “confidence,” the list-maker has recently compiled its top 100 selling albums and singles as 2008 hits its mid-point. Some thoughts:

  • There are two EXILE albums in the top three, neither of which I’ve listened to. At this point, it’s worth mentioning that I haven’t listened to every album or single on the lists; I suspect simple uninterest that names like NEWS and V6 evoke are the reasons behind this ignorance. Also: BoA’s THE FACE only made it to 31, 5 Johnny’s Jimusho groups beat out Ayumi Hamasaki’s single, and T.M.Revolution is not on either list. Fair enough.

  • Perfume’s GAME is number 16, Hikaru Utada’s HEART STATION is 4 – the two most deserving albums on this list.

  • Ayumi Hamasaki’s GUILTY is number 8, right under Koda Kumi’s Kingdom – both are probably due in part to the brand names they have become than the actual content of the albums, which were pretty mediocre.

  • There are also two KATTUN singles in the top three, neither of which I’ve listened to. The Japanese are nothing if not consistent in their devotion.

  • Apparently, SMAP is still releasing music. 17 years and counting.

  • It’s important to remember that while there is correlation between sales and popularity (the real reason for putting theses lists together is usually just an easy way to interpret what the public’s “favorite” music is), I suspect a more accurate representation of popularity would be the Japanese iTunes’ Top 25. A quick Google search confirms this list does not currently exist.

  • GReeeeN is all over these lists. I had no idea people actually listened to them, let alone spent money to.

  • But most importantly, nary a Western record is to be seen amongst the top 25 of either chart (if my shoddy katakana skills are correct, the first is Madonna’s Hard Candy at 32). My interpretation is that a) the Japanese are extremely loyal to the home teams, and b) the Japanese music culture is continually expanding, growing, and developing, and like an American who tunes into the radio expecting to hear Leona Lewis, there is simply more interest generated within the market due to the ease and convenience of access. While American music is still omnipresent (and probably just as easy to catch as the new Namie Amuro single – number 8, for those keeping score), the same argument can be made of Japanese music to Americans (re: Internet, although I suspect this will, in turn, incite arguments of language barriers [everyone in Japan is exposed to English in some form on a daily basis and are used to the sounds and texture of the language, whereas Americans are still unaccustomed to foreign languages outside of Western Europe]; also, sheer laziness). But in terms of Japan, cultural loyalty is earning my respect rather than resentment; years ago, the top selling figures were more likely Western, today the Japanese are proving they can hold their own and in some cases, even transcend that of their Western peers. Now if only their appearance on Billboard was just as quotidian.

Below are my picks for Top 25 singles and albums of 2008…so far.

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