Patrick St. Michel
Patrick St. Michel is a Tokyo-based writer with a focus on Japanese music. He runs the blog Make Believe Melodies, which has focused on Japanese independent music since 2009. Besides The Japan Times, he also contributes to MTV 81 and The Atlantic.
For Patrick St. Michel's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:
May 31, 2012
It's fitting that the leadup to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's debut album has focused heavily on her image. She's a fashion blogger and model now pursuing music, her clothes grabbing as much attention as her songs. Her savviest move was releasing three bonkers music videos over the past year featuring stuff like giant onions and skirts made of snack bags. Those clips went viral in the West, and turned her into an "act to watch" in this publication. Yet all the clips and promo shots distract from "Pamyu Pamyu Revolution" as a solid collection of simple pop.
May 24, 2012
"Prolific" doesn't even come close to describing Hideki Kaji's career. Since the mid-90s, the Tokyo artist has been putting out albums and singles of upbeat indie-pop music at a constant clip. None of his releases are amazing, but his entire discography is still consistent. He also hasn't achieved widespread popularity — the closest Hideki came to fame was in 2009, when he was mugged in Sweden while dressed as a pineapple (he was filming a music video). His latest, "Blue Heart," won't fix that popularity problem, as it's another collection of wide-eyed pop that finds him in the same element he's been occupying for the last 15 years. It's another solid release from an artist who, while never spectacular, is consistent.
Apr 12, 2012
"Mindful Beats Vol. 2" has one of the most simultaneously accurate and misleading album names of the past year. On a literal level, the title tells no lies — it is a second volume of beats made by Osaka producer Masaki Konagai, who records under the moniker of mfp. Yet it also makes it sound like an aural demo reel, a collection of music in search of an MC to rap over the sounds within. It's anything but, "Mindful Beats Vol. 2" is a confident and loud 50 minutes of tracks that doen't need any vocal support in order to shine.
Apr 5, 2012
Last September, music magazine Spin wrote that America was experiencing an "electronica revolution." Spearheaded by speaker-destroying producers such as Skrillex and Deadmau5, Spin wrote that a "new rave generation" has helped make electronic dance music an inescapable presence on the nation's music scene, to the point this bass-heavy sound has seeped into contemporary pop and hip-hop hits.
Mar 29, 2012
It has been a good year for Japanese pop music so far. The Oricon charts still house the likes of AKB48, Arashi and a slew of acts that make me want to bang my head against the wall, but a crop of J-pop artists operating a little outside of the mainstream (Nanba Shiho, Kou Shibasaki and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu) have released relatively adventurous singles. Now, 2012 has its first great J-pop album courtesy of MiChi (real name Michiko Sellars). Her sophomore full-length "Therapy" rarely strays from the preferred commercial format — peppy pop numbers coupled with ballads. But MiChi refreshes this dusty blueprint without sacrificing catchiness — and so pointing a better way for J-pop.
Mar 22, 2012
On the afternoon of the South By Southwest (SXSW) Music Conference And Festival's second day, I sat on a shuttle bus with eight people who had been hustling between the countless concert venues in this city. True to the its slogan "Keep Austin Weird," a local resident whipped out a bag of marijuana and the driver nodded his approval. As a small pipe went around the bus, passengers discussed acts they wanted to see — DJ Diplo, pop duo The Ting Tings, buzzed-about rapper ASAP Rocky. After declining a smoke, I said "Japan Nite."
Mar 15, 2012
Yuta Mitsuhashi says he spends a lot of time falling into "YouTube holes": Watch a clip, click on a related link, repeat until the majority of your night has been spent staring at a computer screen. He isn't scrolling through LOLcat videos though, he dives into things like Thai pop music, Middle Eastern rock and the minimal folk of 1960s performer Moondog.
Mar 1, 2012
Your Gold, My Pink's decision to name its debut full-length album "Teenage Riot" shows some serious guts from the young quartet. It's a title that has certain connotations, that either the band embraces the adolescent rebellion of punk — or just really likes Sonic Youth. This "Teenage Riot," though, sounds very little like either of those options. It mirrors the hormone-addled teen years well — Your Gold, My Pink swings between attitudes from song to song, the band going from dreamy to dour, sincerity turning to snark in seconds. This variety of emotions, coupled with an indie-rock sound unafraid to show off its sensitive side, makes "Teenage Riot" an enjoyable listen.
Feb 23, 2012
"Photogenic" is the sound of a wrongfully imprisoned inmate who was cleared of all charges being sent back to prison for no good reason. J-pop siren Salyu (born Ayako Mori) has spent the majority of her decade-plus career singing over generic instrumentals, her voice wasted on sounds better suited for a TV drama's end credits. Last year, though, she collaborated with braniac producer Cornelius on a project called salyu × salyu. He created the best backdrops for her to sing over, slicing up Salyu's voice to create little Salyu orchestras brimming with joy. On "Photogenic," she's hurried back into her cell, now decorated with lukewarm bells and "Sussudio"-level horns.
Feb 9, 2012
Galileo Galilei's sophomore album, "Portal," manages to both document everything that's wrong with contemporary mainstream Japanese rock music and offer a better way for guitar-centric pop in this county. This Hokkaido group falls through many of the same trapdoors as artists dotting the Oricon Charts, highlighted by a bloated runtime and emotional clichés worthy of a Hallmark card. Yet it also adds enough interesting sonic wrinkles and delivers those clichés with Brando-like sincerity to make "Portal" a step ahead of bands who suffer the same flaws.
Feb 2, 2012
Tokyo Jihen's first five albums have titles relating to types of television programming, "Sports" or "Variety" or "Adult." The Shiina-Ringo-led group's sixth album, though, is titled "Color Bars," after the rainbow lines that grace the TV screen during technical difficulties or dead-air time. It's a fitting title, as the band announced in early January they would be breaking up after a nearly nine-year-long career following a farewell tour that concludes in Tokyo on Feb. 29.
Jan 26, 2012
Jan 26, 2012
Osaka's The Creams put on one of the better live sets in the Kansai region today, playing the sort of dance-rock that seems like it was plotted out on graph paper in the vein of 1980's cool kids such as Liquid Liquid or ESG. Yet on stage, The Creams round out their music with a sense of menace and unpredictability, bringing to mind Japanese peer Miila And The Geeks (who they have appropriately opened for).
Dec 1, 2011
In an interview with The Japan Times in May, Friends frontman Syouta Kaneko put forth U.S. band The Beach Boys as one of their influences. A glance at the artwork for "Let's Get Together Again" — found photos of people enjoying the summer — or any blog writeup of Friends' sound ("beach," "surf" and "bikini" pop up a lot) would paint Kaneko's band as just another set of Brian Wilson worshippers. Yet Friends doesn't sound like other contemporary groups mimicking "Pet Sounds." On their debut, the band submerges 1960s-inspired surf melodies in feedback — perhaps the sound of kids born circa "Kokomo" rather than "Wouldn't It Be Nice" trying to capture the sounds of a bygone age with fuzzy results.
Nov 10, 2011
Nov 10, 2011
Osaka's Innit crew don't hold your typical club event. Though their parties feature a mix of live performers and DJs, founder Masayuki Kubo wants to attract a particular type of reveler — aspiring artists. The Osaka native offers a ¥500 discount for anyone who brings along electronic music that they themselves have made, with the promise that their sonic-coupon could be played during the night.
Nov 3, 2011
The world Canopies And Drapes crafts on her debut EP "Violet, Lilly, Rose, Daisy" feels like a particularly woozy dream, albeit one undercut by the ever-lurking obstacles of reality. The project of Tokyo artist "Chick," her music hasn't always sounded like this — she used to sing for the under-appreciated and now defunct duo Nu Clear Classmate that made distortion-heavy tunes they dubbed "suicide pop," which either sounded delightfully happy or crushingly isolated. Whereas her Nu Clear Classmate material leaned toward extremes, Canopies And Drapes explores lusher territory while tackling more complicated emotions.
Oct 13, 2011
"Don't Know Where" lacks prerelease hype, sub-subgenre classification or needless gimmicks (unless consistant lyrical allusions to driving cars qualifies — autocore, anyone?). Honeydew's debut album is a simple collection of feedback-assisted indie pop reminiscent of U.S. group Yo La Tengo's catchier rock songs — and thank goodness for that. The Tokyo trio's straightforwardness feels like a much-needed oasis in a musical landscape that can sometimes demand Wikipedia-like levels of knowledge to keep up.
Oct 13, 2011
"DocumentaLy," rock outfit Sakanaction's fifth full-length, stands as the group's best effort to date and one of the biggest mainstream triumphs in Japanese music this year. The Tokyo-based band didn't accomplish this through a sudden change in sound or any other grandiose moves often associated with breakthrough records. Rather, they did it via a mastery of the same style — driving J-rock tinged with dance music — they've been toying around with throughout their career. On this release, they've refined that approach to make an LP that's poised to please the masses while still being a great front-to-back artistic statement.
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