Welcome back to another installment of the monthly segment on this blog, J-Music Exchange/Rate! In case you’re not familiar with what this is about, pretty much my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 and I give each other albums from our libraries, we listen to ’em and then finally review them on our respective blogs. It’s been about 3 months since we started doing this segment on a monthly basis (click here to read last month’s album reviews), and while I’ve definitely lagged behind with writing the actual reviews, I would say it’s been a fun thing to do during my summer break…
…which is an unintentional yet perfect segue to this month’s theme! It was my turn to pick a theme/genre for August and I ultimately ended up choosing the subject of “summer”. Because many consider the end of August to also be the end of the summer season (especially for myself since at the time I’m writing this post, school starts back up tomorrow), I thought Leap and I could celebrate this month by listening to a couple albums that remind us of summertime… even though with this sudden spike in temperature where I live, I’m definitely not gonna be forgetting about summer anytime soon
That being said, for our album choices, I decided to toss over sumika’s most recent album release Chime while he gave me yonige’s girls like girls.
Let’s jump right in!
Formed back in 2013, the all-female rock band yonige was started by lead vocalist and guitarist Ushimaru Arisa, bassist Gokkin and drummer Kanemoto. The group didn’t publicly release music until 2015 when their first mini-album Coming Together hit store shelves, which also saw the music video of an included song, “Avocado”, become a hit with 2+ million views on YouTube (at the time; it’s now at 14+ million as of 2020).
Now with the increased amount of support, they kept making music and went on live tours around Japan. Later in 2015, however, drummer Kanemoto decided to withdraw from the band during a tour. But despite the loss of a member, Ushimaru and Gokkin continued to work as a duo and ended up officially debuting in 2017, with the release of their first full studio album girls like girls. Since their formation, the group has released six singles, three mini-albums, and two full albums.
yonige is widely appreciated by Japanese rock fans for their math rock-like sound, vocal delivery and song-writing, and can be considered one of the more intriguing groups within the indie rock scene.
Leap’s thoughts on girls like girls:
I chose “girls like girls” by yonige as an album that reminds me of the summer season for a couple of reasons. Mainly, I think that the album (to me at least) evokes the specific feeling of that last summer roadtrip before the start of the new semester. Like, I hear this album with its emotional lyrics and Pop/Punk-esque guitars, and I can picture in my head the songs on it blasting from the speakers as I look out at the passing scenery from the car window. One of my favorite things about yonige is how relatable their songs tend to be, and on the whole I find that the overarching narrative of “girls like girls” is also that of a summer getaway. We start off in the “One Room” where we find out that the persona has gone through a break-up (“Sayonara Prisoner”), and they hop on the train (“Kakuekiteisha”) to sort out their thoughts and say good-bye to their sighs (“Bye My Sigh”), doing their best to distract themelves (“Slacker”, “O-Uma-san”) as the sad thoughts that start to surface (“Toketa, Natsu”, “Saki”), before calling it a day (“Mata Ashita”) and riding off into the sunset (“Tokyo Sunset Cruise”).
Before I go into what I’m about to discuss, let me first say that I really do enjoy the indie rock genre. The rough sound, ability to perform at differing paces, interesting lyrics and heartful vocal performances; most indie bands I’ve run into know how to express the style of this genre in an enjoyable fashion. And I think yonige mostly falls into that group of artists with what they’ve done in girls like girls. A lot of their songs remind me, and are great examples, of that traditional Japanese indie rock sound. They all definitely include certain, memorable elements of the genre, thanks in large part to their performances, both instrumentally and vocally.
Given that this is an indie rock band, yonige runs with the classic three instrument composition with electric guitar, bass and drums. And just with that simple combination, they do a great job in expressing an emotional mood throughout this album. Things like how in a lot of their songs such as “One Room“ and “Toketa Natsu”, Arisa goes back and forth with mellow guitar-picking to loud strumming or even changing paces multiple times in a song, as heard in “Slacker”, their style of performing feels conventional and helps convey the feelings of certain tracks. I think one of the best parts, instrument-wise, was the bass performances cause those solos in “Slacker” and “Mata Ashita” sounded beautifully deep and put me at ease at times.
Probably one of the best parts about Japanese indie/math rock, especially with the all-female bands, is how the vocalists excellently sing in a way where it truly displays the sort of ‘sad’ emotions within a song. That being said, I think Arisa’s voice just fits in well with everything else heard throughout this album. Her voice was low-pitched most of the time, fitting in with a lot of the mellow songs like “Mata Ashita” and “Sayonara Prisoner”. And while some tracks had a bit more energy in them like “Kakuekiteisha” and “Bai Mai Sai”, Arisa sufficiently changed her pitch accordingly, even if it was a slight change.
Being someone who usually never reads the lyrics of Japanese songs and mainly enjoys music by the way it sounds rather than what the narrative is about, I’ve recently been trying to break out of that shell and dive deeper in the meanings of certain songs. Admittedly, finding English-translated lyrics for Japanese songs is somewhat of a rare occurrence, which is exactly what I experienced with finding lyrics to this album. But as funny and coincidental life can be, I found one lyric translation of “Saki” on Google, written by… the person who suggested me this album, Leap! 😛 I actually didn’t know he did a translation on a yonige song but I found that to be funny and cool at the same time. And as I read what the lyrics of “Saki”, probably my favorite song in this album, were (as well as Leap’s own interpretation), I kind of realized how this album conveys the subject of summer.
“Saki” being a song about two people drifting apart and remembering all the good memories they’ve had, my personal interpretation of this song kinda reminds me of how young people, such as children or teenagers, get the chance to spend precious time with friends/significant others until they have to go back to school or the cities they reside in; with some instances, having the summertime be the only chance they can see each other due to them living far away or any other related reason. Lines like “Before everything is forgotten, before we drift apart” and “Our memories together — I’ll keep all of them safe” make me imagine that these two people are sharing one last cherished moment together, possibly towards the end of their summer vacations, before they go their separate ways.
That definitely sounds like I’ve been watching one too many romance anime but I feel like that youthful theme of a relationship drifting apart due to unfortunate circumstances, which could certainly be expressed at a time like summer, can be seen within this song and its lyrics. As for the other songs… I’m not too sure but even the music itself, I’d say, could reflect that particular subject matter; ‘melancholy’ being one of the main emotions in situations like that.
But with all of the things I’ve just said, I personally feel like there’s still a significant problem with this album: it lacks uniqueness. When I look at this album by itself, I think it’s a nice indie rock album that a person just getting into Japanese music could listen to. The style is accurate, the music itself sounds great and the vocals are pleasant. But as an experienced fan who has listened to other indie rock bands, not much really pops out or catches my eye in girls like girls. Nothing is bad about this album; it’s just that I’ve heard these instrumental and vocal stylings before, and when compared to other indie albums, it kind of felt bland. Apart from how well this album conveys this month’s theme of summer, there was just not a lot in it that I considered to be memorable or unique.
In closing, I think it was necessary to discuss girls like girls in two different perspectives. I definitely respect yonige and what they displayed in this album, having the sound of a true Japanese indie/math rock band and they’re legitimately a group someone new in the J-music scene can listen to. But as someone who has listened to a fair share of indie rock bands in this area of Japanese music, I just wasn’t able to see a lot that was special or new about this particular collection of songs. Maybe being able to read more of their lyrics would’ve helped me enjoy this album more, cause learning what “Saki” was about was really interesting, but those are ultimately my thoughts.
Despite my opinion on this album, I am now interested in what their newer music sounds like. I guess I’ll take a listen to more of yonige in the future 🙂
Well, now that you’ve read my thoughts on girls like girls, definitely click here to see what Leap wrote about the album I gave him this month, sumika’s Chime!
Thanks for reading!! 😀