Hello and welcome back to yet another installment of J-Music Exchange/Rate! In case you don’t know what this is or need a bit of a refresher, this is a segment I do alongside my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 where each month, we give each other an album to listen to (based on a different theme each time) and later review them on our respective blogs. It’s a fun little thing we do as fans of Japanese music, plus this gives us the perfect opportunity to discover new music (especially myself lol)
We’ve been doing these monthly reviews for about five months now (wow, even I’m surprised lol) so if you’re interested in reading any of our other write-ups, I would suggest visiting Leap’s blog where he has graciously created a dedicated page about this segment and included ALL of our reviews in one place. Click here to check it out!
This time around, I came up with October’s theme, which was ‘first discoveries’. As you can probably guess, I suggested that both of us choose an album we listened to when we first got into Japanese music. It didn’t have to be the VERY first album we ever touched but just something we heard in the early days of being a fan. I thought reminiscing and experiencing some nostalgia would be fun to do this month.
That being said, I tossed over DADARAY’s DADASTATION while Leap gave me Hi-Fi Anatomia by indie pop/rock group Soutaiseiriron. Let’s jump right in!
Soutaiseiriron (相対性理論), meaning ‘Theory of Relativity’, is a Tokyo-based indie pop/rock band that was started back in 2006. Consisting of lead vocalist/producer Yakushimaru Etsuko, guitarist Nagai Seiichi, bassist Yoshida Masaru and Yamaguchi Motoki on drums, the group is known for indie-pop sound, nonsensical lyrics and weird music videos. Not much has been revealed about the band itself and they even prefer to keep media coverage on them at a minimum. In fact, photography at their concerts is apparently ‘strictly forbidden’.
Regardless of their privacy preferences, it’s no secret that Soutaiseiriron makes nice music. The band found early success, as their first studio album, Hi-Fi Anatomia, ranked #7 on the Oricon weekly charts. Since then, they’ve released four albums, an EP, a remix album, and a few singles.
Leap’s thoughts on Hi-Fi Anatomia:
If I recall correctly (as this was would have been way back in 2011 or so), I first came across Soutaiseiriron after having been exposed to Etsuko Yakushmaru and her singing by way of the themes she sang for the anime shows Arakawa Under the Bridge and Mawaru Penguindrum. I was so entranced by her wispy vocals and her coquettish singing style that I decided to look up other songs she may have sung, which then led me to discover that she was the frontwoman for the band. “Hi-Fi Anatomia” would in turn be one of the first albums that I ended up listening to in full as a result, and I suppose the rest is history. I think the most interesting thing about this album for me at least is in how timeless it is. The songs here don’t feel dated in the slightest, and I attribute that to Soutaiseiriron being quite ahead of their time in terms of their sound. The band is widely seen as the pioneer this low blood pressure style of Japanese Pop/Rock through this album, and their influence on the Japanese music scene with regard to this genre can be felt even to this day. It’s crazy to me that “Hi-Fi Anatomia” is almost a decade old at this point, but at the same time, listening to this album now does dredge up a lot of memories for me and my journey (if you will) into Japanese music. Like, nowadays, just playing to “TeleTou” automatically puts me in a reverie, and all of a sudden 33 minutes and 21 seconds have already passed (you’ll notice these are the same numbers present on the album artwork, lol, I thought that was a neat easter egg)
I’ve listened to Soutaiseiriron before, when I randomly stumbled upon one of their songs, “Kerberos”. With that song having elements like its somewhat fast pace and rough guitar sound, I kind of assumed their other music had a similar style. But when I took a listen to Hi-Fi Anatomia… it certainly was different from my first impression of this band.
Most of the songs in this album were very slow and mellow which, surprisingly, I didn’t think highly of at first. Maybe because I wasn’t paying much attention the first couple times I listened to this album but I thought everything sounded too similar and almost felt like I was listening to one or two tracks instead of the total nine. But once I actually took some time with this album, I quickly found it to be pretty dang enjoyable.
Ultimately, listening to these songs just made me feel relaxed. The low-volume, mellow sound Soutaiseiriron expressed throughout the album gave off a delicate, easy to listen to tone, as heard in the first couple songs, “Tereto / テレ東” and “Jigoku Sensei / 地獄先生”. And because of that particular reoccurring mood, it felt very reserved and almost introverted… which makes sense when you take in account who this band is. Given that Soutaiseiriron prefers to keep their own identities concealed, them making music that sounds so quiet and soft fits their personality well.
Even with songs that take on a different genre of music like the electronic, club-like “Shinagawa Number / 品川ナンバー”, they still found a way to implement that soft, dream-like atmosphere into a unique style like electro. And their abilities to do things like that with this album is all thanks to how they conveyed both the music and vocals.
When I think of indie rock/pop bands, a lot of the ones I’ve listened to have an element of loudness to them, usually when it comes to the instruments. But with Hi-Fi Anatomia, I found their performances to be pleasing and even impressive, pretty much because they did a nice job maintaining that soft and quiet sound. The muffled guitar-picking, calm strumming, subtle bassline and the surprisingly prominent drums; everything about the instrument/music composition in this album was very gratifying to listen to.
But I feel like the vocals, sort of, stole the show in this album. I’m not too sure if lead vocalist Yakushimaru Etsuko usually sings in the way we heard in Hi-Fi Anatomia but it’s obvious that she has a really calm and soothing voice. Etsuko’s vocal performance in pretty much every song certainly accompanied the music, and while subtle, you can tell she changes up her tone or mood according to whatever kind of song is being played. With “Fushigi Descartes / ふしぎデカルト”, she definitely sounds a lot more playful and upbeat, compared to the melancholic and dreamy sound of “Vermont Kiss / バーモント・キッス”.
As I mentioned, the tone/mood changes in Etsuko’s vocal performances are ‘low-key’ but when you can tell the differences, I think they’re something to appreciate.
Going back to what I said about how Etsuko’s vocals ‘stole the show’, another reason why I believe that is because of how catchy these songs became. Throughout the past couple of weeks, I found myself humming or whistling the choruses of a lot of these tracks. There’ve been some instances where the parts with guitar playing were stuck in my head but for the most part, something about Etsuko’s voice and performance resonated with me. Maybe it was because of the repeated lyrics or the softness of her voice… whatever it was, it was definitely one of the more memorable things about this album.
All in all, I thought Soutaiseiriron’s Hi-Fi Anatomia was a nice listen. I’ve always been a fan of chill, relaxing music and I think this album is another good example of that particular style. I loved how they maintained the calmness throughout this album, Etsuko’s soft and unexpectedly catchy vocals were pleasant to listen to, and while I’ll still say that there could’ve been a bit more variety/flair when it comes to the overall music style, this collection of tracks was still an enjoyable one. If you’re looking for a different spin on Japanese indie rock/pop, I would definitely consider checking out Hi-Fi Anatomia.
And even though I’m still not too keen with lyric analysis, I wish there were more English translations for this album. I would’ve liked to take a peek at some of these songs and their meanings.
Hope you enjoyed that review! Sorry if this one felt like it was short or lacking some things, life’s been a bit stressful recently but I’m still doing okay! 👍
And now that you’ve read my write-up for this month, click here to check out Leap’s thoughts on the album I recommended to him, DADASTATION by J-rock/pop band DADARAY!
Thanks for reading!! 😀