It’s almost the end of November already? Time has been going way too fast these past few months…
What’s up and welcome back to another installment of J-Music Exchange Rate! In case you’re not familiar with what this is about, pretty much every month, fellow blogger/Japanese music fan Leap250 and I both give each other an album to listen to and later review on our respective blogs. We also base our album choices on a specific theme, whether that be a certain genre or something more personal like ‘first occurrences’ and ‘music player mainstays’.
As I’ve said before, this is a fun little segment Leap and I do, as it allows us to branch out and discover new stuff within the Japanese music scene. Especially myself since I tend to listen to the same stuff/genres over and over again… 😅
That being said, the theme for November revolves around discovering new genres from an album we’ve listened to. I’m sure many music fans have been introduced to (or have gained more interest in) certain genres when they stumble upon different albums, and it’s definitely a great and memorable experience to go through.
As for our choices based on this theme, I went ahead and suggested Suchmos’ THE KIDS while Leap tossed over Tsuki no Hansha de Miteta by math rock group Uchu Combini.
Let’s jump right in!
Uchu Conbini (宇宙コンビニ) was a Kyoto-based indie band that formed back in early 2012. Consisting of vocalist/bassist Ohki Emi, guitarist Nakagawa Daijiro and Yuto Sakai on drums, this band is well-liked for their unique display of progressive/math rock and gorgeous-sounding instrumental tracks. The group only released two mini-albums, Somaru Oto wo Kakunin Shitara (2013) and Tsuki no Hansha de Miteta (2014), as they disbanded in March 2015 due conflicting matters regarding their music. Also, their band name describes/refers to a convenience store in outer space… interesting name lol
(Fun fact: former guitarist Nakagawa Daijiro later formed a band that is widely known to be Uchu Conbini’s spiritual successor, JYOCHO)
Leap’s thoughts on Tsuki no Hansha de Miteta:
Tsuki no Hansha de Miteta, and Uchu Conbini by association, was the album that made me appreciate Math Rock the way I do today. I had happened upon this seven-track mini-album right as I just started getting into Japanese Music and picked it up on a whim, not really knowing anything about them, as I thought the name that the band chose for themselves was interesting. I didn’t even know what Math Rock was at the time, nor did I have any sort of clue what kind of sound a genre called as such would sound like. All I knew though was that I loved it. The off-beat time signatures of the guitars and the drums, Ohki Emi’s airy and fluttering vocal work, everything about their sound just resonated with me. It wasn’t until a friend of mine from college clued me in on what exactly I was listening to that I’d come to realize the door I opened for myself.
I would like to think that that was what Nakagawa Daijiro, guitarist and main composer for Uchu Conbini, had envisioned when he started this venture with his fellow band members; to popularize Japanese Math Rock outside of its otherwise niche following.
The genre of Math Rock is still a little foreign to me; maybe it’s because of the technicalities of all of it but I’ll admit that I’m not too knowledgeable on this style of music. However, I can still find it to be enjoyable at times which leads me to my next point: comparison. I’ve heard from other fans that Uchu Conbini resembles another math/post-rock band that I’ve actually listened to before, tricot. But rather than having that loud and explosive sound that Nakajima Ikkyu and tricot usually express, Uchu Conbini takes that particular style of music and calms it down significantly, creating a mellow and dream-like atmosphere within each song.
And yeah, I think I would agree with that, especially with the tracks I heard on their second mini-album, Tsuki no Hansha de Miteta. Because most of the songs in this album are instrumentals, I got to really listen to the music itself and understand what kind of mood is being shown off. And like I said, there is a reoccurring theme of not being too loud and more on the calm/smooth side of things. The album starts off with a fully instrumental introduction track, “Origin”, which sleekly transitions into the next song, “EverythingChanges”; both doing a good job setting the overall atmosphere of this album.
I’ve also read that this group can be categorized within bands that perform ’emo/emotional rock’ type of music. And while it might not be the same ’emo rock’ people usually think about, I can certainly see why they’d fall into that category as well. A lot of these tracks definitely had a lot of melancholy and gloomy vibes, and I think they do a really nice job expressing that throughout these songs. Some examples like “Sepia-iro no Shashou Kara” and “Yami ni wa Shukufuku o” where they start off mellow and gradually amp up their sound, even if it’s the slightest change; stuff like that definitely made me believe how emotional they wanted their music to be.
Even the lyrics, which I thankfully found some translations for, show off some low-spirited uncertainty with a hint of hopefulness. In “Hikari no Kagen de Hanashita”, Uchu Conbini definitely presents an interesting yet sort of relatable viewpoint on life. Plus, some of the words Ohki Emi sang help with the calm nature of these songs (Turn on the lights, if you feel that way / Through pulses, light breathes within you).
Being in this deep, profound unknown world
As time lapse a bit, I noticed the narrow things
You can’t see anything if you remain depressed
You can’t know anything if you are only cheerful“Hikari no Kagen Hanashita” (translation from Kafka’s J-Music Box)
The music itself was probably the shining star of this mini-album, simply because of how simple it was. Yes, their performances certainly helped convey the reoccurring sad moods but every part and every instrument was just played super clearly. I was able to really listen to the guitar, bass and drums in a clean and crisp fashion; plus there weren’t many complex-sounding riffs or progressions. Beautiful guitar picking and a smooth bass, everything just blended well together. However there was this one song, “Joubutsu Shite Shimatta Otoko”, where Nakagawa Daijiro’s off-beat guitar sounded random and out-of-place at times… but it was weirdly interesting to listen to and I think it reflects the technicalities of math rock anyway.
Lastly, I’ll talk about the vocals. Vocalist Ohki Emi only sang in four of the total seven songs on this album but I think it was enough for me to enjoy her performances. She sings with a very soft, relaxing tone throughout the album and just fits well with the calmness of the music. I’ve heard similar kinds of vocals before but I simply can’t overlook someone’s excellent abilities when singing, which Ohki Emi definitely has.
As much as I praised this album, I think my lack of knowledge (and to be honest, interest) in the math/progressive rock genre made it fall a bit flat for me. I do appreciate a lot of things that this album brought to the table such as the great instrumental performances and emotional atmospheres. I won’t lie, Tsuki no Hansha de Miteta was a unique listening experience. But I think me and my personal preferences in music just couldn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. I do understand that a lot of people love this band and style of music but I guess this was a case where it just didn’t fit my tastes.
Aaaand that covers this month’s review!
This year’s been going waaaay too fast for me (lol) but I’m excited to see what Leap and I do for the final month of 2020. We still have yet to discuss our plans but I’m sure we’ll make it a good and special one to end off this great year of Japanese music. Also, definitely go check out Leap’s review for this month where he talked about my choice, THE KIDS by rock/jazz/hip-hop group Suchmos.
As for other things regarding this blog, I’m still not certain on what I wanna post in December but I will guarantee that I’ll be writing a few posts next month. Whether it be about music, 12 Days of Anime, something Amagami-related… who knows, my mind can go in many directions.
Hope you’re all staying safe during the holidays and thanks for reading!! 😀