It’s wild to me how fast this year went by. 😅
Hello and welcome back to another edition of J-Music Exchange/Rate! In case you’re new, this is a monthly segment fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 and I do where we suggest to each other an album and later review them on our respective blogs. We also base our album choices around specific themes, such as different genres or more personal topics like ‘first discoveries’. These posts certainly give us the opportunity to discover new music, and for me personally, get better at writing about music.
Since it’s the end of the year, a special time for celebration, Leap and I decided to give each other, what we consider, our favorite album that was released in 2020. To be honest, I didn’t listen to a ton of new releases this year (most of it was stuff from previous years, which I’ll talk about in my yearly roundup later) but I managed to find an album that’s worth reviewing for Leap.
That being said, I went ahead and suggested the talented Kamishiraishi Mone’s note while Leap tossed over the album Plagarism by the ever-so-popular Yorushika.
Let’s jump right in!
If you’ve been following whatever’s been popular within Japanese music, you probably know who Yorushika (ヨルシカ) is or have heard a song or two from them.
Consisting of only two members in n-buna (former Vocaloid producer and now songwriter/guitarist for the duo) and suis (incredible female vocalist), the two were fans of each others’ talents and ended up working together at a couple of n-buna’s solo concerts. Eventually in 2017, the two officially got together and debuted as the music group called Yorushika. And it’s no surprise that this band got a ton of attention in such a short amount of time; the way they mix upbeat/exciting-sounding music with more somber lyrics, as well as their ability to tell a story through a song/album, was something many people found to be enjoyable.
Some of their first song releases were immediate hits on YouTube, with “Fireworks Beneath My Shoes / 靴の花火” currently having over 26 million views and most notably, “Say it. / 言って。”, with 83 million. While the songs are obviously fantastic to listen to, another reason why this group is so popular may be because of how their music videos are presented. The visuals look stunning and are done in a way where it excellently illustrates the narrative being told within their songs, with some of the tracks from their 2019 albums Dakara Boku wa Ongaku wo Yameta and Elma being the primary examples.
Since their formation back in 2017, Yorushika has released two EPs and three full-length studio albums, all gaining high spots on the Oricon and Billboard Japan album charts. The group also provided the opening and ending songs of Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu (transl. A Whisker Away), a 2020 anime film produced by Studio Colorido.
Leap’s thoughts on Plagiarism:
One of the things I was most curious about right at the start of this year was what kind of sound we were going to hear from Yorushika once they made their inevitable return. The duo of N-buna and Suis at the time had just closed the book on a musical saga spanning two EPs and two full albums by way of the Amy/Elma narrative of which a vast majority of their songs centered on thematically. It became a question of ‘What will they do now?’ for some time, and while “Hana ni Bourei” and “Yakou” did offer interesting looks to glean from, it wasn’t until Yorushika dropped their third studio album “Tousaku” back in July that I would get my answer.
What this album represents, to me at least, is a sort of grounding for Yorushika. A paradigm shift from the fantastical to the real; highlited by a more worldly instrumentation with a distinct emphasis on acoustic guitar work and heavy percussions, as opposed to how their earlier tracks sounded which boasted a more piano centric sound laden with electric guitar riffs that seemed to evoke a more detached reality. A subtle departure from the ethereal offerings they’ve made themselves known for, “Tousaku” is an album with a very rich and organic sound from the first track to the last, and far be it from me to not call this my most favorite release of 2020.
Funny enough, Leap was the one who actually introduced me to Yorushika way back when, and I absolutely loved them ever since. I remember how it only took a single song of theirs (“Hitchcock / ヒッチコック”) to reel me in so… this ‘special’, end-of-the-year review seems fitting, somehow. 😛 But more recently, I haven’t been following them as closely as I used to which, in a way, can be seen as a good thing since this month’s album suggestion is a great opportunity to see what the group’s been up to.
And it’s honestly like I never left! Their super recognizable style of strong, passionate-sounding rock music is shown really well throughout a lot of the songs on this album. Heck, the first few songs just jump right into that fast-paced, loud Yorushika style such as that bass-slapping sequence in “Burglar / 昼鳶” or the memorable sound of rough guitar riffs and suis’ higher pitched vocals in the (IMO, improved) re-recording of “Bomber / 爆弾魔”. For a older Yorushika fan like myself, it’s nice to hear that they’ve continued to maintain that almost nostalgic sound that many of us loved from the beginning. And because of that, they really do a great job combining that uplifting style of music with the expression of a completely different mood within their lyrics. Towards the end of the album, however, Yorushika definitely toned down the energy and showed off a more melancholic emotion in tracks like “Escape / 逃亡” and “Night Journey / 夜行” which do make sense, composition-wise (I’ll get into that in a bit).
The instrumental performances from n-buna and the rest of the band were phenomenal to hear. Especially when it came to the guitar (even hearing the acoustic guitar in some of these songs was a surprise), Yorushika’s riffs or finger-picking sequences were always a joy to listen to and it’s no different in Plagiarism. They just sound so clean, pristine and fun; each part or even the combination of the riffs and picking sequences honestly kept you on your toes and got you hyped up throughout the song. “Replicant / レプリカント” is a good example of this, especially when the chorus hit… oh man. But another thing I noticed was the interesting yet smooth inclusion of a piano/keyboard in some songs. While it may not have been the main focal point, songs that had piano parts were incorporated very well and fit whatever atmosphere that track had. For example, “Prostitution / 春ひさぎ” started off with that deep, low pitched piano playing that almost sounded like someone was pounding on the keys out of anger. Or in “Ghost in the Flower / 花に亡霊” where there was a nice, calm piano solo playing throughout. I know Yorushika has added a piano to their instrument arsenal recently (one notable example off the top of my head being “That’s Why I Gave Up on Music / だから僕は音楽を辞めた”) so I think they just continued to do a nice job of displaying that instrument in this album.
And obviously, suis’ vocals are incredible to listen to. The amount of passion that comes out of her voice in every single Yorushika song is something everyone should take a listen to, cause it’s THAT good. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a song with high energy or something more mellow, you already know suis is gonna do her best in bringing life to n-buna’s arrangements.
The composition was also something I found to be intriguing. Especially regarding the tracklist’s order, there were some instrumental songs that essentially served as a transition into the next section of the album. Given they had titles such as “Adolescent, Burglar / 青年期、空き巣” and “Childhood, In Memories / 幼年期、思い出の中”, I’m sure it helped with the narrative aspect but for it to smoothly introduce the next part/section, music-wise, was pretty great. Those instrumentals also felt like I was taking a quick break from the intense atmosphere within most of the tracks, kind of like an intermission.
While I was writing this review, I was doing some research about this album and stumbled upon some very interesting things. I’d assume a ton of other people thought the same at first: why is this album called Plagiarism? Thanks to a few helpful Redditors, there are a few reasons explaining why the it’s titled that. For one, it seems like the narrative revolves around a man who steals a bunch of songs, sounds, chords, etc, and later turned them into his own works (the description on the “Plagiarism” music video on YouTube explains more in depth). Secondly, almost all of the songs on this album do feature some familiar sounds, melodies and chord progressions from many different tracks.
The guitar-slapping sequence in “Burglar” surprisingly wasn’t an n-buna creation, as it was inspired by/taken from Justin King’s “Phunkdified”. If you listen closely to “Prostitution”, you can hear similar melodies from Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road, Jack” and “HIDE AND SEEK” by Kitani Tatsuya. Hell, the very first song on this album, “Confession of Plagiarist”, clearly sampled Beethoven’s famous “Piano Sonata No. 14”. There is no way I could’ve caught all of these without the help of this one Reddit post but just to find out about how many songs Yorushika (UNOFFICIALLY) referenced or I guess, plagiarized, was a really interesting thing to learn about. I heard that the whole narrative of Plagiarism was reflective of n-buna’s own experiences, who believed he was just copying others while writing the lyrics for one of the group’s previous albums. I even read a theory saying that n-buna plagiarizing all these songs, some of them being his own creations such as other Yorushika songs or stuff he composed for Sangatsu no Phantasia, was somewhat of a response to the people who said that all Yorushika tracks sound the same… whatever message or purpose they were trying to express, everything about the actual ‘plagiarism’ side of this album changed how I looked at it and also made it enjoy it even more. I was even surprised that Yorushika may have referenced Sheena Ringo’s “Marunouchi Sadistic / 丸の内サディスティック” in the song “Plagiarism”.
Yorushika never seems to disappoint whenever they release any new music and I think their most recent album release, Plagiarism, proves that. While the album still has that familiar and enjoyable theme of mixing intense, passionate music with gloomy lyrics, I think diving deeper into the narrative and seeing how the group composed this album made me love it even more.
Honestly, I shouldn’t be surprised at a fact like this but it’s obvious that n-buna puts a ton of effort into his music. The presentation of Yorushika’s music videos is one thing, but for him to convey an entire personal narrative within a fourteen-song album was pretty special to experience and learn about. The order of the track list, the amount of songs he sampled and his ability to fluidly tell a story through music were all phenomenal and seemed well thought out, and I loved every second of it.
Aaaand that does it for the final J-Music Exchange/Rate review of 2020! Writing about an album like that was a great way to end the year, and I also hope you all enjoyed reading my thoughts on it.
Now that you’ve read my last album review of the year, you should go on and take a look at Leap’s post about Kamishiraishi Mone’s album note! Also I just remembered that album also has a song that was composed by n-buna… I swear I didn’t intend for both albums to have that connection lol
And as I said earlier, I’ll be putting up my end-of-the-year Japanese music roundup sometime next week, so definitely look forward to that. I might also squeeze in another random post in there somewhere but we’ll see.
Lastly, thank you all for following this little segment Leap and I collaborated on this year. Even though I was a bit lazy at times, I’m glad we were able to review a ton of great albums throughout 2020 and I hope we peaked your interest in listening to some of them. We’ll be continuing this segment in 2021 and I’m excited to see what albums we talk about next!
Thanks for reading and happy holidays!! 😀