First post of 2021!
Hello and welcome back to J-Music Exchange/Rate, a monthly segment where fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 and I give each other an album to listen to and later review on our respective blogs. It’s a fun little thing we’ve been doing for a while now and it’s certainly a way for me to get better at writing about music. I’m also happy that we both decided to keep doing this segment during the new year, and I hope you all will enjoy the stuff we’ll be talking about in the coming months!
As part of our exchange process, Leap and I decide on a ‘theme’ each month to base our album choices on, whether that be a particular genre/style or a more specific topic such as ‘best vocal performance’. And to start off the new year, we thought it’d be cool to do a theme that we’ve been thinking about for a few months now: ‘girls rock’ (aka all-female rock bands). I’ve dipped my toes in this particular area of J-music but definitely not as much as Leap has; however in a way, having a knowledgeable guy like him recommend me a girls rock album… I already know it’s gonna be a good one.
That being said, Leap decided to recommend Temptation Box by the well-known band SCANDAL, while I tossed over AKAIKO-EN’s The Park.
Let’s jump right in!
Similar to many other all-female rock bands, SCANDAL started their musical journey in high school when the four members, HARUNA, MAMI, TOMOMI and RINA, met at a vocal/dance school in Osaka. The group started off doing street performances every weekend until they signed with indie label Kitty Records in 2008. Their first three released singles became instant hits, as Koi Moyou and Kagerou reached #1 on the Tower Records indie charts, while Space Ranger reached #2. SCANDAL would later officially debut with their first major single, DOLL.
2008 would certainly be a breakout year for the group, as they started to experience everything from going on international tours, having their music being featured in television shows and anime, an increasing amount of popularity, as well as the release of their first studio album BEST★SCANDAL. And ever since then, SCANDAL has released several albums, singles, and become one of the most popular and influential all-female rock bands in Japan, and even worldwide.
Honestly I could go on and on about SCANDAL and their extensive 14-year history but I think their expression of uplifting pop/punk rock and individual vocal performances are what many people should take away from this particular rock band.
Leap’s thoughts on Temptation Box:
I don’t think there’s a more important name in contemporary Japanese Girls Rock than that of SCANDAL, who (in my opinion) largely stood as the face of the genre for well over a decade now, as well as being the ones to truly define Girls Rock not merely by virtue of appearances alone but by the musicality they offered. This paradigm shift of sorts I feel is greatly encapsulated in SCANDAL’s sophomore album TEMPTATION BOX, wherein it’s release served as a pivotal point for the both the band and Japanese Girls Rock as a whole with regard to what they brought for the genre. The album to me represents the quintessential Girls Rock sound, which I would say is best characterized by a lively and energetic style of Pop/Rock with bright and cheerful vocals that sing of the rumored “springtime of youth”.
Almost every song in the album can be attributed to the experiences of a typical Japanese high school girl; whether it’s waiting for classed to be over (Houkago 1H), having fun with their friends (Taiyou to Kimi ga Egaku Story), fighting with them (Namida no Regret), saying good-bye (Sayonara My Friend), and wanting to meet them again (Again). In line with that, TEMPTATION BOX is also an important album in that this would be the last album that SCANDAL as a band will ever adopt a schoolgirl aesthetic both in their songs as well in their looks in how they choose to promote themselves, in an attempt to be taken more seriously following their foray into the mainstream market.
I was very excited to hear this album since I don’t think I’ve actually taken the time to listen to SCANDAL’s music. I’ve heard many great things about the group, especially from Leap, but for some odd reason, I just kept putting them off for a while. But now that I’ve somewhat experienced the genre of pop rock from various all-female rock bands such as SILENT SIREN and BAND-MAID, I think it was about time I took a peek at what SCANDAL is about and why they’re so loved; not only within their homeland of Japan, but also all around the world.
And I think Temptation Box was a good ‘introductory album’ to the group. Given that this is their second major album, released around the time when SCANDAL really broke out and made a name for themselves, it gave me an idea on what this band sounded like towards the beginning of their musical journey… and I really enjoyed it! While they certainly make songs that are categorized as fun and pure ‘pop-rock’, such as the youthful-sounding “Taiyou to Kimi ga Egaku STORY / 太陽と君が描くSTORY” and “Shoujo M / 少女M”, I think the part where SCANDAL shines the most in this album, stylistically, is the rougher-sounding songs. I absolutely loved their expression of combining pop-rock with the deep and assertive style of punk. Songs like the loud “GIRLism” with its intense guitar presence and even “Shunkan Sentimental / 瞬間センチメンタル”, arguably their most popular song to date, the band just does a great job displaying an almost ‘rebellious’ tone you’d find in many young teenagers/adults (which makes sense since the members composed this album around the time when they were ages 20-22).
But let’s not ignore the more light-hearted tracks they also include in this album. I think those sorts of songs, like “Taiyou to Kimi ga Egaku STORY / 太陽と君が描くSTORY”, still maintain that cool, youthful rock sound while almost being a bit of a breather in between the more aggressive-sounding tracks. Especially song like “Sayonara My Friend / さよならMy Friend”, which had high school graduation vibes, it fits in well and allows for a good amount of variety to be heard throughout this particular album.
SCANDAL being a rock band, they operate with a pretty standard instrument setup of two guitars, bass and drums. But I think the big highlight of the whole instrumental side of this album in particular was the guitar performances. Especially with the songs that had a more intense nature, HARUNA and MAMI did a fantastic job making a lot of those feel like genuine punk/metal-like tracks with their distorted strumming/riffs. “GIRLism” is, in my opinion, the best example of that with its constant roughness on both guitars and even the occasional loud twangs were a great touch. (Plus, it definitely adds to the atmosphere of a song like “GIRLism”).
Heck, even the drastic change of pace and inclusion of an acoustic guitar in “Sayonara My Friend” were done really well. Other than that, there were times where the group used other instruments like a piano, synthesizer and violin in appropriate ways. “Namida no Regret / 涙のリグレット” in particular, combined their usual instruments with more emotional-sounding ones such as a violin to create a very remorseful kind of track.
Now, let’s talk about what I considered to be the absolute most impressive thing I got out of Temptation Box: the vocals. I absolutely loved the vocal performances shown in many of these songs and one major reason why is the combination of both deep and high-pitched voices. The way HARUNA and TOMOMI (I think those are the two who sang most of the time) incorporated both types of vocals, whether that be on their own or even combined in one song, was fascinating. It worked fantastically; not only in a way where it fit in whatever kind of atmosphere each song had but also hearing that duet-like aspect in certain tracks (e.g. “Taiyou to Kimi ga Egaku STORY” and “Hello Hello”) was really fun to listen to. And I can’t not mention how some of the vocal performances made certain songs super catchy. One song that comes to mind was “Houkago 1H / 放課後 1H”… I’ve been whistling that high-pitched chorus for a few days now 😛
Like I said at the beginning of this review, being someone who hasn’t had the chance to actually listen to this wildly popular band, I thought SCANDAL’s second album Temptation Box was a good ‘introductory album’. It allowed me to see what the group was like towards the beginning of their careers and you know what… this was a damn good first-time experience for me.
When I first looked at this band, especially in their early days, I feel like they were being advertised more as an ‘idol-like’ music group with their matching schoolgirl outfits and dramatic teenager appearances. But in reality, I found that SCANDAL has an authentic and passionate approach towards composing pop music, sometimes infused with punk, and it’s clear that they do it well. The expression of youth mixed in with strong-sounding rock music, the fantastic use of different pitched vocals and just the overall genuine nature of this album were all great!
And I think this album definitely sparked my curiosity in listening to their other music. I know that in SCANDAL’s later albums, they started to write/compose songs solely by themselves, so it’ll be fun to notice the differences between their various eras.
Aaaand that’s all I got for you today!
Sorry if this felt shorter than usual, my focus has been a bit off lately but I’ll be sure to get back on track next month. Also, if you haven’t already, you should go read Leap’s review for this month where he talks about the album I gave him, The Park by AKAIKO-EN! That was a pretty solid album so go check it out by clicking here!
In addition, I thought I’d include this interesting post that Leap did a couple years ago, talking about the time he saw SCANDAL at a live concert here in the United States. Definitely a fun post to read!
That being said, I’m hoping to write more posts this year since I’ve been lacking lately. I got a few ideas already so be sure to stay tuned!
Thanks for reading!! 😀