We got a good one this month.
What’s up and welcome back to a little segment I do on this blog called J-Music Exchange/Rate. What is this, you may ask? Well, every month, me and my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 give each other albums to listen to (from our respective libraries) and later review them on our blogs. It’s a fun thing we’ve been doing since May of 2020 when we revived the segment, and it’s also been going strong with a total of 22 reviews between the two of us! If you’re interested in reading some of the other albums we’ve talked about, definitely go check out Leap’s dedicated J-Music Exchange/Rate page where you can find all of the post links in one place.
Also, as part of our album selection process, we base them on different themes for each month. For example, last month’s theme was ‘idols’ so we had to pick an album that fell under the general category of the Japanese idol phenomenon (you can click here to read what I wrote about Leap’s choice for me, Beyond the Blue by Yanakoto Sotto Mute). This time around, I came up with a pretty interesting topic: “hidden gems by popular artists”. Pretty much, we had to choose an album that many people wouldn’t know about or reference when thinking of a certain popular artist. I ended up not giving Leap this one but for instance, a lot of people probably know Hoshino Gen for his Yellow Dancer or POP VIRUS albums but they may not know that some of his previous works like Stranger are also really solid. So yeah.
That being said, our choices for the month of March consist of me giving Leap sakanaction’s 2009 studio release Shin-Shiro while he tossed over BAND-MAIKO by the group of the same name, BAND-MAIKO.
Interestingly enough, BAND-MAIKO is actually a subgroup based off a well-known hard rock/heavy metal band by the name of BAND-MAID. BAND-MAIKO started off as an April Fool’s Day prank back in 2018, when the members of BAND-MAID announced that they would be changing their name and aesthetic to a ‘maiko’ style, alongside the release of a new single called secret MAIKO lips. The group wore geisha outfits and makeup, performed with traditional Japanese instruments and even incorporated the Kyoto dialect into the lyrics of their single. However despite this whole thing being a fun joke at first, it actually was well-received by their fans, to the point where BAND-MAID decided to release an entire EP in 2019 revolving around that ‘maiko’ image.
Leap’s thoughts on BAND-MAIKO:
The first time I heard of “BAND-MAIKO” was back in April of 2018, when they released “secret MAIKO lips” as a sort of April Fool’s Day prank. Of course, while it was meant to be somewhat of a joke, perhaps the most amusing thing about it was how good it actually ended up sounding. The song is an alternate rendition of BAND-MAID’s “secret MY lips”, sporting a more wa-fuu (Japanese-style) instrumentation, and sung with a Kansai dialect. Of course this isn’t at all how BAND-MAID traditionally sounds, but I would be lying if I said that the song didn’t get me interested in the band probably the most out of anything I’ve heard from them prior.
A lot of it had to do with how much it made me able to really appreciate what I now consider to be my favorite element’s of BAND-MAID’s sound; those being Akane’s tight drum work and Saiki’s lush singing, both of which being on full display here. I would surmise that a lot fan’s thought the same (or at least liked the concept enough), as we ended up getting a full “BAND-MAIKO” mini-album the following year, which features a whole lot of what “secret MAIKO lips” had to offer and then some.
I don’t believe this release is on a lot of people’s short-list of BAND-MAID recommendations, but I think it deserves a fair enough shout. I mean, hey, technically it made me a fan out them after all (XD).
The funny thing is, is that I am very unfamiliar with both of the things that are being displayed in this EP (lol). I haven’t really listened to a ton of BAND-MAID (the original band), and I especially am not someone who listens to the more traditional style of Japanese music (the closest thing I’ve heard when it comes to that genre was Touyama Nao’s “Tomoshibi no Manimani”). But even though that’s the case, I still found this collection of music to be pretty enjoyable.
Apparently, or so I have read, all but one of the songs on this EP are based off previous BAND-MAID tracks, as the group took some of their songs and gave them a traditional Japanese twist (with the exception of “Gion-Machi / 祇園町”, an original composition). But like I said, I have only listened to one or two tracks, in total, from BAND-MAID so I don’t actually know how much of a difference there is between the originals and this version. However I will say that it’s pretty cool that they did that. I’d imagine that this was simply an experiment for BAND-MAID and by remixing their previous music, they just wanted to test out this combination of styles.
And as BAND-MAID stated (according to JaME-World.com), their ultimate goal with this EP was to combine the Kyoto-inspired ‘maiko’ style with the band’s usual sound: hard rock. And in my opinion, they do an overall nice job in executing that. I think one of the best instances of them fusing the two styles together was the leading track, as well as the song that basically started this whole rebrand, “secret MAIKO lips” (based off “secret My lips”). While at the surface, it sounds like a regular hard rock kind of song, they incorporate the ‘maiko’ style smoothly so that it doesn’t feel like a super unusual combination of genres, like how some people may think at first. The added ‘oriental’ quirk definitely makes this, and BAND-MAID’s music, very unique and it’s honestly also fun to listen to. For a person like me who isn’t too knowledgeable in the hard rock music scene, to hear these two incredibly different styles being performed together, and in an impressive fashion, is just fascinating.
And how BAND-MAIKO executes this combination so well is from the inclusion of traditional Japanese instruments. Again, because I don’t know a ton about ‘maiko’ style music, I’m not too sure what specific instruments are being used within these songs. But from a casual point-of-view, BAND-MAIKO effortlessly incorporates that traditional sound into their standard style of music. Because performances on the shamisen or koto are, from what I’ve previously heard, pretty fast-paced, it actually works in tandem with the how BAND-MAID usually displays their music, with the quick, rough-sounding electric guitar and loud percussion. And what’s cool is that at certain parts in some of these songs, BAND-MAIKO gives the traditional instruments a chance to shine by itself, almost like a solo. A couple of the songs that do this are “ansan” and “Akasimahen”.
However, I will admit that BAND-MAID’s normal, ‘powerful’ style of playing music occasionally drowns out the traditional instruments at times. In songs like “TORA and TORA / 虎 and 虎” and “Screaming / すくりーみんぐ”; while I did detect that ‘maiko’ flair, it was pretty subtle to the point where I sometimes thought I was mainly listening to a heavy rock-style song.
As for the vocals, I really liked them. As I said, I’ve listened to a bit of BAND-MAID in the past before, and the strong voices of Kobato Miku and Atsumi Saiki (or rather ‘Hatoko’ and ‘Fujiki’, their official names when they perform as BAND-MAIKO) are both amazing to hear, especially when combined with their accustomed loud hard rock style. And in the BAND-MAIKO EP, they’re pretty similar. But apparently, the group rewrote the lyrics so it had an influence from the customary Kyoto dialect. I can’t say I notice it (cause I don’t understand any Japanese lol) but from what I’ve read from fans and their explanations/translations, I can definitely see how much effort they put into bringing this particular image into their music.
And lastly, I just have to talk about this group in a visual sense. As you can see in the promo photos and their music videos, the members of BAND-MAID actually dressed up in geisha clothing and make-up, and acted like legitimate maiko (geishas who are in training). I love it.
Even though I barely know anything about BAND-MAID, I can tell that this was a fun little thing they did. From the perspective of a fairly casual Japanese music fan, you don’t really get to see genres like ‘maiko’ and ‘hard rock’ clash together. The way they fused the two styles together, how they mixed traditional instruments like the shamisen with an electric guitar, and even the changing of lyrics/vocal stylings… the fact that this particular combination was done so well was a really interesting and enjoyable experience, overall. And the amount of effort this band put into revamping their image is just commendable and most importantly, amusing.
I do have to say though that I never listened to the original songs that these BAND-MAIKO tracks were based off of. I’m definitely not blaming the band for that but if I was actually familiar with the original versions of these songs, I feel like I would enjoy them even more, as I could’ve identified and appreciated the differences and such.
And that’s all I got for you! Despite this review being posted later than usual, this month’s Exchange/Rate was pretty fun. It also made me more interested in listening to BAND-MAID’s music.
And as always, you should absolutely go over to Leap’s blog and read his thoughts on the album I gave him this month, Shin-Shiro by sakanaction. You know the band who did that wildly popular song, “Shin Takarajima”? Well, if you enjoyed that song, you may be interested in their earlier works so click here head on over to Leap’s review!
Thanks for reading!! 😀