Haven’t really seen the April showers where I live but hopefully the May flowers will still come!
What’s up and welcome back to another installment of J-Music Exchange/Rate, a segment I do with my good friend/fellow Japanese music enthusiast Leap250 where we both give each other a music album each month and review them on our respective blogs. It’s almost been a year since we revived this little segment and we haven’t missed a single review, so if you’re interested in reading our other write-ups, definitely go check out Leap’s dedicated page where he conveniently compiled all 24 of our album reviews!
And as always, Leap and I base our album choices on a different theme each month, whether that be something as simple as the ‘pop’ genre or even more specific topics like ‘superb vocal stylings’. And since it’s the time of year in which the Spring season starts, Leap thought it would be appropriate to suggest albums that remind us of Spring!
That being said, Leap went ahead and gave me Kinoko Teikoku’s Neko to Allergy, while I tossed over Catch the One by Awesome City Club.
Let’s jump right in!
Known to be one of, if not, the most notable and appreciated alternative rock/shoegaze bands in Japan, Kinoko Teikoku (きのこ帝国) was formed back in 2007, consisting of a few university students in former actress Satou Chiaki on lead vocals/guitar, Aa-chan on guitar/keyboard, Taniguchi Shigeaki on bass and Nishimura Kon on the drums. The group started band activities in 2008 but it wasn’t until 2012 was when they made their official debut, with the release of an impressive mini-album called Uzu ni Naru.
Since then, Kinoko Teikoku released five albums, a couple EPs and many singles, resulting in the spawn of a fanbase that really enjoyed the kind of music they put out. Whether it was Satou Chiaki’s fantastic-sounding vocals or how they displayed the shoegaze genre in an excellent way, Kinoko Teikoku was certainly a special band within the Japanese music scene.
However in 2019, the group announced that they would be calling it quits and May 28th marked the end of their 12 year run.
Kinoko Teikoku – Neko to Allergy / 猫とアレルギー
- Neko to Allergy / 猫とアレルギー (A Cat and Your Allergy)
- Kaijuu no Ude no Naka / 怪獣の腕のなか (In the Arms of the Giant Monster)
- Natsu no Yoru no Machi / 夏の夜の街 (The City on a Summer Night)
- Sculpture / スカルプチャー
- Drive / ドライブ
- Sakura ga Saku Mae ni / 桜が咲く前に (Before the Cherry Blossoms Bloom)
- Hakka / ハッカ (Peppermint)
- Arifureta Kotoba / ありふれた言葉 (Commons Words)
- YOUTHFUL ANGER
- Namae no Yonde / 名前を呼んで (Call My Name)
- Hitohira / ひとひら (Petal)
Leap’s thoughts on Neko to Allergy:
I’m hard-pressed to think of any other album that reminds me of spring than Kinoko Teikoku’s first full-length studio album Neko to Allergy. Though thematically overall a more winter-themed release, the album does instill in me a feeling of springtime; whether it’s the title track Neko to Allergy that makes me think of allergies that are commonly associated with the season, or Sakura ga Saku Mae ni (lit. “Before the Cherry Blossoms Bloom”) which is a song that aims to reminisce about the last remaining days of winter before the seasons change. Overall the songs are also fairly warm and uplifting, which offers a stark contrast to the otherwise darker and grittier sound that the band used to offer in their earlier years of making music. As such, and in keeping with the theme of spring (with it being the so-called “season of new beginnings) Neko to Allergy also sees somewhat of a new beginning for Kinoko Teikoku with it being the first instances of the band starting to stray away from their Shoegaze roots as they transition to a more radio-friendly Folk-y Pop/Rock sound as you’ll hear here.
If you didn’t know, this is actually my second time reviewing an album from this band. For the very first J-Music Exchange/Rate review back in 2018, Leap recommended to me Kinoko Teikoku’s debut mini-album, Uzu ni Naru (which you can read by clicking here). I wrote that almost three years ago and despite the obvious amateurism in that post, I was surprised to see that the way I organized it (the specific things I focus on, formatting stuff, etc.) is pretty similar to how I write reviews nowadays. Plus, I realized that I’m still not the greatest at reviewing music albums lol
But anyways, it was nice to see Leap suggest to me another album from this group. Which is somewhat of a segue to the next thing I was going to discuss: the album’s overall style. If you know me pretty well, I enjoy doing comparisons of one thing to another, as it’s definitely interesting to see the similarities and differences from thing A to thing B. In the case of this album review, I couldn’t help but to ‘compare’ the overall sound of Neko to Allergy to Kinoko Teikoku’s other works like the previously-mentioned Uzu ni Naru and even another album of theirs that I’ve taken a listen to before, eureka. And if I recall correctly, this band has changed/evolved their overall music style throughout the years, especially since their first few releases, so I think seeing the juxtaposition of these Kinoko Teikoku works was necessary.
And yes, I would say that there is a major stylistic change when it comes to Neko to Allergy. A lot of the songs in this album have a much brighter sound, in contrast to the more mellow, melancholic, darker, and pure ‘shoegaze’ nature of Uzu ni Naru. You can easily notice the liveliness and spirited atmosphere, as songs like “35℃” and “Arifureta Kotoba / ありふれた言葉” show off a more expressive tone through the loud and traditional-sounding guitar performance or even Satou Chiaki’s vocals being a bit more active. Although, I do have to say that the increased amount of ‘liveliness’ in this album isn’t at all overwhelming to the point where they don’t sound like how they did in their older releases. They absolutely do sound like the Kinoko Teikoku I’m more familiar with, as they continued to display a sense of melancholy in Neko to Allergy and obviously, Chiaki’s vocals are super recognizable (one example of this being “Drive” and how it sounds slower and very dream-like, similar to “Taikutsushinogi / 退屈しのぎ” from Uzu ni Naru).
But I really like how they maintained their familiar style while at the same time, incorporating something that’s a bit more different than what they’ve been used to. If I’m being honest, this album sounds like it could be categorized with other Japanese alternative rock albums I’ve listened to, AKA the ones that have more of a youthful identity to them. Because that’s the vibe I got from Neko to Allergy, it sounds like a collection of loud, emotional songs that young people would write and compose.
And the overall instrumental composition definitely helped convey that kind of atmosphere. As expected, Kinoko Teikoku shows off their distinguishable guitar playing, with the energetic strumming sequences and traditional riffs that are very much present in a ton of the songs on this album. But what caught me by surprised was the emphasis of the drums. They blend in so well with everything else and I really enjoyed how Nishimura Kon was able to keep up and pretty much match the energy of the guitars. With those two combined, it really did sound like I was listening to a good ol’ rock album. “Sculpture / スカルプチャー” is certainly a good example of this and the distorted strumming at the beginning is one of the many reasons why it’s probably my favorite song from Neko to Allergy.
And of course, the slower and mellower songs like “Natsu no Yoru no Machi / 夏の夜の街” were also really nice to listen to. Like I said, Kinoko Teikoku brought back some of the things that have been heard in their older albums, such as the hazy-sounding guitar playing in “Drive”. But it was great to hear the other ways they composed more mellow songs. Piano is another instrument that’s emphasized in some of these tracks, in different ways, even. “Hakka / ハッカ” was just a simple-yet-beautiful song with relaxing piano playing and an incredibly smooth bassline throughout. Meanwhile, in “Natsu no Yoru no Machi”, the song started off with, what I assume to be, a melodica which had a sound combination of melancholy and youthfulness. Overall, I just appreciated hearing styles and instruments I’ve never heard from this band before, and they did so in an enjoyable way.
As for vocals, well, it’s Satou Chiaki so you know it’s gonna sound superb (lol). Chiaki is known for singing in a deeper tone, and with how emotional/melancholic a lot of the songs on this album are, she’s just a perfect fit for this. Whether she shows off her iconic mellow and relaxing vocals or even takes it up a notch in the faster paced tracks, I think she does a great job conveying whichever emotions are required for each song. And hearing her sing in a subtly cheerful-sounding song like “Namae no Yonde / 名前を呼んで” put a little smile on my face, haha
Last thing I want to talk a little bit about is the overall theme of Neko to Allergy. In case you forgot, Leap and I based our album choices around the theme of Spring, given that it’s about that time of year now. And while I’m absolute garbage at understanding lyrics and their meanings, I can kind of see why Leap chose this album for this month’s theme. I think the one obvious song that suggests the idea of Spring is “Sakura ga Saku Mae ni / 桜が咲く前に”. Song’s about cherry blossoms, remembering the heartfelt memories from a past relationship and ultimately moving on from it. And given that the Spring season and cherry blossoms can symbolize ‘new beginnings’ (as seen when flowers get to bloom again during this time of year), “Sakura ga Saku Mae ni” definitely expresses a sense of fresh opportunities, as the person in this song decides to move on from their previous love (I hope that makes sense lol). Plus, cherry blossom/sakura trees usually bloom in the month of April, or more generally, the springtime.
I’ve decided to leave this place
Before the cherry blossoms bloom
No matter where I am
I’m gonna hold the words you said to me tight
And start walking again“”Sakura ga Saku Mae ni / 桜が咲く前に” (lyric translation by kimonobeat/Tumblr)
Additionally, the youthful vibe I get from this album is pretty reminiscent of the whole fun and bright atmosphere of Spring… and I guess because Spring is also known as ‘allergy season’, the title of this album kind of makes sense (even though cat allergies aren’t really seasonal lol).
Being someone who has primarily heard the more calm, hypnotizing, traditional shoegaze sound of Kinoko Teikoku, Neko to Allergy was actually a pleasant surprise. I really enjoyed listening to a different side of this group, as they expressed a more lively and bright-sounding set of songs that is more in line with other alternative rock bands around the J-music scene. And the way they express emotion through the intense guitar-percussion combo shown in many tracks and Satou Chiaki’s iconic vocals, all while still maintaining the melancholic charm Kinoko Teikoku is known for, it really does make for a great album.
I feel like if you’re already a fan of the Japanese alternative rock scene, this album might be one to check out, especially when it’s from a well-received band like these guys.
Aaaand that’s all I got for today!
For further suggestions, I definitely would recommend listening to another album from Kinoko Teikoku, eureka. Alongside Uzu ni Naru, this one’s definitely a good representation of the band’s early beginnings (my favorite song is probably “Fuukasurukyoushitu”… just a really relaxing song to listen to 😀
Anywho, I hope you enjoyed this month’s review! And now that you’ve reached the end, you should go ahead and check out Leap’s write-up on his blog where he reviewed the album I recommended to him, Awesome City Club’s 2019 release Catch the One. Like with many Japanese artists, he was actually the one who introduced me to ACC so I found it interesting to see what he had to say about a band we’re both really familiar with!
One last thing: I know I don’t promote my posts that much but in case you missed my last write-up, which was about an idol franchise called IDOLY PRIDE, definitely go check it out! It’s a post I put a good amount of time into and I genuinely believe that that series deserves more recognition so click here if you’re interested!
Thanks for reading!! 😀