The fact that the lofi girl only writes, like, four lines of notes then turns to a new page… what a waste of paper 😛
Hello and welcome back to another edition of J-Music Exchange/Rate, a blog segment I do alongside my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 where each month, we both pick an album from our music libraries, exchange them with each other and later in the month, we review them on our respective blogs. We’ve been doing this for about a year or so, and it’s just a fun little segment that allows us to recommend new music to each other (and in my case, an opportunity to get better at reviewing). And hopefully, you, the reader, can also get to discover new Japanese albums/artists!
And as always, Leap and I base our album choices on a specific theme/topic each month. There have been some interesting ones we’ve done in the past such as ‘hidden gems from popular artists’, ‘idols’, and even last month, we talked about rock albums that reminded us of the summertime. By doing so, we try to keep it fresh each time, for sure. That said, Leap came up with August’s theme which is ‘beats to study/relax to’. Heavily inspired by that 24/7 lo-fi radio stream on YouTube with the thumbnail of an anime girl studying, we’re essentially giving each other an album that would be good to put on while you, as stated, study for classes (it could also be suitable for listening to while relaxing). This was actually an appropriate theme since, by the time this post is published, I’ve started my third year of college 🙂
With that in mind, here are our album choices: Leap suggested Fullkawa Honpo’s 2012 release Girlfriend from Kyoto while I tossed over LUCKY TAPES’ latest album Blend.
Let’s jump right in!
Osaka-based artist Fullkawa Honpo actually got his start within the Vocaloid music community, under the name ‘Fullkawa-P’. In 2009, Fullkawa-P started uploading original songs on Nico Nico Douga (basically the Japanese YouTube), in which many of his releases garnered hundreds of thousands of views such as “Piano Lesson” and “Alice”. However in 2011, Fullkawa-P removed all of his indie work from the site and ultimately retired from the Vocaloid scene. He would later make his solo debut under the alias ‘Fullkawa Honpo’ in 2012.
Since then, Fullkawa Honpo has released four studio albums, a bunch of EPs and a live album. In 2015, he announced his retirement from music as a whole… buuuuut six years later, Fullkawa Honpo decided to make a comeback and released his first single since the hiatus, yol, back in February 2021.
Fullkawa Honpo – Girlfriend from Kyoto / ガールフレンド・フロム・キョウト
- Mahou / 魔法 (feat. Ohomaiyo)
- Gekkou Shokudou / 月光食堂 (feat. acane_madder)
- Gregorio / グレゴリオ (feat. Chibita)
- Room / ルーム (feat. Kakin)
- IVY (feat. Utau Kitchen)
- KYOTO (feat. Aiko from advantage Lucy)
- Haru no / 春の (feat. Otsubo Kana from Spangle call Lilli line)
- Hanare, Banare / はなれ、ばなれ (feat. Bazupanda)
- Koi no Wakusei / 恋の惑星 (feat. Haigo Meiko)
- family (feat. YeYe)
- girlfriend (feat. Yamazaki Yukari from Kukikodan)
Leap’s thoughts on Girlfriend from Kyoto:
Fullkawa Honpo’s Girlfriend from Kyoto is an album that to me personally feels very much ahead of its time. I say that in the context of the current Japanese music landscape, which has seen the rise and success of former Vocaloid composers who have paired up with vocal talents as of late, with the likes of Yorushika and YOASOBI (arguably) being the more prominent examples. Much like n-buna and Ayase who would come to succeed him, Fullkawa Honpo (who went by the name “Fullkawa-P”) also cut his teeth as a composer in Vocaloid doujin circles, before trying his hand in writing his own music without the aid of Vocaloid software. Similarly to the two as well, Fullkawa would reach out to vocalists that would pair well with his compositions, and the end result is this multi-artist collaboration. However, unlike the aforementioned bands who have taken to the proliferation of what can be considered a more “doujin”-based sound (characterized for the most part by a lively and fast-paced rhythm) Fullkawa’s sound signature is one that’s almost uncharacteristically soothing and ethereal given his roots.
Though perhaps not the kind of music that was being demanded for during its time (looking solely at the album’s success), it is an album that I do find enjoyable specifically for the way it sounds, and is largely why I chose this album for this month’s theme.
To be honest, I feel like I have a love-hate relationship with listening to music while working/studying. Sometimes it helps me focus, sometimes it’s an absolute distraction, and there are even times where I end up not paying any attention to the songs I’m listening to because I’m too focused, making it pretty much useless. The inconsistencies with its effectiveness frustrates me because the pure concept of listening to your favorite music while being productive at the same time sounds delightful. And the worst thing about this is that it just flat out does not work when I’m writing. Whether it’s an essay for school or a blog post (even the ones that are about music), music makes it hard for me to focus and I always end up losing track of my thoughts. That’s why I rarely have music playing in the background while I write. It’s an unfortunate circumstance but it is what it is.
That said, this month’s theme was an interesting one, mainly because of the past experiences and gripes I’ve had relating to it. In the case of the album that Leap gave me, Girlfriend from Kyoto by Fullkawa Honpo, I tried my best to listen to it while I was actually doing different tasks (as well as other non work-related scenarios like playing games and such) to see if it was something that could truly help me be productive and focused. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
As you’d expect from an album that falls in line with a theme like this, a lot of the songs had a very relaxed and tone-downed ambiance throughout. When you listen to this album, it honestly feels like so much tension and distress gets alleviated with how calm and reserved the overall sound is. It almost had an atmospheric impression; there were many tracks where it felt like you were drifting off into a serene dream (or space, maybe even literally) or a place that’s more reflective of happiness and liveliness. “Gekkou Shokudou” and “Room”, for example, had such a mesmerizing yet soothing sound, and I honestly didn’t expect myself to get ‘lost in the music’, as some would say. It’s amazing how music has the ability to drastically change our emotions and even figuratively transport us into a different environment, just by the use of sound, and I think each song in Girlfriend from Kyoto does a fantastic job in doing that.
And another thing that’s great is that this album has a good amount of variety when it comes to genres. It seems like Fullkawa Honpo wanted to include a few different styles when conveying this specific, relaxed mood and there were definitely some solid stylings included. Like I mentioned, you have the immersive dream-like tracks but having songs like “KYOTO” with its folksy, children’s style or the more melancholic-sounding “Hanare, Banare” and the comfy acoustic guitar really gives this album more depth when expressing its chillax atmosphere. I think this mixture of various genres throughout these songs was well-executed, and I personally didn’t have the feeling that certain songs felt out of place. It flowed pretty smoothly and that consistent atmosphere/feeling I’ve been mentioning so many times has been preserved for the most part.
In regards to instrumentation, I really enjoyed listening to all these different songs, and the way they were composed and performed certainly made for some super memorable tracks. And thanks to the different styles shown in a lot of these, naturally, the instrument choices also varied from song to song. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, we got to hear a more lively sound with a few tracks like “KYOTO” and “Koi no Wakusei”, as they expressed playful, higher-pitched notes and instruments you’d hear in music that’s more targeted towards children (such as the marimba, cajón, etc). While on the other hand, songs like the aforementioned “Gekkou Shokudou”, “Haru no” and “IVY”, are a lot quieter and include simpler sounds/noises; some even from electronic devices like synthesizers. That’s exactly why I thought some tracks felt dreamy and even space-like (plus, the music videos for some of those songs kinda confirmed my speculations regarding celestial space). Hearing beautiful violins with subtle electro noises and acoustic guitar picking, for example… it just felt so immersive and I loved every second of it. Hell, the trumpets in the album’s final song, “girlfriend”, were really nice and gave me a genuine feeling of the track being a sort of farewell or goodbye to something.
And of course, the vocals were incredible. Most, if not, all of the tracks on this album feature different artists; some of which Fullkawa Honpo collaborated with when he was still doing utaite/Vocaloid stuff. A lot of well-known vocalists were involved, including fellow utaite like Chomaiyo, Buzz Panda, acane_madder, Kakin and so on. And without-a-doubt, all of these vocalists did a superb job with accompanying Fullkawa Honpo’s compositions with their amazing vocals. A common theme I noticed was that they all sang with a lower register, which fits perfectly with the kind of music that’s being shown off. Didn’t really matter who did it or what gender the vocalist was, I think everyone helped convey each song’s atmosphere and mood in a great fashion. One of my favorites was Kakin’s performance in “Room”; she absolutely killed it with her soothing tone and excellent ability to sing in English. (Also this is kinda off-topic but when I noticed that acane_madder had a feature on this album, I had a feeling that I’ve heard of her before… which I did, as she actually wrote the lyrics to Sunny Peace’s debut song “SUNNY PEACE HARMONY” from the Idoly Pride franchise lol. What a coincidence!)
All that being said, let’s go back to my first point where I mentioned the ‘productivity effectiveness’ of this album when actually doing work. Like I said before, listening to music while studying or working on stuff is usually a hit-or-miss thing with me personally. However I did listen to Girlfriend from Kyoto many times while doing personal tasks, including writing this review, and I would say… it worked, for the most part. Given that a lot of the songs on this album can legitimately put you at ease and help you steer clear of a stressed mind, I felt really calm and focused at times, thanks to said tracks. Plus, the more upbeat songs like “KYOTO” or “family” definitely put me in a happier mood and gave me some energy… although my issue with putting on music while writing still didn’t change much so that’s unfortunate lol. While my personal experience with listening to this album still felt a tad bit complicated, I have a strong feeling that this is something one can listen to if they want to relax and maintain concentration.
Despite me having very little knowledge about the world of utaite/Nico Nico Douga/doujin artists, there’s no doubt that a great majority of them are ultra talented. And I think Fullkawa Honpo’s album Girlfriend from Kyoto certainly is an example of said artists and also gave me the opportunity to really appreciate these kinds of producers.
I thoroughly enjoyed how the expressions of somberness and serenity were shown in many different ways, whether that be through the music itself, the differing stylings used and especially the brilliant vocalists who were featured. All of that combined certainly helped create an interesting environment in my mind where I can just chill out and regain my focus. Even the songs that were more on the fun and bouncy side were still enjoyable to listen to, as it brought some livelier energy to the mix.
And given the fact that I’ve usually listen to the same artists/albums whenever I want relaxing songs (i.e. Ohashi Trio, Nujabes, Fujiwara Sakura), Girlfriend from Kyoto was a nice change and definitely gave me another source for that particular type of music.
Aaaaand that’s pretty much all I got for you today! If you got this far, I really appreciate you for reading the whole review; it means a lot! I’m a big fan of songs that can help me unwind, and Leap certainly gave a good example of that. If you yourself happened to listen to this album, let me know what you thought about it!
Also, if you haven’t already, click here to head on over to Leap’s blog where he reviewed the album I gave him for this month, Blend by the indie pop band LUCKY TAPES. I’ve been familiar with this group for a while now and I really enjoyed their latest release, so definitely go check out his thoughts on it!
Also, I know this announcement might be a bit out of the ordinary but there will be no review for the month of September. I talked to Leap about it and because school started back up again for me, I figured it’d be best for us to take a quick break so I could see how my overall schedule will pan out. However, I should be fine for October’s review and so forth. Thanks for understanding and please stay tuned! 🙂
Thanks for reading!! 😀