Attending a Japanese live concert may be a pipe dream for me, but at least I can imagine…
Hello and welcome back to another J-Music Exchange/Rate review! This is a segment I do with my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 where we, like the name suggests, give each other an great album from our respective libraries, listen to ’em and later review them on our blogs. Our overall goal with this segment is to discover brand new music/artists, and hopefully you, the reader, can experience that as well through our reviews. Plus, it’s fun.
And as always, we base our album choices on a specific theme each month. For August, it was my turn to pick and I came up with the interesting prompt of ‘artists that you would love to watch live/attend one of their concerts in person’. While this pandemic has really helped give overseas fans, including myself, the opportunity to watch certain live concerts remotely (i.e. the ones from the Love Live franchise), I’m sure that it is a COMPLETELY different experience when you’re actually watching performances at the venue and in the crowd. The overall energy and atmosphere can’t be compared, and the fact that you’re actually in the presence of an artist you admire… I’ve never been to a concert but I am certain that that’s how it feels to be at one (I think Leap would agree with me).
And like I said earlier, being someone who lives across an entire ocean and/or doesn’t have a ton of money, there’s a pretty slim chance that I’ll be able to attend an Ogura Yui concert or one from the Love Live series, for example. However, it is still fun to imagine the possibility.
That said, here are our choices for this month: Leap went ahead and gave me JYOCHO’s 2018 release Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle, while I tossed over Love To Peace Ha Kimi No Naka from the pop band Official HIGE DANdism.
Let’s jump right in!
JYOCHO (じょうちょ) is a Kyoto-based progessive pop-indie rock band formed by ex-Uchu Combini member/guitarist Nakagawa Daijiro. After Uchu Combini abruptly disbanded in 2015, Daijiro started his own solo project that eventually evolved into a full-fledged band of talented musicians in 2016. Thus, the group that is essentially considered Uchu Combini’s spiritual successor was born.
Consisting of (at the time of this album’s release) Daijiro on guitar, vocalist/keyboardist Nekota Netako, bassist Sindee, drummer Hatch, and Hayashi Yuuki on flute, the group has aimed to convey the ideas of emotion, life and the many unknowns within our universe, which is pretty much what the word ‘jyocho’ means. Their serene and dream-like sound is expressed incredibly well, thanks to the band’s technical abilities and instrument combinations, and a lot of their songs just have a peaceful atmosphere that many can enjoy.
As of this post’s publication, JYOCHO has released four albums and two EPs. The group has also dabbled in anime tie-in tracks such as providing the ending themes to Itou Junji: Collection and more recently, Shin no Nakama ja Nai to Yuusha no Party wo Oidasareta node, Henkyou de Slow Life suru Koto ni Shimashita.
JYOCHO – Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle / 美しい終末サイクル
- from long ago
- Tsuzuku Inochi / つづくいのち — ‘Circle of Life’
- Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle / 美しい終末サイクル — ‘The Beautiful Cycle of Terminal’
- Watashi wa Shinda / わたしは死んだ — ‘If I Die’
- sugoi kawaii JYOCHO
- family (Re-Rec ver.)
- my room
- my rule
- Taiyo to Kurashitekita / 太陽と暮らしてきた (Re-Rec ver.) — ‘A Life with the Sun’
- pure circle
- Kowakatta / こわかった — ‘I’m Afraid of the Cycle’
Leap’s Thoughts on Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle
I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to watch my favorite Japanese bands/artists, or… really much of any Japanese bands/artists for that matter barring the one time I was lucky enough to attend a SCANDAL concert (something that I hope to remedy), so you’d think I would have had easier time deciding on an album for this month’s Exchange/Rate. That being said, I did have a bit of trouble deciding on one. A lot of it is because, as appealing as the idea of getting to see bands/artists in person, sometimes (from personal experience) a live performance aspect doesn’t end up like you would initially expect. Bands/artists, for better or worse, generally don’t always sound the same on tracks as they do on stage and vice versa. While thinking about that, along with some other considerations (like, whether or not I realistically see myself going out of my way to attend one of their concerts), I was reminded of a brief exchange I had with Nakagawa Daijiro (of UchiConbini and now JYOCHO fame) and I remember how badly I wanted to attend one of their lives some five-ish years ago.
Of course, I still do even to this day. Perhaps even more so now seeing as the band had yet to drop their first full album Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle at the time. Just thinking about experiencing the musicality present in this album first-hand: Nakagawa’s compositions brought to life by his impeccable finger-style acoustic guitar work, or Nekota Netako’s heartful and melodic singing; I don’t think there’s a lot that tops that in my library (at the very least, from those that I’ve yet to present for the Exchange/Rate, lol). I mean, even on an emotional level; Taiyou to Kurashitekita has a special place in my heart after the band re-recorded it with Nekota, and honestly, I 100% believe I would cry if I heard them perform Kowakatta in person.
Al’s Thoughts on Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle
1) Letting the Music (and Instruments) Take the Spotlight
This is not the first time I’ve heard of JYOCHO, as I was introduced to them by the very person who suggested this album to me. I’ve seen Leap talk about this band a lot over the years and just going by the songs that I’ve taken a listen to through his roundup posts or random tweets, I’ve come to enjoy their overall sound. But more recently did I stumble upon JYOCHO, as they provided the ending theme song for an anime that aired back in October 2021; it being Shin no Nakama ja Nai to Yuusha no Party. Quickly lost interest in the show itself so this ending song was pretty much the only thing that I liked about it (other than being happy that Takao Kanon/Nonnon got another main role). And I really did love it; it was such a good way to end off an anime. Especially one that has an isekai theme, as the overall natural and rural setting of fantasy-themed worlds can be seen as a very relaxing thing, and I think JYOCHO was a fantastic artist choice to reflect that type of mood. (also I didn’t even remember this until now but apparently Nakagawa Daijiro liked one of my tweets where I mentioned the band/that song so… that’s pretty cool lol)
That being said, listening to their 2018 album release Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle is kind of my first time experiencing this band in its entirety. And the one main thing I noticed about JYOCHO’s songs (or at least, this album) that I’m sure many people have or would figure out is that there is a clear emphasis on the music itself. Inputting a limited amount of vocals and the instrumentals taking up a majority of the song’s content are things that I haven’t really seen a whole lot of; the closest thing to that, I would say, is when I listened to SAKEROCK’s “SAYONARA”, where ‘la la la’ was pretty much the only lyrics that were being sung in the entire track. But anyway, with that particular type of musical expression, I think JYOCHO pulls it off exceptionally well.
I say that because it really does seem like they arrange and perform these songs with the intention of having the music speak for itself. All of the members of this band are incredibly skilled at what they do, and I think the prime example of that is the guitar performances from JYOCHO’s founder/’leader’ Nakagawa Daijiro. The guitar parts in a lot of these songs, whether it’s acoustic or electric, is so prominent in many ways. For one, it’s not a traditional strumming method of playing but rather finger-picking each and every note, which makes it a lot more noticeable for the listener (at least, for myself); two, he does it in such an abnormal way where it feels like his overall playing pace is constantly changing; and three, Daijiro is just flat-out an incredible and skilled guitar player and you can’t help but notice how good he is in all of these songs.
…did all that make sense? Maybe not, but what I’m trying to say is that Daijiro is so good at playing the guitar that it’s impossible to not notice, carefully listen to and be amazed at what he does. Whether it’s the fast paced acoustic finger-picking in “Tsuzuku Inochi” or how it’s more subtle and heard more in the background within “Watashi wa Shinda”; I really do appreciate the various ways that Daijiro implemented his guitar skills within this album.
Same can absolutely be said about everyone else in this band, especially Hayashi Yuuki’s flute performances. Because these songs have very serene, relaxing and mellow tones, throwing in a flute just blends in with everything, like in “Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle”. But sometimes, it can even add a different element in certain songs, like in “Sugoi Kawaii JYOCHO”, where you wouldn’t really expect a sweet-sounding flute within a crazily paced song… but it just works and I find that to be so cool.
2) Flowing Together Seamlessly
Another interesting aspect I noticed about Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle is its overall composition. Like I said, these songs express a very serene, peaceful and maybe even a bit of melancholy within a good amount of these tracks. They do a great job maintaining those feelings in a lot of these songs with the specific way they perform music, and I think a lot of people can notice and appreciate how consistent these songs feel. They all flow together seamlessly, as these songs do show off common paces and instrumental sequences. One of my favorite sections in this album is the ‘two-parter’ of “My Room” and “My Rule”. I liked how “My Room” was what sounded like the band preparing and setting up to play the next song, which was “My Rule”. Not only was that an interesting way of progressing through the album, but it also had a very raw and natural feel to it like how a lot of these songs sound.
But at the same time, Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle could be seen as too consistent, at least in my experiences. There came a point during my more recent listen-throughs of this album where it felt like a lot of the songs were starting to sound the same. One reason why is probably because Daijiro’s guitar parts and solos are pretty similar in a lot of these tracks, and with that being a distinguished aspect of this album, it can be noticeable at times. But I realize that that could be seen as both a good and bad thing to different people, and I guess with my personal experiences, it was both. I appreciated the uniformity of this album but it did start to have a same-ish factor later on.
3) Appreciating the Vocals
I feel like I exaggerated a bit when I mentioned the music-vocal relationship in this album. Yes, while there is an obvious focus on the music rather than the singing parts, the vocals are still present throughout Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle. It’s just that they’re really faint and end up taking a backseat, to the point where I sometimes don’t notice them that much.
However, I’d still like to talk about them because lead vocalist Nekota Netako’s voice is very lovely. Her consistently higher pitched vocals fit nicely with everything else, and is kind of the ‘cherry on top’ when dealing with the collective themes of this album. And even despite her having pretty soft-sounding vocals, she is still able to mesh with certain tracks/sounds such as the louder “Aporia”.
I think this album made me realize how much more I focus on vocals than instrumentals. I mean, obviously that’s going to happen due to the fact that vocals are supposed to be in the forefront of songs but when you tone the singing down and bring the actual music into the spotlight, you definitely gain a much better appreciation for that particular aspect. Lately I’ve been listening to and just understanding how good anime OSTs really are (a good/recent example is the one from Sono Bisque Doll wa Koi wo Suru, it’s INSANELY GOOD), so gaining a different musical perspective from this JYOCHO album as well was honestly really cool.
I enjoyed how well JYOCHO expressed their music and instrumental performances, as they truly are a talented bunch that just works together really nicely. This band/album has such an interesting combination of tranquility and simplicity mixed in with uniqueness (thanks to the differing paces and playing methods from certain members), and being someone who is still an amateur when it comes to JYOCHO, finally listening to a full-length album from these guys was a great experience (and a good change of pace from what I’ve been listening to lately).
And going back to what this month’s topic is about, I definitely agree with Leap that this is a band/album that would be pretty awesome to watch in a live setting. With how impressive JYOCHO’s instrument compositions are in a lot of these songs, being able to watch them do their thing right in front of your eyes… I’d love to witness that for myself.
Aaaand that’s all I got for you today!
I appreciate you reading until the end, and I hope you enjoyed listening to this album as much as I did. JYOCHO’s a great band!
And in case you haven’t already, head on over to Leap’s blog where he reviewed the album I gave him for this month which was one of Official HIGE DANdism’s early releases, Love To Peace Ha Kimi No Naka. If you enjoy HIGEDAN’s more recent hits, I think you might find this one to be an interesting listen.
Thanks for reading!! 😀