You should always give music a second chance!
Hello and welcome back to yet another J-Music Exchange/Rate review! First off, I wanted to apologize; you may have noticed there wasn’t a review that was published in September. Life got in the way for me personally, and I just couldn’t finish this in time. So yeah, this review is still the one for September, it’s just a little late.
With that being said, in case this is your first time checking out one of these posts, this is a little segment I do with my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 where we, as the name suggestions, exchange albums from our respective libraries, listen to ’em and later review them on our blogs. We’ve been doing this since May 2020 and 56 reviews later, we’re still going strong (you can check out all of the albums we’ve talked about by clicking here!)
And as always, Leap and I base each album choice on a specific theme each month. It was Leap’s turn for September and he thought it would be cool to talk about albums that we didn’t necessarily like at first, but ended up enjoying later on… hopefully I wrote that in a way that made sense. But yeah, this literally always happens to me. There have been many times where I’ve listened to an album or song, and didn’t particularly enjoy it the first time around. But after giving it a second chance and especially paying more attention to the content, a lot of the times, I tend to change my views on said album/song.
Here are our choices: Leap went ahead and gave me the 2016-released NEWPOESY by experimental pop band TAMTAM, while I tossed over tonari no Hanako’s Kittara, sora EP.
Let’s jump right in!
TAMTAM is an experimental, ‘feel-good’ pop band based in Tokyo. Consisting of Kuro (Vo/Tr/Syn), Takahashi Affe (Dr/Manip), Yuthke (Gtr) and Ishigaki Haruna (Ba), this band is known for their incredibly unique expression of music; taking inspiration from many different genres like hip-hop, soul, dub, reggae, afro-beats and jazz. TAMTAM was formed by a group of student from Waseda University, with the intention of performing reggae/dub style music. In 2012, the band released their first full-length album, Meteorite, and later performed in that year’s Fuji Rock Festival. Two years later, TAMTAM made their major debut with Speedstar Records, releasing the album For Bored Dancers.
As of this post’s publish date, TAMTAM has released ten albums, two singles, an EP, and have also performed live numerous times, including a tour around North America in 2019.
TAMTAM – NEWPOESY
- Umbrella / アンブレラ
- Coffee People / コーヒーピープル
- Indigo ’16 / インディゴ16’
- Karte / カルテ
- greedcity -the theme of lisa-
- Seiun Hicchihaiku / 星雲ヒッチハイク (Nebular Hitchhike)
- Jitensha Jet / 自転車ジェット (Cycle-Jet)
Leap’s Thoughts on NEWPOESY
When I first came across TAMTAM with their song ‘Enter Key’ (banger track in its own right with an insanely high concept PV to boot especially for it’s time https://youtube.com/watch?v=eTcPMvm09bM…), they were this sort of new wave Electronic Rock band. Of course that meant that this was the sound that I initially came to know TAMTAM by and for me at the time, I thought the sound that they had here was really unique and interesting. The band’s next release would be following this would come two years after in NEWPOESY and… you can just imagine my surprise hearing TAMTAM go from Electronica to the more Folk-y and Reggae-inspired Pop that the band is more known for nowadays.
Now, admittedly, I wasn’t as cultured (LOL) back in 2016 as I am now, so the sudden exposure to a genre that I didn’t really listen to regularly if at all in Reggae just didn’t resonate with me. I still kept the album in my library despite that though as I didn’t want my efforts of tagging my files and what not go to waste. One day I was scrolling through my music player app looking for something to listen to while I was out on a walk and saw this album again. I thought to myself “have I ever properly listened to this?” and gave it a spin. I distinctly remember being blown away by Kuro’s trumpet work ‘Umbrella; and ‘CANADA’ (which I somehow neglected in the past) and just the overall instrumentation in ‘Seiun Hitchhike’, the latter in particular led me to having new found appreciation for TAMTAM and this sound that they have since adopted. Now I can’t imagine the band sounding anything other than the kind that you’ll hear in NEWPOESY.
Al’s Thoughts on NEWPOESY
1 ► understanding TAMTAM’s music style(s)
Interestingly enough, this is not the first time I’ve listened to this album. Heck, this isn’t even the first time I’ve listened to this band. I found out about TAMTAM through Leap after he showed off a song of theirs, “Esp” featuring GOODMOODGOKU, being performed as part of Spincoaster’s Music Bar Sessions series (either from a roundup or him just suggesting it to me directly, can’t remember). But what I do remember is absolutely loving that song, especially cause of the amazing and smooth trumpet solos throughout the track. Definitely made me interested in checking out their other stuff.
Which I did, and the main album that I listened to was their 2016 release NEWPOESY, a.k.a. the one I’ll be talking about today. While Leap did say that he didn’t particularly like this album during his first go-around, I actually feel like I was the opposite. I don’t think it was as low-key and ‘mysterious’ as what was shown in “Esp”, but it still did a nice job showcasing TAMTAM’s styles, themes and abilities as a band.
Speaking of styles, that’s what I wanted to emphasize here. Not gonna lie, it’s damn near impossible to pinpoint a singular style/genre when listening to this band (or at least, this album). They really do take inspiration from a ton of different styles of music, whether it’s a pretty decent showing of reggae (“Coffee People / コーヒーピープル”), a cool and somber jazz track (“sweetcigarettes”), or even something more on the upbeat pop side of things like with “CANADA”. I noticed throughout this album that a good majority of these songs sound preeeeeetty different from each other and it’s almost like we get to have a new experience, genre-wise, with every track.
In my opinion, this can be seen as a good and bad thing. In fact, I think I started to develop mixed feelings during my recent listen-throughs. On one hand, consistency can be important to some music fans, and hearing songs that have various paces, instruments, etc. can be a little off-putting. It honestly was to me at times. While there was a sense of cohesiveness, it was still kinda difficult to get a read on everything, as well as put it all together to understand what the overlying theme was. But the main reason for me was, when I realized that this band legit had the ability to do reggae style music (something that is not all that prevalent in the general Japanese music scene), I felt like I wanted to hear more of it. A Japanese reggae band, especially one that lightly infuses pop/rock into their songs, sounds hella sick, and I think they had the potential of doing so within this album.
But on the other hand, I think this is also a fantastic showcase of TAMTAM’s talents as a band. It’s not like they didn’t know what the hell they were doing and just composed a bunch of songs that have different stylings to them. No, each of these tracks are well-produced and really fun to listen to, thanks to the unique uses of instruments, sound effects, atmospheres and vocals being shown in all of them. I mean, listening to the synth-heavy fever dream that is “Karte / カルテ”, smoothly segueing into the chill jazziness of “sweetcigarettes”, and then transitioning more into the electro-style stuff with “greedcity -the theme of lisa-“ and “Seiun Hicchihaiku / 星雲ヒッチハイク” (a.k.a my favorite song off this record)… it was intriguing to experience the overall progression through this album, to say the least. It has an interesting mish-mash of styles and genres that, like I said earlier, still has a slight sense of unity throughout.
2 ► the instruments and its ‘organic’ characteristic
As I came back to this album after a couple years removed from it, I started to really notice how, and I’m about to steal a descriptive word that someone else used to describe this band, ‘organic’ sounding the actual music was. Similar in the way I viewed JYOCHO in last month’s album review, you can truly hear how crisp and natural sounding each instrument is. Except this time around, it’s also evident while Kuro goes off with her vocals. Even though vocals and singing are supposed to be the main attraction when it comes to songs, the instruments and synths have their chance to shine and almost share the spotlight with Kuro’s voice. One instrument in particular that kept getting my attention was the percussion, especially in songs like “sweetcigarettes” and “Jitensha Jet / 自転車ジェット”. I personally don’t notice drums all that much while I listen to music, but I couldn’t help but hear and appreciate how good it sounded within this album.
And I feel like because I was first entranced by Kuro’s trumpet work in that “Esp” Spincoaster performance, I have to talk about how it was used in this record. And it was used pretty well! We got those super nice and catchy solos in “Umbrella / アンブレラ” and “CANADA”, and some subtle trumpets in the backgrounds of certain songs like “Indigo ’16 / インディゴ16’”. At this point, I feel like the trumpet is almost synonymous with TAMTAM and their music, so it was nice to hear it be included throughout NEWPOESY.
3 ► Kuro’s vocals are superb
With stylistic expression and instruments being the two out of three staples in this album, then I think the final important aspect would be the vocals.
I really like Kuro’s vocals. It’s more on the high-pitched side of things, but it’s at a pretty nice level where it’s not, I guess, idol like. And another thing I noticed throughout this album is how nicely Kuro harmonizes with herself. You can hear it in songs like “Umbrella” and “newpoesy”, which I thought was a great touch and added to the overall vibe of these tracks.
I enjoyed this album however many years ago when I first heard it, and I’d say I still enjoy it even to this day.
TAMTAM’s way of creating music is pretty incredible. Yeah, there are certain issues some may have with it, like the lack of stylistic consistency and what not. But I feel like the fact that this band has the desire and passion to branch out into other genres of music, ones that aren’t really seen within the Japanese music industry, is intriguing on its own. And I believe that NEWPOESY is a perfect example of them doing so.
Whether it was something jazzy, something more on the rock/pop side, or especially their display of reggae-inspired music; this album has a lot of character, uniqueness and is flat-out just a good collection of songs to listen to. It’s not all that often that we get to hear less popular genres amongst the usual rock/pop/anison, so if you’re interested in listening to something new… definitely check NEWPOESY out.
Aaaand that’s all I got for you today!
Again, sorry for being late; shit’s been kinda hectic lately so I’m glad I found some time to finish this review. Hope you enjoyed it, TAMTAM is a great band and I should probably go listen to their newer stuff now.
And now that you’re done reading this post, head on over to Leap’s blog where he talked about the EP I gave him, Kittara, sora by tonari no Hanako! It’s a nice one.
Thanks for reading!! 😀