Reminds me of the times I get jealous whenever I see people get their hands on autographed bromides from buying seiyuu/idol CDs…
…anywho, hello and welcome back to another J-Music Exchange/Rate review! If you’re not familiar with what this is about: essentially, this is a segment that I do alongside my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 where we pick an album from our libraries, exchange them, listen to ’em and later review on our respective blogs. We’ve been doing this for the last two or so years, (almost) every month, and it really is just a way for us to discover new music/artists within the vast world of Japanese music. Plus, we hope that it’s a good opportunity for you, the reader, to find something new to listen to as well.
That said, every month, we decide our album choices on a specific theme and it’s crazy to think that 2022 is almost over, which means that this is pretty much our last theme for the year (as we choose/review our albums of the year every December). It was Leap’s turn this time around and he thought it’d be cool to pick out an album that we have bought/own, either physically or digitally. I have to admit that I don’t own a whole lot of CDs, purely because of the fact that online streaming services have made it so much more accessible/convenient to listen to Japanese music. Plus, the catalogs have really expanded, compared to 4-5 years ago when I had a lot of trouble finding certain artists/albums. Despite the fact, I think buying CDs, either in physical or digital form, is still a great thing to do, as it’s a better way of directly supporting artists. Additionally, some artists include extra incentives for buying their music, such as a bonus track or some sort of physical gift like a bromide.
That said, here are our choices for this month: Leap went ahead and gave me hockrockb’s 2021 release Kokkaque, while I tossed over Seeds of sound by musical duo DUSTY FRUITS CLUB.
Let’s jump right in!
hockrockb (黒子首) is a Tokyo-based indie-alternative rock band, consisting of Horii Ageha (Gt./Vo.), Mito (Ba.) and Tanaka Soiko (Dr.). The three met after graduating from the same vocational school in 2018 and ended up forming a band shortly after. They made their indie debut in 2019 with their first produced EP, Yume wo Akirametai, which they sold copies of at the venues they performed in. Yume wo Akirametai also included one of the group’s most popular songs, “Champon”. As time went by and their band-related activities ramped up, hockrockb released their first studio album in 2021, titled Kokkaque. And finally, hockrockb made their official debut under a major label (Toy’s Factory) in February of 2022.
Initially known for their interesting approach of not including an electric guitar in their three-piece rock band formation, hockrockb has really started to make a name for themselves as of late. Since their debut, the band has released two studio albums, three EPs and a couple of singles. The band even had the opportunity to compose a song, titled “Oboetate”, for the animated TV series Shinobi no Ittoki.
hockrockb – Kokkaque / 骨格
- Endless Roll / エンドレスロール
- Team Kodomo / チーム子ども — ‘Team Child’
- Jikan wo Tokashite Onegai Darling / 時間を溶かしてお願いダーリン — ‘Melt the Time Please, Darling’
- magnet gum
- Yoru no Shita / 夜の下 — ‘Under the Night’
- Nettaiya / 熱帯夜 — ‘Tropical Night’
- Mermaid / マーメイド
- swimming cat
- Anaume / あなうめ — ‘Fill in the Blanks’
- Shizukana Uta / 静かな唄 — ‘Quiet Song’
Leap’s Thoughts on Kokkaque
With music from overseas becoming increasingly accessible, going out of your way to buy and own an album by one of your favorite bands/artists has since become much less of a necessity than it is now a luxury. Oftentimes, the CD is not so much bought for what it contains (at least up until you rip its contents with your computer), but by what it represents. For some, especially for us international fans, it’s one of the very few ways we can show support. For others, it might be for purely sentimental reasons. Hockrockb’s Kokkaque is equal parts of both for me. When I first came across Hockrockb, thanks to Champon have made its way in my feed, the up-and-coming band had only come out with a single EP in Yume wo Akirametai and not much else. A little less than a year after discovering the band however, they would then drop another EP which, although saw to marked improvements from the Tokyo-based three-piece, didn’t garner as much attention as I assume they would have liked. One obvious factor was that the EP came out in the middle of a global pandemic, which meant that the band had very little to work with in terms of production, as evidenced by the kinds of PVs they were able to put out at the time. The future looked bleak for Hockrockb if I’m being honest, but the band never gave up on themselves and even by my own surprise they went ahead and dropped a full album in Kokkaque almost out of nowhere.
I said as much when I talked about it in my Roundup Awards post last year, but the album was just about all I could ever ask for from Hockrockb and then some; being able to showcase the band’s acoustic guitar-driven Alternative Rock with songs like Champon and Mermaid, adding new wrinkles to their sound with songs like magnet gum and swimming cat; and most importantly, giving Hori Ageha’s vocals the spotlight it deserves with Yoru no Shita and Shizuka na Uta. I couldn’t help but feel happy for the strides that the band made with Kokkaque, so much so that I wanted to in a way concretize that happiness, and is why I own a copy of it now.
Al’s Thoughts on Kokkaque
1 ► understanding hockrockb’s style
Just like a good handful of the albums I review for this segment, this isn’t the first time I’ve listened to hockrockb’s music. Leap frequently recommends them on his monthly roundup posts and whenever I do get the chance to hear a song from this band, they definitely don’t disappoint. And what I’ve noticed when I compare some of the first hockrockb songs I’ve listened to, to a good amount of tracks on this album is that the band kinda went through a stylistic and instrumental change overtime.
Like I said earlier, and similar to what other people have said about the band, hockrockb’s music initially had more of a focus on its acoustic sound, thanks to Horii Ageha’s great acoustic guitar performances. An intriguing element about this band was that they diverted from the usual path of indie three-piece rock bands by (mostly) replacing the ordinary electric guitar with an acoustic one. You can clearly hear it in their earlier released songs such as “Yume wo Akirametai”, “Team Kodomo” and “Champon” (the last two mentioned tracks being ones that are also featured on Kokkaque). The decision to not use a traditional electric guitar all that often and instead implement a much different sound with an acoustic one… it’s honestly pretty cool. Obviously they’re not revolutionizing the Japanese indie rock scene by doing this, I’m sure other bands have done it before. But the fact that the acoustic guitar isn’t all that present in the majority of the indie band culture (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong), especially when it’s at the forefront and the main star of the band; it’s an interesting change of scenery.
And of course, hockrockb expresses that uniqueness very, very well in a lot of their songs. The acoustic guitar is so prominent in most of the songs on Kokkaque, and you can start to get a glimpse of it from the very beginning with “Endless Roll”. It’s a pretty simple and kinda low-key track, as it shows off the kinds of instrument compositions/combinations they use, their overall vibe and especially the singing styling of the band’s vocalist, Horii Ageha. A lot of other songs take the band’s strength of implementing an acoustic guitar and really puts it at the forefront, such as in “Champon”, one of the band’s more well-known tracks. The way it goes back-and-forth with some finger-picking that’s easy on the ears to a few cool strumming sections in the chorus; the almost ‘jazzy feel’ it has and the crisp acoustic guitar playing makes it understandable why it’s one of the band’s most notable songs.
2 ► appreciating the various expressions of styles/instruments
But one of the main things that I got out of this album is how well hockrockb combines the acoustic guitar with other instruments and other styles of music. While the band has certainly experimented with much grander and more unique instruments within their newer releases like the Voyage EP or their second album Pencil Rocket, I think Kokkaque is a bit of a introduction, or even a preview, to their more recent approach towards composing music. It’s not as intense as what was shown in Pencil Rocket (even though “Ao Oni Gocco” is an absolute banger), but I still enjoyed their ability to mix and match the acoustic guitar with other elements in this album.
One example is them taking on a much more upbeat sentiment in a lot of these songs. In fact, I was surprised that this album generally had a fun and happy kind of energy (with the exception of the final song on the tracklist), even going as far as to it reminding me of songs that would be appropriate for children to enjoy. Some of the tracks I’m referring to are the aforementioned “Team Kodomo” and “Jikan wo Tokashite Onegai Darling”. Both express a very bright-sounding style of acoustic guitar playing, and combined with a few other instruments that convey a similar tone such as (what I presume to be) a melodica and a tambourine; hockrockb honestly does a great job at creating music that reflects that kind of emotion. I feel like when I first heard about them with “Champon”, that song created a specific image in my mind and I pretty much thought they were another indie band that mostly composed some melancholic songs. But no, that’s not really the case with this album. Unless the lyrics say otherwise, I did enjoy the more colorful tracks and some of them even reminded me of some of SHISHAMO’s acoustic guitar-focused songs. Speaking of, hockrockb’s “Nettaiya”, while different from the SHISHAMO song with the same title, also showed off a slight sense of cheerfulness.
Other than that, there were some other interesting combinations, especially with the inclusion of synth and even the piano. Regarding the synth, I believe it was beautifully incorporated in “Driver” with its loud nature and especially “magnet gum”, which is hands down my favorite song from this album. I really do love this track; it has such a grand production compared to the other songs on this album, as it combines so many new instruments like, as I said before, the synth and even trumpets. And the best part is that all these instrumental inclusions really don’t overshadow the acoustic guitar part and I loved how they made sure to maintain the importance of it in this track. As for the piano, one song really made good use of it and that was “Anaume”, another lively track that was honestly very reminiscent of Official HIGE DANdism’s early stuff.
3 ► horii ageha’s super good vocals
As much as I rave and love the music part of this album, it would be dumb for me to not mention another very important aspect of Kokkaque and hockrockb as whole; that being Horii Ageha, the band’s vocalist.
I really enjoy listening to her voice. It’s honestly perfect for a band and album like this one; her vocals and the delivery are very smooth and great to listen to. I’m always down to hear a singer who specializes in deeper vocals, and Ageha’s definitely one of my favorites that I’ve listened to this year. Even when she has to sing in a bit of a higher pitch, she has total control and doesn’t go overboard. Similar to what Leap has said in his discussions about hockrockb, Ageha’s got a real captivating voice and never did I get tired of it. Additionally, the way she harmonizes with herself in songs like “Champon” was done really well.
In an interview with TOWER PLUS+ Magazine, drummer Tanaka Soito mentioned how “Endless Roll” was the one song on Kokkaque that symbolized hockrockb as a whole, as it essentially reflects both the past and present of the band. While it does express the styles and themes of hockrockb prior to the release of this album, it also shows off the various changes they strived to take while creating this new album.
And I would agree. Like I said throughout this review, there were clear differences when comparing this album to their earlier music, which had much more of a focus on the acoustic sound. Kokkaque felt a lot brighter, a lot more complex and had a lot more to offer in terms of instrumentation and moods. And sure, while hockrockb did admit that they were leaning more towards a poppier sound with this album, I think it was the beginning of the ongoing evolution of hockrockb’s music. Taking that key element of the acoustic guitar and expanding on the idea, I feel like that was shown exceptionally well and really helped them figure out their overall sound (since they said that their next album, Pencil Rocket, was the one where they were able to go off and be themselves).
Aaaaaaaand that’s all I got for you today!
I appreciate you for reading, this was a fun album and I’m glad I got the chance to listen to more of this band. They’re great and while I have yet to finish listening to their latest album, you should totally go check out Pencil Rocket. It’s pretty good!
Also, go check out Leap’s review for this month where he talked about DUSTY FRUITS CLUB’s Seeds of sounds! Click here to read it!
Well, we are nearing the end of the year so like I said earlier, next month’s Exchange/Rate reviews will be our personal choices for ‘album of the year’. I already got my choice picked out for Leap, and I’m sure he has as well, so I’m excited for you all to see them in December. And I’ll be posting my annual J-Song Roundup as well (you can check out last year’s by clicking here!).
Until then, thank you for reading!! 😀