Those lucky few who know me, know that I strongly dislike pop music. Especially – American or Western top 40. Not only do I despise it, I also rue and lament it. The same corporate monster that created this music nurtures it, feeds it, and makes sure that the machine of consumerism and capitalism is running smoothly, thoroughly crushing any breath of individuality and creativity in modern music. So it is in this vein that I make the following confession. Brace yourself.
I am addicted to Japanese pop music. I know I know. In a lot of ways it’s worse than what we have going on here in the US: bands are often cultivated en masse, great, corporate (typically television corporations) greenhouses where bands are literally planted. One after another they are produced, all bubble gum and frothing over with Disneyesque innocence and charm. They rule morning television, with often just a turnstile at their core – much like Menudo was in the 80’s; you age out and either move on to a ready-made solo career, or you fade into obscurity. But that’s not all of them.
Some bands are taking the Western pop formula and rewriting it, reworking it. Where once there was an homage to the 80’s and 90’s boy bands and spice girls, there is now an ever-expanding alternative that is changing the face of pop music as we know it. It’s pop with substance. Oh my head.
Take Nirgilis for example. You would classify them as alternative pop. They write their own music (Gasp!). They play their own instruments (Gasp!). They formed in university, and have remained a band at core despite having had no record deal or industry support, and with more than 20 members having come and gone in the nearly ten years they worked for a hit. More importantly, despite the electronic bleeps reminiscent of 1980’s house, techno and pop, they are good. Really good. Their sound is comprised of an assortment of loops layered over guitars and drum kit, and are reminiscent of everything from Rilo Kiley and the Fiery Furnaces to the club hit of the week. The lead singer often sounds like a Japanese Kay Hanley, with a greater range and decent lung capacity to boot. Their hooks are solid, songs are catchy, and each album has a song on it for your every mood.
Nirgilis is at the forefront of a new music “movement” sweeping through Asia of late. Called mash-rise, or better translated, mashed-up, it involves taking two entirely different songs and combining them into one song. It’s not quite sampling, it’s not even homogenous – both songs (and sometimes more) are oft played concurrent to each other: at the same time to the same music. These mash-ups can either be two songs written by the same entity, or an original paired with another popular song.
A perfect example of this is their international hit single “Sakura (Cherry Blossom)”, which many western folks may know as an opening theme to the popular anime “Eureka 7”. A really infectious chorus makes you almost forget the operatic rendition of “Amazing Grace” running through it. (And if that gets to be too much, the Sakura single features the non-mash-rise version for your auditory pleasure.)
Nirgilis has two albums and an assortment of EP singles. The mp3’s above are from their album New Standard. They are mild compared to some of their other records. Their latest album Girl features Peter Hook of New Order, and samples are currently streaming at their website. (Be forewarned though, they haven’t an English-language home on the web.)
So what with my current musical excursion, you can be sure to expect more from me in the near future on Japanese pop (and not so pop, I like some perdy weird stuff). Until then, enjoy Nirgilis.