Ironically, the biggest expansion of my Western musical horizons came when I was in Japan. A bunch of my friends passed around an external harddrive, and we copied all our music onto it to pass around. It was a real blessing at times, because it helped to mitigate those feelings of homesickness that inevitably welled up late at night or after a hard day.
My musical tastes actually float in the range of rock and punk, having grown up on KROQ and WRAT radio stations in the New Jersey area. But, I decided to pass on posting about the likes of Streetlight Manifesto, Meat Loaf and Bon Jovi in order to highlight some things that I hope you haven't heard.
Pull Shapes - The Pipettes
My parents have been one of my biggest influences. For ten or twelve years, I mostly just listened to what they played on the radio, which consisted of oldies stations. So I became very well acquainted with the likes of Frankie Vallie, The Supremes and The Chiffons. So when I first heard The Pipettes? It was love at first sight.
Their album, We Are The Pipettes, all center around that good ol' fashioned theme of love, with a classic beat but more updated worldview. It's a genuinely fun album to listen to, and for me, I love to hear the tales of falling in and out of love. You can check out the actual music video here. Damned disabled embedding.
Dog Problems - The Format
The Format's sophomore album, Dog Problems, was actually a huge help for me in Japan. It's not easy dealing with a long-term relationship ending when you're literally half the world away. This album, all about relationships failing and ending, gave me some solace -- as strange as that might sound. It also provides a nice flipside to The Pipettes' stories of falling in love.
Lone Star - Captain Straydum
Alright, now we get into the Japanese music! Captain Straydum has been my regular exercising music for a while. I picked up their album when I was in Japan simply because of the cover, and haven't looked back since. It's somewhat useless for me to talk about lyrics here, since most of you aren't fluent in Japanese, but at least you can appreciate that it's got a good beat.
The Mariner's Revenge Song - The Decemberists
I'm not sure how many of you have heard of the band, but I don't care. It gives me a chance to wax one of the few bands I've actually gone to see live in my lifetime. The main reason why I'm madly in love with The Decemberists is because their songs pack a legitimate story. As you can see, The Mariner's Revenge Song is a nine-minute tale of revenge. They've got songs about Irish revolutionaries (The Shankill Butchers), Japanese folklore (The Crane Wife) and even orphans (The Chimbley Sweep).
If you've got a chance to see them live, go do so. The tour I saw them at over the summer was promoting their latest album, The Hazards of Love, which is a concept album with a fantastic narrative weaved throughout. Plus, one of the vocalists they brought on for this album can really belt it out.
Audiosurf was the only video I could find that wasn't filled with screaming girls or high school productions. Incidentially, they refuse to play this at performances now because it had been requested so many times. Too bad, because they had a whole stage show to go along with it.
Sukiyaki - Kyu Sakamoto
Yep, Japanese oldies! Sukiyaki is the name your parents might know it by, as it actually made it to the top of the Billboard charts back in 1963, although the original name is translated to to "I shall walk looking up (to the sky)." The song is one of loss, and deciding not to give up on life. I find myself singing this whenever I feel down, almost unconsciously.
Departures Theme - Joe Hisaishi
I tend to listen to a lot of instrumental music while I'm working, and one of my favorite composers to listen to is Joe Hisaishi. He's the man who brought us the music in Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, along with a slew of other films. This particular song is from the winner for the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, Departures.
The man can conjure emotions in a flash with his music. He has a certain artistry with his work that invokes fantastical imagery, a sense of wonder, and a call to action. His music, especially the Departures soundtrack, takes me on an emotional roller coaster each time I listen to it, but in the end, it makes me want to do something. If I ever get to produce a movie, I want him composing my soundtrack.
So, it might not be right to plug my own site's podcast, but I listen to this religiously. Zac Bentz is a cornucopia of music information, especially when it comes to Japanese music. Each week he presents bands that I've never heard of and instantly fall in love with, like Ogre, You Asshole. Yep, that's a real band name!
If you have any interest in Japanese music, you owe it to yourself to check out Japanator Radio. Your horizons will be expanded like never before. At this point, I think some 80% of Japanator's readers listen to the podcast. Why not join the crowd?
The Road Home - Atari Kousuke
I thank the incredible Dale North for making me aware of Atari Kousuke. The man sings in a very distinctive southern island style, as it's called. While I haven't gotten a hold of much of his music, what I do have is constantly playing. He's an artist that many of you haven't heard of, and I don't expect you to like, but for some of you, I know he'll hit the right chord with you.
Who Put the Bomp - Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
I'll take a chance to plug these guys whenever I can: taking oldies and giving them a punk do-over? Do want! What I appreciate about this is that it takes what is very familiar to me, and gives it an edge. It was either in Esquire or GQ, but there was an article about how a cover needs to give a song new meaning in order for it to have any importance. I can't quite verbalize what importance it gives to me, but I can feel it in my heart.
Henrietta - The Fratellis
A lot of this music has a special meaning to me, but this CD just inspires good feelings. It tells me to cut loose, ignore all my problems, and have some fun. That's probably why Amstel Light has been using it in their ads. So, I've learned that when I start to get too stressed out, I just put this on and somehow life gets better by the time the CD ends.
Is it alright? - Radwimps
Radwimps were the first band that I picked out of a lineup of CDs while I was in Japan. I was browsing around, trying to find something to rent, when I came across them. I figured "ah, I'll give it a shot" and fell in love with them ever since. One of the great things? The lead singer has fantastic English skills. Some of the best memories I have of Japan are to this music.
Helix Nebula - Anamanaguchi
Finally, I'll leave you off with a bit of chiptunes music. I found Anamanaguchi through Necros, and so attached to this music are memories of working at the editing suites up at Syracuse -- one of the happiest times in my college career. I was busy as hell, powering through work, classes, and blogging day after day, yet had a smile on my face all the time.
I swear, one of these days I'm going to cut a video to their music. Until then, check out Anamanaguchi's music over on their website, or see if they're going to be at your local geekery event.
Thanks for listening and sticking with me this far. Be sure to stay tuned for Matthew's take tomorrow!
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