Konichiwa (Pt2) - The 90s And A Bunch Of Pillows

author ASH date 22/11/06

The second part of my exploration of the Japanese music scene focuses on the indie rock and pop punk scene development throughout the last two decades. As the indie scene evolved throughout history, especially in the final years of the 90s, new bands saw the daylight. Many of them have been credited throughout their career by writing and playing songs for Japanese animes such as; "Rewrite" by Asian Kung Fu Generation for the anime Full Metal Alchemist, most of the The Pillows’ ”Happy Bivouac” LP for the Fooly Cooly anime and also the "* ~Asterisk~" track made by Orange Range for the Bleach anime series.

If you missed part one of this article, click here.

To pinpoint a few outstanding artists and their albums, The Pillows would be a great band to start out with. Debuting in 1989, they've been a landmark in Japanese rock history, reigning in the genres of indie and alternative rock. Being a four-piece consisting of Sawao Yamanaka on vocals and rhythm guitar, Yoshiaki Manabe on guitar, Kenji Ueda on bass and lastly Shinichiro Sato on drums, The Pillows, or actually the late Coinlocker Babies, emerged from the underground and began touring in the first half of 1990. The touring also resulted in a re-recording of their first demo tape "Pantomime", which was released in May 1990 as an alternative rock EP that is extremely rare in today's United States.

During their career, The Pillows took a drastic change in style during the early nineties. Suddenly, their style resembled a mixture of 60ies pop/rock a la The Beatles and The Smiths from the 80ies. The products of this mix were, of course, the early releases which drew great attention to the growing fanbase eventually leading the albums to becoming favorites among the hardcore fans. As the band switched from "Captain Records" to the major label "Pony Canyon", they released their first full-length album in 1991 named "Moon Gold". Only a year after, The Pillows ventured to England to record their "White Incarnation" album, another full-length composition. Kenji Ueda then left the band soon after due to difference in music interests between him and Sawao Yamanaka. This led to another label jump to "King Records" and the release of "Kool Spice", an album that approached both the elements of jazz and alternative rock.

Taking one giant leap in time, The Pillows released their best selling album "Little Busters" in 1998, which perfectly combined the pop/rock 60ies sound of The Beatles and 90ies hard rock. A personal recommendation along with their "Runners High" release in 1999 and "Happy Bivouac", which all included fantastic tracks.

Today, The Pillows are as active as ever. In May, the band toured in USA and Mexico from Mexico City to San Francisco, California, and just recently marked their 17th anniversary on the 16th of September.

The Pillows - Little Busters

  • Released: February 2, 1998.
  • Genre: Alternative Rock.
  • Length: 43:23.
  • Label: King Records.
  • Produced by: Zin Yoshida.
  • Listen: Myspace

  • Tracklisting:
  • 01. Hello, Welcome to Bubbletown's Happy Zoo
  • 02. Another Morning
  • 03. One Life
  • 04. That House
  • 05. Like A Lovesong (Back To Back)
  • 06. Nowhere
  • 07. Hybrid Rainbow
  • 08. Blues Drive Monster
  • 09. Patricia
  • 10. Black Sheep
  • 11. Little Busters

The Pillows - Runners High

  • Released: January 22, 1999.
  • Genre: Alternative Rock.
  • Length: 41:07.
  • Label: King Records.
  • Produced by: Unknown.
  • Listen: Myspace

Tracklisting:

  • 01. Sad Sad Kiddie
  • 02. Instant Music
  • 03. Juliet
  • 04. White Ash
  • 05. No Self Control
  • 06. Wake Up, Frenzy!
  • 07. Paper Triangle
  • 08. "Bran"-new lovesong
  • 09. Midnight Down
  • 10. Borderline Case
  • 11. Runners High
  • 12. Let's See, If That's True Or Not

The Pillows - Happy Bivouac

  • Released: December 2, 1999.
  • Genre: Alternative Rock.
  • Length: 38:41.
  • Label: King Records.
  • Produced by: Toshiaki Sakamoto.
  • Listen: Myspace

Tracklisting:

  • 01. Happy Bivouac
  • 02. Rush
  • 03. Last Dinosaur
  • 04. Carnival
  • 05. Our Love And Peace
  • 06. Crazy Sunshine
  • 07. Back Seat Dog
  • 08. Kim Deal
  • 09. Funny Bunny
  • 10. Beautiful Morning With You
  • 11. Advice

The modern ages and a grand finalé

Finally, we still miss some extraordinary bands to cover the last bits of J-rock genres that I've pointed out in this article. And to get to that point, I give you "Asian Kung Fu Generation" and Ellegarden. Both being more pop-punk, pop-rock-ish, they've become a great catalyst for a new generation of Japanese music. And definitly a great recommendation to everyone interested in the genre. First on the scene is Asian Kung Fu Generation, a four-piece ensemble who have been around since 1996. Receiving critical acclaim for their first release, the mini-album "Hōkai Amplifer", they've been standing their ground on the Japanese, as well as the North American scenes. Each year, the band has been receiving great fame especially in their home country. They have ranked 35 on the Oricon charts in 2002, selling over 25,000 copies of their first album "Kimi Tsunagi Five M" and a number 5 spot, again on the Oricon charts in the year after, two awards for "Best New Artist" and "Best New Video" along with their second full-length release "Sol-fa", which sold over 600,000 copies and hit number one on the charts in 2004. Sold out venues in 2005 during their "Re:Re: tour" and lastly an almost two monthly stay on Oricon's top 5 this year can all be read under their achievements. If you ever wondered what Oricon is, since I babbled so much about it then you can compare it to the American "Billboard Magazine", based on album sales.

All in all, this simple band consisting of guitarists and voices Kensuke Kita and Masafumi Gotō, bassist Takahiro Yamada and drummer Kiyoshi Ijichi, has created a great following of their fantastic pop-punk compositions. I encourage anyone who has just the slightest interest in the genre, to check out "Sol-fa", which includes some fantastic tracks like "Rewrite", "Kimi No Machi Made", "Loop & Loop" among other great ones. This band won't be a disappointment.

Asian Kung Fu Generation - Sol-fa

Tracklisting:

  • 01. Resonnance [Shindo-Kaku]
  • 02. Rewrite
  • 03. To Your Town Made [Kimi No Machi Made]
  • 04. My World
  • 05. Beyond the Night [Yoru No Mukou]
  • 06. Last Scene
  • 07. Siren
  • 08. Re: Re:
  • 09. Midnight (24ji)
  • 10. Midnight & Day Dreams [Mayonaka to Mahiru No Yume]
  • 11. Waterfront [Kaigan Dori]
  • 12. Loop & Loop

Lastly, we have Ellegarden to round off this article. This Japanese pop-punk formation saw the light in December 1998, making them one of the new generation bands of Japan. Consisting of their drummer Hirotaka Takahashi, their guitarist Shinichi Ubataka, their bassist Yuichi Takada along with the voice of Ellegarden Takeshi Hosomi, this versatile J-Punk group has proved to be a very promising band in both Japan as well as in the United States. Operating both with Japanese and impressive English lyrics, the band can in my opinion easily compete with and outdraw American bands such as Sum 41, Blink 182, Box Car Racer and many more.

Since their debut release of the self titled mini-album in 2001, their quality of songwriting just seems to have escalated ever since. With extraordinary albums like "Don't Trust Anyone But Us" from 2002 along with the later "Riot On The Grill" from last year, Ellegarden is my personal recommendation to anyone who is interested in listening to Japanese pop-punk / punk-rock, where you don't have to sit back like a question mark because of the cryptic, Japanese lyrics. On most tracks with English lyrics, it's actually hard to hear any language flaws in Takeshi Hosomi's voice, especially on "Riot On The Grill" where the sixth track "Bored of Everything" is a definite selection to check out. Energetic, fast-paced and catchy, check them out before your neighbour does. And with that said I close this article about Japanese rock. I hope that you all found it interesting and gave you a broader horizon. Remember, you might actually get to like it.

Ellegarden - Riot On The Grill

  • Released: April 20, 2005
  • Genre: J-Punk.
  • Label: Denko Secca.
  • Listen: Myspace

Tracklisting:

  • 01. Red Hot
  • 02. Monster
  • 03. Snake Fighting
  • 04. Marry Me
  • 05. Missing
  • 06. Bored of Everything
  • 07. V Maniacs
  • 08. Niji
  • 09. I Hate It
  • 10. BBQ Riot Song

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