I have a soft spot in my heart for J-Pop. Perhaps its my childhood background with Japanese RPGs, or my childhood dabbling in watching anime (everyone did that…right?), or that one time Andrew and I spent an hour rearranging our dorm room while listening to Ayumi Hamasaki.
So it’s with pleasure that I introduce Phrenia, a J-Pop group if I’ve ever heard one (and I clearly have). Check out their website, though I imagine you’ll get more (or anything, for that matter) out of it if you actually speak Japanese.
Though not Japanese or pop, Ofri Eliaz certainly is something else. This Israeli vocalist performs Ladino music, a mix of Spanish and Jewish musical traditions that ventures into a few other regional styles along the way. More info on that can be found at her site.
How does Phrenia stack up against my rose-colored glasses view of J-Pop? What the hell is Ladino music? Find out after the jump.
One thing I regret about not knowing Japanese (other than the self-satisfaction of knowing another language) is that I can’t understand J-Pop. Unfortunately, it all starts to sound the same when the lyrics mean nothing to you. What is this girl singing about in “Dilemma”? I’ve no idea, so I’m forced to fill in a story for myself. Whatever it is, she feels strongly about it: she sustains some notes with great feeling, while others are spat out rapidly like so many stale Cheerios. The chunky guitar riffs lend a sort of grandeur to the whole thing. A feeling that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 80s, I think. The guitars maintain their intensity throughout the ride, which makes for a high-traffic, somewhat even downhill slope. There is the occasional sweeping curve, but it’s not too jaunty of a track. My one gripe – other than the aforementioned language barrier which is all my fault – is how the vocalist sounds during what I believe is the chorus. Call me an audio nerd (“You’re an audio nerd!”), but the acoustics are subpar in her higher register. I can basically hear the tinny walls of the recording studio. This baffled me, as she doesn’t sound that way in other sections. Maybe they were going for a “Girl singing inside the cockpit of a battle mech” sound.
Four syllables for you: syn-the-si-zer. “Signal” has it in spades. Piled on top of the ridiculously rocking riffs and the too-innocent vocals, there is some killer keyboard work going on. (I will try to abstain from alliteration for at least three sentences.) By providing backing strings and wonky robot noise solos, it helps create an even grander scene than “Dilemma” – assuming that’s possible. What amazes me about J-Pop is its ability to wield the traditionally dark and demonic sounds of distorted guitars (sorry I only made it one sentence) for good, not evil. When Chris wrote about Black Sabbath, he decried their outdated supernatural motifs that have kind of colored metal’s image ever since. “Signal” demonstrates that with a strong vocal line and the right chord progression, heavy guitars can still be uplifting. I dare you to play this song and not feel like you could conquer the world.
I feel sort of unqualified to comment on “Ir me kero madre.” Ofri Eliaz explains Ladino music in more depth on her website, and the list of influences just reinforces how little exposure I have to this type of music. It’s Spanish. It’s Jewish. It’s Turkish, Greek, Arabic, Persian. I don’t have taste buds discerning enough for such a casserole. I can say, however, that her voice is beautiful. It contorts gracefully through the melodies, carrying me through a piece I might otherwise have been lost in. Plus, the ride is surprisingly fun. The bass and percussion create a strong foundation, one which constantly exerts its will upon the logarithmic track. Hills spring up ceaselessly, rolling you through each passage. It’s a welcome change after the downhill speed runs of J-Pop.
All songs were played on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser character. Got any tips/thoughts on the other characters and how they affected this week’s rides? Sound off in the comments.
Our Audiosurf comment of the week basically inspired half of my “Dilemma” write up. Jayson1165 wrote, “I am so glad I don’t know Japanese. It sounds so nice when you don’t understand the lyrics.” I hope he wasn’t just being harsh and bashing J-Pop. I’d like to think Jayson (if that’s your real name) was critiquing the triteness of pop lyrics in general, not any one culture in particular.