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The J-Rock List

Back when I did the anime list, I said I'd do a corresponding Japanese rock list, stuff I've heard, which things I've liked, which things are growing on me. It's a slightly different format from the anime list. Largely did this as an exercise in making myself use shorter sentences, less contractions, and less verbose forms of expression.

Music I Love

Buck-Tick (Gothic/Industrial)

Look: The elegant assassin squad. Sakurai (vocalist) has the most beautiful proportions and bone structure on any man in Japanese rock.
Sound: Rich, elegant, devastatingly lovely dark rock.
Pros: 20 years on and constantly improving. Sakurai is as eye-catching as he is good on the ears, and can really make his range work for him. Imai (guitar) is like the swiss army knife of guitarists, providing nifty electronic noises, backing vocals, rapping, and insectoid acrobatics, sometimes all in the span of the same song. Buck-Tick puts on great lives, and never cease to amaze in terms of quality in and out of the studio. Anything from Six/Nine and up is worth a starting listen.
Cons: They're tall, dark, evil and exactly what your mother told you not to listen to.
Sum: And that wasn't a con.
Trivia: First heard Buck-Tick through a banged-up cover of Just One More Kiss by Hyde.

Bump of Chicken (Rock)

Look: Perfectly normal, well-adjusted guys.
Sound: Young, free and thinking deeply.
Pros: I'm in absolute awe of what the BoC guys pull off with their simplicity and great honesty. Their music is the thinking man's rock, and their range works evenly between solid, skillful acoustic numbers and pulse-pounding masterpieces. Fujiwara (vocals, guitar) is a choirboy for the darkness in both his compositions and singing ability. Get Yggdrassil, their latest album, the best album of 2004, and curl up on your side pondering what might be and what might've been.
Cons: None. Just, none.
Sum: The sort of music you figure is going to be around for a very long time. And they've already produced 3 smashing albums and still manage to be my age.

L'Arc~en~Ciel (Rock-Pop)

Look: Four fashionable, eternally young men next door. Hyde (vocalist) is the prettiest girl and boy in all of Japanese rockdom.
Sound: Complex, layered music regardless of how light or dark the piece is. Specializes in happy melodies for sad music.
Pros: 13 years on and constantly reinventing. They put out consistently good albums. Listen to anything between 1998 to 2000 for the best of it, I recommend Real, and avoid True like the dark plague of pop that wanders the moors. Yukihiro (drums) is currently the best drummer in Japanese rock, while Yoshiki nurses his bad back. They've always had the best bassist. Hyde does things to notes you don't want to attempt without medical supervision.
Cons: Laruku has a rep for highly energetic though somewhat inconsistent lives, with Hyde's voice always being an issue.
Sum: A great band, deserving of all the legends they've amassed. Be wary of imitators. Laruku also has an accessible sound that's good for beginning listeners.
Trivia: This is one of two bands that started me on all other Japanese rock, and it's all thanks to an anime called Rurouni Kenshin.

Yellow Monkey, The (Hard Rock)

Look: Glamorously glam. Not always in the interests of sound aesthetic values. But aethetics may be overrated, for look at my definition of warm and cuddly.
Sound: Complex, layered music. Best heard fast, does dramatic and compelling slow numbers. This is the kind of rock you're meant to dance to.
Pros: A band for consistently good albums and no-nonsense lives. I recommend their final album, 8, for a solid representation of their range. Yoshii (vocalist) has a haunting, plainitive voice that creeps up your spine and drags you off your feet. Yellow Monkey's music comes with a lot of heart. This is the band well-deservedly called Japan's Greatest Rock Band.
Cons: They've disbanded. The monkey is no more.
Sum: I quite believe the only way you could not move to the music these guys make is if you were deceased. Yellow Monkey is good to start with if you like your rock with teeth.
Trivia: This is the other band that started me on all other Japanese rock, and it's still all thanks to an anime called Rurouni Kenshin.

Music I Like

Back Horn, The (Punk Rock)

Look: Normal, not-so-well-adjusted guys.
Sound: Angsty, loud, poetic and meaning it.
Pros: Yamada (vocals) has a unique set of pipes that moves between being earnest and singing with his last breath. It's almost as if he would expire after each song. so he might as well just run headfirst off a cliff into it while he can, and this is true also if you've seen any of their lives. The music is hard, fast and pounding.
Cons: The band's music can be quite difficult to take in one sitting, as they are fast and hard, and they're not really very good about piecing that up.
Sum: If you're looking for something to jump around to, and need it now, go for it.

Guniw Tools (Techno/Industrial)

Look: Warm, cuddly goths.
Sound: More on the complex layering. Dark, pleasant and soothing.
Pros: Good thinking/writing music after all the loud noises of the day.
Cons: They've disbanded.
Sum: Worth picking up if you like electronica in your tea.

Kagrra (Metal)

Look: In traditional kimono, actually quite pretty. In neo-Japanesque PVC wear, exactly like men in neo-Japanesque PVC wear, complete with epileptic kelpy sway.
Sound: Metal under the influence of traditional Japanese music.
Pros: Kagrra has a graceful, sweeping sound I rather like to tune out to for thinking purposes. The three guitarists, Shin, Akiya and Nao (bass), are very nice to observe as they work off each other really well. Kagrra songs usually have traditional Japanese themes attached behind them, and I really wished I knew enough Japanese to completely figure them out, but a lot of the Kagrra songs I like best do have a "story" feel to them musically as well, a perceivable start, middle and finish. Izumi (drums) is another one of those drummers I like following mentally while I listen -- there's something interesting about the way he drives Kagrra's songs that tends to catch me right away. Ishi (vocals) has a soaring voice that can take on wings, though he can be a lot on the high side too at times. He does intepret what he sings with a great deal of feeling you can grasp purely through the music though.
Cons: Ishi's voice reminds me of Toshi's (X Japan) in terms of how it affects me in terms of pitch. That's to say, it's high pitched, and improperly unleashed, can go bat out of hell. The epileptic kelpy sway also gets old quite fast.
Sum: Probably not an easy band to pick up unless you're tuned in for this particular kind of sound, and probably not a band you'd pick up for the look if you'd rather not go for more heavily visual bands. Kagrra is one of the few notably visual bands I like (if you look at this list, a lot of the bands here had allusions to the visual scene at some point, though I generally don't sit well with heavily visual music).

Lucy (Rock)

Look: Smiling happy mafia.
Sound: "Shout, speed, shake your rockarollica." - Lucy
Pros: Take two great guitarists from two legendary bands and the one cute drummer guy, add nitro, and BURN.
Cons: Ears. Pain. Ow.
Sum: Great fun.

Luna Sea (Metal/Rock)

Look: With X Japan and discovered by X Japan, part of the metal-goth-androgynous-visual kei trailblazer line of things. Weaned off makeup in later years. Sugizo is still the best-looking woman in make-up I've seen.
Sound: Harder end of metalesque-rock-pop with a fondness for classical instrumentation and influences.
Pros: First, you have Ryuichi (vocals), whose diva range is a terror all its own. And then you have Sugizo and Inoran, the two guitarists, but particularly Sugizo, who is amazing, crazy good, and plays the violin too. And then you have Shinya (drums), whose kit reminds me a lot of the entire drum section of Kitaro's setup. Shinya is another one of those drummers, along with Yoshiki and Yukihiro, that I like to watch because they are a lot of fun to watch, and are all amazing drummers. And finally you have J (bass), who makes sure he is in no way ignored because his hair is blue and he has that many shiny objects dangling off his face. But also because you can't imagine Luna Sea without him somewhere, in general.
Cons: You have Ryuichi, who tries way too hard in front of an audience, whose face I have never liked, and whose voice, like Toshi, can sometimes grate on my nerves in that bat out of hell nasal fashion on fast numbers. And his lyrics are pure sap. Luna Sea has also disbanded.
Sum: Capable of truly menacing epic pieces that completely show off the band, and Ryuichi shines best when singing moving ballads that require the bare minimum of breathing. They're legendary for good reason, Luna Sea, but I find that their songs still tend to be hit or miss by me.

Pillows, The (Rock)

Look: Actually quite normal.
Sound: Happy stomping around and singing along rock.
Pros: If you must know, I've never watched Furi Kuri, and I heard the Pillows long before I heard of Bump of Chicken or Ellegarden (who would both later do very fine tributes to this great band). The Pillows came first. They have a pretty down-to-earth style that's very appealing to pick yourself up with at the end of a lousy day. They're not complex, or simple by being complex. The Pillows simply are.
Cons: I often describe BoC as the Pillows with an extra guitar and better ranging vocalist.
Sum: They've been around for 15 years, and that's a lot of time to build a repertoire. I recommend picking up Little Busters, the definitive Pillows album if there was one, kicking back and letting the music grow.
Trivia: The Pillows came to me from mokie, who once pimped Little Busters in an effort to make me watch Furi Kuri. Unfortunately for her, the music hooked me first.

Sads (Hard Rock)

Look: Depends on when you're looking at them, but they're usually parts glam, parts grunge and parts smart casual.
Sound: A gigantic wall of it.
Pros: The most noticeable thing about Sads would have to be Kiyoharu, vocalist and chief composer of everything. Kiyoharu's voice is of the nasal, whiny quality that really depends on what he's singing, and how. And by this I mean that for the larger body of Sads' work, it really worked. Now that said, I was first hooked into Sads because of a song called Porno Star, and the guitar that made me go, "Wow, I need to listen to that again," belonging in the hands of a man called Sakashita, who thanks to misatojaganshi, I'm now able to connect to his own band Dust 'N' Bonez, whom I'm starting to like quite a bit too. Sads does some pretty intense and not at all subtle things you may not want your parents and elderly people to find you with at 3AM blasting from your shiny pretty 5.1 set.
Cons: Kiyoharu's voice is really not for everyone, and I still find Sads' music to be a song-by-song issue. He tries very hard to write in English, so he gets brownie points for that, but then you tend to ask if he should keep writing in English after a while, when his Japanese lyrics actually tend to work better...
Sum: Not exactly for everyone, and definitely not for everyone again if you're talking about Sads' lives.

X Japan (Metal)

Look: The daddies of the metal-goth-androgynous-visual kei line of things. Hair is 3ft. high and makeup very pancake face.
Sound: Metal with aspirations to classical music. On bad days, classical music with pretensions of metal.
Pros: Yoshiki is God of Drums. Yoshiki is X. X is Yoshiki. All other band members exist only to fulfill his musical aspirations. Yoshiki will not be thwarted. Toshi (vocals) has the singular most recognizable voice in Japanese rock, if only because it can shatter glass from kilometres away. And you will probably want to know that their guitarists are second to none, especially the enshrined Hide.
Cons: If you take all the good music out of their seventeen years and five albums together, not inclusive of the hundreds of compilations and reissues, you would probably only have music to fill two albums that isn't composed of essentially the same melodies recycled over and over with different orchestration. X Japan has disbanded.
Sum: A masterful combination of brilliant musicianship, gimmickry and power marketing. This legendary band has inspired a ton of followers everywhere, and they do have a lot of hype around them they've just about managed to live up to.

Music I'll Need to Hear More Of

Siam Shade

Music I Have Disagreements With

Asian Kung-Fu Generation
Dir en Grey
Hide (w/ Spread Beaver)
Kawamura Ryuichi
Malice Mizer
Psycho le Cemu
Thee Michelle Gun Elephant

Special Cases

Gackt (Pop/Rock)

Look: Decadent overlord of all that is mysterious only to teenagers and gothic teddybears. Girls swoon over his incredible bone structure and anorexically-toned physique. Or so they say.
Sound: Initially grandiose rock with highly experimented upon undertones leading to very straight and fluffy pop.
Pros: Gackt is prepackaged mystery, edged in glitz and possessed of aspirations to the eccentric. We suspect he really dreams of being a male Bjork at some point, but he's got too much of an eye for the Next New Thing to really pull off dead swans. Actually has a great voice with a great range. Actually can sing. Actually is a multi-talented musician with a hell of a great talent for self-marketing. Actually can speak good Mandarin. Notice I'm putting all this under "Pros".
Cons: Realized he might as well not sing in spite of being very well able to sometime over the last three years and adopted an increasingly fatal nasal-style reminiscent of various random and generic pop artists from any part of the map. Gradually weaned himself off the grandiose experimentation and decided to take up acoustic sets. Became undecided over exact definition of an acoustic set, which in Japan appears to be recognizably acoustic instruments with many bells and whistles. Like a whole orchestra or two.
Sum: Remains as an icon of epic wrongness gone wrong. I actually like some of his songs, take or give the last three albums or so. He's worth a laugh if you do catch him on the train of TV shows he appears in -- Gackt does have some interesting views and takes on life I'd like to figure out more of, specifically through his radio shows, and his overrated quirks probably do have some grounding somewhere a stab or two might not hurt. However, when the personality overrides the musician, we then have something that while still an entertainer, isn't quite a musician anymore.
Trivia: I first heard Gackt on Texhnolyze. Tsuki no Uta remains the best acoustic thing I've ever heard Gackt do.

Miyavi (Rock)

Look: Wallpapered with tattoos, stuck full of pins and a bit of a fashion ho'. Paradoxically, also just your average guy.
Sound: Rich, emotive acoustic rock to loud, fast, art-rock to pop-rock.
Pros: With a voice that ranges from sandpaper gruff to girly squeaks, MYV may be the least obviously talented singer you could possibly meet. But what range he has he uses amazingly well, and there's something even intriguing about his angsting and schoolgirl sighs in combination. What he is though, is a GREAT guitarist. I'm completely blown away by anything he does on the guitar, especially anything he does on an acoustic guitar. His strength are these amazingly emotive songs where it is just him crouched over said guitar, whispering and screaming his pain like a knife in the proverbial gut. I really have only good things to say about any acoustic set this man will ever do.
Cons: On the other side of his range are pop-rock to very heavy rock pieces that I've found either very enjoyable or somewhat itchy on the ears. Unfortunately, more towards the latter. This aspect of him has a way of reminding me of Hide's (X Japan) solo work. Something about the sound just tends to remind of Hide, although what it is exactly that does that seems beyond me at this point. There's a weird lightbulb that goes on in the back of my head when I hear MYV's fast numbers that just coincides with the Pink Spider. The guitars are played with the same devastating skill, and as far as arrangements go, I prefer Miyavi's style to Hide's, but I think this is where Miyavi's lacklustre vocals may not work for me. I'll hand it to this guy, he has one freaky-ass scream, but it tends to go flat almost everywhere else.
Sum: May be subject to personal taste, but if you can, do at least look up songs like Yamete Soshite Sawaranaide, Shoukyoto Sakujyo, Night in Girl and Dear from...XXX. This last song is actually a cover of Due le Quartz, Miyavi's ex-band, but his version is, to my mind, the purer sound. From the harder end of things, you probably won't go wrong with Rock no Gyakushu - Superstar no Jouken, which isn't the heaviest song he's done, but not the poppiest thing either. Hint: Try to grab the PV for this, because it's completely tits up funny (and the boy just looks good in a skirt).

Shiina Ringo (Alt. Pop)

Look: Japan's actual answer to Bjork.
Sound: An unholy mix of Tori Amos, Bjork, Wong Faye and smatterings of Fiona Apple. But mostly Bjork. Very experimental pop. May require spare time and note-taking.
Pros: She's a right odd girl. May start off as being unlistenable, but does grow on you, and I have come to realize songs that don't instantly grab me can't be thrown away once ended either. Translations of her lyrics reveal an extremely complex, philosophical and somewhat feminist slant that is interesting to observe.
Cons: She's a right odd girl.
Sum: Think Wong Faye in a Bjork setting, with Fiona Apple/Tori Amos lyrical sense. May require someone who actually likes Bjork to like her.



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 18th, 2005 05:01 pm (UTC)
what kagrra, are metal? o.O; lol. i heard them one time and got bored. and awww TMGE is love *-*
Mar. 18th, 2005 05:55 pm (UTC)
I heard about two or three TMGE songs thus far. I'm surprised I didn't quite get into them, since they actually sound a bit like the Back Horn.

Kagrra are from that metal-gothic-VK line, I think, like Velvet Eden. Not Sex Machineguns-style metal, but a little down from X Japan-style metal, prettier, poppier, not so tragically *woe*, but not "Ugh! I hate you! Let's have sex!" either. And then there's the Japanese traditional music stuff they're supposed to borrow from. Kagrra is one bag of personal taste though. I can't listen to them and look at their lives, or I just keep laughing. VK costumes so awful!
Mar. 18th, 2005 06:00 pm (UTC)
lmao didn't they start dressing all modern recently? ahaha *is not very up to date with vk bands* @.@; i hate how vk bands look a certain way but sound nothing like what they're projecting half the time. it's like don't dress all gothed up if you're gonna sound like some damn chipmunk pop shit or something ugh --;

the whole look x sound thing was best done by SADS. i mean they had their punky phase and their total bitched up glamour phase and then their calm phase, their look and attitudes fit the part. vk bands should learn from the sads 8D;
Mar. 18th, 2005 06:08 pm (UTC)
Kagrra have recently decided to dress more like modern man. I liked them in kimono, but men is good too. ;) VK bands like X Japan sang totally gothed out songs about castles and roses, and dressed ... well, like that. The chipmunk pop came out much later, I think, when mainstream types jumped on the bandwagon. They should dress as they are. Not like I ever understood why you need to splash yourself with fake blood on ruffled shirts just to sing goth music anyway. *thinks about BT* *points to BT as example of goth music with taste*

Kuroyume had a phase where they were doing the dark music too, didn't they? And dressed like it. Sads...eh, I need to hear this calm phase. All the stuff I have isn't calm! ;)
Mar. 18th, 2005 06:15 pm (UTC)
lmao yea during their indies days they were all gothed out. but they dropped all that once they went major...and ugh had some bad bad fashions @@;; heee. it only improved around drug treatment x.x;

aw end of SADS is all wahhh calmish. their last single masquerade coupled with Rakuen is a good example. even the stuff on 13 (their last album) still has their hardrock edge but it's more mature and has some really lovely soft songs on it ^^
Mar. 18th, 2005 05:55 pm (UTC)
And despite all that ranting, you secretly lurve the Gackt--admit it!
Mar. 18th, 2005 06:00 pm (UTC)
I secretly covet the Gackt! I feel so dirty! And quit mocking my hamster sniffing ways, you. Hamster sniffing is a fine art!
Mar. 18th, 2005 06:15 pm (UTC)
ha omg what's going on in your icon? *confusion*
Mar. 18th, 2005 06:21 pm (UTC)
Mokie, meet Misatojaganshi. Misatojaganshi, meet Mokie. ;)

That's a screencap from Samurai Champloo. It's a TV series about samurai and hip-hop. I wrote more about it here. There's a pet squirrel character in the show, and she's just jumped on another character's face to wake him up. The joke though, is that when I kept hamsters, I used to really like to pick them up and sniff them. Hamster-sniffing is a fine art! All me friends think I was smoking alternative pot. :P
Mar. 18th, 2005 06:31 pm (UTC)
ahahaa o.O; you're weird /._.\
lol i've seen a few eps of samurai champloo
Mar. 18th, 2005 06:34 pm (UTC)
Sankyuu! Sankyuu! *bows*

Samurai Champloo is finally starting to finish. I kind of like it, but it doesn't have quite enough plot at times. :/ On the other hand, Momo-san, the squirrel, is awful cute. <-- will watch any anime with a rodent in it at least once.
Mar. 18th, 2005 06:26 pm (UTC)
What vampyrichamster said--squirrel trying to eat anime character's face. :)
Apr. 16th, 2005 05:54 pm (UTC)
hey I like your reviews a lot dude, I'd like to see your veiws on the goups you have disagreements with they'd be neet and infomative.
Apr. 17th, 2005 01:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Where'd you get here from? A lot of these groups I have disagreements with are mostly because they're not my cup of tea. Not the most life-changing fodder there, I know. I might expand that section, someday, when I've listened to enough to form a much more complete opinion. It's definitely a thought!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )