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On Avex, Idols, "Dance and Vocal" Groups and Tokyo Girls' Style

Damn long post title is long.

Anyway, today I'm going to share my thoughts on what I think of as the "Avex Model" of idols. Recently they've sort of broken out of this model by launching Idol Street, a few groups who are more idol-like idols than Avex's normal, dance and vocal shtick. However, when I think of Avex I always think of groups like MAX, AAA, later SPEED, SweetS, and nowadays TGS, Dream5 and Fairies.

I'll admit, this type of music doesn't usually do much for me. Much of it is too urban, and I'm never too keen on that. Also, it used to seem to me that too much effort was wasted on ensuring the beat was danceable, and then they skimped like hell on the actual musical bits. However, of late, I've had to amend my thoughts a bit.

You might remember a while back I reviewed a bunch of idol albums I'd been neglecting. In amongst that was the debut album of Tokyo Girls' Style. I didn't give it a particularly good review, indeed, it was the lowest of those on that post. However, there were definite standout moments amongst the moments of mediocrity, such as the still amazingly beautiful Sayonara, Arigatou and the amazing funkiness and chorus of Himawari to Hoshikuzu.

Fast forward rather a bit more. A few months back my bandmate, who usually sticks to his comfort zone in idol music, namely oldschool H!P stuff and a smattering from elsewhere, actually recommended something to me that I'd never heard before, rather than the other way around. It was Dream5's frankly disturbingly amazing COME ON! It managed to do what I hadn't up until that point been entirely sure was actually possible. It had mixed a driving beat which lent itself to a dance even I paid attention to (and that's impressive, there are very few dances that can do that to me, because I have no fucking clue what to look for in a dance) yet also had a nice techno driven tune, and the greatest chord progression in the history of music in the chorus. Not bad going.

Even more recently, I randomly heard what can only be described as TGS' tribute to Sigh in the frankly astoundingly win Bad Flower.

Then I saw the DVD for Sasshi's Idol Event, Yubi Matsuri, which featured TGS. They actually seemed to be human, rather than the emotionless robots I expected. I decided to do some more research... And the rest, as they say, is history. I grabbed the latest two TGS albums I'd not heard yet and pressed play. Now I'll review them so I can see if my slightly revised view of Avex has had any effect.



Preamble: Firstly, why on earth is there a pink Manneken Pis and yellow Venus de Milo on the front cover? Also, why do said statuettes seem to be wearing bling?

1. Intro. I see the usage of intros hasn't ended. Good, they always seem to be amusing. Some funky guitars and urban beats, then a bassline which sounds like they nicked it from Queen. Then some soul/motown inspired strings. Then some odd vocalisations. All a bit clusterfuck but lulz. 7/10

2. Sparkle. More urban beats from the get-go. Then we get an 80s as fuck bassline on a flatpedaltone thingy. Could be taken from the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop or something. Still, quite cool. Vocal melodies are pretty interesting, if not particularly catchy. The chorus really doesn't have a very good hook. Most of the points in this song will come from that damn 80s bassline thing. Sure I've heard it before somewhere, but I'm buggered if I can remember where. Synth solo is quite fun. Buildup chorus is odd. They do the whole thing in slightly minimal style. Still, not the best, but that bassline helps. Organs at the end are sex. 7/10

3. W.M.A.D. Ooh, heavy funk. Then some odd synth. And funky bassline. The verse melody is quite nice. Then some spacey "aaahs". The chorus is okay, nothing special. The bass does pretty standard funk scale ascents. Guitar solo mixed in with synth solo is an interesting idea but sucks. Buildup chorus takes it slow again and is good, but overall it's not an amazing song. 5/10

4. Regret. Piano intro, slow and compressed in the mix. At six and a half minutes, I thought this was going to be another Sayonara, Arigatou, but no. Then bass and beat comes in, and the flatline bass makes its unwelcome return. The motherfucker. Piano does interesting things throughout the verse, but is buried by the bass. There's something going on in the prechorus, but that's buried too. Little guitar tremolo run into the chorus, which is actually less hooky than the verse. How does that work? Then we get a little jazzy piano and guitar run into the next verse which is nice. But the bassist needs to take about 4 steps back, turn his gain down and add something known as "mid". Come to think of it, I don't know what WMAD stands for, so I'm guessing it's a premature reference to the bass in this track: Weapon of Mass Aural Destruction. Random synth solo. Not bad. But I wish that bass would shut up. Oh well, the bass aside this is okay. 6/10

5. 僕の手紙. Sexy acoustic guitar at the beginning here. Then vocals and beat start, with some piano. Then bass and it's more slappy and towards the upper register, so it doesn't suck. Funky as hell guitars, and then a lead guitar too. Nice. In fact, all the instruments in this are cool. Some Spanish feel on the lead guitar during the verse. Vocal melodies are nice throughout, if again lacking in hooks. Whoever the songwriter is for TGS must have wasted all his hookwriting skills in one burning flourish when he wrote Himawari to Hoshikuzu or something. Still, I enjoy this. It's not fast, happy, evil or proggy, which I usually look for in songs I like, but there's more funk than you can shake a stick at. Plus the end solo is nice. 8/10

6. Don't Be Cruel. This is weird at the start. Has the DJ scratching sounding like this and then counterpointed with a weirdly rock riff. Then something that sounds like... well, TGS. The flatline bass is back, and even worse. It's like they've set it to fall off a cliff. On the other hand, the vocal hooks in this song are better than anything else so far, and the guitars are nice. Random prog-weird-clusterfuck after chorus. I'll just share a mixing nag at this point. It seems more often than not in TGS songs, you have the bass panned dead centre. All well and good. But then you have one guitar, usually the rhythm, pushed all the way to the left, with no bleed to the right at all. Then you have an acoustic picking a melody, mostly to the right, with a small amount of bleed to the left. This gives me vertigo. Please stop it. Yours, Krv. Anyway, back to the music.Another spaz-out prog section, this time with crazy lead guitar after the second chorus. Then more hooks again. Anyway, mixing and flatline bass aside, not too bad. 7/10

7. Liar.



More funk, with a slightly heavier edge, the guitars are quite rocky here. The bass is in a range that human ears can percept again, which is good. Vocal melodies are decent in the verse, but the damn composer finally found his hook-ability again. The chorus has quite a nice one. Counterpoint guitar melodies are cool. Bassline is nice. Probably looking at the best score so far. Sexy as fuck Spanish guitar solo, then into a decent if not amazing metal solo. All in front of funk. Hooray for genre-fuckery. Yea, best yet. 9/10

8. Rock you!



More Queen stealing, from We Will Rock You this time. Who would have guessed from the title. Then what? What the fuck happened there. It's like the first album all over again. Just now we went from Anthemic Rock to ugly as fuck flatline bass and boring vocal melodies. I feel deceived. Luckily the weird vocal synth has an interesting pattern. All the guitars are in one ear again. Guy is trying to make me collapse, I swear. Overall this just isn't very good. Actually, straight from the best yet to the worst yet. If it weren't for that weird synth it would be getting very little. It's probably this song that's to blame for me waiting a year to review this album. Dean loved it, and linked me it. If he hadn't I might have reviewed it a year ago. Thus, blame Dean. Another synth solo. Mid8 vocal melody is okay. Still, sucks. 3/10

9. 眩暈 feat. バニラビーンズ. I have no idea who Vanilla Beans are. I'm sure Dean tried to get me into them at one point, though the indie idols he hasn't tried to get me into is probably a shorter list. The guitar intro is sexy as hell. I also just actually bothered reading the title. Really? Vertigo? You mean it's been intentional all along? Fuckers. The violin is sexy, and the guitars are nice. Again, lacking in hook-power, has a lot of funk-power, and has the annoying bass and annoying mixing again. This mid-8 is boring until the guitar solo, which is quite nice. Better. 6/10

10. Limited Addiction.



Ah yes, the PV that nearly got them in trouble. Lulz. Funky as hell again. Quite a nice intro though. Vocal melodies are the best yet. Can see why they chose it as lead single/title track. Prechorus also good. Hook in the chorus is win. Guitar is in the left ear again, but the synths are a little right heavy, and the guitar harmonies are also right-centric, so it matches. At least it's not trying to polyphony me in both ears. Piano is also nice. Guitar solo starts out slow, then speeds up and then goes all soloface on me. Buildup chorus is nice. This takes the best song ranking, but it ain't perfect. No ten. 9/10

11. 追憶. Piano and barely audible synths. It's ballad time. The vocal melodies are fucking god-tier. Violin and bass and flutes and everything. This is basically what a mellotron is made for, would love to hear it on one. Strings are beautiful with buildup in the chorus. Dimuendo and regression back to piano. Then crescendo... and piano and acoustic guitar. This is lush as fuck. Sexy, sexy ballad. Really, this is damn high level. Another chorus with strings. Unfortunately it's not as amazing as Sayonara, Arigatou. Even if they do tease power-ballad-ing with a random electric guitar, for one strum. Still, nice. 9/10

12. Outro. Lounge jazz oh yea. That's my lot. Then suddenly big beats and crazy electric guitars and what is going on? Then back to jazz. Weird but nice. 7/10

13. We Will Win -ココロのバトンでポ・ポンのポーン☆- Random title is random. Funk with synths all over the place. It's like 80s again. Melodies are okay, bassline is okay, and for a change it's actually happy. Which is odd for TGS. It's like they're actually human teenagers, not Avex-engineered emotionless robots. Must be a lie. Mid-8 is quite nice with those happy synths blasting away. Cute and happy, I actually quite like. 8/10

Overall: Gonna have to remove some marks for the fucking annoying mixing. Every time I got up to grab a drink or something I was staggering like a crackwhore after a whole eightball. Anyway, I'd say musically it's more cohesive than the first album, which tended to explore one genre for about 10 seconds, then never touch on it for the rest of the song. This is heavily funk influenced, with a secondary 80s slant. Not bad. Does give them a more mature image, but then the last song helpfully ruined it. I'm so glad.

6.6/10



Preamble: Well, this cover is a little less full of fuck. Very interesting lighting with all the lights helpfully gelled in pretty colours, yet with enough pure white to get the decent shot. Either that or it's incredibly time consuming photoshopping.

1. Intro. Synths building up a chord slowly, then buzzing bass, then a nice little synth melody that reminds me of Vangelis or something. Then suddenly lounge jazz. Then wailing guitars and craziness into the next song. Random. 6/10

2. Bad Flower.


Oh man the epic win of this song. The riffs are glorious. The bass is frantic and slightly insane. Everything is mixed wonderfully. The synths are win. The verse has nice vocal melodies counterpointing a really cool guitar riff, which is about -5 in pan, thus giving something in both ears. The prechorus has more win, the synths and hammonds combining with the arpeggiated guitars to produce awesomeness. Then the chorus. Hooks, that riff, and ultimate fucking awesomeness. As I've said at multiple points, this is basically a slightly pop Sigh tribute. Either that or Kawashima Mirai started moonlighting as TGS' songwriter. The solo is wonderfully chaotic and has just enough soloface to satisfy me. The buildup chorus has nice acoustics and lots of hammond win. Honestly, the only reason this wasn't the best song of last year was because Passpo decided to release the best ever pop-rock-80s-new-wave crossover song ever. As it is, this is still last year's greatest single though. 10/10

3. 追憶 -Single Version-. 



Because having the album version on the last album wasn't enough, I guess. Either way, it's just as delightful, nice strings and guitars interweaving, and then bass and drums come in and it's pretty. Mixing makes a return to the last album, with all the rhythm guitar in one ear. Vocal melodies are nice. Bass is pretty damn low again, he needs to learn what gain is and how not to use it all the time. Still, all nice. The vocal melodies are what I really liked on the album version from last time, and they haven't changed, so they're still getting points. The arrangement is good in a different way, but I wouldn't say it's any better. Still, damn good. Guitar solos have more soloface than I can shake a stick at. The guy must have had a little pool of jizz under him by the time he was finished. 9/10

4. ディスコード. Odd that they've used the katakana when usually TGS use the romaji for English song titles. Dirty synths at the beginning, and then a nicely funky guitar riff. Then we get it all mashing together in something that's somehow catchy and fun and a hint of 80s New Romantic. The verse vocals are megaphoned, which is a cool effect. Prechorus melodies are awesome. Hammonds keep popping up here and there to give me a boner. The hook in the chorus is pretty damn win. Looks like their writer regained his mojo something serious. Mid-8 break is interesting, then another sexy guitar solo. They've really pulled out all the stops here. Lead into final chorus is amazing, smashing glass and then technical guitar riff oh yes. Then sweet ending solo too. Guitar album, I approve. 9/10

5. それでいいじゃん. Back to TGS style funk, and it's already a good one, as it's already been ascertained that the guy has regained his mojo. Some good vocal melodies, guitars are good and bass is interesting and all over the place. Prechorus is weird but cool. Chorus isn't the greatest hook, but it's miles ahead of most of those on the second album. Synth and guitar duelling solo is win. The worst so far, but that's not saying much. End guitar solo with more effects than anything in the world is weird but amusing. 7/10

6. 大切な言葉. Folksy guitar at the beginning of this one, and a lush riff. Then funk. Should have guessed. This is more upbeat and fun than the last song though. The weird synth is fun in the intro. Vocal melodies are odd in the verse, but work. Prechorus is nice. Chorus hook is decent, but nothing to write home about. Honestly some of the vocal melodies and bass lines remind me of C-ute's Wakkanai(Z). Oldschool. No guitar solo, am disappoint. Oh well. Still, good. 7/10

7. 月とサヨウナラ. Oh the jazz. Some lush guitars, pianos and double bass here. Then some swinging brass, hammonds and other synths. Awesome. The vocals in the verse are good, decent melodies. Prechorus is even better in that regard. Instrumentation remains lush. Chorus has a nice hook and is just win. I like this. Much the same second time around. Guitar solo is jazzy as fuck and nice. Random leads on different instruments at the end is nice. 9/10

8. 幻. Another of these bass-heavy not-dance but musically intriguing songs. Vocal melodies are nice in the verse. The guitars this time are mirrored, one all in left and one all in right. But they're playing the same thing so it's nice. Chorus is a bit more upbeat but the vocal melody isn't as nice. Not really hookish. But then there's a weird delayed repetition of a vocal line repeated and toyed with six ways from hell that reminds me of something t.A.t.U did. The breathy vocals before the second chorus are nice. Guitar solo is routine at first, before finding its feet and getting nice. Then immediate end. Interesting song. 9/10

9. Overnight Sensation ~時代はあなたに委ねてる~ . More funk, but with a hint of Spanish guitars and a really quite nice hook in English. Verse has an awesome vocal melody, some harmonising, interesting interplay between the members and some pieces of melodically-lacking talk/shouting vocals which remind me more of Ebichu or Momoclo. Also keychange. All is good here, probably the best funk song on the album. Guitar break in the mid8 is nice. Solo at the end is funky and cool. Overall nice. 9/10

10. ふたりきり. Back to Bad Flower-esque guitars on this one. And that's good. Counterpoint between rhythm guitars and lead is win. Bass and synths also nice. Verse has good melodies, and the bassline punches through to the sternum without being horribly flatlined. Prechorus is pretty. Chorus is okay, hook is good. The repetition of "I" and "You" making it better. The mixing in this album is so much better than the previous two. I can hear everything and I'm not getting vertigo because the panned rhythm guitars, in this track especially, whilst still being on the left whilst the right channel has the lead, actually bleeds through the centre a bit, which is much better. Synth solo is cool. All good. 10/10

11. LolitA☆Strawberry in summer.



I'm going to offend a lot of SweetS fans by saying immediately: this destroys the hell out of the original. From a luscious acoustic piece at the beginning which speeds up and then goes into what basically falls into being a Sigh rearrangement. It has the same instrumentation and style of Bad Flower. And while the vocal melodies are the same (and good), the change in the arrangement takes it up not just one level, but about twenty. The haunting pre-verse melodies, which in the original just sounded weird and out of tune, now sound like some amazing take on the Rocky Horror Picture Show. This is dramatic horror rock or something, and it's fucking awesome. The guitars and synths combine to make it awesome. The verse melodies are good, backed up by a cool male harmony, whilst the guitar chugs along pleasantly. And people thought Tsunku was the only one who did it too much. Prechorus is much the same, before all crescendo-ing into that chorus hook. I'll give the original that much, the hook is damn good. Unsure why the video is 3D rendered MMD crap, maybe they figured having them do that dance might court more controversy, as if Limited Addiction didn't already start that. Guitar solo is awesome. Plenty of tech and soloface. Mid-8 has some nice acoustic guitars and good vocal melodies. Buildup chorus is also good.  Epic win. 10/10

12. 約束.



The title track starts off with some weird noises, and then beat comes in with something interesting. Vocodersynth and guitar strumming. Verse vocal melodies are nice. The bass is a bit too flatline for the prettiness of the guitars. Prechorus is good. Chorus has a nice hook and is slow and nice. The guitar melody in the mid-8 is okay, but the guitar solo is soloface and sex. The solo/lead in the outro is also quite listenable and nice. Not much to be said about this song. It works. 7/10

13. Outro. Dunno how to describe this. Sort of drone electronica. Certainly interesting. However, it reminds me of 80s softcore porn music. After they moved away from the slow jazz they moved to hard beats and electronica, so my thoughts upon listening to this are of some grainy old VHS which you had to track to hell and back just to get it clear enough to make out a nipple. Anyway, random musing on old porn aside, it's an interesting departure for TGS music. 8/10

14. ヒマワリと星屑 -English Version-. I usually despair of English versions, but as this is one of the better songs from their first album I don't mind. The arrangement and everything is exactly the same. Just the lyrics and Engrish is lulz. That hook is still the greatest hook they've ever done. Other than that nothing more poignant to add than when I first reviewed this song. It's good. Remove points for laziness and lulzy Engrish, and yea. 7/10

Overall: Much improved, not only on musical quality, vocal quality, the hook guy regaining his mojo and the Sigh tributes, but also especially on the mixing. This is polished together wonderfully and it finally presents a cohesive sound that I can describe as TGS without needing to worry about tedious genre boundaries. Basically, mix funk, jazz, pop and Sigh with some dance beats and you get this. As such this album is basically the launching platform I need, not only to get into the group properly from now on, but also to give myself the impetus required to try and find a way to better appreciate their back catalogue. In regards to getting into the group properly, I already have my oshi picked out, and no, it's not Arai Hitomi. People say she's cute, but I must be missing something because the leader, Yamabe Miyu, looks so much cuter to my eyes. Thus, I've oshi'd her. Probably Nakae Yuri in second, because she's cool. Anyway, as for the rating...

8.4/10

Damn, that's higher than I thought possible. Talk about setting the bar high for 2013. Come on Momoclo, show me what you've got. Can probably also expect a decent showing again from Passpo.

Anyway, post wise, up next I'll either review Berryz' new album (that's if I don't want to kill myself halfway through reviewing. Considering even big Berryz fans have been flaming it I foresee a very low mark) or do a post similar to this, that is, go through an idol back catalogue I've been neglecting review-wise. In this case it would likely be 9nine. Either that or I finally decide to start doing the idol bodyparts again. Has been nearly a year now...

3 comments:

  1. Interesting post! When I think of Avex, I think of their solo artists more e.g. Kumi, Namie, Ayumi.

    TGS are a group that I still have to check out after listening to more of their songs but I really like Kodou no Himitsu and 追憶 (whatever the romanji is for that).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Have you heard the Mirrorball Remix for Limited Addiction? IT'S FUCKING AWESOME.

    http://youtu.be/4Yako8iYgEE

    More rock!

    ReplyDelete
  3. It hurts to read things like "emotionless robots" about TGS (even if I know that you changed your mind). When you watch their backstage/off-shots/behind-the-scenes videos, they're the most lovely, lively, spontaneous teenager girls.
    Very interesting article though.

    ReplyDelete