Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

[I'm Not Foolish Enough to Post My Amateurish Translations] -- Japanese Bands, Especially That Super Funky One: Bazra

DISCLAIMER: I apologize to anyone who does not have MS Mincho (or equivalent) installed or enabled for display in their browser or operating system. I dislike romanizing without giving the original, so, while I will quickly gravitate toward it, most names will be established in their original language first.

With a taste for music like mine, the title of this post is pretty well guaranteed to reflect one of the handful of Japanese bands I like. Dealing with エレファントカシマシ (The Elephant Kashimashi, sometimes "Elekashi") is still a bit too daunting for where I am, and a bit too important to me to reduce too far. I like other bands with non-English-speaking origins, but plenty are instrumental, and others are languages either Romantic or readily translated into English, even if with sparing accuracy.

Translated Asian languages seem to suffer some of the most problems, for various linguistic reasons that I have only the mildest of familiarity with. Obviously this means I don't share my family's relative necessity for linguistic touches in vocals, though I can appreciate them. But I don't understand the lyrics of 宮本 浩次 (Miyamoto Hiroji) at all. In my college days, I took a fair bit of Japanese, but my lackadaisical approach to all things in structured education hindered my understanding severely, and even translating one song ("Call and Response"¹) was an arduous effort, which involved listening, transcribing and then comparing and refining where the phonemes could not be properly separated into words or tweaked into the right words. Then, beyond that, actual translation was an enormous headache, as my brain cannot decide whether to go with poetic license or extreme faithfulness. The end result looks like someone attempting to write something pretentious, but failing because they are writing in English and it's their third or fourth language and they've yet to master it.

Bazra is no different, in terms of my lyrical understanding. Bazra as a band, however, is very different. It's going to be difficult to impress the divergence from a more "classic" sound like Elekashi, rather than just attempting to establish the sound in the first place. It would be great if I could begin at the point that explains both my awareness of and my affection for Bazra, that being "星の降るような夜に," ("Hoshi No Furu You Na Yoru Ni") an Elekashi song from their 1994 album 東京の空 (Tokyo No Sora, which I can comfortably explain is "The Skies of Tokyo," though still rough as a translation), their 1994 album that marked the end of an era. But we'll talk about that some other time. To give a rough estimate, here is Elekashi in 2008 performing "Hoshi No Furu You Na Yoru Ni":

What matters right now is that Bazra covered "Hoshi No Furu You Na Yoru Ni" for the Elekashi tribute album 花男 (Hana Otoko) (roughly: "Flower Man," I kid you not--it's an Elekashi song) and put it in their much funkier style. There are videos of Elekashi performing it live (mostly over a decade after they originally recorded and released it) but not even a "fake" video of the Bazra version over static album art. That album, Hana Otoko, introduced me to some interesting bands. Many of them didn't stick past their recordings of excellent songs, but a band called Husking Bee did, and so did Bazra.

In those days, the early 2000s, YouTube did not even exist, bandwidths were not widespread at rates that encouraged or allowed for major video streaming, even at the old 240 and 360 image quality. Me, however, whether it's my actual childhood in the 1990s or my weird pseudo-childhood in the 1980s, I love music videos. It's not supposed to be the case when you like strange, pretentious, intellectual music unless you're ironic or there's a "message," but I don't care, and never particularly did. Images can function as anchors for me, often cementing a feel for a band that I can't quite congeal without it.

So, to try to look into these bands covering Elekashi, I started digging around a few sources I had then, and I found the then-new video for Bazra's song ジャンプ (a transliteration of "Jump"), which I'll leave for you here:

I feel like you can imagine their version of "Hoshi" is a good bit different, though relatively faithful in general. It's faster, a little more punk-y, a little more aggressive, and with vocalist 井上鉄平 (Teppei Inoue) doing his thing in place of Miyamoto's throat-expanding swell. 三浦謙太郎 (Kentarou Miura) funks up the stalwart basslines of 高緑 成治 (Takamidori Seiji), and ミエダタクヤ (Mieda Takuya) adds just a hint of flair to 冨永 義之 (Tominaga Yoshikyuki)'s steady beats.

But Bazra themselves have released a good number of albums, beginning with the mini-album/EP ひょうろくだま (Hyourokudama) and most recently 千回目の日曜日 (Senkaime No Nichiyoubi). Sadly, that was four years ago, but I'm still catching up, anyway. I've never been disappointed or bored by their music, though, and it's consistently fresh, engaging and funky as all get-out. I'd've liked to show off a song like the melancholic "おうお" ("Ouo"), but, alas, it's not available for me to just drop on you.

What we do have, though, are more songs from 凡 to be Wild ("Bo[h]n" to be Wild--yeah, I know...), like "凡凡" ("Bon Bon")...Well, I thought so, anyway. I have the promotional video released for that song, but apparently no one else has put it on YouTube. That is a real shame, as it shows a little more of what Teppei does when his guitar is mixed a bit more to the front and a focal point: a slashing chord series layered over the more complicated and funky bits of the Bazra rhythm section, but one that forms the song's primary melody. And what a vocal hook! I don't know Japanese all that well (not as a false-modesty thing, I have no real idea what he's saying), but it's hard not to resist singing along all the same.

What we do have available is the much earlier single, "ワイパー" (Wiper), which finds them a little more comfortably in the vein of other rock-funk-pop-hook bands like the Chili Peppers, with a few more angles, corners and jagged edges, perhaps.

Truly, I wish I could share more of their stuff easily. It's not the easiest thing to get a hold of, with album import prices from Japan being what they are ($25-40 for a single album), and their music is not sitting happily around streaming sites like most American bands' are. I can't recommend them highly enough for people who like strong bass-lines and groove, as Kentarou is truly a force to be reckoned with on that front.

Probably the biggest find in all of Hana Otoko, though the "Melodicore" of Husking Bee has unbelievable hooks, and the Stance Punks have a few fun stories behind them. It's an excellent compilation, that hits the right notes of respect and individuality, and was a nice thing to have for a growing obsession that meant that the difficulty of acquiring some Elekashi albums here could be half-sated with this oddity.

¹Technically, the title is "コール・アンド・レスポンス" but that's just a transliteration of "Call and Response," though it's roughly "Collu Ando Responsu," but with a much shorter version of vowels than English, so it comes out pretty darn close to "Call and Response." Yeah, I did learn something. If you see those much cleaner characters in Japanese, it's probably a safe bet it's transliterated from some language other than Japanese.

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