OK, yodel rock. Is that is that some sort of Bavarian musical or vocal abomination? Well, actually, it’s a catch-all term for some of the best, and most innovative, music to have come out of Japan in the last 15 years.
Does it follow one type of artist? Hell, no. Does it even encompass one type of music? Hell, no. Then how do you know what is “yodel rock”? Well, put simply, it’s a loose-fitting term that applies to the lilting cadence of Japanese folk singing (often referred to as “enka”) and staccato music style (often based on punk or black metal) that harks back to a time long before the warring states period, even more than one thousand years. So, in such a culturally conformist country, and society, as Japan, where can you get away with self-expression that cuts close to the bone and offers more than a little political insight? Skull-splitting yodel rock, that’s where…
Eclectic doesn’t cover it! Very much the Bjork of Japanese music, though without the crushing ego or the Icelandic chip on her shoulder, Shiina Ringo battled a debilitating childhood disease with her aesophagus (which contributes in part to her raspy vocal delivery) resulting in a liberating sense of desperation, as if every record may be her last (which, given her vocal problems, is not wide of the mark). So, as an introduction, here goes Identity…
Simply no other artist comes close to the breadth of subject matter, intensity of music, or sincere severity of her skin-stripping lyrics (either in English or Japanese). And, given the short shrift by label EMI early in her career, before her latter day involvement with spin-off band Tokyo Jihen (none of whose contributions are included here), thanks to the wonders of modern studio mixing, Shiina Ringo insisted on writing and performing all the parts (percussion, bass, guitars, keyboards, shamisen, vocals) to her songs herself, just like Tsumiki Asobi here.
Mayonaka Wa Junketsu is the perfect example of Shiina Ringo getting involved in every aspect of her music, from the recording to the concept and execution of the video. It’s a video which features many anime cues (including a humble cat who transforms into a machine gun!), so many it could even be considered a homage, specifically, to Cowboy Bebop and the score written by Yoko Kanno under her southern-fried countrified name of The Seatbelts.
Known for their outrageous attire, disregard for the Visual Kei label which has been fastidiously festooned upon them, love affair with 1970s Goblin Euro-horror soundtracks and subvsersion of Japanese cultural staples (see the OneMetal review of Setakamui here), Inugami Circus-Dan continue this article with perhaps not the most ear-splitting of yodel rock contributions but, true to form, it’s an awesome video, shot in a single take, replete with typical badger-baiting pseudo Nazi imperialist uinforms and a scything satire of modern Japanese society. The title can be translated as “Oh, Gokuro, honestly!”
Who would have thought that historical-themed metal piss-takes could extend to the modern scourge of pyramid selling? Once again Inugami Circus-Dan assume the posture that attack is the best form of defence with a 21st century tale, in Sennou, of what happens when we succumb to ubiquitous commercialism and too much sugar in our coffee…
Judy And Mary
Hailing from as far back as 1992, Judy and Mary (aka J.A.M.) were the pioneers of punk-influenced yodel rock, sending up short skirts, long frocks and cheerleaders, as Motto (Once More) amply demonstrates.
Featuring Yuki (who has gone on to forge a successful career as a solo artist) at the forefront of their chipmunk-voiced, kick-your-teeth-in punk ethic, Judy and Mary managed to cover topics such as Christmas, pizza, cruxifiction, walking oddly, candy, Jesus Christ and the orange colour of the sun (with a whole lot more besides) in one singular whirlwind of a package.
Eschewing the usual stardom route of making it big in her homeland, Hitomi Yaida (also known by her more pronouncable sobriquet “Yaiko”) actually became better known in London and Manchester before she made it big in either her capital of Tokyo or her home county of Osaka. Naturally conversant in both English and French, as well her native Japanese and particular (if peculiar) local Osaka dialect, Yaiko was perhaps the epitome of tremulous vocal delivery in early 2000 music (such as B’Coz I Love You below).
Beginning as self-proclaimed “heart rock”, Yaiko had a very interesting spell for a trio of initial albums, including the following fascinating Georges Melies inspired video for Kadoku Na Cowboy (Lonely Cowboy), and some decidedly racy lyrics (such as the wordplay for Creamed Potatos which have nothing to do with food, c’mon, do the math!) before petering out into execrable semi-Corrs territory from which she has failed to escape in the subsequent 4 albums (and losing count now).
As prolific, in either solo or group form, as they are punk oriented, Go!Go!7188!, which is a pun on numbers if you read it aloud in Japanese, exude a nonchalant nihilism (despite providing a remix of the Cutey Honey theme). Ukifune (denoting “drifting boat” depending on how you read the Japanese characters) is a section of The Tale of Genji which concerns the unrecognised daughter of the Eighth Prince of Japan, and the half sister of Oigimi and Nakanokimi. Far from the royal court, the titular character lives with her mother far from the royal court and knows nothing of her royal birth while the song title is a pun, in Japanese, of the futility of floating aimlessly in life like a “drifting boat”.
Last but not least, a band which have been shot down in the fires of controversy (alas, nothing to do with their music but the after-hours proclivities of their guitarist). Proving that the flame which burns twice as bright burns half as long, Hysteric Blue managed to cram into five studio albums as much yodel rock as you’d hope to ever find. Belligerent little vocalist Tama belted out the bizarre lyrics as best her brilliant lungs would allow, including signature tune (and video) Grow Up which dealt with that universal rites of passage, if perhaps with less than the usual bagel-chasing Nazi hierarchy overtunes. To understand it (or perhaps not), you just have to watch it…