By Nick Pinder
I’m not going to lie, not having AC is a struggle in the teacher’s room. The heat is inescapable. However, it’s way better than the winter. Maybe that’s just a personal preference, but I’d rather be sweaty than freezing. Really the only downside to the heat is the number of times you hear 「暑いね」.
The other week a band called Foxing released a series of music videos for their song “Nearer my God”. What’s interesting about the song is that they recorded it in various languages (English, Spanish, French, German and Japanese). It was a concept that got me – a language enthusiast and emo loving boy – really excited.
Foxing got me wanting to explore Japanese emo. Deep down you’re curious too.
So, this month I’m going to do things a little different from how I normally do them. Normally I just review a single artist at a time, but this time I’m going to try to review Japanese Emo. I found three bands who I think do a good job at showing how Emo isn’t necessarily just sad music and sad vocals.
Without further adieu, this month’s topic is…
Emo means a lot of things to a lot of people. All of those people will define emo in different ways. Some will say that “‘Real Emo’ only consists of the dc Emotional Hardcore scene and the late 90’s Screamo scene.” Some will say that “Real Emo” is made up of bands like Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco!, Blood on the Dancefloor, and anything even remotely related to Middle School. Others will say that emo is any sad song that makes you feel ~emotions~.
However, at the end of the day, Emo music is really whatever the listener wants it to be as long as the source material is related to ~emotions~
At its root, Emo is all about emotions and catharsis. The artist is dealing with a personal problem; often time failed relationships/love or the loss of a loved one. Emos wear their hearts on their sleeve and put those emotions and hearts into their lyrics and music.
Emo initially got its start with hardcore punk out of the DC area in the 80’s and over the years has gone through revivals, transformations, and cross-genre pilgrimages. Emo-rap is on the rise with artists like Nothing, Nowhere, Lil Uzi Vert, Yung Lean. New artists are always trying to add their unique style to music, so Emo changes just a little with every release. If Emo crosses genre and generations, could it also cross cultures?
The answer is yes. Japanese Emo exists, but it was surprisingly difficult to discover. Luckily the Japanese screamo scene is one of the best and most interesting the world so I started my search there. I ended up finding three different indie bands, that all have a completely different sound but are still connected by their Emo roots. Let’s check them out.
Arigarnon Friends – “Come Back”
Hometown: Tokyo, Japan
The band consists of members from PENS+, another Japanese emo band that gained some traction in emo scenes around the U.S. I got pretty excited after reading that and immediately clicked the link. It took me a minute to figure out their name, but it’s actually a play on words of the name Algernon (like Flowers for Algernon or the other emo band Algernon Cadwallader). In this case, the singer’s name is Ari and so he changed the name accordingly.
Starting out with a hyper-fast, driving punk beat. The drummer doing the bulk of the work to make sure that the song feels like you’re on your bike riding throughout time. They’re combining a drum and snare pattern that hit on almost every beat of the measure, and that’s what gives it the fast feeling. The guitar chords incorporate a lot of 7ths and 3rds giving some color to the otherwise standard power chords – a very classic emo trait.
After the speedy introduction, the song has a quick dancy part, where the guitars are throwing around shred-like riffs, the hi-hats are ringing and the bass is sliding all around. It’s a perfect moment to jump around and sing along.
The emotional bulk of the song is when it slows and all the members come together and group shout lyrics about the image “you” left behind, and remembering the “allowed memories”. The guitars are doing most of the work here creating a trance-like atmosphere until the bass and drums pick up the energy and build it back up to the fast-paced introduction once again.
This is a fantastic song to go on a run for; as most sparklepunk is (the technical name for this band’s subgenre).
By the End of Summer – “Buzz Lightyear”
Hometown: Kyoto, Japan
In emo, there is a sub-genre called Midwest Emo (bands like American Football, Algernon Cadwallader, and basically anything from Count Your Lucky Stars). This sub-genre draws from Indie-Rock more than punk an is what I consider to be a GREAT starting point for emo.
Midwest emo’s two identifiable traits are the seeming lack of vocal training but are doing his best, and the twinkly guitars. This subgenre is what I am most familiar with since I’m from the heartland of the Midwest. By The End Of Summer’s sound takes me back to an Indiana basement.
The opening chord and melody is a trademark of Midwest emo. A big melodic, open chord that is powerful and aggressive, but simultaneous oddly pleasing. The guitar riffs sandwiched between these chords is another obvious sign this is Midwest emo.
Miyazaki’s very amateur vocals make the song more relatable because it reminds you of singing with your friends in a car ride. You don’t care about hitting the notes, you just care about having a good time. There’s no pressure to want to hit all the notes, you just want to create a certain mood. That’s why these vocals fit so well. They’re not trying to be anything. They just are what they are, and that’s enough.
This song is a lot slower that Arigarnon Friend’s high-speed sparklepunk. The verses take their time, establish an atmosphere of remembering and looking back. The arpeggios coming from the guitars, the bass walking up the major scale and the drums keeping a mildly fast tempo create a wonderfully nostalgic sound.
Low-Pass – “Trimurti”
Hometown: Tokyo, Japan
Emos like music that is cathartic. Like I’ve said in other articles, sometimes instrumental music can do that best. Low-Pass’s only record “Trimurti” does that very well, while also having a very emo feel to it.
Technically speaking this album is math-rock, but on many Japanese music forums, this band is thrown around on the emo threads. Their sound is heavily inspired by Emo music while also having strong math-rock roots. The line between math-rock and emo gets very blurry when a band like Low-Pass releases music – and I love it.
The first song “AR” is the song I will be focusing on.
The guitar and the bass are working really hard here. They’re dancing all over their necks. The guitar incorporates those classic 7th chords and taps every now and then, which is very typical math-rock but also emo rock. The bass switches between the higher register incorporating chords and harmonies frequently – which is very rare for a bass to do. Every now and again the bassist throws out some powerfully distorted chords. Those chords make the song sound incredibly powerful when it needs to be.
The song ebbs and flows with energy. It starts out driving, determined and dancy, only to slow its roll and become more melodic and twinkly. This band is straggling the line of math-rock and Emo, so give them a listen and let me know what you think.
Emo had its roots in underground punk and over time has merged with many different genres over the years. The one thing that connects emo is cathartic lyrics and music, and I think that’s something that can be understood by people all over the world. Music makes you experience feelings, and emo happens to be very upfront about that.