As opposed to what?
Patrick St. Michel: Sakanaction’s rising popularity in Japan over the last few years has been surprising for a couple reasons, all of which are on display on their latest well-selling single “Music.” Sonic experimentation is something few modern-day Japanese rock bands eyeing the charts mess around with, preferring to stick to the same midtempo, guitar-heavy schlock that’s been the staple since the 1990s. But Sakanaction are just as influenced by dance music as they are rock, and they aren’t afraid to mix the two as on “Music,” where bouncy electronics propel the verses forward toward the arena-ready chorus. The other element making them a sorta unexpected success — and what they nail on “Music,” more so than on a lot of their earlier material — is the lyrics. Plenty of rock artists write sad songs, but they always focus on well-worn melancholy like the end of a relationship or mono no aware. Lead singer Ichiro Yamaguchi, though, rarely focuses on love but rather modern-day loneliness, the feeling of being completely alienated from the society around you. “Music” zeroes in on small-town blues, Yamaguchi weaving in the sort of natural images associated with the places you find as you move farther from Tokyo (or New York, or London…), the narrator dreaming of escape. You don’t need to know a lick of Japanese to get this, though, as Yamaguchi and company convey all of this through the music too, with nearly whispered verses and huge, emotional choruses. And that’s why the climax of “Music” stands as one of their best moments yet and, for me, the year’s first really powerful sonic instance in song: the protagonist here starts finding hope in the titular subject, and just gets lost in a rush of “la la las,” a universal syllable.
David Moore: Wikipedia says their name translates to “Fish Action” — maybe “Fisshion” would be appropriate — which is apt: they’re pretty and lithe with a bit of unconscious goof in the Cut Copy indie-dance mold. Nowadays I seem to be discovering most new music by overhearing it in trendy furniture stores (Whole Foods doesn’t sell albums anymore). I expect to hear this next time I’m looking for shelving that is classy and charming but doesn’t draw too much attention to itself. You know, fish action for home furnishings.
Brad Shoup: Like one of those placid, turn-of-the-century post-fun outfits from the Pacific Northwest or Midwest, but with a better backbeat. We’re teased with timbre at the outset, but it’s quickly planed, the better to become locked with throbbing synth presets. If this is what the city offers, it’s a bit unsettling.
Will Adams: “Music” is cut from the same cloth as “Yoru No Odoriko,” which would be a slight were its predecessor not one of the best songs of 2012. Once again, the formula works fantastically, with twitchy disco leading to an anti-gravity breakdown, which leads to full-on trance. Then something beautiful happens. After the second chorus, the song sounds like it’s going to end. The synths begin to fade, but Ichiro Yamaguchi keeps singing. The synths have no other choice but to come back, and we get a brilliant new chorus to take us home.
Iain Mew: “Music” took me much longer to work out than the last single, but eventually it became clear that the first three minutes are there to introduce the song’s different elements at a leisurely pace. That way, when the group turn on the dance beat and lock into a groove for the relentless build at the end, there’s the added delight of everything finally clicking together — as well as that climb being really powerful in its own right.
Scott Mildenhall: This sounds completely joyous, so it’s a bit of a surprise to learn from a look at the translated lyrics that it’s about loneliness and all-encompassing ennui. Apparently Ichiro Yamaguchi feels so listless that he’s even bored of his own boredom, choosing to “align my soliloquy with the worn out night, as the wind blows towards your cheek.” Either the Japanese language just lends itself to that kind of lyricism in a way that English doesn’t, or that is a line to put even The Singer From The Script to shame. Overall, a finely-tuned balance between downs like that, and ups more apparent to non-native ears — a handy trick to be able to pull off.
Alex Ostroff: Starts off muted, followed by a series of bursts into successively more euphoric choruses with enough funky basslines and synth washes and disco hi-hats to make my heart explode. There’s a fog of disillusioned detachment lurking at the edges perpetually being broken through by the vocals after the first verse, until words fail Sakanaction and we have to resort to LA LA LAs. This is what people get out of M83 and the Sound of Arrows and so forth, isn’t it?
Katherine St Asaph: A lot of writers I follow really love this, but… it’s a little like Coldplay arranging “Video Killed The Radio Star” for SSA choir, isn’t it?
Jonathan Bogart: It’s the thinness and politeness that do it for me; just now, anything with more bite or vividness would overwhelm.
Ian Mathers: There’s something downcast about his voice at the beginning which makes that drumburst shift into the chorus — or should I say choruses? — even more effective. And from there it feels like the song never looks back, but never quite repeats itself either; every section/chorus feels both satisfying and fresh, although further listening does confirm that the song itself isn’t altering itself that much. But while it’s playing “Music” sounds like its own world, like something approaching a successful attempt to catalog all the different kinds of euphoria you can experience or engender in song. And it makes that seem easy, like normal songs with their one chorus and more straightforward construction are somehow lazy, as if “Music” could potentially keep rolling on for another ten minutes if it didn’t end where it was. It gives me that totally irrational feeling like it’s somehow found the key to all good pop music, that it is complete and self-sufficient. I keep listening to it over again, waiting for the listen where that feeling wears off, but I haven’t found it yet.