Friday, March 19, 2010

Guitar Hiro 1: The Music of MUCC

Hey, look! Another post at last. This blog might still have a pulse after all. We'll see. Since I can't seem to focus on the topics for which I allegedly started this blog, I'm going to explore another affectation.

While I'm not a musician or a diehard expert on the subject, music is integral to my daily life. I can't work, cook, clean or undertake some long-term task without music. I need a constant infusion. Without it, I'd probably succumb to the voices in my head.

By complete accident, I've gotten into Japanese rock music and found that it scratches a unique itch. I admit in advance that my knowledge of the J-rock scene would fit on the head of a pin with room to spare and that I know maybe a handful of Japanese words. Yes, I'm a stately portrait of ignorance. Regardless, I've latched onto a few bands, connecting with their music even though I've no clue what they're singing.

Honestly, if I understood the lyrics, I probably wouldn't like the songs as well as I do now. It's like my occasional (willing) exposure to opera. The fact that I don't understand the words lets me appreciate the voice as an instrument. If I knew the words, I'd lose that facet, and I'd be distracted by what the singer is singing instead of how they're singing it.

So it's all about appreciating the singer's emotion and range as part of the music. Fortunately, there are a fair number of Japanese bands with truly talented singers.

When was the last time you stopped and said, "Hey, that's a talented singer"? Exactly. To me, "American Idol" has nothing to do with singing. It's closer to yodeling or hog-calling. Most of the contestants sound like like they're strangling the songs they're allegedly singing. Hell, I have no training and a minimum of experience squawking on stage, but I bet I could croak as well as Nickelback if you pressed me. In fact, any pasty guy like me can sing like that. It's in the wiring. I worry about the wedgie we've delivered to the concept of singing. Bah, don't get me started.

Thanks to the gonzo anime series "FLCL," I got into a band called The Pillows and started exploring the J-rock world and its unique reflection of western rock. As the years have passed, a few noteworthy bands have stuck in my daily playlist. Something about the enticing hooks, driving riffs and mesmerizing vocals adds up to a greater whole for me.

No, this isn't going to be a broad, informative exploration of the genre. No, let's call it what it is. This is me pushing my favorites over the next few posts in a series I like to call "Guitar Hiro: A Love Affair with Japanese Rock."

I'll get to The Pillows in the next post. For now, let's take a look at MUCC, a veritable chameleon of a band. Take a look:

Yeah, they look like they could kick The Cure's ass. (The Cure--real topical, Frost.) Like a lot of Japanese bands, they go by stage names. So you've got Tatsurou on the mike, Mita on guitar, Yukke on bass and Satochi on drums. Hiro was on bass in the band's early days.

They got together in '97 and have stayed fresh and addictive thanks to versatility that just about breaks the meter. One track might be a terminally hummable reggae-ish jaunt, and the next could be roaring, guitar-grinding rage. And they pull it off. That's what intrigues me about them.

They're named after the character Mukku from "Hirake! Ponkikki," a Japanese children's show. Slap a red-orange shag rug over Grimace from the old McDonald's commericals, garnish with a drink parasol, and you've pretty much got him.

Anyway, enough of my yakking. Let's listen to MUCC in action.

Here're the boys performing their funky, jazzy jam "1979." Nope. Don't understand a word, but it's badass to the core. Everything is right about it.

Japanese is a beautiful language. I love the cadence. Maybe someday I'll overcome my paralyzing laziness and learn it. In the meantime, I don't need to understand it to appreciate Japanese rock. If a singer is truly skilled, they can make the emotion of a song obvious to the dimmest ear, regardless of language barriers. Tatsurou is a master.

Here's the band cranking out Saishuu Ressha. No, I don't know what that means, and I don't want to know. I'm content with the luxury of guessing. I'm the poster-boy for blissful ignorance. I just enjoy the jam and Tatsurou's vocals.

Would you have guessed that's the same group? These guys are all over the place, but they carry it off. The guitar, bass and drums leap from style to style with admirable confidence, and Tatsurou's operatic range swoops from pleading whisper to bellowing madness as quick as you please.

Their songs are rife with energy, skill and a genuine feeling that they're enjoying themselves. MUCC, ladies and gentlemen. They'll kick your ass, insult your pets and then stick around to eat all of your potato chips. I love these guys.

What I respect and admire most about this band is that they weren't content to go the usual route of establishing a sound and then churning out ten indistinguishable albums. Sample enough of their music and you'll get the distinct impression that, after over twelve years, they're still exploring. I can't name many domestic bands that can say that.

Okay. Let's round this out with the most devilishly catchy song I've ever heard. Yasashii Uta. Be prepared to "la-la-la" the rest of the day.

Okay. I know what you're thinking... "Frost, who are you to push music on me? I mean, hell, you still like Adam & the Ants!" Yeah, it's true. However, I have a feeling that you, too, might find yourself ensorcelled by Japanese rock if you give it a chance. I highly recommend "The Best of MUCC," an album that encapsulates that rich MUCC flavor. Think about it, won't you? Thank you.

Join us again next time when we look at veteran J-rock badasses known as The Pillows. Thanks for tuning in.

All songs and band images property of MUCC and Danger Crue Records. "Hirake! Ponkikki" and Mukku property of Fuji Television.
"Guitar Hiro" header designed by Frost (me).