Three Singles You Might Have Missed in 2014

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Community member Matt Stress (@zasutoresu) shares some singles that he believes didn’t get enough love in 2014.

As the idol boom floods the market with new releases, it’s no surprise that some singles by lesser-known acts get lost in the shuffle. At a time when so many idol fans are looking back at the last year, compiling best-of lists and comparing notes, I thought I’d shine the spotlight on a few releases that I thought didn’t get the attention they deserved. Here are three interesting singles you might have missed in 2014.

THE SPUNKY – “Thunderbolt”

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The Spunky are an idol trio from Nagoya who released their debut single, “Thunderbolt”, in June. Between the newspaper cutout font and their patch-covered outfits (sporting logos from the likes of The Ramones and The Casualties), the cover promises punk, and The Spunky deliver with a couple of solid pop-punk idol tunes.

Written and arranged by Saionji Hitomi of Kishidan with drums by Miyagami Motokatsu (THE MAD CAPSULE MARKETS), “Thunderbolt” is a pop-punk song with all the fixings. Bass licks, pick slides, call and response; it’s all here. It does stray from the traditional punk palette a bit by including the occasional synth hook, but it’s pretty hype, and besides, what’s punk orthodoxy to an idol group? The song is well-constructed and really holds your attention with great pacing and catchy hooks.

The vocals stand out on this single, too. Lead vocalist Yuuhi has a good voice that’s a bit lower than the idol norm, especially at thirteen years old. When combined with the other member’s voices, they create a nice full range that’s very ear-pleasing. I think the effect of mixing vocals at different pitches is the main reason why this single reminds me of Buono! (and not just because they’re both trios with pop-rock sensibilities.) Unfortunately, the fact that this is an indie group on a limited budget shows up in the vocals too, as they actually sound a bit clipped at points. Well, with indie idols, sometimes you have to just take what you get.

B-side “Kousoku GALAXY” follows a similar template as the lead song. Even though this track combines punk and horns, it never quite makes it to full-on ska (for better or worse). I don’t think it’s quite as good as Thunderbolt, but it’s still got some pretty catchy vocal melodies and is definitely worth a listen. All-told, this is a good debut that I hope they can build off of in 2015.

 

TAKE OFF – “Ultra Super na Koi de mo Iinjanai?”

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First off, I think “Ultra Super na Koi de mo Iinjanai?” (Ultra Super from here on) might rival “Meririririririri Christmas” for ridiculous idol song title of the year. I don’t know what an “Ultra Super Love” is, but I’m guessing that runs afoul of the “Ultra Super Love Ban”. Anyway, this is Take Off’s third single in as many years, and was released last September.

“Ultra Super” is, as far as I’m concerned, basically a perfect indie idol song. After a bright synth intro, the song shifts down into a more dramatic verse. The pre-chorus slowly brightens, horns are introduced, and things pick back up for the triumphant bubblegum chorus, sporting a vocal melody that matches the intro synth. It’s super hype. This song is a perfect fit for small clubs jam-packed with wota. Tell me the chorus-ending choreography that sends the whole crowd from one side of the floor to the other doesn’t look like a blast. It’s so good.

The B-sides are alright, but nowhere near “Ultra Super”’s level. The regular edition of the single is paired with “Koi Moyou”, a guitar-driven idol pop song. The lack of vocal polish is a little more apparent on this one, and although the song’s pleasant enough, it isn’t very memorable. The Limited B version has a more interesting coupling track: a cover of ℃-ute’s “Kiss Me Aishiteru”. Its been given a new arrangement that trades the main synth line for shredding electric guitar, so that’s kind of cool, but overall it lacks the sonic depth of Hirata Shouichirou’s original and the vocals are no contest.

I can’t think of an idol song I listened to more in 2014 than “Ultra Super”. I hope you’ll check it out.

 

Hachikin Girls – Itsuwari no Tengoku wa Iranai ~Change Your Life~

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As far as indie idols go, this was my biggest surprise single of 2014. I’ve heard about half of Hachikin Girls’ previous output, including this single’s January precursor “Bouken Hajimaru”, and their discography to date has been characterized by fairly tepid, old-fashioned songs with cheap-sounding instrumentals. I’m sure that old style had its fans, but for their eighth single they benched their previous team and brought in the talented Sumida Shinya, responsible for some great idol songs (including AKB48’s “Flying Get”), and let him loose.

Well, if Hachikin Girls’ producers wanted to update the group’s sound, mission accomplished. “Itsuwari no Tengoku wa Iranai” is kind of badass. From the 007 bassline and “Junjou Shugi”-esque horns in the opening to the funk licks punctuating the verse and the big dramatic chorus, this song doesn’t mess around. It even almost announces its breakdown with “Breakdown!” (it’s actually “Get now!”), which is a dumb as hell deathcore trope that I kind of love here. I can’t believe this is the same group. It’s great.

For the B-side, they brought in Swedish songwriter Fredrik Samsson and composer/arranger Teppei Shimizu. Samsson doesn’t have any credits to his name I recognize, but Teppei has previously arranged B-sides for Maeda Atsuko and HKT48 among others. The outside help pays off again as “Shounen yo Taishi wo Tsuki Susume” is another winner. Outside of the chorus, the backing track is kept musically simple, leaving the song to be carried by its vocal melody. The members each get a chance to shine with extended solos and the improved music production on this release gives them the proper spotlight. This song has a dramatic chorus too, and the instrumental comes to the forefront to support it, revealing an excellent bassline.

I’m guessing this single cost a lot more to produce than their previous ones, but to me it represents a big improvement and step forward for the group. I hope it did well enough that they can try more singles like this in the future. I’m looking forward to what Hachikin Girls do next.

 
So, there you have it. Three solid singles from the last year that I hope you check out if you get the chance. What were your hidden gems of 2014?

About NSK

New School Kaidan is a community-focused website for the Japanese idol industry international fan base. Between podcasts, broadcasts, events, and analytic articles, New School Kaidan aims to bring an understanding of idol culture to the masses.

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