As you may have noticed while reading Memories of Shibuya, we often focus on the songwriters – those crafting pop songs from behind the scenes – far more than the singers themselves. With this in mind, color-me frog makes a perfect choice for this month’s indie spotlight, as the project is one of the very rare cases where a songwriter is front and center. Shin-ichiro Aoyama, a music-industry lifer who has worked on everything from Kamen Rider to Mega Man, broke with convention to start up his own netlabel, Honeyeater Records, and as color-me frog he’s been seeking to bring lyrical creativity back to Japanese pop music.
While so often record label Twitter feeds are little more than news delivery services, the Honeyeater Records feed manages to provide something far more interesting, not to mention more relevant to the label’s raison d’être. In addition to the requisite updates on the label’s goings-on, Aoyama provides his own “J-pop recommendations” that provide something you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else; an alternate history of J-pop, from the perspective of a genre insider. The old cliché about history being written by the victor holds very true for Japanese music – even this blog falls back all too often on the more well-known components of the Shibuya-kei scene at the expense of obscure artists who are no less worthy of attention – but in Aoyama’s recommendations, one sees all the fascinating things that were going on at the fringe of a genre. You won’t find the shoegaze-inspired shojoskip, melancholy kibaco or pal@pop’s underrated take on Perfume-style synthpop in any histories of J-pop as a genre, but Aoyama has no time for merely congratulating the winners as so many do; let others keep their Ayumi Hamasakis and AKB48s, the ones who were left behind are far more interesting.
Not that he’s a pessimist, by any means. When I talked with him about color-me frog, Shibuya-kei, and Japanese music in general, he had no shortage of hope for the future. Although Oricon’s CD rankings are dominated by stale idol groups to a completely disproportionate degree, he sees this as a sign that the old way of doing business is on its way out – thinking that’s quite clearly reflected in the digital-only distribution for his own material as color-me frog. He also sees signs of a Shibuya-kei resurgence reflected in the work of Sekai no Owari (one of only four non-idol groups to crack the Oricon top 50 in 2014) and, of course, Yasutaka Nakata, J-pop acts that are doing their best to diversify a mainstream sonic palette that had grown distressingly insular in recent years.
Girl on a Bike, Aoyama’s first release under the color-me frog moniker, was a labour of love for him, and it paid off wonderfully. He had great troubles in finding singers to work on the project, apparently having searched for six months prior to finding the three girls who lent their voices to the EP. Girl on a Bike reflects its creator’s preferred vision of J-pop, with live instrumentation and a diverse set of musical styles complementing the featured vocalists as they sing Aoyama’s alternately playful and melancholy lyrics. Aoyama looked to the future by borrowing from the past, as Shibuya-kei has always done, and the end result is a fantastic piece of music.
Although the five songs on Girl on a Bike are currently color-me frog’s only published output, Aoyama has informed me that studio sessions have already begun on a second release to be published through Honeyeater. Details are scarce at the moment, but Memories of Shibuya will be sure to share any news as it comes up.