Seasons greetings to the Magical Meteorites, Earthlings, and the other folk in the stratosphere to another edition of the Jingle Bell Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree Morning Twilight series. As today is Twilight Tuesday, this post will be “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” as we take a look at some old Christmas presents. After a nice “hi” from Puffy AmiYumi, we’ll be spending two weeks with the Osaka Ramones: Shonen Knife!
Last week, we took a look at Early Knife with Let’s Knife. This week, we’re going to tackle Millennium Knife in a state of transition as we cream over Strawberry Sound.
About Shonen Knife and Me
I first discovered Shonen Knife in 2000, courtesy of a little compilation album called Heroes & Villains: Music Inspired by the Powerpuff Girls. The album is part tribute album, part concept album depicting a clash between the Powerpuff Girls and Mojo Jojo. In a sense, it can also be part soundtrack as the opening song is the show’s opening theme and the last song is a full-sized version of the ending theme (complete with a small scene with the Mayor in which he plays a record of a cover of “Love Makes the World Go Round”).
What does this have to do with Shonen Knife? Well, take a look at the following video and you can see why interest was piqued and some new fans were made:
Perhaps more than any other song (with the possible exception of either the Apples in Stereo’s “Signal in the Sky (Let’s Go)” and/or Frank Black’s “Pray for the Girls”), this song came to represent the album.
Well, at the time of its release, the above video played a lot. Later on, a video for the Apples’ song came out and Frank Black’s song was featured in the movie. Right around that time, the Apples’ song appeared again in a later episode. In 2003, “Buttercup” appeared on a later PPG-themed compilation, Power Pop, with the ending interlude edited out.
On an unrelated note, that album contributed to about 60-70% (maybe ~80%) of my current musical taste, it having introduced me to Shibuya-kei (via Cornelius) and the Elephant 6 Collective (via the Apples, Dressy Bessy, and “Bill Doss”).
In 2002, in the midst of a movie-induced skyrocketing of fanlove (and after spending about two years fawning over Dressy Bessy), I decided to take a look at the other artists featured and who better to start than Shonen Knife? This was also the point where my Japanophilia was also through the roof and I had begun teaching myself Japanese for about a year at that point.
Needless to say, I was hooked (and often had to remind myself that this was the band that did Buttercup’s song as most of their material was far too whimsical to believe). Fanlove continued until about 2005 when I (sadly) became bored.
Fortunately, the band continued to charm and thrive. Doing this series is also making me want to revisit the band, especially in light of their milestones (30 years and 1,000 shows!).
About the Album
- Side 1
- Buggy Bug
- Wild Life
- Nya Nya
- Super Big Black Bass
- CM Song
- Side 2
- Punk Rock Star
- Kaiki Game
- Chinese Disco
- Mayonnaise Addiction
- Synthesizer (Bubble Houkai)
Sporting album art designed by Rodney Greenblat (famed for his work on the Parappa series), this album was released in 2000. (Also, high five to anyone who remembered when I mentioned that! Why a link now? Spoilers.)
As for why my name’s been scribbled on it, long story short is that it was the result of a communication problem involving music and school. (That’s actually a family member’s handwriting, just to clear up any possible confusion. Look no further than my art to see what my scribbles look like.)
1. Side 1 → 2. Buggy Bug
Following Side 1’s “funky” (for lack of a better word) announcement from Naoko, we herald the millennium with Buggy Bug. The song begins with a steady guitar riff and a steady bass. A standard Knife rocker about killing a bug for a variety of reasons (coming into the room, being a harmful being, hating the color, eating a chocolate bar, stinging one’s body)… …and not wanting to kill it at all, all on a hot day (“the sun was blazing down outside, everything nearly melted like butter”).
By the way, get used to bugs as they’re talked about often on this album.
3. Wild Life
The first Japanese song on here (last time I checked, this was a Japan-only album; feel free tell me if I’m wrong), the lyrics speak of the “wild life” of being a rocker. (If I’m wrong, please tell me. I may have studied Japanese for over a decade, but I still feel like I have a ways to go, even I can understand more of the lyrics now than when I first heard it.)
4. Nya Nya
A playful but mild jam to ease us after the hard rocking of Buggy Bug and Wild Life. You can really feel the sisterly chemistry of Naoko and Atsuko.
Ah yes… one thing about the post-Michie (gah, almost wrote “Michishige”) era is the experimentalism of the later works. (This wasn’t obvious to me as I became acquainted with SK in 2000 and truly started following in 2002.)
Remember when I said that bugs are a common subject matter for songs on this album? In this funky disco beat, the sisters sing about pretending to be cockroaches. Yes, cockroaches. Needless to say, Roach Coach would be pleased.
6. Super Big Black Bass
This was always a longtime favorite of mine, guitar-fueled rock that really showcase Naoko at her best.
Personally, I saw this hard rocker as a sequel to Let’s Knife’s “Black Bass.” One reason is the line “Burakku basu wo tsuri ni ikou” (“Let’s go fishing for [a] black bass”). Also, between the two songs, this was my favorite for a good while. Now I like them equally.
On that note, I’m now reminded of Happy Hour’s “His Pet,” which is also about a legendary fish.
7. CM Song
CM Song is… a strange bit that would be right at home among the likes of Polysics and Cornelius. However, it does serve a purpose as a break. (Maybe this is why a review at All Music said said it had “filler”. I don’t see it as filler that much, weirdness aside.)
8. Side 2 → 9. Punk Rock Star
With a wave of synth, Atsuko announces the next side, which kickstarts with the appropriately titled “Punk Rock Star.” This song delves deeper into the rockstar lifestyle and the deep love felt by the title subject.
Love you, love you, I love love you all the time
Sesame is an adorable song. It seemed weirdly saccharine and weak to me at first, but it grew on me, especially as my Japanese improved. Don’t mind the space imagery in a song about sesame. (Then again, there’s a reason this album’s art is done by the same guy response for the artwork in the Parappa series.)
11. Kaiki Game
This spooky song sports quasi-operatic/enka-style vocals and a focus on synth strings. Would you believe this “kaiki” song was inspired by playing a zombie game? We hear somewhat faint shooting and laser noises after the song proper ends, representing the game.
12. Chinese Disco
We timeslip to a 1970s from the crazy 21st century on a glorious Friday Tuesday night in this track. In this groovy tune, we are treated a funky beat while eating yamucha are treated to a magic show.
You’ve got the power
Of dancing forever
It’s Friday Night Fever
But you are just dreaming
Don’t get me started on the mondegreens family members made about this song: “Chinese kids,” “it’s all right to injure yourself”… Just focus on “Souda! We’re Alive.”
I am the mosquito sacrifice
Fittingly enough, this is the 13th track. You have no idea how much I related to this song. (Then again, if mosquitoes gave you h-e-double hockey sticks, you probably do.) This song even influenced my creativity in that I created a mosquito villain who lived in “a damp, green Japanese garden.”
Going back to the song, this is possibly among their “darker” offerings. Between the meditative nature of the verses, the contrasting high-energy shredding during the chorus, and how the organs accent the chant-like vocals (neverminding the ominously raspy opening line, italicized for your pleasure). Also, very rarely does an SK song have the word “hate” in it (unless I’m wrong).
14. Mayonnaise Addiction
This is one of two tributes to then-recently passed George Harrison and it shows. (I preferred Mango Juice after it came out, but I like them both. I’m a sucker for “raga rock.”) They experiment a bit with the raga rock sound (well, more than before).
15. Synthesizer (Bubble Houkai)
One of the more “experimental” songs on here, Synthesizer is about the “Bubble Collapse” that happened in Japan (hence the Far Eastern feel). (One of my family members, I think my brother, once commented that it sounded like something out of “Big Trouble in Little China.”)
Needless to say, this is a topic a good number of people are familiar with these days.
Starting with a droning deep bass note, the composition then makes an ominously Far Eastern melody, symbolizing the dreariness and chaos in the marketplace. (Remember that prior to churning out cute rock tunes, the Knively Ladies were OLs. Ya know, that explains so much…)
This is just an outtake of Side 2 with Atsuko saying “Side…” and then going “are?” after some laughing is heard.
This bit of “Millenium Knife” is a good entrance into a new era. After the awesomeness of Happy Hour, one would be hard pressed to see what the group would do next, especially after Michie Nakatani left. (I guess this is like Koharu’s graduation or Erika’s or Maiha’s. Rather, any major lineup change.) Well, we can rest assured that SK will head into the new millennium in strong hands (plural as many lineup changes have happened since).
Next time on Jingle Bell Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree:
- “Jingle Belles Rock!” Morning Mondays: A mystery ending.
- “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” Twilight Tuesdays: We end the series the way we began it. You say goodbye while I say…
See you there!
Allow me to leave you with a bonus ditty (so it’s from 1999, sue me):
Love, peace, and Shonen Knife, all!