Odori Park, by Chris Watkins Odori Park - A webcomic comedy of culture shock in love, life, and family, by Chris Watkins
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:: Posts Tagged ‘music’ ::

Quick! Name a U.S. superstar pop artist of Asian descent. Blanking? (Contrary to my wife’s only guess, I don’t think the guy who sang “Sukiyaki” counts anymore. Nor does Pink Lady.) My list, off the top of my head, consists of the guitarist for Smashing Pumpkins, and a fraction of the lead singer of Hoobastank.

A couple weeks back, I iTuned (any chance that works as a verb now, like Google, or am I just fooling myself?) an album called “This is the One,” by Utada Hikaru. (Technically, in the States, it’s just Utada. I guess she or her U.S. label fear her full name is too many syllables of incongruity for American tongues to handle, so they’re taking her the one name route, like Madonna, or Pink, or Carrot Top.) This is “Utada’s” second attempt at a U.S. debut album. (Her last pass, “Exodus,” in 2004, grew on me, but evidently not many others, otherwise, I wouldn’t need all this introduction.)

I’ve been enjoying it. Sometimes her lyrics require effort to digest (as a graphics guy, I’d like to give kudos for using “Photoshop” in a song lyric, and yet, “I wish that I could Photoshop/all our bad memories” is… a stretch) but the tunes have the same catchiness that hooked me (and the rest of Japan) with her first break-out single, “Automatic,” back when I was living in Japan in 1998. It’s a much more mainstream album than her last attempt.

Lest I start sounding like a music reviewer, let me get to the point:

I was sharing the album with my wife, who owns all the Utada Hikaru albums I don’t (which is to say, most of them), and I was surprised to find her reaction was a resounding “meh.” She thinks Utada–who, if you didn’t know, is a mega superstar (holds the #1, #4, and #8 top selling records of all time) in Japan–has a snowball’s chance of breaking the American music market. She thinks Utada lacks the glamor and novelty to become a star on U.S. terms.

To an extent, I share the sentiment. Utada has not adopted any destitute foreign children, shaved her head, or (to my knowledge) been arrested. I do recognize, however, that for an American audience, the simple fact that she’s Japanese is probably novelty enough to pass the gate. I think the bigger obstacle may be a question of whether the mainstream U.S. pop-listening public is ready to accept an Asian music star. (See point one, at the top of the post.)

That said, though, if she’s going to make it, my feeling is that now may be her best chance. To whit: A while back, when I was working full-time at a Web design firm, I asked the company president–who had formerly been general manager of several local radio stations–about which new musicians he thought could only have made it big with the power of the Internet. John Mayer was his first reponse (yes, it was six years ago). He cited that, although John (we’re on first name terms) also lacked “glamor and novelty,” the direct fan-to-music access of the Web allowed someone who’s greatest strength was simply strong musical talent to bypass the radio and record label game.

So, as someone who’s also hoping for success riding the long tail on the Internet (webcomic about an international couple who own a small business, anyone?), I think I’d rather hold my tongue on Utada’s chances, and just hope the best for everyone…

Anyway, good album.

(This has become a very long post. I think it’s because this is my first attempt at a real “bloggy” blog post. Was I too verbose? Did I overdo the hyperlink thing? Feedback and advice are welcome!)

Please be aware, the following plug is not directly related to my work (although it is related to my relation), comics (although my relation also makes comics), or Japan (although they have plugs in Japan, too):

My cousin, Ben Morey, is a member of The Instruments Band, a folk/acoustic quartet that crafts wonderfully twangy, quirky, catchy music with thoughtful lyrics and a good sense of fun. They were voted the best local band of 2007 by a local radio station that has fine taste, so you know I’m not just spewing hyperbole. Try their latest album, Make Good Choices. You’ll like it. It’s better than green eggs, ham, or any combination thereof.

The Instruments Band: Make Good Choices

If folks are interested, I can make a post next week about one of my favorite Japanese musical acts, as long as we’re on the subject. I do take requests…

Last week, when posting about The Instruments Band, I promised to post this week about one of my favorite Japanese bands. Carrying the same folksy appeal in mind, I thought I’d give a brief introduction to Love Psychedelico.


The ‘Delico sound (the Japanese adore abbreviating names; someday we’ll talk about BuraPi), to me, is like the Japanese musical child of Sheryl Crow and the Woodstock experience. It’s folky-rocky, guitar-rich, and a little bit smoky. The lead singer, Kumi, has a funny way of sounding like an American singing in Japanese, but in a good way. (She spent her early childhood in the US. Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Here, check it out: Your Song, Live

What do you think?

A note on the title of this post: When working on Odori Park, I tend to wonder what an Odori Park Soundtrack might sound like. Assuming I continue to share my musings, I thought I’d throw a feature title around them. I’d love to hear your side: Does Odori Park bring any music to mind for you, as a reader?

2009/7/7

Although I’ve learned many Japanese children’s songs, I’ve only heard a relative few komori uta (lullabies, or, literally, “nursemaid songs”). My favorite by far is the subject of Monday’s strip. I’ve taken a pass at translating it, but it definitely should be heard sung. (There’s a nice CD, Oyasumi, by Aiko Shimada and Elizabeth Falconer, that has a pretty, though stylized, version of the song; you can find it at Amazon and iTunes if you want to listen to the track sample.)

My wife used to sing the Ocean Lullaby (Umi, in Japanese) to our son when he was still in the womb. She taught me the words, and I’ve found it still has a calming effect on him nearly four years post-utero. (For some strange reason, so does Seventy-Six Trombones…)

I’ve whipped up a desktop wallpaper based on my June 6th strip, Ocean Lullaby. I’ll post this on the Extras page, hopefully sooner rather than later, but for the time being, you can grab your size of choice here:

Ocean Lullaby Wallpaper

Folksy musician Benjamin Jameson Morey (that is to say, my cousin; watch me ride the coat tails–whee!) has released a new EP, wonderfully titled “Songs in the Key of Being Terrified by the Idea of an Entire Life” (or) “The Whale in the Forest.” You can hear the entire thing, and purchase a copy–in either CD or digital flavors–at his bandcamp site: benjaminjamesonmorey.bandcamp.com

I swear to all that’s groovy you’ll like this music. He gets better with every release. (He doesn’t know this, but I consider a couple songs from his “The Giraffe in the Fishbowl” to be part of my internal soundtrack for Odori Park.)

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