Sometime during 2002 (or was it 2003?), disillusioned with annoyingly underaged pop groups and still dealing with the heartbreaking disband of his much beloved SPEED, the Great Swifty, who suffered from Erotomania, lost faith in mainstream Japanese pop, and experimented with the non-mainstream, into what is generally referred to as Contemporary Japanese Groove Music (their jazz stuff).
Orange Pekoe's 'Yawaraka no Yoru' left a deep impression during his last visit in Japan back in 2002 (it was played regularly there back then), thus one can say that Orange Pekoe was his introduction to this genre, yet ultimately, it was Ego-Wrappin that he grew to love, (... mostly because it was insanely difficult to find anything by Orange Pekoe online). The first two songs he got by Ego-Wrappin' were 'A Love Song' and 'Midnight Deja Vu'.
A Love Song
Why was the Great Swifty so enthralled? Because this Osaka-bred duo (guitarist and songwriter Masaki Mori, vocalist and lyricist Yoshie Nakano) sounded so unlike anything he had ever heard before from anything he had ever heard from mainstream J-pop in the past few years. After all, Ego-Wrappin had drawn their influences from the music of mid-Showa period and around World War 2, those jazzy, big band songs that had long been forgotten by the modern generation as more and more J-pop artistes of today would rather mimic Western artists.
Merging elements of pop and jazz to rock, ska, cabaret and lounge music from the Showa period, driven by the incredible range and depth of Nakano's distinctive voice, far different from the annoying high-pitched toneless screeching of J-idols, the gaping void that had pervaded in the Great Swifty's soul ever since the disbanding of SPEED (and also the disappointment of their unamazing solo careers) was unexpectedly filled.
For three years, Swifty had embarked upon an obsessive quest to complete his Ego-Wrappin' collection, a feat that was never completed until a few days ago. (for two years, with the exception of some assorted MP3s, 2002's Night Food and 2004's Merry Merry were the only albums in his possession) And after that, he finally noticed the evolution of Ego-Wrappin' over the years. Constantly reinventing themselves, their more recent works in Merry Merry and especially this year's album, On The Rocks! are less jazzy and more electronica and rock-ish, not that they are entirely bad, of course, as they still brimming with the flamboyance and playfulness characterized by unconventional Osaka musicians (Nakano reminded us in an interview that Osaka was the very city that gave the world The Boredoms and Shounen Knife, much unlike the very serious Tokyo musicians), unfortunately, most songs in On The Rocks! seem to lack the catchiness of their older works (for Swifty anyway, although admittedly, both Merry Merry and On The Rocks! are growers).
Anyway, the following's their complete discography and some of my thoughts (yes, I'm tired of 3rd person speak):
1998 BLUE SPEAKER = There are four seven-minute plus songs in their debut(?) album (yes, there's one or two of them in each of their albums). Decent songs around, very diverse, some are jazzy, some acoustic, neither of the songs sound alike.
1999 His choice of shoes is ill! = a (strangely titled!) mini-album with five songs, every single one of them had been getting quite a lot of playtime on my playlist for the past three years. With the exception of 'Mr. Richman', the other songs here Setsunai Kudaranai Musaboru Sono Te, Akai Nukumori, Amai Kage and Byrd are pretty slow and wistful (that's how they sound anyway, I don't know Japanese, so I can't understand).
1999 Swing For Joy = Another mini-album with five songs, despite its title, it doesn't sound more cheerful than their previous fare (although the first track, Finger, is sounds kinda sad) This is the album with 'A Love Song' (look at music video above) in it, although it sounds more subdued compared to their live performance, and a 9-minute song called 'kannou hyouryuu' (which sounded like a few different songs played out in a span of nine minutes... and Justin thought Sifow was incredible? Wait til you witness Ego-Wrappin'!) Last song of the album, Calling Me, is something I've been listening to a lot lately. Very catchy.
2000 shikisai no BLUES = Five-song mini-album... I notice the trend now. More Big Band, jazz, ska-ish than the previous introspective, broody efforts. It even has a song called GIGOLO, I don't know what is it about though. The title track, 'shikisai no Blues' is actually 'Midnight Dejavu' (music video above), or it could just be 'shikisai no Blues', while 'Midnight Dejavu ~ shikisai no Blues' (title of a later mini-album) is a variation of the same song, with slightly different arrangements. (but they sound the same to me!) I'm confused already. Here's a perforamnce of 'Flowers', one of the songs from this mini-album.
2001 michishio no Romance = An actual album! And yes, as the title suggested, most songs here do sound really romantic, to the point where I want to melt, swoon as I attempt to suppress the overwhelming feeling of love that invades my very fiber of my being. Can just listen to this while looking out the window, thinking dramatic thoughts of lost love and romance. (suggested tracks that make me swoon and want to kiss the stars: 'Where You May Be', 'michishio no Romance', 'katsute...', but 'Crazy fruits' is pretty good too!)
2001 ~midnight deja vu~ shikisai no BLUES' = 5-song mini albums. Has live versions of Nervous Breakdown (from shikisai no Blues mini-album), katsute... (from michishio no Romance album) and byrd (from His choice of shoes is ill! mini-album). The last song is 'Oibore inu no Serenade'
Oibore inu no Serenade
2002 Night Food = Think this might be the album which helped increased awareness amongst the mainstream when the song 'Kuchibashi ni CHERRY' was used as the opening theme for a private detective TV dorama. But for me, my personal favourite songs in this are the mesmerizingly soothing '5gatsu no CLOVER', which, I think, was the very first Ego Wrappin' song I heard with male backup vocals. (I assume it's Mori's) and 'ashinaga no SALVADOR' which begins with her saying something, yet I don't know what. Hm.
Kuchibashi ni CHERRY
2004 merry merry = They start becoming experimental and less jazzy. The songs that leave the deepest impressions are the epic ones like the 8th and 9th tracks, '5gatsu no CLOVER' (yes, it's the same song from Night Food, but with a vastly different arrangement) and 'Madrigal', each of them eight-minutes long, hauntingly hynoptic, kinda Bjork-ish, yet still very much Ego-Wrappin'.
2006 On The Rocks! = Sounds even more different from their previous works. Like something from the 70s or 80s. Made me realize that they are more versatile than I've ever expected. Even more unbelievable when you compare Nakano's vocal abilities here with earlier songs. So diverse! So brilliant! Anyway, below the music video by 'tengoku to shiroi Piero'. Insane.
'tengoku to shiroi Piero
After Ego-Wrappin', Japanese songs had never been the same for me again.
EGO-WRAPPIN Myspace fanpage
Metropolis Tokyo's 2004 interview with EGO-WRAPPIN'
(Filed under Music Articles)