Around 24 hours ago, I was back in America dying of jet lag watching an anisong / idol music DJ in Japan via Ustream while waiting for day to begin (or end) when suddenly, in between the usual stew of 8-bit laser blips and post-human helium vocals, this wonderful happy day toy town piano hook came tumbling out of the speakers and pinned me to the wall.
The tune was “Chocolate Mint Flavor Time”, the latest song by idol unit Vanilla Beans (AKA Rena and Risa), whom the new regime at Tower Records, along with label Tokuma, has been hyping as some kind of “neo idol unit” for a few years now. The girls have since settled into a sweet spot with subculture pundits (including Okite Porsche, a key advocate of Perfume during their early days) and the usual idol otaku alike. The mainstream has been more elusive, but who needs them anyhow when you've got a steady diet of this:
“Chocolate Mint Flavor Time” launch event including an adoring pretty much all-male crowd. Taken on 4/10.
But even as I sat here writing this, “Chocolate Mint Flavor Time” popped up on yet another live net DJ playlist, implying that the song is now touching a nerve in other places as well. For me, it’s really just the simple piano sound, handclap beat, and reverb-y guitar solo that makes me reach for the replay button. True to their name, the vocals might be guilty of being j-pop slick to the point of vanilla, but the way they step off the chorus into a big burst of harmony is nice. “Chocolate Mint Flavor Time” winds up sounding like someone covering a lost Tracey Ullman cover (my idea of a complement) and the arrangement is clever enough to hold it all together.
Then there’s the video (above), which isn’t likely to set the world on fire in the PONPONPON sense, but still has enough charms to be filled under “refreshing”. In a post-Lady Gaga/Nicki Minaj world where whoever wears the craziest outfit gets the most views, here's two girls clad in bows and baby doll dresses just havin’ some ice cream. And on a post Pamyu Pamyu planet, where whoever makes the most dazzling insane over-wrought video sets the standards, here are two girls steadily transmitting blasé cool underlined by little more than an occasional retro font and background… havin’ some ice cream.
Rena & Risa explode the adventure of "tie-up" via Baskin-Robbins
PV for "D&D" by Vanilla Beans (released 2010), mimicking the look of TV variety shows, crica late '60s, early'70s.
PV for "Nicola" by Vanilla Beans (2011), a halfway point between Perfume and Pizzicato.
As older videos from Vanilla Beans (like the two above) make plainly clear, someone behind the scenes is drawing from the same rich 20th century palette that Pizzicato Five used to make their stock in trade, where shuffling references is more valued than originality by audience and artist alike.
"Look what Nomiya Maki had in her closet..."
I don’t want to imply that the Beans have anywhere near that level of sophistication and talent for remixing the past that the gods of Shibuya-kei did-- but there is a definite cultural component to Vanilla Beans that at least creates a feeling that there might actually be something here to chew on. Maybe it's only nostalgia for nostalgia... but in today’s post-historical landscape, where the likes of Las Vegas and Disneyland have replaced pop muzik’s former haunts of “New York, London, Paris, Munich”, even that has to count for something.
Still, as Philbin the roadie points out in Phantom of the Paradise, the stakes for a "pop cantata" need not always be so high:
And "Chocolate Mint Flavor Time" is a song that I dig.
P.E. going to top a groaning, heaving, dying luxury department store waiting for the storm that might actually end the Taishomei Jidai.
15 stories to the top and nothing going on. Perfectly groomed clerks all putting on appearances and polishing the brass. Trying to look busy; maintaining appearances. Outnumbered by mannequins in dramatically priced Prado and Salvatore Bellomo. But few pilgrim/cusotmers here only browsing on the sale sections on the 13th floor before perching themselves on the restaurants floors to eat and eat food that they’ve brought and prepared in advance.
Meanwhile, only a few feet above the world of nothing happening, the clouds gather around the neo-NTT building nearby, low rumbling thunder-knuckle cracks signifying the damage weather is going to do, all part of neo-G.O.D.’s massive conspiratorial plans to fuck up yet another one of P.E.’s seemingly aimless trips to Tokyo2.
So what exactly IS P.E. doing here? Superficially, he’s merely hungry and looking for something to eat (It’s all been timed in advance to coincide with the feast of Easter), but he can’t resist taking a slow escalator ride up and down again trying to capture the feeling, to have to sink inside.
Lingering. Hanging on. Lots of it. The goka na jyu-pun senso was just that: a gorgeous and decisive ten minute war. But the uncertainty of aftermath and the impossibility of resolution 7+ long years now.
Youna Youna is still gone: so far off any radar as to never have existed at all before. P.E. still half expects her to show up in times of crisis dramatic rescue, but the battle is mostly internal now, so even if he/she did arrive waving a toy gun in a dress made out of gold and silver luxury belts, there wouldn’t be much to do anyways. Sometimes, there are rumors of he/she appearing in the streets near Sakura-dori for only minutes at a time, but P.E. is OK with not even trying to search for her anymore. It would probably just be awkward anyways. And he’d prefer to be alone now because someone always wants something, needs something done. Surviving the jyu-pun senso only paid out in more responsibility.
Part of him knows how Col. Baldwin feels now. The never-ending search for the mystery frequency is P.E.’s now. Which means, when he’s back in fortress America, he will take the occasional sub-legal (but effective) mind-bender. Col. Baldwin famously discovered the Overtones that way, which lead to the creation of the Espionage Rejects, but for P.E. the recent effect was not nearly as revolutionary. Total sensory distortion expanded his mind and field of vision, but only in the physical sense; an aspect ratio that jumped from 4:3 to 16:9 mid-frame, but still playing the same old film. The fear is now that there is nothing but never-ending bio-chemical process and high signal to noise ratio out there. P.E. forever a spectator.
But the lack of revelation could be tip-off in itself. Col. Baldwin discovered that the mystery frequency was closely related to ill-defied concepts related to “love”, but what comes next will require a spectrum far wider and more demanding, prone to self-delusions and loss of control:
And then P.E. finds something to eat on the roof garden.