My thoughts on “GREENPOP”, the first album from soloist Kanou Emiri.
Release Date: November 20th 2019
1. Koiseyo Otome
2. Gomen ne
3. Next Town
5. Renai Claim
6. Just a feeling
7. Friday Night
9. Futari no Philosophy
While I’m never one to make any claims about being particularly hip or a trendsetter, I like to think that I do a fairly decent job of keeping up with what’s popular and then deciding if I like it or not. So when I was walking into record shop after record shop at the tail end of my recent Tokyo trip and I kept seeing prominent displays for an album by an artist I’d never heard of before, I made a mental note to check it out when I had some free time.
The artist in question was Kanou Emiri. The Hokkaido native, who has been active as a soloist for about a year and half now, describes herself as a “Neo Electro-Pop Idol”. Her music is self produced, with the artist working on the lyrics, composition, arrangement, etc of all of her songs herself. She’s had a couple of singles up to this point but the release I’m going to be reviewing today is probably the first that many, myself included, are going to have heard from her.
That release being Kanou Emiri’s debut album “GREENPOP”. It features all of the soloist’s past singles as well as some new material, so it’s the perfect jumping off point for anyone who might be curious to check out what she’s all about. I’m lead to believe that the songs have roots in various genres such as 80s New Wave, Techno and Indie Rock so it should be a pretty diverse and hopefully entertaining album to listen to. Well, I’ll be the judge of that I suppose. I’m still not really sure what to expect honestly so I suppose the best course of action would be to just dive right in.
We get hit with a blast of 80s New Wave right from the get-go, with the album’s opening track “Koiseyo Otome” opening on a very bright and lively note indeed. The guitars are typical of the style and time period, very rhythm heavy and providing much of the melody to the instrumental while being accented occasionally by a synthesizer that is very pleasing to the ear. The drums are a little bit difficult to pin down initially as it takes a bit of adjusting to get used to all of the hi-hat that’s a very present element for a lot of the instrumental. If you’re into City Pop or any of the ancillary genres that have been springing up in recent years then you’re going to find a lot in this instrumental that’s very relatable. The vocals too are very much in line with what you’d expect, mildly modulated to make them ring out in a similar pitch to the synthesizers, which is a nice subtle way of tying everything together. The tone and flow with which they are delivered is also very enjoyable, definitely for me anyway as I really like this style of flowing lyrics sung with a smooth, rich quality of tone. Add in a few hooks and you’re always going to be onto a winner. This is just about as throwback as it gets, and both the album and Kanou Emiri are everything that was advertised so far.
The album’s second track “Gomen ne” has nothing to apologize for, well except maybe for the fact that it’s a touch on the long side for my liking at just over 5 minutes in length. This one leans very heavily on the Electro-Pop side of Kanou Emiri’s influences, which is very apparent from the off as the song’s pretty dense and buzzing synthesizer instrumental slowly builds up by introducing some slightly brighter and more Poppy synth melodies into the mix. It’s still very much at the core of the song but those brighter parts definitely go a long way to livening things up. We’re still very much in that 80s sort of mood though and that’s once again a big part of the vocals which draw heavily from that era. What that means is that Emiri provides us with very emotional and at times powerful performance in a somewhat Ballad style but that’s probably a little unfair as both the vocals and the instrumental have a good bit more tempo and energy than what that term is typically associated with. You probably wouldn’t call this a super flashy song or anything like that but the instrumental has a pretty nice overall melody to it and when you combine that with Kanou’s enchanting vocals it’s a pretty enjoyable combination. It might not do much for you if you’re not into 80s Pop music but if you are then it’s a pretty good time.
The 80s Electro-Pop vibes continue into the album’s third track “Next Town”, which features an opening verse (well, kinda) and instrumental that sounded very familiar to me but I just can’t place where from. It’s a pretty simple little section but the vocals and the beat do a good job of setting the table for what’s to come. That being what I would describe in layman’s terms as a slightly more uptempo and energetic version of the track we just talked about previously. Still pulling very much from that 80s style but in a slightly different way by giving the instrumental a bit more of a bass thump, along with brighter and generally louder synthesizer melodies when the need arises for them. This is typically in the chorus which is definitely a highlight of this particular song where the instrumental combines with some particularly catchy lyrics to really draw the listener in with their captivating melodies. The vocal performance in general on this track is once again rather impressive as Kanou flows through several different styles ranging from smooth lows to higher, brighter melodies with the common denominator at the heart of everything being the song’s pleasing flow and catchy rhythm. Perhaps a little too similar to the album’s previous track for some, but I can definitely appreciate the differences between the two.
I suppose with a title like “Heartbreak” you’d expect the album’s fourth track to be something of a Ballad about unrequited love or relationship troubles. It was then rather refreshing to hear when the synthesizers on the instrumental hummed into life along with a bass guitar and we instead got treated to a mildly fuzzy New Wave style instrumental to get the song under way. They don’t go super crazy with it, instead opting to focus more on having a nice steady rhythm and drumbeat for Kanou to perform the song’s verses over. A good job she does of that too, with the vocalist delivering her lines in what I suppose could be described as a more contemporary style, especially compared to the album’s opening three tracks at least. Once again, I love everything about the vocals from their structure, to the flow and tone of the delivery, they’re just really pleasant to the ears. Things pick up a bit for the chorus with a bit more attention being given to the drums, along with a synthesizer melody being introduced to help provide a change of energy. The vocals pick up in tempo too and there’s also a noticeable change in emotion here as well. I also really enjoyed the build to the climax of the song which takes place after a brief instrumental break and gives us a whole lot more of the energy and vibe of the chorus which was definitely a cool way of going about things if you ask me.
Things take on a more playful tone for the album’s fifth track “Renai Claim” which makes for a nice palate cleanser of sorts after the last few tracks I suppose. It’s still very much in keeping with the overall theme of the album mind you, but the song definitely has a markedly different style to everything heard up to now. Synthesized horns give the instrumental a celebratory vibe and the rather…prominent drumbeat definitely makes sure everything stays in time. Things mellow out a little once the vocals come in, with clapping and bass guitar tones becoming more of a feature of the instrumental as Kanou provides us with some fairly bright and cheerful sounding vocals without going too overboard to the point that it starts to sound unnatural. The chorus does go a little bit too high pitched for my personal tastes though I really do love the backing vocals, those were definitely a nice touch. I also really enjoyed the saxophone solo in the middle of the song, it was both really cool to listen to and provided an effective transition out of the chorus and back into the verses. It’s a fairly short song at a little under three minutes so there’s not a whole lot more for me to say about it honestly. I like it a good deal, even if I’m not too hot on the vocals in the chorus. It’s just a nice fun, carefree song that’s nice to listen to.
We’re transported straight back to the 80s next, with “Just a feeling” bringing back those futuristic (for the time anyway) Electro-Pop beats. The upbeat trend continues into this song with some pretty bright and cheerful sounding synthesizer melodies being the standout feature of the track early doors. Things settle down into a nice rhythm once vocals are introduced, though the instrumental does take a rather noticeable backseat here as it opts for some lower tones so as to give Kanou’s voice a bit more room to breathe. It’s a similar style of performance to ones we’ve heard previously, featuring a nice smooth tone that’s just ever so slightly modulated to bring it into line with the pitch of the brighter of the synthesizers. The chorus introduces more of a funky dimension to the song which I thought was pretty cool and the vocals get a bit more energetic and catchy during these moments too. It’s not too much of a departure from the verses but I thought it was a pretty effective way to change up the energy of the track a bit and as ever Kanou’s tone and flow are totally on point as she effortlessly delivers another vocal performance that’s coming to you straight out of the 1980s. If you’re into this stuff like I am then I can’t imagine that you’re not having a good time with this album so far.
The opening few bars of “Friday Night” would seem to suggest that the song might have a slightly darker tone than what we’ve been hearing thus far and in a general sense I suppose that does hold true. The synthesizer does start out with a fairly low tone that gives off a somewhat gloomy vibe before being lightened up a little bit with a guitar riff that has a nice rhythm to it. A slightly brighter synthesizer is also introduced as the song progresses, though I’m not really a fan of how sparkly and prominent it is especially during the choruses. Maybe it’s just me but I kinda feel it was a bit too much the focus at times and it just didn’t really jive with my ears I suppose. Outside of that though I really quite like this slightly darker style of instrumental, it has this sort of rich, classy feeling to it in a sense though I suppose that could just be the way that my brain is choosing to interpret things. I’m fairly certain that it’s not just my brain that’s interpreting the once again rather excellent vocal performance on this track from Kanou though. She gets to some more of her lower range here and delivers a pretty…mature(?) sounding performance full of rich tones and some pretty nice hooks too. Seems like we’re getting a wide range of 80s musical styles on this album, which is a good thing in my book.
Yet another new style is introduced on the album’s eighth track “1988”, which opens with a somewhat symphonic sounding instrumental with an overriding feeling of the fantastical. It morphs into something a bit more in line with the rest of the release fairly quickly however, with the introduction of some synthesizers and a few well placed guitars riffs which act as accents as the instrumental builds the song up to its first verse. As seen on previous tracks, the instrumental settles down a bit at this point to allow the vocals space to do their thing but the low beat of the bass remains pleasing to the ear and the mild fantasy element is maintained through the occasional use of synth to provide the instrumental with a more melodic element. The vocals work in contrast to this, delivered in a lower tone that sounds fairly natural with much less or even none of the tuning to bring it into line with the synths that we’ve heard on previous tracks. The pitches rises a bit in the chorus, which I’m not a huge fan of in certain places but I get why that decision was made and apart from that it is a pretty catchy and rather enjoyable chorus, so a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things. Something a bit different, and maybe that more Classical sounding element isn’t for everyone, but I thought there was a nice combination of lighter and darker elements on show here which made for a pretty cool sounding song.
I’m not really sure what it is with the second to last track on album seeming to be the go to spot for a Ballad these days but that trend appears to be holding strong on this release also. Not that “Futari no Philosophy” is a Ballad in the typical fashion that we might think of these days but it’s certainly one by 80s Pop standards. The opening instrumental is an interesting mix of a fairly upbeat synthesizer melody and some slightly more sombre sounding horns, which are also synthesized but sound pretty good regardless. The horns take a backseat when the opening verse starts and things end up being carried more by a light but pleasant synth melody which is paired with a nice rhythmic guitar riff and some gentle but consistent drumming. The vocals here are a bit on the melancholic side but still possess some nice energy and emotion to them and Kanou is definitely very capable of pulling off this style as well as all of the others featured on the album. The chorus gets a bit brighter, both in terms of the vocals and the instrumental which takes on this sparkly quality which isn’t really my thing but it works out with the overall atmosphere being built on the track. They even managed to get a piano solo of sorts on the track too towards the end which I thought was pretty cool personally, as is the way the instrumental swells as the song approaches its climax. Not to my personal tastes in a few places but certainly another good song from an objective viewpoint.
Closing us out on this rather surprising release is the album’s tenth and final track “Moonlight”. With a title like that I was personally expecting something a little bit darker in tone, or perhaps “dusky” if you want to just start throwing out fancy descriptive terms for some reason. That’s the impression that you get from the song’s rather simple and repeating opening synthesizer melody which features some reverberating mid-tones which do sort of give that impression of night time as that’s the sort of imagery they’ve been associated with for decades at this point. Kanou’s vocals actually are kinda low and smokey when they come in too which further adds to this idea being created by the instrumental. There isn’t too much of a tempo or tonal change as the song progresses though there are a number of different synth parts that it moves between, all very much keeping to the overall theme of the track. Equally the vocals are also fairly consistent in their style and tempo, with a few brighter and slightly more energetic moments centered around the song’s choruses. More soothing than flashy and that’s perfectly alright with me. I wouldn’t have minded a little bit more obvious variety than what we got but at the same time I can definitely appreciate the subtleties of a song like this too.
“GREENPOP” is a very enjoyable album and if you’re a fan of New Wave, Electro-Pop or anything with an 80s vibe to it then I’m sure you’ll find great pleasure in giving it a listen. If none of that stuff interests you then there isn’t going to be too much here for you but hopefully you can still appreciate the effort being put forth here by one clearly very talented individual in Kanou Emiri.
I suppose this just goes to show that it’s good to keep your eye out for and be open to checking out new things. I probably wouldn’t even have given “GREENPOP” or Kanou Emiri a second glance a year or two ago but my new resolve to give things I normally wouldn’t a chance has borne fruit here once again. I’ve discovered a new artist that I enjoy and have another album to consider for those pesky End of Year Top 10 lists. I’m also looking forward to hearing more from her in 2020 too.