Those of you who follow me on Twitter (For the love of God, do not follow me on Twitter.) will probably notice frequent mention of something called “Omokage Lucky Hole”. Omokage Lucky Hole is–as wonderfully described by Japanese Wikipedia–a “Japanese funk band”, but that’s far from the whole story.
But before I launch into covering the finer points of the group’s music and why I enjoy them, I’m going to back up a bit to when I first discovered them. Like most people not familiar with the Japanese indies scene, I first heard Omokage Lucky Hole’s work in Natsu no Arashi’s amazing opening sequence. The song–Atashi Dake Ni Kakete–caught my attention with its commanding horns, and later with its saucy lyrics. When the single dropped, I played both the main song and its B-side on loop for weeks on end. At this point I had to hear more. After months of searching on Perfect Dark, I managed to find some albums–Dairi Haha, Ongaku Girai, and later on Whydunit?–and the rest is history.
Despite being around since the mid ’90s, Omokage has only produced something on the order of 35 songs. To put things into perspective, Cymbals–who were active from the late ’90s until the early ’00s–produced around 100 songs in their short period of activity. The difference here is that the members of Cymbals were signed onto a mainstream record label, and making music was their job. While I believe Omokage is signed onto a label, the fact that there is a 10 year gap between two of their albums is a pretty clear indication that these guys have Real Jobs, and making music is simply a hobby.
It’s probably a stretch to classify Omokage’s music as funk. I’m not terribly music savvy, but my mother described the nuances of funk wonderfully by putting on a James Brown song in which both the instrumentals and lyrics were clearly made up on the spot. All of Omokage’s songs have rather transparent structure, along with really tight and clever lyrics, so I can’t say for sure if they still qualify. Furthermore, while a good number of their songs carry a funky sound, they do hit other neighboring genres such as R&B and hip-hop, even if just lightly.
A typical Omokage song is characterized by fast, fun and interesting horn compositions, backed up by a solid, funky bass line (Performed by band leader, Sinner-Yang.) and accompanied by a slick electric guitar. The keyboard also plays an invaluable role in the instrumentals, as well as someone on drums, along with other miscellaneous instruments brought into the mix, such as cowbells. They also put on a good number of slower jams, as well as straight up rap pieces that don’t carry much in the way of melody at all. Whether it’s a fast piece, a slow piece, or a more hip-hop oriented piece, vocalist Acky has the voice for all of them, and delivers each and every one of their vulgar lyrics with overwhelming amounts of soul.
That brings me in some way to what I’m addressing in the title of this blog entry. As I’ve alluded to throughout this post, these guys are filthy. In fact, Sony had to cancel the release of one their albums because they took issue with the lyrics. While I cannot understand all of their songs, I can understand a handful of them, and they are vulgar. But if that wasn’t enough to convince me that this band has their mind deep down in the gutter, just take a look around their official site for a little while, or watch this video. Actually, you don’t have look much further than their name to see that these guys are far dirtier than most Japanese pop acts.
A number of Omokage’s songs are stories that seem to center around sex, broken relationships, and the various lame facets of Japanese middle class life. The word “pachinko” rears its head more than a few times in their latest album, Whydunit?. They do from time-to-time cover seemingly random subjects, like one song which focuses around a man trying to woo a Filipino girl who can only speak Tagalog, and another song that I can only assume is a parody on sports manga. Actually, just to give you an idea as to the types of subject matter these guys cover, I’m going list off specifically what happens in some of these songs.
- Annani Hantai Shiteta Otou-san ni Biiru wo Tsugarete: A teenager impregnates his childhood friend.
- Kanarazu Onaji Tokoro De: A woman has an abusive relationship with a sleazeball, but can’t leave the relationship.
- Atashi Yuube H Shinaide Nechatte Gomen Ne: A woman begs her lover desperately not hit her, leave her, or dump her because she didn’t have sex with him last night and instead fell asleep.
- Pachinko Yatteru Aida ni Umarete Mamonai Musume wo Kuruma no Naka de Shinaseta… Natsu: A man lets his baby daughter die because he left her in the car while he was playing pachinko.
- Kore ga Kore na Mon De: A man quits smoking, drinking and pachinko to take on an awful job he hates for the ones he loves.
- Tokyo (Ja) Naitokurabu (Wa): Something about nightclubs in Tokyo.
- Ore no Sei de Koshien ni Ikenakatta: The aforementioned manga parody. Specifically, it’s the main character’s fault that they can’t go to Koshien.
- Hyakuman Nin no Poruno Sutaa: “1 Million Porno Stars”.
- Kyuuryoubi-san: “Ms. Payday”.
- Naka ni Dashite Ii yo, Naka ni Dashite mo Ii yo: “It’s Okay, You Can Cum Inside”.
It’s plain to see that these songs cover not-so-savory ground. In some cases, these situations are downright depressing. And while they are sometimes treated with some degree of gravity, (Annani Hantai Shiteta is somewhat serious-sounding.) a lot of these songs have very energetic backing. Pachinko Yatteru Aida ni is probably the most upbeat song the band has to their name, but the subject matter is hopelessly pathetic and depressing. Atashi Yuube H Shinaide has some of the most utterly pathetic lyrics I’ve ever heard, and its slow and somewhat dopey instrumental backing drives that lameness home with scary levels of proficiency. Even an otherwise serious sounding piece like Kanarazu Onaji Tokoro De is prefaced by a hilariously overdone skit depicting a man beating a woman for money.
Another strange aspect of Omokage’s songs is that male vocalist Acky often sings from the point of view of a woman. This can be heard in Natsu No Arashi’s opening, as well as a handful of the band’s other cuts. It’s not unusual for him to use the female pronoun “atashi”, use feminine words such as “kashira” and end sentences with “wa”. He will at times sing from the point of the view of a man, and use the masculine “ore”, like in Ore no Sei de Koshien ni Ikenakatta.
All of this coupled with the fact that the band goes out of their way to be as shamelessly vulgar as possible only leads me to believe that this all one big joke. One giant lampoon on the Japanese middle class, and anything else that happens to cross their mind. I can’t say any of this for certain as my Japanese isn’t badass enough to pick up any subtle nuances, or even understand these songs 100%; but from what I can see, a lot of these songs are dripping in irony.
While I do enjoy lots of fluffy anison, J-Pop and Natsutaka-produced electronica, Omokage is particularly interesting not only for their distinctive funky sound, but for the kind of statement they’re trying to make. They’re a small group, so you probably want to support them by throwing some money their way. But since Amazon Japan is kind of pricey here in the US, I’ve put out some torrents which will be seeded again when I get the chance. I won’t link to them directly, but if you know where to look, you’ll find them. But do buy their CDs. I haven’t yet, sadly enough, but doing so is one of the first things on my list when I find employment!