Maria’s “Chiisana Uta”

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Sometimes I forget to talk about a PV or song I really like, and before I know it too much time has passed and I lose interest. So before that happens again, let me say that Maria’s debut single “Chiisana Uta” is an excellent song. It’s fun, catchy, upbeat… but are Maria the next Zone?

I like the band logo that starts out the PV. It’s got kind of a metal-y feel to it, like you can imagine it being used as a tattoo if you had a girlfriend named Maria – or are a devoted fan of the Virgin Mother.

Two words come to mind with the huge-ass speakers and tough guy poses: “white” and “snake”. Which is odd, since Whitesnake videos usually just featured Tawny Kitaen humping a car. At any rate, using a wall of speakers for a backdrop seems very 1980s hair metal to me…

That said, the girls look great in this opening group shot. The symmetry is of course appealing, and more distinct for having six members: the two badass guitarists to the side, the two bassists/lead vocals back-to-back in the center, with drummer Tattsu and keyboardist Reina rounding out the numbers. I have to say, Reina looks particularly fetching in the white skirt and with that pose.

If I had to be completely honest, much of this PV would be quite boring and by-the-numbers…

If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s Japanese idols and not a bunch of preening young men from the Midwest or SoCal.

On the one hand, it’s bracing and actually fun to see a new idol band try so hard for a balls-to-the-wall rock-out effect…

On the other hand, trying to look so much like Slash strikes me as very… unfortunate, in some ways.

And as cute as Reina is, you can only look so enthused behind a set of keyboards before it begins to look… well, silly. Like Viv of Spinal Tap silly.

I do like how butch Maiko looks. She may not be the official leader of the group, but everyone – fans, management, the band itself – know it’s her band and she’s the top of the pecking order. It hasn’t seemed to change her idol persona any, but it’s made her much more dominant, much more confident…

Actually, it seems that Maria has done for Maiko what Viyuden did for Rika: allowed her to become a stronger idol by giving her the right kind of support.

I’m still loving that overbite and smile, of course…

Aika, the other bassist and lead singer, is a cutie in her own right. You know she’s being primed to share the spotlight with Maiko, which is by no means a bad thing.

Group leader and guitarist Sacchin… well, she sticks out like a sore thumb throughout the PV. And at first I was annoyed by her, but now figure she’s the right tonic to the rest of the group. Everyone else smiles and looks like they want to have fun.

Sacchin doesn’t strike me as “keeping it real”… this is just a pose, as artificial and silly in its own way as the upbeat upbeatness of the other girls… but it does balance somewhat. Reminds you that rock music can have an edge, although her style choices strike me as a bit… laughable. It’s like those American Idol audition contestants who wear a red jacket and one white glove when they do a Michael Jackson glove – we get the point, but we really didn’t want to.

Again, a seeming nod to old hair metal bands with this set. That said, it makes a nice transition to the following tableau…

Huh? This PV was filmed in the Sistine Chapel?

The group in their alternate scenario: sitting around a rather elaborately decorated room that I imagine to be the waiting room outside the Vatican’s pornography collection.

Ahh… okay, Reina can bop around the keyboards all she wants. She’s cute enough to get away with it.

Aika again. I don’t know, am I hearing two different basses in the song? I’m not saying they’re not there, but I wonder if it’s that discernible to an untrained ear (i.e., mine). And for some reason, all that bass has me thinking of Derek Smalls’ Jazz Experience (and Puppet Show). The main effect I do apprehend in the music is an unexpected dose of fuzz – the song is as upbeat and melodic as anything Zone’s done, but somehow sounds sloppier, more raucous.

Which is probably the point: Zone seems much more traditional and classic rock in their four-girl line-up and approach to songs. Maria seems more adventurous musically, the extra instruments practically demanding that new approaches and sounds be tried.

That said, Reina looks a whole lot like Tomoka in this shot… She’s the baby of the group, having just turned 16. Aika’s a few months older than her, but also 16.

I think I found my new favorites.

In repose, the group looks… odd. But not in a bad way. If anything, it again breaks down according to instruments. The two guitarists seems the odd girls out, the least traditionally attractive but also more interesting for it. The two bassists are the girl next door types, accessible but pretty. And the drummer and keyboardists are the most glamorous looking, with classic good looks and really nice hair. Going back to my last blog entry, they don’t seem of a piece. Zone could almost fool you into thinking they’d been lifelong friends who happened to form a garage band; this group looks more… assembled.

The stage scenes, though, show a comfort and playfulness that shows there’s chemistry there. The one who mixes in least is Sacchin, but that’s cause she doesn’t want to smile.

Maiko’s trying harder to be a bit more adult, a bit more sexy. It breaks my heart a little, I’m still fond of the goofy kid with the short hair. The pose on her blog is kind of ridiculous, however: she’s not glamorous and that’s what makes her so great, dammit.

I’m really liking Reina in this shot. Not Tomoka, but a more than apt Tomoka substitute.

Here’s a close up of Sacchin’s T-shirt. “King of Evil” what? Sword? I get a feeling I’m missing something.

A really nice shot of Tattsu with that religious mural inthe background. Is this supposed to evoke a religious connotation to the band’s name? What would be the point of that, really?

Ayuka, the guitarist. I like her a lot, I’m not sure why. Maybe because she seems a bit goofy – in a good way. She’s got a great smile and is even blonder than Yuko or Mari of H!P.

It’ll be fun to see what kind of personae will arise in the group. I’m thinking Ayuka will be a lot of fun to watch, though why exactly I’m not sure.

That said, I’m wondering if Sacchin’s going to resist nurturing and developing her idol persona. For better or worse, it’s there, but she may just take the “I’m a real musician” route and let the others handle the witty repartee and kawaii moments.

This isn’t Zone. That’s pretty obvious from the first listen and from first view of the PV. At the same time, I can’t help but think of Zone when I watch Maria. I may be obessive about this, but Zone made such a deep impression on me. And really, Maria can’t help but take advantage of some of the good will extended by Zone’s history and their heartrending breakup. It’ll take a little while for Maria to come into their own as a group, but that’s less about their own abilities than the impact Zone had on its fans.

And while we’re at it, where’s Miyu? Is she back in school full-time or is she preparing a new single or an album? I’m a little afraid of her deciding to go the glamour R&B girl route, but that was where she was headed last with ther solo singles…

This is going to sound kind of sick, perhaps even mildly perverse, but I have this fantasy about Zone that I’ve harbored soon after I first grew interested in them…

In this fantasy, members of Zone are passing around Sonic Youth CDs and decide to emulate that group’s sound. Miyu starts sticking drumsticks into her guitar’s neck and slapping it to create odd effects, Tomoka takes a deep interest in feedback and static. They do a live concert and begin with the line, “We’re gonna kill / The California girls”…

I must confess, I haven’t listened to any new Sonic Youth in years. So I’m talking circa Bad Moon Rising up to and including Goo, with an emphasis on Daydream Nation. That said, “Diamond Sea” from the later album Washing Machine would be just about a perfect Zone song in my head, especially the twenty-minute version. (It was on the wedding Flash program the wife and I gave out at my wedding.)

I’m not sure why exactly this fantasy manifested so quickly with my interest in Zone. Part of it may be an overestimation of Sonic Youth’s popularity in Japan – I remember Banana Yoshimoto talking about going to an SY concert in the afterword to one of her books. And Japan’s got a noise scene that’s very much respected by Sonic Youth and the other noiserati of New York. Part of it is also the fact that Zone’s music was – and remains still – the most similar to the music I like from the United States. It’s always been easier to apply that familiarity to guitar rock to Zone as opposed to, say, my pointed ignorance of current American pop leading to no real expectations from the likes of Morning Musume or dream.

And part of it is a sense that with the right combination of youth, open-mindedness, and pure musical chops – all of which Zone possessed, and which Maria now possesses – an idol band (or bandol, though I hate that term) can surprise everyone by opening whole new soundscape vistas the way Sonic Youth did in their prime. It’s not that I need to hear innovative Jpop as a matter of principle, I understand it’s based on tried-and-true formulae for very practical reasons. But a group of idol musicians ripping through a cover of “Teenage Riot” would be just this side of heaven for me, and somehow consistent with what I expect or desire in Jpop.

All that said, when I watch Maria, I’m thinking less about Sonic Youth for some reason and more… Helmet. And not only because Page Hamilton is cute enough to be a Jpop idol, but the whole two-bass / two-guitars setup seems to lend itself well to the kind of tight, disciplined noise-shredding that Helmet mastered on Meantime and Afterburner. It may also convince Sacchin to give up that whole Slash look…

I know, it’s arrogant to try to impose my admittedly esoteric tastes on a new band. (Not that they’re listening or anything.) But as an idol band, Zone and now Maria are trying to balance the aggression and beat of rock music with the kawaii appeal of Jpop. I think that they often erred on the side of caution, going for safer pop sounds to avoid from alienating the Jpop side of their fan market.

But if you’ve already got kawaii by the truckload, why not push the envelope some more? Zone did it with the uncharacteristically dark and even slightly noisy “Akashi”, still my favorite song of theirs. I see that same possibility in Maria, a potential waiting to be tapped.

The song took a couple of weeks to grow on me. I’d watch, I’d listen, I’d hum it to myself… but then I’d find myself mixing it up a little and then “Chiisana Uta” suddenly became Harenchi Punch’s “Megaphone” that I’m humming. I’m not sure what that tells me: though Harenchi Punch’s song is more lightweight and doesn’t rock as hard, it’s as upbeat and propulsive and much, much catchier.

If I had to be honest, there’s a whiff of the generic rock in “Chiisana Uta”. It rocks, no doubt, and it’s a feel-good song, but it never really breaks out of the riff it’s in, just builds up and then quiets a little and then builds up again.

Compare it to the dramatically quiet interlude towards the end of Zone’s “Egao Biyori” – or a song that reminds me a lot of “Chiisana Uta” for some reason, the sheer exuberance and infectious joy in Harenchi Punch’s “Megaphone”. (Sometimes I find myself whispering “Chiisana Uta” and realize at some point I segued into “Megaphone”.) “Chiisana Uta” has the formula for a solid rock song, but doesn’t mess with the format to achieve greatness.

And yet watching Reina kind of excuses that… sorta…

… okay, Aika’s presence definitely excuses that. Yeah.

Seriously, I’d say that I like this song and PV, but I’m not blown away by it. However, there’s too much good will generated by Maiko’s presence and by the potential of the group. Are they destined for greatness? Maybe, maybe not. But they sure seem like they’re willing to work for it, which is even better.

And maybe there’s some lessons they can learn from Maiko’s former band. For starters, keep the ballads to a minimum – while some of the ballads were great for Zone and “Secret Base” is their signature song, Maria seem situated for a more aggressive approach.

Second, let their idol personae develop as individuals as well as a unit. Zone were always charming but always a unified front; there’s lots of potential here to have the different women in the group stand out more on their own.

Third, bikini photobooks. Start with Maiko, then Reina and Ayuka, and we’ll see from there.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, always play your own instruments. Always. Zone apparently didn’t always play live, perhaps because management didn’t trust they’d pull through. That’s a shame because they had the chops and proved themselves time and again on that front.

Actually, I’m pretty positive that last point will be followed by Maria no matter what. Maiko’s group for the most part strike me as solid musicians who won’t back off on that issue. She has assembled an exciting group here – if Melon Kinenbi are the Fantastic Four, she’s like the Captain America of the Ultimate Avengers. (“You think this letter on my head stands for France?”)

I’m looking forward to see what else Maria’s got. I’m hoping they will be adventurous, will try out things Zone never even imagined. I want to hear a long, epic song in the “In A Gadda Da Vida” mode, if not “The Diamond Sea”. I want to hear different instruments in solo, including Reina on keyboards. I want to see a live concert DVD after their first tour, which better be no later than this summer.

I also want to see who looks cute in a kimono and who’ll get the most dedicated moe following… My money’s on this one.

I said I’d let go of Zone after Maria released their first single. I haven’t quite come through on that, but I’m on the precipice… it’s coming close, and the right second single should do the trick.

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8 Responses to “Maria’s “Chiisana Uta””
  1. CJ Marsicano says:

    Two basses? I think of either Dos (Mike Watt and Kira Roessler’s project) or the Swans, who did have two basses.

  2. Oh God, I haven’t thought of the Swans in years. Now I want a copy of Filth again – I used to listen to that album over and over, way back when…

  3. CJ Marsicano says:

    All of the classic Swans stuff can be downloaded legally at emusic.com, Filth included. I’ve been starting to do my weight training to the Cop/Young God/Greed/Holy Money CD myself.

  4. Velvet says:

    i really love this band… i have a crush on maiko, reina, aika and tattsu

  5. Velvet says:

    I really love reina…..

  6. velvet says:

    i love you reina

  7. Wow! nice pics caught in Chiisana Uta MV!

    It is clear and Neat.

    I like maiko since she was in her old band.ZONE. GO!! Maiko!

  8. I thought MARIA will have a japan tour?
    does anybody japanese can tell me if they can go a world tour?