Yes, I used to play in a post-metal band.
Yes, I currently listen to more hip-hop than anything else.
Yes, my favourite band of all time is a power-pop group from Japan.
You’ll recall my shameful admission on Day Seven that I used to watch anime pretty regularly. You will also recall I gave a list of eleven shows exempt from my critiques of the medium. At number four was a show called FLCL, which is commonly called ‘Fooly Cooly,’ and features a girl on a Vespa who hits a preteen boy in the face with a Rickenbacker bass guitar so that robots will come out of his head.
It’s a metaphor for the sexual confusion of adolescence. Or something.
Anyhoo, one of the many things that makes FLCL wonderful is its soundtrack, unique to anime at the time for being comprised of nothing but the music of a rock band named the pillows. Apparently the director was a fan, and the band arranged instrumental versions of songs from three of their albums for show, as well as writing the closing theme. I swiftly acquired the soundtracks, and loved them from top to bottom.
I was never really able to explain why I dug the pillows so much. The best answer I could ever come up with was, ‘they’re a group of guys who really love making music with guitars.’ They’re also one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen, the epitome of ‘no tricks, play it like the album,’ with note perfect solos and performances in perfect time.
When I discovered on some message board that my beloved tracks from the FLCL soundtracks were not the original recordings, I knew I had to have the real thing. Napster was long dead by that point, I think I was on Audiogalaxy by then. I was shocked to see that when I typed in the name of the band, not only did I get the songs from the soundtracks, but song after song I had never even heard of. Hey, what’s a boy with a whopping 30GB hard drive and a DSL modem to do? I got to work.
The more music I heard, the more of my respect the pillows earned, and the more I learned about their different phases as artists. Initially formed by members from two punk groups [Kenzi & The Trips and Coin Locker Babies] the band started out making jangly pop in the style of 80s REM and other college rock bands. When their bassist left in 1992, the remaining members signed with a major and released two albums of jazzy lounge pop[?!] before reaching the tipping point with ‘Please Mr. Lostman’ in 1997, adopting a more straight ahead rock sound that they would continue with for what many people consider their glory period between ’97-’99, which is where most of the songs used in FLCL came from, as a matter of fact.
So I’m downloading all this music, blown away by their melodies and musicianship and their abilities to play so many styles well [jazz! waltz! punk! reggae!] when I heard this song, and my mouth just fell open.
Now. I know they’re trying to ape ‘Airbag‘ by Radiohead. That much is obvious. The guitar tone, the distortion on the snare, the thick bass with a touch of funk, it’s all there. But I don’t care. The acoustic guitar is beautiful, the bass is a touch funkier than what’s played in airbag and when Manabe’s solo comes screeching down from the heavens at the 3:05 mark, oh em gee. Just fantastic.
I don’t keep up much with the pillows anymore. I know they still make music, cranking out an album a year with typical Japanese efficiency, but it’s been diminishing returns for a while now. Truth be told, they probably should have tapped out around the time Good Dreams came out in 2004, but I suppose that doesn’t really matter. How I feel about their current output doesn’t change the genius of their highest moments. I’ve never even cared that I don’t know a single word Sawao is singing. The joy on those 90’s albums is present in every note.
Honourable Mention: After the original bassist left, the pillows have added ‘support players’ on bass, both of whom played as long or longer than the original, but out of respect for the original lineup, the remaining members never officially promote them. Current ‘support player’ Jun Suzuki came from a band called The Chewinggum Weekend that went through a similar musical progression as the pillows, from jazzy lounge to straight ahead rock. They’re nowhere near my favourite group, but I still wish my band could have figured out a way to play this.