Primekeron – アイソーマイビー

For those who usually need something unusual.

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Artist – Primekeron
Album – アイソーマイビー
Label – Chameleon

The poor piano. Much like the British Empire, modern times have not been as kind to it as the past. Once the piano was the new kid on the block, knocking out the harpsichord with ease. Then it stayed on top for so long; a piano in ever middle class home.  But that darned rock and roll. With rock and roll, the guitar was the undisputed king. The piano  may have never gone the way of the harpsichord, but it doesn’t sit at the throne.

Sure, most people learn piano as a first instrument. Sure, some of the great rockers are pianists, Nick Cave, Elton John. Sure, rumor has it that Julian Casablancas composed the first Strokes album on piano. Sure, piano sounds great in all sorts of rock songs.

And yet…

It’s a bit like garlic. It tastes great in most everything, but it usually can’t be the star. Even if it is the star, it can’t be the star of every dish. Then every dish would taste like, well, garlic. And garlic tastes great, but it’s always garlicky. Likewise piano is great, but always tends to sound like piano. Guitars? They have their effects and distortion and whammy bars and seemingly endless variety. If a piano tries to take on that kind of variety it’s called a synthesizer. So we’re left with lots of guitar bands, lots of synth groups, but few bands that use the piano as the lead instrument in every song.

Primekeron are on that very short and distinguished list. But it’s a testament to something else that it took several listens to even notice that the group uses piano, bass, and drums as the sole instrumentation: that voice.

Satomi Abe has got a black coffee voice. If you’re into it, thrilling and absolutely necessary to your day. If you’re not, offensive in its bold unwillingness to be sweet. She doesn’t do vibrato, instead she loves to bend her melody notes, not unlike a guitarist bends strings. Guitarists sometimes bend strings to hit notes in a  Western scale, but they sometimes bend strings to hit tones between the notes in a Western scale (blue notes). Instead of a traditional vibrato, a fast, steady barely noticeable change in pitch, Abe likes really bending her voice up to that blue note and then back down to the target note. The effect is something that sounds more like it belongs in “ethnic” music than pop music. While unusual at first, it is unique, and Abe sells it in a pop context with charisma and verve.

So, Primekeron is a two-gimmick band, relentless piano – relentlessly unique vocals. Only they’re not gimmicks in Primekeron’s hands: the band writes great songs to back up their idiosyncrasies. The clean tones of the piano equally suit the complex mid-range rhythms and heavy ballad pounding. “熱は沖に” is the strongest ballad on the album. The piano has a cascading waterfall feeling with its repeated descending lines. Melancholy, yes, but it’s like the exquisite ache of heartbreak without having to experience it yourself. “Yaiber” shows a different side of the band, rocking as hard as they can. After a misleading intro, every member of the band pounds on its instrument as manically as possible. The song is driving and upbeat. It is the movie-montage song for the scene where the main character works like a maniac to reach the goal. While those are highlights, there are no duds. Primekeron delivers a solid batch of songs that work with, instead of leaning on, their oddity.

Different is not always good. Primekeron is different. Primekeron is always good.

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