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cero、〈ある種の野蛮さを含んだ街の音楽〉をメロディー/グルーヴ/日本語詞の新たな関係性で鳴らす新作『Obscure Ride』

【特集:都市インディーの源流】 Pt.2

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[English Translation]

cero
- Obscure Ride
The place where music fraught with the savageness of the street lures listeners beyond the dark of night

Interview & text by Yu Onoda

 

 

The message from the 'shadow'

“Obscure Ride” is cero’s latest album serving as the new anecdote of his musical adventure that was being foretold in the 2 single releases in the past; “Yellow Magus” at the end of 2013, and “Orphans/Yosari” at the end of 2014. The lithe groove they generate rises slowly from a filmic scene of the jungled night decorated with the flickering lights and shadows.

“From around last summer, we started this routine of making new songs at our music camps and play them at live shows, and as we did that, this concept for the new album of [a shadowless figure coming to deliver a message, but (us) not being able to receive that message] gradually came to us. The [shadow] can be things like the ‘blackness’ of the music that rouses our imagination, life and death, or the darkness in a club where we hang out at night… And by connecting with those images, we started to be more conscious about using the word ‘shadow.’” (Shohei Takagi, vocals/guitar/flute)
 

cero Obscure Ride KAKUBARHYTHM(2015)

The multi-layeredness of words

cero relies heavily on exoticism for their spark of imagination which is directed towards the human life force that swirl about on the streets or to sounds of funkiness or mellowness that symbolize such force, and their style of such fantastical touch akin to magic realism has changed dramatically into something quite groove-conscious.

“As we became more rhythm-conscious on the sound-front, we became able to lay more informative lyrics on the music by condensing words on fine subdivisions, taking the approach of making the words flow like in hip-hop. And so I first decided to write the lyrics like writing a script, which is pretty much my thing. Then, I drew out the melody line by reading along the lyrics to the song composed, and then straightened the words to play along with the melody line. It was fun crossing bars or creating unique word flows by doing so. Also, it was one my themes of this album, to put into practice such method in Japanese sing-songs. It was actually an extremely challenging process, but by doing so, I was able to write lyrics with a free mind, and also by writing without being restricted by location, in places like coffee shops or in the train, it was just natural for lyrics that sung about going out, or the theme of the lyrics ‘moving/relocating’, to be derived.” (Takagi)

As was foretold in ‘Hitotsu no Maho (Owari no Nai Itoshisa wo Atae)”, a cover cero did of Kenji Ozawa’s song from the album “Eclectic” (2002) that was recorded in their album “Orphans/Yosaru”, the album this time presents a new relationship among melody, groove and Japanese lyrics. Takagi demonstrates speak-like melodies and word-flows in tracks such as “ticktack”, “Roji” or Narcolepsy Driver”, and he also brings up an approach never seen before with chorus works.

"I saw the film [20 Feet from Stardom] and learnt that, overseas, many singers who fail to become the top divas decide to take the role of ‘backing vocals’ as the next step, becoming the ones who support the whole of public music. Putting it the other way around, I feel that the important role of ‘(backing) vocals/choruses’ is undervalued in Japan. On “Orphans”, we had singer-songwriter Hitomitoi do the backing vocals, but on finding someone for female vocals this time, we had Hiroko Shigezumi from the a cappella group Smooth Ace for the backing vocal because, on this album, we wanted to have someone who specializes in (backing) chorus. To make it sound like there are voices coming from all sorts of directions, I ran my own research and laid layers and layers of choruses. I think the multi-layeredness of words that comes from that approach is one of the highlights of this album.” (Takagi)
 

The merge of Galapagosean musicalities

Meanwhile, Yu Arauchi (keyboards/samplers/bass) demonstrates his own interpretation of afro beats that enchanted even the Talking Heads and Vampire Weekend, in “Elephant Ghost” and “Wayang Park Banquet” that he composed himself. 

“When you trace back the roots of hip-hop or R&B, you would eventually get to jazz, but because jazz is a result of the fusion of western music and African rhythms, when you trace back even further, you would naturally arrive at African music. And in that way, when my interest of rhythms was at a peak, I started to listen to African music. But not like, in a way that we are playing African music wearing tribal robes like from the Afrobeat Revival scene from New York (laughs). That bit, we made sure it was done in a modern way. And we also made sure that we sublimed it to pop music from the perspective of someone who has his roots in a city in Japan.” (Arauchi)

And that fine sense of balance is the very element that makes cero such an enticing pop band. While Arauchi wrote “Summer Soul”, a track that rides on the catchy grooves in the manner of music from the 90s, Tsubasa Hashimoto (guitar/clarinet) kept an eye over the other two members going deeply into rhythms and grooves to go his way to provide the band with the tracks “Orphans” and “DRIFTIN” of which the melodies and arrangements are exquisitely polished. 

“While Takagi-kun and Arauchi-kun were deeply exploring rhythms and grooves, I stayed present with them at a completely different angle. I think that the 90s was a time when music from the 70s saw its revival, and I brought in the glamorous new-soul elements from the 70s that I got to know via the guitar pop band, Flipper’s Guitar or other Shibuya-kei music.” (Hashimoto) 

“The same could be said about the steel pan played by MC Sirafu. The Galapagosean musicality that matured in the indies scene of Tokyo is merged into the world of our arts by the mystical sense of balance of Takahashi-kun who was in charge of the mixes of the album.” (Takagi) 

“Looking back on when we started cero, we were somewhat embarrassed with the music from the 90s that had a tendency to degrade the sounds to lo-fi. But with the passage of time, we have become able to relativize the past, and I think our music now naturally reflects the 90s music that are our roots.” (Arauchi)

 

Music fraught with the savageness of the street

This latest album is driven by the music capabilities of cero that matures with age and experience, coming together with the rich groove woven by the rhythm section formed by Yoshiro Atsumi and Wataru Mitsunaga. To where, beyond the dark of night, will the smooth and soft ride of the 13tracks take listeners?

“From a musical point of view also, we are kind of ‘obscure’, like in a bit of an ambiguous position, and much of our lyrics also develop with the focus blurred, so the album title “Obscure Ride” really fitted in neatly. Of course the clean and sharp image of the streets portrayed in city-pop is nice in itself, and city-pop used as a device to play out the glamourous memories and images of the ‘bubble era’ is done nicely from a musical point of view. Though, if we were to put the year 2015 into a pack, it won’t be enough with just those. I am hoping that our music becomes the music from the streets that also embraces some kind of savageness.” (Takagi)

TOWER DOORS