Monday, November 5, 2007

The Seatbelts - Blue

I’m getting sloppy, it’s the seventeenth and I haven’t already sent out my monthly endeavor.

I had a certain plan set out for the next few months of what I wanted to do, but I like surprises, so I try to even surprise myself when I can, so lets shake things up a little.

I planned on waiting a full year to win over any doubtful minds that my messages of musical importance are in fact in good taste and possessed intellectual content. I figured I would play it safe with my song choices, the songs I have already gone through leave little doubt in the minds of rational people that I am obviously right to preach about their artistic wonder. But I am a man that likes to stand out, and since I already worry the risk running dry and boring it is high time I shook things up a little with a song a little more out of the ordinary.

Seatbelts is a musical group that is more or less out of Japan, though there members are many and from all over the world. Headed by Yoko Kanno they consist of somewhere between thirty to forty members, maybe more. The name “Seatbelts” came from the somewhat humorous express quoted by Miss Kanno herself, “we have so many styles within the band, you’d better strap on your seatbelts.”

Naturally like nearly everything out of Japan these days commercialism is how I came to know of Seatbelts. A lot of groups in Japan only really make it big do to their influence on soundtracks for animated series. You may have noticed the obnoxious amount of anime on television in the last five years. Well I liked Japanese animation before it was cool, way back in grade school, when I was still a kid and ironically anime for the most part was far more mature. Animation when done well is really nothing less then video art, and back ten plus years ago if I wanted to see something that actually contained subject matter that didn't completely insult my young intelligence I needed to look to Japan, or Fezetta and Bakshi but there movies were few.

Two of my favorite animes were hosted with the works of Yoko Kanno and her crew, “Macross Plus” and the now famous “Cowboy Bebop.”

Commercialism leads to second rate garbage, usually. The integrity to make music can easily be jaded when a pressure from outside money based influences push along the artistic project. However, as I am often caught saying, restriction often breeds true creativity. Anyone can create art if they throw random color on a canvas, and then lie about the meaning behind it all, but given a strict ridged objective and then finding a means to convey that message, meaning, or emotion is not only more challenging but often offers the greater creation. Who says creativity lacks structure, balance, and logic? Go back to hell with your random garbage. It comes out of you involuntarily, much like vomit and it shares the same value.

Macross Plus was a sequel to the infamous, “Macross, Super Dimensional Fortress” also know as “Robotech” in North America. Macross Plus however easily stands alone since any continuity that lays in mystery from original to the new is of such little importance the plot and characters remain wholly intact in the eyes of the viewer who does not know. The overall four part series is about rivaling test pilots that also share a common love interest, the fight each other in their transforming jets that take the form of humanoid battle suits. Obviously Macross Plus lies in the genre of science fiction. The music chosen is thus created appropriately, very techno and pop based are all the tracks, not my style of music at all, but as far as music of that sort goes I have to admit Macross Plus has a decent soundtrack.

Cowboy Bebop is where Seatbelts really shinned him my eyes.

Now anyone, who says to me, “I know about Cowboy Bebop, I saw the movie,” spare me your ignorance. The movie was nothing more then one long episode, and not a particularly good episode. Not bad, but not great.

The last anime I truly enjoyed, was naturally created back 1997, of course I wouldn’t see it until 2001-2002 when it finally came to late night cartoon television. It was also the last time I would dare say this about a TV show; “The entire project was a piece of art.”

Cowboy-Bebop, country-hip hop, a clash of styles. Well the entire series carried that subtle and simple side factor through beginning to end. The TV show was a western sci-fi about two bounty hunters living in a big ship in space, one was an older retired cop who was patient and responsible, the other a younger hot headed former Mafia hit-man that never, and I mean never, talked about his past. I’ve seen many a western television show try to rip off Bebop since 97 but they all pale in comparison.

The art style for each episode varied appropriately, from comedic, to jazzy, blues, western, samurai, heavy metal, drugs, mobster, and outer space. Every fight scene was in sync with the music, characters actually moved to music, and painfully subtle hints were given out to the main overall plot though never clearly stated. It was a show that rewarded the viewer who paid attention and further awarded the viewer to have the insight to connect the dots. They never really explain why Spike and Vicious hated each other so much; but you knew they really hated each other.

You can understand why I am so taken by Yoko Kanno can’t you? Each episode needed a different song to go with a clashing style of genres and themes, who else could do it except a group with forty members ranging from pop singers to opera singers, blues guitar players, to orchestra piano players, heavy synthesizer to Austria choir.

I am no big fan of jazz but they wrote some great jazz for the opening theme.

I like the blues a little and you might have guessed a moody show like Bebop contained a lot of blues.

The overall “cowboy” theme with the bounty hunter being named “cowboys” forced some country into the mix.

Lighthearted episodes were more techno and pop oriented, highly experimental… and not always for the best.

Do I need to explain the significance of an episode titled “Heavy Metal Queen”?

What they did with the Cowboy Bebop score was nothing shy of impressive. The final episode came so fast that to do this day there is an army of angry, nerdy, fans that are pissed about how it ended and that it did end. Frankly I couldn’t be happier with how it ended. It was powerful; it left me wanting more but excepting I couldn’t have more.

I don’t think I would dare describe in full the intricacies of the ending, why ruin it, and why ramble on more then I already have? But the final song for the ending credits for the last episode stung with power that is rarely obtained in anything.

The song “Blue.”

Simple enough name isn’t it. Holds only little literal meaning, symbolically, zounds.

I’m not sure I can describe Blue, but I’m going to try. It would be a pop song… it would be if not for the presence of the choir. It is fairly electric, with heavy synthesizers, but it is light and easy listening. A really, really, good pop song? I would almost say so, if not for the choir, it adds such a unique element to the song, the young voices… so beautiful, yet so haunting. The somber tone in the singer’s voice so morbidly depressing yet so hopeful and uplifting. It is such a brilliant clash of styles.

Never seen a bluer sky,
Yeah I can feel it reaching out,
And moving closer.
There's something about blue.
Asked myself what it's all for,
You know the funny thing about it,
I couldn't answer.
No I couldn't answer.

Things have turned a deeper shade of blue,
And images that might be real,
May be illusion,
Keep flashing off and on.

Free. Wanna be free.
Gonna be free.
And move among the stars.
You know they really aren't so far.
Feels so free.
Gotta know free.

Please Don't wake me from the dream.
It's really everything it seemed.
I'm so free.
No black and white in the blue.

Everything is clearer now.
Life is just a dream you know,
That's never ending.
I'm ascending

If you know Cowboy Bebop well enough you know those lyrics are very appropriate which means all the more Yoko Kanno and Seatbelts took the subject matter of the series into consideration when creating the perfect soundtrack. It may not be the best music ever, but it is the very best music for Cowboy Bebop. Then again a song like Blue, it is pretty awesome. It is really like nothing I have ever heard before. Blue is something so rare now of days, something truly original.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin

A great live performance: