Music Review – The Pillows

This is post serves as a couple of my “firsts”.  It’s my first music review of a band, rather than an specific work, and it’s also my first post for leaveit2me’s J-Music from A to Z, my tribute to Japanese music and the artists that make it.  I decided to kick off the page with this review of one of my all-time favorite bands, The Pillows.


 In my estimation, The Pillows are the Japanese equivalent of The Beatles, not in terms of popularity, but rather in terms of the evolution of their music style.  When the Pillows first started up, their singles sounded like second-hand copies of 60’s Beatles music.  Take “Ame Ni Uteba” for example, the band’s first single released in 1991.

While it isn’t a carbon copy, the similarities are definitely there, even down to the terribly-done mop top hair style of lead singer Sawao Yamanaka.

Over the next few years, they began experimenting and modifying their sound.  Here’s an example of the results of their experiments, “Toy Dolls”, from their album “Kool Spice”, which plays with a more jazzy sound and subtle bass line.

The band had been playing around with styles within each album, and so it became tough to categorize the genre of band’s music.  Despite this unique sound, the band didn’t achieve any real success, until the release of their fifth single, “Tiny Boat”.

Subsequently, the band released a slew of successful singles, including “Strange Chameleon” and “Trip Dancer”, which culminated in their breakthrough album, Please Mr. Lostman.  At this point, the band had started to morph into their own style, which, while still being somewhat influenced by early Beatles work, had a much more individualistic feel.  Influences from bands such as Weezer and the Pixies can be seen quite a bit in songs like “Swanky Street”.

The band rushed forward and began to evolve further, and eventually a sound more recognizable today can be heard in their album Runners High.  The band had achieved a much cleaner and clearer sound, that brought out a confidence in Sawao’s vocals, but also exuded a comfort in Yoshiaki Manabe’s guitar and trust in Shinichiro Sato’s drums.  Two great examples are “NO SELF CONTROL” and “Hybrid Rainbow”.

Soon after, the Pillows enjoyed an increase in popularity after providing the soundtrack to the FLCL anime.  At this point, I would be remiss if I did not put up “Ride on Shooting Star”, as this song has become almost synonymous with FLCL, both in my mind and also in the mind of many an anime fan.

After a slew of tours out of country, the band returned to Japan and attempted to try new things with their sound, but their music tended to stay the same.  Despite this stagnation, the band continued to do well, as is still doing well to this day.  Some example of their hits since then include “Scarecrow” and “Wake up! Dodo”.

Recently, I’ve found their sound beginning to change.  The essence of their style of rock is still there, but the music sounds a little… newer.  See if you can hear what I’m talking about with a couple of examples.  Here’s “Split Emotion” from their 2010 single, “Movement”.

Here’s another example, “Revival” from their 2012 album Trial.

Can you hear what I’m talking about?   Well, even if you can’t, it doesn’t matter.  Despite any changes that the Pillows make to their sound, I will probably stay a fan for as the long as the band continues playing.  As far as Japanese bands go, they seem to be lasting quite a while, and I can only hope that they keep it up so that I can keep listening to their great brand of music.

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