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Morphine Tokyo are a Japanese rock band based in Yokohama. Formed in 2012 by vocalist Nakayama Yukiko, the group currently has one indie single to their name and have just recently released a brand new song exclusively via digital download. The five piece are composed of Nakayama on vocals, guitarist Mackey, bassist Yusuke, drummer Kennedy and keyboardist Anzai.

If the name Nakayama Yukiko sounds familiar to you then you probably know her from her work with controversial idol group Brand-new Idol Society. Nakayama left BiS at the end of 2011 citing creative differences (a now reconciled falling out with group leader Pour Lui believed to be the real cause) and stated she didn’t “feel particularly drawn to any kind of entertainment work as of now”. It was of course rather surprising then when she showed up but a few months later with a brand new musical project.

Trying to describe how Morphine Tokyo sound musically is somewhat of a challenge. I know I opened the article by calling them a rock band but there’s so much more going on here than just some guys wailing on guitars and hammering along on a drum kit. There’s a lot of subtle and not so subtle little things going on in each song so I think it’d be better if I just break down each of their two releases and talk a bit about them.

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Release Date: March 17th 2013

Track Listing:

  1. Tokyo Night
  2. Flashback
  3. ColorSchemer

Review

The single’s title track “Tokyo Night” opens with a keyboard synthesizer accompanying Nakayama’s almost haunting vocals. You begin to think that this might be a rather low key affair, until the guitar solo kicks in. At this point the song really comes into its own and starts to show a bit of attitude and get a little funky. I’m by no means a genre expert but I’d like to say (fairly confidently) that there are elements of lounge and jazz music being incorporated here.

There is honestly nothing I dislike about the song. The instrumentals are incredibly infectious and are structured to compliment Nakayama’s voice in a very pleasing way. Everything feels really well thought out and done because it will benefit the song, not just to be showy or appeal to more mainstream musical tastes. For all of these reasons, this is one of my favorite songs of the year so far.

Let’s take a look at another song from the “Tokyo Night” single, this one a little different. “ColorSchemer” is a little more rough around the edges but probably more in line with what you’d expect when you hear someone say “Japanese rock”. This is a much more guitar and drum driven song than “Tokyo Night”, something that I think is a good thing because it shows that Morphine Tokyo aren’t just one dimensional in their sound. The keyboard does take a bit of a backseat to the other instruments here but still plays a key part in underpinning the song.

That being said, I can’t say that I’m the biggest fan of this song. Nakayama’s vocals sound a bit strained here, something you may like if you’re into the rawer vocal thing but that’s not really for me. The instrumentals also get a bit too muddy in places and don’t compliment each other as well as they could. Don’t get me wrong, the song is by no means terrible and I totally get what they’re going for. I just think the execution could have been a bit better.

The third song from the single, titled “Flashback” doesn’t have a PV (I believe I read that they’re looking to shoot one in the not too distant future), so I can’t really give you much in the way of a visual or audio stimulus while I talk about it. To put it simply, “Flashback” is a very mellow affair which is a fairly nice contrast to the other two songs on display. The instrumentals are very soothing and Nakayama’s vocals beckon you to follow along on the journey. It’s a completely different kind of song from the others on the single and further proves that the group possess a broad musical range.

While the single does feel a little bit like a group trying to find its voice (and what debut doesn’t?), everything that’s on show seems very well constructed and planned out.

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Release Date: May 21st 2013

Track Listing:

  1. Cherry Girl

Review

Cherry Girl is the latest offering from Morphine Tokyo. Released on May 21st, it’s offered as a free (yes free) digital download on the Ototoy website so there’s really no reason for you not to check it out. There’s no PV yet but I imagine there’s probably going to be one at some point so watch this space.

The song is more “Tokyo Night” than “ColorSchemer” or “Flashback”, something that I’m personally pretty happy about because I think that’s their best sound. That’s not to say that the song is a carbon copy of “Tokyo Night”, far from it. It’s clear after an initial listen that lessons have been learned from their previous outing and the overall composition of the song sounds a lot tighter and more fleshed out.

The good parts of “Tokyo Night” are all still there though, with the bass and keyboard being the main driving force behind the song. However the guitar and drums play a much more pronounced role in this arrangement, something that I think benefits the listening experience a great deal. Nakayama’s vocals also sound a lot more natural and less produced, finding a happy medium between her performances on “Tokyo Night” and “ColorSchemer”.

It also strikes me that there’s a lot more flair in this composition. Everyone seems to get solos over the course of the song, the highlight in my opinion being the bass solo which leads almost instantly into a keyboard solo. It’s things like these that give a song personality, and “Cherry Girl” has personality in spades.

If you were to ask me right now what my favorite song of the year was, it would without question be Morphine Tokyo’s “Cherry Girl”.

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Morphine Tokyo are definitely a band to watch and hopefully this article got a few of you interested in them. While they’re still a fairly new group, their sound is evolving at a steady rate and I’m very interested to see what the final outcome will be. They could just stop right now and I’d be completely satisfied with what they’re putting out but I get the feeling that they’re only going to get better over time.

For those of you looking to support the group, their music is availabe for download from their Ototoy page (link below) with your first hit (Cherry Girl) being free. Unfortunately this is currently the only readily accessible way to obtain their music but I’m sure that will change in time. Also be sure to check out all of the other links for a ton of other information that I’ve no doubt forgot to mention in this article.

Follow Nakayama Yukiko on Twitter
Follow Morphine Tokyo on Twitter
Check out Morphine Tokyo’s Website
Watch Morphine Tokyo on Youtube
Buy Morphine Tokyo’s music on Ototoy

Thanks for taking the time to read my first ever article here on Selective Hearing. I’m hoping this will become a semi-regular thing so leave a comment and let me know how I got on, what bands you’d like to see me cover, what you think of Morphine Tokyo and all that good jazz.

Cheers.