Japanese discovery offers fresh insights into love

In the midst of today’s ever growing musical world, it can be hard to find anything; sometimes people don’t even know where to begin. While this may not show you every song, album or EP that you’d ever dream of hearing, let this inspire you to search and dive into the infinitely deep hole that is the modern music world.

This being my first review of a Japanese band holds great importance to me, considering how much I enjoy music from the place. I’m choosing something that is more of a recent discovery, King Gnu and their 2023 album, THE GREATEST UNKNOWN. Just a simple forewarning; I am not from Japan, nor do I know much Japanese aside from the scant word here and there, so some things might fly over my head, but using my resources, I will attempt to translate and understand certain things. 

When first listening to THE GREATEST UNKNOWN, I was a bit dumbfounded as to what was playing. I didn’t have the words to describe it initially, but now I would describe it as a mix of J-pop, alt rock and nu jazz all mixed together to create a band that nails this chill atmosphere down hard. It’s a bit embarrassing to mention how I first learned about this band, but it’s a similar tale to how I first learned about plenty of Japanese bands and artists: through anime opening and endings. The usual flow was hearing it for the first time in some anime, then going back to listen to more of their discography, which is how I think more people should explore these kinds of things. Instead of thinking of it as an anime song, think of it as a song from a band because despite any connections, that’s what they are. 

But enough exposition, let’s get into the music itself, shall we?

The album opens up on MIRROR, a beautiful instrumental featuring a spoken word intro, and that ends with a pulsing beat that brings us into the next song amazingly. Next is CHAMELEON, a song about the singer trying to find someone’s true self, wondering where it had gone, but the person being sung about changed colors, much like chameleons do. The next song DARE?? Is a short, 33 second instrumental, more of a transition piece than a full song.

For the first King Gnu song I heard, SPECIALZ, featured in the popular 2023 anime, Jujustu Kaisen, the very way I found this band myself. From multiple listens and checking multiple translations, I find the song to be about one person being special to another, and wanting to live on the edge with them referring to living on the edge and surviving it multiple times throughout the song. The music itself is also truly fantastic, the guitar work is wonderful to the ear without being complex, having two vocalists work off each other gives the song a good back and forth dynamic. All laid over this amazing captivating beat, making this song come together as an amazing dance heavy song.

Ichizu, roughly translating to”dedication,” is another song about love, this time taking a much more alt rock approach, with the male vocals sounding like they’re coming out of barely working speakers, with this slick guitar riff and drum playing in the background, bringing it together as one of the many catchy songs found on THE GREATEST UNKNOWN.

By now it should probably be obvious that this album has a lot to do with love, different kinds of love, trying to find love, etc, etc. While I’m not one for love songs usually, at least the Western idea of a love song, these are a lot more bombastic and a lot more pleasing to the ear then some dude singing about how much he loves his girlfriend just using an acoustic guitar. Not to hate on any Western ideas and praise Japanese music as being the peak of storytelling, but this is more up to opinion, and in my opinion, the songs I’ve heard on this album portray a lot more emotion than with almost any other song I’ve heard about love.

It should be obvious by how I speak about this album that I think it’s amazing, so I’ll happily be giving it a 7.5 out of 10.

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