J-Pop Will Eat Itself
Malice Mizer (Follow-Up)

in this series, clicks’n’cuts dilettante Francis Henville describes his descent into the netherworld of Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean commercial pop. Track by track, he navigates deeper into the genre, searching for ever-more-toothsome morsels with which to satiate his jaded appetite…

Malice Mizer
Gekka no Yasoukosu

In the days since I have adopted this band of Japanese Goths as my new emblem, my friends have been surprised and appalled to hear what's been pouring out of my stereo. "What the dilly-o?" they question me. "Usually you are making with the cheezy lounge music up in this mother. Why for do you keep listening to vampires playing harpsichords?"

Well asked, chums. I didn't 'get' Malice Mizer the first time I heard them, either. So although I already set them up in this column before, I'm going to do so again with all the extra knowledge I have since picked up about them.

First of all, this is what Malice Mizer is all about. These guys wanted to start a band, but at the time, one of the guys didn't listen to rock music at all. He only watched old Italian horror films and he really liked their soundtracks. These soundtracks were realized for the most part on harpsichords and church organs. So that guy said to the other guy, ok, in our new band let's use either or both of those instruments on every song. Plus clarinets, accordians, violins and so forth. Also let's play very baroque and counterpoint-ish chord progressions, and do a lot of stuff in 3/4 and 6/8 time. That way we'll sound like we are French and from the 18th century.

And that's what they did. Except along with those time signatures they threw in some math-rock riddims. And they also had to have those cool 80's electric guitars that look like futuristic death cellos except bright goddam pink.

Also, they became a Visual Kei band. That's something I learned about a long time ago, despite never liking Visual Kei bands. Visual Kei is a Japanese-English phrase meaning that every time a band releases a new single, they make a video for it wearing certain outfits that are somehow related to the lyrics or mood of the piece. On the cover art of this single, you will see them wearing those outfits, and during performances around this time, they will wear those outfits while playing that song. I've managed to come into possession of 50 MB of Malice Mizer pics, and to call up the correct costume for a single is very revealing.

So the clothing of Malice Mizer is extremely goth. One of the founding members, Mana, dresses like a woman all the time and even has his own fashion line in Japan (which is one of the leading brands in Gothic and Lolita Bible). The other dudes in the band don't dress quite as femininely, but they aren't exactly NHL players either. Musically, however, the band does something melodically and timbrally that you'll find nowhere else. It belongs in another century, like one of Mana's corsets. Once you start listening to them, you can see why they dress like that, but when you first see them you're expecting, I dunno, Marylin Manson.

Because of the whole Visual Kei thing, Malice Mizer are also an extremely single-focused band. Each of their big, great, mature singles—“Syunikiss”, “Bel Air”, “Au Revoir”, “Le Ciel”, “Gekka no Yasoukosu”, “Bara no Seidou”, “Gardenia”, “Garnet”—is like a little symphony of its own. Most have multiple tempos, multiple moods, multiple timbres—you never know when the next funky harpsichord breakdown is gonna break on down.

The track I have selected for this follow-up analysis is a great example of a Malice Mizer mini-symphony. Beginning with bizarre breathy organ and orchestral hits, it's soon off on a spooky French tangent. You can almost see the dissidents being stabbed in their bathtubs. It's strangely catchy, and the harpsichords tarantella among the lyrics of the verse. When the organ-and-harpsichord driven chorus drops at 1:19, and Gackt goes off on one of his falsetto exercises, we bear witness to Malice Mizer at its most original, most melodic and most inimitable. And as a spoiler, I will mention that the same chorus is in for the key-change treatment in the end. Simple, but effective.

My friends didn't get Malice Mizer until I explained everything to them this way. After the explanation, I played them this track. Some of them liked it, others not so much. But at least they understood where I was coming from. To be precise: I'm coming from Transylvania.

By: Francis Henville
Published on: 2004-10-14
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