So, let’s see how this goes.
Bonnie Pink is a singer-songwriter who debuted back in 1995. She has released twelve proper albums and…a bunch of other stuff. She is not well known in the United States and I don’t even know how popular she is locally. I know a bit about her, but focus mostly on her music. I first found her in late 2010 and, while I initially did not feel that much one way or another about her work, she quickly became my favorite musical artist. A few months back, I made an attempt to articulate why I liked her so much here. I will attempt to explain it more concisely here.
Her music is…I guess pop and pop rock, and is mostly quite accessible. Over the years, however, she has played music in several genres and came across as at ease and confident almost every time. There is a bit of jazz, a bit of funk, a bit of swing, a bit of reggae, a bit of country, a bit of dance, a bit of 1960s, a bit of 1970s, a bit of 1980s, a bit of 1990s. And it rarely seems like she is doing it for laughs or to be quirky or to try on a musical costume. She does not so much venture outside her comfort zone as she does expand it and move it. While some might say that she sold out (and maybe she did), I tend to view gradual transition and incorporation of more styles as being part of a musical narrative. Then again, I got pretty much all of her stuff at the same time and listened to one of her later albums first before starting from the beginning, so I tend to view her body of work collectively and as a trajectory with an inevitable outcome.
Despite the different styles, there are some common threads. Everything seems natural and right; well, mostly. While I do not like all of her songs, almost every song sounds as if she could have made all of her songs sound like that one had she been so inclined. I enjoy some weird and difficult stuff well enough, but that she has been able to do all that she has done and rarely come across as experimenting actually impresses me more.
Youtube seems to have a rather contentious relationship with the Japanese Music industry, so a bunch of Bonnie Pink songs that had been on Youtube are either now gone or not available in certain countries. And a few were either never there in the first place or impossible for me to find. So, I have embedded eight songs here from various times in her career with the hopes that they are still available by the time that you theoretically click on them. Or, you could check out the collection of 36 songs from a series of blog posts that I made a few months back and made into a single list a few days ago here . While there are two songs there that I have posted below, I am pretty sure that a few of them were never on Youtube.
Anyways…here is the list of eight:
“Scarecrow” from Blue Jam (1995) 4:21
Her first song from her first album. This not my favorite song from her first album, but it is a pretty good example of what at least some of her music was like then. Personally, I feel like this sounds like the kind of vaguely jazzy rock music that gets played at those free outdoors arts and crafts festivals. Or something that my freshman roommate would probably really like. I would not be surprised if the opening riff was “inspired” by that Rembrandts song, which was released a few months earlier. She would occasionally dip into this general style throughout her career, injecting a bit more of a jazz feel and eventually branching off into what I call barroom blues…even that is about as inaccurate as my arts festival descriptor. One might be able to arrange all of those songs into a full album and trick people into thinking that all of her songs are like that. This song features her using her lower and rougher singing style; she would use it a little bit in her next album, but would phase it out after that, at least in studio recordings. While, again, I am not particularly fond of this one song, my surprise at hearing those vocals was probably the main thing that convinced me to continue listening to her stuff, if only to find out what happened.
“Farewell Alcohol River” from Heaven’s Kitchen (1997) 3:37
Some of her earlier songs that sound inspired by the “openly taking drugs” phase of the Beatles. This is one of them. Something off of Magical Mystery Tour or their self-titled album or something. It has this amusing clomping quality to it.
“Nemurenai Yoru” from Just a Girl (2001) 4:38
This has been my favorite song for a few years. It is just so beautiful. The way that it seems like she is about to belt out and unleash her passion, but keeps holding back, makes it work all that much more for me. Maybe she would have belted out in a theoretical third chorus, but it is probably for the best that she didn’t. Even in her early years, a lot of her songs had layered instrumentation, and this is one of the best examples of that, with the fluttering strings, the piano-flavored raindrops, and the descending guitar line. Also, this is pretty much how she sung from now on, though her voice would deepen slightly over the years.
“Mint” from Even So (2004) 4:21
So, we are back in the arts festival jazz music, though with a few differences. There is that kind of dark 60s edge to the introductory guitar riff as well as a very vague hint of reggae that would become a bit less vague in a few later songs. Now, of the eight songs that I have included here, this is the only one that is all in English and, yes, perhaps “Mint” was not quite the right word to use. Again, though, I am about the music here. And I love that trumpet at the end.
“So Wonderful” from Golden Tears (2005) 3:29
The first song off of her eighth album, released ten years to the day after her first. Yeah, not exactly “Scarecrow” anymore. Bonnie Pink had been getting poppier since 2001, but this song showed that she could really go for it when she wanted to. While this album was slightly less than the sum of its parts, this was a great way to start. It is sort of that post-disco late 70s early 80s pop. It is also a hint at some of her later songs, where the production would just bombard the listener as many instruments as possible. And I just love that little string section riff that shows up in the second chorus; it seems to be from a different song entirely, but just keeps adamantly asserting itself.
“Love is Bubble” Single (2006) 4:03
This was actually its own single and part of the soundtrack for what would become my favorite movie, Memories of Matsuko. For reasons that have little to do with the plot of the movie, the style of the song is very aggressive retro-big band swing. And I love it. She has done this style before, but not this blatantly. Also, yes, I am pretty sure that you heard that line correctly.
“Kane Wo Narashite” from One (2009) 4:09
This is a pretty straightforward commercial rock song, though the kind of rock song that has synth strings and a glockenspiel. I really like the momentum of it. It just chugs along, except for that one point where it suddenly slows down. I also kind of like the way the guitar kind of waivers in pitch during the bridge right before that slowdown.
“The Sun Will Rise Again” Single (2011) 5:48
It does not get much more Japanese than that title, does it? Released shortly after the Fukushima Disaster, this song starts out with tom toms that suggest some type of bombast, but it turns out to be a rather gentle and soothing acoustic guitar number with a little bit of synth ambience in the background. I particularly like the little harmonies in the end of the second and third choruses. Now, maaaybe that outro did not need to be 95 seconds long, but this is an example of Bonnie Pink occasionally giving a song an outro that goes on for between 80 and 110 seconds. So, 95 seconds is about right.