Hold on, that is not Mark Oliver Everett!
There are some musical acts that get buy on being adorable. Just super cutesy, even when they sing something naughty…actually, particularly when they sing something naughty. Teehee. Then there are those who come across like deranged clowns who would probably do really really bad things to you while giggling maniacally. And then there is Eel, who is so sweet that a hug from her could dissolve your bones. And she WILL hug you.
The background information on EeL is incredibly sparse. She worked in computers…maybe computer games…she is Japanese…and that is pretty much it. So, I would like to imagine her as a six-year-old skipping through an apartment complex and overhearing all of the music coming from different apartments. Knowing little about any of the songs or their genres, she decided that she could make songs like what she was hearing. So she got her parents to buy her a guitar, a synthesizer, and a computer. And these songs are the result. That is probably not the case, but it might as well be, given what little is publicly known about her life and background.
I got into her work in 2012, after reading an article about how manic she was in comparison to another artist whom I don’t recall anymore. There is a somewhat off-kilter feel to the songs. While the J-pop scene is full of acts that seem to be manufactured infantilization for adult consumption, EeL comes across like she is approaching music with childlike wonder and creativity. The styles that she incorporates are kiddie pop, electronic dance, hard electronic music, proto-chiptunes, rock, polka, ska, dub, and marching band. Her vocals, often whispered and occasionally on-key, seem suggest the focus more on her having fun than impressing the audience or inviting a sing-along. She approaches each song as if it is the cutest thing ever, with no regard to how many genres it may touch on or where it fits in the quirky/nutso spectrum. She does not so much experiment or shake up musical ideas as she just has fun. And if that fun occasionally messes with notions of what a proper song should be like, then so be it.
Early Works (1999-2000)
Between 1999 and 2000, EeL released a bunch of EPs, with most of the material ending up on an album called Early Works that would be released shortly after her first two albums. Her style was already pretty evident at this point, cutesy Casio pop that stretches over several genres and frequently utilizes vocal samples. One difference between some of the early stuff and later works is the prominence of acoustic guitars and Bossa Nova. Sometimes it is just her and an acoustic guitar, but more often there is electronic instrumentation. She would eventually drop Bossa Nova style, though she would include reworked versions of a couple of the songs on her early albums and re-release the Bossa Nova EP about a decade later. Most of the non-Bossa Nova songs, however, are pretty similar to the material on her first two albums, although a couple may have a very light hint of trip-hop in them. It is difficult to find (legal) examples of her early material online, but I have found two tracks.
Pink Tulip & Yellow Fried Egg (2000)
This is one of two Prince covers, and the more standard one. It sounds to me that she took the lyrics and the very basic melody from My Name is Prince, sped it up just enough to seem goofy, watered down the sexual energy and aggression, and threw in a bunch of her own vocal samples. It is some silly stuff, but it is a little more of a proper cover than Sexy MF, which is pretty much just a repeated sample of the good part of that song. It is not really something that I would listen to that much, but it is okay.
My Name is EeL – 2:53
Bossa Nova (2000)
This is one of her Bossa Nova works. Just her and an acoustic guitar for accompaniment. Like the other stripped-down Bossa Nova songs, it is very low-key and relaxing. There is a more energetic and instrumentally busy version on another early EP, but I don’t really care for that version.
Je Pense a Toi Chaque Jour – 3:42
2001: A Space Odysseel
Kung Fu Master (2001)
Kung Fu Master starts off with the fast-paced kiddie pop of Fille Unique 2001 (a remake of an earlier Bossa Nova track) and the keyboard heavy title track. The rest of the tracks, here presented out of order, seem to fall or straddle two vague categories. Some lean further into the electronic dance side, though to different degrees. Others may seem like regular rock songs if not for the blatantly obvious use of the drum machine.
Cherry Pie is a lot more overtly rock, almost pop punk, though the obviously synth percussion kind of undercuts the impact, and then gets completely subverted when the song briefly turns into an electronic song.
Cherry Pie – 1:50
Who Can Teach Me is actually two versions of the same song awkwardly stitched together, with the first being pop-punk and the second being kind of more ska-ish. For a melodically simple song, it is rather busy.
Who Can Teach Me – 3:50
People People (2001)
Released later in the year, People People was basically an extension of Kung Fu Master, though with a little more musical playing around. Some songs that are little different from Kung Fu Master are E Simples and Tomago, which use more samples of…traditional folk(?) instruments.
C’est la Vie would probably fit in Kung Fu Master, though. For this one, EeL takes element from Love Me Tender and…uh…Agadoo, and turns it into marching music for chiptunish wind-up toys on Polka Night. The synthesized…everything…gives the song its rhythmic precision, but the overlayed vocals sound ever-so-slightly drunk.
C’est la Vie – 2:37
Time 4 Milk (2004 – whenever)
Little Prince (2004)
Sometime during the next two years, EeL teamed up with producer musician Ryoma Maeda, who goes by the monikers Milch of Source and Milky-Chu. They have similar musical vibes, which makes them a good fit. Milch of Source, however, tends to have a somewhat cleaner and fuller sound, while sometimes being a little more manic with the instrumentation. The results can be fairly clear with the next album, Little Prince, which opens with its crazed and jumpy title track. While EeL had made tracks with fast electronic percussion before, several tracks, such as this one, reach breakcore levels of mania. Other tracks, like the subsequent No Heart, are a little more stable and calm, though a few of these calm songs suddenly erupt into a musical frenzy in the last third. Some, particularly Noel, rely less on structural breakdown and more on a slight bend in the melody to give an unsettling feeling.
It does seem like EeL’s cuteness is the only thing that prevents a few of the songs from sounding outright threatening. On the other hand, I feel that those songs inject a sense of anarchic dread to what is basically cheery goofiness as opposed to the other way around, like with Mr. Bungle or certain other musical acts.
The pretty I’m Crying on a Straight Road still has elements from earlier works, but the style is crisper and more confident. The lush ambience in the background is something that she only touched on by herself. The drums are heftier and more natural-sounding, until the breakcore breakdown towards the end. It is not really expected, but still fits, making it a typical EeL song.
I’m Crying on a Straight Road – 4:04
Over the next few years, EeL and Milch released individual songs and EPs. I Think About You, off of the Aimai EP, is one of those songs. Halfway between dub/reggae and marching band polka, it is both busy in terms of production and simple in terms of structure and melody. EeL appears to be alternating vocals with herself, or just switching microphones a lot. With all of the instrumentation, it is a low-key assault on the senses.
I Think About You – 3:51
Kung Fu People Etc. (2010)
Kung Fu People Etc. was actually a compilation of EeL’s first two albums, while including a couple of new songs and new mixes of a couple of songs. The song below is an example of the latter. The earlier version was a lo-fi rock number, while this one is cleaner and has a kind of 70s pop vibe. I guess that I prefer the earlier version, but it was one of the many EeL songs that I could not find online and this one is still pretty good too anyways.
homme sympathic (charmant) ! (New Arrange) – 3:00
For Common People (2011)
After six years or so, EeL finally released another album. It was…well…more of the same, and I guess that a few listeners were getting tired of her schtick. Not me. I was a newbie to her work and loved this immediately. Even moreso than the previous albums, this sounds a little like something that you could play in the background to some program for little kid, but there may be moments where you start to wonder whether it was a good idea to play this album may vary. The title track is most likely one of those moments.
The title track was my gateway into this album and EeL in general. And it is pretty nutty. The chorus is slightly too fast semi punk song with electronically filtered percussion, the verses are pseudo-calypso, there is a gabber breakdown that comes out of nowhere, and there is an audio sample of what sounds like a some sort of emergency radio dispatch. And it is all over in less than three minutes. And the singer was singing like this was all the cutest thing ever. Others (maybe you) may scoff at this, but I ate it up.
For Common People – 2:56
Using the same steel drum sound, Yurayura is a much slower and more subdued song. It is…kind of…dub-ish, I suppose. I think what I like the most is the outro with the less-than-hi-fi piano. I just love that simple chord progression.
Yurayura – 6:02
Fuwafuwa Pink Jellyfishes Floating Through the Sky (2011)
After For Common People, EeL went back to releasing EPs, individual songs, and remix albums. Off of a two-song EP, Aimaina Nazonazona starts out in what sounds like utter chaos, with drums and a cacophonic piano being practically drowned out by an ambient mess during the verses, only to turn into some sort of techno-pop track during the choruses. There is a synth breakdown just over halfway through the song that sounds almost like a bunch of random notes being played and then sampled in order to be repeated. Yet, it all comes together…sort of.
Aimaina Nazonazona – 3:43
As far as I can tell, Peekaboo is just one of those songs that EeL just releases every few months. And as far as I can tell, that is what she has been doing for the past few years. Maybe she will make another album soon. Maybe this is it. Maybe she has found another job. Maybe she has started a family. Maybe she has found that there is no place for EeL in this Babymetal world. I have no idea. I do know that I enjoy this song. It is a breakcore hardcore popcorn punk…I don’t know. It’s EeL.
Peekaboo – 2:32