When I started this blog in early 2012 I was completely in love with Kinoko Teikoku. Just about everything I tweeted was gushing praise of their music, and when I finally moved to Japan that spring it felt like fate that they were playing in Nagoya a mere weeks after I would arrive. Seeing them at Club Rock n Roll is still one of my favorite live experiences ever. Their music was powerful and emotional, and really struck a chord with me.
Fast forward to the spring of 2015, when it was announced that Kinoko Teikoku, whose previous album was extremely hit or miss, I might add, would release their major label debut in the form of a single called "Sakura ga Saku mae ni". The track wasn't very good, nor was the subsequent full-length debut "Neko to arerugi". Kinoko Teikoku had changed, and I was balancing the feeling of being happy that they found success with the disappointment that they seemed to have left behind a majority of the qualities that I, and a growing global fanbase, had come to love. Sure Chiaki Sato's voice was still gorgeous and the songwriting was fine. What I missed the most was the power and edge that they had done so well that made way for unexciting pop tracks. It didn't feel right and I was just about done.
It might be the reason I completely missed the news that last week Kinoko Teikoku had released a limited digital single (I'm assuming it'll only be up for a short period of time) called "Crybaby". As I do with everything they release, I bought it on iTunes, a sense of apprehension and a little bit of hope that something might be different. I was pleasantly surprised. It's a pop track, there's no doubting that. The verses are cute and gentle, and the chorus plays like a melancholy J-pop ballad, but there's a lot more substance surrounding it. There's a harshness to the guitar tone that's returned from Kinoko Teikoku tracks past, and from right around the 3:10 point the song really starts to feel like a throwback to their earlier stuff. There's even a bit in the buildup to the track's climax that sounds an awful lot like the intro to fan favorite "Yoru ga Aketara". In past interviews, A-Chan had been pretty outspoken about her love of 90s alt rock and shoegaze, and their first few releases had really reflected that. In "Crybaby" it feels like there is a perfect balance between Sato's desire to make pop songs and A-Chan's affinity for big, edgy guitars.
For the first time in a while I'm really pleased with a Kinoko Teikoku track. If "Sakura ga Saku Mae ni" was the prelude to a bad album, I really hope that "Crybaby" is a sign that things are heading back in the right direction.
The single is currently available on Japanese iTunes, though I'm not sure if there will be plans to release it on the US store. It also appears to be available on Recochoku.jp. Here is a brief teaser that's been posted on YouTube.