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Miyavi Shows Pain And Perseverance In New Album

Known as the Samurai Guitarist for his impressive skill and his style of “slapping” the guitar strings, Miyavi has been a reputable artist in the Japanese music scene for up to 20 years. Just before kicking off his North American summer tour, he released a new album, No Sleep Til Tokyo. The album artwork is a light, fluid, watercolor picture of Miyavi. It was designed by Sui Ishida, creator of the manga series Tokyo Ghoul, for which Miyavi also inspired a character named Uta (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8d6j2huVjY).

In the past he’s done collaborative albums with various vocalists so that he could focus on his position and make sure he was being recognized primarily as a guitarist. This time, he maintained his guitar’s strong presence while also dedicating his own voice to his art. Most of the lyrics are in Japanese, but don’t let that fact make you think it invalidates the musical quality. The Japanese is mixed in with English, and this review will help give lyrical context. In the past he’s done more songs purely in English because he wanted his lyrics and message to reach more people. In discussing the album, he said “this time, the lyrics are mostly Japanese. We believe that’s the best way to express, and also explain what ‘Miyavi’ wants to say. That balance was one of the most important things to us”(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bEDFZofNS4). Though he speaks English well, expressing yourself and your thoughts will always be easier to do in your mother tongue. He also said this album will have “more slap, more passion, energy, and a futuristic sound.”

The album begins with “Stars,” giving an almost anthemic introduction as it starts with a chorus of voices singing a simple but obscurely dramatic tune. After a moment, the guitar joins them before the full instrumental breaks through, accompanied by Miyavi’s vocals. Overall the sound is powerful and bold, with the emotion to fit the subject matter of looking to your seemingly far-off destiny with longing. Here he sings in a baritone range, which some listeners may be surprised at as it’s lower than he goes in many of his songs. Additionally, he often shouts while singing, whereas in “Stars” it’s a bit softer and smoother. He ends the song with a signature guitar solo: loud, high-pitched, fuzzy, and passionate.

The aforementioned vocal style comes back in one of the title tracks and album namesake, “No Sleep Til Tokyo.” This one’s a more upbeat track that basically pays homage to the city where Miyavi lived for most of his music career. The setting seems to be passengers being en route to Tokyo, and this is meant to portray the determination and excitement to get there. To give some visual aid as to why they feel that way, the music video acts as a documentation of a person’s journey all around the city.

“Tears On Fire” is one of the more deeply dark and intense tracks on the album. While on tour, he told the audience that it’s meant to be for all those that are suffering. While he sings in an almost rap style, the first verse shows his sorrow at events that have been going on in the current world. “Shooting through my head, The news seared into my mind, A knife through the heart, Only the pain is proof that I’m alive”(http://www.comyvzcrew.com/2019/08/miyavi-tears-on-fire-english.html). In the next verse, he expresses the feeling of helplessness, that he can do little to nothing about all of it: “Tonight boys and girls are struck by the cold rain again, In exchange for a lullaby, Someone’s crying again today, A world of unfamiliar faces, What sort of future is waiting, I’m just standing still, Without accomplishing anything, I only cry cry cry, I feel useless.” Despite the grim subject, the song is fairly fast-paced and catchy, with enough bite to display the frustration and sadness; especially in the chorus. He says “I’m calling to you, All my tears on fire for you” in a disheartened, almost desperate tone. That’s likely what the phrase “tears on fire” means: that he’s crying out of sadness for these events, but they’re also burning and painful because he feels powerless to help.

“The Other Side” is even darker and more intense. Here Miyavi talks about feeling overwhelmed by the noise and commotion that surrounds him. In addition to the noise, other harmful burdens to him are dishonest and greedy people that don’t let him live peacefully. He desperately wants to escape and hide from all of this “on the other side,” whether that’s a place in this world or beyond. Even without reading or understanding lyrics, you can hear that the song is full of inner turmoil. It’s well-expressed through despairing instrumentation and production, as well as his agonizingly pained vocals; even including a distressed cry during the guitar solo bridge.

After a few songs centered around fear and hopelessness, “Samurai 45” seems to be about determination and perseverance. A repeated and representative line in the chorus is “we can go like a samurai,” referencing the strength and power of the legendary warriors while also making an ode to Miyavi’s nickname. It’s not quite as intense and dramatic as the previous two, but the sound is strong with a motivating force to drive the lyrics’ intent.

“Butterfly” immediately starts with an addictive beat made by kick drums accompanied by a guitar riff. It’s a mid-tempo song where like in “Stars,” he sings in a slightly lower register with a softer tone, in slight contrast to the pounding instrumentation. The lyrical subject is similar to “The Other Side,” stating “Piling up colors, Heaping up lies, Not being able to stay pure anymore, Wanting to shine, Wanting wings, Before I realize it I’m drowning” (https://comiyaviww.blogspot.com). Then in the chorus, “I wish that I could hide in the purple sky, No one see me cry, Butterfly.” It has the same theme of mentally being in a low place and wanting to escape. However, it’s like rather than coming from such raw emotion like “The Other Side,” “Butterfly” is part of a more wistful thought process.

“Walk With Me” has a similarly dynamic groove, but talks about loneliness. Or rather, Miyavi talks about how he used to be lonely, “but now we’re here”(comyvzcrew.com). Addressing the listener throughout, he repeatedly makes the request: “Say you will take a walk with me.” Rather than asking to take a literal walk, he’s likely requesting the listener to be by his side and stay with him in life. This could be directed towards his fans, someone in his personal life, or quite literally anyone.

That edgy tone switches up with the next track, “Under The Same Sky.” Lyrically, it goes off of “Walk With Me” because it’s like a celebration of being together, growing together, and being there for each other no matter where they are. Miyavi has referenced this song multiple times to encourage and thank fans; saying that even though all of them are in many different places and in general are very different people, no matter what we are all “under the same sky.” He even asked fans to send pictures of the sky from their own views. To go with this uplifting message, the song is very happy and upbeat, with a music video consisting of a montage of clips with him and his fans from a previous tour. Admittedly it’s a little more on the pop side, but it’s very fun and catchy.

“We Can’t Stop It(Rewind)” has a more toned down and sentimental sound, but with some build and an instrumental punch for the chorus. Lyrically it seems to be about the world around us moving too quickly when we want to hold on to certain memories. But of course, there’s nothing we can do to make it slow down, stop, or go back.

The final track is actually a song he did for the Japanese movie “Diner,” with vocalist Daoko. The song title is “Senkyaku Banrai,” which apparently translates to “Raging Business”(https://lyricstranslate.com). It has a very fast rhythm that overall is on the upbeat, somewhat pop side. But Miyavi’s playing adds some edge as Daoko’s higher-pitched vocals switch between singing and rapping over him.

Miyavi showed power, passion, and charisma in this album through his vocals, lyrics, and very much through his specialty with the guitar. If he is a samurai, you could call his guitar a katana, as its sound is often sharp and impactful. His words were often immersed in fear and hopelessness, but responded to that with determination and optimism. He said that a main intent for No Sleep Til Tokyo was to give a message. Based on the stories told and the lyrical progression, that message seemed to be this: a lot pain may be happening in the world and our own personal lives; but no matter what, we can all make it through to the other side.

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