Fujii Kaze declared himself a dynamic J-pop force for good vibes on his debut album, HELP EVER HURT NEVER. The 2020 release showcases an artist who had spent the last decade gaining attention online via covers of popular songs from his favourite creators bursting onto the national scene by sharing his own material. Kaze still turned to his foundational instrument, the piano, to shape the structure of his works. Now, though, they were beefed up by rumbling electronic percussion and shout-along hooks. The songwriting intricacy remains but sounds more upbeat, reflecting Kaze’s generally joyful worldview. Kaze drew inspiration from across Japan’s musical history to shape his first set of original songs. The smooth guitars and unhurried rhythms of “Nan-Nan” and “Mo-Eh-Wa” retrofitted classic pop showmanship for Kaze’s 21st-century perspective. Echoes of Kaze favourites Sheena Ringo and Hikaru Utada are heard throughout HELP EVER HURT NEVER, specifically in how they used small details as springboards to greater emotional themes; for Kaze, seeing leftover seaweed in a lover’s teeth and not knowing whether to point it out or not morphs into a meditation on devotion. Kaze’s lyrics also focus on ideals like freedom, kindness, and everyday contentment. The guitar-backed chug of “SAYONARA Baby” shows that even break-ups can bring joy. For HELP EVER HURT NEVER, Kaze worked closely with producer Yaffle, who came up during the previous decade’s alternative electronic scene, and brought skittering machine percussion to “YASASHISA” and trap-indebted touches to “Shinunoga E-Wa”. When needed though, the pair could come through with a soaring string section to add a swell to songs such as “Kaerou”. Kaze’s debut album revealed an artist on the rise, pushing to become a leading voice for a new J-pop era.

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