Artist Analysis: Takanori Nishikawa/T.M.Revolution/abingdon boys school

Hello readers! My second Artist Analysis will focus on the Japanese pop/rock maestro Takanori Nishikawa, and his acts T.M.Revolution and abingdon boys school.

TMR SUCH DIGNITY!

Short Bio

Takanori Nishikawa (born September 19, 1970) is a Japanese singer best known for his solo pop act T.M.Revolution, and rock band abingdon boys school. His songs have tie-ins with many anime, such as Rurouni Kenshin, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Soul Eater, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and Darker Than Black. As of writing, he has released nine studio albums and over twenty-five singles.

Vocals

Tracing Him Through The Years

Unlike Kalafina, whose vocals have only shown minor change through their career, Takanori’s have noticeably improved, and it’s easy to track his development over his twenty years of performing. Here’s a look at him through the years.

In 1990, when T.M.Revolution was yet to be conceived and Takanori was still a strapping young lad, he sung in the visual kei band Luis-Mary. Here’s an example of one of their songs – Rainy Blue. You can hear a little of his current sound in his then-voice… but to say he was an average singer would be giving him far too much credit. His voice is strained and unattractive, and sorely lacking control. Really, the only good point in this song is the nice vibrato at 1:47. If you’re gonna delve into his old music, I recommend that you pre-book an ear surgeon and a few sessions of counselling.

Assuming you didn’t pass out from Rainy Blue, let’s jump forward a few years. It’s 1998, and Takanori, as T.M.Revolution, has just released his single Aoi Hekireki. Thankfully, we find he’s improved. The strain has vanished, making the song listenable. While his delivery is somewhat robotic, and he’s missing the vibrato which would make his performance more interesting, Aoi Hekireki is infinitely better than his earlier offerings.

Takanori arrived at his “current” sound in 2006, with his T.M.Revolution self-cover album, the aptly named UNDER:COVER. If we take a look at some of his songs from the album such as THUNDERBIRD (incidentally, one of my favourite T.M.R pieces), Hot Limit and Love Saver, we can see his voice has a similar tone to his more recent releases, as well as the characteristic vibrato and a touch of fierceness. While this was a vast improvement from his earlier self, he wasn’t quite there yet. The main difference was that his vocals were a tad thinner than they are now. He also used vibrato less, and the vibrato size was smaller. (Although he was capable of producing large, fast vibrato; the UNDER:COVER version of THUNDERBIRD is a good example).

Also, here’s your guide to hairstyles though the years.

1996 makes revolution

1996 – too embarrassed to show his hair.

1999 the force

1999 – a TRENDY bowl.

2004 SEVENTH_HEAVEN

2004 – so much wax…

2013 under cover 2

2013 – PIIIIIMP.

Ahem. Now let’s get into his current vocal attributes.

Current Style

I might as well start off with his most distinctive feature – vibrato. You cannot miss it. If he holds a note, chances are that he’s going to add some huge vibrato. Even on notes which he only holds for a short time, you can find vibrato. Given how often he uses his vibrato, it’s good that he executes it well. It’s fast, usually large, and synchronised with his backing harmonies. This is important because if his vibrato wasn’t synchronised, the notes wouldn’t sit the right distance apart, resulting in a clash. Lucky for us listeners, this isn’t the case. While I’m on the topic of vibrato synchronisation, Takanori has also shown he can sync with Nana Mizuki, in his collaboration singles such as Preserved Roses. I have heard criticisms regarding his vibrato’s size and incessant use, which are understandable. However, my opinion on his vibrato is positive; I think it makes his notes more interesting, and I enjoy listening to it because of his control.

Another of Takanori’s strong points is his energy. I looooove it. He puts his all into every word, never holds back on the upper notes, is very expressive and sounds comfortable high or low. The majority of his notes are sung with a pure tone, but he can put on roughness for that extra rock spirit, and even whip out a metal scream on special occasions. Good examples of his grit and screams are in abingdon boys school’s Valkyrie (“I wanna make it out to you” before the guitar solo) and T.M.Revolution’s UNDER:COVER version of LEVEL 4 (screams in the intro and bridge). I also like how his voice is well-defined; some singers go wispy in their upper and lower sections of their range, but not Takanori. While I noted in my review of Kakumei Dualism that he was over-expressive, I’m hoping it was just one-off.

In addition to his tone and vibrato, his overall control is excellent. He hits his notes cleanly, and though he does slide sometimes, it’s mostly for effect. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find him even a fraction off-note. I can only think of two examples. In the second chorus of LOST REASON, “I am the reason you’re alive” is a tiny bit flat, and the intro vocals in From Dusk Till Dawn ~INCH UP~ are off in places as well. But he’s very consistent overall, I’m sure his vibrato also helps him stay in tune.

His head voice is the weakest part of his vocals. It’s rarely used, but a song which you can hear his head voice in is From Dusk Till Dawn ~INCH UP~. You can hear in the acoustic intro how airy it is. During the later sections of the song, it’s much better, but overall I would describe it as okay, rather than good. I’m glad that it’s uncommon in his music.

Takanori has more English in his songs than most other artists, with a good amount of abingdon boys school and a few T.M.Revolution tracks sung fully in English. The pronunciation quality ranges from incomprehensible e.g. COLD CHAIN, to surprisingly decent, such as As One or Valkyrie (“decent” being a relative term). The abingdon boys school pronunciation seems to be better – maybe this is because their English lyricist Lynne Hobday helped with Takanori’s diction? Alternatively, this might just be a bias because I know their English lyrics, so I hear what I expect. While his English pronunciation slips in lives, I find him tolerable, and above average in the J-Pop industry.

Dat hat.

Dat hat.

Takanori-sama also has a few quirks that can get annoying at times*. He uses glottal strokes a lot, which are the percussive sounds you can hear at the beginning of some of his vowels. This isn’t good vocal technique. While I can mostly gloss over the glottal strokes, it does get bothersome, especially in ballads where the highest standards of vocal quality are required. Or when they’re frickin’ huge. A different quirk is when he slides to notes instead of hitting them straight, which he overuses in some songs. Finally, he often has short pauses in between vowels, disrupting the phrasing of his lines. Thousands Morning Refrain, from his CLOUD NINE album, shows these bad traits in action. For an example, here’s a few of lines from Thousands Morning Refrain. In bold are glottal strokes, slides are underlined, and broken phrasing is in italics.

sode de yogoreta mado wo fuki

hitosuji kirino asa wo matsu [very small glottal stroke]

kono yami no naka kogoe teirunoga

boku dake nara ii noni to negau”

*(I’d like to point out that these quirks aren’t necessarily bad when used for effect, but they’re annoying when overused.)

Takanori Nishikawa has a small number of aspects which he could improve upon. However, they’re all minor, and his amazing skills in other departments means they don’t affect my enjoyment too much. Among all the male J-Pop singers I listen to, I rate him the highest.

Musical Style

As T.M.Revolution

Takanori’s music under his T.M.Revolution moniker is a distinctive mix of dance beats, synths, and electric guitars, composed and arranged by Daisuke Asakura. I would call most of T.M.R’s music pop-rock or dance-rock, but he does branch out into other genres at times, such as country in Reload. To be honest, I find a reasonable amount of his music to be rather generic, especially his older stuff where his voice couldn’t carry the track on its own. However, some of his tracks do have little twists that make them stand out from the rest. Reload is one of them, but others include Resonance, which has a Halloween feel, and Naked Arms, which uses triplets extensively. And really, I don’t mind that his music doesn’t branch out too much, because his voice is so damn amazing.

The above paragraph applies to his regular music. But he starts to shine is on his albums UNDER:COVER and UNDER:COVER 2, where different musicians get to arrange old T.M.Revolution tracks in their own ways, putting their own signature on Daisuke’s compositions. These arrangements tend to steer clear of the dance-rock sound, going into full rock/metal mode, or having a “natural” feel with piano and strings, or in some rare occasions, completely electro. While I’m not sold on the electro re-takes, I adore many of the others, because of the awesome riffs and guitar solos, lovely piano melodies, improved vocals and catchy new arrangements.

As abingdon boys school

abs

I don’t think I’ve talked about abingdon boys school much before… but they’re my favourite band, and I worship them every day. Their songs are all rock, but can range from bouncy, upbeat pop stuff to dark metal tracks complete with heavy, down-tuned guitars (they also have a couple of out-of-the-ordinary electronic instrumentals, which are cool but completely different to their normal songs). Assuming you’re happy with large vibrato, abingdon boys school are quite an accessible group, their songs filled with catchy lines. Their music is composed by guitarist Hiroshi Shibasaki and keyboard/DJ/FX guy Toshiyuki Kishi.

They aren’t overly experimental, but what they do they do damn well. Their music is based around rhythm guitar riffs, with piano or synths to make the arrangements more interesting. To mix things up, they’ll use filtering or disc scratching, but only for effect, and it doesn’t feel overbearing. While they don’t often play around with really weird timing, some of their songs do have nifty rhythms. As One is in 3/4, with a 4/4 switch in the guitar solo (okay, 3/4 isn’t that odd, but you don’t hear many rock songs with that time signature). Songs like HOWLING and Freedom use stuttered chords to give that extra sense of heaviness. WE aRE uses an incredibly odd timing in the bridge, giving a frantic aura to that section. And Siren has an awesome time signature change from 12/8 to 4/4**, which preserves the quaver length and flows naturally from one timing to another. These little techniques make me appreciate their music that extra bit.

**(I don’t actually know if As One is in 3/4 Siren is in 12/8, because I can’t tell the difference between 12/8, 6/8 and 3/4 etcetera, so offer a correction if you wish.)

I’ve gone into detail about Takanori’s vocals, but the other musicians in abingdon boys school are just as skilled. You can hear SUNAO and Hiroshi Shibasaki blazing away with their guitar solos pieces such as JAP and Siren. Bassist IKUO is no slouch either, and you can hear his fast lines in Sweetest Coma Again or Stay Away. While I can’t remember any super awesome drum lines, in this live you can hear Koji Hasegawa do some speedy fills. The only member who I don’t know much about is Toshiyuki Kishi, who plays keyboards and does other things like effects and disc scratching. I can’t comment on his skills regarding fast, technical playing because I’m yet to hear him do anything difficult, but what he does perform is done well enough. The abilities of the band members allows them to pool their talents, and create awesome songs.

Something I love about abingdon boys school is how their music is very controlled, with nothing out of place. For example, their song Dress (which I’ll discuss later) has every part thoughtfully arranged. I like this – sure, they’ll throw in a fast guitar solo or a spurt of double kick drums sometimes, but only when in suits the moment. The guitarists don’t always need to shred during the solos, the drummer doesn’t use huge, flashy fills all the time; in other words, abingdon boys school excels at moderation. This gives me the impression that they are confident within their own style, and don’t need to use excessive techniques to “be heavy” or anything like that. (Okay, not every song. They do go crazy sometimes. For example, WE aRE‘s chorus has some over-drummed bars. But mostly they’re good!)

Going into more detail about their control, I consider Dress to be a perfect example of proper song pacing. It begins soft, with piano and cello, then changes to a great contrasting section with guitars, drums and effects. The quiet verse uses a simple arrangement matched with mild vocals, before a quick synth crescendo. This gives an even transition into the second, louder verse, which uses stronger vocals and reintroduces the band’s role. Additional backing guitar riffs build up to the loud, powerful chorus, one of the energy peaks in the song. The next section is the bridge, and it fits in impeccably. Dress isn’t about being showy, so the guitars play rhythmic lines instead of going full speed with a solo, which would be out of place. The following verse shifts the dynamics to soft again, giving us a respite before the final two choruses. The drums are integral to the pacing of the song; the earlier chorus uses the kick drums less than the last two, and the final chorus uses bursts of kick drums and the emphatic snare on every beat to create a driving force, pushing us through the climax of the song. This makes the end of Dress the most powerful and memorable part, as it should be. Throughout the song, the varying vocal strength, instrument choice and controlled arrangement work together to smoothly bring about changes of intensity.

guitar abs

SUNAO.

Since I’ve blathered about the vocals, I might as well blather about the guitar-work. SUNAO and Hiroshi Shibasaki are very, very good guitarists, and their playing is so tight. Also, while I mentioned how their music is controlled and isn’t excessive, that doesn’t mean they don’t have any tricky riffs. abingdon boys school do use fast guitar lines in their songs, but they’re incorporated such that they fit the music. For example, the quick rhythmic licks in the verse of DESIRE and the tapping lines in the verses of Kimi no Uta and STRENGTH flow naturally, as well as making the music more engaging. When the guitarists to have their time to solo, it’s not all flat-out – the solos often have structure and melodies. In short, abingdon boys school guitars = best.

Live

Takanori’s live performances aren’t as consistent as those of some artists, but I overall I would consider him as one of the better live vocalists. The two main issues with his live singing are note-sliding and unusual breath placement. However, his pitch is usually right, which is one of the most important things. He can be painfully bad, but when he’s good, he’s up with the best of them.

T.M.Revolution’s musical style changes as a live act. The studio versions of songs have digital beats, but they don’t work as well live, so are replaced but an actual drummer. This shift alone makes his music more rocking, but there’s also a greater band focus, with a louder mix and more emphasis on the guitars, drums and bass. They often play the UNDER:COVER versions, which already have this band focus, or slightly re-arranged songs.

In both T.M.Revolution and abingdon boys school lives, the band members’ guitar, bass and drum playing is near perfect (the abingdon boys school members are also T.M.R’s backing band). In fact, the vocals are the weakest part of their lives. Takanori makes up for it though with the enthusiasm in his singing, crowd interactions and his boundless energy for racing around the stage.

Plus, he has the best costumes.

TMR LIVE 1

TMR LIVE 3

TMR LIVE 5

TMR LIVE 4

TMR LIVE 2

Hmm… not sure what’s going on in this one though >.<

Conclusion

Takanori Nishikawa is a unique singer, with great power, emotive vocals, impressive technical skills and a chronic infection of vibratoitis. While his vocals aren’t 100% correct, his flaws are minor, hence can be easily ignored. As T.M.Revolution, his commanding performances are key to conveying his music – Daisuke Asakura writes decent, yet somewhat generic pop tracks, but they are only brought to life by Takanori’s vocals. abingdon boys school have more interesting compositions, are deliberate with their arrangements, and are overall a better musical group. This is partly because of the genre shift, and partly because of the different composers/arrangers. There’s also a greater focus on the other band members, meaning more diverse and engaging instrumentals. Ultimately though, Takanori Nishikawa’s voice is the glue that holds these two groups together.

Asides:

That’s all folks! I’ll just leave you with this cross-dressing picture.

TMR crossdressing 1

10/10 would marry.

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18 Responses to Artist Analysis: Takanori Nishikawa/T.M.Revolution/abingdon boys school

  1. shinitakashi says:

    Thanks! This was an interesting read. I’ve never really given him much attention, but it piqued my interest. Definitely a well written piece! Please do continue with this series.

  2. rikuo06 says:

    T.M.Revolution and Nana Mizuki are the king and queen of vibrato! Their collaboration was inevitable.

    I mainly listen to the abingdon boys school albums, since like you said, their arrangements are creative and their playing skills top notch. It was interesting seeing the evolution of Takanori’s voice, so thanks for including that! You were pretty harsh there on his earlier performances, Mr. Cowell.

    • Alex says:

      Glad you like the evolution of his voice part ^ ^ . There aren’t a lot of Japanese artists (that I listen to anyway) who’ve been around long enough that you can see them radically change.
      Yeahhhh I’m pretty harsh lolol. Maybe I should apply for a judging position.

  3. Artemis says:

    I’m not a fan of vibrato – at all – but I really like T.M.Revolution, and I love abingdon boys school (probably because it’s more rock-based). Like you said, it’s really all about the energy with this singer/band, and it’s usually the energry that’s the most important thing to me when it comes to J-rock. I think ‘Jap’ has to be my all-time favourite song from abingdon, probably followed by ‘Strength’ and ‘Howling’.

    • Alex says:

      Their energy is awesome! And JAP is such a ridiculously catchy and upbeat song, I love it too (as well as the other two you mentioned).

  4. mk03 says:

    I’m not a fan of T.M.R. and I don’t listen to his music, but this is nevertheless an interesting article. i didn’t know he crossdressed O.O I’ve only listened to Preserved Roses… That vibrato. He and Nana are a perfect match ^_^

    • Alex says:

      How do you know you don’t like his music if you’ve only listened to one song? Haha.

      Also…



      Yeah. He’s got quite androgynous features, so cross-dresses pretty well.

  5. Mack says:

    What better way to represent Takanori’s music then an image of him almost bitten by a crocodile😛
    I’m only interested in abingdon boys school, because they talk a lot of it.

  6. mintavirangku says:

    Interesting analysis😀 I don’t really listen T.M.R. His songs that i know is Heart of Sword and his Gundam songs, and few songs more, but i didn’t really get into his music, although I still listen him occasionaly, Heart of Sword and T.M.R Gundam songs give me nostalgic feel😀

  7. jstorming says:

    I don’t follow TMR or abingdon’s boy school too closely but the songs you’ve mentioned (Preserved Roses, Kakumeiki Dualism, Resonance and Howling) have been causes for the abuse of the replay button on my iTunes. Awesome post on TMR!

  8. Mariana Tsukino says:

    I know this post is a year old but I’d like to say that I enjoyed it very much. I have been a fan of T.M.Revolution since the year 2000 and have followed his changes and updates from that year on, so I remember when Abingdon Boys School didn’t exist and how magical and short-lived TMR-e was (the end of genesis tmr evolution turbo type D, *catches breath). I noticed the changes in his voice as the years went by. When I became a fan he had just played at the Tokyo Dome and I remember how strained and deep his voice was in “The Force” compared to how he sounds now. To this day I still listen to Luis-Mary and forget it’s the same guy singing lol. I’m not very knowledgeable in music education, at least when it comes to singing (although as a consumer of music I’m a pretty savvy person), so some of the things mentioned in this post were very eye-opening. I liked the analysis on ABS, especially for their cover of Buck-Tick’s “Dress.” I adored their version, it was so emotional.

    I’ll be reading your review on Kakumei Dualism because I thought it was quite promising.
    🙂

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