Album review: Kaze Fujii - Help Ever Hurt Never

Album review: Kaze Fujii (藤井 風) - Help Ever Hurt Never | Random J Pop

Sometimes you get into artists in the strangest of ways. My introduction to one of Japan’s newest pop stars was via his album cover. Which is why I ALWAYS bang on about how important it is for artists to have GOOD ALBUM COVERS. I saw it pop up on my timeline and I just thought it was such a cool photo and wanted to know who it was of, and from there I was thrown headfirst into the rabbit hole of Kaze Fujii. I could have worded that differently, because I know somebody gon’ be like ‘*Giggle* Kaze Fujii’s hole’. But I’m not changing it.

Yes. Kaze Fujii’s hole. I’m in it, and it’s lovely.

Kaze is part of a new generation of male pop stars, alongside the likes of Kenshi Yonezu who have achieved success online on the one platform that the Japanese music industry at large seems to hate. YouTube. Kaze rose to popularity via posting original material and covers of songs online, which garnered him a following so sizable that he was able to hold one man shows at venues before he even had a record deal. This is something I feel I have to mention before I get into Kaze’s debut album, to set the precedent of how polished it is for a debut. This isn’t an album where an artist is trying to figure out his sound and his angle. It’s an album from an artist who has a very clear vision for their sound, because they’ve been living it for years.

Album review: Kaze Fujii (藤井 風) - Help Ever Hurt Never | Random J Pop

Categorising the sound of Help Ever Hurt Never is difficult. Filing it under pop is easiest, but it robs the album of the diversity in sound that it does explore and the way that some songs present fusions of sounds which aren’t pop whatsoever. The album kicks off with “Nan-Nan”, which could be seen as a pretty typical J-Pop song, but as the album progresses it then starts to morph into something which feels far less typical.

Something you probably wouldn’t expect this album to dip into given the first two tracks, is R&B. But bitch, Kaze takes it there. When the third track “Yasashisa” hits, you start to hear some 808s and a lil’ trap vibe start to creep into what is a very non-descript piano led pop song for the first minute and a half. But when track 4 “Kiri ga Nai kara” rolls around, Kaze has on his baggy pants, his double breasted short jacket, the curls freshly jheri juiced and is doing the running man right in your face. It’s funky. It’s 80s. And Kaze rides the beat like the Tokyo Olympics depend on it. Releasing “Kiri ga Nai kara” as a fourth single was a smart choice to really show that Kaze is no one trick pony after two singles which collectively share a sound, and a third which despite being great, wouldn’t elicit a strong reaction one way or the other.

Album review: Kaze Fujii (藤井 風) - Help Ever Hurt Never | Random J Pop

Something which I felt as I listened to this album was a sense of storytelling. Sure. Every song in existence in essence is telling a story. But every song on Help Ever Hurt Never feels like a chapter in a book or an episode of a show. Even though as a non-Japanese speaker I can’t understand a word of what’s being sung 90% of the time, I can feel the energy of each song and a sense of what’s being conveyed. And each song has its own distinct energy which is different from the last, even if musically some of them may share similarities. But there’s always a sense of a song starting from one point and then ending somewhere else. There isn't always closure, but a specific moment has been captured and explored regardless, and then it’s onto another. It’s what gives the album a nice sense of flow.

Help Ever Hurt Never feels incredibly cohesive as an album, as though it was put together as an album first, and not the typical case of an album feeling like a by-product of an accumulation of singles as opposed to a body of work.

Kaze has a really nice voice and a style of singing which isn’t typical for male Japanese singers these days. First of all his voice is lower than what you’re used to hearing these days, which has a bigger impact on songs than you’d think. The more lounge jazz influenced songs, which are common on the Oricon and Japanese culture period (especially if you’re a Persona fan) will sound familiar, yet off. And that off-ness is Kaze’s voice, because it’s lower than what you’re used to hearing. A common thing in Japanese music is for artists to sing high and match the top key of the music, but Kaze rarely ever does. Then there’s how Kaze sings, which also feels unique in the sense that he’s fusing things which are typical of Japanese singers, with a western sensibility. He ad-libs a lot. There are moments, such as on “Sayonara Baby” where it feels like Kaze is going a little off script and just singing whatever, and on the likes of “Kiri ga Nai kara”, “Shinunoga E-Wa” he’s pretty much rapping. Kaze also taps into different facets of his voice to a point where it's almost like he's taking on personas in each song, further adding to how story-like each song feels, but he's able to slip between them in a song. Kaze can sound like a fuckboy in one minute, innocent the next, then like a pussy hound on the very next song. Kaze’s approach gives the songs this great almost spontaneous like energy - off the back of an album which despite it’s chill vibe also feels wholly spontaneous.

Album review: Kaze Fujii (藤井 風) - Help Ever Hurt Never | Random J Pop

Kaze also writes and composes his own songs, and plays the piano. Every time you hear keys on a song, that’s him. This explains quite a bit in terms of the musicality some of these songs have and why Kaze sounds so comfortable within them. It’s quite remarkable at times just how comfortable Kaze is on every track on this album. You’d be hard pressed to tell that this is his first album. He approaches music fearlessly like a rookie, but executes it like a pro. But Kaze doesn’t feel so super seasoned that there’s nowhere for him to grow. I just hope that Kaze doesn’t get either complacent or find himself being forced by his record label to just keep re-treading. We’ve seen many artists over the years come out of the gate sounding fresh and showing promise, only for their label to lock them into a sound that slowly starts to sedate the artist, to the point where they’re just singing the song by numbers, and the spark that you fell for on that debut is gone.

Kaze’s musical influences seem extremely broad. There’s no one artist you can say that he sounds like or is influenced by, purely because of how this album is such a melting pot of sounds. But one artist that did come to mind as I listened to Help Ever Hurt Never was Hikaru Utada. Not because Kaze sounds like her, but because he seems to approach music in a similar way to how Hikaru does. From her third studio album onwards, Hikaru never stuck to one particular sound or genre. Her focus always seemed to be on the vibe she wanted to evoke and the message she wanted to convey, which then drove the sound. Kaze’s approach seems the same. There’s no attempt on this album to be one thing or the other. It’s whatever sounds good and compliments the story Kaze wants to tell. And then there is the instrumentation. At a certain point in Hiakru Utada’s career she really started to value live instrumentation and musicianship - something which was at the forefront of her album Fantome. With Help Ever Hurt Never, it’s the same thing. The sound of the album feels so grounded because of the instrumentation in every song. Piano’s, guitars, live strings. It adds such a beautiful texture to some of these songs and sometimes layers than you didn’t think would be folded into the song. Like the orchestrated strings coming in as “Yasashisa” climaxes.

The most remarkable thing about this album is that Kaze has a very clear sense of self, in terms of the kind of artist he is, the type of artist he wants to be, and his sound. It’s rare to find a debut album where this comes through so strongly. It’s intriguing, especially when the music is this good and displays this level of variety, because there’s no telling where Kaze could go from here, and that in itself is exciting.

Album review: Kaze Fujii (藤井 風) - Help Ever Hurt Never | Random J Pop

Help Ever Hurt Never was a pleasant surprise. I had no real expectation going into it, I just liked the damn cover. And then 45 minutes later I came out the other side a Kaze Fujii fan. Everything about this album feels so earnest. Kaze gives himself completely on this album; completely sure of how he wants to introduce himself to the world. And with Help Ever Hurt Never, he had me at ‘Hello’.

VERDICT: SAYONARA BABY

Highlights:
■ Mo-Eh-a
■ Yasashisa 🔥
■ Kiri ga Nai kara 🏆
■ Tsumi No Kaori
■ Cho Si Noccha Te
■ Shinunoga E-Wa 🔥
■ Kazeyo
■ Sayonara Baby 🔥
■ Kaerou

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