Flags – Breathless

IMME Records IMME-1001

Second only to Pizzicato Five, Flags was my favorite Shibuya-kei band
back in the rosy days of ’96-’97. Produced by Tetsutaro Sakurai, they were his side project to Cosa Nostra, and featured five girls of different looks and personalities that he used to sing his Todd Rundgren- and Laura Nyro- inspired pop. There was Harry, the spooky, arty one; Aki, the girly one; Maria, the one who sounded like Kahimi Karie; Emiko, the earthy, fun one; and Rio, the slightly older, glamorous one. Or that’s how they seemed to me.
After buying all four of their releases and all six of their singles, I had given up on even finding their rare CD-ROM mini-album combo from 1996, let alone being able to afford it (Japanese collector prices being astronomical). Imagine how I almost choked on my Raisin Bran when I saw this at Tokyo Recohan for something like $7. It was a no-brainer.
I was slightly disappointed to find out that the six songs here are not new, despite the titles I’ve never heard of. They are actually all remixed versions of the songs found on their second album MOR from a month before, with English lyrics instead of Japanese. Some sound like demos–all the sounds I know are in place, but they don’t fit together as well. “Wonderland,” the English version of their best song “Nowhereland” (a song I so loved that I ripped off the title for my movie), is awkward and blocky, one take short of being brilliant (it’s interesting to compare and contrast, of course). It’s like those albums you discover only in your dreams–it sounds like them, but something’s quite off.

The QuickTime movies that accompany the songs are the usual bland Japanese promo variety, with usually one or two set-ups and no imagination of what to do for the entire 5 minutes. Only “Wonderland” gets any sort of treatment, with the band vogue-ing and being subjected to several digital effects. The dancing doesn’t suit the music, though. Mostly the videos prove what I always thought, based on the very few publicity photos I have seen of them: Emiko (left) is the cutie (she also has the best voice). After their 1997 album Cream they vanished into the ether.

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