When tiny heart-flutterings are given voice, it is incredibly satisfying. That is the case with Ai Ai Gasa, the latest single by the Japanese duo Tegomass.

Tegomass is comprised of Yuya Tegoshi and Takahisa Masuda (aka Massu), members of the band NEWS. The duo was initially created to promote their agency, Johnny's Entertainment, internationally, particularly in Sweden. Miso Soup, their first single (released on Nov. 2006), was quite successful, ranking at #12 on Swedish charts. (The title track is sugar-sweet, about how, living abroad, one longs for home and his mother's cooking.) Since then, Tegomass have released two other singles: Kiss Kaerimicho no Love Song (May 2007), and Ai Ai Gasa (June 2008). 

Ai Ai Gasa ("Love-Love Umbrella") is a Japanese symbol referring to the tradition of a couple sharing an umbrella. Young sweethearts draw an umbrella, with each other's names side by side beneath. This is similar to the Western tradition of carving initials within a heart, pierced by an arrow.

The album contains the following songs:

1.        Ai ai gasa

2.        Bokura no Uta

3.        Moshi mo Boku ga Pochi Dattara…

4.        Boku no Cinderella

5.        Ai ai gasa (Original Karaoke)

The title song is typical of Tegomass: wistfully tender. Just the right dose of romance, too. Tegomass' voices are neither outstanding nor jarring; the singing remains purely pleasant throughout. As always, their duets are perfect. (Too perfect? I can imagine some listeners getting bored with the understated mood).

--I don't know anything about anime, but apparently this song's going to be used in the ending of one called Neo Angelique Abyss--

Its music video depicts Tegomass as "rain angels" up in heaven...showering a downpour onto earth in order to bring a young boy and girl together. It is basically a literal depiction of the lyrics, the translation of which goes as follows: 

“The rain doesn’t stop...” You were looking down

To keep that shoulder from getting wet, I inclined my umbrella over you

You looked up, leaned on me a little.

With that smile, you held my hand, I trembled a little.

Today I want to tell you this feeling

In amazement...I love you

Under the shared umbrella, I can’t honestly tell you my hidden love

It seems the rain wouldn’t stop, but soon it passed.

It was close to our rain of love

“I almost reached my house…” You were looking down

I called your name, our eyes met, but I couldn’t say it

Today I want to tell you this feeling

In amazement...I love you

It’s not a lie that I hope tomorrow will be raining

With the light overflowing, the passing rain laughed at me

It distracted our rain of love

Under the shared umbrella, I can’t tell you about my hidden feeling honestly

It seems the rain wouldn’t stop, but soon it passed

It was close to our rain of love

The second song is more upbeat and celebratory, evocative of black gospel style church music. There's great rhythm. Every time I play it, I get the urge to get up, swaying to the beat, fingers snapping. Everything about it is infectiously happy: the piano, the gentle percussion, the electric guitar. Bokura no Uta translates to "our song"--and while most Tegomass songs seem to be from a young smitten boy's point of view, this one gives vibes of joyous community, the theme song of a suburban neighbourhood. (I may be reading too much into this--after all, I haven't been able to find a translation yet.) Tegoshi's vocals stand out in this song, especially in the background. 

The third track gives me a vivid image of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn lying in a makeshift wooden raft down a lazy stream. Right down to the straw hats... A friend informed me that Moshimo ga Pochi dattara translates to "If I were Pochi"--and proceeded to detail her own vision of a girl walking her dog in the park. Either way, it is reminiscent of idyllic summer days. Harmonies, again, are perfect, mellifluous.

Boku no Cinderella ("my Cinderella") has a carnival/amusement-park feel. It starts off with a lively instrumental, proceeding to Massu, followed by Tegoshi, and then of course, the duets. That's the basic pattern. The tune is bouncy, teasing. Its fun, playful quality could lead listeners to disdainfully label it "childish." To some extent, that is true. This song reminds me of the water fights we had in high school, chasing each other with water balloons across the soccer field. 

Finally, Ai Ai Gasa's "original karaoke." Anyone who knows anything about the Japanese must be familiar with their penchant for karaoke. Thus, it would follow that most Japanese albums have at least one karaoke track. I myself can barely carry a tune, let alone perform in public (the horror!), but I love this track anyway. As music, it is complete in itself. One can hear female voices in the background every now and then, intoning the chorus. I leave it on during the day when I feel I need something soothing. The music is mellow enough that I can carry on other work without being distracted. It is also useful as a lullaby.

Overall, I'd rate this single 4/5. It would be a full 5/5, but it is evident that Tegomass produces music that is neither mainstream nor to everyone's taste. The majority of their audience, I am sure, is female.

"Ai Ai Gasa" as a whole isn't provocative or particularly moving. Tegoshi and Massu's voices blend beautifully together, soft and dulcet. The songs are basically cute. It makes for light listening, the sort of thing one might put on whilst in a hammock outside, gently rocking to and fro...a breeze rippling through wind chimes in the distance.

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