Recently I found myself wishing that I knew more about what are the good Japanese artists out there besides the ones that Americans typically know about (particularly anison artists). Well, Yamazaki Masayoshi is also an artist that I discovered through anison, like other Japanese artists I listen to. But I think that despite the fame of "One More Time, One More Chance" and its use in 5 cm/s, it seems this artist is not well-known outside Japan, so I thought I'd give a quick introduction to a few of his best songs. I've found that for me his songs don't really impress me very much the first time, but the more I listen to them the more they grow on me, so give them a few listens if you have the time.
Albums I am taking these songs from:
Best-of albums. Blue Period (2 discs) is 1996-????, and Rose Period (1 disc) is 2005-2015. For the second collection the record label figured out they could make more money if they released a separate collection of B-sides rather than making a 2-disc collection like they did with Blue Period, so that's what they did.
SPOILER: Highlight text to read: Actually, the B-side companion to Rose Period contains as many tracks as both discs of Blue Period combined, and Rose Period is also significantly longer than either one of the Blue Period discs, so it is not a bad deal.
"One More Time, One More Chance" This was the hit single that made Yamazaki Masayoshi famous in Japan . . . and that was long before 5 cm/s, so his fame in Japan is not owing anything to the anime. Rather, it's the other way around, the song was used in 5 cm/s because Makoto Shinkai knew this song and loved it. (I was once talking with a Japanese businessman and mentioned this song, and he hadn't ever seen the anime but was like, "Yeah, I like that song too." It is that kind of song.) If you listen to the lyrics, they are extremely well-written, and the text-setting is also excellent. The list of places that the narrator is searching for his lost love changes in every stanza, and in addition to that, in the last two iterations of the chorus the first line changes from "I am always searching for your figure" to "I am always searching for fragments of you" to "I always [unfortunately] wind up searching for your smiling face," so in all of the choruses there is a great deal of variation within the same structure.
メヌエット ("Minuet") was used as the OP for a video game that was not at all popular in the States, Romancing Saga: Minstrel Song. The minstrel is Yamazaki Masayoshi. :p Joking aside, the song has a very folksy, minstrel-y sound (love the accordion), and the lyrics are excellent. Every time I listen to them I find myself thinking, "This is really poetry!" That cannot be said of all song lyrics. This version of the song is the short version (from the game), but the uploader put a translation of the short version in the comments for the video. It's a pretty loose translation of the Japanese, but you have to admire the fact that he (?) made it rhyme and put it into idiomatic English.
心拍数 ("Heart Rate") is now my other favorite Yamazaki song besides the two above. It's a blues song about the narrator saying to the person that he is in a relationship with that recently things feel distant and cold between them and talking about how he wants to recapture the passion and the effort to understand each other that they used to have. The lyrics are . . . lyrics. Not as excellent as the two songs above. But leaving that aside, I love this song for the raw emotion in Yamazaki's voice and the fantastic dirty, gritty bass line in the second half of the song. Unfortunately, though, this video is a version which I don't think is as good as the one on the album and doesn't highlight either of the elements that I mentioned as well.
Probably because I was introduced to Yamazaki Masayoshi by "One More Time, One More Chance" and "Minuet," I have this persistent image of him as an artist who does a lot of acoustic, folksy things, maybe even some one-man-and-a-guitar songs. This is not at all true, since like typical Japanese pop artists his musical style is eclectic and brings in a variety of other sounds depending on the song. For example, on the second of his single collections, "Rose Period," there are quite a few songs that have a big, jazz or reggae sound with a lot of brass instruments and other things. However, my personal feeling is that a quieter acoustic sound, or a simpler sound like the guitar-bass-drums-harmonica of "Heart Rate" suits him much better. On his first single collection, "Blue Period," there are on the second disc in particular several quiet pieces, sometimes with classical stringed instruments, some of which are truly lovely. So here are a couple of his best songs in that kind of style:
やわらかい月 ("Soft Moon") (Man, watching that video, he looks so comfortable with that guitar it seems like it's like a part of his body to him.) Just lovely.
僕はここにいる ("I'm Here") I think this one pretty much speaks for itself and is a great representative song to close out this list.
If that is not enough for you, you can watch the YouTube Yamazaki Masayoshi playlist here.