In May 2015, Lithuanian musician Alexander Yushchenko released his solo project, Fair & Square’s, first album called Journey.
Despite the alternative rocker’s 2015 release date, in part 3 of Music Export Fund’s Guilty Music Pleasures series, Alexander revealed that Journey was actually finished in 2013.
He also explained the recording of the album was split between Lithuania, London and Copenhagen, meaning the Klaipėda native is stranger to working beyond the borders of his home country.
A self-confessed Japanophile (he’s lived there, and has a Japanese girlfriend), Alexander is also somewhat of a Guilty Music Pleasures aficionado – in 2013, he hosted a Guilty Pleasures party at the Cafe de Paris in Vilnius, adding “there were many, many raised eyebrows that evening”, and asked us “not to laugh” about his five guilty because they’re “really terrible.”
And while we promised we wouldn’t laugh, because that’s unsporting, Alexander was keen to outline that he wouldn’t care anyway.
“These aren’t songs I dug out to be pretentious about,” he stressed. “I just want to emphasise that they are real guilty pleasures…”
Umboza – Sunshine
The first one, Sunshine, is like a time capsule to my childhood. Our family had an annual tradition of going to Palanga, a Lithuanian coastal town on the Baltic Sea. Back then, it was quite cool, and we’d go every August.
We’d go to this public swimming pool, and I remember there were these huge speakers. Most of the time they played Euro dance tracks, but hey, this was around 1996, so I was about five years old at the time. When this song came out, the Gypsy Kings were quite popular – I don’t know if they had an album out, but lots of people were listening to them; especially my grandmother.
This song, Sunshine, would come on and I remember feeling really good. I remember feeling it was something I could easily party to, even though I was five years old!
I could shake my ass or something to it, and it was the first time I realised you can actually move to a song. I’d never seen the video or anything, and it was only last year when I heard the original sample of the Gypsy Kings’ song that I remembered “holy s**t, this is the song I heard when I was five,” so I started looking for it.
I found it, and I remembered the lyrics which were yeah, about sunshine. I found the video, re-watched it and just thought “what the f**k is this?!” As cheesy as it was, I would have never imagined it could be this cheesy!
It was like Back To The Future or something – I literally felt the same feels, smelt the same smells, and everything just came back. I was sitting in a chair and thought “whoa, I’m back in Palanga right now.”
What’s really great about these songs, is that when you forget a certain song for a certain period of time, it remains pure.
You close that time capsule, some time passes, and if you never open it, you forget it exists. If you open it every once in a while – meaning this video – I was like “holy s**t!” It was exactly how I felt in 1996.
Yui Sakakibara – Girl Meets Boy
I have absolutely no idea where I heard this song, and I just know it was in 2012.
At that point, I’d not yet been to Japan and I thought it must’ve been some representation of the country’s pop culture.
Everyone was always talking about Anime, Manga, Ninjas and all that s**t. In fact, it’s not something you regularly see there! I thought if I were ever to go there, this song would be its soundtrack.
I also thought that this is what I’d like to sample at some point, but this song is huge mess – there is so much going on, and it seems the singer has absolutely no talent. I mean, the song is used for a video game! My girlfriend is Japanese, and I haven’t even asked her what the lyrics mean.
Anyway, this to me is a Guilty Music Pleasure in the truest sense of the word, and it’s something I listen to on a monthly basis.
So, this is Girl Meets Boy…
Justin Timberlake – Rock Your Body
I mean, this is no longer a guilty pleasure because I guess a lot of people would agree it’s a classic. You have to respect JT.
If our generation has at any point had someone as good as Michael Jackson, then JT would be that guy – he’s a pop star, and while I’m not that in to pop, when I first heard this song, I was fascinated by its groove and I got hooked on its vocal melody.
It also serves as another time capsule to the summer of whenever it was released (editor’s note – it was 2002).
I remember seeing the video on MTV and before that, I would always have been waiting for something like The Prodigy to appear or something, but when this came on, I stopped feeling sad about not seeing The Prodigy anymore. It felt like pop music had actually made sense, and if you look back in time, it makes sense compared to what we hear now.
Every song from that era or anything produced by The Neptunes or Kanye West, well, if I ever feel hyper, those are the sort of things I’d put on. My girlfriend gets really upset because I just blast them when we’re in the car [laughs]…
Rock Your Body is a song I could enter a club to. If it’s playing, I would probably start jumping around and screaming the lyrics. This is my jam!
Bryan Adams – Run To You
I don’t even think this is a guilty pleasure anymore, but it used to be. Growing up I played Grand Theft Auto Vice City, and I think that game introduced me to ‘80s music.
One of the songs that really stands out for me is Run To You by Bryan Adams. I mean firstly because of his voice – I don’t know in terms of texture if it’s silky or if it’s matte, but it’s amazing.
I don’t know what it is, but he has something really unique, and when I hear this song, I think “wow, I want to have a voice like that.”
The song writing is also brilliant. The music itself and the hook on the guitar part is also incredible – it’s simple, but it really sticks in your head!
I think I can identify with the song, too, because it’s about some guy who has a mistress and how much he wants to be with her. I’ve had similar situations where I’d play this song and be like “yeah, I’m that guy!” [laughs].
I sampled this song once and I was happy with how it sounded, but I don’t know what will happen to it.
Anyway, I listen to this song really often – it’s on my current playlist, and I love it.
As guilty as it is, I don’t feel bad for listening to it. It’s a classic, so f**k it!
Hitomi Tohyama – Love Is The Competition
I heard someone do a remix of this on Soundcloud, and I realised the song is in Japanese. My girlfriend was sitting next to me, so I was asking her “what is she saying?”
Although it was really pitched up, she started translating. Then I slowed it down and we started looking for the song via its lyrics.
We couldn’t find it for some reason – maybe because the song’s popularity was really low at this point. I also thought there were two separate songs, because the choruses are sung in English, and the verses are sung in Japanese – they could have just been glued together because they were in tune.
I gave up and simply Googled Love Is The Competition, and after going through 1,000s of YouTube videos, I eventually found it!
Obviously, it was lower and slower and almost like an 1980s funk song that really sounded like the Whispers.
Her voice is terrible, I mean, when she goes high, she really loses it. The song is about love being a competition – the guy she wants to be with is with someone else, and she’s in a competition with another girl.
Well I don’t know if it is one, but it also sounds like the song has a grammatical error. She sings “love is a competition, yes we are.” I mean, someone could be a competition to you, right? But if you are in a competition, you are in a love competition and she misses the words “in” and “a”.
The instrumental is a Whispers’ rip-off, and this is how the Japanese music is today – they hear something popular from the West, they produce the instrumental and find a local artist who is generally a person free of any songwriting talent, then they sell it.
I mean, that’s how every company works, but it doesn’t feel all that authentic. If American musicians do it, they have a level of authenticity, and that’s the same for British pop singers.
With the Japanese, you can feel they’re trying to accommodate for a certain generation. This use of English is also perceived to be something cool, when it actually makes no sense.
They use English words right in the middle of the song, so it looks like “oh, I can use English” but it’s complete nonsense. But this, if I could pick any Japanese song as my favourite, would be it.