Japanese rockers One Okay Rock, released their 8th full length album, the aptly titled Ambitions, early this year. Dive in and listen with intrigue to the instrumental opening, then stick around for the haunting intro to track two, “Bombs Away.” Once Taka’s pristine vocals kick in, it’s obvious why One Okay Rock has been selling out concerts for over a decade, and why Alternative Press awarded them 2016’s Best International Band.
One Okay Rock chose their name based on the hour they convened for practice. Since money was scarce and rehearsal space costly, they got their jam on at 1 o’clock in the morning when studio time was cheaper. In Japanese, there is no distinction between the sounds made by the English letters L and R, so pronunciation in English is One O’Crock as opposed to One O’Clock. Eventually, One O’Crock morphed to One Ok Rock, and these young frugal kids from Japan went on to become a high school band success story.
One Okay Rock saw a steady climb to the top of Japanese charts, selling out venues and eventually touring Europe and America. In 2014, they played Knotfest in Japan and the U.S, as well as taking stages at Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio and Vans Warped Tour nationwide. Along the way, they have altered their sound from Japanese rock, to post-hardcore, to pop rock with an edge. This fresh, bright sound will distinguish them from the masses if they don’t lose sight of the uniqueness evident in the 90% of Ambitions.
As mentioned, the first two tracks feature gorgeous instrumentals, but the melodies and ear worms are just as compelling. While I could continually sing the praises of Taka, it’s not the vocals that make OOR stand out. Their complex compositions and choice of instruments elevate them above their contemporaries. I adore the anthemic “We Are” and swoon over “Jaded,” featuring Alex Gaskgarth (the version released in Japan features Avril Lavigne). In fact, the first seven tracks are catchy and inspiring, but they lost me with “American Girls.” Why such a campy tune was squeezed onto a 14-song LP is a mystery to me. It’s got a great melody and a fun delivery, but a song like this could kill their potential in the adult market. It’s blatantly formulaic and I hope their label isn’t trying to pigeon-hole them, because One Okay Rock deserves a much bigger platform than as a boy band.
The rest of Ambitions goes off without a hitch, and I soon forgot the aforementioned hiccup. “Bon Voyage” and “Start Again” show the evolving promise of this band, and “Take What You Want” (featuring 5 Seconds of Summer) closes out the LP with one incredible, long-held, note by Taka. It’s the kind of ending that makes you want to start the CD over, and you should. In total, I have nothing but praise for Ambitions and One OK Rock; the band is unique and, judging by their pedigree and resume, limitless.
Ambitions is available for download at iTunes, and at all music retailers now.
One Okay Rock is: