I’m back for another month of releases, a couple days earlier this time. You’ll see two changes in this month’s column. First off is a poll. I guess this is a new wordpress feature so I decided to use it. You can vote for your favorite album from the albums I reviewed or another September release I haven’t (list and explain in the replies!). To be fair, singles won’t be included in any future poll. The second change is that “Pick of the Month” has been changed to “The Winner’s Circle.” More on that later.
Dir en grey- Glass Skin
If “Dozing Green” and “Glass Skin” is what we have to look forward to on Dir en grey’s upcoming full-length, I think Uroboros will be one bore of an album. “Glass Skin” is mediocre at best. Nothing to wet your pants over. It just kind of meanders for four minutes. Let’s face it, they’ll never be able to write another “The Final.” Thankfully, the band decided to put actual b-sides on this single release. Next up is a rerecording of “undecided.” This has more of an acoustic/folky feel. Not exactly the screaming Dir en grey that I love but much better than the actual single. We also have an “acoustic” version of “Agitated Screams of Maggots.” Normally when I hear the word acoustic, I assume that it’s acoustic guitar. Nope. This is classical piano! Not acoustic at all. Look at a dictionary fellas. It’s not as great as the original but the screaming over piano thing was interesting…kind of.
BIGMAMA- Weekly Fairy Tale
Despite the initial dissatisfaction that these are not Disney cover songs (all three tracks are named after Disney films), this is one damn catchy EP. BIGMAMA is sort of like the Japanese version of Yellowcard, a punk band with a whole lot of violin. “Cinderella” was released as the single for this EP. The violin sections on the song remind me of Pachebel’s Canon (that song they play at graduations) a lot, especially in the middle, but I love it. “Sleeping Beauty” shows a more aggressive side to the band. The EP closes with “Pinnochio” a real fun, nostalgic hoe-down type of song. The violin has more of a folky sound and the chorus has plenty of handclaps. I had a lot of fun with this EP. It’s not often that a band can successfully incorporate the violin into such happy, rock songs.
OLIVIA- Trinka Trinka (mini-album)
Olivia Lufkin singles/albums have been a mixed bag ever since her OLIVIA inspi’ REIRA (TRAPNEST) days. There are some traces of her former edginess but with so many average pop ballads it’s evident that she just wants to become the next J-pop idol. The first two tracks on this mini-album are examples of her stronger work these past few years. “Trinka Trinka” is a really great up-tempo track with a mild dance beat and a really catchy chorus, “I’m feeling Trinka Trinka, it’s really happening, my heart is beating, but I don’t want to scream!” The lead single for this release, “Rain” follows. Olivia returns with her mixed Japanese/English lyrics. It’s a fun song that should satisfy her new and old fans. Unfortunately, the mini-album rapidly deteriorates after these two songs. “Because,” “Miss You,” and “Your Smile” are typical J-pop ballad fodder with minimal English lyrics. “Collecting Sparkles” has it’s moments, mostly due to it’s electronic beat, but is ultimately forgettable. One day I hope she breaks out of her anime alter-ego and records another Comatose Bunny Butcher.
8otto- Hyper Hyp8r Hyper
8otto should do well with the British-rock crowd. They have a similar flavor to bands such as The Strokes or Franz Ferdinand. HYP8R is the third full-length 8otto album and carries the same laid-back “I don’t give a f—” attitude as always. Reflective, yet agressive when it needs to be. But mostly sung in monotone. I imagine this is the type of music people listen to when they get high. “Bomb” leads off the album with a slightly different version than on the single, not that I could tell the difference. My favorite songs are “Real Coke’s Friends” and “It’s Kind of Fool.” The album sags around track 9 with a 6-minute acoustic track. However, it gets funkier with “Stone Funk” and ends with the great title track. Although at times boring, this band has great rhythm. You can imagine them as a funkier Brit-rock version of Asian Kung-Fu Generation.
Glory Hill- Going Nowhere
IN BRIEF: This band sounds so much like ELLEGARDEN. I don’t know whether I should be shocked or appalled but I actually liked this album quite a bit. These songs are mostly in English but hard to understand. Stand-out tracks “Falling Down,” “Endless Summer,” “Go For Break,” and “GET UP.”
Mo’some Tonebender- SING!
Super Nice! was your standard alternative rock album. C.O.W. Check Out World was an experimental minimal electronic album. Mo’some Tonebender’s newest album SING! is a very uneven work, a hodgepodge of every genre you can think of. From the standard ballad “Colourful,” to the straight up rock “Cheese Burger,” to the delightfully saxophone-ridden “Niji wo Kakete,” it’s safe to say this band has no idea where it wants to go anymore. The album leads off with the sing “Synchrocity” that has surpringingly grown a lot on me. This song, and others such as “Joy” and “Saigo no Bus” follow the electronic sound they were going with in Check Out World while the synthesizers in “Hima tsubushi Part 2″ has a slight BEAT CRUSADERS feel. The standout track on the album for me was “Kakukakushikajika.” It’s a nice acoustic piece with violin and some synth that feels completely out of place but is very calming. So far, this band hasn’t released one solid album from start to finish but just like the rest, SING! has a few great tracks.
NICO Touches the Walls- Who Are You?
With the release of their debut album, NICO Touches the Walls has entered the non-visual domain of popular J-Rock. The album starts with “Broken Youth” which was used as a recent OP for Naruto Shippoden. The aggressive forward going lyrics saves it from being a cliche rock song, even if it has some Asian Kung-Fu Generation flavor. Also included is the immense first single “The Bungy,” a great folk/country infused rock song. “Bunny Girl to Danny Boy” has a catchy chorus and starts off in handclaps, the whaling guitars on “Yoru no Hate” are a treat, too. Who Are You? has its fair share of slower, funk driven songs such as “Etranger,” “Hottoshita,” and “Aoi” but thankfully they are spread out on the album. This band has it’s similarities to bands like Asian Kung-Fu Generation and Snowkel but there are definitely some quirks on this album that makes it stand out. It may not be as progressiva as the single “The Bungy” but it’s J-Rock done right.
Various Artists- Yowavinalaaaafincha? – A Tribute To Snuff -
You have no idea how much I love Japanese tribute albums. Even though I’ve never listened to Snuff before, I happily sat down and listened to this. Unfortunately, that means I cannot compare these covers to the originals. Some songs I really liked, “I Know What You Want” by MUGWUMPS, “What Kind of Love” by Ken Yokoyama, “Now You Don’t Remember” by FUCK YOU HEROES, “Dickt Trois” by RAZORS EDGE, “That’s Enough” by COKEHEAD HIPSTERS, and of course, “Sweet Dreams” by BEAT CRUSADERS. With the exception of PUFFY (who does a fine version “Not Listening”), I appreciate that they actually chose punk bands to cover punk songs, most of which do not have major-label backing. This tribute album has succeeded in getting me interested in more Snuff.
THE WINNER’S CIRCLE (PICK OF THE MONTH)
Simply put, September had too many albums full of win to just pick one. Seeing as at least two of these albums will finish in my top three of the year, it would be unfair to just choose one. Instead, I decided to highlight all three of them. Beware, these three bands represent the finest, most original music you’ve heard on this blog.
mutyumu- i l ya
Imagine putting the best classical, hardcore, opera, visual-kei, post-rock, and deathmetal bands into a blender and you have mutyumu, the most diverse and unique band in the scene right now. Vocals range from the operatic hatis noi to deathmetal screams. But it’s always something you wouldn’t expect. The album starts with a nice instrumental song and explodes in “die Ewige Wiederkunft.” “L’œil est Dieu” starts off in massive screaming with classical piano but then follows to hatis’ opera vocals. Violins join in later and it all blurs together into one of the greatest songs ever written (I’m serious). Up next is “toi et moi” which starts off jazz-like but follows a more pop-format with no screaming. “doxa incarnatate” has a gothic/visual-kei style while “unforgiven” and “raison d’etre” are almost straight up post-rock. “sappho” is melacholic and evolves into “prayer,” an epic 10-minute journey that starts with only vocals but explodes in violin, drumming, and opera chants. The album ends in a piano/violin duet with World’s end girlfriend “hai no hi,” a much deserved break from the epicness of the prior material. With so many genres mashed together, this album has something for everyone. I fear their uniqueness will likely repel mainstream music fans, which may not be a bad thing, but this band deserves all the hype it has been getting recently.
sgt.- Stylus Fantasticus
Japanese post-rock bands are a dime a dozen, but sgt. is the first one that has been able to surpass Mono in my eyes. In Stylus Fantasticus, sgt. has been able to combine the best of post-rock with the best of jazz. Violin, piano, and sax are rarely used efficiently in post-rock but not so for this band. The album starts off with a slower, piano driven song but then explodes in guitar for “Dilemma Game.” The next two songs slowly start throwing more piano and sax in until we get to “Saisei to Misshitsu.” Epic is one word to describe Saisei, the amount of sax is great but so perfect and fitting. A highly addictive and fast paced song given it’s six-minute runtime. A short, slow song follows but then is replaced with the 16-minute “Ginga wo Kowashite” that exemplifies the perfection of their violist. The last song, “Munoyuragi” is another long one but returns to that same great sax. If you’re looking for a band that perfectly blends post-rock and jazz, sgt. is your man.
Zazen Boys- Zazen Boys 4
Zazen Boys have struck the perfect chord between ambient, electro, and funk on their fourth self-titled album. Mukai, the Boys’ lead singer starts off “Asobi” with a shout-out to his recording studio. The song itself is nothing short of amazing, and the video for it is damn near perfect. The handclaps and synth are immaculate. “Honnoji” drops the electronics for a minute to center on tribal drumming and leads perfectly into the incredibly repititous “Weekeeeeeeeeennnnd”. The next three songs have more of a funk flavor and center more on guitars. “Tarantine” will likely annoy many. The drums last for about 5 seconds before another 10 seconds of silence. Eventually the silences transform into long poetic monologues by Mukai. I really wish I knew what he’s saying, his tone gets hilarious near the ending. Following is “The Drifing/I Don’t Wanna Be With You” which morphs into a dancetrack in it’s second half. The album ends with the incredibly reflective and pulsating “Sabaku.” The drumming and soft electronics will likely put you in a trance and is the perfect way to end the album. This album is the perfect soundtrack for fall and I’ve had it on repeat for several weeks now.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR NEXT MONTH
8otto- catch on another fire: Wait…didn’t I review them this month?!?!? Well, this is a remix album.
9mm Parabellum Bullet- Vampire: Second full-length album. Includes “Wanderland” from the anime Real Drive.
Asian Kung-Fu Generation- Fujisawa Loser: New single off upcoming album.
The Captains- I Love GS: A covers collection of classic group sounds songs.
Deerhoof- Offend Maggie: New album from the SF locals.
Envy/Thursday- Split EP: This doesn’t have a release date yet but since it already leaked…
The Predators- Kiba wo Misero: New mini-album from the supergroup, made of members from the pillows, GLAY, and STRAIGHTENER.
Te’- Mashite, Kokoro to Gokan ga Icchisuru Nara Subete Saijo no “Ongaku” ni Henzuru: New album for the post-rock hopefulls.
Various Artists- Metal-IKKA: Metallica tribute album! Features BEAT CRUSADERS, Polysics, and 9mm Parabellum Bullet.
VOLA & THE ORIENTAL MACHINE- Halan’na-ca Darkside: Zazen Boys this month, VOLA next month.
…and here’s the poll. Take the time and vote ^_^