On his first album, oono yuuki got tired of singing folk music and invited his friends over for a jam session. The resulting tracks were far and away the highlights of that album. He does the same on the first single off Tempestas, recruiting 8 of the brightest minds in Japan for this epic collaboration. If Yuuki would drop the solo act and form a real band with these guys they’d be a major force in the indie scene.
If you’re reading this you’re probably not down in Austin watching a ton of great bands and films. Like me. But don’t fret, this week’s J-Rock Fridays is SXSW themed. This is not a complete list of all the Japanese bands playing at SXSW. Just the ones who had their video uploaded to SXSW’s YouTube page. Plus a few I’d be remiss not to post.
Tornado Boyz- “Ich Bin Auslaender”
German rap? Really? I don’t know how foreigner Daisuke met up with this Berlin-based band but this video is endlessly amusing.
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.
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 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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
I finished this column much later than I anticipated. A mixture of The Dark Knight being awesome, various family shit, and back to school blues. As expected, I was unable to locate the latest albums from Electrico, Enie Meenie, and GALLOW in time for this month’s column. Please forgive me if I am bitter. Despite the fact, I have more releases on here than in last month’s column. I actually had to cut a few releases.
(*) =highly recommended
(-) = stay the hell away from it.
nothing = I’m stingy with my stars!
Before starting this column, I would like to pay tribute to legendary punk-rock producer Jerry Finn (whose work has been a major influence on at least a couple bands in this month’s column) who died of a brain hemorrhage last weekend. He produced such classics as Green Day’s Dookie, Rancid’s …And Out Come the Wolves, blink-182’s Enema of the State and many others in between from bands such as Pennywise, Mxpx, Sum 41, Alkaline Trio and AFI. You will be missed…
I always admired bands were the lead singer was the drummer. You must have a lot of stamina to do both at once and not sound short-breathed. Watching 8otto music videos always amaze me. Back to the review, “Bomb” is their latest single and is very good. They sound a bit like The Strokes or Interpol. The vocals, sometimes in English, seem a bit monotone but not horrible. The b-side “Staxx” is very slow with more focus on guitar-work but “N.Y.P” is very speedy with handclaps throughout the whole song. 8otto ‘s straight up rock-n-roll sound should be relatively easy for a Western listener to enjoy. (*)
Ami Suzuki- ONE
ONE is the second Ami Suzuki single produced by awesome Capsule front man Nakata Yasutaka. Does it measure up to “Free Free/Super Music Maker?” No. Whereas “Free Free” was minimal techno blowout, “ONE” is so heavy in vocals it’s almost impossible to dance to. I know, she’s originally a J-Pop singer. So what. If you’re going to change your sound be consistent. On the other hand, the B-side “A Token of Love” is great. The horse-gallop synthesizers will blow your mind away. The single concludes with a throwaway karaoke version of “ONE” and a decent remix of “A Token of Love.” I know I don’t have to mention this but she’s really fucking hot on the album cover.
Mo’some Tonebender- Synchronicity
After nearly a decade playing in the rock/punk genre, Mo’some Tonebender surprised us last year with the mostly electronic album C.O.W. (Check Out World). Their latest single “Synchronicity” follows suit. Unfortunately, it’s not very memorable. The b-side “Quiet” sees the trio return to their rock style tracks but again doesn’t compare to their earlier tracks. As is standard with most single releases, its seems, an instrumental version of “Synchronicity” is also included. I don’t know if I like where Mo’some is going with their new material. I’ll hold off until their new album drops in September. (-)
VAMPS is the latest side project from L’arc~en~ciel vocalist HYDE. Joining HYDE on guitar is K.A.Z who wrote several songs on HYDE‘s last solo album Faith. Needless to say, the chemistry between the two is great and is the next natural step from HYDE‘s solo stuff. “Love Addict” is a fast paced hard-rock song sung in total English. Not to mention, it starts off in hand claps (they know what I like!). Lyrically, the song is very hippy with the words “come light my fire” screamed out during the chorus. “Time Goes By” slows it down a little with bilingual English/Japanese vocals and a nice acoustic guitar in addition to electric. This is a pretty good first single but not enough to convert me yet.
80_pan, formerly known as 80★PAN and then something else before that, released their debut mini-album early July. As expected from the title “Disco Baby,” there’s several danceable songs in between a couple mediocre J-pop tunes. The first song “Crazy” is a pretty great remix by Darren Cullen and will set your expectations high. The second track and title track are easily the worst songs while all the songs in between are pretty great like “Pop Cream” and “80_pan.” Comparable to other pop groups with a dance twist like Perfume or HALCALI. (*)
Jazztronik has been involved in the Japanese dance scene since the late 90s and is the recording name of pianist NOZAKI Ryōta. His latest mini-album is full of disco and slow club songs featuring female guest vocalists. “Sweet Rain” is your classic 80s feel good disco track, a song that I still haven’t gotten out of head. “I Like It” and “Rising In My Heart” are really slow, not bad but reminds me of old movies from the 30s and 40s or I Love Lucy were old people get drunk in the Copacabana nightclubs. The next two songs are all instrumental with a “big band” feel to it. The last song “Street Walkin’ Woman” sounds straight out of a musical. All songs are sung in English and would be suitable for nightclubs with an older clientele and charity functions.
Saddest Crying’s debut EP is a little underwhelming. All five tracks are compiled from various samplers and compilation tracks they’ve performed over the years and is available to download for free here. If you’re a fan of screamo and hardcore music you’ll know what to expect here. The first four tracks are scream-fulled and although generic does have some charm. The last song, “Crying,” slows it down a whole lot with essentially an acoustic guitar and the singer singing about getting kicked out his house. Most of these songs are of demo quality which is not surprising.
Two months after announcing their indefinite hiatus, ELLEGARDEN’s record label releases their “best of” album. Normally I would complain “why wasn’t this track included?” but frankly I don’t have time for that. I’m more worried about the band and how long this “hiatus” will last. Look at blink-182, same kind of band same situation. Their band members haven’t talked to each other in nearly 5 years. Will this happen to ELLEGARDEN? Punk history says yes, most likely. Doom and gloom aside they could use a break, they’ve essentially been putting out the same album for years now. Not that that’s a bad thing for fans but is constrictive to the band members themselves. ELLEGARDEN BEST does a good job of compiling some of my favorite tracks like “Salamander,” “My Favorite Song,” “Red Hot,” and “Make A Wish.” My only gripe is the disproportionate Japanese language tracks on this compilation. There was never more than 1 or 2 full Japanese language songs on ELLEGARDEN’s albums but yet there’s a total of 6 on their best of. It just seems a bit “off” to me, like the label is trying to push them to something they’re not. I’m pretty sure there’s no new tracks on this compilation. This is a decent tribute to the band, but it just doesn’t compare to listening to the actually albums themselves.
We waited a year…for this? Nevermind the amazing singles “Heavenly Star,” “Star Line,” and “Breeze,” once you take out all the previously released material, remixes, and interludes (which are essentially chopped up parts of the singles) we have a total of four new songs. Four! And they’re not that great either. “I Will” and “Star Surfer” are similar to the very disappointing single “Smile” while “Never Ever” is a straight up ballad with nothing but piano. “Fly,” while definitely not as catchy as the aforementioned “amazing” singles, is actually a decent pop song. The album ends with a Japanese language version of “Star Line” and two more remixes of “Breeze.” I personally think this is a big step down for the make believe pop artist. The first two singles are a much better purchase than this. (-)
Only so many Japanese blink-182 wannabes can be as good as ELLEGARDEN. For those interested, Swallowing Aliens has more of a Take Off Your Pants and Jacket/Enema of the State (RIP Jerry Finn!) feel to it. I honestly thought I would write a scathing review of this album but I can’t bring myself to do it, even if “Proof of my life” sounds strikingly identical to blink 182’s “Roller Coaster.” There’s some charm here that brings me back to my high school years when all I listened to was pop-punk. I also have to give them props for singing in English, and using the “f-” word, even if I can’t understand half the things they’re saying. With repeated listens I think this may live up to some of the great Japanese pop-punk bands like ELLEGARDEN, enie meenie, Ken Yokoyama, and Nicotine. Imitation is the best form of flattery.
I’m pretty sure this is a b-sides album. Why? I’ve seen a couple of the “featuring” tracks on other singles/albums not by the band, it has no album flow, and “etc.” simply implies b-sides. But I’m not interested enough to research it. There’s actually a lot of really great tunes on this compilation even though the band genre-hops on every single track. The album starts off strong with a ska punk song with plenty of handclaps during the chorus. The second track continues with another high energy song with some girl shouting in the background. The first “featuring” track with Black Bottom Brass Head is full on ska as well as the song featuring Skaymates (who also did some ska songs with the BEAT CRUSADERS!). “Nasaki” featuring Ryukyudisko (who also did a techno song with the BEAT CRUSADERS!) is the only song I’ve previously heard coming into the album. The twelfth track “Momo” featuring Koja Misako is a nice traditional Japanese song with traditional wind instruments and chanting. It’s refreshing to see a modern punk band, of all things, return to their cultural roots. There’s a lot of interesting punk and ska songs on here with new and old school flavor. I liked it a lot. (*)
Orange Range- Panic Fancy
Panic Fancy is the latest bore of an album from J-poppers Orange Range. Despite the electrifying album title, there’s more ballads on here than anything. It’s kind of pathetic. This band hasn’t been important since they released “Asterisk” from the anime Bleach. There’s some decent jazz/ska influenced songs on the album such as “Happy Birthday Yeah! Yeah! Wow! Wow!” “Ika Summer,” and (unfortunately not a Micheal Jackson cover song) “Beat It.” The nanana’s on “Ikenai Taiyou” are somewhat infectious and the violin on “Jitsugen Touhi” is cool. Fans of Orange Range will likely eat this up but it’s highly forgettable for the rest of us. (-)
I gave up on visual-kei years ago but to my surprise I’ve been following this band since they released their first single “The Revenant Choir.” Could it be their Victorian attire? The grinding 80s metal guitars? Or their ridiculously long spoken intros? Let’s start off with the familiar. “The Revenant Choir” choir is included here, twice; the original “International Edition” with spoken word intro and one without (pointless?). I always thought this song would go great on Guitar Hero if Sony wasn’t racist. All three songs from the A noble was born into chaos single is included here. Apparently, it was only sold at their shows so now their home-bound fans can enjoy such classics as the “Aristocrat’s Symphony.” For some reason, none of the tracks from the Lyrical Symphony mini-album are included, not even “Red Carpet Day” their best song! Overall this is an OK album. This is the type of music I put on when I’m doing mundane work like cleaning my room or writing papers. There’s nothing too exciting but enough for me to randomly get up and shred a mean air guitar if I feel like it. (*)
Wagdug is the latest project from Hiroshi Kyono of The Mad Capsule Markets. I’ve never seen a debut album so star-studded. We have DJ Starscream of Slipknot on “Hakai,” Chino Moreno of deftones on “Wall,” Ryo Kawakita from Maximum the Hormone on “Systematic People,” and Justice (one of my favorite techno groups, similar to Daft Punk) on “X-Stereo.” Musically, it’s hard to describe Wagdug Futuristic Unity. There’s a lot of screaming, loud bass, even some rap but it’s definitely more in the techno/dance genre but dark. Some of my favorite songs from last year’s mini-album are included here such as “Mass Compression” and “Mad Saturator.” This is the kind of music you blast in your car when you have a serious case of road rage zooming down the highway cutting people off. It’s hard to pick one stand out track because they all work so well. (*)
PICK OF THE MONTH
Saw Loser- Hits Hit the Fans
As my friends know I’m a sucker for cover songs and Saw Loser have delivered on this album! Saw Loser is a punk quartet with members from Australia, Japan, and the United States that somehow relocated and based themselves in Singapore. Hits Hit the Fans was originally titled the Punk’d Up EP but new songs were recorded for a full-length album and released a few months later. The album starts off strong with an instrumental version of the Godzilla theme and abruptly jumps into James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” My favorite tracks are Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon,” and The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love.” The only song I’m not feeling is “I’ll Be There For You,” probably because of my personal vendetta on all things Friends. The cover album is a great mix of newer and older pop songs. There’s at least one song on here for everybody to love.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR NEXT MONTH
D’espairsRay- Kamikaze: This will be the first time I’m listening to the band. Will I like or hate them? Considering how late I posted this column I’ve already heard most of the releases in this section, this single included. But I won’t tell you until next month!
Detroit Metal City- Satsugai: The theme song for the upcoming live action Detroit Metal City movie.
GOLLBETTY- Betty’s Buggy: Second full-length album from chick ska band GOLLBETTY.
NICO Touches the Walls- Broken Youth: When I wrote about this band in last month’s column, I never expected to see them perform the latest theme song from Naruto Shippuden. I feel sort of betrayed, like when BEAT CRUSADERS announced “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” would be the new theme for Bleach. Nevertheless, despite my hatred for all things Naruto this is a good career move for them. Oddly enough, my post on NICO’s Bungy single has jumped up several hundred views the past couple of weeks…