This Month In J-Rock: July 2008August 14, 2008
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- Love Addict/Time Goes By
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- Disco Baby
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- The Unresponsible Reason
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.
ELLEGARDEN- ELLEGARDEN BEST 1998~2008
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.
Genki Rockets- I -Heavenly Star-
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. (-)
Good 4 Nothing- Swallowing Aliens
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.
MONGOL800- etc. works
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 Futuristic Unity- HAKAI(初回生産限定盤)
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…
Posted in 80_pan, 8otto, Ami Suzuki, Ellegarden, FoZZtone, Genki Rockets, Good 4 Nothing, Jazztronik, Mo'some Tonebender, mongol800, Orange Range, Saddest Crying, Saw Loser, This Month In J-Rock, VAMPS, Versailles, Wagdug Futuristic Unity |