Happy Halloween! I figured it may be a few weeks until I finish the actual October edition of This Month in J-Rock so I decided to make a shorter post with music videos only. As always, I try to highlight the smaller bands.
ART-SCHOOL- “Illmatic Baby”
Comments: I try not to use profanity on this blog, but seriously, WTF? The video starts off as a generic band performance with bright colors going off in the background. But then 40 seconds in, it cuts to a red-head girl licking the nipples of a manequin (who will eventually transform into a real asian male). When we finally get to the chorus, “shake hip clap your hands move your body,” we get to see the most hilarious booty dances since Sir Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back.” Seriously, these women are quivering like a bitch in heat. This is ART-SCHOOL’s first experiment in the dance rock/Metro Station genre. I will admit though this song grew on me because of this horrid video.
COMEBACK MY DAUGHTERS- “Hot Chinkee”
Comments: This band really snuck up on me. They are on Pizza of Death Records, just like the band Asparagus and Ken Yokohama. Simlarly, Comeback My Daughters also sing in mostly okay English. “Hot Chinkee” is a great folk-rock rock song with a catchy chorus. They opted for a more “artsy” video for the song that is equally apealing.
Comments: HOLSTEIN is an emotional rock band from Japan. “Farewell to our memories” is a fairly aggressive song and reminds me of 9mm Parabellum Bullet. The video consists of security-camera footage of the band’s practice space. It’s a decent song but the video is oddly cut. There’s moments where the singer is playing a trombone and the guitarist is playing the violin. That would be nice but there is no violin or trombone on the song at all, which is disappointing.
VOLA & THE ORIENTAL MACHINE- “An imitation’s superstar”
Comments: I really really love the intro to this song. It’s very barbaric, just like “Mexico Pub” from their last album. With the random purple clouds and bright oranges, the video looks like it was produced in 70s. The singer’s awkard head nods and Micheal Jackson pelvic thrusts held my attention for an otherwise standard performance vid with some psychedelic elements.
Capsule is back with a vengeance. “JUMPER” is an epic 7-minute dance track with heavy bass and extremely repetitive, intoxicating vocals. It reminds me of “Sugarless Girl” but much more fast and furious. The PV is abstract, psychedelic and trippy. Toshiko is absolutely adorable in this. The track is off their 11th album More! More! More! due out Nov. 19.
Just as BEAT CRUSADERS fans don’t know Toru Hidaka has an acoustic side project named GALLOW, it seems fans of the pillows don’t realize Sawao Yamanaka has his own side project THE PREDATORS. The members came together in 2004 when JIRO from GLAY covered “Sad Sad Kiddie” on the pillows tribute album Synchronized Rockers. During the recording, the two met up with Shinpei Nakayama from Straightener and formed the J-Rock supergroup THE PREDATORS. They released two mini-albums, Hunting!!!! in July 2005, and Kiba wo Misero in October 2008. Kiba wo Misero will be released on iTunes on October 28.
Stylistically, THE PREDATORS doesn’t sound that much different than the pillows. They list Nirvanva as an influence and dedicate a song to The Ramones “C.R.S. (Come on Ramones Song)” on their latest mini-album.
THE PREDATORS are
Vocal,Guitar : SAWAO YAMANAKA (the pillows)
Bass : JIRO (GLAY)
Drums : SHINPEI NAKAYAMA (STRAIGHTENER)
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.