REVIEW- MOKA SATO- MERRY GO ROUND

Moka Sato‘s new album ‘Merry go round‘ starts off dreamy with a little ditty ‘Insomnia‘.  This sets the tone perfectly for what is going to come; a meticulously crafted and planned-out dreamland of some of the most gorgeous tracks to come out of Jpop in a while. Managing to integrate elements of many different genres (ranging from RnB/Hip-hop, Jazz and Folk to smidgens of Doo-Wop and Cabaret here) without sounding trite is quite a difficult thing to pull off- but not only does Sato seem to do it right- she absolutely flourishes in doing so.

At a brisk 32 minutes, Moka Sato manages to expand and improve significantly on her debut album, ‘LUKEWARM‘ that I spun on release but never really clicked with (though on a recent return, it still has some absolutely quaint enjoyment to be found). The production is greatly widened, instrumentation tighter, vocals more focused and strong. She’s really hit a run here, and there’s no slowing her down.

The album seems to be written as a full listening experience (complete with gorgeous short intermissions), it breezes by and there’s no tracks that wreck the flow (even when it hits acoustic folk number ‘Tomodachi‘), all building to the brightest and most brazenly catchy single on the album, the lovely ‘melt summer‘.

My favorite song is the jazz heavy ‘Utau Onna‘, which is exactly what I love to hear when it comes to Japanese Pop with jazz influences- it stays bright and bouncy but ever so often feels like its going to come off the rails, creating a gorgeous tension. Oh and that sax/piano solo: amazing. Jazz in J-pop has become almost a cliche/joke at this point, but Moka Sato really seems to understand it and uses it as a tool, rather than merely a tack-on, and it’s absolutely refreshing to hear.

Overall, refreshing is really the best word to describe ‘Merry go round‘ in general. I’ve not been able to put the album down since listening to it, a wonderful surprise that I’m very grateful to have come across this year. Definitely another AOTY contender for 2019 (watch out CHAI!), and one that I’m sure most of my readers will enjoy.

9/10– Moka Sato has really lifted her game with this one and presents a brilliant, essential sophomore release. Adorable.

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REVIEW- MOKA SATO- MERRY GO ROUND

REVIEW: Seiko Oomori- Zettai Kanojo feat. Sayumi Michishige

(This review looks at the single as a package, not just the A-side)

There was always going to come a time where Seiko Oomori eventually dropped a single that I couldn’t defend whatsoever- and this is the one, a reimagining of a classic with Seiko’s personal idol Sayumi Michishige onboard. Even though Zettai Kanojo in it’s original form is one of her finest works to date- this absolute bastardization is a big black blemish on her gorgeous pink canvas. The overuse of autotune, miserably overproduced backing track and knowledge that she has done a better duet with a JAV actress all add up to the worst track in Seiko Oomori’s discography to date.

However, the two b-sides that come with it really soften the blow- for they are two of her best songs since TOKYO BLACK HOLE- particular LOW hAPPYENDROLL — Shoujo no Mama de Shinu, a gorgeous, lengthy power ballad that really embraces Seiko’s most tender side (with sweet, humble, non-autotuned backing vocals by Hiraga Sachie), complete with a gigantic release near the end is everything I love about Seiko Oomori.

The brand new version of VOID is amazing too -a punky rendition of the acoustic bonus track that appeared on certain versions of KUSOKAWA Party– harken back to her wild days in former band Pink Tokarev. It’s adorable, majorly catchy and bound to get stuck in your head for days. It really showcases the best of her live side, and it’s surprisingly even more effectively energetic than most of her previous album. More like this please!

So, overall, what you’re getting into with this single is a really terrible A-side (sorry Sayumi Michishige fans!) and two blisteringly amazing b-sides that deserve all fans attention. It’s a pretty nice 5th anniversary parcel- and the blu-ray edition comes with a pretty damn sweet concert from the Kusokawa Party tour too.

I’m comfortable with giving an overall score of 7/10– Two great, one truly awful track make up a pretty decent single well worth having for Seiko Oomori fans.

REVIEW: Seiko Oomori- Zettai Kanojo feat. Sayumi Michishige

REVIEW: CHAI- PUNK

CHAI‘s ‘PUNK‘ is one of the most immediate, fun, and addictive records that has come out of J-pop in quite a while. It might be bright and silly at times, but it still is indeed, as the album title suggests, a punk record at it’s heart. From it’s ugly ass album cover, to it’s simple, but potent lyricism and punchy, memorable choruses on literally every track; CHAI recognize that their rough edges are perfect for hooking their listeners in to create an unforgettable experience. This album is no exception.

The group’s previous album ‘PINK‘ was a fantastic milestone and got CHAI worldwide recognition (including a Pitchfork feature)- PUNK continues in it’s vein, but manages to be slightly uglier, have more attitude and again, will receive an international release via Burger records. Also like it’s predecessor, CHAI uses a slimline approach to the album as a whole, making a very tight listening experience clocking in at a mere 31 minutes- making it an easy album to digest for newcomers, and a very repeatable listen for established fans at the same time.

Of all the praise I’ve seen for CHAI, I have yet to see anyone focus on what I feel is one of the key elements that makes them so standout- and that is the amazing bass guitar work by Yuuki (ironically the latest member to join the group). Sure, Mana, Kana and Yuna all are essential and irreplaceable here- but that amazing amount of crunch Yuuki brings to the table (listen to “FAMILY MEMBER” for the best example of this) is what really cements the sound fans love. It also happens to have the most adorable song CHAI have ever recorded, with closing track “FUTURE” lamenting on the dreams of childhood.

Most importantly, the album carries the ‘girl power’ that CHAI have made a name for themselves with- which feels absolutely right for a group from Japan- with the serious and current issues of equality and image touched upon throughout all the bops presented here (most glaringly blatant on lead single ‘Fashionista‘). Top that with CHAI’s absolute discontent for ‘kawaii’ culture (indeed calling their blend of music ‘neo-kawaii’) and you have one amazing melting pot that represents more than just a small part of what is going on underneath Japan’s cultural veneer. It’s compelling and exciting- and PUNK as fuck.

9/10. CHAI’s best and most important work to date, PUNK is an album no-one should be skipping off their radar this year.

REVIEW: CHAI- PUNK

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 5-1

5. Sleep- The Sciences

The return of Sleep was absolutely wonderful. Five epic, beastly tracks that really showcases the band’s strengths even after all these years since Dopesmoker‘s release. Truly an example of what levels you can take stoner metal to if you are focused and ready to go the whole hog. Immaculately produced, with some of the finest riffs this year. Some may even argue that it’s Sleep’s best release in general. Not only the best stoner release, it’s the best metal album of 2018. Light up! (Seriously though, it can be thoroughly enjoyed even without the assistance of mind altering substances, trust me).

4. Jun Togawa avec Kei Okubo- Jun Togawa avec Kei Okubo

One of the later releases of the year, another fantastic addition to the Jun Togawa canon and one that seems to have been the release many Togawa fans have been waiting for. Stripped back, it’s just Togawa and Kei Okubo on a sole piano, covering both her most iconic tracks, along with some interesting and beautiful covers of classic songs from around the world. Togawa’s voice is getting stronger and stronger after her return and it finally feels like she is truly back. Amazing!

3. Kero Kero Bonito- Time ‘n’ Place

Never did I see myself enjoying a Kero Kero Bonito album enough to get on my top 25 list, let alone in the top 5. I’ve never found anything about the group genuine enough to go back on, however, with Time ‘n’ Place, they really took me off guard. Sure we had the EP ‘Totep’, which showed some progress from the trademark J-pop/PC Music inspired sound they established themselves with; it still had not really given an indication of how well the band would adapt to the new genres that they would take inspiration from with this album (ranging from Brit-rock to splashes of punk and even twee). It’s still got the pep that fans have grown to love, except it seems to come from a slightly more jaded place, as if the KKB of before have grown up a little and had some dreams stepped on by the big bad world. Sounds horrible, I know, but it’s worked wonders for them. They’ve also tightened the screws, got their lyrics together, managed to release something that is thematically coherent and not irritating, and ultimately, one of the greatest releases by any band this year. Essential.

2. Mitski- Be the Cowboy

The album that has by far hurt the most of any album this year (in the best way possible). Mitski has such a vivid, gorgeous way of invoking memories and feelings through her lyricism. We’ve all known someone like some of the characters in these songs, hell, some of these songs might even remind you of yourself. These tracks are short, fleeting thoughts that really just work beautifully as a whole, especially on repeated listens. You will probably find it difficult to land on a definitive favorite song, because it will change every time you listen. Most of all though, the most miraculous thing that Be The Cowboy does is reignite that naive romance of a rock album that ‘will change your life’ that you probably haven’t felt since you were a teenager. Listen to it, dummy.

1. Haru Nemuri- Haru to Shura

Haru Nemuri‘s 2018 album was, as I said in my original review, a Jpop landmark. What I didn’t expect however, was that it would blow up as much as it did internationally. Out of all the new acts, who would have thought someone like Haru Nemuri, a relative unknown at the time of launch would be the Japanese artist that got the attention of netizens?. Sure, most of that help came from Anthony Fantano giving her a strikingly good review, but still, to see her sights now set on worldwide touring (she will be playing at Primavera next year) is quite amazing.

The album still is absolutely breathtaking, its perfect blend of post rock, hip hop, noise and everything in-between proving to be one of the most infectious brews in the last few years. Every song feels alive, the production immaculate, not afraid to get rough around the edges where it needs it; those crushing, crunchy guitars the driving force Haru’s poetry. Fans of everything from Seiko Oomori to Number Girl will find something to love here, and repeated listening is absolutely guaranteed. It’s the album that has stood out to me for all of 2018 and I’m certain that it will be the defining moment that Haru Nemuri burst into the wider consciousness of the international alternative music scene. There is no more essential J-release this year and may even be the best for the next few years to come. Excellent.

(25-21)
(20-16)
(15-11)
(10-6)

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 5-1

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 10-6

10. Manatsu Nagahara- GREAT HUNGRY

Manatsu Nagahara‘s ‘GREAT HUNGRY‘ was one of the first albums that I really loved this year. The ex-SEBASTIAN X vocalist really knows how to stir up a vivid palate of emotions in her bright punchy songs, all super catchy and very well constructed. The album is addictive as hell, and just has a level of pep that is starting to be seen less in rock music. One of the strongest albums of the year, and lands in my top 10 because of it.

9. Anna Von Hausswolff- Dead Magic

Anna Von Hausswolff returned in 2018 with another opus of an album. Gigantic, Gothic tracks that have tinges of black and death metal, playing out like Kate Bush teamed up with Opeth– and it is absolutely wonderful to behold. There is a surprising amount of replay value to be had with this one too, a really fantastic and theatrical experience that anyone with the patience for will find absolutely rewarding.

8. Seiko Oomori- Kusokawa Party

Seiko Oomori, on my top 10 list again, of course. This will happen every year unless she slows down or releases a dud. But again, she has released one of the best J-pop records of the year- if not quite up to the standards of some of her previous releases. This is the ‘fun’ album from her- it’s fast and furious, and has one of the most blazing opening runs on any record this year. It was all a bit perplexing at first, but now the dust has settled, for me, it’s just 10 more excellent songs to add to her canon. Great. Oh and ‘7:77′ is still my favorite J-pop music video of 2018.

7. Janelle Monáe- Dirty Computer

Janelle Monáe returned this year with the first album since The Electric Lady, and is the first album of hers not to be a part of the ‘Cindi Mayweather’s Metropolis‘ concept that drove her first two records. This album drops the android persona to focus on herself and her sexual identity, and it’s one of the more personal records to come out because of it. This is an album where the line between R&B and alternative pop really meets, elements of funk, hip hop and soul blend perfectly, and its fantastic because of it. Potent and powerful, a must hear for 2018.

6. MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS- No New World

Not only was this the Japanese comeback album of the year, it was also the most well produced. A gorgeous record from start to finish, that amazing post rock/shoe-gaze that MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS did so well before is truly back, more refined and perfect than ever. The record, while short, sounds like it has had hours and hours of work put into it, it seeps with perfectionism. I haven’t stopped going back to it since it landed in July and it still wows me every-time. Oh and that album cover is breathtaking.

(25-21)
(20-16)
(15-11)

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 10-6

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 15-11

15. ZOMBIE-CHANG- PETIT PETIT PETIT

ZOMBIE-CHANG‘s 2018 release was a lot of fun. While perhaps not as trendy or hip as previous recordings, what made this one interesting was the use of a live backing band- making for a new level of depth to the recordings. It bares all of her trademarks but also plays somewhat like a modern Halmens release, wearing it’s influences proudly on its sleeve. ZOMBIE-CHANG herself sounds great as usual, with some of her best vocal performances yet. It’s really well produced, and never wears out it’s welcome at a brief 28 minutes.

14. Sam Phillips- World on Sticks

Sam Phillips has been one of my favorite artists since I can remember, yet is somewhat of an overlooked gem. This, her 10th album, continues her trend of sophisticated, understated acoustic driven pop rock/chamber pop that gathers its themes and inspirations from current world events. Big drums and acoustic guitar drive every one of the simple yet highly crafted songs along, with a well employed string quartet to add a bit more character in the backing track. Sam’s time-perfected croon tops everything off and once again, delivers and album that is enviably well rounded. If you haven’t heard of her before, it would be a great starting point, older listeners already know the quality to expect. Excellent.

13. Yamantaka//Sonic Titan- Dirt

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan‘s first album with new vocalist Joanna Delos Reyes takes a leap into a much more streamlined sound that is quite significantly more approachable than earlier works. This probably comes in part to the album’s main concept being a soundtrack to a non-existent Buddhist and Haudenosaunee anime. This doesn’t take anything away from the mystique of the group however, with their trademark mix of Eastern and Western cultures is still ever present (if a little less subtle). The album is hard in the traditional sense of the term, and whilst not as mystical and a tiny bit goofier, overall, it’s just a really great, fun rock album from from start to end, warranting it a lot of replay value and it’s spot on this list.

12. The Beths- Future Me Hates Me

The Kiwi band’s debut is a pop-punk gem that has picked up a bit of steam internationally. Super catchy, fun songs that will bring back a lot of nostalgic memories for 90s kids, invoking acts like Liz Phair, Veruca Salt (and for the Aussies, The Grates), whilst still having their own unique take on the genre. The youth energy on the album never lets up, and it serves as a great pick-me-up record any time of the day. I personally listened to it most during my commutes, and it was a perfect choice. It will be interesting to see where the group goes from here next (well, other than their Christmas track that was just released).

11. Chiaki Mayumura- Mejiri kara Suiteki 3-ko, Modoru

Chiaki Mayumura
‘s first official album is quite special in the way that it is truly a great example of what you can achieve even when you’re full DIY. The album is a fucking weird collection of cute bops, heartfelt acoustic tracks, weird ass James Bond inspired ditties, traditional idol and well, hip hop that on paper, should not work. However, Mayumura’s infectious, often outright beautiful vocal delivery and the crusty, rough edged production holds this unlikely mix together. Somehow. It’s one of the albums I became truly addicted to this year, and with a ‘mega’ double album on the way early 2019, Mayumura is this years ‘watch this artist‘ candidate for me.

(20-16)
(25-21)

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 15-11

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 20-16

20. U.S. Girls- In a Poem Unlimited

U.S. Girls‘ latest album was one of the biggest joys to listen to this year. Meg Remy once again shows her true knack for songwriting and this time she’s really honed it in and tightened the screws, yet surprisingly has worked with more people on this album than ever before. It’s a feminist album, but without being condescending or feeling contrived. There is an almost mythological element to the album as a whole, it feels like it’s own little universe, yet hits on real life issues hard as a brick to the face. It helps then, that musically, it’s very inviting, catchy and warm, yet still carries an element of danger throughout the whole thing. It’s an important record this year, and one of my most listened to. Highly recommended.

19. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu- Japamyu

It has been a rough couple of years for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and to say her popularity has waned is a mighty understatement. Which makes the timing of Japamyu a bit of a shame really, for it is her most complete and well rounded recorded to date. Sure, it falls into this ridiculous future-bass inspired midlife crisis that producer Yasutaka Nakata is still (see the new DAOKO track) stuck in, but here, there is a bit more flair. Traditional Japanese instrumentation is CAREFULLY used here to add some real character to the tracks without distracting. Most importantly, there are a lot of truly catchy passages and memorable hooks throughout it’s entire run. It’s a good one, don’t let the name Kyary Pamyu Pamyu discourage you from listening to this pop gem.

18. cacophony- Hwa

cacophony‘s debut is a powerful one. It’s dark- mainly because the songwriting stems from one of the darkest places imaginable- the death of your mother. All songs drip with atmosphere, a great sense of mourning permeates throughout it’s short runtime. The opening run is one of the most intense on any record this year, and the latter half one of the most poignantly beautiful. Definitely the best offering I came across in the South Korean indie scene, with some of the most gorgeous instrumental passages (there have been comparisons to Shiina Ringo‘s Karuki Zamen Kuro no Hana in this aspect of the recording, as well as the Nier: Automata soundtrack) I have heard in a long while.

17. Afrirampo- AFRIVERSE

Afrirampo returning was a godsend this year. Not only did one of the best experimental/avant-garde duos in Japan bring a new album- it also happened to be one of their best ever. A collection of swooping psychedelic jams at their finest, with an energy that is seldom matched even by the youngest of bands. Funny, wild and even a little off kilter and unnerving at times, this album will definitely satisfy those fans who have been waiting so long for a new record. Also, it goes fucking hard. Great.

16. Imperial Triumphant- Vile Luxury

Of the many ‘metal’ (I’m using this as an encapsulating term here) albums I have listened to this year, very few really stood out as anything truly beyond what metal has already offered before. Enter Throatruiner Record’s Imperial Triumphant latest record, ‘Vile Luxury’. A delightful head-fuck of a record, it is a hodgepodge of death metal, black metal, jazz and almost Broadway level theatrics. All of this and yet, it never feels forced or cheap, a truly brutal and insane experience that can only be fully described by listening to it. Weird and addictive, I’ve had it on my playlist all year and love it immensely.

(25-21)

 

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 20-16