5 SHORTIES VOLUME ONE

This year I have missed quite a few releases that I felt are noteworthy to mention, but might not have a full length review of things to talk about. So here, I’ve decided to put together some quick thoughts on five of the more interesting ones.

Haru Nemuri – kick in the world

Let’s cut straight to it- the main single on this thing is a fucking beast. Huge, sweeping, emotionally potent, Haru Nemuri has pretty much dropped the cut of the year with it. The single as a whole, while not as mindblowing as her album, is still a worthy listen. I’m quite often turned off by remixes, but Haru Nemuri has made them a staple of her career (really playing with the idea of what a remix can be) and thus, are quality listening regardless. Most standout is the 8 minute ‘kick in the hell (HELLZAVIELERJP remix)’ which opts for sparse static accompanied by a piano- it’s truly arresting and the pick of the bunch. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a true ‘MAXI’ single and this is as long as a lot of artists’ EPs. Definitely a must listen if you’ve been enamored by Haru Nemuri before. 7.5/10

Wakusei Abnormal- Watashi wa Ikari de Dekiteiru

Wakusei Abnormal finally released their first full length album, 5 years after their astonishing debut EP, ‘ Nandemonai Kyoki’. While the group have gone through some major changes (and so-so releases) in that time, it’s great to see that the wait for an album has culminated in something so exciting. There’s not a dull track in the release, and it never wears out it’s welcome because it’s so tight. The group are the sexiest they’ve ever been, and their blend of pop is crisp and punchy. It’s a great return to form, and those on the fence about them will finally be able to settle in with this great listen. Keep it up! 7/10

ZOMBIE-CHANG- Petit Petit Petit

 

ZOMBIE-CHANG’s 2018 effort is a little bit of a departure from the synth pop of GANG!, featuring live bass and drums as backing. However, that trademark sound is still ever present, and it feels like a new avenue for ZOMBIE-CHANG to experiment and expand. It’s always catchy as ever, and ZOMBIE-CHANG’s songwriting is growing to be even more eclectic, with some cuts on this having a new-wave-ish tinge to them. You wouldn’t be completely out of line if you said you heard tinges of Halmens throughout. It’s another super short release, but it doesn’t need to be any longer than it is. Good stuff as usual. 8/10

LOONA- [+ +]

Unfortunately, the huge buildup and hype-wagon leading up to LOONA’s major debut did not help this mini album whatsoever. It, by Kpop standards, is not too bad- it’s chock full of catchy hooks and decent enough production- however, the godsend it feels like it should be it is not. As usual with K-anything, the singles are the standout tracks. They haven’t transcended the meme dirge they are stuck in yet. Ah well, maybe when they ‘comeback’. For now I’ll just stick with Eclipse. 5/10

Perfume- FUTURE POP

Is it really fair to review something that is just so easy to hate on? Probably not. However, I’ll be totally honest and say that the problem isn’t exactly with the girls themselves (actually, that’s the least of it’s problems)- it’s just the sense of laziness around this release. It definitely is the worst Perfume album to date- with its totally unappealing blend of future bass creating a messy foundation for the ‘bops’ it attempts to dazzle with. Nobody’s buying it, Yasutaka Nakata, and the blame is solely on you. 4/10

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5 SHORTIES VOLUME ONE

Mutyumu’s Ilya: A Look-back

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I remember that first time I heard Mutyumu‘s “die Ewige Wiederkunft“. That brilliant, intense and daring blend of post rock and neo-classical usurped by Hatis Noit’s operatic and classically trained vocals. What an experience, and one of the most cherished by a lot of veteran Japanese rock listeners- a milestone track that truly showed off the heights you can take the genre if you are willing to forgo the restraint and go all-out theatrical with your compositions. Some would call this approach trite- however, when you hear what Mutyumu achieved on their sophomore release Ilya, it’s hard to put any real complaint forward (unless it’s just not your thing to begin with). Overwrought, overwhelming, sorrowful strings cascading into rolling drums, soaring guitars and beautiful, lilting piano chords are the name of the game; and the game is played impeccably.

It’s then followed up by the extreme, Midori-esque “L’œil est Dieu” that beautifully mixes that neo-classical with hardcore punk (complete with abrasive screams) this time. It’s an incredible mix and one that is impossible to forget. Other highlights are ‘Sappho’, with its medieval lullaby style vocals and it’s wonderful closer ‘Hai no Hai’ which wraps things up perfectly. However, my top pick is ‘prayer’ which opens with the most gorgeous vocals I’ve heard Hatis Noit lay down to date. So moving it was on first listen that it brought tears to my tough early 20s male eyes. It still does. Oh and that crescendo, with such gigantic weight behind it, it’s almost unbearable. But in the best way possible.

Of course a lot of Ilya’s magic is owed to WORLDS END GIRLFRIEND, who worked on the album and brought it’s lovely sound and production to life, whilst truly respecting Mutyumu’s image for what the album was. The production is bold, heavy and spaced out. It’s both enormous and intimate, and constantly reveals more of it’s nuances on repeat visitation, like all great albums do.

It also happens to have one of the all time great album covers. Stark, simple, lovely and unforgettable, it simply features two women kissing. A cold, wintery image that matches the tone of the record wonderfully. It’s like peach and cream. One can only hope for a future repressing on LP, but that’s probably wishful thinking at this point.

And whilst there will always be people in the camp that prefer Mutyumu’s earlier, doom driven works, Ilya’s spacey sonic adventure is definitely my personal pick. Ilya came out way back in 2008, and Mutyumu’s legacy has become a kind of secret handshake between experimental J-rock fans.

Sure, Hatis Noit and other members are still on the scene- Hatis Noit most notably bringing out acapella albums (she now resides in England), which whilst interesting- just don’t fill that little spot in our hearts for the amazing (and let’s face it, kinda mysterious) group that was. Rumblings of new albums appear now and then on social media- but here we are, still waiting, wishing for something to followup this great record.

Or, on second thought, at this point, maybe it’s best left as the fascinating piece of post rock history it is (the closest thing we have today is likely the might Vampillia). I highly recommend revisiting, or exploring it for the first time right now, on the eve of its 10th anniversary. An essential milestone for any serious J-music fan.

Mutyumu’s Ilya: A Look-back

REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- KUSOKAWA PARTY

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Kusokawa PARTY, unlike the more recent albums by Seiko Oomori, is not remotely easy to adore immediately. As a fan, I feel I am guilty in becoming too comfortable with Seiko Oomori’s world, expecting an easy run or instant classic. She’s certainly given that an incredible amount of times, but here she really kicks the hornet’s nest and challenges us- something I hadn’t felt since first discovering her back in 2012.

Each of Seiko Oomori’s albums can be given it’s own unique character. To me, Mahou Ga is the bookworm, Zettai Shoujo the art student, Sennou is the upcoming superstar, TOKYO BLACK HOLE the mother and kitixxgaia the priest. Seiko Oomori herself describes Kusokawa PARTY as ‘The Jester’ but personally, it’s that cute but intimidating looking girl in the corner, awkwardly dressed and alone- who you don’t know will hug you or knife you if you approach. Perhaps both. But one things for certain, you HAVE to know.

The opening run of the album is a true tour de force. Seiko has never, ever been this energetic, even in her most uproarious moments. It’s absolutely exhausting. On first listen, it flew by without even really registering. What on Earth was that? A maelstrom of ideas (swooping Avex-style ballads, metal, punk numbers and even touches of K-pop) all colliding with each other. It is then, far more approachable if you listen to it through headphones on early listens, allowing all these elements to separate and settle a bit better.

Relief only really comes in by the eight track of the album- in the form of the now classic Seiko Oomori acoustic number ‘Tokyo to Kyou‘, which leads into the much more mellow ‘Watashimi‘ and its seemingly paired piece ‘Kimoikawa‘, which feel like the crash and recovery after a big night out, perhaps fittingly so given the title of the album.

What this album certainly offers from the get-go is Seiko’s best vocal performance ever. Every single song features some of her most truly outrageous, yet controlled wails to date. ‘Amoeba no Uta‘ is without a doubt, truly a moment of vocal perfection. It’s an absolutely phenomenal experience when her off-kilter singing turns into a blood curdling scream, which is bound to raise many arm hairs of listeners around the world.

My early impressions of this album were so different to what they are now, there’s a real sense of it evolving each spin. Seiko seems to be reaching for some kind of departure (not so much musically- more of a sense that Seiko needs to do something a little different in order to prevent staleness) here, or taking first steps into a new territory.

This happened with Zettai Shoujo, which made much more sense in the scheme of her discography with the release of follow up album Sennou. One can only wait and see if Kusokawa PARTY will share the same kind of legacy.

8/10 At most, Kusokawa PARTY is an extremely interesting and thought provoking work that challenges some of the preconceptions we had about Seiko Oomori’s brand, at worst, its 10 good new songs to add to the collection.

(This review is based on the regular edition of the album)

REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- KUSOKAWA PARTY

REVIEW: MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS- NO NEW WORLD

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I, like many others who were there to see the rise and demise of the original MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS, have had a hole in their heart where that group left their mark. The band seemed to fall apart just when they reached their apex, and it was a sad day in 2012 when they called it quits. But, nothing that volatile can be kept dormant forever, and MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS have finally, mercifully returned with a new album.

There are few women with a voice as sweet and emotive as Natsuko Miyamoto working in the rock world; elevating the impact of MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS’ music to ridiculous heights. Literally paralyzing, it will stop anyone from being able to do anything except listen. It’s great to say then, that she has lost none of that magic in the subsequent years since the original hiatus.

Knowing that the lineup has changed significantly from the original band members, one would fear that it would sound lesser or too different to be called MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS (as so many reworked bands often do). However, this is nothing to be afraid of. New members Isao Yoshino (drums) and Naoya Ogura (guitar) do a fantastic job at stepping in the shoes of previous members, sounding confident, and most importantly, natural.

What is instantly noticeable however, is that the band show some real restraint this time round. It’s not that they’ve lost any of that power that made them such a force, they’ve just harnessed it and use it to their benefit. Track structure is much more thought out, and instead of giving you a full blast of soaring guitars, it doles it out in snappy moments- ultimately making it that much more rewarding and exciting.

If there’s a small niggle- it’s likely it’s running time. It barely has time to settle before it’s over. However, it just makes you return to the start to listen all over again- and with absolutely zero tracks you’ll want to skip- from the blast that is opener “New Order”, to the gorgeous, smooth “Sugar”. There is no time for a dull moment, and MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS deliver one of the most exciting listens in years.

In the end, MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS’ ‘No New World’ is a truly triumphant return. Like the Phoenix, it awes with its majesty and blinds with its brevity. 9/10

More please!

REVIEW: MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS- NO NEW WORLD

REVIEW: HARU NEMURI- HARU TO SHURA

There occasionally comes a release that totally changes everything you expected from an artist. Haru Nemuri, who has made a name for herself making early Daoko-like tunes with previous releases has come and reinvented everything. Her latest album Haru to Shura is confident, wild, aggressive, punky and most of all- feels like a living, breathing thing. If she was grounded before- this time she’s shot herself into the stratosphere.

Opening with the rowdy “MAKE MORE NOISE OF YOU”, a fist shaking punk anthem that would make for a legendary T-shirt slogan, Haru sets the tone for the album ahead. Unbridled youth energy is the name of the game here, and with massive choruses like the one on “Narashite” or title track “Haru to Shura”, its hard not to get swept along with it. The instrumental work matches the energy (those soaring guitars!), and considering that it’s a “Jpop” record, it rocks harder than most rock bands.

Everything sounds organic and important. Nemuri has a flow that is impeccable and matches her explosive backing tracks perfectly. She growls like a pro- not a wail, a genuine, gut churning growl that shakes the soul. Production is appropriately rough around the edges, with no cookie cutter lining to soften the hits.

Track picks include the punchy single “Sekai o Torikaeshite Okure” (which will bore its way into your brain and sit there for hours after listening to it), the fun “Lost Planet” and finally, my personal favorite track “Nineteen”, which has one of the most impressively hard hitting hooks and transitions I’ve heard in a long, long time.

Usually, ending your album with remixes is a sign that you’re just filling the record up, but in this case- the remixes have had so much thought and effort put into them. They flow naturally with the album’s rhythm and they are surprisingly as satisfying as the original versions. The “Narashite” lazy jazz/trip-hop arrangement is particularly great- and makes for brilliant, sleepy, tripped out sendoff.

The grandest sentiment given from this extraordinary work is knowing that this release comes from a place that is entirely genuine- Haru Nemuri is giving her all on this album, the stakes feel high. It truly feels that she made this to prove herself- and without a doubt has on every level. There literally isn’t a single track you will want to skip- even the “zzz” interludes have the function of tying the album together neatly. A masterpiece.

10/10 You aren’t just experiencing a new J-pop album, you’re experiencing a new J-pop LANDMARK. Essential. Buy it. Play it everywhere you go. Perfect.

REVIEW: HARU NEMURI- HARU TO SHURA

REVIEW: MANATSU NAGAHARA- GREAT HUNGRY

Early 2018 has been quite the dry spell for Japanese Pop, at least compared to recent years. Thankfully then, Manatsu Nagahara has brought the rains of goodness with her debut full length GREAT HUNGRY.

Sometimes it doesn’t take reinventing the wheel to create a truly delightful album, and Nagahara has done just that here; provided one of the most catchy, heartwarming and truly outstanding ALBUM experiences in quite a while. She wears her previous work in pop punk group SEBASTIAN X on her sleeves here- but here there isn’t a sense of having to stick to one sound, leaping from genre to genre with gleeful abandon. While on paper that sounds like a mess- there is a well developed structure to the proceedings here- and the album is wonderfully easy to consume on first listen.

The energy and bounciness she brings to each and every track on her album is the thing you will notice immediately. Manatsu Nagahara is really having a lot of fun in the process- all the while showing a lot of care and concern for the final product. She uses her vocal styling to great benefit, that intensely nasal delivery both intoxicating levels of cute and piercingly catchy. It may not appeal to every listener- at first, but given time to settle, you’ll find yourself falling under her spell.

Album highlights are the folky opener “Dancer in the Poetry”, pop-punk blazer “Boku no Ikari Kimi no Hikari”, delightful lead single “Asonde Ikiyou” (try getting THAT out of your head for the next week) the ridiculously playful “FIRE” (with it’s absolutely uneccesary but charming cheer-line chorus), and the appropriately titled closer “SUPER GOOD”, in a new rendition for this album.

The thing is though, even the songs on the album that don’t hit quite as hard at the beginning all have some kind of eventual payoff, making none of them ‘skippable’ and impossible to ignore. Whether it be a goofy guitar solo, beautiful harmonization with her backing vocalists or a wild breakdown and faux-rap, it all has something to offer.

In the end, the takeaway experience from this gem of a record is one of absolute and utter delight, and one that will stick to the memory of anyone who chooses to take the plunge. The first truly great mainstream J-pop album that this listener has heard in 2018, and surely one that I will continue to return to throughout the year.

8.5/10 Manatsu Nagahara’s GREAT HUNGRY truly feeds that hunger for some wonderful J-tunes that we have sorely missed for the last four months.

REVIEW: MANATSU NAGAHARA- GREAT HUNGRY

REVIEW: SAYUKO NANO- TENGOKU HAJIMEMASHITA

When Sayuko Nano dropped her first major EP “Kimi to Issho Nara Jigoku Demo Iiyo” in 2015, she struck a chord with her intended audience. She fit right in with the new wave of ‘alt-girls’- hitting a perfect midpoint between the likes of sparkly pop artists like Seiko Oomori and Hanae, whilst also touching on the sound of whisper-rap artists such as Izumi Macra and (then) Daoko. It went down perfectly with her intended audience- and was one of the most widely accepted and easily digested EPs from the emerging current scene.

And then, she sorta disappeared– delving into the world of seedy photo-books and occasional tweets to let us know she was still alive. Last year then, when she announced that she had recorded a new EP was very exciting news for anyone following her. The followup, 4 track mini album “Tengoku Hajimemashita” hit late January to a fairly lukewarm response. The lead single was a bit concerning to say the least. Still, I persevered and tried it out regardless. This definitely wasn’t the Sayuko Nano who sent shivers down our spines three years earlier. This was, well, disappointing, generic J-pop.

While there isn’t anything particularly atrocious or offensive about it, nothing really pings or stands out. The character of her early work has all but disappeared, instead favoring the trappings of lesser idol groups or casual contemporary pop. No teeth, no soul. Production opts for highly polished, overly glossy bops instead of the dreamy murk of her last outing. Unfortunately, it means that the mere four tracks just pass-by without any fanfare, just a slightly pleasant time kill.

Other than that, there really isn’t much to say. No individual tracks are better or worse than the others, so no “listener picks” can be discerned. The EP is concerning to anyone who has followed her from the start; in many ways it reminds of Wakusei Abnormal, who after blasting off with an amazing debut, ended up falling into the depths of generic pop with their followup releases. Hell, Sayuko Nano’s songs here even kind of sound like later Wakusei Abnormal at times. It’s not a release I can recommend to anyone, and that is a saddening thought for someone who had caught my attention so much just one release earlier.

4/10 Hopefully it’s just a misstep, but for now, Sayuko Nano has provided the most disappointing release of 2018 so far.

REVIEW: SAYUKO NANO- TENGOKU HAJIMEMASHITA