DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2017: 5-1

So here we are, at the end of my top 20 list. Here are the 5 albums of 2017 that I feel exemplify the best of what the year had to offer. Thanks once again for reading. Let’s get into it shall we?

5. Boris- DEAR

Ahh, Boris. Forever pushing the boundaries, this year played it a little more safe and just put out an album you can tell they loved making. It plays to all their strengths, it’s easily their heaviest release in a long while- and in turn, surprisingly, their most accessible. It’s an invigorating listen, so many of Boris’ finest tropes on display in one tight package. It rocks, it drones, it wails, it rumbles. It’s Boris.

4. Converge- The Dusk in Us

Converge return for their first album in five years, and once again, prove that they are the kings of modern hard-core. This album is truly spectacular, each and every song is meticulous, the production amazing. It houses some of the most amazing drum work I have heard in almost a decade. Converge not only manage to bring the best hard-core/punk/metal release of the year, it might be their best album to date- though that will be hotly debated. Either way, no one can deny it’s power and prowess. Also, when has hard-core ever been this beautiful? Next level stuff.

3. St. Vincent- MASSEDUCTION

St. Vincent delivers the best western pop release of the year in 2017. Hauntingly potent, amazingly catchy, it’s a small revelation in itself. I often roll my eyes when an indie rock artist goes the electronic dance route- it’s quite an overdone trope in modern music to me- however, it’s as if St. Vincent was made for it. Never leaving her rock roots behind, St. Vincent uses the electronic medium to expand her vision and deliver her stories home in a way that will shake up any listener. It’s fun, yearning, sexy and most of all- just sounds damn good. Get it.

2. Seiko Oomori- kitixxxgaia

Let’s face it- anyone who follows me at all will have known this was going to be in the top five. Seiko Oomori has once again delivered an album that has been talked about, pondered over, loved and in turn- loathed even more by detractors, depending on who is listening. Her expansion of themes into religion, idol culture, sex and personal politics are really what stand out the most here. kitixxxgaia is a very important album to me, I have listened to it countless times. Every song has its place. The use of new producers and collaborators make it her most expansive- and exhausting album to date. As Seiko’s career gets bigger- her music does too, and this is no doubt the biggest, most over-the-top, huge, visionary and most importantly, entertaining J-pop album of 2017. Amazing. Goddamn amazing.

Read my full review here.

1. Phew- Light Sleep

Phew’s latest album, Light Sleep, is hands down the most overwhelming album I heard this year. It’s almost atonal sea of electronics sends chills down my spine every single time. Phew never relies on nostalgia or catchy hooks to create her works- and it really makes me appreciate what a talent she really is. Light Sleep is a solo project in every sense of the term- literally recorded in her own bedroom, utilizing a whole set of old analog equipment- and it’s used to perfect, haunting effect. It gives a sense of peering into someone’s private world, never fully penetrable but always inviting. Best experienced with a good set of headphones, Light Sleep’s melting pot of noisy, droning electronic hums and beat up drum machines will not hold your hand, but those willing and patient enough will find no album as rewarding as this. Phew has created her best work in years, an experimental masterpiece that further cements her legendary status in the Japanese music scene. A must listen for serious music fans, and truly the best album I listened to in 2017.

A masterpiece.

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DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2017: 5-1

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 10-6

10. Seiko Oomori- MUTEKI

MUTEKI is a celebration of all things Seiko Oomori, the ultimate in fan-service. 18 re-recorded songs selected from her entire backlog, stripped down to their essence, either backed with her trademark acoustic guitar or some delightful piano work, it’s a treat for any Seiko Oomori fan. It also features two new full studio songs that are both wonderful in their own way, but let’s face it, we’re all here for the acoustic songs.

It’s addictive, time consuming (at nearly a full CD), indulgent, essential and utterly Oomori. While it didn’t resonate as much as this years main release, “kitixxxgaia”, it certainly is a must hear for anyone interested in hearing some of the top-tier J-pop at the current time. Read my more in-depth review here.

9. CHAI- PINK

CHAI’s debut full length is one of the most charming albums of 2017. Short, wild, groovy and energetic, PINK marks one of the most exciting newcomer albums in quite a while. CHAI have a real sense of control, and never are ones to take themselves too seriously. The musicianship is very strong, the vocals shout-along and full of youth edge. It’s addictive, colorful and most of all, damn fun. Can’t recommend this one enough.

8. Björk- Utopia

Björk returns in 2017 with her longest album of her entire career. It’s also one of her most colorful and layered releases. Some may find it overwhelming or even impenetrable at first- indeed, there are barely any ‘catchy’ moments on this beast. Those who have the patience though, will be rewarded for their time, as more and more of this album reveals itself through repeated listens. A latecomer in 2017, but such a strong release that it managed to shoot it’s way into the Top 10 without any hesitation. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s Björk.

7. Hirone-chan- Yume no Yume

Hirone-chan’s “Yume no Yume” was the biggest surprise for me in 2017. After a string of promising but fairly “Seiko clone” style albums, Hirone-chan finally found her calling with this one. It’s an absolutely gorgeous listen that creaks, pops and rattles along with a complex subtlety that becomes more and more noticeable on repeated listens. Hirone-chan really has matured significantly, and her songwriting has improved tenfold. A must hear for fans and newcomers alike.

Read my full review here.

6. Leah Dou- Kids Only

Leah Dou returns with her sophomore album, and damn what a followup. A sophisticated, engrossing and hypnotic record from end to end, Dou really expands on the sound she is known for and takes her experimental side to a new level. It’s a perfect album to chill out with, and certainly the most interesting Mandarin language album you’re gonna come across this year. An intoxicating blend of looping samples, beats, funk, jazz and smooth vocals- it’s about as perfect a second album a fan could ask for. Most of all, it feels honest and truly from a place that Dou understands and owns. Get on it.

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 10-6

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 15-11


15. Angel Olsen- Phases


Angel Olsen’s “Phases” is not a ‘proper’ album as such, it is a compilation of outtakes, unreleased material and b-sides. However, the choices here are so strong, and the structuring of the album so well thought out, it almost feels like listening to a fully-fledged release. Olsen’s hypnotic voice, subtle songwriting and potent lyricism really shine throughout this release, and it’s a good placeholder while we wait for whatever she intends to release next. A must hear. Plus, the album cover is awesome.

14. ZOMBIE CHANG- GANG!

ZOMBIE-CHANG’s continual expansion and adaption to the electronic scene has been quite an experience to be part of, and her newest album “GANG!” is no exception. This time round, the production is punchier, brighter and the album feels a lot tighter. It’s loaded with catchy tunes and unexpected ear-worms, as well as some amazing vocal improvements on ZOMBIE-CHANG’s side. It’s a short and sweet listen that demands multiple rewarding replays.

13. Fleet Foxes- Crack Up

Crack Up” marks Fleet Foxes’ long overdue return to the music scene- and what a return it is. It’s not as immediately accessible as previous album “Helplessness Blues” but it is far more complex and demanding. Songwriter and mastermind Robin Pecknold brings to Crack Up everything he has- it’s a sweeping, engrossing journey from start to end, often so textured that it will need multiple listens to break down and make sense of it all. Political, personal and damn addictive, Crack Up is both the best Fleet Foxes album this year -and in general.

12. Arcade Fire- Everything Now

I know, I know. This one may come across as a bit of a shock- after being panned critically and having such a negative response from the fan-base- but, still, I really had a great time with this one. Arcade Fire this time are playful, pretentious, corny and overly theatrical- but I feel in context of the album- it all works. The theme here is consumerism, selling out to the extreme. The track-list is presented as ‘our sponsors’ and each title has it’s own logo. The lyrics insert is presented like a catalog. It’s all very, very tongue-in-cheek and I feel some may have missed that aspect of the album. The thing that makes it all work though- is how damn catchy some of these tracks are. Call me a heathen but I LOVED the maligned single “Signs of Life”. It’s a long leap from the Arcade Fire of yore, but in this particular case- it’s fine with me and I’m happy giving it a rightful place in my top 20.

11. Tori Amos- Native Invader

Jesus Christ!  A TORI AMOS album in my top 20 in 2017? Things are really getting weird now! Indeed, Tori seemingly has broken her dry spell that she was under the last, oh, decade or so. Native Invader has some of the most compelling, subtle and beautiful work from the songwriter in a long, long time. While the production is still a little on the flat side, its still not enough to take away from the magical qualities of the tracks presented here. It made me feel like a teenager all over again, a fantastic blast from the past. This is the best Tori Amos album since Scarlet’s Walk in my opinion, and that’s some tall praise right there. Check it out!

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 15-11

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 20-16

So, here we are again. 2017 has been quite a turbulent year, both in music and in general. This year has been a particularly hard year to create a list of top albums for, my original list of notable albums came to over 60 releases, so I’ve had to wean out almost 40 of them to make a concise Top 20. Anyway, you know the drill, let’s get straight into it. Here are numbers 20-16

20. never young beach- A GOOD TIME

never young beach returned this year with their first major label effort. While it never really hit the highs that they had achieved in previous releases, it’s still a warm, comforting listen regardless. What is most impressive here is the control never young beach are showing, considering the young ages of the band members. The guitar work in particular, is stunningly beautiful. The major label production smooths off the rough edges and makes for a perfect, relaxing and lazy summer’s listen.

19. The Shins- Heartworms

The Shins’ last effort, Port of Morrow, was a very interesting blend of slow-burns and more mature writing than early releases. It also had a very distinct glossy sound that probably comes with the fact that it indeed was really a James Mercer solo project (everything on the album is from his mind)- and Heartworms continues that trend. Housing it’s fair share of catchy bops and beautiful –almost to a fault- production, Heartworms in another strong addition to The Shins’ catalog. It certainly got a lot of play throughout the year and is one of the more fond releases from early on.

18. Maron Hamada- Lady Monochrome

Maron Hamada continues her streak of winning, sexy jazz-rock that manages to fill the gigantic gap that Shiina Ringo has left in some people’s lives. Sure, while Maron Hamada will never get the same kind of recognition- the talent is definitely there. Lady Monochrome is her tightest and most ‘rock’ album to date- and has quite a lot of standout tracks. An essential if you’re into this genre and probably worth checking out if you’re into Japanese rock in general.

17. Charlotte Gainsbourg- Rest

Settle in, this album is an all engrossing, demanding and rewarding listen that might get overlooked on many people’s radars. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s latest album is presented mainly in her native tongue of French and is a wonderful blend of psychedelic prog-rock and modern electronic pop.  It has some of the most creative string use I’ve heard in a long time. Fantastic chord progression, instrumentation and song writing combine to create quite a unique album. Listen to the single “Deadly Valentine” and you’ll know if this album is for you. As it stands, it’s probably Gainsbourg’s strongest release to date and fans are eating it up.

16. MINAKEKKE- TINGLES

MINAKEKKE’s debut album was one of the freshest releases this year. A slow, hypnotic mix of shoegaze and beautiful pop-rock matched with MINAKEKKE’s  vocals is enough to create quite a trance-like state for the albums run-time. By the end of the album you will wonder where the time went, and consequently delve right back into to it to experience it all over again. A great newcomer to keep your eye on, TINGLES is definitely a must hear of 2017.

Stay hooked for the next 5 entries, coming early next week!

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 20-16

REVIEW: FEMM- 80s/90s J-POP REVIVAL

It’s hard not to feel a sense of desperation with FEMM’s covers album; its as if they know the time for their gimmick is up, and they pumped it out contractually rather than it being from a well thought out place. Where FEMM were playfully tacky before- this time round it’s just plain old tacky. Most concerning however, for a  group of such intense nature- it’s woefully dull.

Indeed, my experience with “80s/90s J-POP REVIVAL” was mainly that of boredom and waiting for the album to be over rather than any kind of scoffing or smirking at the delightful trashiness that FEMM have become known for.

Perhaps having these songs embedded into my childhood would have helped, as I am sure there is a lot more on offer for those who grew up with these tracks. However, for the songs that I do know, I felt an certain level of awkwardness and discomfort. Wink’s “Samishii Nettaigyo” lacks any warmth and Kenji Osawa’s “Konya Wa Boogie Back” is the most clunky rendition I’ve come across yet. In-fact, the only track that really does anything for me at all is the opening cover of Misato Wantanabe’s “My Revolution”- and that probably stems from it featuring Akina, Anna and Mikako from FAKY, giving it a little bit more character than most of the other tracks. It’s a bit telling when guests are required to make a track standout.

The main element really holding all these tracks back is the production value. The compressed digital sound of FEMM does not mesh very well with the more organic sounds of past eras. While it’s true that this is no doubt intentional to try and make it sound like a “FEMM” release; ultimately it really makes for no more than a distraction. The arrangements themselves are pathetically safe and feature no real deconstruction, departure or re-imaginings- basically, just imagine your favorite old-school J-POP track with the added bastardization of auto-tuning, brick-walling and a sense of disinterest.

The sense of disconnect from the material is strong. FEMM feel like they are just girls doing vocals on oldies rather than adoring the songs they are covering. Most cover albums showcase, or at least give an idea of an artist’s inspirations. Knowing FEMM’s style, the songs chosen couldn’t seem more distant, or uninspired. While these songs are beautiful classics in their original form, FEMM are barely the go-to group that people would want to hear covering them.

That leads into the issue of target audience. How many of FEMM’s fans who have fallen in love with their bad girl image are going to be interested in them covering traditional idol pop? How many old idol pop listeners are going to give a damn about a niche group like FEMM potentially murdering their all-time favorites? The more you ponder these things, the more the release feels truly unnecessary.

I’d like to say that the album is at least tight, but it suffers from being overlong and has a questionable song order to boot. There’s no real momentum to the track list and the album just dithers off rather than closes, with two completely forgettable remixes at its ass end. It only heightens the feel of being slapped together over a short period of time with little thought or fanfare. Perhaps releasing it as a mini album would have helped in the end, who knows.

Ultimately, “80s/90s J-POP REVIVAL” is a clunky collection of half baked tunes that are nowhere near as cool as FEMM would like you to think they are. It serves as a disservice to fans waiting for a followup to their debut, and ironically, is one of the least interesting additions to the 80s and 90s revival albums of the last few years.

3/10 FEMM should just stick to being FEMM and carry on doing what they do best- creating trashy bangers with teeth. The way things stand, I really can’t recommend this to anyone, and that’s a shame. It could have been something unique.

REVIEW: FEMM- 80s/90s J-POP REVIVAL

REVIEW: SHIINA RINGO- HI IZURO TOKORO (A.K.A. SUNNY)

sunny

In this world there are two types of horrible albums.

  1. Those so misguided in their intent and execution that they completely miss the mark and are just a terrible listen
  2. A great artist stops giving a damn about their integrity and opts for the cash in approach

Shiina Ringo’s “Hi Izuro Tokoro” (from here on out, “Sunny”)  is the latter, and in my opinion, most unforgivable of these. This wasn’t just a change in direction or a ‘moving on’, it was a complete abandonment of what made Shiina Ringo so great. It’s true that at that stage, she had been flirting with what she eventually ended up embracing; but still, the heart and soul that was “Shiina Ringo” was still there behind every questionable turn she may have taken. “Sunny” is the first time we saw raw abandonment of the artist for sheer sales.

Ringo had set the tone to “OMG HERE SHE COMES!” after her mixed but daring self covers album “Gyakuyunyuu ~Kouwankyoku~, or Reimport”. That album had seen her step out of her comfort zone a little, with less obvious arrangements, new collaborators and producers. It had shown her fans that yes, there was still some fire behind her. I personally, was pumped to see what she was going to do with new material.

Then the track-list dropped. Oh. 6 new songs? “Ariamaru Tomi” as the closer. Ohhhh……. Hmm. Still, I was optimistic, as I was still quite forgiving and not as jaded as some of the fellow fans who had been sick of her since the mess that was Tokyo Jihen‘s “Variety“. Still. I ordered it and listened to it the second I had a chance to. I still don’t think I’ve tried as hard to like something that really isn’t good. So much time denying to myself that Shiina Ringo, queen of J-rock, had released something truly awful.  So what is it exactly that sucks about Sunny, apart from the ‘commercialism’ of the whole thing?

Ringo here, at best, plays to our sentimentality of her older material. There is never a moment where it sounds like something we haven’t heard from her before- one of the more exciting staples of previous solo releases. Nothing really feels like a development of her persona; it truly is treading water in the worst way possible.

And while yes, you can argue that some of the songs on Sunny are decent (they are), there just simply isn’t enough of them to go around- a quarter at best. It’s also very telling when the best cut on the record is one that is five years old and from her last album’s recording sessions. What enjoyment can be found from these tracks is killed by their surroundings anyway- like finding nice food in a dirty food-court.

It opens with the promising “Shizuka Naru Gyakushuu”; which truly does rock underneath all the over-processed orchestration. At first it’s exciting as hell- until you realize it sounds strikingly familiar. Indeed, it’s just a reworked version of one of her early demos. Out of all the new tracks, the best one is over 15 years old. Let that sink in. I’m not saying I have a problem with Ringo reworking older material- she has become notorious for it after-all- but I do have to question it when all the legitimately new material pales in comparison.

The other new tracks range from decent (showtune “Chinchinpuipui” is too good for this album) to what the fuck was she thinking (the fake-ass latin tinged “Sekidou o Koetara”). Lead single “Arikitari na Onna” truly sounds like a Phase 2 Tokyo Jihen leftover and makes you question why she bothered to break up the group in the first place. Many listeners consider “JL005-bin de” to be the prime pick of these new songs, however, it never really did anything for me. It’s bleep-bloops ultimately are inoffensive, stale, just ‘there’. I never remember what it sounds like until I play it.

The previously released songs are a mixed bag too- the best of them being the powerful “Irohanihoheto” or the wonderfully subtle “Carnation”- both of which sound better on their original single releases. There’s the sickly awful “NIPPON” that makes me cringe every time without fail, the bland forgettable Jihen leftover sounding (are you noticing a pattern here) “Jiyuu e Michizure” and the goofy ass “Kodoku no Akatsuki (Nobu Neko-ban)” (making an ‘eh’ song even more ‘eh’). As mentioned above, the best track on the album is the 5 year older power ballad “Ariamaru Tomi” which I can never fault- but it simply shouldn’t be on this, especially as a closer.

Then of course, (there’s no way we can discuss the album without mentioning it) there’s the mastering, which has almost become the fabled low point for all Japanese music to be compared to. It’s practically become a meme. It almost seems like someone intentionally wanted to sabotage Ringo’s album (a bitter Tokyo Jihen fan perhaps?) with how ridiculously bad it sounds. It’s a talking point and a great example of how brick-walling can truly destroy a listening experience. It is no exaggeration to say that you feel literal physical pain or fatigue when listening to Sunny. Every negative element of the album itself is amplified tenfold as it melts your eardrums to mush. Not even the high resolution Mora download can save this sinking ship. There is never, ever a need to sound this crap, even noise albums have more dynamic range.

Things haven’t really taken much of a turn for the better either, every studio track released post Sunny has been a shadow of what Ringo used to put out, and the vapid, soul sucking commercialism behind every move is truly a downer. Arcade Fire were ripped apart for putting out an album that parodied this kind of move, Shiina Ringo is doing it for real.

If anything, the album is a grounding reminder that even the greatest of artists can make massive stumbles. It’s just a shame that this wasn’t really something Ringo learned from or shows any kind of intent to move on from. This is what Shiina Ringo is now.

So yes, Sunny was, and still is, a pretty depressing experience.

Oh a score?

Stick to the first four albums/10.

REVIEW: SHIINA RINGO- HI IZURO TOKORO (A.K.A. SUNNY)

REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- MUTEKI

2017 has been the most turbulent year yet for Seiko Oomori fans . Not only did Oomori release a major album, she also released a plethora of singles, music videos, collaborations, wrote songs for other acts, live material and now this, “MUTEKI”- her second album for the year. It’s quite amazing really, knowing she’s also a parent while all of this is going on.

Recently, Seiko Oomori has been pushing herself on a thematic level; Religion, Sexism, Idol Culture were all staples of March’s “kitixxxgaia”. The massive expanse in sound was exciting and breathtaking, and while many were keen for this exploration, it undoubtedly left some of her earlier fans behind.

MUTEKI then, is probably a breath of relief by those left a bit perplexed by Seiko’s excesses. With this album, Seiko gives a spine chilling collection of her greatest moments, stripped down to their essence, trading in fanfare for naked truth- and it works to a soul shaking tee.

Let’s talk about the odd ones out here first, the new tracks- they are full studio productions- and they are both rather good. You have the opener, “Ryuusei Heaven”, a jazzy ballad with some really hard hitting lyrics and “Mix Juice”, a cute, bouncy coming of age track that while probably a minute too long, is still a lot of fun.

The rest of the album is as mentioned above, stripped down versions of Seiko’s biggest songs from the last few years. It must be noted that it feels like Seiko never aimed to create a definitive version of any of these songs- just a new experience. Which version you end up liking entirely comes down to taste; personally I feel “SHINPIN” reveals itself for the first time here- but others may opt for the style of the Sakurai Kenta original.

Outsiders might look upon this release as being pure fan service- and they wouldn’t be wrong. That’s what Seiko is really going for here- it’s a love letter to her followers. The songs are all chosen by her fans and are mainly comprised of more obvious choices (“Midnight Seijun Isei Kouyuu”, “TOKYO BLACK HOLE”, “Magic Mirror” etc.). While this was at first a bit of a let-down- how many times do we really need “Kimi to Eiga” acoustic, honestly? – ultimately, I found myself falling in love with these tracks once again.

Unlike other ‘acoustic’ releases by Seiko- these are produced in a much more professional setting with sugarbeans at the helm (producer and piano). What are brought forth are tracks that are wonderfully realized, enveloped in a gorgeous studio hiss that feels like a warm hug. Sugarbeans adds his incredible piano work to some of these tracks and Seiko’s vocals have a sense of control unheard before on other bare-bones recordings.

Sure, because of its nature, the album never really feels like a ‘proper’ album as such, the ‘collection’ feel is very much present throughout its (admittedly over-long) runtime. However, despite that large quantity of material here- the vast majority of it is quality enough for repeat returns. Like many other people have noted- every time you start to fade out, Seiko hits you with a track that you adore and grabs your attention once again.  Every song represented on here is strong or notable to begin with- and presented in Seiko’s trademark stripped down style makes it all the more appetizing.

MUTEKI is capped off with the addition of a DVD of the kitixxxgaia tour finale, a roaring, amazing set that showcases Seiko Oomori at her absolute live best. It’s almost 2 hours of power, wildly energetic performances, a varied and unique setlist and likely this reviewer’s favourite Seiko Oomori concert so far.

Overall, MUTEKI is one of the best packages you’re going to pick up in J-pop this year, and would work both as a collection of alternative versions of songs for hard-core fans, and as a good introduction to newcomers to some of Seiko’s biggest hits. It’s perfectly imperfect, and fitting of Seiko’s persona. It feels like more than just a mere best of, and the amount of love and care put into it really shines through. It no doubt will float very well among those who experience it, and I dare say it will be many people’s favorite Seiko Oomori release this year.

At the very least, you get a bang for your buck, and the amount of quality material on this is worthy of purchase alone.

8/10– Another great Seiko Oomori release. Can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next!

REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- MUTEKI