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)

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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

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 25-21

So, it’s that time where people start to wrap things up and take a look back at the year that was. This year for me was one of the most insane for music in a long time, so much so that no matter how much I tried, I could not whittle down my list to the traditional top 20. SO, instead, I’m gonna go and do a Top 25.

That’s enough of an intro, you know the drill, so, let’s get started!

25. Belle and Sebastian- How to Solve Our Human Problems

OK, so let’s face it, ‘How to Solve Our Human Problems‘ is a collection of three EPs (one of which came out late 2017). However, I’ve been playing it as an album all year since the compilation was released, and it works as that- somewhat (it gets a bit long and stuffy at times). It’s by no means Belle and Sebastian’s greatest achievement, but there’s still so much to enjoy here. It’s light, it’s fluffy, it’s twee. It’s Belle and Sebastian having fun. And that’s all it needs to be.

24. Thom Yorke- Suspiria

Suspiria (2018) was one of the most daring films of the year, not only did it have such legendary shoes to fill, it also had to compete with an equally legendary soundtrack (by none other than Goblin). When I first found out that it was Thom Yorke composing I had no idea what to feel- nothing in his career really screamed ‘horror movie about witchcraft in a dance school’. But by gum Thom Yorke has created something truly unique with this one- and it’s as eerie and encapsulating as the film that it soundtracks. Yorke’s score switches from hauntingly beautiful to blood curdling with fluidity, and indeed, like Goblin’s work before, feels like a fully fleshed out character rather than a backdrop. It’s also some of the best music Thom Yorke has been involved in quite a while. Well worth a listen.

23. Daughters- You Won’t Get What You Want

This one’s gonna end up on a lot of people’s lists I bet. It definitely deserves it’s acclaim and appeal (Fantano giving it a perfect 10). For me, I’m not as enamored as others, but I absolutely respect it. It’s dark, adventurous and for a ‘reunion’ record- fucking outstanding. The hardcore roots Daughters come from are fleeting moments in what is more like a Swans-ish record- broody and cathartic stretches with barely any kind of resolution. I am certain this will end up being considered a ‘classic’ in the future, even if it doesn’t register with me on an emotional level like the albums further up my list. Still, it’s probably one of the ‘must listens’ of 2018.

22. Let’s Eat Grandma- I’m All Ears

The sophomore album by the UK duo is both a departure and a massive leap forward, instead of indie sensibilities and organic instrumentation, the group heads directly into the modern pop sphere, with tracks such as lead single ‘Hot Pink‘ being brought to life with help from renowned producer SOPHIE. Thematically, it’s a Gen-Z record through and through, the self awareness is biting and there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek wordplay lyrically. However, what stands out strongest is the amount of adventure that the duo take you on throughout the lengthier tracks, ‘Falling into Me‘ being the greatest example of this. Let’s Eat Grandma once again to be one of the most exciting new acts in brit-pop and this album is well worth anyone’s time.

21. KOTO- Bye Bye Teens Lullaby

In general, for me, Japanese idol music has been in the dumps for quite a while. There’s been plenty of stuff I’ve listened to and enjoyed for a little while, but barely anything has any real sticking power. KOTO however, is a real spark in the dark. ‘Bye Bye Teens Lullaby‘ is a super sweet hard hitter, and there isn’t a single moment where it’s bright bops ever let up. Truly, there isn’t a single dud on the whole release. It has some really wonderful, warm production and absolutely relishes in keeping it old school. A must hear for any J-pop fan, hands down the best idol release this year.

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 25-21

REVIEW: JUN TOGAWA avec KEI OOKUBO – (Self titled)

Jun Togawa‘s amazing return to music continues, with this years offering being a collaboration between her and Urbangarde‘s piano/keyboardist Kei Ookubo. The duo have been doing live events together to great praise from fans for the last few years, with a taster on Togawa’s CD-R ‘THE OWABI CD‘. Finally, the time has come for a proper release and here it is, the self titled, self produced debut ‘Jun Togawa avec Kei Ookubo‘ (or Ohkubo depending on which is the most aesthetically pleasing to you).

The album is the most intimate record Jun Togawa has put over her long career (consisting of her and Ookubo’s stunning sole piano work), and also one of her most hard hitting because of it. It feels like a private session, a joining of two artists who truly have this profound respect for each other, just belting out some of the most legendary songs (Teinen Pushiganga, Virgin Blues, Hysteria and an absolutely crippling rendition of Sayonara wo Oshiete to name a few) in Togawa’s oeuvre. Couple that with some newly recorded covers and Ookubo Kei originals (who, by the way, plays his piano like an extension of himself, truly an outstanding performance that will grab you in its clutches from start to end) and you have one hell of a package.

As with all latter-career Jun Togawa albums, don’t go in expecting the pitch perfect falsetto and vibrato of her early career. This is about pure emotion and heartbreak, which can be felt through every pained note. The delivery here is one that reflects a well worn life, which makes it truly compelling and ultimately, rewarding. For someone like Togawa, who has battled with such personal hardship to be put into this truly stripped back setting, is one of the bravest moves I’ve seen in Japanese music in a long time. It is essentially Togawa baring it all for her fans- and from what I can tell from early reception, it’s exactly what they wanted for a long, long time.

The biggest testament to these songs is how uncomfortable they still make people feel almost 40 years later- perhaps even more-so in these new vulnerable forms. It however, carries with it a strange juxtaposition; no matter how bleak things get- the fact that Jun Togawa is very much truly back (with a fully ORIGINAL album with Vampillia on it’s way next year) and finally starting to become comfortable with herself brings a level of hope that shines through, thus making ending the album with the Priscilla: Queen of the Desert theme song ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’ an amazing and telling punchline.

It’s not going to be the easiest listen you’re gonna come across this year, but it will be one of the most memorable and haunting for years to come. If you’re a Togawa fan, you will need this addition to the collection. Visceral, gorgeous and perfectly produced, Togawa’s legacy lives on!

9/10

REVIEW: JUN TOGAWA avec KEI OOKUBO – (Self titled)

REVIEW: KYARY PAMYU PAMYU- JAPAMYU

As I listen to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu‘s latest bubbling cauldron of everything sweet, it brings forth many thoughts about the once-was megastar. For one, this is, without a doubt, the easiest of all her records to consume. There’s no padding, its like a small assortment of truffles- all enjoyable without too many to upset your stomach.

It makes me wonder why producer Yasutaka Nakata hadn’t approached her music this way before, her last few albums were far too long in the tooth and made for hefty slogs on repeat spins. As I write this I’m currently on my ninth spin of Japamyu and that fatigue has not even remotely begun to sink in- it’s just 35 minutes of pure J-pop joy.

It’s not to say I went in over-enthusiastic either- Yasutaka Nakata has had a, well let’s just say ‘rough’ year- with both his solo album and Perfume’s ‘FUTURE POP’ both being received fairly negatively across the board. It hadn’t left much hope for the now almost absent from the public gaze‘s Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who had until recently seemed to have been pushed to the side a bit. But all that worrying was for naught, as soon as the wonderful, tone setting intro track ‘Virtual Pamyu Pamyu‘ sucks you into it’s grasp.

So much care and effort went into this album, and it shows, from its wonderfully anthemic singles ‘Harajuku Iyahoi‘ and ‘Kizunami‘ and the super sassy ‘Kimi no Mikata‘, right through it’s deeper cuts including the absolutely amazing ‘Enka Natrium‘ (with its genuinely surprising breakdown) and the amazing, previously designated (rather foolishy) to b-side ‘Todoke Punch‘. The little touches of traditional Japanese instrumentation throughout Kyary’s traditional super sweet trademark sound really makes this one stand out from the pack, and makes the initially corny album title seem much more fitting.

In the end, it may be Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s defining album, and sadly, it’s all too late, for her 15 minutes were over quite a while ago. Many people have lost interest following a series of uninteresting singles (the most crippling of all being the woeful ‘Easta‘- thankfully absent from the album) and just general overexposure to her one-note gimmick. It’s all a shame then, that Nakata and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu have only just now found that sweet middle ground here- the first Kyary Pamyu Pamyu album that feels much more than a cute novelty; which will ultimately play out to a medium-sized band of dedicated fans and no-one else.

8/10. It is no secret that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu isn’t the megastar she used to be, but it would be a damn shame to miss this one.

REVIEW: KYARY PAMYU PAMYU- JAPAMYU