REVIEW: PUFFY- THE PUFFY

THE PUFFY is a triumphant, exhilarating return from one of the most iconic duos in J-pop history. You won’t be able to NOT smile listening to this short, sweet trip of pop punk, timeless vocals, fantastic guitar work that just pops and the nostalgic feelings for the golden era of Japanese pop rock that this album brings crashing to the forefront. If you’re not bopping along to the bouncy hooks, you might just be uttering an audible ‘awww’.

This album really affected me a lot more strongly than usual, it felt like a pick me up on a bad day, or a cup of hot chocolate on a winter’s night. I’m sure the nostalgia berries are working in it’s favour; but simultaneously, PUFFY have never really aimed to be more than the sum of their parts. Surprisingly this approach has kept them fresh and this return album is no different. They really work with familiarity in a way that is sublime.

It’s not to say that the entire album is traditional pop punk- PUFFY here have also introduced some more modern sounds to mix things up (electronic beats, trap, even a tinge of Kpop), but their old school sensibilities really are the glue that holds the album together. It’s nice to see this balanced reached, without sacrificing any of the identity that have made them so beloved with fans over their career. Other styles they touch on range from 60s surf rock and SKA, right up to the closer- a really cute showtune that absolutely hits all the right spots.

Production is excellent all across the board, the album really shines, instruments are all really well balanced and the vocals are recorded perfectly. It feels like the duo haven’t aged a day since their last outing, and it’s really easy to feel like you’ve been transported back to their heyday. There isn’t a single track I’d skip, and it’s fairly brief runtime really makes it a great album for repeat visitations. It’s also one you can pick up and play at anytime, there’s nothing too demanding here at all. Just good vibes.

9/10 It’s hard to imagine any old-school PUFFY fan finding anything to complain about with this one, for a newcomer it’s a wonderful crash course in how Jpop used to be.

REVIEW: PUFFY- THE PUFFY

REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- PERSONA #1

It is no secret that Seiko Oomori is a workaholic; not only does she consistently deliver wonderous solo albums, often more than one a year, she also works on her own idol group project ZOC (who literally only released a double album last month) and then -on the side- has churned out many, many songs for other artists- mainly from the idol industry. With Persona #1, Seiko Oomori celebrates her 7th anniversary on avex with a new album consisting of self covers of some of the best songs she has given to other artists, ranging from Ladybaby to Sayumi Michishige (who Seiko Oomori absolutely ADORES).

This album straight off the bat is a wild one- unlike her main releases that have a flow and feel quite serious in tone- Seiko has used this opportunity to let loose and explore a whole range of new sounds- from jazz, to trap, rap (see the MIKEY feature on the new version of ‘Mugen Climax’) and even smidgens of dubstep and witch house. The whole thing is a joy to listen to; instantly gratifying and approachable- and yet, surprisingly, has quite a bit of replay value to be had because of the amount of work put into it.

These aren’t simple re-recordings, these are absolute, from the ground up reworkings of the songs previously released. Some took even this hardcore fan a few moments to register what exactly the original was- take for example the new jazzed up version of ‘14-Sai no Oshiete‘, which was originally performed by short-lived Rinne Yoshida unit Zunne from JC-WC (that version was recorder heavy and sounded like an indie pop song). Another totally different sounding track is ‘‘+゜。:゜+(´∀*)+゜:。*+Pikarin FUTURE+゜*。:゜+(*´∀)+゜:。+‘, originally performed by Shiina Pikarin. Now it’s a glorious old-school J-pop blazer; its amazing beats and production really elevating the song to new heights. The chorus is glorious- the potential I always felt that track had is fully ignited here.

The album is topped off with her most glorious single since ‘Magic Mirror‘ in my opinion, and is totally new to this album. That single being the almighty, sweeping ballad ‘Rude‘, that is sure to become a staple in live shows and live streams. It’s so, so powerful, and is the most similar song to what was presented on her amazing 2020 album ‘Kinstugi‘.

While overall, I don’t consider this album to be a masterpiece, for a ‘side’ record, it’s still absolutely essential for fans. On a sheer value for money level, it should be noted that this album’s CD+Blu Ray edition comes with 6 full concerts- clocking in at over 9 HOURS. Absolutely worth the pickup if you’re a Seiko Oomori fan.

8/10. Seiko Oomori continues her golden run of consistency with this fantastic self covers album, a fun release that is probably also the most approachable for a casual follower since ‘Sennou‘. Probably the best Jpop release you can pick up right now, and that’s not hyperbole.

REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- PERSONA #1

REVIEW: ZOC- PvP

It’s no secret that ZOC has had a rocky path leading up to their debut album, with a bunch of member swap outs and singles that didn’t really sell the group too well. Seiko Oomori doing an idol group has always been her dream- but for a while it felt like one that wasn’t gonna turn out as amazing as her solo output.

However, finally we have the debut LP, PvP– which stands for Player versus Prayer. This beast is a sprawling 2CD set that clocks in at 90 minutes- but somehow never feels tiresome. Sure it’s long but there’s enough interesting curveballs and variance to keep the listener absolutely engaged for it’s entire runtime. Seiko Oomori has risen to the task at hand- and brought together a group of girls that truly work off one another- enhanced by Seiko Oomori’s signature song writing.

Gone is the over the top edginess that made earlier iterations of ZOC harder to stomach. This feels like a classic idol album through and through- there’s no need to throw hollow labels like ‘anti-idol’ or ‘alt-idol’ at them anymore- here’s just a solid record that is a celebration of idol culture and female empowerment. It’s truly an idol album who’s message is firmly about women FOR women, and isn’t afraid to express it (but that doesn’t mean anyone else can’t listen to it- it’s absolutely kick ass).The lyricism is different to Seiko Oomori’s current solo work in the fact that it feels more on the nose- she has captured teenage emotion quite fittingly; it feels absolutely natural in the context of an idol group.

Musically speaking, there’s a really meaty smorgasbord to select from here, provided by the variety of talent on the arrangement and production side. Those include Shinichi Osawa, Suzuki Daiki, Kaoru Okubo, Mito, Satoru Kosaki and long-term Oomori collaborator sugarbeans. Song styles range from power ballads to more experimental pieces that really took me by surprise on the first spin. “FLY IN THE DEEPRIVER” was particularly intriguing with its layered vocals and unconventional melody structure (also, to hear those trademark Seiko Oomori style screams in here was fantastic). The witchhouse tinged “Nou♡Kou♡Se~♡Shoku” reminds of groups like Necronomidol- but still manages to sound like ZOC thanks to Seiko Oomori’s song writing being it’s core. All the old singles have been reworked and tightened up -and sound fantastic here (they’re all labelled “PvP versions”). Even songs I didn’t like (to say the least) such as SHINEMAGIC are far superior to their initial incarnations.

Overall, PvP is another solid record under Seiko Oomori’s belt., once again highlighting the ridiculous consistency that this woman puts out so frequently. Well worth a listen, even if idol music isn’t generally your thing. Good stuff!

7.5/10

REVIEW: ZOC- PvP

REVIEW: TOKYO JIHEN- ONGAKU (MUSIC)

Tokyo Jihen‘s reunion, so far, has been somewhat underwhelming. An EP that failed to capture the attention of the GP the way it should have and a tour totally disrupted by the global pandemic; circumstances couldn’t have been more ill fated for the reunion of such a big name band. However, “Ongaku” (AKA Music), the first full length album since the return of the band is a different beast altogether. This one is the most important record Shiina Ringo has been involved with since Tokyo Jihen’s “Daihakken”. This feels like an event. And so it should.

When looking across the discography of Tokyo Jihen on the whole, Ongaku feels like the more flamboyant cousin to Jihen’s 2006 album “Adult”. The sophistication the former album had is all there, but now it’s a lot less self serious; there’s some real fun to have, sprinkled in are touches of (cheesy) hip hop, R&B and even a boyband-esque ditty to close the album (that is proving to be controversial among the fanbase). There is a real sense of ‘slice of life’ to this record, which rarely is seen in Shiina Ringo’s more theatrical solo works and it’s refreshing as hell for long-term listeners.

While Shiina Ringo gives some of the most beautiful vocal performances she’s done in years, the real MVP this album is, fittingly, the music. Jihen has never sounded this tight, this is a band that loves being together and the listener really gets to hear that dynamic through its entire runtime. There’s some goofy choices (autotuned Shiina Ringo will never, ever sound “cool”- sorry!) but even them in the end feel more of a inside joke than a serious decision. And that’s what sets Jihen apart from Ringo’s solo career- fun. Notably, with Ringo taking a backseat on this album to let the boys take the helm (particularly Ichiyo Izawa), has –this time-, proven to be the best choice they could have made. It makes it feel like a true team effort- and it’s paid off wonderfully.

While most of the album is generally pleasant, there are two especially beautiful songs on this album; previously released single ‘Ryokushu’ and ‘Kemono no Ri’. Both of these bring out the most human side of Shiina Ringo that feels unseen for years now. It’s almost bewildering. The absolutely most powerful moment of the entire album is when Ringo lets out a full on scream (the goosebumps!) on ‘Kusurizuke’ backed by a wall of tense guitars. It’s unexpected and overwhelming. “Dokumi” sports the most insane keyboard solo on a Jihen recording, ever.

7.5/10 This is the one long-term fans have been waiting years for. The starvation for a new album that FEELS like a new album from Shiina Ringo is over! Now we wait to see what Tokyo Jihen have up their sleeves for the tour of this thing, I bet it’s gonna be mind-blowing.

REVIEW: TOKYO JIHEN- ONGAKU (MUSIC)

REVIEW: CHAI- WINK

CHAI‘s “WINK” has been a long time coming for fans, it’s first single “Donuts Mind If I Do” dropped way back in October last year. The band’s first international release (on Sub Pop) is simultaneously a departure in sound and a continuation of their overall message, a celebration of body positivity, and abandonment of unrealistic social pressures.

The first thing an old fan will notice pressing play is that WINK is a LOT more mellow. Musically, the kawaii punk has been exchanged for elements of R&B and hip-hop. There is no doubt that their time in the USA has rubbed off on their sound, in a very positive way. Ric Wilson raps on “Maybe Chocolate Chips“, and “IN PINK” is livened up even more with the feature of Mndsgn. In a genius move, chiptune producer YMCK helms “PING PONG!“.

Most of the lyrics are in English now, but the playful yet poignant phrasing and messages that make them so standout still prevail throughout. It’s a CHAI album, make no mistake about it- it’s just them evolving to adapt an even more global sound.

Throughout the 35 minute runtime, CHAI treat us to their most self-loving (but never self-indulgent) record to date- and its not like they haven’t earned it. It’s such a warm, positive and enjoyable record to sink into, especially if you’re feeling fed up with everything right now. The album works wonderfully as a whole- the track sequencing is so well thought out, and the album just flows by without a single hitch. Personal faves include “Nobody Knows We’re Cool” with its fantastic cheerline chorus and warbly beats, the understated “KARAAGE” and the aforementioned “IN PINK” with it’s impeccable production.

If I do have one slight nitpick- I’ve always loved CHAI’s closers, but this time, the album ends with the one minute ditty “Salty“. It’s cute and delicate, but really feels more like a whimper off after such a series of great bops. Overall though, this album’s easily gonna be one of the most well received pop records of 2021. Fans of the punk side of CHAI may be a little let down- but still give it a spin, there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be found here even without its harder edge.

7.5/10

While slightly imperfect, WINK is the comfort album we all need right now.

REVIEW: CHAI- WINK

REVIEW: JAGUAR JONZE- ANTIHERO

In Australia, a lot has been said about Jaguar Jonze‘s sophomore EP “ANTIHERO“- and all of it is true. It’s an album Deena Lynch (the brainchild behind the persona/project) wrote in part while recovering from COVID-19, it focusses on reparation and resolve from her personal issues, and ultimately is a hopeful yet jagged statement about recovery.

However, for me, a person that has started to get to know Jaguar Jonze a little more personally, it is a healing record. I’m not gonna throw out clumsy terms such as “Tarantino-esque” (as I have seen in other publications) but the spaghetti western tinged rock is definitely one that invokes strong theatrical imagery in the listener’s mind. But it’s so much more than a nostalgia trip; it’s a meditation on what it means to turn the darker moments of our pasts into something positive. Deena here reflects on toxic relationships, anxiety, illness and the chaos that life brings, taking it all headfirst with an unflinching honesty. It’s breath-taking.

Musically, it’s outstanding. Where some acts would fall into the trappings of a heavy sheen, Jaguar Jonze manages to balance perfect mixing and production with an organic bite, brought in by her amazing backing band. The most amazing moments come in the opener TESELLATIONS, which plays with repetition to create this perfect, trance inducing experience and the closer ASTRONAUT, which is the most emotional gut punch I’ve heard from any artist in a long, long time. To be honest, there isn’t a single dud on the entire EP, it’s just hit after hit, and will keep you repeat listening for months.

With ANTIHERO, while a personal record, you will also take comfort knowing Jaguar Jonze is on your side through some of the worst aspects of humanity. You’ll feel it in your bones as she delivers some of her most powerful vocal peformances to date, and you will thank her for every moment of it. She certainly lives up to the name of the EP, she IS the ANTIHERO.

This should be on everyone’s rotation.

REVIEW: JAGUAR JONZE- ANTIHERO

REVIEW: AINA THE END- THE END

For a while, I have watched BiSH here and there, always disappointed by their actual musical output, growing tired of the lame gimmicks that WACK and team push out seasonally. However there has always been the one standout face in the idol troupe- and that is Aina the End. Every-time she has had chance to branch out on her own, she has been a joy to watch, whether it be THAT Mondo Grosso music video, or hearing her belt out Shiina Ringo classics better than Ringo can herself these days. For the longest time (and I don’t think I’m the only one), I was waiting for a true solo album- and finally, last week, Aina dropped her first original album, The End.

The most outstanding thing Aina brings to the table are her instantly recognisable vocals. She is one of them rare gems that comes along only every now and then. Raspy, soulful and forever memorable. If that’s what you want from The End, then you absolutely will get that here- where she is an undeniable powerhouse and lovely to listen to on every track of the album. If you’re more into the album for the song writing aspect- then, you might be a little disappointed by the returns (which I will get into shortly).

Let’s talk about the good tracks- the songs that rock, rock goddamn hard. There’s some absolutely amazing jams on this thing, the lead single “Niji” being an absolute face melter. Seiji Kameda had a strong hand in the production on many of these songs, and in particular you can hear it come out on “NaNa”, which sounds like it coulda come right off a latter era Tokyo Jihen album (yes, yes, THAT comparison again, but this time it’s absolutely apt). However, Aina is bringing forth an energy that we have missed from Ringo’s output for quite some time, making the well worn path of jazz rock a lot more playful and digestible. The other undeniably ‘Kameda’ touched song is the delightful “Saboten Girl” which is just bouncing with life and one of the best tracks on the record.

The album does, unfortunately, have one absolutely glaring weak point, which really drags it down to being fairly average overall- and that is… the absolute overkill of ballads. If this is your bag, then you’re gonna love it- but for me, it definitely drags, particularly on repeat listens. I mean don’t get me wrong, as a showcase of her vocal bravado, they really deliver, but as far as ballads go, they’re pretty inessential listening and slow the album down to a near crawl at times. (However, on the bigger picture side of things, some may prove to be karaoke favourites in time). This will be one of the major elements that Aina will have to improve on future solo releases if she wants to make people truly remember her albums as wholes, rather than a few choice tracks. For now, they’re truly distractions from the best parts of the record- the table water with your meal.

Overall, The End’s main drawcard is the potential on display here. It feels like a warmup rather than a full fledged effort. With some tweaking and focus, I feel that Aina the End has the edge to be a great, great artist in modern J-pop. Unfortunately, The End is not going to be the great album that elevates her to that higher level. Still, there’s fun to be had here. Maybe next time, Aina!

6/10– A potentially fantastic release bogged down by ballad hell.

REVIEW: AINA THE END- THE END

REVIEW- MIHO HATORI- BETWEEN ISEKAI AND SLICE OF LIFE

At the end of Miho Hatori‘s latest solo outing “Between Isekai and Slice of Life“, the music ends and you can hear her utter ‘what the fuck is going on?’. A question that feels overtly appropriate, both in context of referring to the multi-layered art pop album that preceded it and as a statement about the current situation of the world.

Unlike Hatori’s previous solo album ‘Ecdysis’ which felt more of a career overview of her work in Cibo Matto and Gorillaz, this new LP really takes her music to adventurous and playful new heights. The extreme colourful sounds can probably be attuned to the concept as a whole, Miho Hatori herself says that the album is inspired by the two different genres of anime- Isekai (basically meaning ‘other world’) and Slice of Life. The New Yorker, living through the pandemic claims these types of anime are what got her through, and wanted to bridge them to real life, and created a kind of ‘safe space’ with this album, as stated in BOMB magazine.

The record eases you in relatively painlessly, with the understated, downtempo opener ‘Tokyo Story‘, which while being quite comforting also has a vague creepiness to it- Miho Hatori is reflecting the state of the world- and it’s supporting MV really brings the theme into fruition, where you see her removing a mass amount of facemasks from her face one by one. It’s followed then, by the hard hitting ‘Formula X‘, which has one of the most amazing beats I’ve heard in a long time. From this point the album really picks up the pace. Hatori characteristically plays and experiments with rhythm throughout the rest of the album (without ever losing pop sensibility), and ultimately manages to create a tight 29 minute package that feels meatier than albums twice it’s length.

Other album highlights include the playful ‘19 Years Old‘, banger ‘Don’t Be Cheap‘ and my personal favourite ‘Desire‘. The album’s fast, mechanical pace really slows down for the closer, ‘I Told Ya‘, which feels like more of a reflective piece, both confounded and quietly hopeful; an eerie send-off to an album that is already an amalgamation of complex emotions.

8.5/10 Miho Hatori really has delivered one of the first great albums of 2021 here- and fans of her earlier work and newcomers alike will no doubt find something brilliant amongst the complexities, beats and personal reflection presented here.

REVIEW- MIHO HATORI- BETWEEN ISEKAI AND SLICE OF LIFE

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2020: 5-1

5. Dua Lipa- Future Nostalgia

Future Nostalgia was one of the earliest albums I really loved this year- and to think that I didn’t really like much of her debut record whatsoever makes it stand out even more. It’s a breezy listen, full of pleasant, disco and funk inspired tracks that were insatiable. The delivery is confident, playful and memorable. The replay value is ridiculous, it’s just so damn fun. My favourite mainstream pop release of 2020. (Also, as a side note, the most beautiful vinyl package I picked up this year too.)

4. Boris- NO

Boris’ NO was the most epic, blazing, furious metal/punk release of 2020, and it was delivered by industry veterans. There isn’t a single second wasted on this album, every song just hits the right spot, mercilessly pummelling it’s listener with a series of epic riff after epic riff. Even when it slows down a little, it’s still heavy as fuck. This is the best Boris album in quite a long time, and will attract both casual fans back (hell, it might serve as a great starting point) and will please long-term Boris listeners alike.

3. Phoebe Bridgers- Punisher

Phoebe Bridgers’ “Punisher” was the biggest ‘grower’ release of the year for me- it’s subtlety is quite overwhelming at first. But, after a few listens, it really begins to open itself up to you, and is one of the most beautiful, poignant, political and outright beautiful collection of tracks of 2020. It was one that I kept going back to, it feels like it could have been written by ghosts. Worthy of all the hype and attention it is getting, Phoebe Bridgers really stepped up her game for this one, and will definitely be one of the most exciting new acts to watch in the future. Don’t skip it.

2. Seiko Oomori- Kintsugi

Seiko Oomori’s latest work wasn’t just another Seiko Oomori album, it was yet another landmark from her, which demands your attention and doesn’t let go. Here is her most confident, mature, and purely singer-songwriter style work since TOKYO BLACK HOLE, that will not only please her fans but has proven to even win over some of her long-term naysayers. There isn’t a track here that isn’t worth your time, even it’s damn Christmas track is a strong listen. Seiko Oomori has at this point, figured out exactly who she is- and has released the album that proves that she’s one of the most brilliant songwriters of our generation. The best Japanese pop album of 2020, easily

1. Rina Sawyama- SAWAYAMA

SAWAYAMA has been the soundtrack to my entire year, it’s gotten me through the bleakest moments of 2020, it’s exciting as fuck, crucially timed, and immediately feels like a landmark record in UK pop. Rina’s charming personality shines through in every song- and the issues she covers here all seem to be timely; ironically backed by cherry picked sounds from late 90s to mid 00s. It’s also got that circus funhouse feel of sounds, one moment you’ll be pummelled by a nu-metal riff, to be then hit by something that could have been on a Christina Aguilera record- all while fundamentally being self aware and with a wink. What is most important though, is that Rina’s written this record (even in its admittedly cheesier moments) from an earnest place, and that’s why people are still listening to it almost a year down the track. It’s the most significant release of 2020 for me, and was always gonna be my pick of album of the year. I absolutely LOVE this record.

Can’t wait to see what’s next from Rina.

And there we have it, 2020’s best albums wrapped up!

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2020: 5-1

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2020: 10-6

10. Mariko Goto Acoustic Violence POP- POP

Mariko Goto’s had a very storied run with her post Midori career, and those looking for something explosive won’t find that in this record. Instead, they will find some of the strongest written, performed folk pop tracks since early Seiko Oomori. Mariko’s vocals shine on this thing, it’s her most adorable and warm work to date. It’s also absolutely addictive. This is the record I have wanted to hear from her for a long time, and she’s finally gotten round to it. Folk fans jump on this. Mariko Goto fans, enjoy!

9. Haru Nemuri- LOVETHEISM

Haru Nemuri delivered another excellent release this year, and while short, feels more developed and thought out than a lot of full length albums I listened to. Her seismic energy is still the main draw card here; though this time she has honed in on her lyricism, tightened some of the loose ends and overall, delivered a follow-up worthy of her amazing previous album. Another winner.

8. Emma Ruth Rundle/Thou- May Our Chambers Be Full

This late entry for 2020 is also one of my favourite metal release of the year. Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou has turned out to be one of the most exhilarating collaborations imaginable, with Thou’s crushing doom combined with Rundle’s moody alternative country. Vocals clash and meld together like iron, riffs hit hard as fuck. It’s atmospheric, bold and unforgettable, and will keep you coming back for more.

7. ZOMBIE-CHANG- GET ME OUT OF TOKYO

ZOMBIE-CHANG’s latest album was the result of a lockdown project, where most song was originally untitled, however, it evolved into this- ZOMBIE-CHANG’s most realised album to date. Here she really showcases the hip artist that she has become, her trademark dry sense of humour backed by playful and knowing electronic pop. It’s very addictive, and I found myself returning to the album many times throughout the year. Oh, and that album cover kicks ass.

6. OHMME- FANTASIZE YOUR GHOST

Indie darlings OHMME return with a new album of playful wonder. Here we find the duo at full strength, beautifully harmonising through a twisting world of sickly guitar licks, indie bops, experimental soundscapes and psychedelia all while keeping track of their destination. Fantasize your Ghost is excellent, and highly addictive. If you missed it earlier this year, make sure you check in with these girls now!

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2020: 10-6