REVIEW: MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS- NO NEW WORLD

cover

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!

Advertisements
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

Review: PHEW- VOICE HARDCORE

If one characteristic comes to mind instantaneously when you think about legendary experimental artist Phew, it’s her vocals. A unique balance between spoken word and singing, Phew fleets between a sense of cool indifference while ever daring to show bright enthusiasm. It creates this real sense of tension, which encapsulates her listeners and creates an utterly compelling listen every time. An album created entirely of her vocals then- creates one of her most outlandish, yet minimal works to date, one that will both excite and challenge fans simultaneously.

The appropriately entitled VOICE HARDCORE is a minimalist’s fantasy. It bares a stark contrast to last year’s LIGHT SLEEP, which verged on noise music with it’s whirl of electronic fuzz. This time, Phew offers an ambient journey that feels like it is held together by a thread. For those not put off by its instant lack of accessibility- repeat listens are rewarding, as the album is a grower in every sense of the word.

Some people have likened this album to an “opiate haze”- though I find that a bit of a hard take to swallow, as there is definite focus and structure to these pieces. Sure there may be no “catchiness” or melody in the broadest sense of the terms, but Phew has a mission and she’s damn determined to get there.

In her Facebook press release she describes the album as “an attempt to make new reverberations that I have never heard before by using only my body”. She also states that a voice only album has been brewing in her mind since her debut solo single “Finale”- way back in 1980. When she finally got round to recording the album, she bashed it out in an three day period- an astonishing accomplishment when listening to the quality of material here.

The work’s mixing and mastering must also be mentioned, it sounds absolutely divine. Hiroyuki Nagashima is responsible for this and has tweaked the album to perfection, truly bringing Phew’s vision to life. For something so minimal to sound so massive is a triumph. Ultimately, the fact that Phew is delivering such brilliant and challenging works this late in her career- is truly her greatest gift to music. Bold.

9/10– Another amazing yet challenging late-career Phew release that will reward anyone that is willing to stick with it.

Review: PHEW- VOICE HARDCORE

REVIEW: DAOKO- THANKYOU BLUE

Late last year, DAOKO released her sophomore major album “THANK YOU BLUE”, to an interestingly mixed reception. On one hand, you have early fans, dejected by her apparent move from her signature ‘whisper-rap’ sound; on the other, you have those fully embracing the change. Whatever your personal preference though, it’s hard to deny how successful her last few years are, and that’s certainly something to take into account when reviewing this album.

I understand people who are detracted by the ‘pop’ DAOKO- believe me, I really do. However, I don’t think it’s as big a change as some let on, and it’s not like DAOKO had dropped any kind of defining previous work to cement her image in one way or another. It is a shame that we have lost quite a bit of her uniqueness through the transition though, and this album’s lack of cohesive character is a direct result of this.

Her blend of pop shines most when she is doing traditional, 80s style tunes. Tracks like “ShibuyaK” andMoshimo Bokura ga GAME no Shuyaku de” really do sound lovely and shine above more gimmicky sounding tracks, like the god awful TeddyLoid tune “Daisuki” with it’s tired “bro-step” drops and lame breakdown. The less added, the better the tunes are.

The one thing that will affect everyone- is the lack of new content. Indeed, the majority of this album (if you only consider the regular playlist) are songs that have already been released. To call it a ‘new album’ becomes a bit of a stretch. It feels like a best of collection. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the decision of actually buying it a questionable one if the singles are already owned. I mean, there are literally only FOUR tracks exclusive to this album. Yikes.

By the time the album ends,  it is hard to really say much about it. Hearing so much of it previously really wrecks any kind of chance it had to make any real impact, and having so many producers and guests (ranging from Kenshi Yonezu to Yasuyuki Okamura) working with her makes it feel more like a Various Artists compilation than her own release. It’s unfair to say that it doesn’t have some truly enjoyable moments- but barely enough to warrant any repeated listens. In the end, I can only really recommend the purchase if you wanted an easy way to bundle all her singles together- no more, no less.

THANK YOU BLUE is ultimately, a safe but somewhat tasteful collection of bops from DAOKO that is enjoyable, if inoffensive. It surely will gain it’s detractors- many old fans will truly feel left behind. But looking at it from the perspective of what DAOKO is trying to achieve- become a POP STAR, she has ultimately made quite a stepping block of an album- which one can only hope will be expanded upon in the future. For those feeling left behind, don’t worry, just head over to Seiko Oomori’s album “kitixxxgaia” and hear DAOKO belt out her old self on the track “Chikyuu Saigo no Futari”.

5/10. Decent enough, but won’t make much of an impact, negative or positive.

REVIEW: DAOKO- THANKYOU BLUE

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.

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2017: 5-1