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

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2020: 15-11

15. Nick Cave- Idiot Prayer: Alone at Alexandra Palace

Nick Cave’s beautiful and haunting solo album is one of the most harrowing pieces of music that has come forth from the pandemic. Here, Nick Cave presents his songs fully stripped back, with only his vocals and his piano to back them. The song choices are fascinating; ranging from the Bad Seeds entire career- even Grinderman gets a nod here. For fans, this is one of the most essential records in his collection to date, a piece that really strings together his entire being. I imagine in time, it will be considered a classic.

14. Phew- VERTIGO KO

Phew’s Vertigo KO is another spellbinding album from the legendary avant-garde master herself. Get sucked into a hypnotising wall of electronic drones, crumbling electronics, harsh noise, jagged glitches, dissident vocals and eerie soundscapes. This album still is one I sink into on commutes, it’s seemingly endless intricacies reveal themselves even more with subsequent listens. No-one does it like Phew, and this is another must listen to album if you can commit your full attention to it. If you can, pick up the Japanese limited edition, which comes with the previously released Vertical Jamming EP, and you have a perfect companion piece.

13. DAOKO- anima

DAOKO absolutely redeemed herself this year with ‘anima’, the most interesting, experimental and exciting work by her to date. After two fairly run-of-the-mill J-pop albums, DAOKO has delivered what seems to be her most personal work ever, her rapping game has come back with a bang and the songs themselves are all winners. Whether it be the Nariaki Obukuro clubber Otogi no Machi, the gorgeous and melancholy Ocharaketayo or the insanely colourful and layered title track, this was pretty much my pick for Japanese Pop album of the year for quite some time. Definitely worth a spin, especially if you had left DAOKO behind with her last album.

12. Litvrgy- Origin of the Alimonies

Litvrgy have gone from strength to strength ever since their inception, and this- a black metal opera- is by far the most ambitious and mind-blowing work yet. The contextual background behind the music is almost overwhelmingly difficult for a regular listener -myself included-to get their teeth into on first spins, so I suggest first approaching the album on it’s surface level- and just enjoy this fantastic take on the black metal genre. It’s hard to imagine where Hunter Hunt Hendrix will go from here, but her vision is absolutely one of a kind. I consider this a ground-breaking work and it deserves its place in the annals of metal history.

11. Fleet Foxes- Shore

Fleet Foxes latest album came right when everyone fucking needed it. It’s a real cleansing record- and leaves you with a sense of hope when everything going on around you feels like it’s falling apart. Songs here are some of the most catchy and straight hitting that Fleet Foxes have put out, and while this may seem a bit of a step down from their more experimental highs, it actually became its greatest strength in bringing the listener back over and over. Excellent.


DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2020: 15-11

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2020: 20-16

Here we are again, the end of another (particularly terrible year) and once again, all looking back on our top music picks. This year I found myself finding my favourite new music from old faves, newcomers and even artists that I’ve never really taken a shine to before. Anyway, everyone knows the drill, so no big fancy introduction is needed, so let’s get right into it.

20. Grimes- Miss Anthropocene

Grimes Miss Anthropocene leaked so early that I often feel like it’s a 2019 album, but it’s not. Here Grimes basically gives a ridiculous, over the top, high concept work that feels more like a big budget version of Visions than a direct Art Pop continuation. It’s certainly not an album full of killer bops, but more one that focuses on building an atmosphere and keeping you there. A strong release from Grimes

19. Chara+YUKI- echo

Chara and Yuki teamed up for the first time in years? Sure, why not! echo is a fun little release, full of cute songs that play to each vocalist’s strengths. They seem like a duo that were destined to sing together, it feels like a couple of besties working together and making something from the heart. One of the earliest albums to make it onto this list, it was a very strong starter to the Jpop year- which didnt REALLY pick up till the latter half of the year.

18. Taylor Swift- Folklore/Evermore

Taylor Swift was super productive in 2020, producing not one, but two albums- that work as sisters to one another. Hence why I’ve listed them together. Swift this time has opted for her most gentle music to date, super stripped back and folky. Both albums are gorgeous and absolutely essential for fans. For someone like myself, who’s only really ever followed her from the sidelines, to have an album finally truly resonate with me was the most suprising moment of music of the year. While I still like folklore slightly more, I can’t imagine making this listing without mentioning both.

17. Jessie Ware- What’s Your Pleasure

This year has had quite a few significant disco albums, and Jessie Ware’s is probably the most critically acclaimed of them all. Amazing, organic production, impeccable vocal performance and outstandingly strong song writing holding every track together is what makes this one absolutely stand out amongst it’s peers. I imagine this is for many, one of their favourite and entrancing records of 2020.

16. TWICE- Eyes Wide Open

TWICE’s album this year truly took me off guard, it’s an amazing collection of pop jams that never lets up. Excellent instrumentals, awesome vocal work. Songs are immediately catchy and will definitely get stuck in your head. Also, to be noted, the first mainstream K-pop album I’ve come across with no tracks that I skipped- if that’s not enough to sell it to you, I don’t know what is.

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2020: 20-16

REVIEW- SEIKO OOMORI- KINTSUGI

As a hardened Seiko Oomori fan, the question here isn’t ‘is it any good’ (of course it’s good); its more ‘HOW good- are we talking: ‘masterpiece’ level or just ‘good J-pop album’ level? Seiko’s last outing- the brief, fun, entry in her catalogue ‘Kusokawa Party’ has over the years easily become my least favourite of her releases- I find a lot of the sounds here are more what she went into with her idol group project, ZOC (which I’m not a fan of) and left me as a solo fan yearning for something meatier. So, ever since Kintsugi was announced way back in early 2020, I’ve been absolutely ravenous to see if Seiko Oomori will steer that ship back on course and give us another SEIKO OOMORI TM record.

The overall sound of Kintsugi is much more mature, more complex than anything she’s put out before. Sure, she throws a few playful jams in there (the insane, rave like ‘CUNNING HEEL’ comes to mind), but overall there’s a real weight to the record that hasn’t been felt in her music since ‘TOKYO BLACK HOLE’, which was written around the time of her pregnancy. Like that album, the emotional pull and delivery here is often overwhelming, and a truly moving experience for the listener. Unlike that album however, Seiko comes across more seasoned, the playful naiveties are now harder reflections of her worldview. And it’s fucking astonishing to behold.

While I’ve liked pretty much everything Seiko has put out in recent years, the use of filters has been something that has gotten to me a little- they have occasionally overused them on her voice, negating all the catharsis that makes Seiko Oomori, well, Seiko Oomori. There are filters throughout Kintsugi too- but thankfully only used for effect or rather sparingly. NIGHT ON THE PLANET is amazing because it weaponizes Seiko’s vocal imperfections and vulnerabilities, resulting in one of the most potent tracks on the entire album (it’s also much more enjoyable than the single version that was entirely in English).

Musically, this album is slower than previous releases, the songs are longer, develop and progress in far more complex and subtle ways than ever before. The instrumentation is flawless. Take for example, ‘S.O.S.F. Yomei Ni Nen’- it’s everything that people praised Kusokawa Party’s ‘Shinigami’ for being, but far harder hitting, epic and has a jazz punk finale that would rival the legendary Midori. The ballad writing here is crushingly beautiful, just take lead single ‘Singer Songwriter’ with it’s jangly, catchy chorus, or closer ‘KEKKON’, which might be the most heartfelt ending to an Oomori album to date.

In the end, Kintsugi is the strongest work Seiko Oomori has put out since TOKYO BLACK HOLE. I’d say with time, it has a strong chance to prove to be her best work ever, it’s just that damn good. This is the one fans have been waiting for. At the very mininum, without any doubts, best Jpop album of 2020.

10/10 *chef’s kiss.*

REVIEW- SEIKO OOMORI- KINTSUGI

REVIEW: YAYYAY- I’M HERE

OK, damn, give me a second to compose my thoughts here. This one’s insane.

Legendary Vocalist and guitarist Yuu‘s (Go!Go!7188, Chirinuruwowaka) latest project YAYYAY is not playing around. This is the most explosive Japanese art pop drop in years. Their sound is rapturous. It’s instantly inviting and yet challenging, and will have the 2000s kids absolutely squealing with joy. For some, this will be the release they’ve been waiting for since, well, let’s just say it- Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana (and yes, I am am well aware that this is the absolute most blatantly obvious comparison). The term transcendental is thrown around a lot in the music scene, but here, it applies without question. This is transcendental art pop.

It’s opening track “Devadatta” (named after the Buddhist monk and cousin of the Buddha who reformed the Sangha) declares, like the title of the release “I’m Here“. It truly sounds like it could have come right out of the creative peaks of 2003/4 in Japanese pop, a rock song at its heart, but deliriously playful and circus-like in presentation (those strings!).

There’s moments on the record that create a deep sense of dread, like the instrumental interlude “OJO”, that take a turn and dissipate into one of the most romantic tracks in recent memory, the gorgeous “Bitter&Sweet“, a glitchy ballad that has one of the most impressive displays of chord progression in recent memory. In the end though, there isn’t a single track that doesn’t need to be here, it’s all absolutely essential listening for fans of the genre.

Produced by Shizuka Kanata (arranger, keys, programming), everything is so precise; layers upon layers of instruments and samples mesh and meld, a perfect amalgamation of digital and classic sounds from all over the world. Regardless of it’s lofty aspirations, the quartet (it must be note how amazing such a massive a sound this album has coming from only four people) never forget the most vital part of making all of this work- catchy melodies to balance out the whole thing. It’s addictive as hell and Yuu’s vocals have always been amazing and she doesn’t sound like she’s aged a day since her initial run in Go!Go!7188.

All these elements, genre-fusion and that artistic spirit all end up being something truly wonderful, and rekindle the flames of one of the most adventurous eras Japanese Rock. It’s time to get excited and welcome YAYYAY to the list of great Japanese acts. Now we can only await what a full album will bring!

9.5/10

REVIEW: YAYYAY- I’M HERE

REVIEW: 963 (KURUMI) – tick tock

Fukuoka-based idol duo 963 (pronounced “kurumi“) has just released a second album! Music contributors include Miura Kōshi, Kenichirō Nishihara, Shinjō Kenichi, ikkubaru and more.

On 963’s sophomore release, the idol/rap duo build on their foundations in striking new ways. tick tock is a much more elaborate and well thought out release than their debut, 963, and that comes from the string of producers throughout. Despite the amount of people behind the scenes, the overall album all works together and is a great piece to just sit back and vibe to- and ascends its appeal beyond that of those into idol and hip hop alone.

963’s downtempo sound is inoffensive and instantly appealing. Fans of lo-fi hip hop are bound to find this familiar territory, and will dig it immediately. But even listeners from a more casual background who are just looking for a sweet idol record are going to find something to melt into, with its inviting nature.

It does however, have some flaws that get in the way of it being a fully enjoyable listen. For one, it’s quite muddy throughout the entire runtime. And while some might argue that adds to its charm, I feel it takes from the overall quality of the work. Secondly, the vocal recordings have an inconsistent quality to them at times, due to being mixed at differentiating volumes at various moments. It’s nothing listening destroying, but it is definitely noticeable when playing the album as a whole.

While there are no songs that really strike as outstandingly good or bad, the first half of the album certainly feels the most interesting, with songs like “SEED” and “lumen” helping to set the tone for the deep atmosphere the album as a whole has. It’s unfortunate then, that the ending of the album tapers off a little, and feels a little anticlimactic. It’s not an album killer, but unfortunately dampens the strong impression that the album had at it’s beginning.

6.5/10 . Overall, while it has it flaws, tick tock fits fairly well alongside the likes of 4s4ki’s ‘Omae no Dreamland’ and Daoko’s ‘anima’ as one of the most intriguing entries of Japanese hip hop for 2020.

REVIEW: 963 (KURUMI) – tick tock

REVIEW: ZOMBIE-CHANG- TAKE ME AWAY FROM TOKYO

Cover

“STAY HOME”. The first song title pretty much says it all. Who can forget those ominous two words when the pandemic hit? The first lyrics to hit on ZOMBIE-CHANG‘s fourth album are literally “WHERE IS MY TOILET PAPER”, which instantly brings back those memories of mass panic buying and toilet paper hoarding. The album title itself is a desperate cry “TAKE ME AWAY FROM TOKYO” from a young woman who yearns to be outside doing what she needs to do.

An album recorded over a series of weeks in isolation, originally called the “?” project, hits differently to anything that has come before from ZOMBIE-CHANG. It’s her hardest sounding beat wise, and also her most sobering. While there are definitely hints of her dry wit and humour, mostly its a reflection of the shit show that is 2020 and is her way of coping with the enormity of the situation.

A lot of the albums that have been inspired by COVID-19 and isolation have been very focused on the human emotions around it. ZOMBIE-CHANG opts for the mechanical, technological elements. (“We can be, online!”) Instead of giving us a series of beautiful (although there are definitely a few beautiful moments), introverted songs, she gives us cold, abrasive and mechanical (“ROCK SCISSORS PAPER“) sounding tracks. It’s a very unique take on the ‘isolation’ album, and often, like being in self isolation, there are moments where ZOMBIE-CHANG feels to have gone insane, as the album reaches its most amelodic, cold, digital moments. Hell, there’s moments that become undeniably frustrating and monotonous -see the track “RESPAWN” for example- which just make the album hit home that much harder. (It must be mentioned that there is one track that does offer some relief from the chaos, and that’s the calming, beautiful “GIANT PANDA“).

Because of the concept, the album really works best as a whole, which is an easy ask being it a focussed 32 minutes. Due to it’s nature, it’s also quite rough around the edges compared to previous ZOMBIE-CHANG works, but in a way, this really makes this one standout more. It gives the listener a reminder of ZOMBIE-CHANG’s freak folk origins too, which she has all but buried completely until now; so it’s nice to hear a bit of that side of her peeking through the cracks. It’s a dissonant work that will no doubt challenge some listeners wanting her more trademark sound. However, if you have the patience, it’s a truly rewarding and darkly comforting album.

9/10 Overall, ZOMBIE-CHANG has delivered one of the most outstanding isolation works of the year so far, and one of, if not THE strongest album in her catalogue to date. Let’s all lose our minds, together!

REVIEW: ZOMBIE-CHANG- TAKE ME AWAY FROM TOKYO