YUU- TEN NO MIKAKU

This week I didn’t come across of any new albums of interest, so I thought I’d have a good look at one of the more underrated albums in Japanese rock, Yuu‘s Ten no Mikaku.

ten no mikaku

Hot on the heels of Shiina Ringo‘s creative peak album, Karuki Zamen Kuro no Hana, Go!Go!7188’s (a band I personally don’t even like) vocalist Yuu released her debut solo album- and like KZK, it molds traditional Japanese music, avant-garde experimentation and pop music together to bring a breathtaking and utterly compelling release. Hell, on some listens I find this album perhaps even better than Ringo’s album when it comes to getting this delicate mix right. Sometimes.

Production wise, Ten no Mikaku is almost impeccable. It’s opening track “Hachisu” really sets the mood with its use of traditional instrumentation. Yuu’s vocals are perfectly appropriate and damn it captures the listeners attention. You know you’ve found something special. And you really, really have.

Go!Go! fans needn’t feel too left behind by the sound here though. The hard rock that they made their name on is still blaringly present, though on this album, it feels more important, focused and harder hitting. Whether its because of the general context in which it plays as part of the album -or if it legitimately is actually heavier- is something I have yet to decide on- but, whatever it is, it rocks damn hard when it needs to. Shuumatsu, the second track is a great example of this, rocks really hard but never ever lets the heavy atmosphere created by the opening track dissipate.

When Yuu goes into the jazzier sections on this album, well…dare I say it… works better than any other J-rock artist using jazz in their material I’ve come across. It flows so naturally, sounds down and dirty and never ever ventures into cheesiness. The band is tight as hell, the drum work is jaw dropping. Yuu’s vocals sound perfect, the balance is amazing. Try to listen to Kuromatsu without being utterly blown away.

My absolute favourite track on here, Mitsugetsu would rival anything on KZK, easily. Hell it probably would fit right on that particular album. It’s the kind of sound that would attract any newcomer to Japanese music. It’s as catchy as it is downright creepy, and it’s impact lingers long after the track has finished. It’s use of exotic instrumentation and sampling never ever feels tacky, it is totally needed. Listen to Yuu’s vocals, infinitely seductive and downright perfect.

Other major highlights are the hard as fuck Goma Sumi with it’s pounding bass line and crushing chorus, the bone chilling Amonojaku with its perfect use of accordion and creepy layered vocals and of course, the beautiful power ballad closer that is Azuki. It’s as uplifting as it is crushing. And it all works so well.

The only negative I have with it is mainly nitpicking. Perhaps the track order could be tweaked to make it flow slightly better, but I honestly don’t know the exact point where the flow ever so slightly goes a bit off (perhaps Amai Mizu could have been placed elsewhere, I really love the track but feels a bit odd where it is???)- or maybe I’m just imagining it/being way too critical. Regardless, there are no dud tracks on this album. It’s so close to being perfect that it hurts.

Why it is never quite as revered as KZK is beyond me. I can’t imagine any fan of that album not being utterly amazed by Ten no Mikaku in equal measure. Why was there such a creative high in Japanese rock circa 2003/2004 (another album that could fit alongside these two is Togawa Fiction for example) that never really came back? Oh well. We will still have these amazing treasures to cherish forever.

9/10 Well worthy of anyone’s time, well worthy of a buy. Fingers crossed for a vinyl pressing in the future. It could happen, right?

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YUU- TEN NO MIKAKU

TogawaKaidan cover art and tracklist revealed

My personal most anticipated album’s cover art and tracklist has been released, and what can I say, I’ve gone from being on the edge of my seat to being on my tippy toes.

First up, the cover art:togawa kaidan

Simple, bold, elegant. Stark with contrasting colors. Eye catching. Totally fits the music that it contains. I love it!

And now the tracklist:

1.戸川階段のテーマ/非常階段(JOJO広重、T.美川、JUNKO、岡野太)
2.好き好き大好き~New Mix~/非常階段×戸川純
3.God Hand Jojo/非常階段(JOJO広重)
4.ヴィールス/非常階段×戸川純
5.Mikawa The Mikawa/非常階段(T.美川)
6.いじめ/非常階段×戸川純
7.Junko to Junko/非常階段(JUNKO)
8.ヒステリヤ/非常階段×戸川純
9.Noise Brothers/非常階段(JOJO広重、T.美川)
10.肉屋のように/非常階段×戸川純
11.続・戸川階段のテーマ/非常階段(JOJO広重、T.美川、JUNKO、岡野太)

While at first I was a bit let down that it appears that Togawa (possibly) only appears on about half the tracks (and likely what appears to be the intro and outro- I mean, it has her name in the titles), I also remembered that I really, really enjoy Hijokaidan regardless. It’s also gotta be pointed out that Togawa has only done the odd song here and there for the last 11 years so this is still like a small gold mine. So while a teeny tiny bit disappointed by this, it by no way dampens my excitement!

Bring it on!

TogawaKaidan cover art and tracklist revealed

Quick Thoughts- 2016: Already off to a good start.

2015 has not even ended, and we still have a few releases yet to look forward to, but already, some great, amazing and downright surprising releases have been announced for next year. I’m gonna take a couple of minutes to discuss the ones from the Japanese music scene that everyone should be holding their breath for:

BORIS X MERZBOW- GENSHO (February)
boris x merzbow
Boris and Merzbow have collaborated once again, this time releasing a 2CD set. One disc is Boris, reworking old tracks and the other is Merzbow which consists of all new pieces. The intention of the 2 disc set is that both are to be played at once on two separate sound systems (ala Dronevil). A teaser featuring Boris’ Flood swimming in a sea of Merzbow’s trademark noise is both amazing and frightening, and I can’t wait to delve into the final product.

ZOMBIE CHANG- ZOMBIE CHANGE (January 20)
zombie
In my humble opinion, the coolest girl on the Jpop/indie scene, Zombie Chang is releasing her second full length fairly soon. It features the single “lemonade” and the title suggest that it will lean more towards her Koi no Vacances sound rather than the debut Atashi wa Nan desu ka’s sound.

BOKUTACHI NO IRU TOKORO- GOMI (May 3)
boku tachi
The group that delivered arguably the best rock album this year has already announced a followup, with promotional poster in tow. Pity we have to wait 6 months to hear it! If it is remotely up to the standards they have set with this years album, I’d be getting pretty excited

And finally, the biggest surprise (for me anyway)

JUN TOGAWA X HIJOKAIDAN- TOGAWAKAIDAN (January 20)
hijokaidantogawa1
Jun Togawa and Hijokaidan gave us a teaser on the Hijokaidan 30th Anniversary album, but now they dropped this bombshell- a full, 11 track album to be released in January! Not only is it exciting to know we’re gonna get more of that batshit Togawa and Hijokaidan craziness like their version of Suki Suki Daisuki, but this also marks the first official full length album of new material that Togawa has appeared on since 2004. 11 long years with only a few sprinkles of tracks from the queen herself. Finally, something more solid to add to the collection.

And that’s just what’s been announced so far. 2016 is shaping up to be monumental. And I can’t fucking wait.

Quick Thoughts- 2016: Already off to a good start.

ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF- THE MIRACULOUS

the-miraculous

I’ll admit, I was unaware of Anna von Hausswolff until very recently- but had been seeing mentions of this album in some of the various haunts I frequent. What struck me was the variation in comparisons- I had seen her compared to Kate Bush, Swans, John Carpenter, Goblin, Hans Zimmer, Earth and the mention of “drone” in there too. WHAT???? Surely some of these descriptions miss the mark, right? This seems like an impossible combination of sounds to get right (or not be a complete mess at least), right????

How very wrong I was. To my astonishment, all of those descriptions FIT THE FUCKING BILL PERFECTLY. I sat there head resting in hands utterly comprehending what I was listening to. My expectations had been kicked out of the park. Off the planet, right into space. What was this black magic??? And why hadn’t I discovered her earlier?

Even the story behind the recording is amazing- for the sake of this album, Hausswolff made the journey to the city of Piteå, where waiting was the Acusticum Pipe Organ. This bad boy is equipped with over 9000 pipes, its own recording tools and percussion instruments. Some parts of the organ are partly submerged in water, giving it an unearthly, unique tone and it certainly shows through the tracks here. Coupled with her backing band, the sounds created on this album are truly special, and I’ve never heard anything quite like it.

acusticum
The Acusticum Organ

It opens with the amazing, transcendental epic “Discovery“, aptly named if I say so. My heart was racing as it built up, from its sole organ hits to its amazing, drone backed percussion which pummeled right into the chest. “Come Wander With Me/Deliverance” has a brutal, repetitive guitar riff that could have easily come out of latter era Earth or Swans, yet never feels like it’s a rip off. Constantly we are reminded that this is Anna’s album. I have never heard vocals suit droning guitars so well, she completely, in every sense of the term, WAILS her way through the songs ending. Hell, it’s downright metal, and it’s completely amazing.

The rest of the album focuses a lot on experimentation with the Acusticum and it’s quite compelling to listen to. “Evocation” is loud and heavy, and the title track (a sprawling, dark 10 minute epic) sounds like it could come from any huge science fiction film, with the organ full and center sounding absolutely grandiose. It ends with the more hopeful sounding “Stranger“, offering a final moment of relief from the weight that has been pushed down on the listener for the first 8 tracks.

And ultimately the key, the most impressive element for me, is that regardless of how ‘huge‘ the music gets, it never forgets it’s organ led spine, it’s always there to support the hefty weight of everything around it. And that people, is what makes it one of the most original pieces of music, no, art, that you will come across all year. It left me blown away and haunted by it. Needless to say, I have ordered it’s 2LP set and will be letting myself get utterly consumed by it. After that I will proceed to check out her earlier works, if they are anywhere near as good as this, I’m about to get VERY excited.

9/10– Transcendental, crushing, heavy, brave. Get hold of it, change your life.

ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF- THE MIRACULOUS

Quick Thoughts: Short Review- Kou Shibasaki- Yasei no Damei

shibasaki

Kou Shibasaki‘s latest single “Yasei no Domei” is also the latest piece of music penned by Shiina Ringo, and is the title track of Shibasaki’s upcoming single due to be released on November 25.

This short review is only based on the title track and not the single as a whole- mainly because, well, the title track is what everyone is there for- written by Shiina Ringo and all.

Let’s start with what I do like about it- Kou Shibasaki’s voice is sweet and gentle, the song has a catchy chorus and reminds of Tokyo Jihen and perhaps some early solo Ringo in many ways. It has some nice chord progressions and works quite well. It has a really neat guitar solo near the end, which actually took me by surprise. However, that’s the only surprising part of the song.

On the more negative side of things- it’s quite by the book. It offers nothing new to the table and while I find Shibasaki‘s voice sweet, I can bet on it that most people will yearn for someone with a little more ‘pizzazz’ (like Shiina Ringo). The orchestration in the song, while fitting, just seems to be for the hell of it- remove it and I doubt the song would leave any different impression. It’s unneeded but some might like the touch. Towards the end, the track becomes a little repetitive- basically what you can hear in the short version of the MV is repeated three times and that’s about it.

Kou Shibasaki is one of the more talented vocalists Ringo has chosen to write for, if not a little bland and safe for my liking. She pretty much hits what Ringo was going for with the song and it is inoffensive. The song flutters by unassuming and overall, it’s pleasant if not a tiny bit boring.

Still, it’s better than any of the other Shiina Ringo related releases this year (in my opinion of course)

6.5/10. Tinges of oldschool Shiina Ringo with some sweet vocals, yet still ultimately is only a little above average.

Quick Thoughts: Short Review- Kou Shibasaki- Yasei no Damei

Susanne Sundfør’s “Ten Love Songs” is the masterpiece you’ve all missed

ten love songs

Early 2015, Susanne Sundfør dropped her latest release “Ten Love Songs“. When I first listened, it merely came off as a finely tuned, excellent pop release. However, months later, it is finally revealing itself to me. It’s more than a pop album. It’s a revelation. It’s perfectly crafted, with a perfect balance of hard hitting electro and breathtaking orchestration. It’s got a perfect running time, all anchored with a rolling, majestic epic 10 minute track. It’s more than rewarding. Each subsequent play, the more absorbing it becomes. Emotionally, it’s as potent as it gets. Lyrically, its something special. Each song presented here has it’s own feeling, while still all working as a whole. It is magic. And yet, it’s practically unknown (though very slowly starting to get some international attention) to the general public outside of her own country of Norway (where she is HUGE).

It may not ‘click‘ right away- there is a LOT going on here- it can be quite overwhelming. But not in the way you think- it’s not filled with layers and layers of sound like albums such as Shiina Ringo’s “Karuki Zamen Kuro no Hana” or Sa Dingding‘s “The Coming Ones” for example- it’s more like when you first hear something like Tori Amos‘ “Boys For Pele” or Goldfrapp‘s “Felt Mountain” (not in sound, but in experience and feel). You know there’s something otherworldly about it- and the amount of attention it requires may be a daunting prospect for some listeners. However, like those aforementioned albums- the more time you put in, the more you will get out of it. And these, ultimately, are the albums that dig their way right into your heart and become all time favourites. This is no exception.

When the top albums lists of 2015 start to appear, I hope to see this on some lists- it truly deserves it. For those in the know, I seriously think this is the most charming, endearing and long lasting pop album this year. So do yourselves a favour, grab a copy of the album. Give it some time (one of the major problems with the digital age is that so much music is now available at the click of a button, that lots of albums are are no longer truly digested, which is a true shame) It’s so much bigger than it initially appears. Hell, I don’t even think some of her fans realise what they’re sitting on. One of the most exciting releases this year. Definitely one of the most important.

Ten Love Songs. You NEED it.

Susanne Sundfør’s “Ten Love Songs” is the masterpiece you’ve all missed

SUIYOUBI NO CAMPANELLA- ZIPANG

190890

Ah, Suiyoubi no Campanella‘s Zipang, one of the most, if not THE most hotly anticipated album in the J-pop calendar this year. It has been discussed, hyped and has had five singles and music videos releases from it already. This bad boy has finally landed, and how do I feel about it? Well, lets see.

First up, lets get them out of the way. Those absolutely monumental singles. Three of them (Medusa, Ra and Nishi Tamao) create a trilogy of three of the most amazing singles of the year. (The last single released “Ono no Imoko” and “Shakushain” are the weaker of the five and compared to their three massive big brothers, are somewhat dull and breeze by with no real reaction from this listener.) Together these three singles created a formidable force and something truly worth getting excited about. Add to this, all had great music clips to back them up, Ra in particular was quite spectacular with it’s Egyptian themed costumes and crazy dance moves.

However, the singles with all their might do unfortunately loom over the rest of the album and nothing really stands out in that regard. It’s not to say that the non-single tracks aren’t good- there’s some great stuff there that will eventually come out of the shadows as deep cuts– but certainly on early listens, they will most likely be lost in the mix, particularly to the casual listener. The best of the non-single tracks in these early listens is the pulsing “Uran-chan” which leaves a hard impression and the very next track, Wright Kyoudai, which is a beautiful, smooth and ambient hip hop track that’s just delightful to listen to and is a truly inspired gem. Almost as good as the singles.

The album being so short (at a fleeting 32 minutes), flies by. This really is not a problem given how enjoyable it is as a whole. Some may be discouraged by already have heard a half of it’s running time before even spinning it (and that being the best half)- but the short and sweet approach gives the album an air of freshness for it’s entire running length. It’s easy enough to start it up from the beginning on conclusion and while there are weaker moments- there is nothing that you would really feel like ‘skipping’.

As far as production values, this is the best I’ve heard Suiyoubi no Campanella sound thus far. A perfect balance of vocals and music, everything in the mix sounds like it belongs- there’s not a beat, instrument, vocal flourish, ambient loop or sample put to waste here. There’s a tight level of control- and yet, it all manages to sound organic, warm and natural. Campanella may have not broken a lot of new ground with the sound of this album- but damn they’ve honed it in to near perfection at times. In the end though- it all just sounds “cool” and fitting of the times. Whether or not it will age well is up to time, but as of 2015, it’s the sound of now, at least where Jpop is concerned.

While it may not be the groundbreaking masterpiece/album of the year that I was hoping for, as a pop album it is still far ahead of the pack. By no means a bad listen (it’s a damn fine listen!), it’s worth the short amount of time it takes to spin it. With it’s godlike singles (which are worth owning the album for alone), it’s easy to forgive the few missteps and somewhat filler tracks (particularly the uncertain starting duo of “Shakushain” and “Cho Hakkai“), it is still ultimately one of the top packages of 2015. It will no doubt delight fans regardless, and has enough going for it for outsiders to get something out of it too.

7.5/10 A highly entertaining release with killer singles that just misses the mark from being something truly unforgettable.

SUIYOUBI NO CAMPANELLA- ZIPANG