The ultimate disappointment that is… ASH VS EVIL DEAD

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When they released the trailer for the STARZ series earlier this year, I was in that crowd that was jumping out of their seats (or should I say skin?) in anticipation. Star Wars???? FUCK THAT. EVIL DEAD with Bruce Campbell is coming back! Oh how I got pumped up. Not only were we getting more Evil Dead, but we were getting a full series of it!

While the remake quenched my thirst for some neat gore effects, it was missing the one element that made the Evil Dead so special- and that was personality. Most of which came from Campbell’s character Ash.

So gleefully, I like everyone else who cared, tuned in on Halloween to see the debut episode, and really, REALLY enjoyed what it delivered. Sure, it needed some tightening of the screws and some of the CGI was… questionable, but the debut episode teased something great. All the characters introduced were fun to watch and seemed like they were going to play a much more major role in the upcoming episodes. Editing for the most part was snappy and done for a comedic effect. Music choices were brilliant. Gore was by the bucketful. All was set. This was going to be special.

However… as the series continued, I started to notice the cracks in the veneer. There’s only so long you can keep a single joke going, and by the midway season I really started to see the flaws. Things meandered and seemed to go nowhere. The backgrounds of the characters are uninspiring to say the least. Would I care if any of them die? Not really. Some episodes seem to be mere filler- and seeing as they are only 30 mins each- there shouldn’t be room for filler. The pace falls off and some episodes in the middle section are well- sad to say- absolutely boring.

Now that we’re almost at the end of the season- I feel barely any desire to keep on going. It’s exhausting to keep up and unfortunately, I can’t say I want to recommend it to anyone. I don’t even know if I’ll bother to tune in to see it’s climax. I just don’t give a fuck.

It gives me no pleasure in saying that this one’s a dud. Sure it’s not as bad as the other horror-franchise-turned-into-a-TV-show that is Netflix’s absolutely atrocious “Scream” (that is so far up in it’s own ass trying to be ‘clever’ that it loses all charm and wit of the movies), but I didn’t really have any expectations for that one either. If Ash vs. Evil Dead does eventually rise up from it’s creative slump- I wonder how many of us will still be around to care.

I’ll stick to the remake for my modern Evil Dead fix.

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The ultimate disappointment that is… ASH VS EVIL DEAD

SAYONARA PONYTAIL- ENBAN UTOPIA

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Long albums are always a daunting prospect. Double albums can either be masterpieces or fall apart under their weight. A triple album then, is a mighty risk. A triple JPOP album is like betting your life savings on black. Sayonara Ponytail have done just that, and I couldn’t resist but see how it all holds up.

The album gets off to a surprisingly gentle and pretty start with disc one. Usually when making a long album like this, you wanna grab the listener right in, but not this time round. Disc one is a very contemporary pop affair, music you’d feel safe playing as background music. Nothing jumps out or surprises- and for that I was at first admittedly underwhelmed (perhaps even bored– that last stretch was quite painful) and slightly worried about the rest of the album. Production is light and fluffy, and the vocals are suitably gentle. Very old fashioned and inoffensive. Instrumentation is, on the whole, beautiful- and nothing (suitably in this case) particularly stands out- there is a great sense of unison and communication between all players. I have noticed that on multiple listens however, that many of the songs are slowly starting to reveal themselves and grow on me– this is always a good sign in the long-run, but its subtle and laid back approach may be a bit of a turn off to some listeners on early spins.

The second disc picks up a little bit. Sure it’s still very much in the world of adult contemporary, but songs seem to compel this listener a little more than the first disc, and it seems to be much tighter. There are tracks and passages in here that really are quite pumped up and show off the instrumental skills of individual players. Neat little guitar flourishes break through the sheen. Production is still very gentle and soft, but this time it seems to be pushing things a little further, just touching that next level but never ever going into the ‘idol‘ sphere of sound either. There is a nice disco groove through quite a few of the tracks here and the male backing vocals throughout add a nice layer to the whole thing, without sounding tacky or distracting. The ballad songs are the most impressive however, all are well thought out and have gorgeous choruses. They are never dull or dry, and this is quite a testament to the songwriters. Sure, it’s not a perfect disc by any means, but to this listener, its far more enjoyable than the first- particularly on initial spins.

The third disc, for someone with the tastes I have, is where things really shine. This is a more acoustic set- and the stripping down of the sheen works wonders and elevates the group to emotional highs the other discs just don’t touch. It really shows off the vocal skills that these girls have- proving they’re more than just cute faces. There is some great harmonizing here- all played with a nice level of subtlety that is just gorgeous to listen to. The instrumental work here is near impeccable– and the production choices are great. It’s the shortest disc by quite a bit, but this decision makes it the most enjoyable disc to listen to on initial spins (at least for this listener). A fitting closure to this album.

In the end though, each different listener will rank the discs in different ways. It all depends on what you want. No disc is perfect, in fact no discs are really anything special (but the third disc definitely provides the most excitement). If they were sold separately, I don’t think I’d be too impressed by any of them, but considering the triple album undertaking that has gone on here- it works pretty damn well. It never seems too bloated or wanky– which a lot of multi disc albums do, and it never feels pretentious or showy either. It’s just a really good value for money package for Sayonara Ponytail fans- which really just gives a good outline of the group’s varied skills and musical approaches. It’s a noble attempt and I can’t fault it for that. I don’t imagine being able to sit down and listen to it all the way through often, but it wasn’t too much of a strain when I was in the mood either.

Overall, if you’re a hardcore Sayonara Ponytail fan, it’s an essential purchase. For everyone else, it’s a ambitious, creative and massive work, that despite it’s flaws is still worth a listen (or ten). 3 discs will always seem daunting, particularly with today’s busy lifestyle– but Sayonara Ponytail have made it as easy as possible to consume without feeling too bloated at the end. Think of it as a light 3 course meal and you’ll be just fine.

7.5/10– Sayonara Ponytail’s triple album is an imperfect, but satisfying three course meal that everyone should indulge in at least once.

SAYONARA PONYTAIL- ENBAN UTOPIA

THIS IS NATS- LONELY! LONELY! LONELY!

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It’s hot outside. Fucking hot. So hot that the air conditioner that usually works a charm is having a run for it’s money and it’s still 28 C inside. However, I see that the new THIS IS NATS has been released. “HMMM” I think. “This might be good!”. Hmmm indeed.

I start listening. As hard as I can. I try to approach from a critical point of view. There’s gotta be something about this that makes it get such hype, right? As I strain away– I feel I am beginning to understand why people are enjoying this- it’s the torture porn of jpop. Like Hostel, there is a certain level of charm that makes you want to sit through the abuse- as if to prove “surely this is the worst it gets“. Yeah that’s gotta be it. RIGHT????

After a while, the amount of pain I’m going through while listening deteriorates my prose into short burts of text. This is what I had left after the album was over:

“her vocals are like that little kid that’s nagging for icecream and wont shut the fuck up till it gets what it wants”

“production is nil, but that’s ok, that’s what people LIKE about it, isn’t it????

“I do realise that me, as a big fan of other similar offbeat stuff (*cough* ZOMBIE CHANG *cough*), me being a bitch about this is as contradictory as the bible.”

“OH GOD I’M ONLY HALF WAY THROUGH!”

What am I going to have for lunch?”

“Haven’t listened to Aya Hirano in a while”

SHIT BACK TO THIS IS NATS. Ok. The UFO song is alright”.

How do I even give such a release a score???

Fish/10. Music that’s purposely bad can’t really be critiqued. It’s like movie critics trying to review Jackass. Be my guest. Flame me. Listen to it if you like. I don’t care anymore. Someone help me.

Just like it’s title, I feel LONELY! LONELY! LONELY! in this one. Didn’t buy a ticket to the hype train on time it seems.

THIS IS NATS- LONELY! LONELY! LONELY!

Paipaidekami- Tokyo Image Training Kyoka Kyoku

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That highly sexual weirdo anti-gravure-idol-whatever-she-is Paipaidekami‘s latest single finally landed- and it’s just as insane and over-the-top as I expected. Here’s some thoughts:

First up, what can I say,  it’s undeniably trashy– but in the best possible way. For the first three tracks, Paipaidekami’s awkward, highly nasal delivered vocals mixed with the high sheen, old school Japanese idol pop sound are a real one-two knockout punch to the senses. It’s bubbly and sparkly as hell, but be careful, there’s glass shards floating around in there.

The main single “Watashi no Namae o Yon de Kudasai!” is delightfully sleazy- as is it’s truly ridiculous gravure style music video. Paipaidekami knows she has the goods and isn’t afraid to flaunt it– and she sounds more confident than ever in this track. It’s great to hear her bursting out of her shell- even if it means stripping back the utter weirdness that made her previous releases so damn compelling just a little.

It’s followed by the truly goofy, but charming “Time Capsule” which has a silly groove and samples of male vocals that only the hardest soul won’t be able to crack a smile at. The chorus is immensely catchy and it got stuck in my head after just two spins.”NICE MUSIC MUST PURE” is another ridiculous OMG JAPAN style track that will likely be the favorite track from this release among listeners in the end. It’s bright and bouncy (I instantly thought of the music from “Snowboard Kids” on Nintendo 64- probably not the most general of comparisons, but hey, that’s the first thing it reminded me of), and Paipaidekami’s vocals just tip it to that next level of “WHAT THE FUCK” that truly delights this listener to no end.

However, the last track “Daigaku” brings out a real sweet side of Paipaidekami- not something we have been exposed to yet, and it took me by surprise. She sounds ridiculously sexy here- and almost “good” in the traditional sense of the word. It brings the hyper first three tracks to a nice wind down and makes the single feel more like a mini album than anything- a surprisingly beautiful and well thought out closer.

Sure it’s not deep, AT ALL. But it is delightfully tongue-in-cheek and self aware. And that makes it so much more tolerable and overall endearing than most similar music. Whether or not you “get” it will depend on the personal listener- but if you can get into it- this is your stop for some true Jpop ridiculousness.

7/10. Trashy fun for (almost) everyone!

And yeah. The word “ridiculous” appears in here a lot. I did that on purpose.

Paipaidekami- Tokyo Image Training Kyoka Kyoku

URBANGARDE- SHOWA 90

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(Before we start, I apologize in advance for any butchered Romaji in this review- I am no pro by any means :-p)

Urbangarde have been a group I’ve known about for a long, long time, but have never really had the desire to explore further for whatever reason. SHOWA 90 has turned this impression on its head for me- as I fall deeper and deeper into it’s spell. It rocks, rolls, bops and pops throughout it’s entire run-time, and its well worth the short amount of your day it takes to sit down and listen to. Definitely one of the most surprising releases (and so late into the year) of 2015, let’s have a quick look at what makes it demand your attention:

Other than being immediately wild and throat-grabbing, there’s definitely a sense of things being awfully tongue-in-cheek throughout the entire albums run-time. Delivered with a real bite, its easy to get caught up in the whole thing. As one person has pointed out to me, the theme of this album is a play on “what if the Showa era style was still around in 2015?”- (if it was, 2015 would be the 90th year of the Showa era). There are clearly themes of despair, death and what it means to be pure. It’s all done with a sense of deep parody. Because of this, I feel you would get even more from it if you were Japanese- I however, can only judge it on the music and delivery itself for the most part, but it nice to have that little bit of background when going into it.

The pairing of male and female vocals really, REALLY works in this album. It’s like listening to a gigantic opera or play. I oddly am reminded of the great Jun Togawa and Koji Ueno project Guernica in many parts- there’s definitely a sense of the militaristic; further strengthened by the video for the lead single “Kuchibaru Demokurashi.” And lets talk about that lead single and opening track- so potent, so poignant. It’s hard to not be reminded of Togawa’s own “Virgin Blues” (perhaps not surprisingly from her own album Showa Kyonen– also with its tributes to the Showa era) with its chorus. The song is so good at setting the tone and theme of the album up that I doubt that Urbangarde could have chosen a better opener. Love it.

From there the album provides a delightful blend of sparkly jpop, VK (Visual Kei for those wondering) style metal and traditional Eastern flavors. Major higlights include the delightful “Shinjuku Monamuru” with it’s mix of bubbly idol style pop and traditional Japanese instruments, the groovy, male led “Shijin Kari“, the bonkers “Hako Otoko ni Kike” with it’s ridiculous over-the-top guitar work. Needless to say, the brilliant, moody theatrical centrepiece “Showa Kyu ju nen Junigatsu” must be mentioned,  and finally, my personal favorite, the beautiful ballad track (and also single) “Hesei Shibo Yugi“, which for whatever reason even reminds me of the better works of Ayumi Hamasaki.

There are bits of the album that do feel a bit strenuous and fatiguing, and it by no means is easy listening. It’s loud and in your face. Hell, it may be a little “too much” for some people at times, but for those who dig music being a little bit more on the ‘extreme’ side of things- this is your caffeine and sugar powered dose for December.

Urbangarde keep getting more and more interesting with their work. From what I’ve heard this is probably their most ‘tight’ and consistent work I’ve experienced. I have no complaints in the running time department and there’s no real dull moments to speak of. While it’s not something I see myself coming back to very frequently after the initial hype has died down, I’m really enjoying it right now and it does have some gems on it that reach truly mighty heights.

7/10 Urbangarde’s latest is a hearty dose of “weird Japan” that often at times teeters into levels of pure genius. Highly recommended for your December fix.

URBANGARDE- SHOWA 90

PHEW- A NEW WORLD

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Phew‘s first album under her name since 2010’s cover album “Five Finger Discount” marks another excellent addition to her near flawless discography. This album takes a much more minimalist, electronic approach than usual and definitely would serve as a great winter soundtrack for Japan (or elsewhere that’s experiencing winter right now).

Opening with the pulsing, repetitive “A New World“, you’re instantly transported into the little world that Phew has created on this album. Her trademark haunting, near monotone vocals (yes, this traditionally is a bad thing, but Phew has made it an art form) are as compelling as ever as the song slowly builds, adding new layers to the dissonance. This use of electronics is quite breathtaking- and certainly a step in a new direction from her more recent work. It’s hard not to be reminded of works such as Radiohead‘s Kid A (for an obvious, mainstream example) as the song progresses, and this is high praise indeed.

Things pick up with the second track, “Where Are You?“, which has a faster, punk-like beat- however, the heavy atmospherics make it moody as hell and the electronic work is still front and foremost. It’s a delightful, intoxicating blend that’s simultaneously hypnotizing and hostile. Constantly you are on edge, but it’s too compelling to stop listening. Instrumental work is amazing here- never too showy, but always tight and organized. All this while avoiding the often stale, hollow sound that electronic music can have.

Other highlights of this album are the batshit insane “Spark” (which will be an absolute delight for fans of 80s YEN Label music), the utterly bizarre, broken English delivered “Chinese Rocks“, the masterful, almost terrifying twists and turns of “See You Again” and the closer “Hamabe no Uta“, which is a sad, beautiful ballad presented in a way that only Phew could.

There are some moments that kill the flow a little in this album, this mainly comes from some of the track lengths being just a *little* bit too long. This may dampen the appeal for people with a little less patience, or those who don’t have time to really sit down and pay attention (a thing that’s getting harder and harder to get time for in this day and age). There’s nothing on here that truly takes you out of the mood though, and Phew has really hit the nail on the head creating something quite singular in sound this year.

Definitely a mood piece album, it’s likely not something you’re gonna want to pick up and listen to every day. However, for those late nights in-front of the computer or times where you are just at home relaxing and want to get truly lost in an album, this is a perfect choice. The ride does have a few parts that do drag on the way, but overall, it’s essential listening if you’re a Phew fan.

8/10. Phew shows that being a veteran of the scene doesn’t mean that you have to lose inspiration. Definitely check this out (if you’re in the mood).

PHEW- A NEW WORLD

TOP 20 of 2015: The roundup

OK, so I have just concluded the annual Top 20 List that I post on EMF. Here’s the list in short:

20. Reina & Blue Valentines- Lady or Girl?
19. Oyasumi Hologram- Oyasumi Hologram
18. Roger Lion- Roger Lion
17. Sunn O)))- Kannon
16. Hanae- Jokyou Shokyou
15. Passepied- Shabaraba
14. Bjork- Vulnicura
13. Deafheaven- New Bermuda
12. ZOMBIE CHANG- Koi no Vacances EP
11. Suiyoubi no Campanella- Zipang
10. Lana Del Rey- Honeymoon
9. Roisin Murphy- Hairless Toys
8. Sayuko Nano- Kimi to Issho Nara Jigoku Demo Iiyo
7. Maron Hamada- Seijuku no Marble
6. YAMP KOLT- Chewing.
5. Never Young Beach- YOSHINOKI HOUSE
4. Seiko Oomori and the Pink Tokarev- Tokarev
3. Susanne Sundfør- Ten Love Songs
2. Sa Dingding- The Butterfly Dream
1. Bokutachi no Iru Tokoro.- Kono Yo ni Umarete Kita Koto ga Somosomo Machigai Datta kara

If you want to see in more detail the reasons why I chose these, read the  EMF thread here

TOP 20 of 2015: The roundup