HINANO YOSHIKAWA- I AM PINK

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After the absolute tsunami of last week’s amazing releases, this time it’s been a slow week in new music, so it’s time to fill in another request review- this time from HarukaKamiya (or Haru). She has passed on the recommendation for the wonderful Hinano Yoshikawa album “I AM PINK“. A review I stared a few weeks back, the album has had some real time to sink in and grow. Here’s my thoughts:

Hinano Yoshikawa, in her heyday, was a ridiculously successful and popular model and actress in Japan. As what is seemingly the trend in Japan, she also dabbled in music, and this, her sole 1998 album “I AM PINK” is the result of that. Unlike many of the other model-actress-turned-singer albums out there however, this one holds some weight- most likely because of it’s involvement with acclaimed acts such as Buffalo Daughter. It is also known for it’s ridiculous cover of Strawberry Switchblade‘s “Since Yesterday”- which is really quite wonderful to behold.

The album has an uncanny ability to sneak in little bits of insanity into even the most calm of songs- the occasional blast of hard rock or over-the-top guitar solo mushed in a sweet ballad for example- and it really is effective at making it all the more memorable to the listener. The instrumental work here is tight and talented- there’s a real sense of dedication and joy that comes through the colorful mixing which makes you want to come back for more, long after the album is over. In the few weeks I’ve been listening to it, I must have played it at least 8 times in full.

Yoshikawa is no amazing vocalist or anything- but her sweet giddiness and child-like approach really fits well with the music here. The production is quite nice- and I imagine if it had come out any later, it would have suffered from being brickwalled to shit. So in that regard, it’s wonderful to hear music like this with room to breath, vocals that don’t devour their surroundings and drums that actually sound like drums. The bass is never overpowering and while the overall sound is that of sweet sugar-coated Jpop- it’s never too sickly for an outsider to enjoy.

If you could pick one song that sums up the album in a nutshell, it has to be the brilliant “Jitai wa Onna no Ko“- which bears all the hallmarks of her sound in a tight four minutes. It’s a constant shifting (and ultimately, balance) of cutesy Jpop in the traditional, cliche sense and western rock and roll. And it works a charm. Hell, even the albums last few tracks- which are remixes (usually a no-no in my book on ending an album) are truly well thought out and insanely addictive. Buffalo Daughter‘s mix of “Lululu Katamoi” is by far the standout here- a pulsing, repetitive 9 minute beast that reaches deep down and doesn’t let go. The closing track deserves a special mention too, the floaty, hynotic Midnight Dub Mix of “Shitteruyo“- a perfect way to send off the album and one of the most memorable closers I have ever come across in my experience with Japanese pop.

And sure- while the album may ultimately be a product of it’s time- it’s still delightful to listen to today. There may be some songs that suffer from being a little too long, or ballads that are a teeny bit cheesy– but I’m sure for many, it will just add to the charm. I’m more than certain this album is locked away in many listener’s hearts and memories- and to me as a newcomer to it, it’s a great, pretty, easy and most importantly, rewarding listen that’s nice to bring out every now and then.

8.5/10Hinano Yoshikawa‘s “I AM PINK” is a gem of J-pop history. I recommend to all even slightly interested in the genre. You won’t regret it.

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HINANO YOSHIKAWA- I AM PINK

MIKI FURAKAWA- MIRRORS

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Here’s a bit of a different review. Let me explain:

So this happened on Twitter the other day:
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That person (Emii) was referring to Miki Furukawa‘s first solo album “Mirrors“. So, I promptly got onto it and gave quite a few listens in preparation for this review. I have had some experience with Furukawa before, mainly with her previous (legendary) band, SUPERCAR and a couple of her later solo efforts. I have been quite impressed with everything I’ve listened to, and this album is no exception.

Being the first album after SUPERCAR‘s breakup, the sound is not that far detached from the bands sound (as opposed to later solo releases which take a more pop, even EDM edge). This is not a bad thing- the guitar driven power pop here is quite wonderful, and the production really brings out the superb texturing that is evident throughout its entire run time. There are also some electronic style tracks- but compared to her later work, they seem quite minimal and effectively mix with the more guitar based tracks. The most interesting element in the instrumental department is that of the use of electronic violin- something I have seldom seen anywhere. This really gives the album it’s own identity and voice among the sea of similar music- and makes it all the more memorable and affecting.

Furukawa’s vocals themselves are quite easy to listen to, there’s nothing particularly ‘weird’ or ‘outlandish’ about them- and this is probably really great for someone who’s only just getting into the J-scene. It has some really strong leading singles, including the truly delightful “Coffee & Singing Girl!!!” and “7 Stars“- which are instantly rewarding and easy to consume. The rest of the album flows smoothly and offers quite a bit of variety for the listener (one song that’s especially gorgeous for me is the amazing “Step by Step“). One thing that must be mentioned is the album’s knack for tracks that are JUST the right running length– avoiding the pitfall of songs that go for one minute too long (especially in ballads)- as seen in so many other J-rock releases.

While there are certain tracks that do sound a bit dated now- for the most part, it has aged quite well and will be a delightful listen regardless. It has a nice running time and never overstays its welcome. As an album goes- it’s beautifully constructed and track order is set out quite well. There’s never a moment where you feel like skipping anything- and I think this is a testament to Furakawa as a songwriter. It’s never too heavy handed and never too cookie cutter either. It’s damn near perfect apart from the aforementioned dated sounding songs.

Miki Furukawa’s MIRRORS would be a great stepping stone into the world of Japanese rock, fitting right alongside other such great introductory albums like Shiina Ringo’s “Shouso Strip” or Midori’s “Aratamemashite, hajimemashite, Midori desu.” (I mention these two from my own personal experience and from what I was generally recommended at the time that I discovered Japanese music for myself), or Furukawa’s own band SUPERCAR. A really nice, well crafted and highly enjoyable release that many may have looked over before.

If you haven’t listened to this album, do yourselves a favor and get onto it as soon as humanly possible. For those well acquainted with it, perhaps take some time out to revisit and relive the rewards that “Mirrors” delivers.

8/10– A great album that any J-rock fan should have in their collection.

MIKI FURAKAWA- MIRRORS

HIJOKAIDAN x JUN TOGAWA- TOGAWAKAIDAN

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Jun TOGAWA is back! JUN TOGAWA IS BACK! JUN TOGAWA! JUN TOGAWA!

Ok. Now that’s out of my system. Yes. Japanese anti-idol, queen of the 80s and ultimately my favorite Japanese artist of all time has returned after too, TOO long. Sure she’s had stints and one off tracks here and there, but hasn’t featured on anything major since her series of albums in 2004. That’s 11 years without her adding her unique blend of spice to the industry. But lets not get sidetracked here- this is also a Hijokaidan album- and I’m sure many, many Hijokaidan fans are just as excited to hear it as a Hijokaidan album as I am looking at it as a Jun Togawa album.

So? How is it?

Well… lets cut to the chase. It’s more of a Hijokaidan release than a Togawa release. Togawa only appears on just five tracks of the album here- and while this was a bit underwhelming to discover at first- the tracks that she’s on are, well, absolutely breathtaking to this listener. Every one is a rendition of a Togawa classic- and every one is a sonic punch to the face and the heart– reminding us why Togawa is- and always will belegendary. There is no denying how amazing these songs are. The new versions add a whole level of immensity and they come off anthemic. It’s hard not to shed a tear.

The rest of the tracks are Hijokaidan tracks- and are recordings from various live sets. They are pretty impressive listening for a noise fan- the production here is quite amazing. For people not into the noise scene- they may be a little off-putting and ‘huh?‘. But that’s ok. Noise is not a genre too many people are going to get along with. I found most of these tracks enjoyable sans one- the somewhat annoying “Junko to Junko” which I couldn’t help but skip about half way through. Those who listen to it will see why… The intro and outro tracks are pretty damn great.

The best way to approach this album is to find a time when you can play it LOUD- making sure you’ve got it blasting through decent equipment or headphones. There’s no way you’re gonna get the full effect listening to it at normal levels. It, by it’s very nature- is nuisance music (and I mean that in the best imaginable way). It’s gonna kick your ears in, you’re going to feel right down in your gut. Hijokaidan’s signature walls of brutal, harsh noise and screeches mixed with Togawa’s current, time and lifestyle abused vocal chords are a menacing mix to say the least.

Ultimately, as far as the Togawa featuring tracks go- they’re worth entry price alone. I would give them on their own a solid 9 out of 10. As for the album as a whole- well, it doesn’t quite fully work for me. The mix of live and studio is a little distracting and to be honest, the non-Togawa tracks to a Hijokaidan casual like myself felt more like interludes or heaven forbid, even filler. I’m not saying they’re bad by any means- and I’m sure the Hijokaidan fans will get some more worth out of them- but I honestly feel if they had just released this as an EP, it would have at the end of the day, packed the bigger punch.

That said… those TOGAWA TRACKS. OMG.

7.5/10 Brilliant re-imaginings of Togawa classics wrapped in some live Hijokaidan tracks. It’s not a perfect release, but it’s definitely worth picking up as a Togawa or Hijokaidan fan

And hell, SOME Togawa is better than no Togawa, right? RIGHT.

HIJOKAIDAN x JUN TOGAWA- TOGAWAKAIDAN

ZOMBIE CHANG- ZOMBIE CHANGE

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When I first discovered ZOMBIE CHANG, she was an edgy, hard edged folk musician who’s approach wasn’t exactly easy for everyone to take in. Needless to say this appealed to me quite a lot, and I was a pretty big fan of her first mini album “Atashi wa Nan desu ka“. After this release, she took a break (occasionally uploading a demo on her Soundcloud) and by the time she officially returned to the music scene, had changed her look and approach immensly. Her free digital EP “Koi no Vacances” was a major departure from that original sound and ventured into the world of electronic music- and she did it perfectly. It was truly one of the biggest surprises of last year, and managed to delight a much larger audience without losing her indie sensibilities. Her new LP, ZOMBIE-CHANGE is a further step in this direction, and it’s particularly exhilarating to listen to.

What ZOMBIE CHANG has created with ZOMBIE CHANGE is a series of catchy, electronic driven tunes that would rest easy on the palettes of Western audiences. She has managed to free herself from the trappings of being labelled “J“- I can easily imagine this album sitting right alongside the best of the western alternative industry (the somewhat popular  “Grimes” comparisons seem even more spot-on with this particular album), and could potentially reach an audience there (if they were willing to let the language barrier slide that is). Songs float along with a wonderfully carefree attitude- bringing back memories of the golden age of MTV. Quite a lot of shoe-gaze elements resonate throughout its warm electronic dissonance- ZOMBIE CHANG’s vocals are simultaneously distant and right next to you. She doesn’t try to hide that she’s not Mariah Carey but it really doesn’t matter- her genuine delivery is far more appealing than being too busy searching for the next note. You can tell she is fully invested in her project- rubbing off very well onto the listener, making for a truly memorable experience.

There are some real standout tracks throughout, including the pulsing, hard hitting opening title track, faux-hip hop inspired “PMS“- that delights with it’s old school beat, bright and bubbly “WASURETA“, absolute banger “YOU AND HURTS” and the crowning touch- the moody, brooding “KURIKAESHITERU“- that would fit easily along the best of avant-garde artist PHEW. The truth of the matter though, is that there are no tracks that don’t inspire some kind of awe here. ZOMBIE-CHANG has crafted a wonderfully diverse and easy flowing gem of an album that demands the listener’s attention and doesn’t let go until the last track is over. It’s inspired, playful and downright lovely. I am amazed.

ZOMBIE CHANGE ultimately is an album that further enhances the cool, adorable image that ZOMBIE-CHANG has created for herself- a highly addictive and gratifying listen that flows as smooth as hot butter. “CHANGE” indeed is the name of the game here- and the staggering juxtaposition between this and her debut album could not be more jarring. Jarring to the point where that hard hitting, crusty, sharp edged folk artist that once was has now transformed into a beautiful, trendy, totally hip indie pop butterfly– and has delivered the first amazing Japanese album of this year. Highly recommended- even to those that didn’t like her original sound.

9/10. All killer, no filler, ZOMBIE-CHANGE is a guaranteed winner!

ZOMBIE CHANG- ZOMBIE CHANGE

Quick thoughts: You can now follow me on Twitter!

So yes, I did what I said I wouldn’t and created an account on that thing that I hate… Twitter.

I’m not sure how frequent I’ll post. But I have linked this WordPress to it, so if you want, feel free to follow the Twitter feed too. Other than that, I’ll likely mainly whinge about stupid crap that no-one cares about- just like everyone else.

Anyway, twitter is:

https://twitter.com/deadgrandmablog

Follow, or don’t. It’s all up to you!

Quick thoughts: You can now follow me on Twitter!

Gesu no Kiwami Otome. – Ryouseibai

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Phew. The big one. So…. first things first….

Let’s get this out of the way before I begin- my interest in Gesu no Kiwame Otome. verges on the ‘passing‘ or ‘casual‘. I’ve never been fully undertaken or blown away by their works and I’ve always thought of them to a younger, newer Tokyo Jihen (and yes, I know most people disagree with me there, but hey, it’s my opinion). But, now that’s aside, I will look at their latest album from as fair a light as possible. Also, while Enon is currently shrouded in scandal, I shall be taking the high ground and ignoring that detail too- and looking at the album solely as it is.

Gesu no Kiwame Otome. have been making ripples, no, waves in the Japanese music scene recently- so much so that this album is currently the number 1 selling domestic album in Japan as of the time of writing this review. Renowned for their funky and smooth approach to pop music, they offer the listener breezy and catchy tunes that are quite hard to resist. Knowing how big of a release this was, I went in cautiously, and tried not to raise my expectations TOO much- albeit a bit hard to do given the crazy amount of hype around it.

Let’s start with the positives. The band are undeniably tight. Here has some of the most smooth and funky tracks I’ve heard in the entire time I’ve been listening to jpop. The bass in particular stands out to me, it really adds a level of richness seldom seen in the genre. Songs are constructed perfectly for mass consumption. This is a hit pop song machine. If you’re after something instantly gratifying and easy to listen to, this is quite a good choice. Vocals are decent, and while quite nasally (something I don’t personally have a problem with), fit the music well. Production overall is oomphy and hits the mark on most tracks. The backing vocals are surprisingly a major feature here- they’re not just there to add a little bit of harmonizing, they’re used to push the songs to interesting places. So that’s a surprise I wasn’t expecting.

However… despite all these good qualities….

The album does falter quite heavily due to one major issue- it’s running length. What could have been tight and concise has been drawn out to 17 tracks. While this may please some fans for getting a large serving of Gesu, for a casual listener like myself, things become… tedious. By the halfway point I noticed myself constantly looking down to see how many more tracks were left. At the end I felt completely exhausted. Sure there were no major duds to speak of (albeit there are moments that do verge on being a teeny bit “elevator“), but I cannot really think of any major highlights either. Everything devolves into one smooth, ultra long funk-fest that frankly, kinda bored me (although this may actually be something that appeals to other listeners). It’s such a shame because if this album was a bit more streamlined, they may have won me over into more than just a passing fan.

Overall though, what does it matter what I say about an album that will no doubt be ridiculously successful? I may not have enjoyed it as much as fans will- but that’s just subjective opinion anyway. I look forward to seeing how the more hardcore fans react to this one- and to see if they have similar problems with the bloated 17 track playlist or not.

6.5/10Gesu wa Kiwame Otome.‘s fans may shoot rainbows of joy for this one, but for everyone else, you better stretch and warm up before you attempt this marathon of similarity.

*Hides from incoming rocks*

Gesu no Kiwami Otome. – Ryouseibai

Charan-Po-Rantan – Onna no 46-Pun

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Charan-Po-Rantan have been a band that have sat particularly well with this reviewer for quite some time. Their cathartic and quirky blend of folk, cabaret, circus theatrics and straight out J-Pop is intoxicating and addictive. Musically, they’re tight and giddy- and feature some of the most approachable accordion work I’ve come across, provided by the highly talented Koharu. In the vocal department, Momo has always been impeccable- she’s got a huge range and is near impossible not to fall in love with. Their last album, “Theatre Theatre“- their debut album on major label AVEX – was a juggernaut of catchy tunes, sweet melodies and amazing track sequencing that was a delight to listen to from start to end. Now, just over a year since that album, they return with their new full length, Onna no 46-Pun– and I’m about to see how it fares…

Opening with two of their most loud and wild tunes, Charan-Po-Rantan spare no time to get things into full speed. Its simultaneously jarring and inviting. It’s like that super talented, but crazy looking street performer going at full gusto, you just have to get a closer look- but you still want to keep your distance until you feel a little bit more safe around them. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long till you can sink into the whole thing and let Charan-Po-Rantan take you for a ride in their whirlwind. It’s a fun start to the album and continues for a little while. But it’s when they slow it down that the gold really comes out- and is the Charan-Po-Rantan that I fell in love with.

For example, “Watashi Machigatteta” is absolutely delightful, a nice slower tune that is beautifully thought out. Previously released “Anata no Kuni no Merry-Go-Round” is instantly gratifying to the patient- it’s a really nice demonstration of the girls ability to construct songs with real chord progression, and it’s mighty impressive. “Yoku” showcases some of the best vocals ever put to record by the group, and the string work on this is batshit brilliant. The real highlight of the album for me, however, comes in the subtle gorgeousness that is “Suki Doushi“, its hard not to adore the perfectly set out song with its ebbs and flows, matched with some really amazing harmonizing and accordion work.

However, the album is definitely not perfect. It suffers from one noticeable problem- similarityto a fault. There is really no new ground covered here, and this may be a bit of a turn off to some people. There is not much difference between this album and Theatre Theatre in particular. The production is exactly the same, and sounds like it could have come from the exact same sessions. Infact- because some of the songs aren’t quite as strong as the ones on Theatre Theatre, it almost feels like b-sides for that album. The track ordering is not as well thought out (as has been pointed out by others), and unfortunately becomes a little bit fatiguing in the second half. Fortunately then, the great (and yes, they are GREAT) tracks are spread out pretty even across the album so there’s at least always SOMETHING to keep you going.

So, ultimately, what it comes down to is that while it may not be their best work- it’s still damn hard to listen to the album without cracking a big fat Chesire Cat grin. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had, regardless of the similarities to the last album, and it’s awkward flow can be forgiven on multiple spins. While it may not work perfectly as a full album- there are still plenty of killer tracks to pick from here- and I’m sure most Charan-Po-Rantan fans are going to be pleased anyway.

7.5/10 Another beautiful –if a tiny bit rocky– release by Charan-Po-Rantan. Can’t wait to see the live performances of some of these songs!

Charan-Po-Rantan – Onna no 46-Pun