NECRONOMIDOL- NEMESIS

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NECRONOMIDOL have been one of the most interesting new idol groups to follow. They have offered a legitimately decent alternative to things like BABYMETAL– in that they focus on the more ‘extreme’ ends of the metal and alternative scene- invoking anything from black metal to witch house in their unique blend. The news of a full length album was quite exciting- and the fact it had re-recordings of their early work suggested that they were going to give us some oomphier versions of their early songs. Naturally, I was keen to get my paws on this one. After listening to it however, maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty…

OK. Let’s start with the positives. A couple of the new songs are alright, they invoke a cool Motörhead style of metal that’s quite neat to hear. The old songs are still good under the surface, despite them making up most of the playlist. They aren’t exactly the same- they’ve all been re-recorded, so for those collectors, the album at least offers some alternative versions (though, as you will find out, you will likely want to stick to the originals), so there’s that too. It has a pretty damn cool album cover. Other than that, well… the album is more than just a little bit of a letdown…

For the most part, the re-recordings manage to suck the soul and charm of the originals out. When you listen side by side- it’s hard to believe that the album versions are the newer ones. What has happened here? Why the decision to utterly neuter such brilliant, atmospheric tracks? (The biggest offender is the new mix of VULTURE. The original hits so damn hard and this is like a wiffle bat in comparison. What a letdown!) The musicianship is there, but why the decision to absolutely cover it all with the vocal track, which is way too forward and center, even by idol standards? These are all bizarre decisions that we will likely never get the answers for.

The mastering is god awful. It’s the kind of thing you shouldn’t hear on a professional album. This is truly amateur hour and I’ve heard better sounding recordings by teenage high-school bands. The track ordering is a joke. It never feels like an album, just a bunch of tracks thrown together. It feels like it was made to make a quick buck (or in this case, yen). I feel it’s that bad that NECRONOMIDOL will unfairly lose fans because of it and this is truly a shame. Infact, I’m sure some will be quite angered by it.

NECRONOMIDOL should have gotten a better treatment than this- for those who have followed the singles, they had shown a massive and exciting amount of growth from the quaint production values of their debut. To take all that progress away and give this tinny, wimpy sounding and in-cohesive mess of an ‘album’ is an insult to fans and listeners alike. I can only feel sorry for the amount of disappointment that it will bring.

4/10 A truly disappointing mess made all the more frustrating because you can hear WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN. I can only hope this is a one off, and that their future releases will offer more than what’s here.

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NECRONOMIDOL- NEMESIS

MOMOIRO CLOVER Z- AMARANTHUS/HAKKIN NO YOAKE

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Momoiro Clover Z are one of the few idol groups that I have personally followed for most of their career. While I admit I lost most of my interest after GOUNN, their last album, 5TH DIMENSION was an outstanding achievement and really stood high above the sea of idol albums. It managed to reach a level of quality seldom seen in the genre, and was a legitimately exhilarating and memorable listen, with lasting appeal and high replay value.

Now, in 2016, they return with not one, but two full lengths, AMARANTHUS and Hakkin no Yoake. Pitched as two separate albums, not a double album– this is both a bold and risky move in my opinion. Do these albums warrant the separate album status? Do they stand on their own? Is this an overkill of material or is it a sea of gold? Well, there’s only one way to find out.

Let’s get right to it. AMARANTHUS is OUTSTANDING. It’s delightfully eclectic and features a wide range of gorgeous instrumentation (every player on this album must be commended- from the bonkers guitar work to the lovely harmonica playing). It is very well pieced together, and plays together as a whole album which is enjoyable from start to end. In-fact, this is likely the best album under the Momoiro Clover Z name– yes, even better than 5TH DIMENSION. Yep. I said that.

While it doesn’t stray from the ridiculous theatrics the group has become known for- it does harness them a little and makes for a much more pleasant and less fatiguing listen as a whole. Vocals are of a much higher caliber than the usual idol group material, with moments that will likely impress the most hard vocal critics. It’s both surprising and a breath of fresh air for the genre. Even the ballad songs here are compelling to listen to- and those are usually the ones that I skip on any idol release. Overall, AMARANTHUS is a great starter for the two sets and reminds why Momoiro Clover Z were ON TOP a few years back.

But can they keep this quality up for BOTH albums? Well…

Hakkin no Yoake follows the trend that I see in a lot of double albums (made even worse by the fact that these two are marketed as two SEPERATE entities)… that the second disc is quite often, well, the BORING one. This is unfortunately one of the most evident things you hear after the joy that AMARANTHUS was to listen to. Hakkin no Yoake faces you with it’s main problem right away- generic, bland, and uninspiring idol ballads or gimmicky pop tracks for 90% of it’s running time. This album feels like it could have been released by any old idol group off the street (sans it’s admittedly great production value).

Sure there’s a few bangers in the mix here… like “Mahorobakeshon” with its excellent bass playing and vocal harmonizing on the chorus that is a true (guilty?) pleasure to listen to. The lowest point is “Yume no Ukiyo ni Saitemina” featuring KISS (yes, that KISS). It’s just…. AWFUL. Terrible, generic guitar riffs, underutilized KISS and especially cringe inducing solo vocals. Momoiro Clover Z only work when they have music that suits their vocals- and this just isn’t that. It’s so bad that I cannot endure it all the way through anymore… skip it at all costs.

As single albums, AMARANTHUS is the go-to idol group album this year (so far anyway). It’s a great example of how to do the genre right, inviting to non-idol fans without alienating the original fans. A great running time and compelling and playful tracks that hold you in their grip for the whole album. Hakkin no Yoake does not remotely reach these heights- and falls to the wayside into the foamy pink sea of everyday idol groups. It does nothing to stand out and unfortunately will likely be forgotten under the weight of its big sister album. Only grab if you’re a hardcore Momoiro Clover Z fan.

AMARANTHUS- 8/10
Hakkin no Yoake- 5.5/10

Total = 13.5/20

Score= 6.75/10 Two albums on the same day prove to be too bold of a proposition for Momoiro Clover Z. However, AMARANTHUS is top notch idol material.

MOMOIRO CLOVER Z- AMARANTHUS/HAKKIN NO YOAKE

SEIKO OOMORI- Aishiteru.com/Gekiteki JOY! Before After

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Seiko Oomori has just released her first single after her maternity break- serving as a lead in to her upcoming album “TOKYO BLACK HOLE” due out March. After binge listening (something that is super easy to do when it comes to Seiko Oomori), this is what I think about it:

Seiko’s first post-birth release was quite a big announcement for yours truly at the time (avid Seiko Oomori fan here) and also a strange one- the main A-side was “Aishiteru.com“, a song we already had from the “Wonderful World’s End” soundtrack. I then read further into it- only to find out something that made me more than just a little worried: it was to be produced by Kameda Seiji. For those of us that have been following Kameda Seiji and in particular, his work with Shiina Ringo/Tokyo Jihen– it is well known that he’s a notorious softy– and “neuters” quite a lot of the work that he’s involved with. DAMN IT I DONT WANT HIM FUCKING UP MY OOMORI!. Lucky then, those fears were blind and he actually does a nice job adding extra layers to the mix and truly brings out the infectious melody of the track. It isn’t as deep as other songs in Oomori’s catalog, but when it’s this damn cute- it really doesn’t need to be. A real “bop” added to Oomori’s catalog, I’m sure a lot of people will love this one.

Gekiteki JOY! Before After” is the track that will likely come off as the crown jewel of this release. Originally penned for the “Heavy Shabby Girl” short film, it is a beautifully structured, lyrically potent (thank you Tokyo Girls Update for the thorough lyric investigation), amazingly produced and catchy as fuck track that effortlessly hits a home run. It is the first time male backing vocals have appeared on an Oomori song, and this really was quite suprising on first listen. The chorus is great, and I found it hard to get out of my head long after the song was over.

Fan Letter” is not going to be a public favourite here- but for oldschool Seiko Oomori fans, its always delightful to know that she hasn’t left her roots behind. The original version of the song came out a while ago on her youtube channel to say thankyou to her fan’s support, and it’s a short, sweet and heartfelt ditty that has been boosted with her now trademark vocal layering. The major label mastering really brings some extra warmth to the track rather than detracting and weakening it, which is pretty amazing really. I’m glad AVEX still allow room for the songs like these.

I have no real complaints here, sure it doesn’t have anything on par with “Magic Mirror“, but Oomori is perfectly comfortable here and it’s a nice return single. It’s lovely when an artist gets into a groove that sticks- and Oomori has obviously found that groove. Perhaps she’s a bit more upbeat now, but other than that, after childbirth she’s still releasing top tier tracks and this single is evidence of it. It whets my appetite for the album immensely- and it’s going to be a LONG wait for it.Come on March!

Oh and the boxset must be mentioned- from the pictures I have seen, it looks AMAZING (and about the size of a laptop). I guess that has something to do with it’s 10,000 yen price tag. Once I receive I’ll surely be uploading some photos, so stay pressed if you’re interested.

8.5/10 Welcome back Oomori. Another great release in the bag.

SEIKO OOMORI- Aishiteru.com/Gekiteki JOY! Before After

HIROMI- SPARK

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Hiromi Uehara is one of the most solitary and unique pianist voices to have come along in modern times. Seeing her live is not just watching a concert, it’s an all engrossing, compelling experience. The images that her music conjures in your mind when listening is arguably more potent than most vocal driven pop music. Her latest album, SPARK is presented in her ‘trio’ format- meaning that it is accompanied by bass and drums (by Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips)- and is considerably one of the most amazing pieces I have heard by her and deserves a review.

The opening track (the title track “Spark“) is utterly mesmerizing and spine tingling. From it’s solo piano introduction to its ultimate climax, the journey it takes you on is a breathtaking exercise in control and composition. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard in the last few years and while only a trio of players- feels more huge than an entire orchestra. It’s followed by the equally impressive “In a Trance” that has some of the most complex time signature changes I’ve ever heard. The technical mastery here is more than impressive, it will leave your mouth agape. From there, it’s a twisting, turning and utterly addictive collection of some of the most amazing jazz tunes you will come across anywhere. My other track picks are “Indulgence” (from around the 6 minute mark- IM IN HEAVEN!), the delightful “What Will Be, Will Be“, the overwhelmingly beautiful sole piano composition “Wake Up and Dream” and the finale “All’s Well“.

Throughout this journey, Hiromi has the reins. It’s HER vehicle and her accompanists hold everything together regardless of what direction she takes it in. She is a master in her field and has the piano chops that most people can only dream of. The melodies just pour out of her and it’s best just to shut up and listen. It’s an album that took me by surprise- because not only is this one of the better Hiromi Uehara records- it’s one of the better jazz records I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. The bass playing, incredible drums and of course FACE MELTING piano work by Hiromi all add up to something more than delectable- it’s a must hear.

9/10 Hiromi Uehara’s latest is a must have for fans, and a great intro for newbies to her work.

Available now in Japan, set for an April release worldwide.

HIROMI- SPARK

Megumi Hayashibara- Usurai Shinju

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There’s always been an element of intrigue whenever Shiina Ringo pens songs for someone else. You can never really guess what they’re going to sound like until the final product is revealed- and because she has written for such a variety of artists (from Rie Tomosaka to SMAP), it’s arguably often more surprising to hear the final product than her own solo work.

When she announced she was working with famed voice actress/singer Megumi Hayashibara (for me, I know her most fondly as the voice of Rei Ayanami on Neon Genesis Evangelion), interest was quite high. I admit my personal love affair with Shiina Ringo is waning at this point, after a slew of releases that really did nothing for me- well, except fuel my smarm, but- this release really has reignited some fond memories and brings back some of my favorite elements from earlier Ringo outings. Perhaps to a fault. But I’ll go into that later. First up, lets have a look at the songs themselves:

The main single “Usurai Shinju“, is immediately a blast. It’s great. There’s no denying it. The balance of the composition and frail vocals is impeccable. That kitten-like, sexy sound of the Sanmon Gossip era bursts through in a brazen blast of reds, and it leaves this listener utterly delighted. Instruments play off each other in a way that hasn’t been heard in Ringo tunes in a long while- it’s just plain wonderful to listen to. The abrupt ending at 3:00 only makes it hit all the harder- its such a trademark Shiina Ringo element and it’s truly surprising for me to hear in 2016.

Wagare wa kuchinashi” instantly reminds of the Hesei Fuzoku era of Ringo. More distinctly- of that album’s “TAMEIKESANNOH” version of “Karisome Otome“, just with a different voice. Infact- it’s almost the same to actually seeming a tad ridiculous. While I truly appreciate the composition here- it’s just waaaay too similar to the point of being distracting. I do admire the stop/start nature of the arrangement though- it’s simultaneously brilliant and weird– and very surprising for a release such as this. The balance of Megumi’s vocals here does not work as well as the first track though, they are a bit too weak and the recording/mastering really just makes them feel like they are barely there. It really does not play to her strengths and unfortunately, it seems almost pointless having Megumi there to begin with.

Nothing, from a Shiina Ringo perspective, is new or next level- BUT, it certainly is a step forward from whatever she pulled out her wig last year. From a Megumi Hayashibara perspective- this is by far the best musical work I have heard her involved in- but that’s likely an unfair assessment, seeing as I haven’t listened to everything she’s done. I’m quite sure the hardcore Shiina Ringo fans are the ones who will get the most out of this one- but those who didn’t like Sanmon Gossip or Hesei Fuzoku are advised to sit it out- because it really does sound like leftovers from either of those albums. It also makes me question how old these songs actually are- but that’s a whole discussion and we will never know for certain.

Oh, and there are two instrumental versions of the songs included with the single, which are nice to listen to if you want to enjoy the compositions here without any vocal distraction. Inessential, but still a cute bonus.

7/10– Megumi Hayashibara’s single is the best Shiina Ringo single in quite a while ;-p

Megumi Hayashibara- Usurai Shinju