SOUTAISERIRON- TENSEI JINGLE

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If you’re rushing to get right into the Soutaiseriron album, hold up. Sit down for a second. Isolate yourself from the pesky distractions of the outside world, flick your social contacts, friends and family aside. Grab the best pair of headphones you own- you’re gonna need it for the fullest experience. Tensei Jingle is all about preparation, and if you’re not prepared, you might just miss what the big deal is about.

Tensei Jingle is a hard album to write about for me- at the time of writing this, I am fully in it’s clutches. It refuses to let me go. It’s a world of subtleties and fake smiles. Nothing is as simple as it seems here. Like any person, the more time you spend with it, the more it reveals what’s truly lying there- and it’s both entirely sinister and rewarding.

It’s not an album full of hit you in the face bops. While it still is firmly set in the world of J-pop, there isn’t anything bubbly or super sweet here. Instead you are exposed, no, treated to an album of dense, compelling atmosphere. It’s occasionally creepy and even downright dark- and it focuses on buildup rather than ‘check out my catchy riff’. That’s not to say that there aren’t any catchy passages- there are, tonnes of them. But Soutaiseriron demand you find them yourself.

From its somewhat hopeful sounding opener, “Tenchi Souzou SOS” to the creepy and overbearing beats of closer (and lead single) “FLASHBACK“, the album is always compelling. Some of the tracks seem a little too simple at first- but as mentioned above, reveal themselves in repeat listening. This is mainly for the fact that the production value is outstanding and truly exciting. It’s never too loud, always bright yet still remains somewhat gloomy and mysterious. It’s thrilling.

The band work in a tight unison. Never are there any showy moments- there’s never a sense of WE MUST IMPRESS OUR LISTENER NOW! It’s a slow burn and it’s just plain admirable. Everything is just right, the instrumentation is subtle and refreshing, and the vocals match perfectly with everything going on around them. It’s a fantastic effort and comeback from one of the most interesting groups working in the Japanese pop scene today. Highly recommended, just make sure you have the patience for it.

9/10 In a world smothered by groups that cram all and everything into their releases, it’s what Soutaiseriron didn’t do that makes this album so spectacular.

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SOUTAISERIRON- TENSEI JINGLE

Oyasumi Hologram- 2

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Oyasumi Hologram impressed this reviewer last year with their debut self titled full length. It was messy, loud and amateur in all the right ways. The effective use of imperfect vocals and sloppy, punk inspired music created a one two punch of youth energy that hit home, and hit hard. It also helps that the two lead girls are charismatic and playful as hell.

Unfortunately, the follow up, aptly named 2, does not deliver that. Instead it opts for a more relaxed, gentler tone- and well, does nothing to impress this listener. Intentional or not, I am brought back to the times in my youth where I’d scour through thousands of ‘eh’ bands to find that one great one- and this is definitely in the ‘eh’ category. Nothing cooks, it all just bubbles along and by the time the punchy part of the album- that is, the last two tracks (which admittedly are quite a bit of fun- if not as big of a hit to the senses as their original album) come along, we’re already too late into it to really give a damn.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with it- the production values have improved significantly- but that may be part of the downfall. It’s a bit neutered and removing the crust really reveals some of the group’s weaker elements. Sure the 90’s revival is raging right now, but considering I spent my entire youth listening to similar, better made music, this album is a bit of a snooze-fest to me. The exciting potential of the debut really simmers into generic rock territory- and it’s quite a shame to hear.

The album isn’t a complete waste of time for fans though, and if you preferred the slower songs on the original, maybe this will be a better album for you. Perhaps with a bit of tweaking to the track order (maybe mix up the slower starting tracks with the ending rockier songs) and a less refined presentation, this album could be salvaged. Or just wait to see the live versions, which will ultimately bring the fire that this mini album is sorely missing. Ultimately, you wait for the payoff that never really comes- and this is quite frustrating to the listener on the whole.

5/10 Really puts the Oyasumi in Oyasumi Hologram.

Oyasumi Hologram- 2

QUICK THOUGHTS: UTADA HIKARU’S RETURN

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UTADA HIKARU, the J-pop artist that got more than just a few of us into the genre to start with is returning to the scene after a near 6 year hiatus (sans the one single “Sakura Nagashi” made for the Evangelion 3.0 film). This alone is quite a big deal for almost everyone who listens to the genre- and she’s created two new songs for us all to listen to.

Usually when describing Utada Hikaru’s sound, the words that come to mind are warm, organic, comforting, beautiful. These new songs aren’t that- to me they’re cold, digital… manufactured. I don’t feel that instant draw that earlier releases had- whether it’s to do with the way the tracks have been mastered (inappropriately loud, rather tinny and compressed) or that they’re just not strong songs to begin with- is something I can’t fully decide on. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

One song is a little fun tune with some nice instrumentation (Hanataba wo Kimi ni) and the other (Manatsu no Tooriame) is a pretty standard ballad that doesn’t quite hit the emotional heights that it’s seemingly going for, at least, not with this listener. Both feel a little underdeveloped in the writing stage, and overproduced in the production stage. This all adds to an odd and strangely alienating final result.

And while I certainly do not hate these two tracks (both are pretty equal to me- generic with some good vocals on Hikki’s part), I have to agree with the people wondering “is that it?” when it comes to these songs. Utada Hikaru returning should have been fireworks, this is a sparkler at best.

Time Will Tell whether Hikki’s return is the event that it should be- but for now I’m left in limbo with the rest of us. Still, it’s going to be nice to see her performing these songs on whatever shows she gets cast on- even if they are somewhat duds.

QUICK THOUGHTS: UTADA HIKARU’S RETURN

Hanae- Show Girl

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How to sell a new album by Hanae that essentially doesn’t sound anything like Hanae, apart for the vocals? That is the main question Hanae’s brilliant, bold and almost totally overlooked new album SHOW GIRL brings to the front. Sure it’s still floating in a sea of bright pink “kawaii-death-crush“, adorable to the eye but deadly for the teeth. However- gone is the sound that people have come to expect. She’s no longer instantly in that “thinking man’s Kyary Pamyu Pamyu” category. No. This is a new Hanae. Wickedly sexy, teddy bear soft- but also suprisingly a little bit insane.

It could come from the use of a plethora of new instruments, and the removal of the chilled out vibe that her original two albums gave. This time round- it’s in your face, playful, jazzy and ultimately- like going to a Hanae themed circus. Admittedly, on first listen, I was taken aback. Disappointed even. Where was my sexy chillout album that I was expecting? However- it didn’t take long for that opinion to change. This album brings forward something that Hanae hasn’t done for me (at least on a music level) before- got my heart racing.

Yes folks. This album is EXCITING. And more than anything- it’s addicting. A near perfectly ordered selection of tracks that flows like melted honey. Crazy samples, amazing instrumentation that literally flies from the speakers. There’s just so much happening here- every listen you’re guaranteed to pick up something you didn’t hear the first time round. Whether it be honky-tonk piano work, gorgeous fiddle playing, or a horn section, there’s always SOMETHING going on. And Hanae is there in the middle of it all, the point of focus- indeed, she really is the SHOW GIRL. And it’s goddamn exhilarating.

At a mere 33 minutes, Hanae wastes no time here- all killer no filler. The most surprising element of the whole thing though- is that the tracks here all need each other. They all play off each other, and wouldn’t work as well individually- indeed, you need to look no further than the single from it “Chiisana Koi no Monogatari“. The song by itself isn’t particularly standout or exciting- but in the context of the album- it’s perfect. And that indeed applies to everything on here- hence why I can’t really point out any highlight tracks (although xxx really gets me hot under the collar). It’s best taken as an album- and it’s downright one of the most surprising releases you’re going to come across this year. When you’re taking a break from TOKYO BLACK HOLE, give this one a spin. Hell, give it 10 spins!

8.5/10 Highly recommended!

Hanae- Show Girl

PERFUME- COSMIC EXPLORER

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Perfume are still one of the most attractive three piece acts in the Japanese music scene- they still have some of the most amazing set pieces, choreography and stage shows on offer. However, their most important aspect- the music- has been slowly waning ever since they hit their high point with GAME and Triangle. Their last album LEVEL 3, while still quite a fun listen, really showed cracks in the veneer and a lot of people -whether they admit or not- likely could feel the appeal of the group starting to tire. A few so-so (and one really awful) singles later and here we are, at the release of their latest, COSMIC EXPLORER. Unfortunately it does not offer any kind of retribution or new hope for the group- as they venture into more and more unexciting and dull territory, despite having a few gems hidden between it all.

Before I get off to sound like a grinch– I will talk about the positive elements. Once again, the production is impeccable. That trademark sound is always –at least for a little while– attention catching and warm. The girls sound as good as they usually do- and definitely put in their all in the vocal department. I imagine they’ll put on quite a show when they tour this live too- so that’s their side cleared. The title track COSMIC EXPLORER is absolutely brilliant, it almost seems to have a Kraftwerk inspiration tucked in there- and I dig this immensely. Some of the reworked ‘album-mixes‘ of the earlier singles manage to breath a bit of new life into them- particularly the one of “Cling Cling“- raising the song from something I loathed to actually liking, so kudos there. There’s a couple of great hard hitters here and there to boot too. However… the rest of the album proves to be a chore to listen to- particularly in full. I personally had tuned out by about the halfway mark and had to return to it a second time to finish.

It really leaves us to wonder ‘what happened?” though. Perhaps the taste of international success with his other big project- Kyary Pamyu Pamyu– got to Nakata with Perfume. Constantly introducing more and more western EDM influences into his flagship group has watered down a lot of we used to love about them. The amount of stadium aimed hard hitters on here is far greater than ever before- no longer are we treated to the intricate, unique and highly complex tunes that made earlier works so fascinating and inspiring. Some may argue that it’s alright to make it more approachable- and that’s a noble sentiment. Admittedly, tracks like FLASH and Miracle Worker are instantly pleasing and get your head nodding- but when they’re surrounded with similar, but less successful style tracks- they become almost pointless.

Perfume’s problem isn’t with the sound and image they’ve created- it’s the fact that their producer’s heart just isn’t in it anymore. COSMIC EXPLORER shows (well, more teases) at times, that there’s so many potential avenues that they could explore (imagine a full album with the title track’s sound!)- but opt to take the safe and easy path out. The one Japanese pop group that used to excite even the most jaded hipster with their cutting edge sound and style now bore even the hardest fans. While LEVEL 3 certainly wasn’t much higher standard than this- COSMIC EXPLORER seems to strike as the most uninspired work Nakata has ever put out. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the girls as Nakata seemingly drives them into the ground. Maybe it really is time to call it quits, before their reputation is completely diminished.

5/10– Don’t let the amazing artwork fool you- this is truly Perfume’s most lukewarm album to date. Only hardcore fans need apply. Everyone else- maybe it’s time to revisit GAME or Triangle?

PERFUME- COSMIC EXPLORER

Seiko Oomori- TOKYO BLACK HOLE

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Seiko Oomori has set herself some serious standards with all her releases prior to this- from her folky beginnings to the hyper pop of 2014’s Sennouevery release has been a delight for fans to absorb and get lost in. So it comes as no surprise that people are getting just a little excited about her latest release (and second major album), TOKYO BLACK HOLE. What I personally did not expect, however, was it to SURPASS everything before it. This is a phenomenal album, and I feel like it’s my duty to gush just a little over it.

With TOKYO BLACK HOLE, Seiko Oomori takes all the elements that have made her such a compelling artist to follow, honed them, taken a step back in the full frontal delivery and focused on the album as a whole- and damn, it’s an album to write to your Grandma about. It’s an event- and everyone’s invited.

Working with mainly the same team from Sennou, as well as a few other notable producers such as Kameda Seiji, Mito (from Clammbon) and Sakurai Kentai, a great sense of the familiar along with some brand new inspirations- such as Shibuya Kei- is created. Together it all adds to bring a formidable, colorful and superb mix of tracks with a delightful amount of variation in instrumentation. There’s a surprise around every corner, whether it be a drum outburst, a guitar solo or an utterly heartwarming stretch of gorgeous melodies.

At the center of it all, of course- is Oomori. You never forget who’s album it is- her vocals are insatiable here. They’re definitely the best she’s had put down in a studio setting and are just perfect in the songs here. She might not wail as much as she used to- but the amount of restrain is quite impressive in itself. That’s not to say that she’s weakening things- she does still do her trademark vocal spikes- but only when they’re used for a hard hitting, often crushing effect. And it’s breathtaking.

There’s not a dull track in it’s near one hour run-time. I can’t even get myself to pick a favorite tune anymore- I seriously have a deep love for everything here! Every song seems to focus on a different element of the modern Tokyo lifestyle- and while at times, points out the most bleak elements- always manages to give it a cup half-full approach. It might completely crush you emotionally, but always leaves a sense of hopefulness regardless, with Oomori as your ever supporting coach.

Indeed, Oomori has crafted yet another masterpiece in a surprisingly short amount of time. The album seems to set another high for her- and it again, is hard to imagine her topping it. So go ahead, tell everyone about it. Let your neighbours hear it by blasting it absurdly loudly. Laugh with it, cry with it, but most importantly, embrace it. Cherish it. Cause it’s probably a safe bet to say we won’t get anything better than this for quite a long time.

Like it’s unbelievably overwhelming and triumphant closer, the album gets an unwavering 10/10 from me. I don’t expect to be listening to much else for a while. If you’re a jpop fan, look no further.

Seiko Oomori- TOKYO BLACK HOLE