MID YEAR REVIEW: TOP 10 of 2016 (SO FAR)

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2016 has proven to be one of the most intense, amazing years for music in quite a while, and there’s already been a tonne of amazing albums. I have had a long thought about what albums have really impressed and chosen what I believe are the top 10 of 2016 as of the end of June. Without further adieu, here’s my list (of course, subject to change by December):

10. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool

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Ok, this one is likely the least surprising of the list- the one that’s likely to show up on every end of the year list imaginable. But it’s not like it isn’t for a just cause- Radiohead have reached a level where they can do something so meticulously and perfect that it comes as second nature. A Moon Shaped Pool is no exception- and likely is the most compelling and focused listen to come from the group since their peak days of Kid A and Amnesiac. The album is almost painstakingly slow and the attention to detail here is just inspired. Another huge release in the groups outstanding catalog, and one that will certainly stand the test of time.

9. Soutaiseiriron- Tensei Jingle

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Tensei Jingle has proven to be one of the most interesting releases of the year so far, with its focused, chilled out approach and delicate, but delicious production values. No song feels out of place or unnecessary, the pop tunes here all prove to be deeper and more intense on repeat listens. Neat hooks, nice atmosphere and fantastic album structure all lead to one fantastic and worthwhile payoff. Can’t wait to see lives for this one.

8. Hanae- Show Girl

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Hanae‘s SHOW GIRL has proven it’s spot in this year’s top releases so far. It’s instantly fun, satisfying and even a little insane. It also has a surprisingly long shelf life for the style of music it is. I think that may come from it’s sense of a deeper, underlying sadness to it all. Whether or not this was Hanae‘s intentions- it’s hard not to start noticing this on repeated listens- the SHOW GIRL ever in the spotlight but the real girl always there underneath it all. It’s a fascinating listen and Hanae‘s most developed and deep record yet.

7. never young beach- Fam Fam

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never young beach‘s sophomore album has really turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and addictive releases in Japanese pop this year. The surf rock inspired group bring together a fantastic set of songs that is instantly appreciable, yet a cut above the rest both in the talent and longevity departments. While it may not reach the heights of their first main release, it’s still one of the best pick up and play album’s you’re gonna come across. Sweet, nostalgic and tight, this is one that you definitely won’t want to miss.

6. PJ Harvey- The Hope Demolition Six Project

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The Hope Demolition Six Project is arguably one of the more dividing releases that PJ Harvey has brought forth in recent years- but it’s also one of the most compelling. Sure the lyrics here may not always hit their mark- but the instrumental sections (and the part that I focus on the most anyway) is absolutely outstanding. To me, it plays more like one of the often looked over PJ Harvey/John Parish collabs than a solo album- and that is kinda exciting because on those collabs, PJ really took her experimental side to the front. This album is the same. It’s a bit more pop grounded than Dance Hall at Louse Point, but that hard edge is there, and there are plenty of moments where she takes the songs in directions unexpected. It got my heart beating and ultimately- it’s great to hear PJ pick up a guitar again after what seems like almost decade.

5. David Bowie- Black Star

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I was one of those that heard Black Star before Bowie‘s death and at the time I was absolutely blown away by the leap in quality since his previous effort. Here was a fantastic, art pop record that really demanded your attention. It was creepy and mysterious- which of course all now makes sense given it was his goodbye record. It may be a little harder to listen to now due to the emotions attached- but every-time I do have time to sit down and listen- I goddamn listen. While it’s one of the lesser spun records on this list- it would be sinful not to mention it, because, yes, despite everything surrounding it- it’s a damn good album in it’s own right.

4. Bokutachi no iru Tokoro- Gomi

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I’ve ranted and raved about this album, and it’s still absolutely breathtaking. It’s still probably the best pure dirty rock album I’ve come across this year so far- and it’s still home to some of the most outright catchy tunes you’re gonna find anywhere. Production is outstanding, it’s addictive as hell. Bokutachi play with a fire so intense it’s hard not to get caught up in it. I cannot stress the worth of this album enough- it’s nice to feel EXCITED when listening to a rock album such as this. Every element here is on point, the band are tight but natural, the vocals are amazing and warm. You should have this already.

3. ZOMBIE CHANG- ZOMBIE CHANGE

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I feel pretty happy that I have supported ZOMBIE-CHANG since the start. Yes, she had her bumps and her doubters at the start, but she has really taken a miraculous turn around and through her change into this tripped out, 80s/90s inspired electronic sound she has worked absolute wonders for herself. ZOMBIE CHANGE is a great title for such a work- and indeed, this bears no resemblance to her debut. It’s cool as ice, her vocals drone through wonderful soundscapes and she always comes off as genuinely invested. You really come off with the feeling that she just loves making music- and it really shows here. It’s infectious, addictive and it will no doubt inspire repeated re-visitation for anyone that comes under it’s charms. Good stuff.

2. Mitski- Puberty 2

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The newest entry to the list- Mitski‘s Puberty 2 barrages it’s way through the list that was pretty much set for me. A wonderful surprise- and an emotional one. Mitski‘s songwriting is absolutely top tier- and I imagine this album, like all the best, will affect many people in many different ways. Her lyrics are absolutely potent- it’s hard not to be reminded of the first time I heard (early) Liz Phair or a less cryptic Tori Amos. A lot of the songs here really bring up memories, both happy and sad, and it’s easy to feel the pain she puts forward with every song. Guitar work is never forced and has some real momentum. It’s a great, great listen and it seems like a lot of people are taking to it already- both from critics and listeners alike. It’s the only album on this list that I think may eventually top my number one. Which of course is:

1. Seiko Oomori – TOKYO BLACK HOLE

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Well, were you surprised? Seiko Oomori’s second AVEX album is still proving to be the longest lasting and most rewarding album this year so far. Constantly in the mix, still hasn’t left the playlist, it’s always a joy to listen to and shows no signs of getting stale or slowing down. It indeed, could possibly turn out to be her best work yet when all is considered. Seiko’s genius does not solely lie in her ability to genre hop at random- it lies in the ability to make it sound like she is truly the real deal with whatever genre she touches. A true midas touch case.

So there we have it. My top 10 of 2016 at the mid year point. If the second half of 2016 is as strong as the start, it’s going to be one hell of a competition by the end of the year. Can’t wait to see what’s coming next!

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MID YEAR REVIEW: TOP 10 of 2016 (SO FAR)

REVIEW: SUIYOUBI NO CAMPANELLA- UMA

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Suiyoubi no Campanella at this stage, have almost become a household name with Japanese music fans. They almost seem destined to take on the world- further enhanced by their sudden English friendly approach (and a European vinyl exclusive) and the changing of their name on YouTube videos to “WEDNESDAY CAMPANELLA“. Last year’s Zipang was a major hit with the Jpop audience and really hit hard with it’s multiple killer singles.

It is no suprise then, that major label Warner Music Japan took notice and signed them up. While this is great for the group on a financial and exposure level- it’s hard not to think back upon another group signed to the same label- Charisma.com. That particular duo entered the scene with a huge bang- and their tunes really hit like a motherfucker in those early releases. However, soon after signing to the major, things started taking a turn for the worse and all the power seemed to be dulled and the appeal really started to wane. Would this be the fate of the beloved Suiyoubi no Campanella too? For months listeners pondered this question.

Thankfully then, the answer is only ‘sort of‘. UMA is still pretty much trademark Campanella sounding- the power is pretty much intact. However, there is a notable detachment and there seems to be less care and effort put in behind a lot of these compositions (which could frankly be from the use of multiple producers this time round). The ultimate result is a little bit messy, perhaps even a little rushed. Like the pattern seen on Zipang, the two lead singles “Chupacabra” and “Tsuchinoko” are by far the most standout tunes here. “Chupacabra” is especially great- hell, it’s one of the best opening tracks in their entire catalog. The subtle beat (and it’s wonderful progression) and perfectly balanced vocals are quite standout, and set the bar for the rest of the EP very, very high.

Unfortunately then, the rest of the EP does not really reach the height of the two singles. Not even close. Hell, some of the songs here sound almost embarrassing if I’m being brutally honest about it. The third track, “Yuki Otoko Yeti” even made this listener crack a bit of a smile at it’s ridiculous rapping part. It’s kinda jarring and silly- and surprisingly generic for a group known for such wide variation. Fourth track “Unico” takes a turn for the gentle, but ultimately just becomes a generic, boring ballad that could be released by anyone. The only thing keeping it distinct is are the vocals (which, in all honesty, can never be faulted). Still, it’s kinda concerning hearing something so bland come from the group.

The rest of the EP continues in such a fashion- nothing really noteworthy stands out, it’s all a safe, comfortable mush that leaves the listener with no real impression, there’s never any kind of emotional resonance. The closer, “Kraken” could be something special, with its minimal approach and distinctive bass line, but by the midway point, the listener will likely realise that the track isn’t going anywhere, and basically just repeats itself for another three minutes. It isn’t bad and is likely the most interesting non single track, but is still nothing to write home about.

Ultimately, UMA plays like a lesser version of Zipang, without the excitement of knowing that you’re in on an album that is “ probably going to make it big“. Now that Suiyoubi have achieved that major label goal- it’s kinda depressing to know that the debut result is somewhat generic, a pleasant but forgettable EP that has almost lost all it’s bite. Early fans will probably find themselves at most, content with what’s on offer here- newbies will likely be much more impressed than a seasoned listener. Sure, front-woman Koumai‘s infectious attitude and vocal finesse is still ever present- but no-one’s going to be screaming “THIS IS THE SHIT!” from the rooftops with this one. One can only hope it’s not an indication of the future of the group. Take what you can from the EP, try to have fun with it. Just keep what came before in the back of your mind when listening and know the group is capable of so much more.

5.5/10– a tame, neutered release from one of the most exciting groups to come along in years. Disappointing, but not surprising.Unfortunately that ugly ass cover isn’t the only thing plaguing this one.

REVIEW: SUIYOUBI NO CAMPANELLA- UMA

REVIEW: NECRONOMIDOL- FROM CHAOS BORN

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NECRONOMIDOL‘s last output- and their first full length release, NEMESIS was only just four months ago. Yet, it feels much longer than that- primarily because Nemesis left such a foul taste in it’s listeners mouths with its hastily, slapped together feel and questionable mastering choices that pretty much everyone except the die-hard almost immediately forgot (or denied) it’s existence. However, upon hearing previews for this latest offering, the EP entitled “from chaos born“- things took a turn for the better- this was sounding GOOD. DAMN GOOD. So, now that it’s finally been unleashed, lets take a look at what is on the table and see if we can move on and get excited about NECRONOMIDOL once again…

First up, like everyone else- the EP is definitely a HUGE step up for the group. It’s catchy, atmospheric and downright enjoyable as hell. It may only be an EP, but it feels more whole than their full length, and is certainly- at least on early listens- a very rewarding and confidence rebuilding affair. Fans who were reeling will likely come out feeling much better about following the group, and once again- will likely rate them as one of the more interesting of the ‘alt-idol’ acts. But, let’s talk about what’s on offer here.

The album opens with the trademark NECRONOMIDOL sounding “Psychopomp” complete with it’s chants over a huge, layered black metal style melody- and for the first time ever- it’s produced so well that it really, really hits the spot. The vocals are eerie and the guitar work is beautiful and sets the tone immediately. Disheartened fans will likely give a huge sigh of relief and think ‘welcome back NECRONOMIDOL‘ with this one. The EP continues in a similar fashion, and the hard hitting “Shimin Kaihougun” comes in guns blazing and arms flailing. This one will be a crowd pumper for sure. It’s delicious synths mixed with classic power metal riffs is truly delightful, and also one of the best examples of idol style vocals working in such a context that I can think of- yes, perhaps even more-so than BABYMETAL have reached. Keep an ear out for that funky bass line in the middle of the song- it’s both profane and essential- it really gives a sense of the aim that the group are going for. Other highlights include the punk/goth sounding “Nyx” (with it’s fantastic vocal harmonies- that yes, really do sound good) and the power metal ballad “Midnight Dominator” that just delights with it’s overt campiness and ridiculous guitar solos. Well played Necronomidol, well played indeed!

The EP does have it’s less than stellar songs though, and these come in the form of the poppy “Taman Shud“, that while going for a synthy oldschool sound- still doesn’t really break from the ‘generic idol song‘ mould- and it’s kinda unfortunate given the truly interesting ideas going on here. Finally, the closer “Idol’s Elegy” is just a mess (albeit a playful one) with it’s strange mastering choices (the actual VOLUME of the track goes up and down seemingly randomly…) which give flashbacks to the horrid mess that was the mastering on NEMESIS. Not the strongest closing choice, and unfortunately left this listener a little flat after the quality of the rest of the EP.

Still, these tracks aside, the EP is one of the best NECRONOMIDOL releases to date, and will certainly please their fans- and perhaps win over some new ones while it’s at it. At the very least- one must take time to admire it’s cover art– done by the infamous Toshio Maeda (most well known for his works on Urotsukidoji and La Blue Girl). It looks fucking fantastic and really suits the music inside. One can only hope for an LP (and thus, LP sized) pressing in the future! Overall a nice little package that is certainly worth a gander, for both old fans and new listeners!

7/10– A massive relief for NECRONOMIDOL fans left reeling in the dark with their last album. A great introductory listen for anyone new to the unit!

REVIEW: NECRONOMIDOL- FROM CHAOS BORN

REVIEW: NEVER YOUNG BEACH: FAM FAM

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never young beach‘s last album “YASHINOKI HOUSE” was one of last year’s biggest treats- a short, sweet and repeat-listening warranting album that blended all the best elements from 70s and 80s surf rock and pop together into one truly irresistible LP. Just over a year later- they have released their followup, the very pink covered ‘fam fam‘, and like it’s predecessor, it’s instantly enjoyable and fun.

Don’t let baby faced vocalist’s Abe Yuuma‘s appearance fool you- when he sings it’s surprisingly deep and soulful. It may not be amazing or make you wanna throw your panties at him, but his delivery here is perfectly fitting- never too corny, never too light. It really makes the tunes here all that more enjoyable and memorable- you don’t need to understand a lick of Japanese to get these tunes stuck in your head- like all the great catchy ear-worms in Jpop.

And let’s talk about how catchy these songs actually are- there isn’t a single song you won’t be humming the chorus of. Whether it be the fun opener “Pink Jungle House” or the amazing, unforgettable single “Akarui Mirai” which is simultaneously charming and will likely bring up memories of relationships of yore while listening (the music video accompanying further strengthens this). never young beach are always hooked on your pulse- and it’s hard to stop feeling at least just a little emotional when listening.

The production is bright and everything comes through clear as day. The classic surf rock hooks (done with such relaxed approach yet with amazing precision and timing) mixed with such amazing care is really a standout here- all the instrumental work has life breathing through it and listening to it through a good pair of headphones really gives the sense that the band are playing live in front of you.

Another thing to note is never young beach‘s unfathomable ability to make the best use of their time- the album feels truly whole despite its short, 32 minute running time. Surf rock by it’s very nature can be a genre that is unapproachable for an outsider, but never young beach manage to add just the right amount of giddy and light pop to the mix to make it stand out and hit home.

The album isn’t absolute perfection though. While the band haven’t changed their sound much at all since YASHINOKI HOUSE, it is apparent that they have opted to play a little less laid back and a little harder. This both works and doesn’t- depending on the track. Songs like ‘Motel‘ and the title track- while still gleefully happy and bright- don’t have the same ‘OMG SO GORGEOUS‘ effect that their previous works had- and ultimately makes the album a slightly lesser experience. Though this is truly nitpicking and certainly won’t be noticed by new listeners- it still is something that was a little jarring at first.

Overall though, with those minor problems aside, fam fam is a catchy, breezy listen that is guaranteed to be a massive pick-me-up kind of play. Those going into summer now, you have your jam, those still in the winter months, you can just close your eyes and imagine you’re there. never young beach show a great mastery of their craft and respect the material they’re so inspired by- and it shows through the loving, well crafted tunes on offer here.

8/10– A great summer jam album that will appeal to pretty much everyone that gives it the time.

REVIEW: NEVER YOUNG BEACH: FAM FAM