QUICK REVIEWS: SHIINA RINGO- 13 jours au Japon ~2020 Nippon no Natsu~ and Jiyuu Dom

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13 jours au Japon ~2020 Nippon no Natsu~.

Let’s just say it outright. Yes, this may be a cover, but this is the best Shiina Ringo song since her work on the Ichigo Ichie- Doku Ichigo record. It’s a beautiful, gentle, frail track that for what seems a lifetime- feels truly personal and touching. The most surprising element is how much it holds back- it’s just humble and lovely- and never ever gets showy. The production here- and yes, we’re talking about a Shiina Ringo release– is absolutely beautiful- it’s warm, organic and the instrumentation comes across perfectly. The sense of perfect control is truly majestic, and far from the unneeded pompous explosions of sound from more recent works.

This is the Shiina Ringo I’ve so sorely missed. More like this, PLEASE!

8/10

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Jiyuu dom on the other hand, is not so hot. The NHK variety show “Gatten“s theme song is exactly as it sounds- a goofy throwaway, inoffensive variety song. However…

At least it does one thing, reminds of the old days. A song so clearly Phase 2 Tokyo Jihen (even featuring the group as part of the backing band, along with Saito Neko‘s usual generic fills) is at least a little bit fun to hear in 2016, and makes me yearn for the times where if a Ringo song was bad- it was at least still fun to laugh at. The sense of playfulness that Tokyo Jihen had- even in their lesser moments- is front and center here- so it’s hard to fully hate this one. Sure, there’s nothing remotely interesting to speak of and it still has that awful, stale, cold, digital production value that has plagued Shiina Ringo releases for the past few years (not to mention it being released during the insipid DO IT FOR A PRODUCT TIE-IN phase that hopefully, now that Ringo has gotten her “Olympic kicks” out, will calm down) but at least it still sounds like Shiina Ringo just being Shiina Ringo, for better or worse. I certainly won’t be playing it much but as long term fan, I can accept it. The remix is completely forgettable but cute.

Basically, it’s fundamentally terrible but it’s fine with this listener.

5/10

QUICK REVIEWS: SHIINA RINGO- 13 jours au Japon ~2020 Nippon no Natsu~ and Jiyuu Dom

Review: Half-Broken Taperecorders- SILENT SUNRISE

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Underrated indie pop band Half-Broken Taperecorders return with their latest full length, SILENT SUNRISE, and from the opening track you are instantly brought into it’s patient, brooding world. The band aren’t interested in hitting you straight in the face, but rather, building up the tension and picking the right time to strike… and it pays off wonderfully.

Guitar work is goddamn great and absolutely inspired. The solos here are never showy but definitely impressive. The keys never feel gimmicky, they just add a perfect, cute extra voice to the harmonies presented here. The magic lies in how well the band plays with speed, showing their absolute mastery of the mid-tempo. The band sound seasoned yet still fresh, and the control here is quite standout. When the band goes slow, its meditative, hypnotic and relaxing- when they hit the peaks of their song, they rock. And rock hard. It’s truly exciting and here, on SILENT SUNRISE, it’s more amazing than ever.

Vocals are perfect for the music surrounding it, both from the male (ex Seiko Oomori and the Pink Tokarev member Komori Kiyotaka) and female vocalist (Haruna Yusa, who has also recently released her debut solo effort). Neither are particularly strong but this works wonders for the duet style here, both members complimenting each other, rather than distracting or outshining- and adds to that truly indie feel that the band are so damn great at providing.

As for the track highlights, “Virgin Insanity” is delighfully catchy, with its ebbs and flows and memorable chorus, “idiot o clock” compellingly meanders without ever losing the listeners attention, “Silent” is a gorgeous mid-tempo ballad with some really neat instrumental work and great chorus, “MECHANICAL HEART” is one of the hardest hitters here and really resonates home and finale “rising sun” really rounds out the album nicely, with its breathtaking closing. However, choosing highlights is really not necessary, as this album truly has no duds to mention.

It all sounds warm and welcoming, production is purposely (and tastefully) loud, drums get distorted, guitar buzz is audible. It has so much youth energy running through it that it’s hard to believe that it’s a studio recording- as it is easy to imagine that you are at a private gig. It’s imperfections become what makes it so damn perfect to listen to. If they had gone back and tweaked or cleaned it up, it just wouldn’t be as amazing as it is.

Overall though, the album provides a delightful alternative choice to the usual, and some of the mightiest indie rock you’re gonna find anywhere. It’s raw, honest, heartfelt and ultimately an essential listen in 2016.

8.5/10– Half-Broken Taperecorders’ new album ought to be the next thing you look into if you like indie anything.

Review: Half-Broken Taperecorders- SILENT SUNRISE

Review: GLIM SPANKY- NEXT ONE

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A name that’s been making the rounds in the Japanese rock scene of late is GLIM SPANKY, one of the most attractive and photogenic duos seen in quite a long time. They are known for their distinct raspy vocalist and classic 70s rock sound- and lots of listeners are really eating it up, with good reason. Earlier releases, such as the mini album “Shousou” were delightfully addictive to listen to, with big, hard hitting riffs perfectly complemented by those brilliant vocals. They had cemented a distinct sound that at the time- worked wonderfully and really stood out.

With their second full length album, NEXT ONE, GLIM SPANKY once again bring the trademark old school rock sound that they have become known for. And that’s ultimately the main problem. It’s still the same. Nothing has remotely changed, except for smoothing out the edges, and unfortunately- the very thing that got me so excited to begin with- has become the very thing that now bores this listener. It has gotten stale.

Sure the opening track, “NEXT ONE” is catchy as hell and comes in like a better White Stripes track, but never ever really goes anywhere after the initial impact. Still, it’s one of the better songs on here. The real problem lies in when the band starts to pick up speed- and it just becomes generic wishy-washy rock. The worst examples are second track “Ikari wo Kure” yo that becomes almost excruciating by the second half and the so-generic-that-it-hurts “Iza Mexico e“. Closing track “Wild Side wo Ike” is quite disappointing too, it really leaves no impact and is completely forgettable.

If it’s not faux-dirty rock that GLIM SPANKY are delivering, it’s really boring ballad style tracks that float by almost completely unnoticed. Songs like “NIGHT LAN DOT” are just so frankly ineffective they might as well be someone poking your shoulder and saying ‘hey I’m here’. The only one of the ballad tracks that holds any weight is “Kaze ni Utaeba” with it’s beautiful harmonizing (that really, really is gorgeous), but it’s so late into the album that it only really works if taken as a separate song.

On a technical level, everything is fine. The production value is good, the instrumental work is fine, vocals are tip-top and emotive at times, mastering is good albeit safe. Unfortunately none of these elements can save the album from ultimately being a really average piece of work. Fans get what they expect- and nothing more. It’s just another GLIM SPANKY release that will likely be forgotten as soon as the next one comes along. I can only hope that the band either come back with something a little harder next time- or try adding new elements- because at the current rate, GLIM SPANKY are becoming really, really bland.

4/10– Generic rock that only hardcore fans need apply for.

Review: GLIM SPANKY- NEXT ONE