DEADGRANDMA’S END OF YEAR OLD MAN RANT

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In a few days, the Japanese will clamber to the couch to watch another tired episode of Kohaku, us Shiina Ringo fans all secretly thinking (most of us looking at Ringo like Chris McNeil when she looked at Regan) “that thing is NOT Shiina Ringo“, let’s take time to look back and ponder the year that was.

Musically, at least in the more “alternative” side of things- it was strong, one of the strongest in years. We saw the return of the one and only Jun Togawa– not just once- but THREE times. Unfortunately though, most Japanese music fans were far more interested in SMAP calling it quits that they missed something truly amazing happening right under their noses.

I’ve got a hot tip to you folks when approaching music in the future- embrace imperfection. That’s what life is. Choose things that reflect this, soak it up, get lost in thought. It’s far better and more rewarding than praising an album that you all think is amazing but really just ends up like that hot chick you know with the personality of a doorstop. People wonder why I don’t like Fantome. How could I be THIS crazy about Seiko Oomori? There’s your answer.

Death itself was reduced to a meme. The passing of so many greats was indeed tragic, but not as tragic as the death of commonsense. Probably why America adopted an orangutan for a president and the UK decided to commit economic suicide and fucked themselves over. Speaking about being fucked, JAV took a nosedive for the worse. It seems like the act of a rimjob means no more than a handshake.  Where’s the Yuka Osawa‘s or Maria Ozawa‘s at? Where did the eroticism go? It’s probably buried somewhere in the rubble of Enon and Becky’s love affair.

A year of Twitter has opened my eyes to both positive and negative things. I found out that being white, straight and male means I’m basically evil incarnate- but that’s fine. I also found that there is a much bigger community of people with similar tastes than I initially had presumed. I also found out the scary intensity that some fanbases can have- sometimes to the point where it makes me look like a nice person. I’m glad I made an account, it’s been more than just fun. I don’t know why I was so hesitant at first.

But hey, it’s not all bad. There’s still some things to look forward to. Seiko Oomori‘s back in the studio, Maron Hamada‘s dropping an album next month. There’s a new Blade Runner film and most of all, if you’re reading this then you’re still alive. You made it through 2016 without dying, and that’s pretty impressive. Give yourself a pat on the back.

Now go off and spend some time with your family and less time with me, the ever pessimistic Deadgrandma. I’ll be here bitching and moaning all through next year- but hopefully there’s gonna be enough good music to rub on them sores like an overpriced placebo effect ointment bought from a health-food store. To all my readers, thank-you for coming back over and over. Those that can’t stand me, I understand.

Happy new year folks, may your 2017 be… tolerable. Stay freaky, freaks.

DEADGRANDMA’S END OF YEAR OLD MAN RANT

REVIEW: Seiko Oomori- Wonder Romance Three Good Fortunes ~Today’s lover is Y♥O♥U?! Series~


Doing a three single project is bound to be a strange proposition, and when you’re an artist as eclectic as Seiko Oomori, things are bound to get messy, fast. That isn’t necessarily a negative though; these three singles have allowed for Seiko to experiment with more sounds than she has done in the past, and the free-flow approach is open and unhinged. It feels like a whole bunch of ideas that mostly work, thrown together haphazardly in true Oomori style.

Working with numerous producers, musicians and idols throughout the project will likely leave anyone confused of what Seiko Oomori is ‘supposed to be’ even more confused. It’s absolute chaos is what gives it form, a big, beautifully messy picture of Oomori’s insecurities and refusal to conform to any standard sound. She possesses this uncanny ability to flip from wild-child to gorgeous songstress without any kind of warning, and it for certain is bound to appeal to (or detract from) different people in different ways.

For this listener, the most appealing tracks are those that try something a little different to what we’ve gotten before, I love the Noko (from Shinsei Kammatechan) featuring “Hikokuminteki Hero” with its fantastic, unforgettable chorus and insane bridge for example. But I also love the fact that she still puts in more classic sounding tracks; b-sides such as Asa+ and the demo reel that came with the fanclub version of POSITIVE STRESS (which for hardcore fans, is likely the best part of the whole trilogy). Each disc offers a taste of something else, it’s always fascinating to see what’s up next.

Sure there’s some strange moments and the song choices and ordering may be somewhat all-over the place, and as a listener you may or may not like some of the guests involved, but you can’t not marvel at the absolute determination there is behind the project. Personally I can’t stand Ano from You’ll Melt More‘s voice, but hey, it works here in Gutto Kuro SUMMER. Others may not like the more mainstream sounding tracks like the TK produced “POSITIVE STRESS” (though just as many people will likely love it) and more than enough people have expressed their disdain for the most insane track of the lot- the Namahamu to Yakiudon starringYABATAN Densetsu” (which I, surprise, surprise, absolutely love).

Depending on the person you are, and how far your taste reaches, will really decide on how many of these tracks are going to hit home. Sure, one could argue that Oomori is just ‘trying the glove’ on certain sounds, and that would be an astute observation- but for this listener, I find it fascinating to see just how many different genres she is willing to give a nod to in her constant expansion of sound.

It then, is markedly appropriate that the final A-Side we heard from this project “Orion-Za” is an absolute centre-point between the Oomori of PINK Records label days and her new glossy AVEX sound. A quiet, gentle ballad with amazing chord progression and heartfelt lyrics seem like the only way you could end this, and in it’s own way, the anticlimactic nature of it after such bombast makes it ever more explosive when listened to as a whole.

Overall, Seiko Oomori’s trilogy of singles is a topsy, turvy mixed bag of mostly gems which wears it’s heart on it sleeve. There is bound to be something here for everyone, but it is also very unlikely that every track here is going to appeal to a single person. While it’s hard to say that it’s as good as any of her full length albums, it’s certainly still no throwaway project. There’s enough great tracks here to make it worth your while, and even the ones that didn’t hit the mark are still enjoyable for the most part.

7.5/10

REVIEW: Seiko Oomori- Wonder Romance Three Good Fortunes ~Today’s lover is Y♥O♥U?! Series~

THE BEST OF 2016: 5-1

So, here we go, the cream of the crop. Here’s my top 5(ish) albums of this year!

5. ZOMBIE-CHANG- ZOMBIE-CHANGE/Hanae- SHOWGIRL

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Ok, ok, I know it’s cheating a bit, but I honestly couldn’t decide which of these two were better. I love them both in equal amounts for different reasons, so I’m gonna take the easy way out and group them together. ZOMBIE CHANG with her ethereal, relaxed, trippy and gorgeous opus that is her sophomore album and Hanae with her bizarre, carnival like mix of bright and bubbly sounds that is SHOW GIRL. Both albums do have their own blend of sensuality, ZOMBIE-CHANG with her shy-girl approach and Hanae with her more blatant sexuality. They both are really nicely made, neither of them have any real dud tracks, both flow wonderfully and both have gotten equal playtime from yours truly since their release date. Hell, they both run for about the same time too. It’s just two of the best releases you will find from Japan this year, and I highly recommend both to anyone.

4. Angel Olsen- My Woman
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Ah, Angel Olsen‘s “My Woman“. What a wonderful release this one was. Only being somewhat familiar with the singer-songwriter, a lot of buzz was being made about her latest- which I foolishly chose to ignore for a little while. But dammit, this name was popping up everywhere I lurk, so I went and listened. What a treat I was greeted with- here was someone who had fully developed her craft, whether it be in short pop ditties or longer, near ten minute epics, everything was delightful. Her voice is AMAZING- and seems like she is almost limitless in her power. Music style is a neat mix of traditional indie pop mixed with some 60s/70s inspired progressive rock and psychedelia. A friend once described her as “The Stevie Nicks of the Twitter Generation” and that description has really stuck. A must hear. And if she’s ever touring your neck of the woods, a must see. Her live show is outstanding.

3. Jun Togawa with Vampillia- Watashi ga Nakou Hototogisu
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This album is honestly the biggest shock to me this year. Sure I was expecting it to be good, and also expected it to land somewhere on this list, but I generally thought that it would likely be just some neat variations of Jun Togawa tracks that would be a nice addition to the collection. Wrong. This album is SPECTACTULAR. These aren’t just rearrangements to me, they are totally reinvigorated, the most respectful arrangement Vampillia could possibly come up with. Blending Vampillia’s signature black metal/orchestral sound with Jun Togawa classics, this is truly a heart-stopping release. Togawa’s aged vocals only add a level of sorrow and emotion to the mix that perhaps hasn’t been seen before in any of her releases- it had this hardcore Togawa fan in tears. All at once it feels like a new Togawa album and an amazing, powerful and ultimately, honorable celebration of one of the greatest Japanese pop stars to ever live. A must own.

2. Mitski- Puberty 2
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Mitski‘s Puberty 2 is fucking great. I have spent so many hours with this insanely confrontational, open, soul-bearing release and often just fade away listening to it. It’s a wholly engrossing experience, and it’s lyrics are bound to hit anyone on a deep and profound level. Musically it’s fantastic and slightly nostalgic- with plenty of inspirations to mid 90s alt rock- and it just works a charm. There are two extremely powerful moments in particular that haunted me long after hearing them- that is the tracks “Fireworks“, with its amazing buildup and lyricism and the punkish belter “My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars“, that really makes listeners feel uncomfortable but unable to escape its clutches. The album is no doubt going to become a cult classic, and rightly so. If you haven’t heard Mitski’s masterpiece yet, then you haven’t heard the best western release this year.

1. Seiko Oomori- TOKYO BLACK HOLE (and the rest of 2016).
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Now let’s face facts. You all knew that Seiko Oomori was likely going to top my list. No surprises there. But it’s not just TOKYO BLACK HOLE (which indeed I feel is the best album), it’s the entire year of 2016, where Seiko released so much great material that it was hard to even keep up. But first lets start with the album:

TOKYO BLACK HOLE was to me, at first, an amazing album full of top notch songs and a great flow by Seiko Oomori. It may be a bit more gentle than her previous albums- but I’d say that has to do with the period in her life in which a lot of this was being written- that time where she had just given birth. Over time it has grown into something completely different, an album that has firmly worked its way into the hearts of many listeners. I’m reaching a point where I dare say it’s my favorite of her releases in general- and a favorite release by my favorite artist is nothing to be sniffed at.

It’s hard to imagine 2016 without TOKYO BLACK HOLE, it truly is the sound of year- through all it’s ups and downs, the album has been there to fall back onto. It’s one of those records- a guiding hand, a comforting friend. The songwriting skill here is top of the line, every song holds its own and yet can work together as a full album with ease. It has never left my playlist since day one- and it still gets plays frequently. It truly deserves its place in the Seiko Oomori canon, and fully belongs here, at the top of the list in 2016.

But as we know, it wouldn’t end there. Seiko released many, many more tracks over the year, including a three single project (which I will review in full soon), multiple songs for the likes of other idol groups, songs on compilations, appearances on a few bands releases and released a whopping 12+ hours of video footage of live concerts on her fanclub’s website alone. To go into it all would take an entire post of it’s own. The very fact that she’s always got a presence of some form makes her one of the most attractive and rewarding artists to be a follower of- and the fact that her quality barely ever drops is something quite unseen in the Jpop market in 2016. She’s always there, always doing something. For a fan, it’s always exciting. It always feels like she cares about her fanbase.

2016 truly has been the year of Seiko Oomori and that is why she is top dog in this years list. Bring on 2017, where we surely will see her next album (and hopefully, her first covers album).

And that concludes my best of 2016 list, I hope you all enjoyed reading it. There are still a few albums that I feel should be mentioned, but unfortunately I had to cut off, so I will post a second round of honorable mentions in the next week or so. Overall, I feel 2016 has been one of the strongest years for music in a long while, particularly for the Japanese scene. One can only hope next year will be just as amazing.

THE BEST OF 2016: 5-1

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016: 10-6

And here we get to it, the beefy stuff. The top 10 albums of 2016 begins!

10. Mizuki Ohira- TRUE ROMANCE
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Mizuki Ohira‘s debut album is a gorgeous, gentle, soothing and overall unforgettable experience. Songs are painstakingly constructed, and Ohira really shows a lot of attention to detail and love for her craft throughout. Every song lives in its own little universe and is warm and organic. New listeners may recall artists such as Salyu or perhaps even Deep River era Utada Hikaru, with its super nice instrumentation and subtlety sexy vibes throughout the entire album. Ohira’s voice is beautiful and her level of control of her compositions is to be commended. One of the best new discoveries for me this year, and deserves its place in my top 10.

9. BPM15Q- BPM15Q ALL SONGS
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BPM15Q‘s album, for lack of more appropriate word- is a BEAST. From it’s very opening track to its finale, there is not one thing stopping this train from reaching it’s destination. Sporting some of the wildest, most fun J-pop tunes you’ll find anywhere this year (or perhaps any year for that matter), this EDM/Future Bass influenced record is bound to win many people over. I called it’s lead single “Hakuchuumu” the Jpop song of 2016– and I stand by that, its truly the most infectious, nod along, hell, dance in your seat tune you’re gonna find anywhere. This album is rad, and I can’t get enough.

8. PJ Harvey- The Hope Six Demolition Project
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After her amazing “Let England Shake” project, PJ Harvey returns with this release, a kinda-sorta expansion on the ideas and issues raised with Let England Shake, but this time reaching for a more modern and global scale. The instrumentation here is her ‘rockiest’ in years- with many songs (such as lead single “The Wheel“) having guitar up front and center and it’s such a hard hitting release after her more subdued last few efforts. Some portions of the album are so downright powerful that they sent this listener reeling. It might not sit well with some listeners (lyrics are occasionally a little clunky for sure) on first listens- but give it time to warm up and it really is one of the most rewarding albums you will find this year. It’s certainly one of my top listened records in 2016 and I can’t wait to see the live incarnation early next year.

7. never young beach- fam fam
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never young beach last year released one of the most charming breaths of fresh air with their album “YASHINOKI HOUSE“, and was on my end of year list. This year they brought “fam fam” which to many- was the sound of their summer. It’s chock full of those indie/surf rock inspired ditties that fans have all come to love- and this time it feels more rock-centric, with the focus on the right here, right now rather than giving a sense of wanderlust. It’s a nice little touch and makes this album stand apart from the previous one. All of it’s singles are great and once again, vocals and instrumentation are impeccable. Really damn good stuff.

6. Bokutachi no iru tokoro.- Gomi
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Bokutachi no iru tokoro. are fast becoming one of my favorite ‘dirty rock bands‘ and for good reason- they always just do what they do best- stick to the core roots of what makes rock music ROCK. Again, they give us a tight, concise short album of catchy tunes all brought together by that incredible vocalist that is Jinsei Dame Ko. The production value this time is ever so slightly ‘cleaner’- but it actually works pretty damn well for them. Tunes are far more catchy this time round too- you will no doubt be humming these long after you’ve finished playing it. If there’s one down to earth rock album you’ll wanna listen to this year, this is it.

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016: 10-6

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016: 15-11

ROUND TWO: No intro, let’s keep going!

15. Fujin Club- Fujin Color
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This quirky release took many people by surprise (and stole quite a few hearts while at it, I’m sure) back in July. With it’s gorgeous Shibuya-Kei sound and fantastic and novel theme of anonymity (all the while showcasing Sado Island’s heritage and culture) really makes for an interesting listen. The production here, by M. Lemon is absolutely breathtaking and the songs all are playful and relaxing. Vocal work is absolutely perfect and hit the right balance of sweet and not-too-showy. It’s hard to imagine anyone not finding something to enjoy here, it’s definitely one of the most surprising, seemingly out of nowhere releases to come along in 2016.

14. Jun Togawa + Hijokaidan- Togawakaidan Series

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When Jun Togawa and Hijokaidan announced a collaboration album (Togawakaidan) this year, people were pretty excited. What we got (first time round) was quite impressive, taking Togawa classics and ramping them up with Hijokaidan’s signature noise- however, it, while cool, also only felt like a taster. That mainly came from the fact that the majority of the “studio” album was actually Hijokaidan solo performance- mainly from live recordings. While this is all fine and dandy, and made for one of the more interesting listens in early 2016, it wasn’t the TOGAWAKAIDAN experience many of us were waiting for.

Enter TOGAWAKAIDAN LIVE. Now, this was more like it. This album lit a fire up your ass and was totally unapologetic. Togawa sounded rough as fuck, her vocal chords shredded. Hijokaidan’s intensity reached apex level. Taken live from Akihabara Goodman on February 21, 2016, this really felt like the experience we were after. It wasn’t broken up in intervals, we got more Togawa songs. It felt like a real album. And it’s one of the best things released all year. Combined, these two rightly deserve their spot in my top 20.

13. David Bowie- Blackstar
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David Bowie‘s final release is a brilliantly sombre one, and one of his best in years. It’s brooding cauldron mix of jazz, electronica, progressive rock and foreboding what was to come- is truly a haunting and unforgettable experience. You will never leave this album unscathed, it manages to take something, some part of you with it on every play. And that truly is it’s greatest quality- it’s impeccable ability to be both highly enjoyable and profoundly disturbing simultaneously. If anyone could claim to truly have had a swan song- it’s Bowie. And this is it.

12. Metallica- Hardwired… to Self Destruct
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Metallica have not had the best time in the last couple of decades, they’ve always either done something stupid (see Napster scandal) or created albums that have either had questionable mastering choices (see Death Magnetic) or just downright awful (see St. Anger or Lulu). Yet, they still manage to have a good track here or there, and still unquestionably are true masters of the live show. That said, with their new album “Hardwired… to Self Destruct” they have given a real quality mixed bag of their two main eras- the thrash and the ‘faux-country-rock-whatever‘ era from the 90s. It has some real hard hitters (Spit Out the Bone, Hardwired) but for me, the real gems lie in the slower tracks. Personal picks include rumbler “Dream No More“, cheesy yet fun “Murder One” and the longest track on the record “Halo on Fire” which feature some of the best vocals by James Hetfield ever recorded. Sure Metallica is no longer Kill ‘Em All Metallica, but they don’t need to be. This is just a highly entertaining mainstream metal album that I truly have had a lot of fun with. Can’t wait to see them on tour (with BABYMETAL perhaps???).

For better or worse, I personally like both of Metallica’s main eras pretty much equally- and this album really feels like a conclusion to it all. If this ended up being Metallica’s final album, I would be satisfied.

11. Neon Bunny- Stay Gold
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Korean indie synth pop/electronic artist Neon Bunny released her newest release “Stay Gold” in July this year, and it is a much more focused, contemplative release than her debut. Lyrically it seems more vulnerable, soul exposing and yet has this kind of strange introversion/disconnect from real life- and it really makes it far more compelling than ever before. It’s slow, gorgeous beats are hypnotic and fantastic to listen to when you want to unwind. It really stands out from the sea of similar music because the production value is so rich and satisfying. There’s no dud tracks to be found throughout the whole album, and its main singles are all impressive works. If you listen to any album from South Korea this year, this should be it.

So there you have it, starting next week, my TOP 10!

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016: 15-11

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016: 20-16

Now to get serious, the real meaty ones, the albums you shouldn’t have missed in 2016. I have decided to release in installments of five albums at a time, whenever I feel comfortable in releasing them. Here are the first lot:

20. Gain- End Again
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Gain‘s mini album took my attention with it’s immediately different sound to her usual standard Kpop fare- instead opting for a showtuney, theatrical sound, which works wonders for her. The lead single “Carnival” just drips with sensuality (it’s also sporting one of my favorite music videos this year), and while it would be easy to dismiss it as sounding “Disney”- you’d be missing all the nuance and melancholy behind it. The rest of the album plays into this sound, and truly makes it a standout Kpop release this year. Amazing production value, it sounds smooth as honey. More like this GAIN, your usual sounds incredibly boring in comparison.

19. Yoko Hamasaki- BLUE FOREST
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URBANGARDE‘s Yoko Hamasaki this year released her second solo album and it’s a real gem. Her self produced mini really showcases her as a songwriting powerhouse and her sense of theatrics really shines through. The lead single, a cover of “I Love Chopin” is both quirky and delightful; she shows a true love for the original and truly does it justice. The rest of the album is an audacious, bright and tastefully cheesy (that’s right, never let anyone tell you that a bit of cheese can’t be a good thing!) selection of tracks that never lets up its energy throughout the whole playlist, encouraging repeat listening. Good stuff!

18. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool
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Radiohead‘s followup to The King of Limbs seems to have landed far better than its predecessor in the wide world of music. Who can blame anyone? It’s got some of their most straightforward, to the point tunes in years, and everything sounds like ‘songs’ in the traditional sense of the word. There’s some truly amazing songwriting here, the balladry is impeccable and among the best of the year. It will no doubt appear in most ‘best of 2016’ lists (albeit likely much higher than it is in mine) and rightly so. This is Radiohead being Radiohead TM, no more, no less. Highly enjoyable and a good talking point for your normie friends.

17. Ayumi Hamasaki- Made In Japan
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The second Hamasaki on this list, and the one I’m sure everyone knows at this point, is Ayumi Hamasaki‘s latest full length. It’s a real nice one too, offering all the sass, pomp and emotion that she gave in her heyday- all in a short, sweet ten tracks. For me, as a long term fan, there are no duds in the entire playlist, its a real nice selection of each of her different faces, without ever feeling compromised or lacking. It’s her best in years, there is no doubt about it, and well deserves it’s place in my top 20 album of 2016.

16. Soutaiseiriron- Tensei Jingle
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Soutaiseiriron‘s 2016 album will no doubt end up on many top Japanese lists. It’s beautiful, well produced and mixed, warm and memorable. It’s one of the tightest sounding records I heard all year, and definitely has some of the strongest pop hooks you’ll find anywhere. Overall, on a personal level, it didn’t have the longest shelf life out of all the things I listened to- but when it came out I really, really loved it. Now it’s there whenever I feel like chilling out with some insanely well produced pop tunes. Oh, and those eerily sexy vocals…

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016: 20-16

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016: Honorable Mentions

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It’s that time of year again, where we all reflect and ponder on what we thought were the highs and lows of the year. For me, I do a top 20 list every year, and usually would have kicked it off by now. However, there are still a few releases coming up over the next few weeks so it’s only fair to wait them out before I can finalize everything. However, I do have some albums that are great in their own right, but just couldn’t possibly fit in the list I have lined up for 2016:

Mono- Requiem For Hell
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Mono‘s latest album is somewhat of a return to form for the group, and also a return to working with long-term collaborator Steve Albini. For the most part, the album is typical Mono fare, but it’s hard not to be impressed by it regardless. They have a great knack for creating huge crescendos and for most of these tracks, that’s in where the main enjoyment lies; seeing how massive they will take it before falling back into a beautiful and serene calmness. No other track works better than the swooping title song. Well worth a listen if you are into post rock, one of the years better offerings.

Megumi Wata-  Blindman
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Megumi Wata‘s mini album from this year came quite early (February) and still manages to charm on any repeat listen. It’s tiny, quaint and has a neat mix of city pop and alt/electro that fits right in this current climate of ‘alt-girls’ emerging from the Japanese music scene. It’s not something that you will revisit often, but when you do it’s always a beautiful and compelling listen, that feels over before it begins due to it’s short length. It might even take a few spins to digest it properly. An interesting newcomer to the scene, it will be worth keeping eyes on her in the future.

Opeth- Sorceress
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Opeth‘s new album is their third foray into the more 70s prog/psychedelic style and this time they’ve also brought along elements of stoner and doom. And it, for the most part, works wonderfully. The title track is a real highlight with it’s fantastic chug-a-lug main riff and tracks like “Strange Brew” really hold up on their own. The album isn’t perfect and could do with some tightening of the screws- but it certainly is the best Opeth album since Watershed. I personally have had many hours of enjoyment out of this one.

Alcest- Kodama
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French post rock/death metal band Alcest return with their latest “Kodama”, and it’s absolutely gorgeous, definitely one of the best in its genre all year. Songs reach huge emotional and auditory apexes, and generally its an easier listen than the last few releases by the group- possibly a great starting point for new listeners. While it may not scream for repeat listening, it’s still a rewarding and satisfying listen nonetheless, and definitely deserves an honorable mention this year.

KOTO- Tenkomori Mini Album
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KOTO‘s main release this year collects six of her live only singles into one neat little package. For the most part, all the tracks have something to offer, and is a wonderful addition to the catalog of one of the quirkiest idol acts around. The new wave inspired sound is something quite fun to take in and this album is just that- a genuinely enjoyable bit of fun. Recommended.

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016: Honorable Mentions