REVIEW: CHARAN-PO-RANTAN knock it out of the ballpark with “Toritome Nashi”

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The delightful, heartwarming “band of travelling sisters” CHARAN-PO-RANTAN return with their new mini album Toritome Nashi (the first main release of original tracks since last years slightly disappointing “Onna no 46-pun”) to outstanding success. I don’t usually like doing ‘track by track’s but, for this one, I think it’s the only way to really do the album justice, it’s all just so damn good!

Bursting to life with single “Susume, Tama ni Nigetemo”, this is instantly fresh but familiar. To call it bright would be an understatement- this is blinding in its cheery warmth. A song that could get you out of bed on a cold morning, it’s a fantastic opening song that only is the tip of the iceberg of joy that lies beneath it.

The Seiho arranaged “Sweet as sugar” could not have a more appropriate title. The bouncy, playful track is totally infectious with it’s warm delivery. The added flutters of electro and subtle dubstep ‘wubs’ make it irresistibly perfect. Vocalist Momo’s sweet voice is a fantastic accompaniment to it, it would take someone with the coldest heart not to fall right in with it. Like when you see a ridiculously cute girl sneeze, you can only sit back and ‘awwww’ at her. It’s followed by the cute bop number “Mayuge Dance” which is as fun as it sounds and is guaranteed to be a wild live track.

“Yume Bakkari” is one of the first songs to feature guest, this one including Rina Katahira and Rei. This song takes a step back into the delightful, laid-back acoustic sound that made this listener fall in love with CHARAN-PO-RANTAN to begin with, its Frenchy chanson accordion, guitar and whistles make you drift away until… BOOM! It immaculately transcends into the the marching, sexy, kitten like “Tsuki” with it’s swirling, rhythmic string work that leaves your mouth agape with wonderment. Momo’s voice has never sounded THIS good before, this is the performance of a lifetime.

“Koi wa Timing” continues “Sweet as sugar”s use of electronic elements, again to great success. The energy is pronounced, the group play with such gusto and joy it’s very hard not to just let yourself go. The great thing is that, no matter how wild or cute they get, it never reaches any levels of overdoing it and never feels cheesy. You believe every second of it. That energy keeps building and transfers over into the next track, the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra featuring “Otakebi”, that, as you can probably guess, mixes CHARAN-PO-RANTAN’s theatrics with the bouncy SKA that Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra have made a name of- perfectly. Just breathtaking to behold, particularly its ending.

It ends with the warmest ballad I’ve heard in years, “Kanashimi”. It’s hard to not get a bit nostalgic and weepy over it’s punchy, poignant melody and heartfelt delivery. The backing vocals by Mr. Children fit perfectly, but here- the star is Momo. By the end of this track, I can guarantee that if you weren’t already, you will be totally, 100% in love with her. A masterfully presented and arranged finale to a triumphant, adorable, unforgettable return to form.

All backed with some truly impressive production values, instrumentation and a perfectly short-but-sweet run time, you’ll be spinning this one for days. Oh and look at that album cover, the pig has a helmet on. How can you not?

9/10 Toritome Nashi is the first truly great Japanese release of 2017. Unmissable. Why aren’t you listening to it right now?!!!

REVIEW: CHARAN-PO-RANTAN knock it out of the ballpark with “Toritome Nashi”

I’ll Believe in Christ before I Believe in K-pop

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Korean pop music, for this listener is a sorry experience for the most part. The constant brutal onslaught of mere single-based releases makes it hard to find a foothold; much harder so to pick a ‘favorite’. Coming from a background that appreciates albums as albums and likes to have deep cuts that enhance the rewards of being a fan, I’ve yearned for music from South Korea to be simply music. Give me an album that doesn’t rely on three tracks to hold the entire weight.

It seems that whenever I find something interesting, it’s only a little side step or footnote of an artist’s otherwise abysmally standard discography; take last year’s “End Again” by Gain for example. Sure I was at first attracted mainly due to it’s Shiina Ringo-esque show-tune trappings, but it really stands as it’s own project. And that’s the problem; Gain seems to have only pulled it out as a one-off. The rest of her output is just the usual teeny-bop bullshit that any other Korean pop artist is putting out- and it’s really a shame.

It’s not as if the genre itself is the problem; its fine to have your rub-a-dub-dub flavor of the month cheese. Everyone needs a little bit of trash in their life. The problem is that almost EVERYTHING in the limelight is this. How people tell one group apart from the next is beyond me. “CHECK OUT BLACKPINK OMG”, “(fx) REALLY BREAK NEW GROUND!”. What new ground? All I hear is the same recycled music we heard in the late 90s, with glossier production. Five with a bit of bro-step. Spice Girls with some trap. This is fine, but if you’re gonna call it revolutionary, give me something legitimately amazing.

It’s hard to take any kind of praise beyond that of singles merely being good bops (and they certainly are, there’s no denying it) seriously when it is unquestionably one of the most insanely corporate, revenue focused music industries in the world- if not the most. This of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing- this is POP music after-all- but there just isn’t enough consistently solid releases to warrant any kind of positive reaction other than what it is on surface level.

There’s also the comically audacious overuse of the term “comeback” for every single release by an artist that has been gone for seemingly as long as a quick potty break. If there’s one indicator of how frivolous and short life-spanned the genre is, it’s surely this. Remember when Hikki came back after eight years hiatus? That’s a comeback (if not a particularly exciting one). A new album or single is a new release, no more, no less. Yes, I understand fans getting all excited for a new release or tour, I do; but calling it a comeback when the artist hasn’t even been gone long enough to notice them missing is a bit of a far fetched sentiment.

A major blow to Kpop’s chance at being taken truly seriously internationally was ironically, it’s greatest success, the dreaded “Gangnam Style“. This forever cemented Kpop into the general public’s eye as a novelty genre and whether it will recover as a whole is yet to be seen. Like similar cases in Japanese pop (see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu‘s “PON PON PON”), the song will forever go down as a joke hit and will prop up at ‘remember this‘ parties, alongside Los Del Rio‘s “Macarena” and Eifel 65‘s “Blue (Da Ba Dee).

It’s not all doom and gloom though, South Korea does have a blossoming and interesting indie/net-label scene. Artists like Neon Bunny, for example, released some of the most exciting material last year. Progressive rock band 3rd Line Butterfly have seen moderate success and just released a pretty great new album this month. The good music is there, in small quantities, if you are willing to hunt for it. And that’s a major problem in itself- exposure. With music from the west, or Japan, the alternate to the mainstream is never hard to find (It’s not as if Jpop (the genre I support the most) doesn’t have it’s fair share of garbage too; but at least the alternatives are far more pronounced and in plain sight), more than one genre penetrates the charts. Kpop however, does not seem to have anywhere near this kind of variety, which makes it hard to get more involved with, at least on a personal level. Some may argue about the differences in the sub-genres of it all, but really, it’s woefully minor. The western cliches of “what Kpop is” are harder to defend- because indeed, Kpop is what it is.

This isn’t meant to be an attack on people that do genuinely love Kpop, I can understand the idea of liking ‘fun music to be fun‘. There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone likes to ogle at beautiful people (Hyuna really does it for me in that regard). It’s just when people try and force this idea that it’s some kind of revolutionary, supreme genre that it all gets a little silly. It’s understandable that a market that is pretty much 100% digital would want to focus mainly on singles, but it really doesn’t excuse the lack of decent full length albums from a music listener’s experience. Give us something meaty to chew on if you want to make a real, lasting impact. I do have faith in the South Korean alternative and indie scene, however, I’ll believe in Christ before I believe in Kpop.

Now excuse me while I run to the hills.

I’ll Believe in Christ before I Believe in K-pop

OVERLOOKED AND ESSENTIAL: TOGAWA FICTION

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The early 2000s were some of Jun Togawa‘s most compelling years for many reasons. She appeared on four major works, 20th Jun Togawa (a covers album noted for utterly deconstructing the original songs), Togawa Fiction, “Good Girls Get Fed, Bad Girls Get Eaten” by Jun Togawa and Tricomi and “Dreams” by Otome Yoshihide’s New Jazz Ensemble (which is noteworthy because it features for the first time ever, the coupling of her and her contemporary, the legendary Phew).

All of these works are wildly different but bare one striking similarity; they’re all highly experimental and can barely be placed in ‘pop’ in any sense of the word. It also has been publicly revealed that Jun Togawa at the time, had started to become less trustworthy of human contact and a bit of a shut-in (as revealed in her recent soul-bearing lyrics analysis book, “Togawa Jun Zen Kashi Kaisetsu-shuu: Shippuudotou Tokidoki Hare“). This time we focus on one of these major works, the much-overlooked Togawa Fiction (billed as Jun Togawa Band). It must also be noted that Togawa Fiction marked her first return to music after the suicide of her sister, Kyoko (the EP “CD-Y” by Yapoos was a reissue of a 1999 show only release).

Togawa Fiction is a singular beast in Togawa’s long and eclectic catalog; it never relies on nostalgia or callbacks. There is no “classic Togawa formula” to be heard here. Togawa and her band were in a truly unique head-space, and in doing so managed to create something truly timeless. It isn’t as highly regarded or hailed upon as a ‘classic‘ against other giants like Tamahime Sama or Suki Suki Daisuki, but it still shouldn’t be passed up- doing so would mean passing up arguably the most intense and creative album Togawa has ever put her name to.

To come up with the unique and timeless sound that lays in wait on Togawa Fiction, Togawa has the 9 piece backing band of Misturu Nasuno (Bass), Naoya Mochizuki (Cello), Tatsuya Yoshida (Drums), Dennis Gunn (Guitar), Hoppy Kamiyama (Keys), Mitsuru Nasuno (Mandolin), Masako Sato (Viola), Miho Kudo and Ryoko Mochizuki (both on Violin). The album was also produced by Hoppy Kamiyama. This group brought an intriguing and truly unique dynamic; many different inspirations and backgrounds brought to the mix to make a formidable and powerful brew of sound.

The album blazes headfirst into battle with the sprawling, monumental eight minute epic “Counsel Please” which sees Jun Togawa venture deep into progressive rock territory like never before. It gives the listener the first taste of what would become her ‘modern‘ voice- a harsher, rusted voice that carries with it years of hardship and emotional baggage. This song is what most people would describe as a ‘journey’- both emotionally and sonically. It takes us through many different ebbs and flows, tempo changes and surprising instrumental flourishes which all leads to an amazing climax; it’s one of the most mind-blowing tracks in Togawa’s entire catalog and must be experienced to fully appreciate.

Once you’ve been firmly numbed by the opener, the album bursts into more playful territory with the catchy and bouncy “Open the Door“. It’s hard not to be reminded of acts like the Dresden Dolls here, especially with Togawa showcasing her falsetto voice throughout the entire track. The listener will find it near impossible not to infectiously fist bump along to Togawa belting out “HEAVY HARD” on the chorus, with its insane backing tracking with drums that wouldn’t fall far from a Midori track. Punky, jazzy and all-round fun- this really lightens the mood and preps you for what’s ahead.

From here the album enters a slower, sadder slump. It’s never pompous or melodramatic; rather it feels like a resignation, an acceptance of ‘it is what it is‘, and that makes it all the more disturbing. Togawa is coming to grips with everything that’s happened in her life, and making it work for her- and damn does it work. The best example of this is the track “Sayonara Honeymoon” where Togawa croons her way over a droning, atmospheric, almost doom-like ballad. It’s overwhelming, pained and pitch dark. It’s also this listener’s favorite track on the album.

Things do lighten up a little from here, (perhaps with the audience in mind) with the bouncy, surf-rock inspired title track. It’s a shorty ditty with spoken work from Togawa and a goofy little chorus. It’s a much needed breather from the emotional heaviness and gets the listener ready for the finale of the album, the long, sprawling  “Formless Station Ends” which is an absolute showcase for Jun Togawa’s legendary vocals. It’s a looping, dark track that fascinates with its musical precision. It is a fitting, perfect ending to such an emotionally draining journey and a great sign off for what would become a massive gap between this and Togawa’s full length album- which wouldn’t appear until 2016- a full 12 years later.

Togawa Fiction is one of the most misunderstood and underrated albums that come to recent memory. It’s also one of the most essential listens in Japanese music, period. Togawa Fiction is one of the most interesting albums you will ever encounter- even as far as Jun Togawa- renowned for her quirkiness goes, it’s pretty “out there“. For years it has been woefully overlooked for her more well known works and that’s really a shame. It’s time to revisit this gem and see just how well it’s aged. It’s a wonderful album from a particularly dark period in Togawa’s life- and fans should really appreciate it’s value a lot more. Sure, it’s a little bit more ‘tough’ to get into- but the rewards are countless.

Essential.

OVERLOOKED AND ESSENTIAL: TOGAWA FICTION