REVIEW: SHISHIDO KAVKA RETURNS TO FORM WITH “DO_S”

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Ex- The News member, drummer, vocalist and all-round cutie Shishido Kavka‘s last release was her full length “Toridori“; an overly-long, forgettable mess that only had a few highlights floating amidst a sea of filler. It was one of the bigger letdowns of 2016, and certainly the one of the most short-lived albums in this listeners playlist. It is then, no surprise that I went into her latest EP, “DO_S” with no expectations whatsoever. Lucky then, it’s actually quite a bit of fun and worth giving her another chance for.

It opens with the cute, bouncy pop track “Tachiagare“, which sets the bar for the EP high. It’s colorful, wonderfully produced and Kavka’s vocals are on point. The bouncy fun continues into the funky “Boku was Boku de Aru to Iu Koto” which has one of the grooviest bass lines of 2017 so far. It’s easy to love the vocal delivery on it’s chorus, and the cheesy synth strings just add to the experience. 90s Jpop fans, this track is for you!

We fall back into the more traditional Kavka sound with “Ken to Hanataba” (and later on with “FLY HIGH!“) where rock grrrl is the name of the day, and it’s easy enough to just ‘go’ with it and have a blast. The rest of the EP features the funky “3.2.1….cut” and what would this EP be without the classic Jpop ballad style “Tatta Hitokoko” (complete with it’s glorious, unabashed string section that just makes this review give a big nostalgic grin). It’s a safe, but fairly mixed bag of jams that never lets up the energy and is a far cry from the bland uninspired work of her full length.

Shishido Kavka is an artist that works better in small doses, and this latest EP truly highlights that. There is no room for fatigue or boredom to sit in; it’s light, fluffy fun without any real commitment on the listeners part. Nobody is pretending there’s anything special or amazing going on here- but it doesn’t need to be- you’re only in it for less than 30 mins. This, coupled with the fact that these are some of Kavka’s most breezy, yet winning tracks yet gives this reviewer no problem recommending it for some casual listening to fill in that gap between more meaty releases.

A short review, for a short, sweet distraction that’s worth the 25 minutes of time it requires to put into it, DO_S restores my faith in Kavka as a fun pop-rock act to keep your eyes on (if you can take your eyes off to begin with). Pick it up!

7/10– DO_S is the bouncy pop record we needed to hear from Shishido Kavka.

REVIEW: SHISHIDO KAVKA RETURNS TO FORM WITH “DO_S”

Review: Maron Hamada’s “Lady Monochrome” is Her Best Yet.

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When Maron Hamada arrived on the scene, with her 2011 single ‘Watashi no Pistol‘ one thing felt certain then- she was someone that no doubt was influenced by smoky jazz clubs and 60s mod rock. The main reason lots of people found out about her was indeed her striking similarity to the more jazzy fixings of Shiina Ringo– and she had that deep, raspy voice that is up there in that ‘Ringo’ sphere. Hell, admittedly, I found out through my “Amazon Recommendations”- and back then I was going through my peak Shiina Ringo phase.

However, since then, she has developed tremendously, tightening the screws on every subsequent release, trying new inspirations and ultimately- with her latest opus, Lady Monochrome, Hamada has fully evolved into her own beast. Truly she has made her own unique footing in the Japanese rock hemisphere, which ultimately makes Lady Monochrome absolutely unstoppable.

Hamada has always had a really strong vocal presence, but this listener has always felt that she could take it that one step further and enter the truly legendary ranks of vocal performances. With this latest album, she does just that- her range and confidence has never been this impressive. She never slips up once- and for the first time ever showcases both her trademark belting alongside a newly found, surprising tenderness, which is guaranteed to induce legitimate shivers. See the middle track, the raw ballad “Kagami” for her most impressive vocal performance to date, where she reaches high notes previously unheard from her before.

As soon as you press play, Hamada makes her presence felt, with the roaring single “Karisome Eros Tokimeku“, one of the most traditional “Maron Hamada” sounding tracks on the album. It offers a blaze of that sexy jazz cabaret that fans have grown to expect and love from her, and it’s just as appealing as ever. From there we get some new and exciting new additions from SKA to 80s synth pop (the fantastic “Ouji ni Tsugu, Hime Iwaku” is a great example of it). The introduction of new sounds and styles musically has helped her branch out more- and it has done wonders for her.

The triumphant, marching ‘Ikiru Nou ga Subete‘ is a real highlight. Not only does it have a fantastic, catchy chorus, but it also takes what seems to be a simple pop rock track through multiple turns and twists, brilliant percussion work and chord progression; and the payoff is unforgettable and uplifting. If only other pop-rock bands were this forward thinking when composing tracks. This is that amazing Tokyo JihenKiller Tune” that was promised, but never was.

It’s easy to forgive the slightly weird mishaps- the occasional tiny bit of clipping or the more-than-just-a-little-bit similarity that “Tsukiyo ni Koboreru wa Aa” has to a certain British superstar’s “Rolling in the Deep“. One may be pressed to question some of the more over-the-top delivery on some of these tracks, but, with that said- its never felt so appropriate to be so ‘theatrical’. Ultimately these little imperfections barely cause a dent in this ship’s hull.

Let’s face it, Maron Hamada is never gonna be trendy. But, for those who have been following her for a while now, one thing is definitely certain: with each album release, she is showing no signs of slowing down her progression. She never takes gigantic leaps or risks, but she does hone her skill and steps it up with every new track. She is undeniably more focused than a few years back; her voice more targeted and intense. Her music has taken a turn for the dark and serious. With every new album, she seems more confident and her sexiness shows through. Lady Monochrome is the latest addition to her near impeccable catalog, and it, without a doubt, is her best offering yet.

9/10 Lady Monochrome has set the bar for Japanese pop rock albums this year.

Review: Maron Hamada’s “Lady Monochrome” is Her Best Yet.