Review: PHEW- VOICE HARDCORE

If one characteristic comes to mind instantaneously when you think about legendary experimental artist Phew, it’s her vocals. A unique balance between spoken word and singing, Phew fleets between a sense of cool indifference while ever daring to show bright enthusiasm. It creates this real sense of tension, which encapsulates her listeners and creates an utterly compelling listen every time. An album created entirely of her vocals then- creates one of her most outlandish, yet minimal works to date, one that will both excite and challenge fans simultaneously.

The appropriately entitled VOICE HARDCORE is a minimalist’s fantasy. It bares a stark contrast to last year’s LIGHT SLEEP, which verged on noise music with it’s whirl of electronic fuzz. This time, Phew offers an ambient journey that feels like it is held together by a thread. For those not put off by its instant lack of accessibility- repeat listens are rewarding, as the album is a grower in every sense of the word.

Some people have likened this album to an “opiate haze”- though I find that a bit of a hard take to swallow, as there is definite focus and structure to these pieces. Sure there may be no “catchiness” or melody in the broadest sense of the terms, but Phew has a mission and she’s damn determined to get there.

In her Facebook press release she describes the album as “an attempt to make new reverberations that I have never heard before by using only my body”. She also states that a voice only album has been brewing in her mind since her debut solo single “Finale”- way back in 1980. When she finally got round to recording the album, she bashed it out in an three day period- an astonishing accomplishment when listening to the quality of material here.

The work’s mixing and mastering must also be mentioned, it sounds absolutely divine. Hiroyuki Nagashima is responsible for this and has tweaked the album to perfection, truly bringing Phew’s vision to life. For something so minimal to sound so massive is a triumph. Ultimately, the fact that Phew is delivering such brilliant and challenging works this late in her career- is truly her greatest gift to music. Bold.

9/10– Another amazing yet challenging late-career Phew release that will reward anyone that is willing to stick with it.

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Review: PHEW- VOICE HARDCORE

REVIEW: DAOKO- THANKYOU BLUE

Late last year, DAOKO released her sophomore major album “THANK YOU BLUE”, to an interestingly mixed reception. On one hand, you have early fans, dejected by her apparent move from her signature ‘whisper-rap’ sound; on the other, you have those fully embracing the change. Whatever your personal preference though, it’s hard to deny how successful her last few years are, and that’s certainly something to take into account when reviewing this album.

I understand people who are detracted by the ‘pop’ DAOKO- believe me, I really do. However, I don’t think it’s as big a change as some let on, and it’s not like DAOKO had dropped any kind of defining previous work to cement her image in one way or another. It is a shame that we have lost quite a bit of her uniqueness through the transition though, and this album’s lack of cohesive character is a direct result of this.

Her blend of pop shines most when she is doing traditional, 80s style tunes. Tracks like “ShibuyaK” andMoshimo Bokura ga GAME no Shuyaku de” really do sound lovely and shine above more gimmicky sounding tracks, like the god awful TeddyLoid tune “Daisuki” with it’s tired “bro-step” drops and lame breakdown. The less added, the better the tunes are.

The one thing that will affect everyone- is the lack of new content. Indeed, the majority of this album (if you only consider the regular playlist) are songs that have already been released. To call it a ‘new album’ becomes a bit of a stretch. It feels like a best of collection. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the decision of actually buying it a questionable one if the singles are already owned. I mean, there are literally only FOUR tracks exclusive to this album. Yikes.

By the time the album ends,  it is hard to really say much about it. Hearing so much of it previously really wrecks any kind of chance it had to make any real impact, and having so many producers and guests (ranging from Kenshi Yonezu to Yasuyuki Okamura) working with her makes it feel more like a Various Artists compilation than her own release. It’s unfair to say that it doesn’t have some truly enjoyable moments- but barely enough to warrant any repeated listens. In the end, I can only really recommend the purchase if you wanted an easy way to bundle all her singles together- no more, no less.

THANK YOU BLUE is ultimately, a safe but somewhat tasteful collection of bops from DAOKO that is enjoyable, if inoffensive. It surely will gain it’s detractors- many old fans will truly feel left behind. But looking at it from the perspective of what DAOKO is trying to achieve- become a POP STAR, she has ultimately made quite a stepping block of an album- which one can only hope will be expanded upon in the future. For those feeling left behind, don’t worry, just head over to Seiko Oomori’s album “kitixxxgaia” and hear DAOKO belt out her old self on the track “Chikyuu Saigo no Futari”.

5/10. Decent enough, but won’t make much of an impact, negative or positive.

REVIEW: DAOKO- THANKYOU BLUE

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2017: 5-1

So here we are, at the end of my top 20 list. Here are the 5 albums of 2017 that I feel exemplify the best of what the year had to offer. Thanks once again for reading. Let’s get into it shall we?

5. Boris- DEAR

Ahh, Boris. Forever pushing the boundaries, this year played it a little more safe and just put out an album you can tell they loved making. It plays to all their strengths, it’s easily their heaviest release in a long while- and in turn, surprisingly, their most accessible. It’s an invigorating listen, so many of Boris’ finest tropes on display in one tight package. It rocks, it drones, it wails, it rumbles. It’s Boris.

4. Converge- The Dusk in Us

Converge return for their first album in five years, and once again, prove that they are the kings of modern hard-core. This album is truly spectacular, each and every song is meticulous, the production amazing. It houses some of the most amazing drum work I have heard in almost a decade. Converge not only manage to bring the best hard-core/punk/metal release of the year, it might be their best album to date- though that will be hotly debated. Either way, no one can deny it’s power and prowess. Also, when has hard-core ever been this beautiful? Next level stuff.

3. St. Vincent- MASSEDUCTION

St. Vincent delivers the best western pop release of the year in 2017. Hauntingly potent, amazingly catchy, it’s a small revelation in itself. I often roll my eyes when an indie rock artist goes the electronic dance route- it’s quite an overdone trope in modern music to me- however, it’s as if St. Vincent was made for it. Never leaving her rock roots behind, St. Vincent uses the electronic medium to expand her vision and deliver her stories home in a way that will shake up any listener. It’s fun, yearning, sexy and most of all- just sounds damn good. Get it.

2. Seiko Oomori- kitixxxgaia

Let’s face it- anyone who follows me at all will have known this was going to be in the top five. Seiko Oomori has once again delivered an album that has been talked about, pondered over, loved and in turn- loathed even more by detractors, depending on who is listening. Her expansion of themes into religion, idol culture, sex and personal politics are really what stand out the most here. kitixxxgaia is a very important album to me, I have listened to it countless times. Every song has its place. The use of new producers and collaborators make it her most expansive- and exhausting album to date. As Seiko’s career gets bigger- her music does too, and this is no doubt the biggest, most over-the-top, huge, visionary and most importantly, entertaining J-pop album of 2017. Amazing. Goddamn amazing.

Read my full review here.

1. Phew- Light Sleep

Phew’s latest album, Light Sleep, is hands down the most overwhelming album I heard this year. It’s almost atonal sea of electronics sends chills down my spine every single time. Phew never relies on nostalgia or catchy hooks to create her works- and it really makes me appreciate what a talent she really is. Light Sleep is a solo project in every sense of the term- literally recorded in her own bedroom, utilizing a whole set of old analog equipment- and it’s used to perfect, haunting effect. It gives a sense of peering into someone’s private world, never fully penetrable but always inviting. Best experienced with a good set of headphones, Light Sleep’s melting pot of noisy, droning electronic hums and beat up drum machines will not hold your hand, but those willing and patient enough will find no album as rewarding as this. Phew has created her best work in years, an experimental masterpiece that further cements her legendary status in the Japanese music scene. A must listen for serious music fans, and truly the best album I listened to in 2017.

A masterpiece.

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2017: 5-1

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 10-6

10. Seiko Oomori- MUTEKI

MUTEKI is a celebration of all things Seiko Oomori, the ultimate in fan-service. 18 re-recorded songs selected from her entire backlog, stripped down to their essence, either backed with her trademark acoustic guitar or some delightful piano work, it’s a treat for any Seiko Oomori fan. It also features two new full studio songs that are both wonderful in their own way, but let’s face it, we’re all here for the acoustic songs.

It’s addictive, time consuming (at nearly a full CD), indulgent, essential and utterly Oomori. While it didn’t resonate as much as this years main release, “kitixxxgaia”, it certainly is a must hear for anyone interested in hearing some of the top-tier J-pop at the current time. Read my more in-depth review here.

9. CHAI- PINK

CHAI’s debut full length is one of the most charming albums of 2017. Short, wild, groovy and energetic, PINK marks one of the most exciting newcomer albums in quite a while. CHAI have a real sense of control, and never are ones to take themselves too seriously. The musicianship is very strong, the vocals shout-along and full of youth edge. It’s addictive, colorful and most of all, damn fun. Can’t recommend this one enough.

8. Björk- Utopia

Björk returns in 2017 with her longest album of her entire career. It’s also one of her most colorful and layered releases. Some may find it overwhelming or even impenetrable at first- indeed, there are barely any ‘catchy’ moments on this beast. Those who have the patience though, will be rewarded for their time, as more and more of this album reveals itself through repeated listens. A latecomer in 2017, but such a strong release that it managed to shoot it’s way into the Top 10 without any hesitation. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s Björk.

7. Hirone-chan- Yume no Yume

Hirone-chan’s “Yume no Yume” was the biggest surprise for me in 2017. After a string of promising but fairly “Seiko clone” style albums, Hirone-chan finally found her calling with this one. It’s an absolutely gorgeous listen that creaks, pops and rattles along with a complex subtlety that becomes more and more noticeable on repeated listens. Hirone-chan really has matured significantly, and her songwriting has improved tenfold. A must hear for fans and newcomers alike.

Read my full review here.

6. Leah Dou- Kids Only

Leah Dou returns with her sophomore album, and damn what a followup. A sophisticated, engrossing and hypnotic record from end to end, Dou really expands on the sound she is known for and takes her experimental side to a new level. It’s a perfect album to chill out with, and certainly the most interesting Mandarin language album you’re gonna come across this year. An intoxicating blend of looping samples, beats, funk, jazz and smooth vocals- it’s about as perfect a second album a fan could ask for. Most of all, it feels honest and truly from a place that Dou understands and owns. Get on it.

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 10-6

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 15-11


15. Angel Olsen- Phases


Angel Olsen’s “Phases” is not a ‘proper’ album as such, it is a compilation of outtakes, unreleased material and b-sides. However, the choices here are so strong, and the structuring of the album so well thought out, it almost feels like listening to a fully-fledged release. Olsen’s hypnotic voice, subtle songwriting and potent lyricism really shine throughout this release, and it’s a good placeholder while we wait for whatever she intends to release next. A must hear. Plus, the album cover is awesome.

14. ZOMBIE CHANG- GANG!

ZOMBIE-CHANG’s continual expansion and adaption to the electronic scene has been quite an experience to be part of, and her newest album “GANG!” is no exception. This time round, the production is punchier, brighter and the album feels a lot tighter. It’s loaded with catchy tunes and unexpected ear-worms, as well as some amazing vocal improvements on ZOMBIE-CHANG’s side. It’s a short and sweet listen that demands multiple rewarding replays.

13. Fleet Foxes- Crack Up

Crack Up” marks Fleet Foxes’ long overdue return to the music scene- and what a return it is. It’s not as immediately accessible as previous album “Helplessness Blues” but it is far more complex and demanding. Songwriter and mastermind Robin Pecknold brings to Crack Up everything he has- it’s a sweeping, engrossing journey from start to end, often so textured that it will need multiple listens to break down and make sense of it all. Political, personal and damn addictive, Crack Up is both the best Fleet Foxes album this year -and in general.

12. Arcade Fire- Everything Now

I know, I know. This one may come across as a bit of a shock- after being panned critically and having such a negative response from the fan-base- but, still, I really had a great time with this one. Arcade Fire this time are playful, pretentious, corny and overly theatrical- but I feel in context of the album- it all works. The theme here is consumerism, selling out to the extreme. The track-list is presented as ‘our sponsors’ and each title has it’s own logo. The lyrics insert is presented like a catalog. It’s all very, very tongue-in-cheek and I feel some may have missed that aspect of the album. The thing that makes it all work though- is how damn catchy some of these tracks are. Call me a heathen but I LOVED the maligned single “Signs of Life”. It’s a long leap from the Arcade Fire of yore, but in this particular case- it’s fine with me and I’m happy giving it a rightful place in my top 20.

11. Tori Amos- Native Invader

Jesus Christ!  A TORI AMOS album in my top 20 in 2017? Things are really getting weird now! Indeed, Tori seemingly has broken her dry spell that she was under the last, oh, decade or so. Native Invader has some of the most compelling, subtle and beautiful work from the songwriter in a long, long time. While the production is still a little on the flat side, its still not enough to take away from the magical qualities of the tracks presented here. It made me feel like a teenager all over again, a fantastic blast from the past. This is the best Tori Amos album since Scarlet’s Walk in my opinion, and that’s some tall praise right there. Check it out!

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 15-11

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 20-16

So, here we are again. 2017 has been quite a turbulent year, both in music and in general. This year has been a particularly hard year to create a list of top albums for, my original list of notable albums came to over 60 releases, so I’ve had to wean out almost 40 of them to make a concise Top 20. Anyway, you know the drill, let’s get straight into it. Here are numbers 20-16

20. never young beach- A GOOD TIME

never young beach returned this year with their first major label effort. While it never really hit the highs that they had achieved in previous releases, it’s still a warm, comforting listen regardless. What is most impressive here is the control never young beach are showing, considering the young ages of the band members. The guitar work in particular, is stunningly beautiful. The major label production smooths off the rough edges and makes for a perfect, relaxing and lazy summer’s listen.

19. The Shins- Heartworms

The Shins’ last effort, Port of Morrow, was a very interesting blend of slow-burns and more mature writing than early releases. It also had a very distinct glossy sound that probably comes with the fact that it indeed was really a James Mercer solo project (everything on the album is from his mind)- and Heartworms continues that trend. Housing it’s fair share of catchy bops and beautiful –almost to a fault- production, Heartworms in another strong addition to The Shins’ catalog. It certainly got a lot of play throughout the year and is one of the more fond releases from early on.

18. Maron Hamada- Lady Monochrome

Maron Hamada continues her streak of winning, sexy jazz-rock that manages to fill the gigantic gap that Shiina Ringo has left in some people’s lives. Sure, while Maron Hamada will never get the same kind of recognition- the talent is definitely there. Lady Monochrome is her tightest and most ‘rock’ album to date- and has quite a lot of standout tracks. An essential if you’re into this genre and probably worth checking out if you’re into Japanese rock in general.

17. Charlotte Gainsbourg- Rest

Settle in, this album is an all engrossing, demanding and rewarding listen that might get overlooked on many people’s radars. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s latest album is presented mainly in her native tongue of French and is a wonderful blend of psychedelic prog-rock and modern electronic pop.  It has some of the most creative string use I’ve heard in a long time. Fantastic chord progression, instrumentation and song writing combine to create quite a unique album. Listen to the single “Deadly Valentine” and you’ll know if this album is for you. As it stands, it’s probably Gainsbourg’s strongest release to date and fans are eating it up.

16. MINAKEKKE- TINGLES

MINAKEKKE’s debut album was one of the freshest releases this year. A slow, hypnotic mix of shoegaze and beautiful pop-rock matched with MINAKEKKE’s  vocals is enough to create quite a trance-like state for the albums run-time. By the end of the album you will wonder where the time went, and consequently delve right back into to it to experience it all over again. A great newcomer to keep your eye on, TINGLES is definitely a must hear of 2017.

Stay hooked for the next 5 entries, coming early next week!

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 20-16

REVIEW: FEMM- 80s/90s J-POP REVIVAL

It’s hard not to feel a sense of desperation with FEMM’s covers album; its as if they know the time for their gimmick is up, and they pumped it out contractually rather than it being from a well thought out place. Where FEMM were playfully tacky before- this time round it’s just plain old tacky. Most concerning however, for a  group of such intense nature- it’s woefully dull.

Indeed, my experience with “80s/90s J-POP REVIVAL” was mainly that of boredom and waiting for the album to be over rather than any kind of scoffing or smirking at the delightful trashiness that FEMM have become known for.

Perhaps having these songs embedded into my childhood would have helped, as I am sure there is a lot more on offer for those who grew up with these tracks. However, for the songs that I do know, I felt an certain level of awkwardness and discomfort. Wink’s “Samishii Nettaigyo” lacks any warmth and Kenji Osawa’s “Konya Wa Boogie Back” is the most clunky rendition I’ve come across yet. In-fact, the only track that really does anything for me at all is the opening cover of Misato Wantanabe’s “My Revolution”- and that probably stems from it featuring Akina, Anna and Mikako from FAKY, giving it a little bit more character than most of the other tracks. It’s a bit telling when guests are required to make a track standout.

The main element really holding all these tracks back is the production value. The compressed digital sound of FEMM does not mesh very well with the more organic sounds of past eras. While it’s true that this is no doubt intentional to try and make it sound like a “FEMM” release; ultimately it really makes for no more than a distraction. The arrangements themselves are pathetically safe and feature no real deconstruction, departure or re-imaginings- basically, just imagine your favorite old-school J-POP track with the added bastardization of auto-tuning, brick-walling and a sense of disinterest.

The sense of disconnect from the material is strong. FEMM feel like they are just girls doing vocals on oldies rather than adoring the songs they are covering. Most cover albums showcase, or at least give an idea of an artist’s inspirations. Knowing FEMM’s style, the songs chosen couldn’t seem more distant, or uninspired. While these songs are beautiful classics in their original form, FEMM are barely the go-to group that people would want to hear covering them.

That leads into the issue of target audience. How many of FEMM’s fans who have fallen in love with their bad girl image are going to be interested in them covering traditional idol pop? How many old idol pop listeners are going to give a damn about a niche group like FEMM potentially murdering their all-time favorites? The more you ponder these things, the more the release feels truly unnecessary.

I’d like to say that the album is at least tight, but it suffers from being overlong and has a questionable song order to boot. There’s no real momentum to the track list and the album just dithers off rather than closes, with two completely forgettable remixes at its ass end. It only heightens the feel of being slapped together over a short period of time with little thought or fanfare. Perhaps releasing it as a mini album would have helped in the end, who knows.

Ultimately, “80s/90s J-POP REVIVAL” is a clunky collection of half baked tunes that are nowhere near as cool as FEMM would like you to think they are. It serves as a disservice to fans waiting for a followup to their debut, and ironically, is one of the least interesting additions to the 80s and 90s revival albums of the last few years.

3/10 FEMM should just stick to being FEMM and carry on doing what they do best- creating trashy bangers with teeth. The way things stand, I really can’t recommend this to anyone, and that’s a shame. It could have been something unique.

REVIEW: FEMM- 80s/90s J-POP REVIVAL