Review and discussion: Shiina Ringo & Tortoise Mastumoto- Menukidori

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Menukidori (or The Main Street), the theme song for new high end luxury mall GINZA SIX, is the latest single from Shiina Ringo. This time she’s teamed up with Tortoise Matsumoto, the end result being one of her trademark showtunes, apparently riding the ass of the La La Land craze now hitting Japan. That’s about all there is to say about the tune- it’s a jingle. As far as Ringo showtunes go, it’s totally run-of-the-mill. We’ve been hearing the same thing for a decade now and this one is likely the messiest- due to it being a hodgepodge effort of extending a one and half minute jingle to a three-minute single. There’s no heart to be found here- it’s all for the money. Vocal performances are fine but limp, there’s hardly any real harmony between Ringo and Matsumoto, they just plod along for the tracks duration. Casual listeners are bound to be wooed by it’s ‘classy’ charm, older fans depending on their tolerance for Ringo ponce, will at most, find it pleasant but unexciting, Saito Neko giving another shoehorned-in backing track that we’ve heard a thousand times before.

4/10.

But I have more to say about Ringo in general. I’m sure most people who follow me will no doubt know of my current… disillusion with Shiina Ringo and her choice of career direction. I would like to take this opportunity to best as possible explain the exact issue, and why I feel it should be addressed.

I’ve been a Shiina Ringo fan for a long, long time. I’ve seen it all. The fall at Expo 14, that terrible NIPPON peformance, the fart sounding BB Queen, the goofy Tokyo Jihen moments, Ukigumo’s sloppy guitar work, the delayed single cause of a certain drunken drummer, the Variety controversies, the showtunes, the change in sound, the terrible mastering, everything. I’ve defended her through most of this. But the current thing, her new ‘direction’, is the thing that I, and others are finding very hard to ignore or look over is impossible to defend. I talk of course, of this (now ridiculous) period of doing solely tie in tracks.

One thing people who show disdain for the constant tie ins are accused of are hating them because they are tie ins, that we’re just being ‘snobs’ or ‘just don’t understand how the industry works’. Sure, not everyone is an industry expert, but we do understand the need to make some money. ON THE SIDE. Let’s have a look back to how it used to be. Not too far, just a couple of years.

In the days of Tokyo Jihen (particularly latter era phase 2), there were many tie ins too, but the key difference was that Jihen’s song inspired the CM, rather than the song being ordered for the CM. The songs of Jihen still felt like they were coming from a genuine place, even if the songs themselves weren’t always their strongest efforts. Most importantly, Jihen released much more material alongside these releases too, it never felt exhausting or a major focus of their career.

Today, Shiina Ringo fans patiently wait 7 months between studio singles- only to be treated to- you guessed it, another tie in.

Our cross to bear for being less-than-positive long-term Shiina Ringo fans is this underlying idea that we were unable to adapt to change- where the fact of the matter is that Ringo’s music has not changed whatsoever in a decade. It’s just become more dispassionate, detached from any kind of warmth. There’s a sense that she’s now this ‘classy’ product; when really all she’s doing is making sketchy pop songs half baked with lazy, entry level jazz. Nothing she has released in the last three years has been for the sake of being a musician, everything has to be a tie in of some kind. The desire to stay relevant is important and understandable, but at the cost of becoming a joke to the people that got her to where she is in the first place? It’s such a shame.

For someone trying her hardest to appear so dignified, she’s doing it with absolutely no dignity. Sure she might not be flashing her tits from the rafters, but this is Shiina Ringo we’re talking about. If you can sit by and watch her become a soulless product, that’s fine. But never did I once imagine that someone so amazing would one day end up selling us a fucking shopping mall.

To end on a lighter note- there is still one hope though- her live shows, which, sans Expo ’14, seem to be holding strong. Fingers crossed she doesn’t let that go next.

Review and discussion: Shiina Ringo & Tortoise Mastumoto- Menukidori

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

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

MID YEAR REVIEW: TOP 10 of 2016 (SO FAR)

Gonna put this as the picture to start things with, cause well, it seem appropriate:

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2016 has proven to be one of the most intense, amazing years for music in quite a while, and there’s already been a tonne of amazing albums. I have had a long thought about what albums have really impressed and chosen what I believe are the top 10 of 2016 as of the end of June. Without further adieu, here’s my list (of course, subject to change by December):

10. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool

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Ok, this one is likely the least surprising of the list- the one that’s likely to show up on every end of the year list imaginable. But it’s not like it isn’t for a just cause- Radiohead have reached a level where they can do something so meticulously and perfect that it comes as second nature. A Moon Shaped Pool is no exception- and likely is the most compelling and focused listen to come from the group since their peak days of Kid A and Amnesiac. The album is almost painstakingly slow and the attention to detail here is just inspired. Another huge release in the groups outstanding catalog, and one that will certainly stand the test of time.

9. Soutaiseiriron- Tensei Jingle

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Tensei Jingle has proven to be one of the most interesting releases of the year so far, with its focused, chilled out approach and delicate, but delicious production values. No song feels out of place or unnecessary, the pop tunes here all prove to be deeper and more intense on repeat listens. Neat hooks, nice atmosphere and fantastic album structure all lead to one fantastic and worthwhile payoff. Can’t wait to see lives for this one.

8. Hanae- Show Girl

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Hanae‘s SHOW GIRL has proven it’s spot in this year’s top releases so far. It’s instantly fun, satisfying and even a little insane. It also has a surprisingly long shelf life for the style of music it is. I think that may come from it’s sense of a deeper, underlying sadness to it all. Whether or not this was Hanae‘s intentions- it’s hard not to start noticing this on repeated listens- the SHOW GIRL ever in the spotlight but the real girl always there underneath it all. It’s a fascinating listen and Hanae‘s most developed and deep record yet.

7. never young beach- Fam Fam

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never young beach‘s sophomore album has really turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and addictive releases in Japanese pop this year. The surf rock inspired group bring together a fantastic set of songs that is instantly appreciable, yet a cut above the rest both in the talent and longevity departments. While it may not reach the heights of their first main release, it’s still one of the best pick up and play album’s you’re gonna come across. Sweet, nostalgic and tight, this is one that you definitely won’t want to miss.

6. PJ Harvey- The Hope Demolition Six Project

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The Hope Demolition Six Project is arguably one of the more dividing releases that PJ Harvey has brought forth in recent years- but it’s also one of the most compelling. Sure the lyrics here may not always hit their mark- but the instrumental sections (and the part that I focus on the most anyway) is absolutely outstanding. To me, it plays more like one of the often looked over PJ Harvey/John Parish collabs than a solo album- and that is kinda exciting because on those collabs, PJ really took her experimental side to the front. This album is the same. It’s a bit more pop grounded than Dance Hall at Louse Point, but that hard edge is there, and there are plenty of moments where she takes the songs in directions unexpected. It got my heart beating and ultimately- it’s great to hear PJ pick up a guitar again after what seems like almost decade.

5. David Bowie- Black Star

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I was one of those that heard Black Star before Bowie‘s death and at the time I was absolutely blown away by the leap in quality since his previous effort. Here was a fantastic, art pop record that really demanded your attention. It was creepy and mysterious- which of course all now makes sense given it was his goodbye record. It may be a little harder to listen to now due to the emotions attached- but every-time I do have time to sit down and listen- I goddamn listen. While it’s one of the lesser spun records on this list- it would be sinful not to mention it, because, yes, despite everything surrounding it- it’s a damn good album in it’s own right.

4. Bokutachi no iru Tokoro- Gomi

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I’ve ranted and raved about this album, and it’s still absolutely breathtaking. It’s still probably the best pure dirty rock album I’ve come across this year so far- and it’s still home to some of the most outright catchy tunes you’re gonna find anywhere. Production is outstanding, it’s addictive as hell. Bokutachi play with a fire so intense it’s hard not to get caught up in it. I cannot stress the worth of this album enough- it’s nice to feel EXCITED when listening to a rock album such as this. Every element here is on point, the band are tight but natural, the vocals are amazing and warm. You should have this already.

3. ZOMBIE CHANG- ZOMBIE CHANGE

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I feel pretty happy that I have supported ZOMBIE-CHANG since the start. Yes, she had her bumps and her doubters at the start, but she has really taken a miraculous turn around and through her change into this tripped out, 80s/90s inspired electronic sound she has worked absolute wonders for herself. ZOMBIE CHANGE is a great title for such a work- and indeed, this bears no resemblance to her debut. It’s cool as ice, her vocals drone through wonderful soundscapes and she always comes off as genuinely invested. You really come off with the feeling that she just loves making music- and it really shows here. It’s infectious, addictive and it will no doubt inspire repeated re-visitation for anyone that comes under it’s charms. Good stuff.

2. Mitski- Puberty 2

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The newest entry to the list- Mitski‘s Puberty 2 barrages it’s way through the list that was pretty much set for me. A wonderful surprise- and an emotional one. Mitski‘s songwriting is absolutely top tier- and I imagine this album, like all the best, will affect many people in many different ways. Her lyrics are absolutely potent- it’s hard not to be reminded of the first time I heard (early) Liz Phair or a less cryptic Tori Amos. A lot of the songs here really bring up memories, both happy and sad, and it’s easy to feel the pain she puts forward with every song. Guitar work is never forced and has some real momentum. It’s a great, great listen and it seems like a lot of people are taking to it already- both from critics and listeners alike. It’s the only album on this list that I think may eventually top my number one. Which of course is:

1. Seiko Oomori – TOKYO BLACK HOLE

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Well, were you surprised? Seiko Oomori’s second AVEX album is still proving to be the longest lasting and most rewarding album this year so far. Constantly in the mix, still hasn’t left the playlist, it’s always a joy to listen to and shows no signs of getting stale or slowing down. It indeed, could possibly turn out to be her best work yet when all is considered. Seiko’s genius does not solely lie in her ability to genre hop at random- it lies in the ability to make it sound like she is truly the real deal with whatever genre she touches. A true midas touch case.

So there we have it. My top 10 of 2016 at the mid year point. If the second half of 2016 is as strong as the start, it’s going to be one hell of a competition by the end of the year. Can’t wait to see what’s coming next!

MID YEAR REVIEW: TOP 10 of 2016 (SO FAR)

QUICK THOUGHTS: UTADA HIKARU’S RETURN

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UTADA HIKARU, the J-pop artist that got more than just a few of us into the genre to start with is returning to the scene after a near 6 year hiatus (sans the one single “Sakura Nagashi” made for the Evangelion 3.0 film). This alone is quite a big deal for almost everyone who listens to the genre- and she’s created two new songs for us all to listen to.

Usually when describing Utada Hikaru’s sound, the words that come to mind are warm, organic, comforting, beautiful. These new songs aren’t that- to me they’re cold, digital… manufactured. I don’t feel that instant draw that earlier releases had- whether it’s to do with the way the tracks have been mastered (inappropriately loud, rather tinny and compressed) or that they’re just not strong songs to begin with- is something I can’t fully decide on. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

One song is a little fun tune with some nice instrumentation (Hanataba wo Kimi ni) and the other (Manatsu no Tooriame) is a pretty standard ballad that doesn’t quite hit the emotional heights that it’s seemingly going for, at least, not with this listener. Both feel a little underdeveloped in the writing stage, and overproduced in the production stage. This all adds to an odd and strangely alienating final result.

And while I certainly do not hate these two tracks (both are pretty equal to me- generic with some good vocals on Hikki’s part), I have to agree with the people wondering “is that it?” when it comes to these songs. Utada Hikaru returning should have been fireworks, this is a sparkler at best.

Time Will Tell whether Hikki’s return is the event that it should be- but for now I’m left in limbo with the rest of us. Still, it’s going to be nice to see her performing these songs on whatever shows she gets cast on- even if they are somewhat duds.

QUICK THOUGHTS: UTADA HIKARU’S RETURN

Quick thoughts: You can now follow me on Twitter!

So yes, I did what I said I wouldn’t and created an account on that thing that I hate… Twitter.

I’m not sure how frequent I’ll post. But I have linked this WordPress to it, so if you want, feel free to follow the Twitter feed too. Other than that, I’ll likely mainly whinge about stupid crap that no-one cares about- just like everyone else.

Anyway, twitter is:

https://twitter.com/deadgrandmablog

Follow, or don’t. It’s all up to you!

Quick thoughts: You can now follow me on Twitter!

The ultimate disappointment that is… ASH VS EVIL DEAD

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When they released the trailer for the STARZ series earlier this year, I was in that crowd that was jumping out of their seats (or should I say skin?) in anticipation. Star Wars???? FUCK THAT. EVIL DEAD with Bruce Campbell is coming back! Oh how I got pumped up. Not only were we getting more Evil Dead, but we were getting a full series of it!

While the remake quenched my thirst for some neat gore effects, it was missing the one element that made the Evil Dead so special- and that was personality. Most of which came from Campbell’s character Ash.

So gleefully, I like everyone else who cared, tuned in on Halloween to see the debut episode, and really, REALLY enjoyed what it delivered. Sure, it needed some tightening of the screws and some of the CGI was… questionable, but the debut episode teased something great. All the characters introduced were fun to watch and seemed like they were going to play a much more major role in the upcoming episodes. Editing for the most part was snappy and done for a comedic effect. Music choices were brilliant. Gore was by the bucketful. All was set. This was going to be special.

However… as the series continued, I started to notice the cracks in the veneer. There’s only so long you can keep a single joke going, and by the midway season I really started to see the flaws. Things meandered and seemed to go nowhere. The backgrounds of the characters are uninspiring to say the least. Would I care if any of them die? Not really. Some episodes seem to be mere filler- and seeing as they are only 30 mins each- there shouldn’t be room for filler. The pace falls off and some episodes in the middle section are well- sad to say- absolutely boring.

Now that we’re almost at the end of the season- I feel barely any desire to keep on going. It’s exhausting to keep up and unfortunately, I can’t say I want to recommend it to anyone. I don’t even know if I’ll bother to tune in to see it’s climax. I just don’t give a fuck.

It gives me no pleasure in saying that this one’s a dud. Sure it’s not as bad as the other horror-franchise-turned-into-a-TV-show that is Netflix’s absolutely atrocious “Scream” (that is so far up in it’s own ass trying to be ‘clever’ that it loses all charm and wit of the movies), but I didn’t really have any expectations for that one either. If Ash vs. Evil Dead does eventually rise up from it’s creative slump- I wonder how many of us will still be around to care.

I’ll stick to the remake for my modern Evil Dead fix.

The ultimate disappointment that is… ASH VS EVIL DEAD