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.

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REVIEW: FEMM- 80s/90s J-POP REVIVAL

REVIEW: SHIINA RINGO- HI IZURO TOKORO (A.K.A. SUNNY)

sunny

In this world there are two types of horrible albums.

  1. Those so misguided in their intent and execution that they completely miss the mark and are just a terrible listen
  2. A great artist stops giving a damn about their integrity and opts for the cash in approach

Shiina Ringo’s “Hi Izuro Tokoro” (from here on out, “Sunny”)  is the latter, and in my opinion, most unforgivable of these. This wasn’t just a change in direction or a ‘moving on’, it was a complete abandonment of what made Shiina Ringo so great. It’s true that at that stage, she had been flirting with what she eventually ended up embracing; but still, the heart and soul that was “Shiina Ringo” was still there behind every questionable turn she may have taken. “Sunny” is the first time we saw raw abandonment of the artist for sheer sales.

Ringo had set the tone to “OMG HERE SHE COMES!” after her mixed but daring self covers album “Gyakuyunyuu ~Kouwankyoku~, or Reimport”. That album had seen her step out of her comfort zone a little, with less obvious arrangements, new collaborators and producers. It had shown her fans that yes, there was still some fire behind her. I personally, was pumped to see what she was going to do with new material.

Then the track-list dropped. Oh. 6 new songs? “Ariamaru Tomi” as the closer. Ohhhh……. Hmm. Still, I was optimistic, as I was still quite forgiving and not as jaded as some of the fellow fans who had been sick of her since the mess that was Tokyo Jihen‘s “Variety“. Still. I ordered it and listened to it the second I had a chance to. I still don’t think I’ve tried as hard to like something that really isn’t good. So much time denying to myself that Shiina Ringo, queen of J-rock, had released something truly awful.  So what is it exactly that sucks about Sunny, apart from the ‘commercialism’ of the whole thing?

Ringo here, at best, plays to our sentimentality of her older material. There is never a moment where it sounds like something we haven’t heard from her before- one of the more exciting staples of previous solo releases. Nothing really feels like a development of her persona; it truly is treading water in the worst way possible.

And while yes, you can argue that some of the songs on Sunny are decent (they are), there just simply isn’t enough of them to go around- a quarter at best. It’s also very telling when the best cut on the record is one that is five years old and from her last album’s recording sessions. What enjoyment can be found from these tracks is killed by their surroundings anyway- like finding nice food in a dirty food-court.

It opens with the promising “Shizuka Naru Gyakushuu”; which truly does rock underneath all the over-processed orchestration. At first it’s exciting as hell- until you realize it sounds strikingly familiar. Indeed, it’s just a reworked version of one of her early demos. Out of all the new tracks, the best one is over 15 years old. Let that sink in. I’m not saying I have a problem with Ringo reworking older material- she has become notorious for it after-all- but I do have to question it when all the legitimately new material pales in comparison.

The other new tracks range from decent (showtune “Chinchinpuipui” is too good for this album) to what the fuck was she thinking (the fake-ass latin tinged “Sekidou o Koetara”). Lead single “Arikitari na Onna” truly sounds like a Phase 2 Tokyo Jihen leftover and makes you question why she bothered to break up the group in the first place. Many listeners consider “JL005-bin de” to be the prime pick of these new songs, however, it never really did anything for me. It’s bleep-bloops ultimately are inoffensive, stale, just ‘there’. I never remember what it sounds like until I play it.

The previously released songs are a mixed bag too- the best of them being the powerful “Irohanihoheto” or the wonderfully subtle “Carnation”- both of which sound better on their original single releases. There’s the sickly awful “NIPPON” that makes me cringe every time without fail, the bland forgettable Jihen leftover sounding (are you noticing a pattern here) “Jiyuu e Michizure” and the goofy ass “Kodoku no Akatsuki (Nobu Neko-ban)” (making an ‘eh’ song even more ‘eh’). As mentioned above, the best track on the album is the 5 year older power ballad “Ariamaru Tomi” which I can never fault- but it simply shouldn’t be on this, especially as a closer.

Then of course, (there’s no way we can discuss the album without mentioning it) there’s the mastering, which has almost become the fabled low point for all Japanese music to be compared to. It’s practically become a meme. It almost seems like someone intentionally wanted to sabotage Ringo’s album (a bitter Tokyo Jihen fan perhaps?) with how ridiculously bad it sounds. It’s a talking point and a great example of how brick-walling can truly destroy a listening experience. It is no exaggeration to say that you feel literal physical pain or fatigue when listening to Sunny. Every negative element of the album itself is amplified tenfold as it melts your eardrums to mush. Not even the high resolution Mora download can save this sinking ship. There is never, ever a need to sound this crap, even noise albums have more dynamic range.

Things haven’t really taken much of a turn for the better either, every studio track released post Sunny has been a shadow of what Ringo used to put out, and the vapid, soul sucking commercialism behind every move is truly a downer. Arcade Fire were ripped apart for putting out an album that parodied this kind of move, Shiina Ringo is doing it for real.

If anything, the album is a grounding reminder that even the greatest of artists can make massive stumbles. It’s just a shame that this wasn’t really something Ringo learned from or shows any kind of intent to move on from. This is what Shiina Ringo is now.

So yes, Sunny was, and still is, a pretty depressing experience.

Oh a score?

Stick to the first four albums/10.

REVIEW: SHIINA RINGO- HI IZURO TOKORO (A.K.A. SUNNY)

REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- MUTEKI

2017 has been the most turbulent year yet for Seiko Oomori fans . Not only did Oomori release a major album, she also released a plethora of singles, music videos, collaborations, wrote songs for other acts, live material and now this, “MUTEKI”- her second album for the year. It’s quite amazing really, knowing she’s also a parent while all of this is going on.

Recently, Seiko Oomori has been pushing herself on a thematic level; Religion, Sexism, Idol Culture were all staples of March’s “kitixxxgaia”. The massive expanse in sound was exciting and breathtaking, and while many were keen for this exploration, it undoubtedly left some of her earlier fans behind.

MUTEKI then, is probably a breath of relief by those left a bit perplexed by Seiko’s excesses. With this album, Seiko gives a spine chilling collection of her greatest moments, stripped down to their essence, trading in fanfare for naked truth- and it works to a soul shaking tee.

Let’s talk about the odd ones out here first, the new tracks- they are full studio productions- and they are both rather good. You have the opener, “Ryuusei Heaven”, a jazzy ballad with some really hard hitting lyrics and “Mix Juice”, a cute, bouncy coming of age track that while probably a minute too long, is still a lot of fun.

The rest of the album is as mentioned above, stripped down versions of Seiko’s biggest songs from the last few years. It must be noted that it feels like Seiko never aimed to create a definitive version of any of these songs- just a new experience. Which version you end up liking entirely comes down to taste; personally I feel “SHINPIN” reveals itself for the first time here- but others may opt for the style of the Sakurai Kenta original.

Outsiders might look upon this release as being pure fan service- and they wouldn’t be wrong. That’s what Seiko is really going for here- it’s a love letter to her followers. The songs are all chosen by her fans and are mainly comprised of more obvious choices (“Midnight Seijun Isei Kouyuu”, “TOKYO BLACK HOLE”, “Magic Mirror” etc.). While this was at first a bit of a let-down- how many times do we really need “Kimi to Eiga” acoustic, honestly? – ultimately, I found myself falling in love with these tracks once again.

Unlike other ‘acoustic’ releases by Seiko- these are produced in a much more professional setting with sugarbeans at the helm (producer and piano). What are brought forth are tracks that are wonderfully realized, enveloped in a gorgeous studio hiss that feels like a warm hug. Sugarbeans adds his incredible piano work to some of these tracks and Seiko’s vocals have a sense of control unheard before on other bare-bones recordings.

Sure, because of its nature, the album never really feels like a ‘proper’ album as such, the ‘collection’ feel is very much present throughout its (admittedly over-long) runtime. However, despite that large quantity of material here- the vast majority of it is quality enough for repeat returns. Like many other people have noted- every time you start to fade out, Seiko hits you with a track that you adore and grabs your attention once again.  Every song represented on here is strong or notable to begin with- and presented in Seiko’s trademark stripped down style makes it all the more appetizing.

MUTEKI is capped off with the addition of a DVD of the kitixxxgaia tour finale, a roaring, amazing set that showcases Seiko Oomori at her absolute live best. It’s almost 2 hours of power, wildly energetic performances, a varied and unique setlist and likely this reviewer’s favourite Seiko Oomori concert so far.

Overall, MUTEKI is one of the best packages you’re going to pick up in J-pop this year, and would work both as a collection of alternative versions of songs for hard-core fans, and as a good introduction to newcomers to some of Seiko’s biggest hits. It’s perfectly imperfect, and fitting of Seiko’s persona. It feels like more than just a mere best of, and the amount of love and care put into it really shines through. It no doubt will float very well among those who experience it, and I dare say it will be many people’s favorite Seiko Oomori release this year.

At the very least, you get a bang for your buck, and the amount of quality material on this is worthy of purchase alone.

8/10– Another great Seiko Oomori release. Can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next!

REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- MUTEKI

Review: Shiina Ringo- Oishii Kisetsu

disgusting

As if to put out a true endurance test of our patience, Shiina Ringo‘s latest single is a new arrangement of a song that many in the casual public either missed or have just plain forgotten. That is, the first main single Ringo penned for Chiaki Kuriyama‘s now dead music career, “Oishii Kisetsu

This isn’t the first time Oishii Kisetsu has perplexed me as a long-term Shiina Ringo fan. When it first came out with Chiaki Kuriyama on the helm, I wondered why Shiina Ringo had given out her best song in years (with it sparking up those classic Muzai Moratorium vibes). This time, it is more the wonder of “How is the Chiaki Kuriyama version BETTER?”

For what we have here in this new arrangement, is a hodgepodge of everything that Shiina Ringo does wrong currently. It’s vapid, sounds like garbage, annoying and most of all- completely unnecessary. Marketed as a ‘new’ single to tie in with meiji’s newest chocolate line, its a release that no-one wanted and after hearing it- still probably won’t want.

Shiina Ringo CAN sing right? I mean, her vocals are one of her greatest features. She has been known, at times, to make jaws absolutely drop with her range. Then WHY the fuck is there such a heavy amount of autotune and badly done multi-layering on this track? Stylistic choice? Very tacky if so. I’d dare say that the reasoning is somewhere else, perhaps from disinterest. A take or two and then fix it up? That seems more likely. I mean, it’s a 6 year old song now being used on a chocolate commercial after-all.

It should come as no surprise that the mastering is absolutely ear bleeding at this point, but the amount of distorted sibilance on Ringo’s voice is rather noteworthy. The snares on the drums are so bad they sound like the compression artifacts you get when listening to a particularly low bitrate mp3. The guitar work- particularly on the ‘solo’ is the dregs. Possibly the worst guitar work on a Shiina Ringo recording, period. Then there’s the Saito Neko orchestral fills, which are totally hand off and lazy, I am personally shocked by the lack of care here, even for a late era Shiina Ringo recording. Oishii Kisetsu has gone from being one of Ringo’s better hidden gems to something dreadful that would be better off not existing whatsoever.

The worst Ringo release ever.

2/10

Review: Shiina Ringo- Oishii Kisetsu

Review: Seiko Oomori- draw(A)drow

draw

Rollercoaster rides are fun, exciting, terrifying and amazing. They’re also very short. Such can be said about the general lifespan of the main track on the latest single, draw(A)drow by Seiko Oomori. The TK from Ling Tosite Sigure produced track sounds exactly as it sounds; Seiko Oomori doing vocals on a Ling Tosite Sigure track. While this isn’t a bad thing -Seiko is absolutely breathtaking with her vocal delivery- there just isn’t much to it. The production makes it sound like it’s been recorded in a bathroom, with a ridiculous amount of reverb and it never really sounds as hard hitting as it should. The songwriting itself too, is meager in comparison to what Seiko Oomori usually outputs, and feels like it should be the b-side, not the lead single. Still, fun, just won’t have much of a shelf life.

draw(A)drow‘s lesser songwriting only helps to highlight how strong Seiko’s is, when the b-side Watashimi is played. Where draw(A)drow really seemed all style no substance, Watashimi is pretty much the opposite to this. It lets Seiko lament on what she has built her entire persona on, and is a wonderful nod back to her freak-folk roots while still keeping her eye on her major label outings. It’s a beautiful, sad track that is presented almost fully acoustically, with little added touches like telephones ringing and sparkly electronic overlays. Rarely do we get to see an artist manage to reach this level of truly balancing their original sound whilst never playing it too safe and expanding.

Frankly, a cover of Keyakizaka46‘s “Silent Majority” didn’t really scream “I MUST HEAR THIS” to me at first. The original, to me, is a lifeless, bland ditty that sparked absolutely no interest. Other times when Seiko has covered idol tracks, she has chosen ones that are quite strong and memorable. This time she chose one that had no pizzazz. However, she managed to turn something inoffensive and beige into something much more rewarding. Chills ran down my spine hearing the simple beat as Seiko’s vocals crooned in. Her unconventional vocals warble and ebb throughout, adding a texture the original simply did not have. Top it off with the subtlety of hand-clicks and you get the icing on the cake. It’s a massive transformation and it’s accompanying video of her playing some kind of “idol deity” says so much about her current standing in the Jpop world.

Overall, draw(A)drow is not Seiko’s strongest single, but it’s b-sides are well worth the price of admission. Notably however, even though this isn’t her strongest single, it does feel like her most notable since 2016’s “Aishiteru.com” This is probably due to the fact, that as of time of this review, it is a standalone release and not part of a series like her last three singles. It’s a strong outing, but not an essential pickup. Still, for fans, it’s got enough going for it to hold them over until her upcoming album, MUTEKI drops.

7/10– Come for draw(A)drow, stay for Watashimi.

Review: Seiko Oomori- draw(A)drow

Hirone-Chan proves that third time really is lucky with “Yume no Yume”

It always sounds presumptuous and conniving when someone tells you that an album will ‘need multiple spins to truly appreciate’, but Hirone-chan‘s subtle, gorgeous and mysterious third LP “Yume no Yume” fits that bill perfectly. It’s not so much in that it’s ‘strange’ or ‘weird’; it’s that it shows so much growth and maturity over her previous works that it’s almost like listening to a different artist.

However, the way she shows this growth isn’t through a massive change in sound, it, instead shows it through the most subtle ways that really do need multiple listens to fully reveal themselves. It’s labyrinthine in it’s complexity, yet constantly approachable and pop in the broadest sense. It’s a career-developing step forward for the artist, and it’s striking lack of fanfare doing so will make it one of the most revisited albums of 2017.

Hirone-Chan’s albums have always been a bit on the fluttery side; enjoyable but never really strong enough to leave a lasting impression. With this third album however, all the doubt has been put aside and she has touched a level of quality untouched before. This is a much more refined work, with a lot of detail and care put into its fleeting length. Hirone-chan seems determined to etch her own path, alongside rather than with the generation of ‘alt-girls’ she is generally lumped with.

One of the most notable things Hirone-chan has accomplished here is how encapsulated her little world of “Yume no Yume” is; it feels like any slight change would bring it all crashing down on itself. A great amount of thought has been put into the delicate structure of the album and there isn’t a single track that seems out of place or unneeded. It creaks and floats along like a beautiful old ship, that is truly adored by it’s captain.

Hirone-chan has also lifted her vocal game tenfold for this album. Where she usually gave a decent, workable performance, she now is highly emotive and pushes the songs to a much higher, harder hitting level. She’s still cute as ever but now seems to have found her calling; and it’s exiting as hell to experience.

Musically, it’s a very pretty experience. Hirone-chan has somewhat dropped the electronic part of her music (there are still a few samples and loops in play) for a more natural, jazzy experience. It has expanded her signature sound quite dramatically, with interesting chord changes and time signatures not unlike more experimental music strewn throughout; but most importantly, still somehow manages to stay in that cute pop sphere the entire time. Not to let her backing band go to waste, there are two absolutely gorgeous instrumental pieces here that sit perfectly behind the two singles of the album- which also happen to be the most breathtaking, theatrical songs on the album.

Whether it be the two singles “Omoidasenai Yume Mitai ni” or “Yokusou Plankton“; with their sweeping, gorgeous choruses or more jazzy, sweet moments like “Wonder Tender” or “Slow Parade”, every song has something lovely to offer to the listener. The latter half of the album offers more delicate, minimal tracks that showcase Hirone-chan’s ability to capture the listener’s attention without the need of a backing band or glitzy production.

In the end, Hirone-chan has ultimately offered up a truly wonderful piece of Jpop pie; one that you will no doubt be begging for a second slice as soon as you’re finished with the first slice. Essential listening and will likely end up in this reviewers top 10 of 2017 this year. Get on it.

9/10 Hirone-chan’s Yume no Yume is the first album that Hirone-chan truly feels like her own artist, and she shines because of it.  Just make sure you listen to it a few times to let it really sink in.

Hirone-Chan proves that third time really is lucky with “Yume no Yume”