Review: BPM15Q- BPM15Q ALL SONGS

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For the last couple of years, Rinahamu and Nicamoq have teased their duo project, BPM15Q through a series of amazing singles, live videos and show only releases. This informality with their promotion has made them arguably one of the most interesting ‘idol’ -and I stress that I’m only using the term functionally here, I do not want to make those who have an allergic reaction to the ‘genre’ get turned off of something so wonderful- groups around. A certain level of mystique and ‘when are we going to get something more meaty?‘ always surrounded the electro/future bass inspired group and everything has been charmingly low-key regarding them. Now finally, we get that album, and meaty is an understatement. For those who do bother to listen to it will find theirselves with 35 minutes of absolute joy.

Without doing a track-by-track Batman!, let’s look at some of the major highlights. Opener (the aptly titled “BPM15Q“) sets the tone immediately. We get introduced to a bright, cute (but sincere) melody, which builds up to be backed with some incredibly hard beats. The breakdown hits like a motherfucker, and will likely have you dancing where you sit or stand- perhaps without you even realizing it. The vocals are cute as hell, and truly fit the style perfectly. It doesn’t feel like future bass with idol vocals- it feels like everything was built with the vocals in mind- and it just works. Perfectly.

HANNARI is one of the slower pieces, but where as slower pieces in most other idol releases generally equal to the ‘song that you skip’, this is essential. From its gentle, bubbly opening to its slow, blasting beats, the song is a marcher that is reminiscent of the great Jpop of the early noughties, all the while sounding fresh and modern. It’s surprising how much BPM15Q manage to get into a short three minute track without it sounding overcrowded or fatiguing. This track is a prime example of this.

GOOD LUCK is a wonderful tune, that just makes the listener feel GOOD. Its cute, but not sickeningly so, and the melody is guaranteed to get stuck in the listeners head. Its structured like a simple pop song, but it takes unexpected twists and turns throughout- and is always compelling. That’s another great attribute BPM15Q have- you can listen to it as just pop, and enjoy it as so; or you can sit down and really LISTEN to it. You will always pick up little nuances that you might not have heard on previous listens, like little vocal flourishes or background sound effects. Its rewarding both on an immediate and long-term level, and this will keep listeners coming back over and over again.

And then there’s Hakuchuumu, which is hands down, no doubt about it, THE song of 2016. Infectious, amazing, bright, powerful and outright destroys all idol tracks around it. The breakdown in the middle is absolutely face melting, its hard to not find yourself fist pumping to the pure bravado. If you’re gonna get crushed by kawaii this year, this is the song to choose. This is what jpop is all about folks.

The breakdowns in this album are to be commended, they are crushing and will get folk moving. Production is gorgeous, playful and bright. Listeners to PC music will notice certain elements from that scene sprinkled throughout- and it is a definitely a welcome addition. Vocals are set at a perfect level- never too loud and never intrusive- just float along with the tune brilliantly. It would be hard to find a song you would want to skip here- they are all certified ‘bangers’.

So get this damn album. Play it damn loud. Hide it from your partner (my wife has stolen it from me). It’s infectious, catchy, amazing, sweet, glorious Jpop that is a true breath of fresh air in the sea of idol. Its appeal will reach further than just the idol scene- I recommend it to anyone and everyone with even a slight interest in pop music- for this is a prime example of doing things right.

BPM15Q recently announced that they would become a 4 piece unit, called CY8ER. Let’s hope that they keep this quality up in the transformation- because it so, there is a LOT to be excited about.

9.5/10. What more can I say? It’s essential listening.

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Review: BPM15Q- BPM15Q ALL SONGS

REVIEW: METAFIVE- METAHALF

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METAFIVE‘S debut album “META” was a truly rewarding and long lasting gem. Every time you listen to the super-band’s (consisting of founder Takashi Yukihiro, Oyamada Keigo (Cornelius), Towa Tei, Sunahara Yoshininori, Gondo Tomohiko and vocalist Leo Imai) LP, you pick something new up- and the wonderful, working chemistry between all members is quite frankly- a wonder to behold.

After touring META for a while, METAFIVE return with their new mini album- aptly titled “METAHALF“- and once again it delivers the goods aplenty. In fact, due to it’s tighter format, it might even be slightly BETTER than META- and that’s saying a hell of a lot.

What we have here is a wonderful collection of 5 tracks, clocking in at just over 21 minutes. Though short, it still manages to create a sense of flow and feels like a whole product, rather than a maxi-single, which is quite an impressive feat in it’s own right.

Highlights include the opener single “Musical Chairs“, which is as mesmerizing as it’s accompanying music video; with its swirling, hypnotizing beat and smooth vocals. It really sets the tone for whats to come- its at once familiar and warm, but also ridiculously cool and exciting. Old school sensibilities have never sounded so “fresh“. “Egochin” is the slow burner of the album- but it’s probably also the highlight of the lot. It’s smooth as butter on the ears, and has a perfect arrangement. The closer, the delightful and slightly cheesy “Submarine” ends on an upbeat note, with its overly bright synth hits and catchy chorus.

Sure the English lyrics may come across a little goofy at times- BUT, it also adds to the charm of the group. Leo Imai -who seemed like a strange choice to this listener at first- works amazingly with the group and always sounds natural. It’s a great way of bringing the older sensibilities of Takashi Yukihiro together with those of the newer generation (most notably Cornelius and Towa Tei, who’s input into these track is instantaneous just as recognizable)- a voice that is truly good enough to embrace and adapt to the stylistic changes throughout the band’s catalog. To put it simply, it all just works.

There are absolutely no nitpicks when it comes to production here- it is perfect, immaculate. Years of experience from all its members really show here- It really does sound like a more modern YMO. It’s a great example of a super-group delivering on it’s potential- fans of ANY of the artists involved are sure to get a real kick from it- and those who were impressed by META may find themselves enjoying this one even more due to it’s tighter approach and no room for any kind of filler. Highly recommended.

9/10– METAFIVE’s latest EP is a must have.

REVIEW: METAFIVE- METAHALF

REVIEW: NECRONOMIDOL- FROM CHAOS BORN

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NECRONOMIDOL‘s last output- and their first full length release, NEMESIS was only just four months ago. Yet, it feels much longer than that- primarily because Nemesis left such a foul taste in it’s listeners mouths with its hastily, slapped together feel and questionable mastering choices that pretty much everyone except the die-hard almost immediately forgot (or denied) it’s existence. However, upon hearing previews for this latest offering, the EP entitled “from chaos born“- things took a turn for the better- this was sounding GOOD. DAMN GOOD. So, now that it’s finally been unleashed, lets take a look at what is on the table and see if we can move on and get excited about NECRONOMIDOL once again…

First up, like everyone else- the EP is definitely a HUGE step up for the group. It’s catchy, atmospheric and downright enjoyable as hell. It may only be an EP, but it feels more whole than their full length, and is certainly- at least on early listens- a very rewarding and confidence rebuilding affair. Fans who were reeling will likely come out feeling much better about following the group, and once again- will likely rate them as one of the more interesting of the ‘alt-idol’ acts. But, let’s talk about what’s on offer here.

The album opens with the trademark NECRONOMIDOL sounding “Psychopomp” complete with it’s chants over a huge, layered black metal style melody- and for the first time ever- it’s produced so well that it really, really hits the spot. The vocals are eerie and the guitar work is beautiful and sets the tone immediately. Disheartened fans will likely give a huge sigh of relief and think ‘welcome back NECRONOMIDOL‘ with this one. The EP continues in a similar fashion, and the hard hitting “Shimin Kaihougun” comes in guns blazing and arms flailing. This one will be a crowd pumper for sure. It’s delicious synths mixed with classic power metal riffs is truly delightful, and also one of the best examples of idol style vocals working in such a context that I can think of- yes, perhaps even more-so than BABYMETAL have reached. Keep an ear out for that funky bass line in the middle of the song- it’s both profane and essential- it really gives a sense of the aim that the group are going for. Other highlights include the punk/goth sounding “Nyx” (with it’s fantastic vocal harmonies- that yes, really do sound good) and the power metal ballad “Midnight Dominator” that just delights with it’s overt campiness and ridiculous guitar solos. Well played Necronomidol, well played indeed!

The EP does have it’s less than stellar songs though, and these come in the form of the poppy “Taman Shud“, that while going for a synthy oldschool sound- still doesn’t really break from the ‘generic idol song‘ mould- and it’s kinda unfortunate given the truly interesting ideas going on here. Finally, the closer “Idol’s Elegy” is just a mess (albeit a playful one) with it’s strange mastering choices (the actual VOLUME of the track goes up and down seemingly randomly…) which give flashbacks to the horrid mess that was the mastering on NEMESIS. Not the strongest closing choice, and unfortunately left this listener a little flat after the quality of the rest of the EP.

Still, these tracks aside, the EP is one of the best NECRONOMIDOL releases to date, and will certainly please their fans- and perhaps win over some new ones while it’s at it. At the very least- one must take time to admire it’s cover art– done by the infamous Toshio Maeda (most well known for his works on Urotsukidoji and La Blue Girl). It looks fucking fantastic and really suits the music inside. One can only hope for an LP (and thus, LP sized) pressing in the future! Overall a nice little package that is certainly worth a gander, for both old fans and new listeners!

7/10– A massive relief for NECRONOMIDOL fans left reeling in the dark with their last album. A great introductory listen for anyone new to the unit!

REVIEW: NECRONOMIDOL- FROM CHAOS BORN

BOKUTACHI NO IRU TOKORO.- GOMI

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You know them albums that you buy that are just amazing from start to end? The ones that you keep spinning and spinning until you know it like the back of the hand? Well, meet your newest addition to that collection, Bokutachi no Iru Tokoro.‘s “Gomi“. Yes. It’s that good. So good I need to swear. FUCKING GOOD.

First up though, “WHO THE HELL ARE BOKUTACHI NO IRU TOKORO.?” you may ask, if you haven’t been following my rants about them. Well, they’re a neat upcoming band that happen to make some of the best down and dirty rock in years. They have a truly amazing and VERSATILE vocalist named Jinsei Dame Ko who invokes elements of Mariko Goto and Jun Togawa, blended with her own signature growl. They also happened to have put out my personal favorite album of last year, “Kono Yo ni Umarete Kita Koto ga Somosomo Machigai Datta kara“.

What’s that? You want catchy? Accessible but not too accessible? Well it’s here, pal. All over this little beast of a record. It’s evident right from it’s energetic opener “Moeru Gomi” right to it’s Togawa in Yapoos’ era invoking “Yada Na“… and then of course there’s the amazing, triumphant masterpiece that is “Ai Towa“. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed with feelings both nostalgic and personal, with it’s amazing hook that seems like it was shot down from the Rock Gods themselves.

This isn’t a case of yours truly claiming “this band are so cutting edge! They’re so original”- no, not by a long shot. Infact, they’re the very opposite. Everything here has been done before. Many, many times. However– they are doing it with such amazing gusto that it’s hard not to be blown away. Think of every dirty rock band you’ve heard- every moment that made your jaw just drop- condensed- into a mere 30 minutes. That’s Gomi. And it will light that fire that’s been missing in your Japanese rock music catalog.

The production values here are insane considering how ‘indie’ the band are- it just feels great to blast loud without any distracting elements. It’s all ‘there’, punchy as fuck without losing any power through bad mixing choices. Major label rock bands should heed advice from this album- THIS IS HOW YOU PRODUCE A ROCK ALBUM. It makes me unbelievably happy to listen to. It has the power to just stop you eating on that greasy snack, close whatever porn you’re looking at and fucking listen to it.

If I was going to pick an element that *just* stops it from hitting the 10/10 league, it’s the slight jerk that the last two tracks give, they just seem slightly out of order. They’re great individually (an acoustic version of the aforementioned “Ai Towa” followed by the absolutely wild “Mushakusha Shite feat. Ishii Motako/Nakabayashi Kirara (from Oshiri Penpens)“), but don’t really end the album all that well- giving it the impression of it just ‘ending’ without any kind of real closure. But seriously, when the whole album is so damn good, you’ll be pressing play to listen once again once it’s finished anyway. So more of a nitpick than anything.

Overall though, Bokutachi‘s “Gomi” is almost unbelievably good, and while I may be the only one who shares this view- I feel that it’s safe to say that no Japanese rock album this year will remotely come close to the consistency of greatness that this little band have put onto disc here. It’s ridiculous.

9.5/10. A (near) perfect record that every Japanese rock fan should have ordered by now. Bokutachi no iru tokoro. remind us that sometimes all it takes is mastering simple things to make something extraordinary.

BOKUTACHI NO IRU TOKORO.- GOMI

HIROMI- SPARK

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Hiromi Uehara is one of the most solitary and unique pianist voices to have come along in modern times. Seeing her live is not just watching a concert, it’s an all engrossing, compelling experience. The images that her music conjures in your mind when listening is arguably more potent than most vocal driven pop music. Her latest album, SPARK is presented in her ‘trio’ format- meaning that it is accompanied by bass and drums (by Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips)- and is considerably one of the most amazing pieces I have heard by her and deserves a review.

The opening track (the title track “Spark“) is utterly mesmerizing and spine tingling. From it’s solo piano introduction to its ultimate climax, the journey it takes you on is a breathtaking exercise in control and composition. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard in the last few years and while only a trio of players- feels more huge than an entire orchestra. It’s followed by the equally impressive “In a Trance” that has some of the most complex time signature changes I’ve ever heard. The technical mastery here is more than impressive, it will leave your mouth agape. From there, it’s a twisting, turning and utterly addictive collection of some of the most amazing jazz tunes you will come across anywhere. My other track picks are “Indulgence” (from around the 6 minute mark- IM IN HEAVEN!), the delightful “What Will Be, Will Be“, the overwhelmingly beautiful sole piano composition “Wake Up and Dream” and the finale “All’s Well“.

Throughout this journey, Hiromi has the reins. It’s HER vehicle and her accompanists hold everything together regardless of what direction she takes it in. She is a master in her field and has the piano chops that most people can only dream of. The melodies just pour out of her and it’s best just to shut up and listen. It’s an album that took me by surprise- because not only is this one of the better Hiromi Uehara records- it’s one of the better jazz records I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. The bass playing, incredible drums and of course FACE MELTING piano work by Hiromi all add up to something more than delectable- it’s a must hear.

9/10 Hiromi Uehara’s latest is a must have for fans, and a great intro for newbies to her work.

Available now in Japan, set for an April release worldwide.

HIROMI- SPARK

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

SAYONARA PONYTAIL- ENBAN UTOPIA

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Long albums are always a daunting prospect. Double albums can either be masterpieces or fall apart under their weight. A triple album then, is a mighty risk. A triple JPOP album is like betting your life savings on black. Sayonara Ponytail have done just that, and I couldn’t resist but see how it all holds up.

The album gets off to a surprisingly gentle and pretty start with disc one. Usually when making a long album like this, you wanna grab the listener right in, but not this time round. Disc one is a very contemporary pop affair, music you’d feel safe playing as background music. Nothing jumps out or surprises- and for that I was at first admittedly underwhelmed (perhaps even bored– that last stretch was quite painful) and slightly worried about the rest of the album. Production is light and fluffy, and the vocals are suitably gentle. Very old fashioned and inoffensive. Instrumentation is, on the whole, beautiful- and nothing (suitably in this case) particularly stands out- there is a great sense of unison and communication between all players. I have noticed that on multiple listens however, that many of the songs are slowly starting to reveal themselves and grow on me– this is always a good sign in the long-run, but its subtle and laid back approach may be a bit of a turn off to some listeners on early spins.

The second disc picks up a little bit. Sure it’s still very much in the world of adult contemporary, but songs seem to compel this listener a little more than the first disc, and it seems to be much tighter. There are tracks and passages in here that really are quite pumped up and show off the instrumental skills of individual players. Neat little guitar flourishes break through the sheen. Production is still very gentle and soft, but this time it seems to be pushing things a little further, just touching that next level but never ever going into the ‘idol‘ sphere of sound either. There is a nice disco groove through quite a few of the tracks here and the male backing vocals throughout add a nice layer to the whole thing, without sounding tacky or distracting. The ballad songs are the most impressive however, all are well thought out and have gorgeous choruses. They are never dull or dry, and this is quite a testament to the songwriters. Sure, it’s not a perfect disc by any means, but to this listener, its far more enjoyable than the first- particularly on initial spins.

The third disc, for someone with the tastes I have, is where things really shine. This is a more acoustic set- and the stripping down of the sheen works wonders and elevates the group to emotional highs the other discs just don’t touch. It really shows off the vocal skills that these girls have- proving they’re more than just cute faces. There is some great harmonizing here- all played with a nice level of subtlety that is just gorgeous to listen to. The instrumental work here is near impeccable– and the production choices are great. It’s the shortest disc by quite a bit, but this decision makes it the most enjoyable disc to listen to on initial spins (at least for this listener). A fitting closure to this album.

In the end though, each different listener will rank the discs in different ways. It all depends on what you want. No disc is perfect, in fact no discs are really anything special (but the third disc definitely provides the most excitement). If they were sold separately, I don’t think I’d be too impressed by any of them, but considering the triple album undertaking that has gone on here- it works pretty damn well. It never seems too bloated or wanky– which a lot of multi disc albums do, and it never feels pretentious or showy either. It’s just a really good value for money package for Sayonara Ponytail fans- which really just gives a good outline of the group’s varied skills and musical approaches. It’s a noble attempt and I can’t fault it for that. I don’t imagine being able to sit down and listen to it all the way through often, but it wasn’t too much of a strain when I was in the mood either.

Overall, if you’re a hardcore Sayonara Ponytail fan, it’s an essential purchase. For everyone else, it’s a ambitious, creative and massive work, that despite it’s flaws is still worth a listen (or ten). 3 discs will always seem daunting, particularly with today’s busy lifestyle– but Sayonara Ponytail have made it as easy as possible to consume without feeling too bloated at the end. Think of it as a light 3 course meal and you’ll be just fine.

7.5/10– Sayonara Ponytail’s triple album is an imperfect, but satisfying three course meal that everyone should indulge in at least once.

SAYONARA PONYTAIL- ENBAN UTOPIA