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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maron Hamada- Seijuku no Marble

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A few years ago, Maron Hamada quietly unleashed her first album, Huryo Shoujo Elegy onto the scene. It was a smoky, sexy collection of jazz rock tunes that evoked the excitement of an affair- but also managed to pummel the listener with all the feelings of regret that comes from it. It was contagious and addictive- and like nicotine, was nearly impossible to stop listening to. It had its faults- occasionally it lost momentum and the production was limited. However, overall, it was one of the better releases in the genre for quite some time.

Now, in 2015 she returns with Seijuku no Marble, her sophomore album after a few standalone singles after her debut. It takes everything great about the first album, cuts out the fat and adds even more spice to the mix and turns out to be one of the most exciting listens of the year.

It opens with the groovy as hell Miren Batufurai, which instantly sets the album’s tone. Sexy, smoky and genuinely intense. The instrumental work is impeccable, and the audio
mix is gorgeous. Hamada’s vocals are as hard hitting as ever, not one note missed. The studio recording brings the power of her live performance to the forefront and it’s just an utterly compelling experience.

The highlight of the album, the lead single Mayakashi no Blues, still lives up as one of her greatest tracks. It’s perfectly welcome in the set and it’s hard not to repeat it the second it’s over. Brilliant, sad and poignant, noone delivers it quite like Hamada does here. From there the listener is treated to an ever exciting, varied and all killer-no filler mix of tunes that is ultimately as satisfying as the best lover.

If I have one complaint about this album- I could have done with a few more new songs (a constant complaint I have with Japanese albums in general), however that said, the songs we’ve already heard are so strong that it’s really just a minor complaint in this case. It’s a shorter album than her first, which might be a little off-putting to some, but for this listener, it just makes it far more easy to digest and just start it over at the end of it’s running time.

For the uninitiated, you’re in for quite the treat- highly recommended if you’re into the more cabaret jazz end of the likes of Shiina Ringo (think Assassin’s Assassin but as
an entire career sound focus), for those who are in for their second round- this album provides no new major revelations in Hamada’s sound- but does nicely expand and tighten up the screws on her tried and true formula, making for an even more compelling and satisfying experience than her debut.

Ultimately, if you’re really after something exciting to listen to, this is worth checking out! And don’t forget to check out the music videos too- pretty damn cool!

8/10 Maron Hamada really brings a constant sense of danger to the mix, it feels playing with fire and it bites hard. Unforgettable. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait so long for the next release!

Maron Hamada- Seijuku no Marble