REVIEW: SAYUKO NANO- TENGOKU HAJIMEMASHITA

When Sayuko Nano dropped her first major EP “Kimi to Issho Nara Jigoku Demo Iiyo” in 2015, she struck a chord with her intended audience. She fit right in with the new wave of ‘alt-girls’- hitting a perfect midpoint between the likes of sparkly pop artists like Seiko Oomori and Hanae, whilst also touching on the sound of whisper-rap artists such as Izumi Macra and (then) Daoko. It went down perfectly with her intended audience- and was one of the most widely accepted and easily digested EPs from the emerging current scene.

And then, she sorta disappeared– delving into the world of seedy photo-books and occasional tweets to let us know she was still alive. Last year then, when she announced that she had recorded a new EP was very exciting news for anyone following her. The followup, 4 track mini album “Tengoku Hajimemashita” hit late January to a fairly lukewarm response. The lead single was a bit concerning to say the least. Still, I persevered and tried it out regardless. This definitely wasn’t the Sayuko Nano who sent shivers down our spines three years earlier. This was, well, disappointing, generic J-pop.

While there isn’t anything particularly atrocious or offensive about it, nothing really pings or stands out. The character of her early work has all but disappeared, instead favoring the trappings of lesser idol groups or casual contemporary pop. No teeth, no soul. Production opts for highly polished, overly glossy bops instead of the dreamy murk of her last outing. Unfortunately, it means that the mere four tracks just pass-by without any fanfare, just a slightly pleasant time kill.

Other than that, there really isn’t much to say. No individual tracks are better or worse than the others, so no “listener picks” can be discerned. The EP is concerning to anyone who has followed her from the start; in many ways it reminds of Wakusei Abnormal, who after blasting off with an amazing debut, ended up falling into the depths of generic pop with their followup releases. Hell, Sayuko Nano’s songs here even kind of sound like later Wakusei Abnormal at times. It’s not a release I can recommend to anyone, and that is a saddening thought for someone who had caught my attention so much just one release earlier.

4/10 Hopefully it’s just a misstep, but for now, Sayuko Nano has provided the most disappointing release of 2018 so far.

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REVIEW: SAYUKO NANO- TENGOKU HAJIMEMASHITA

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

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: 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

Review: Seiko Oomori’s “kitixxxgaia” is her most ambitious work yet

For the first time in Seiko Oomori’s discography, kitixxxgaia feels gargantuan; it focuses on bigger themes such as religion, idol culture and female equality, rather than previous work’s more singular and personal themes. Every track feels towering and monolithic, even the stripped back songs are huger than anything that has come before. Sure, the personal touches are still there, but this time Seiko seems to be pushing the wide scale themes touched on in songs like Magic Mirror to the forefront. At points she sounds more furious, angry even. She screams, wails, laughs and talks over the phone throughout. It’s a fiery, sensory overload and it’s impossible to take your attention from.

So where does this album fit in the big picture of Seiko Oomori’s discography? The first thing instantly noticeable when comparing last years’ TOKYO BLACK HOLE to kitixxxgaia is the huge personality shift. Where TOKYO BLACK HOLE felt warm, motherly and refined, kitixxxgaia opts for abrasive, hard hitting and epic. It feels like she’s bringing her punk roots back to the surface but still keeping the colorful and glossy production style of her avex works, and it’s an insatiable mix. It’s rougher round the edges, has a dry sense of humor and is slightly bitter underneath even the brightest parts. It constantly carries a melancholy unlike anything before and thus makes her avex debut, Sennou seem innocent in comparison.

Without going into a full track by track, and excluding repeating what I said about the previously released singles, I will go into a few of the strongest of the new songs. But before that, it must be mentioned that Seiko has worked wonders with the singles she already had here. Upon announcement, I, likely along with a lot of others, was worried about how well some of them would have fit in with this. To put it short: they fit wonderfully. When reviewing the singles as a standalone project, everything felt a bit clunky and all over the place. Here, the singles- are all spaced out to perfection. They might not be Seiko’s strongest singles ever (sans Dogma Magma which is a beast) but this helps the overall flow of the album. Whether this was a conscious decision, amazing luck, pre-planned or a mix of all of these elements, this listener is grateful for the effort made with the album layout and the payoff it brings.

Dogma Magma sets the scene wonderfully, a twisting, turning, profound track that is easily one of the finest tracks of Seiko’s career. Seiko doesn’t attempt to make that balance of pop and rock, she throws it to the wind and brings something truly extraordinary here; a Dadaist inspired lamentation on religion and pop culture that throws away standard catchiness in exchange for a more breathtaking experience. Most artists who attempt this, usually would likely come across as lame or tryhard. However, with Seiko on the helm, this is one mighty hard hitter and an amazing opening track; perhaps her most amazing opener to date. It no doubt will go down as one of her iconic moments, and will no doubt become a fan favorite.

IDOL SONG, with its unashamed referencing to the idol culture which Seiko so dearly loves (featuring references and mentions of groups like Neggico, as well as idol catchphrases as lyrics), is a wild trip, igniting memories of the sensory overload of Harajuku’s fashion or Akihabara storefronts. It’s loud, in your face and there’s no escape; yet you feel no desire to leave.  It’s a perfect platform for Seiko’s blend of cute madness. Similarly cute and playful is the following track, JI・MO・TO no Kao Kawaii Tomodachi which bounces along on an adorably groovy melody, reminiscent of Shoji Meguro‘s work on the Persona 4 soundtrack.

Daoko featuring track Chikyuu Saigo no Futari is a loving homage to the songs of Shiiina Ringo, both artists particularly vocal about the impact of Ringo’s music on their songwriting. It is one of the most tender and groovy tracks on the album, a bop in every sense of the word. The string work is gorgeous, elevating the already beautiful song to new heights. Daoko’s rapping sounds great and at home here, and is likely this reviewer’s favourite guest appearance on the whole album.

There’s a self cover of Seiko’s song for ℃-ute, “Mugen Climax”, a solo piano arrangement that really hits home entitled Mugen Climax Kamome Kyoushitsu-hen. There’s something truly satisfying hearing Seiko take the track back and it no doubt is a far more striking rendition due to its simplicity. Less is truly more here. Finally, there’s gorgeous, newly arranged kitixxxgaia version of Kimi ni Todokuna is outstanding, with some of the most beautiful instrumentation and chord progression ever to hit an Oomori record.

Even as a Seiko Oomori veteran, and with all the odds stacked against her, she still manages to release an album that is cohesive, compelling and most impressively- surprising. Where most artists at this point in their career would have settled for the solid but safe approach to a new album (having proven their selves many a time), Seiko still seems to be pushing forward; aiming to break new ground in her discography. After a pleasant, but somewhat rocky and random three single project, chances were that this was going to be her first ‘average’ (on a Seiko scale) album- but here she makes what seemed random work- wholly and convincingly.

The hard part is giving this album a score. It does have its share of imperfections- digital clipping is audible in a few spots (though never intrusive enough to raise alarm bells), Communication Barrier is a little bit weaker than all the new songs and finally, it does not have the strongest closer she’s ever penned. Sure, the track itself, Analog Syncopation is fantastic, with its beautiful beat and chorus, but as a closer, it just feels a little hollow. This can be easily remedied if you have any of the versions of the album with an acoustic bonus track (particularly “M“, one of the most heavily emotional tracks since her debut), this allows the listener to wind down quite easily and gives a more satisfying closure to the massiveness of the album. But, as the album stands in its regular form, with no bonus tracks, it kind of feels a little anticlimactic, as if someone is turning the album off before it’s finished.

With those imperfections in mind, I cannot give it the perfect 10. However, the imperfection of the album does leave a far more immediate resonance and edge than TOKYO BLACK HOLE did on initial spins. Where that one was refined to a tee, this one seems to take joy in it’s slight crustiness.

Ultimately, the score I give kitixxgaia is:
9/10

TOKYO BLACK HOLE, to me, was likely going to be a hard act to follow on from, at least so soon. To be proven wrong once again is both staggering on a personal level, and a massive achievement for any musician. kitixxxgaia is another essential album from Seiko Oomori and it’s no doubt going to be a strong contender on a lot of people’s Album of the Year lists.

Review: Seiko Oomori’s “kitixxxgaia” is her most ambitious work yet