REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- KUSOKAWA PARTY

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Kusokawa PARTY, unlike the more recent albums by Seiko Oomori, is not remotely easy to adore immediately. As a fan, I feel I am guilty in becoming too comfortable with Seiko Oomori’s world, expecting an easy run or instant classic. She’s certainly given that an incredible amount of times, but here she really kicks the hornet’s nest and challenges us- something I hadn’t felt since first discovering her back in 2012.

Each of Seiko Oomori’s albums can be given it’s own unique character. To me, Mahou Ga is the bookworm, Zettai Shoujo the art student, Sennou is the upcoming superstar, TOKYO BLACK HOLE the mother and kitixxgaia the priest. Seiko Oomori herself describes Kusokawa PARTY as ‘The Jester’ but personally, it’s that cute but intimidating looking girl in the corner, awkwardly dressed and alone- who you don’t know will hug you or knife you if you approach. Perhaps both. But one things for certain, you HAVE to know.

The opening run of the album is a true tour de force. Seiko has never, ever been this energetic, even in her most uproarious moments. It’s absolutely exhausting. On first listen, it flew by without even really registering. What on Earth was that? A maelstrom of ideas (swooping Avex-style ballads, metal, punk numbers and even touches of K-pop) all colliding with each other. It is then, far more approachable if you listen to it through headphones on early listens, allowing all these elements to separate and settle a bit better.

Relief only really comes in by the eight track of the album- in the form of the now classic Seiko Oomori acoustic number ‘Tokyo to Kyou‘, which leads into the much more mellow ‘Watashimi‘ and its seemingly paired piece ‘Kimoikawa‘, which feel like the crash and recovery after a big night out, perhaps fittingly so given the title of the album.

What this album certainly offers from the get-go is Seiko’s best vocal performance ever. Every single song features some of her most truly outrageous, yet controlled wails to date. ‘Amoeba no Uta‘ is without a doubt, truly a moment of vocal perfection. It’s an absolutely phenomenal experience when her off-kilter singing turns into a blood curdling scream, which is bound to raise many arm hairs of listeners around the world.

My early impressions of this album were so different to what they are now, there’s a real sense of it evolving each spin. Seiko seems to be reaching for some kind of departure (not so much musically- more of a sense that Seiko needs to do something a little different in order to prevent staleness) here, or taking first steps into a new territory.

This happened with Zettai Shoujo, which made much more sense in the scheme of her discography with the release of follow up album Sennou. One can only wait and see if Kusokawa PARTY will share the same kind of legacy.

8/10 At most, Kusokawa PARTY is an extremely interesting and thought provoking work that challenges some of the preconceptions we had about Seiko Oomori’s brand, at worst, its 10 good new songs to add to the collection.

(This review is based on the regular edition of the album)

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REVIEW: SEIKO OOMORI- KUSOKAWA PARTY

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.

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

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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