Almost every time I'm on blogger I click on the 'next blog' button in the hope of finding a decent blog. It's usually a vain hope as I always seem to find myself in the middle of some whining teenager's misery (yes, I was a whining teenager but I didn't inflict my 'pain' on the wider world - I had a notebook). Either that or I end up reading about a family in Shitsville, Tennesee who have decided to share all their photos of their cabbage headed baby. Finally today I found one that actually makes the 'next blog' button seem like a good idea. It's called Indigenous Beliefs and is basically a bloke ruminating on fairly inconsequential things - the humour's slightly surreal but it made me laugh, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, that's quite an achievement at the best of times, never mind at nine in the morning.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I feel like I've been time travelling when I listen to this E.P. I only picked up the band's 2003 debut album recently (not knowing it was three years old) and I've been playing it to death. Last week while out making wish lists in the record shops of Shibuya I noticed their most recent E.P and decided that it had to be bought. Miaou are still fantastic but they're not the same beast they were three years ago. Usually when you get into a band you can follow their progress release by release. My experience with Miaou has been more akin to time-lapse photography crossed with the kind of wormholes that mess up the space-time continuum in Star Trek.
The deceptively simple instrumentals that drew me to the band in the first place are still in evidence but the crunchy guitars have, for the most part, been left at home and everything just seems to shimmer that bit more. The first track, We Lost It, sees the band move from Mogwai territory to something more like the bucolic sound of Four Tet. An acoustic refrain floats atop burbling electronica that starts out quietly and builds into a track of rare beauty. Any directors looking for an instrumental piece to use in the opening credits of their film should search no further.
The rest of the album follows a fairly similar path, but when it's done this well it doesn't become boring. The record has been sequenced in such a way that it seems as if each song is organic, almost breathing. Scene of the Sunrise sees the pace increased a little and the band allow the song to stretch itself and fill out a very satisfying eight minutes. The gentler Anything Goes gives the band a short breather, but towards the end of its seven minutes they seem to regain some of their energy and things pick up again.
Grasslands (Revised) is a graceful epic, an aural collage of wide vistas that is one of the best ways of lifting you out of the sardine-packed hell that is commuting in Tokyo. The last original track on the E.P, Airship is probably the least arresting of the new songs showcased here. It's by no means terrible, but it's the first song where you find yourself looking at the seconds ticking over and wondering how long there is to go. I think it's a case of the band setting the bar at a dizzying height and paradoxically Airship is the one song that can't get over it. Oh, the humanity.
The final three tracks on the E.P are all remixes. Not having heard the originals I don't know how much the remixers have changed the songs. The Millimetrik Remix of Future Pavilion adds a darker undercurrent to the rest of the album's phosphorescence with it's doom laden atmospherics that sound like Massive Attack at their most paranoid. This paranoia morphs into claustrophobia during the first half of Epic 45's retooling of Dante, where it seems we really are being taken deeper into the inferno, before the usual Miaou sound breaks through the fug. It doesn't last though, as the last minute of the song sees the song engulfed in darkness once more.
The E.P's final track, the Qua Remix of On A Sunday sounds as if it may be the most dramatic reworking of the three. At times it sounds like Gizmo the Gremlin purring along to Tomorrow Never Knows, but then there are moments of cello and acoustic guitar that wouldn't sound out of place on a Nick Drake record. It's an intriguing end to a remarkable E.P.
So, Miaou are still my new favourite band. Their slight change in direction seems to be an inspired one and I'm looking forward to going over their back catalogue and seeing just how they got from Happiness to here.
Note - a slightly edited version of this review has been published on the keikaku website.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Friday, November 24, 2006
This record is over three years old but I read a review of it a couple of weeks ago whilst in a travel agents in Shinjuku - does that make this a genuine case of serendipity? Going by the dictionary definition I'd say so: "the faculty of discovering pleasing or valuable things by chance". See, it's not just a crappy romantic comedy. Anyway, I digress. What makes this album such a serendipitous discovery is the way it distills elements of a whole lot of my favourite groups - Mogwai, Sonic Youth, Seafood, Tortoise, Explosions in the Sky - adds a twist of that magical, mystical Japanese-ness that stops bands like this from being mere copyists, and mixes it together to create a heady cocktail that intoxicates you from the first listen and only becomes more addictive.
muno, the first track starts off sedately but the gentle washes of guitar soon start to fold in on themselves, building up layers of sound that give the song the structure of an exquisitely made samurai sword. boom 0 continues in a similar vein, starting quietly but soon bulking up into a wall of sound that Phil Spector would've been proud of. The seamless segue from one track to the next shouldn't be interpreted as a sign that the songs all sound the same - they dovetail perfectly but each song has its own character. pao 2000 sounds like an updated outtake from the Bitches Brew sessions, and my only complaint about it would be that the band could easily have kept exploring the spaces this song takes them to for longer than the three minutes that it takes up on the album, without it becoming boring. An intro of seagulls or synths (I'm not sure which) signals a change of pace in the next track, the elegiac el nienyo, which eschews the quiet/loud dynamic of the first couple of tracks. It's a change of direction that works, allowing Mayumi Hasegawa's mellifluous bass to move to the forefront of the song.
KIRAMEKI takes us back into quiet/loud territory, with its gentle melody sounding like a calmer, less Glaswegian Mogwai. jet sound wave is where the album stops being merely good and starts to be truly great. It starts out with another nod to Miles Davis - a skittering trumpet line - before settling into a fug of hazy guitars and Tatsuki Hamasaki's gentle vocals. The haze soon gives way to wave after wave of F/X laden guitars (perhaps the 'jet sound wave' of the title) which ultimately consume the song, causing it to collapse in on itself. It's a song Yo La Tengo would be proud of. HALF seems to signal a recovery of sorts - the squalls of feedback that devoured jet sound wave are still there, but this time the band has wrestled them under control.
There's probably a rulebook somewhere that states all albums should end with their most epic track. It may be a cliche but it's true. There's no point putting it at the beginning because then the rest of the album has to live under its shadow. Sticking it in the middle of the album just doesn't make sense either. If you got the best view from the middle of the mountain, why would anyone bother climbing to the top? Miaou have clearly read this book too and they follow the rules to the letter. Closer water & me is the kind of song that would be out of place anywhere else other than the end of an album. It takes its time - lightly brushed drums, bursts of trumpet, dripping water, woozy synthesizers, acoustic guitars, all flitting in and out of the track, seemingly as they please. The effects pedals have been locked up and feedback banished, as the twin chimes of glockenspiel and guitar lead this song and album to a surprisingly quiet finale - it's almost as if the band felt they had proved their adeptness with noise and wanted to show they could do quiet just as well.
Miaou are touring extensively this month. Click on the link to their website for more details.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Found this blog about the info that is dumped from Wikipedia. There's some good stuff there and I'm sure that we're all guilty of Drunk Blogging (looking at some of the comments here and on James Blunt Must Die I'd say that was pretty obvious).
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
I've decided to start another blog to cover the iPod challenge, that being the lame name I've given my attempt to listen to every song on my iPod (if you can think of anything better please let me know). I felt that I was spending more time writing about it here rather than Japanese music, so it seemed like a good idea to seperate the two. Hopefully I should be able to keep posting to all three blogs regularly. If your interested in the new one, have a look here. Cheers.
Limited Express are having a release party in Shimokitazawa Shelter tomorrow night. The info can be found by clicking on the link, but for those of you who are to lazy to even do that, here you go (though you should have a look at the English part of the site - lots of info there):
2006/11/16（Thu)@Tokyo Shimokitazawa SHELTER
YEE!LOOK!!vol,4-Limited Ex release party-
open 18:30 / start 19:00
adv.￥2,000 / door￥2,500
ぴあ、ローソン、Limited Ex ＨＰ、SHELTERにて発売。
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Expectation is often a bad thing. We are often told as children not to build our hopes up, but it's something we continue to do well into adulthood. Music is an area in which we're particularly susceptible to unrealistic expectations (although not quite as much as the English press in the run up to a major tournament) - we hope an artist's second album will reach the majestic heights of the first, despite the memory of past dashings like The Second Coming or Room on Fire; we meet musicians we admire and find out they're arseholes whose personalities seem at odds with the music they produce; or we go and see bands we've listened to for years and witness what seems to be a group of people who've haven't been introduced, murdering the songs we'd looked forward to hearing.
So far this year I've seen two bands who I'd wanted to see for years - Belle & Sebastian and Primal Scream. Thankfully they were both as good as I'd hoped they would be. Sunday was the first time that I'd seen Mogwai and before the show my cynical, negative side took over, telling me that the third time was bound to be unlucky and Mogwai were going to be awful. For me, cynicism is a healthy part of any well-rounded personality and I trust it a lot (especially when dealing with politicians, business people, and job interviewers), but this time I was wrong.
As opening duo Ratatat showed, live instrumental music live can be dull, even when the guitarist looks like Alexei Lalas and plays like Richie Sambora. Mogwai, on the other hand, are spectacular. They don't say much, they don't move much, they just come on stage and play their songs. They don't need to any more than that. The quiet/loud dynamic of Mogwai is something of a lazy cliche often used to describe their music, but it's what drives the band and makes them so captivating.
This was their last show of 2006 and according to their website, the band are making a DVD of this and the previous night's concert. Watch it if you get the chance, but go and see them - I get the feeling that regardless of how good the DVD will be, it won't capture the sheer volume and physicality of Mogwai live.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
... so the iPod challenge is having a day of rest. It's bugger all to do with religious belief and everything to do with the fact that I'm going to see Mogwai tonight. Don't expect to see anything else scrobbled over the course of the day. If anyone's going tonight, come and say hello - I'll be the big bastard standing towards the back with a beer, trying surreptitiously to take pictures using my mobile. In that vein, and about two months too late, here's a picture I took at the Primal Scream show at Zepp Tokyo:
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Agaetis Byrjun - Sigur Ros
Airportpeople E.P - Ellis
All Shook Down - The Replacements
All The Stuff and More - The Vaselines
Alligator - The National
I'm currently ploughing my way through Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned by the Prodigy, which is looking like being the first album that's bumped from the iPod. Why the hell did Liam Howlett feel the need to do a cover of Love Buzz? Nirvana got there earlier and did it a whole lot better. Music For the Jilted Generation (surely one of the best album titles ever) and The Fat of the Land are two of my favourite albums, but Always Outnumbered sounds like the work of a group that have already split up and reformed - it's like watching a paunchy George Foreman go through the motions.
Today's other stuff hasn't been bad though. Ellis were my friend's band and the E.P of theirs that's on my iPod is one that they released in around 2001/2 (I think). On the day it was released it sold more copies in HMV's Edinburgh branch than the Britney Spears record that came out on the same day. Various members of that band who may be reading this blog are probably composing hate mails to me now but I stand by my opinion that this was a band that ought to have gone much further. Timing and luck were against them but the talent is clearly there.
I was in Shibuya again today and The Vaselines were the ideal soundtrack for my wanderings. Shibuya is a place where there are just too many people trying far too hard to be too cool. Maybe it's inevitable given that it's considered to be the hub of young Japanese fashion. Regardless of that, someone needs to tell the majority of the people there (both male and female) that whatever 'being cool' actually is, it's something that takes a lot more than a pair of huge sunglasses, a scowl, and a strut. In fact, it probably takes a lot less than this - have these folk never heard of 'effortless cool'?
Anyway, as I mentioned, The Vaselines are the perfect antidote to this bastion of laboured attitude. Their crunchy guitars and naively out of tune boy-girl vocals seem to kick against Shibuya's triumvirate of pricks - posing bints, their himbos, and the bling-obsessed, vacuous hip-hop (Japanese and American) that soundtracks their lives. The beautiful people? Bollocks.
Friday, November 10, 2006
I meant to add this into the post below but I forgot. This sign belongs to an English school I passed today while wandering in Shibuya (I was listening to Dot Allison at the time - see, still Tokyo Music). Would you trust them to teach you English?
Adam Hussain's Truth and Slander - Goldie Lookin Chain
Adore - Smashing Pumpkins
After All (CDS) - The Frank and Walters
After The Goldrush - Neil Young
Afterglow - Dot Allison
Suitable Friday listening? You tell me. Adore is far too long though, I know that much. It followed me around for most of the morning until Billy Corgan's whine started to feel like tinnitus. It's surely no coincidence that a large number of the albums that are consistently considered to be 'classics' are relatively short - Revolver, Rubber Soul, Pet Sounds, Definitely Maybe, Dark Side of the Moon - then again, given that classic status is often conferred by middle-aged white men who think that Cream were a good idea, perhaps I shouldn't pay too much attention to that. Anyway, the point is that when bands were restricted by the forty-odd minutes that two sides of vinyl offered them they got up, made their point, and buggered off. Only when they felt they really had something to say that just couldn't be done in that short space of time did they stray into the territory of the double album.
CDs offer space for 80 minutes of music and too many bands labour under the grossly mistaken idea that they have something so profound, so earth-shattering to communicate to their fellow humans, that they need to utilise every available second to do this. Adore is simply one of many albums that overstays its welcome like a depressed drunk at the end of a party - add to that list Mother Love Bone's eponymous 'opus' (death does wonderful things for a band's reputation), R.E.M's recent releases (especially when compared with the nun's chuff tightness of the albums they put out in their early days), and pretty much most of Pink Floyd's post-Syd output, among many others. The Smashing Pumpkins are a one-band example of diminishing returns through increasing length - Gish was shortish and full of great tunes; admittedly, Siamese Dream is far from being a twenty minute hardcore punk thrash, but at that point they had enough to say and more than enough talent to justify the length of the album - unfortunately the albums got longer and the songs got shiter, reaching the nadir with the sprawling mess of punnery and ego that is Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. So, simple advice - unless you've got fourteen or fifteen songs that you really have to get out your system in one go (and have got enough to keep you going through subsequent albums), keep it short unless you want to be one of those bores that keeps droning on when people clearly aren't listening anymore... Oh.
For the umpteenth post people are probably wondering what any of this has to do with 'Tokyo Music'. That's the name of the blog, isn't it? Why aren't you writing about Japanese bands? Why aren't you telling me about the group of four cross-dressing salarymen from Hokkaido called Fish Paste Monkey Stew is Coming Over the Mountain (Soon), who sound like a cross between Tom Waits and Westlife? Firstly, as far as I know, FPMSICOTM(S) haven't been invented yet; and secondly, this is Tokyo Music - this is the music I listen to in Tokyo. Hah. Got you there, haven't I?
Thursday, November 09, 2006
- Standing in the shower thinking - wouldn't it be a great idea if I tried to listen to all the songs on my iPod?
- Hang on, wouldn't it be an even better idea if I write about it on the blog? Voice in the back of my mind - but what the fuck has that got to do with Japanese indie music? Bitchslap voice and ignore the feeling that maybe I'm just doing this to fill space on the blog and that I'll probably give up as soon as I get to some of the stuff that I downloaded when drunk - the entire Bob Dylan discography, including the period where his talent upped and left - what was I thinking.
- Bitchslap voice some more until my head hurts. Voice has gone though.
- Try and work out what the best way to do this is. If I do by artist I'm going to have to listen to nothing but Belle and Sebastian for three days straight. Don't get me wrong, I love them, but that's not going to work. It also means that I'll have to huge chunks of certain artists that my other half put on there, but I want us to stay together so that isn't going to work either.
- Go to work and forget about this for a while.
- Have a few beers and suddenly this brainwave comes back to me. Ponder just setting iPod to randomly play all songs but, given some of the stuff that's on there, decide that this might be too much like listening to a radio station where the playlists are made up by a deaf octopus.
- Write the above comment and realise people will probably think that I'm a complete wanker (if they don't already) who is trying to show off just how catholic and cool his music taste is - indie-boys-with-guitars-obsessive? Me? Look, Astrud Gilberto and Throbbing Gristle - I'm eclectic.
- Decide that since only a couple of lonely crofters and other assorted friends and family read this that it really doesn't make that much difference.
- Realise best way to do it is probably by album.
- Press play and promptly bugger off to another room.
- Not true, I'm still here. Honest.
- Realise that this isn't in real time so my half arsed attempt at humour above is as pointless as this whole post.
No doubt this has all been done before but that never stopped Oasis becoming the world's biggest band, did it?
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
For anyone who reads the reviews here, Keikaku, or anywhere else on tinternet, but has problems finding the records written about have a look at the JapanFiles website. They've got a fair pile of mp3s available for you to get your grubby little hands on meaning you get some quality Japanese music without even shifting your carcass out of the seat you probably spend too much time sitting in already (you know it's true). This is what's going to happen to us all:
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Look at the time of this post and you'll see what I mean. Some of the interpretations are obviously written by people who have an unfortunately (and unjustifiably) high opinion of themselves and their intellect, but there's a fair amount of interesting stuff. I haven't dared look at the Dylan section though.
New record - it's less than a week since the end of October and I'm doing this. Must be something to do with the weather today - I really shocked my boss by getting my monthly report in on time too. So, here it is. The buying binge helped and although I was tempted to just put in ten tracks by Nisennenmondai I resisted and have tried to put in a wider selection.
1) GET ON THE BUS!! - pygmy with bitter ends
2) ALOHA! - Limited Express (has gone?)
3) 黒く塗れ - nhhmbase
4) 不明のトラック 4 - にせんねんもんだい (Nisenenmondai)
5) She Is Nervous - BUGY CRAXONE
6) Dark Star Blues (live) - Acid Mothers Temple
7) I was robot - SHIFT
8) 不明のトラック 1 - にせんねんもんだい (Nisenenmondai)
9) Sweet music on the Beach - Limited Express (has gone?)
10) ニートソース - pygmy with bitter ends
Disclaimer: I don't like using the same bands more than once but those songs by those three groups really stood out above most of the other stuff I heard this month. And anyway, it's my blog, I'll decide.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
One of the best things about shopping for records in Japan is browsing through the bands' names. Go over to the imported section in a Japanese record shop and you'll find a plethora of bands called The ____s – The Strokes, The Datsuns, The Libertines, The Sex Pistols, The White Stripes, The Ugly Talentless Cunts (OK, I made that last one up but surely that's the name Razorlight should be going under). Back in the Japanese indie section you're blessed with Limited Express (has gone?), nhhmbase, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant and the chef cooks me to name just a few. Not only are the names fantastic, but you can spend ages wondering what kind of music the band play and what the hell they were trying to say when they named themselves. pygmy with bitter ends. What does it mean and where did it come from? Are they a group of midgets with bad hair? What kind of music do they make? You can pretty much bet your life savings that any band called The _____s will be a group of four pasty white boys with guitars and skinny ties playing shabby New Wave-lite. pygmy with bitter ends isn't such a give away. Perhaps they take free-jazz and gabba techno, mash them up together and front the ensuing discord with a loungey singer who models himself on Leonard Cohen but ends up sounding like a drunken salaryman karaoke-ing Sinatra to death.
Fortunately (unfortunately? you decide) pygmy with bitter ends are nothing so extreme. Bitter acoustic & Small songs vol.1 is the band's second full album and although it takes in a variety of styles and genres it's basically a collection of shiny pop songs. Cartoon-theme-in-waiting GET ON THE BUS!! throws us straight into the band's technicolour pop world and manages to sound like all the following artists at at least one point; early James, The Chemical Brothers, Isaac Hayes (Shaft soundtrack), Pizzicato Five, Talking Heads, and Cornelius. It's quite an accomplishment for a song that's barely three and a half minutes long. 窓際ススクールガール (Modogiwa Sukuurugaaru) is a slice of indie guitar pop that wouldn't seem out of place on a Wannadies album. This feeling of being back in the mid-90s continues on the next track ニートソース (Niitosousu), which sounds a little like an Oasis B-side back when they were good. The comparison ends there though as the lyrics tackle the social problem of the increasing number of NEETs (people not in employment, education or training) rather than the joys of the white line. マザー (Mazaa) takes us even further back in time, its simple acoustic guitar melody and “na-na-na-na” coda a throwback to The Beatles.
After a strong start things start to go awry in the middle of the album. モモンガのバラード (Momonga no Baraado) is as twee as the title suggests and is the kind of syrupy ballad you'd expect from a bunch of J-Poppers like Chemistry. デンデン ドンドン (Denden Dondon) opens with strident guitars that promise to get things back on track and ends with a great chorus where vocalist Noribooooone pleads for “Just one cup of life”. No, I haven't got the faintest idea what he's banging on about either but it sounds great. Unfortunately this return to form is brief as the minute long ママのギター (Mama no Gitaa) is little more than filler, and the next song 縁側の父 (Engawa no Chichi) drifts back into the schmalz of モモンガのバラード.
The inclusion of a ten-year-old demo track, 冬の落し物 (Fuyu no Otoshimono) seems to be a pointless endeavour. Perhaps the band thought it would demonstrate how far they've come in that time, but it doesn't and it brings very little to the record. Album closer 私は街灯 (Watashi wa Gaitou) restores some of the earlier lustre as the band finally pull out a slow song that doesn't sound like by-the-numbers J-Pop. It's a slow-burner that starts out with just lead vocals and a quietly strummed guitar before blooming into a lush, orchestral ballad that occasionally sounds reminiscent of Automatic For The People-era R.E.M.
Bitter acoustic & Small songs vol.1 starts well but there's too much filler - something you shouldn't be able to say about an album that's only thirty five minutes long. When they do click, pygmy with bitter ends make some fantastic pop songs and I'm sure they've got a truly great album in them. Perhaps vol.1 was just a warm-up. Either way, I'll be keeping an eye out for the next volume and listening to the good half of this album.