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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ketchup Mania Hits Dallas

Don't ler the title fool you, this isn't one of those "... and finally" stories that round the news off with a wry smile. Rather, Japanese pop-punk band will be making their American debut at A-Kon in Dallas this Friday (June 1st). The band's first three releases are available on JapanFiles and they will also be selling and signing CDs at the show.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Call And Response Event, Koenji 20000V, May 25th

Due to work I won't be there, but there'll be another of the mighty C.A.R events tomorrow night in Koenji. In the best cutting and pasting traditions of Tokyo Music, here's the line up:

Tanz! Tanz! Tanz! - Tokyo Rhythm Punk Disco, featuring: Hyacca (From Fukuoka) / Worst Taste / Usagi Spiral A / Clisms / Natasha Forrest / Kitsch Hitori Gakudan (Opening Act) / DJs: Yoko3 (Mir) / Grant McGaheran (Abikyokan)

It's ¥1800, it starts at 6pm, and the last time I spoke to Ian Martin he mentioned something about cheap wine. What else are you going to do in Tokyo on a Friday night? Sure, you could go to Roppongi but do you want to spend your whole night telling the touts that you're not interested in their clubs and standing elbow to elbow with cunty investment bankers? Or would you rather spend the evening quaffing wine and listening to some of the finest sounds Japanese music has to offer. No fucking contest, is it?

'Slumber', LiN Clover, JapanFiles CD

I have to admit that I had some smart put-downs lined up for this album, something along the lines of "it does exactly what it says on the tin, i.e it makes you slumber." However, it turned out to be one of those growers - another couple of listens and I was hooked. Where at first I saw LiN CLOVER in the same light as Skunk Anansie (a band I never had much time for), I've come to realise that there's much more to them than that.

Slumber is a compilation made up of tracks drawn from the band's first three releases. Opening track "Empty" sets the tone for a lot of the album - Yuri's vocals swooping over a backdrop of crashing drums and guitars that hint at Rival Schools battling it out with Siamese Dream-era Pumpkins. That's not to say LiN CLOVER are a one-trick pony. "It" starts out eerily quiet (perhaps as a nod to Stephen King's scary clown), before battering into a driving chorus that must sound outstanding live. "Misleading shore" starts in a similarly downbeat fashion but eschews the temptation of another crowd-pleasing chorus, instead staying in a lower gear and adding layers of guitar and feedback to create a slow-burning epic.

The album does hit something of a dip and tracks seven to nine seem to blend into one amorphous blob of mush (I think this is where my initial Skunk Anansie parallel came from). However, the album closer "Never" snaps you back to life. It's another one that starts slowly, with Yuri singing wordlessly over the top of some genuinely freaky efffects that could have come straight from the soundtrack of "Ring," "Juon" or some other such trouser-fillingly terrifying Japanese horror film. Even when the singing does become something recognisable as language, the backing never changes (if anything it becomes even more disconcerting) and the overall effect is a song that will do anything but make you sleep.

It's not all perfect but what smorgasbord is? Just as there's always that dubious looking dish of meat and vegetables that nobody is brave enough to try, there are a couple of songs here that aren't as appetising as the rest. However, the album works well as an introduction to the band and those who like what they hear can go on and investigate further. Finally, in what must be a concession to old gits like me, JapanFiles have released Slumber as a CD rather than their usual download format – the re-evolution starts here.

The CD is available to buy here. If you want to download it, send a whiny email to the people at JapanFiles and see what kind of response you get (mind you, if I was the recipient of that email, I'd probably tell you to fuck off and buy the CD, but I'm sure they're more polite than that).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Two words that scare the shit out of me are...

... 'skate punk'. All I can think of is The Offspring, Pretty Fly For a White Guy, that cunt's whining voice... and then a mist comes down upon me and I sometimes find myself with clothes torn, fingernails ragged, and covered in blood and gore. Anyway, enough of my weekends. My therapist says I'm doing well and I may soon be allowed back into the community. However, a lot of my therapist's hard work was jeopardised yesterday as I received an email with the subject line 'Japanese Skate Punk Pioneers "Rose Rose". I immediately called my therapist and he said it should be safe enough for me to open the mail, but if I started feeling the urge to commit GBH, I should shut down my computer immediately and take a long, cold shower. I did what he said and found that Rose Rose have become the latest additions to the JapanFiles roster. For the good of my own health as well as those around me, I probably won't be downloading any of their stuff, but for those of you who are not afflicted like me, have a look here. Hark, I hear the sound of the guards. Better go.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

ok city ok, エディ, アカシカ - Kichijoji Silver Elephant, May 19th

Kichijoji is home to Iseya, probably the greatest yakitori restaurant in all of Tokyo (if not Japan), and it's not right to spend a Friday night in Kichijoji without first going there to fill up on cheap food and cheap beer. Unfortunately this meant that I didn't arrive at the venue on time and missed the first band on the bill. So, apologies to The Boston Liver, I will do my best to see you again sometime.

By the time we did get there, アカシカ (Acacica) were drawing to the end of their set. A four-piece fronted by a preternaturally tiny vocalist called Mayumi, Acacica made me wish I'd foregone the final beer and got my arse to the venue on time. I picked up a copy of the three-track EP they were selling at the show. Check back for a review in which I will try and write something more substantial than this and talk about something else other than the diminutive stature of the singer.

Unlike Acacica, エディ(Eddy) had me scribbling furiously in my notebook. There's a few sentences where I consider if it's possible to drink G&T through a straw and still retain a modicum of dignity. Then there's a fairly long mental meander about the bloke standing just in front of me who looked as if he'd read too much about Jean-Paul Sartre (rather than actually reading anything by Jean -Paul Sartre), and had me placing mental bets as to whether he would ever actually take a drag on the cigarette he was holding do preciously. Finally I was driven to wonder if the reason Eddy took it upon themselves to remind us of who they were after every song was because they knew how forgettable their set was. Eddy seem to have been struck by that affliction which is common among a lot of the bands I've seen here. As individuals they are clearly very able musicians, and as a band they are duck's arse tight, but they are completely lacking in any spark or edge that would make them much more interesting. Not only that, but all their songs seem to clock in at six or seven minutes, which for the kind of music they make (i.e fairly straight ahead indie-rock) is about three minutes too long. Sadly, the most memorable thing about their set was the questionnaire that they handed out to the audience afterwards, in which we had to choose our favourite song from their set and what we thought of the band. I went for the last one because that was the only honest answer I could give, and made some kind of non-committal comments to the other question.

ok city ok had no questionnaires, but their three minute blasts of Pete Townshend-esque guitar jiggery-pokery were a welcome tonic to the lumbering Eddy. Fronted by an exiled American, Kay Grace, ok city ok are an unabashedly old-school indie-rock band that any fan of The Replacements/Paul Westerberg, The Hold Steady et al would do well to seek out. They will be touring in the States and Canada next month - check their MySpace page for more details.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Sugarfields on JapanFiles

The email screamed, "ONE MAN, NINE ALBUMS!" What's this? The Japanese Conor Oberst? Thankfully, no. The one man in question is Hara Tomonobu who goes by the name of sugarfields. Nine albums of his "upbeat, heartfelt melodies" (their words, not mine) are now available on JapanFiles. He also has a MySpace page here, and if you decide you want to buy his music but don't trust the ephemeral nature of the mp3 (i.e if you're over thirty, have a computer that may go into meltdown at any moment and can't understand why you should pay money for music but not have anything physical to show for it), you can buy his CDs here.

I've downloaded all the albums, haven't listened to much yet, but I did like his covers of Sally Cinnamon and All Apologies. More later.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Plutonium E.P., tokyo pinsalocks, JapanFiles download or Maxi Single

When reviewing Pygmy With Bitter Ends I mused about the origins of some Japanese band names. Tokyo Pinsalocks is another one that would probably have got the grey matter wondering off in a similar direction, but thankfully this time I have a definite answer. According to the press release, 'pinsalocks' is a combination of 'pinsalo' (pink salon – a Japanese euphemism for a blowjob bar), and 'rocks' (do you really need an explanation?). To quote the band themselves: “There's a pinsalo in the same building as our rehearsal studio and our university was in the middle of a red light district, we named ourselves Tokyo Pinsalocks."

So, now that we've got the question of the name out the way, how does the music stand up? Pretty well. The five tracks on this unashamedly poppy EP are well worth seeking out. 'Plutonium 07' is shiny 21st century pop as imagined by a 50's sci-fi writer. It's a brutally simple affair, powered by synths that have the unmistakable air of two-fingered plonking. Hell, it worked for New Order and it works for Tokyo Pinsalocks.

'Quiet' is probably the weakest song here. It's darker in tone than 'Plutonium 07' and sounds a bit too similar to Guitar Vadar. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but TP have got a sound of their own and definitely don't need to resort to copying others. It's only a brief dip in form though, as 'so far so fine' kicks the E.P back into shape. It's a blast of futuristic rockabilly thrash that comes and goes in less than two minutes and leaves you feeling like you've just been caught in a summer shower.

Going by the pronunciation of the title during the song, I'm guessing that 'Nioi-Mania' references krautrock pioneers Neu! The song itself doesn't sound particularly krautrocky, rather it's quite a placid number that could have appeared on an album by The Aloof 10 years ago. The calm is shattered in the final minute of the song though when the vocalist Naoko leads the band on a chant of the title.

If the previous song was meant as some kind of homage to Neu! without actually sounding like them, then the instrumental final track, 'SAUCE OF LUNCH' makes up for this (well, a little anyway). Here, the band take the shininess of 'Plutonium 07' and an updated version of krautrock, chuck them in a blender and end up with a song that Orbital would gladly claim as their own.

The name makes sense. The music makes sense. What the hell are you waiting for?

Tokyo Pinsalocks Homepage (Japanese)
Tokyo Pinsalocks on JapanFiles

Monday, May 14, 2007

One small step for Tokyo Music, one giant step for no-one in particular

A Monday night in Roppongi. It may never rank with the greatest nights in the history of humanity's innovation but it's a first for this blog - a live report from a venue. I'm at Stereo, the club I mentioned a few weeks ago. The club has everything - swishness, comfy seats, bogs that were designed for doing whacking big lines of coke in, quality music as provided by Richard Smart, a good friend of mine. Unfortunately, there's no fucker here. Granted, it may be Monday night, but this is Roppongi, this is where people go out. Perhaps the prices are putting the punters off. Entry may be free but the beers are ¥800 a pop and skimpier than the Sports Illustrated swimwear issue. If the owners of the club happen upon this blog, I have only one thing to say - it's Monday night, lower your prices, make all the drinks ¥500 and you might get a few more punters in. In the meantime your comfy seats and cool loop tapes of 50's ads will go un-sat in and unwatched.

Half-arsed? Me?

I've been downloading various odds and sods from the JapanFiles website over the last few months, meaning to review each of them in turn. As is patently obvious to anyone who's read the blog at any time over the aforementioned past few months, that just hasn't happened. The Mizoguchi Ryoko review that I posted the other night was in fact the first review of an album that's appeared here for about three months. Bloody hell. This leaves me in the position of having a shitload of stuff to review and two options: bite the bullet, listen to everything at least two or three times, write screeds of notes which are then used to put together a number of individual reviews; or cobble together some reviews about two or three tenuously connected bands. It's not much of a choice for a committed shirker like myself, is it? Cobblers it is (with profuse apologies to all the musicians mentioned).

Great Composers – Miami

I first heard of Miami on the Call and Response compilation, 1-2-3-GO! (another CD languishing in the 'to review' pile that is threatening to take over my room). Their manic mix of beats, bleeps, squeaks and refreshingly non-helium female vocals hinted at a band that was worthy of further investigation. The five track E.P Great Composers has since brightened many a dull train journey, even the second track Fancy which wanders dangerously close to Rednex territory before swinging back into respectability.

MANY MANY SWEETS – Macdonald Duck Eclair

Quite what a Macdonald Duck Eclair is I don't know, and I hope I never have the misfortune to find out. This is a band that I read about on the Tokyo Live blog and I remain grateful to Ken for pointing me in their direction. Mixing gabba and Jane Birkin-esque vocals probably shouldn't work but it does. If Miami float your boat, then MDE ought to launch your dinghy too.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

ok city ok and the beauty of secondhand music

Last Fm. has been helpful in making me even more geeky about music - all those charts and numbers are like manna from heaven us poor unfortunate obsessives and our stunted emotional growth. However, part of the marketing blurb was something about Last Fm. being a way to widen your musical horizons - by recording everything you listen to they are able to recommend other artists you'd probably like. Unfortunately, this is utter bollocks. Based on the music I've listened to in the last seven days, Last Fm. was able to recommend such unknown artists as The Beatles, Neil Young, Pink Floyd and Queen. I then noticed the sliding scale that allowed me to change the recommendations from 'popular' to 'obscure'. I duly slid the button over and was pointed in the direction of some singer-songwriter called Paul Simon. Gee, thanks, Last Fm. With all these unusual artists you are really spoiling us.

All is not last, thanks to a message I was sent from another Last Fm. user I was pointed in the direction of ok city ok. They've left a trail all over the internet so I'm not going to list all the various links here - do it yourself, they're worth the effort. Fronted by Kay Grace, an exiled American based in Tokyo, ok city ok will appeal to anyone with an ear for a slightly skewed, crunchy pop song. If you like what you hear they're playing at Kichijoji Silver Elephant this Friday (May 18th), before setting off on a tour of the States (more details on their MySpace page).

Finally, I just want to write a brief note of thanks to the goddess of secondhand record shops for deciding to stick so many of the good ones in Tokyo. In the last two days I've spent about ¥5000 and picked up 10 cds of outrageous quality (and a Deacon Blue album because it reminded me of some painful school discos when I were but a nipper). The best ones so far have to be the two compilations of music released on British independent labels in the 80's/early 90's. They make all the wannabes kicking around these days sound even more pathetic than they already do. I tried to find the albums on the internet so I could put a link in here, but no joy - you'll just need to take my word for how good they are.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

1, 2 no 3 de - Mizoguchi Ryoko (download from

One of the main reasons a lot of people get into Japanese music is that it often sounds vastly different to what's being made by Western bands (of course, a lot of people also just get into Japanese music because they think it automatically makes them cool, but that's a rant for another day). Unfortunately though, this sometimes leads to bands who end up sounding the same when trying to be different. For example, thanks to Melt-Banana there are numerous bands who have welded frantic guitar noise, apocalyptic sound effects and tortured chipmunk vocals. Some are good, but a lot of them just plain suck. Fortunately, there are also artists like Mizoguchi Ryoko who strike out on their own path rather than choosing between the two roads signposted 'Polysics wannabe' and 'Shonen Knife wannabe.'

Mizoguchi's mini-album 1, 2 no 3 de is short, but then my five foot two inch tall mother always told me that the best things come in small packages, and after listening to this record over and over for the past few days I'm starting to think she may have been right all along. Armed mainly with a piano and a voice pitched somewhere between Kate Bush and Cerys Matthews, Mizoguchi has crafted a collection of songs that burrow themselves deeply within your subconscious, then keep bringing you back to them even when you know you ought to be listening to other things.

Try staying away from the Kate Bush/Ben Folds sound clash and fantastic 80's style soaring chorus of opening track "Suki ni Nachetta" for a couple of days. See if you can expel the sampled cicada chatter and pitter-pattering piano of "Semi no Isshuukan" or the vocal acrobatics during "Furueru Mune", Mizoguchi's very own torch song – it's nigh on impossible. Even if you do manage to do this, I guarantee you that "Ii Deshou" will be with you long after you first listen to this album. It opens with a loosely-strung bass-line, sparsely played guitar and simple tub-thumping drumbeat that wouldn't be out of place on the first Velvet Underground album. After about twenty seconds Mizoguchi's vocals kick in and the song takes on a hypnotic, almost tribal aspect as she chants rather than sings. Another minute or so later the bass strings seem to get even looser and Mizoguchi's voice, now bathed in static, appears to being beamed in from somewhere just past Pluto. None of this prepares you for the bridge of the song though, which sounds like it was recorded in the studio next door to The Beatles during the Revolver sessions, taking its cues from the swirling instrumentation of "Tomorrow Never Knows". The song briefly dips back into the semi-tribal chants of earlier, before closing with Mizoguchi's multitracked voice ululating over a disintegrating rhythm section.

Paradoxically, the quality of "Ii Deshou" is also this record's only real weakness. To me the song is the obvious choice with which to close the album, but it's stuck in here at track five. This ends up making the final three songs sound a lot more ordinary than they actually are. "Kei no Stage e" might have lived up to its dramatic piano if it had made an appearance earlier on, but after "Ii Deshou" it sounds like it's trying a little too hard. "Birthday Song" fares slightly better, throwing together mariachi style trumpets and a keyboard hook that would probably have Ray Manzarek speed-dialling his lawyers if he was ever to stumble upon this album.

"La La La Song" is the track that does close the album and normally I'd say it was more than worthy of this role. Mizoguchi divests her vocals of any discernible language and sets them adrift over an elegiac piano track that Moby could well steal and use in an advertisement for whichever car company offers him the most cash. As good as it is, I was still left thinking that it had usurped "Ii Deshou" from it's rightful place. Thankfully in this age of iTunes and the like you can resolve this by rearranging the album yourself. Then again, Mizoguchi probably meant the album to run in this order, and who am I to argue?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

New Band On JapanFiles

Tokyo Pinsalocks, a three-piece 'electronic rock band' (that's what the press release said anyway) now have a five track E.P available for download on JapanFiles. I'll try and get a review up in the next few days, assuming I can resist the wiles of the Mizoguchi record.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Mrs. Tanaka Album and a blog

It's finally going to hit the shops this Sunday, just in time for Mother's Day. Have a listen to the songs on the good lady's MySpace page and tell me you don't want to buy the album.

Tokyo Gig Guide is probably the best source of info for live music in Tokyo, and they now also have a blog containing reviews of said music. It's well worth a look.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Limited Express (has come back?)

It may just be scurrilous rumour but apparently Limted Express (has gone?) may not have gone at all. Nothing to confirm at the moment but who knows, they may be shreking their way around the livehouses of Tokyo once again in the near future.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Shift presents "applechair&bananadesk", Club Goodman, Akihabara, May 1st

Most of the concerts I go to in Tokyo are fairly sparsely attended. If there are five bands on the bill there will usually be around thirty or forty people there. It seems that each band brings five or six friends and family members who have no choice but to go. Add in the small number of people who are there because they want to see the bands, and the obligatory blog writing gaijin and that's pretty much it.

Tuesday night at Club Goodman was the exception to the vague rule that I just made up. Despite this being Shift's event most of the audience were there to see Tokyo luminaries (or 'it bands' if you wanted to be unkind) nhhmbase and Melt-Banana. First up was CLISMS. Like all the bands on tonight's bill apart from Shift, this was the first time I'd seen them. Taking their on-stage moves from The Who (without the instrument annihilation), they played a lean twenty five minute set that any fan of the Nuggets series would appreciate.

nhhmbase were one of the first bands I heard about when I started this blog - various people told me that I had to check them out. I bought their first mini-album and while it certainly wasn't bad, it didn't seem that special. I was then told that I had to see them live, that the CD hadn't really captured them at their best. I've been told this kind of thing before and sometimes it's little more than a way to cover up the fact that a band aren't actually that great. With nhhmbase it IS true though - played live, their songs are have more space in which to meander and expand without ever drifting off into muso-wank-noodling territory. One downside to the band could be the fact that apparently they've been playing much the same set for the last two years - do they have any more songs in there or have they shot their bolt too quickly? Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Sometimes you go to a concert where you only know one or two bands on the bill, but one of the unknown acts turns out to be the best thing you see all night and you spend the next couple of days raving to all your friends about how good they were. Unfortunately ヨルズイノザスカイ (Yolz In The Sky) were away over on the other side of the spectrum. I looked back at my notes under I've underlined the words "utter pish" in the same way a bitter cuckold might highlight his cheating ex-wife's name in the phonebook. Musically, their stew of relentless guitar noise and frantic rhythm works well, but their vocalist fucks the whole thing up. He looks like Bruce Lee and sounds similar too, as he yelps his way through every song like a loop tape of every fight scene in Enter The Dragon. It has me scrambling for the beer machine outside in the hallway for much needed oral and aural respite. One final point before we leave the whole sorry episode behind - to the bloke who stood next to me giving the sign of the beast all the way through their set, this band is not Satanic, just diabolical (before any smart arse goes to write a comment about the meaning of 'diabolical', look here).

According to Wikipedia, Melt-Banana singer Yasuko Onuki's vocal style has been described as "a rabid poodle on speed". After their set (this was the first time I'd actually heard any of their music - am I allowed to write a blog on Japanese music after such a confession?) I was trying to figure out what to say about them when my girlfriend trumped both my half-arsed notes and the anonymous critic cited on Wikipedia - "The music was OK but she sounds like Alvin and The Chipmunks going through teenage angst." 'Nuff said.

Shift were last on and came out to a slightly depleted audience (even if it is your event perhaps playing last after nhhmbase and Melt-Banana isn't the best idea). This was the first time I'd seen them since their show at Shibuya O-nest last year, and they seem to have left behind some of the more melodic parts of their sound. Yuki Funayama's vocals stand out above Alvin and Bruce Lee, but the band's sound wasn't as distinctive as before. Then again, maybe it was just the songs they played that night, or maybe the beer I'd downed deperately during Yolz In The Sky's set was playing havoc with my ears. Either way, Shift remain a band that everyone should see live if they have the chance.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Japanese CDs from JapanFiles

Downloading MP3 files is all well and good in terms of convenience, but personally I'd still rather buy the CD and then bung the tracks onto my PC (I guess I'm showing my age now). For anyone else who feels the same and needs a fix of Japanese music, JapanFiles has just released two new CDs which are available here. One, Fresh Cuts From Japan: Volume 2, is a compilation culled from the JapanFiles archives, including tracks by mothercoat, Budo Grape and my current favourites, advantage Lucy. I guess you could call the other CD a 'Rough Guide to LiN Clover'. Called Slumber, it contains 10 tracks chosen by the band themselves which cover their three Japanese releases. There should be reviews here soon (ah, but you've all heard that before, haven't you?).