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Friday, June 29, 2007

Fuji Fabric at Tokyo Zepp

Went to the Tuesday show - first time to see a Japanese band at Tokyo Zepp and the first time to see a Japanese band play to a large number of people. I was covering the concert for purple Sky magazine, so for a full review I'm afraid that's where you're going to have to go. Not sure which issue it'll be in (either summer or autumn) but will post more info once I know.

AFTER BEAT COVERS - sugarfields (JapanFiles download)

Covers albums are a risky proposition. The line between inspired reinterpretation and insipid regurgitation is a thin one, and too often, these projects dance across the line with all the co-ordination and subtlety of a herd of pissed-up wildebeest. Science tells us that every action must have an opposite and equal reaction, so for every Johnny Cash American album there has to be something like Duran Duran's Thank You (if you ever want to get someone out of your life, send them the execrable cover of Grandmaster Flash's ‘White Lines', then stand back and watch your friendship crumble).

This whole area is clearly a minefield, and those who undertake such an album are either very brave, very foolish, or simply don't give a fuck. I've never met him, but I'm guessing that one-man music maker Hara Tomonobu falls into the latter category. Not only does he do the whole covers album gig by himself, he takes on songs by sacred cows of Western music such as Nirvana, James Brown, The Doors and The Stone Roses. The results are so good that the only downside to AFTER BEAT COVERS is wondering what monstrosity it will spawn as its equal and opposite reaction.

AFTER BEAT COVERS reflects Hara's eclecticism as it takes in lo-fi indie, skanking acoustic pop and anything else that catches his magpie ear. There are covers of some old J-Pop songs (as far as I can tell), but not knowing what the originals sound like I can't say very much about them. The same can't be said for ‘Sally Cinnamon', ‘All Apologies', ‘People Are Strange' and ‘Sex Machine' (yes, that one). Hama's versions tend to sound vastly different to the originals, but there's never any doubt as to what the song is. His pronunciation is defiantly Japanese and will probably bug some purists, but that's their problem, not his.

‘Sally Cinnamon' was probably The Stone Roses' shiniest pop moment. Someone deciding to cover it might think about dramatically different ways to redo it - how about a sub-Throbbing Gristle industrial clang-fest, or an out and out heavy metal version? Hara eschews any such option and instead gets his kazoo out (at least that's what I think it is), and buffs up the song until it's a blinding pop gem. ‘All Apologies' gets a more dramatic makeover, as Hara takes Kurt Cobain's tortured torch song into blissful territory that in the Nineties would probably have been called ‘trip-hop'.

This album is good, and not because of any novelty value derived from a Japanese take on some well-known Western songs - Rocket K's uninspired attempt at ‘Video Killed The Radio Star (in which the pronunciation is basically the only thing that distinguishes it from the original) is ample proof that such an approach doesn't work. AFTER BEAT COVERS is an example of this genre at its best. After listening to the album and being amazed you'll want go back to the originals and find things in them that you'd never noticed before, or in the case of the J-Pop songs here (especially ‘Tokyo') you'll find yourself seeking out the originals to see how they measure up to these versions.

Buy it on shiny CD here, or ephemeral download here.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Surfer KIng - Fuji Fabric

Fantstic song and an entertaining video (if only the variety shows in Japan did have guests who fired lasers at each other). Fuji Fabric are playing Tokyo Zepp on Tuesday and Wednesday and I'll hopefully be going to the Tuesday show.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I steal things from the Guardian

Interesting article in today's Guardian in which a bunch of musicians talk about canonical albums that they hate/don't like/don't rate. In lieu of any original ideas of my own, I thought I might as appropriate this and spraff for a bit.
As I may have mentioned elsewhere, I can't fucking stand Dark Side of the Moon - it plods along like a flat-footed policeman and the lyrics are embarrassingly bad. I'm sure Roger Waters (or was it the other one, I can never remember) thought he was musing profoundly on the vagaries of human existence, but I'm sure there are hormone ridden sixteen year olds out there who have scored out better writing. The cover and the title suck too.

Not sure if it's counted as canonical, but I'm in a particularly vile mood today and I don't care, so next up is anything by Blind Melon. One hit, a novelty video and a dead lead singer is hardly groundbreaking.

I'm going to go before this post disintegrates into random abuse for bands and musicians I don't like. Maybe I should have posted this at James Blunt Must Die. Maybe I will.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

ok city ok, great eh?

Until this blogging lark starts to pay some serious cash (hell, any cash would be a start) I'm afraid I'm going to have to limit live reviews to anything that takes place in Tokyo (although I may be able to stretch to Chiba or Yokohama once in a while). In the meantime, have a look here for a review of ok city ok at the NXNE festival thingy in Canadia - they'll be back on Tokyo turf next month I think and they are well worth seeing live.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bespa Kumamero London Live - pristy

Insert witty comment here.


Have a look at the album cover above and the YouTube clip. They are BESPA KUMAMERO and their eponymous debut album is now available on JapanFiles.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Free Swinging Popsicle

No, it's not a campaign for the release of an innocent frozen snack with dubious sexual proclivities, but rather free music. Over the next three days, three different tracks will be available for free download here (it's a MySpace page, not a link to some spammer hawking Viagra and methods of increasing whanger size). The three songs are taken from the band's new album, Go On.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Dok Springs, Jemapur, Hydeout Productions

Yet another uncomfortably hot and humid Japanese summer is almost upon us. Tokyo’s rush hour trains, unpleasant at the best of times, become a sticky, heaving mass of sweating salarymen (don’t get me started on them), knackered looking school kids bent double under the weight of their bags and bemused Northern Europeans wondering what they hell they’re doing living in such a climate. Of course, there are always those enviably cool looking people sitting there, seemingly unaffected by the weather, with barely a bead of sweat on their brows. I want to be like that but I know it’s never going to happen - I was born in Scotland and that’s exactly the kind of weather I was designed for. The best thing I can do is find some music that soothes the soul and cools the boiling blood that makes me want to KILL KILL KILL. Jemapur’s debut album, Dok Springs, is a collection of songs that fits the bill perfectly.

The story goes that 19 year old Shizuoka native Jemapur turned up at the record shop/label in Shibuya owned by Jun Seba (a.k.a Nujabes), armed with a thirty track demo. Impressed with what he heard, Seba cherry-picked the best cuts from the demo and Dok Springs is the result. Perhaps unsurprisingly this album treads a lot of similar ground to Nujabes releases such as Metaphorical Music and Modal Soul, as well as the first Hydeout productions compilation (the imaginatively titled First Compilation. If none of that means anything to you, but you’re a fan of acts like D.J Shadow and his Mo’ Wax label mates, or better known Japanese artists such as Kemuri or D.J Krush, you’d do well to seek out this album.

The majority of the tracks on the album are instrumentals, and they are far more satisfying than the numbers where guest vocalists add their two bits. Vocal tracks such as ‘Light to Light (Remix of Antennae) are by no means bad, but the vocals don’t really add anything to Jemapur’s already atmospheric sound. There’s no moment of jaw-dropping beauty or audacity to equal Nujabes ‘ordinary joe’ from his Modal Soul album, in which Terry Callier reprises his Stax classic over a backing track of 21st century soul that could be straight outta Cafe del Mar. This isn’t a problem however, given the strength and depth of songs like ‘Self Improvisation’, with its blend of skittering jazz beats, unidentifiable wheezes and coughs, and sudden unexpected changes of tempo.

I’m sure this album would also make the perfect backdrop to a few chilled beers out on the porch or in the garden as the sun sets on a summer’s day. Maybe that or later on in the evening when the lights have been dimmed and the conversation is more hushed. Those situations have got more chance of being what Jemapur had in mind when he made the record, rather than it being adopted by a desperate commuter as a way of avoiding deportation. Either way, it’s all good. Let the good times, not the salaryman heads, roll.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A couple more blogs worth checking out

Cover versions can go either way. The very best ones will make you look at a song in a whole new way. Take Johnny Cash’s dramatic reworking of Hurt, for example. What was the once the pinnacle of Trent Reznor’s mardy ouevre became a rumination on life and a man’s impending death. Less dramatic but equally as startling is sugarfields’ cover of Sally Cinnamon (I’ll get round to reviewing the album eventually). Already a classic pop cut, Tomonobu Hara imbues it with his own pop sensibilities, giving us a hint of what The Stone Roses might have sounded like had they grown up in Tokyo rather than Manchester.

On the other hand, cover versions can be the last refuge of a fading star or the first refuge of a newly crowned TV talent show winner. Remember Robson and Jerome? Remember Wet Wet Wet ruining a perfectly good Troggs song (R.E.M. covered it first but even that can’t redeem it). Darius did it, Will Young did it, Gareth Gates did it, and no doubt all future winners of Pop Idol will do it.

Thankfully, the Copy, Right blog goes more for the former rather than the latter. Ever wondered how Guns ‘n Roses Don’t Cry would sound when tackle by Mogwai? Did you think it was impossible to make The Killing Moon anything other than sinister sounding? Check out the Copy, Right for the answers to those questions and more.

Another blog I’ve been frequenting in the last few days is Lost-In-Tyme. Here you can download obscure and hard to find albums in a number of categories including Prog, Krautrock, Funk and New Wave. There’s a shitload of stuff there so it might not be a good idea to visit the website if you’ve got some work or something that needs doing - it can end up being a bit like checking one clip on YouTube. Before you know it the sun’s coming up and that report you were supposed to finish has been long forgotten about.