Moving away (for now)

After reading more music review blogs, somehow I really do not feel the track by track thing works, and I’m kind of gravitating more towards Tumblr these days. I wouldn’t consider this another blog reboot for sure, but I’ll be reviewing things on Tumblr more for now.

Come visit me at Night in Cider and update your links :)

(Title is from a song by Neat’s, the solo project of ex-RYTHEM vocalist & keyboardist Niitsu Yui)

New Year’s Countdown with Iindesu yo!

I explore music rather randomly, so some what I liked best this year did not actually come out this year.

That said, without further ado, I present my New Year’s Countdown…

 

Five Artists I Fell Madly in Love With in 2012

#5 Sakanaction
20110625_sakanaction

I kept hearing their name thrown around on J-Pop review blogs and looked up a few songs, and I really didn’t get the hype. Then I listened to their 2011 album, DocumentaLy, and I was immediately hooked. Their songs are a ridiculously fun, high energy blend of alternative rock and electropop. To me, they’re like the less zany version of POLYSICS, or the more exciting counterpart to school food punishment. No wonder Galileo Galilei frontman Ozaki Yuuki is a fan of them. As for me, I’ll be humming the refrain from Identity well into the new year, for sure…

#4 Yakushimaru Etsuko
Etsuko yakushimaru 3

After hearing j1m0ne speak so highly of Soutaiseiriron, I tried several times to get into them. Their music was nice, but never really stuck with me (perhaps the fact I am far less fluent in Japanese has something to do with it). However, once frontwoman Yakushimaru Etsuko started putting out solo material, that was a different story. What really attracted me to her, however, is her voice – its soft, whispery timbre runs the span from whimsical to plain cute to coy and sexy with ease. And I find her solo material really exploits the different sides of her voice and shows it off at its best. Kamisama no Iu Toori and COSMOS vs ALIEN will definitely remain playlist favorites.

#3 Galileo Galilei
Galileo-Galilei-20120423

I discovered these kids from the opening they did for AnoHana, and I think that’s how most fans know them. But oh, they have done so much more, and have produced an impressive body of work for such a young age (they’re still only 21… barely). The band’s change in sound is evident as they tried to find their musical identity – from heartfelt, raw yet sweet indie-rock to a more polished pop-rock sound to a synth-pop-oriented album… each phase of theirs is unique and has its gems and I am really, really interested to see what they cook up next. I am still not quite over the fact that they lost two of their members… however, I will still be keeping tabs on them for a while.

#2 RADWIMPS
RADWIMPS+100527__A

I hadn’t expected to fall so hard for this group back when I was looping the catchy rapid-fire Oshakashama. When I watched their Zettai Enmei tour DVD on a whim one night, I knew I was in trouble. This band appeals to every quirk I like in pop and rock music, and they are so bloody versatile – from standard pop-rock to punk to rock with funk influences to heart-melting acoustic ballads… you name it. Okay, they haven’t exactly screwed around with synths quite yet (unless you count that one dalliance on Nazonazo) but you get the idea. Their band chemistry is just amazing as well, each member’s individual personality shines so wonderfully onstage.

#1 BUMP OF CHICKEN
BUMP+OF+CHICKEN

I could probably write you an essay on why I love these guys so much, but I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. Is it Fujiwara Motoo’s unique, slightly nasal-but-not-really, soft and crooning with a gritty edge voice? Is it Fujiwara’s lyrical style, which is oh so vague yet so transparent and just conveys the most honest of emotions? Is it the catchy melodies carrying that undercurrent of nostalgia so powerful that it makes me both melancholy and wanting to jump for joy? I don’t know what makes this understated, straightforward group so magical, but I’m pretty sure it’s why they are so famous. firefly was one of the best single releases of 2012, here’s to hoping for a great album in 2013…!

 

Four Songs I Was Obsessed With in the Last Moments of 2012

#4 “St Elmo no Hi” by BUMP OF CHICKEN

A bit too typical of them… but it’s just how I like it. The chorus is what sealed the deal for me – I love the “how far are you?” parts, and the bridge (with the どれくらい先にいるんだろう parts) just makes my heart soar. St Elmo’s fire, by the way, is a weather phenomenon. I find it an interesting title for the song, given what the lyrics say.

#3 “22” by Taylor Swift

Totally captures that restless atmosphere of being an almost-college-grad with random bouts of wanderlust. I relate to this song very much… “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” – that’s my favorite part. I love the dance-y feel of this song…oddly enough, it reminds me of Ke$ha, in a good way.

#2 “Hikari e” by miwa

I was never inclined to check out her stuff since she seemed too much like another YUI clone, but my friend Gary showed me this song, and it is one of the best pop songs I have heard in a while. Funny how miwa is another ‘girl w/ guitar’ act but the one song of hers I latch on to is the one with the synths…

#1 “Kane wo Narashite” by Bonnie Pink

My ex used to play this a lot since he was a Tales of Vesperia fan, but recently I started loving this song a lot on its own. It’s the best ‘let’s go on adventure’ song ever – uplifting and hopeful, without being overly cheery. Also doesn’t hurt that her singing style reminds me of Sakamoto Maaya (though Maaya was actually inspired by Bonnie Pink, if I am not mistaken)

 

Three Artists I Used to Love, Lost Interest in, and Rediscovered

#3 YUKI
yuki_isoya

I’ve had this strange love-hate relationship with YUKI’s voice for the longest time. I remember finding her nasal voice a bit too shriek-y and thought it mangled the ballad Home Sweet Home, but not so long after, I fell in love with the quirky Melancholinista. I kept tabs on her music loosely, but for some time ditched her to listen to Joanna Newsom (the world only has so much space for voices like these…). After hearing the opening she did for Sakamichi no Apollon, I think YUKI has won this round…

#2 angela
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Discovering this duo was like finding that rare treat that changes your life – or your outlook on music. Back when I was in high school, I didn’t care for any of the series they did songs for, but I was enamored with atsuko’s distinct lilting, flip-singing voice with its throaty vibrato. I don’t know when it happened, but I think as I gravitated towards more organic, standard vanilla ‘pop’ sounds and started listening to dramatic ‘anime-esque’ music less and less, they disappeared. Though thanks to the glorious reappearance on KINGS, the opening theme for K, they have more than made a comeback on my playlist.

#1 YUI
YUI

Japan’s answer to Taylor Swift and Avril Lavigne rolled into one. Wholesome songs about love and other things in life. There was rarely a moment I walked around without envisioning a YUI song as background music in late high school and early college. I stopped following her around her 3rd studio album, as a lot of her music started sounding too much like pale imitations of her debut material, but recently I have been craving some down to earth acoustic singer-songwriter stuff, and revisiting YUI reminded me of why I loved her so much, and some of her newer stuff’s not so bad actually.

 

Two Artists I Wish to See Reach Great Heights in 2013

#2 NU’EST
nu'est

This five-piece boyband not only charmed me with their edgy image and catchy dubstep-incorporating songs but also gave me a more positive impression of K-Pop in general. It’s partially because of them that I’ve started becoming swayed by the likes of Big Bang, 4minute, Orange Caramel, (old full lineup) DBSK… etc. They’ve debuted with a resounding bang with two strong singles, Face and Action, and I’m really hoping this isn’t just an overly strong start. Here’s to 2013, and may they come back with even more epic songs and music videos!

#1 Goose house

goosehouse

This formerly amateur cover group captured my attention with renditions of my favorite J-Pop and anime themes, and I love everything from their harmonies to their breezy folk arrangements. Sometimes only a few of their members (often just two) cover songs, but with them I feel ‘the more, the merrier’ is an approach they should take – their group covers always tend to be better. Their original material still leaves much to be desired but once they polish up their songwriting (or collaborate with really good writers), they’re bound to go places… I hope. Fingers crossed for 2013!

 

One Amazing, Opinion Changing Album

#1 “Red” by Taylor Swift

Taylor-Swift-Red

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Taylor Swift. I don’t dislike her, either… she’s kind of in that category that if her songs started playing wherever I was, I’d just briefly recognize it and then lose interest and go back to whatever I was doing. When a friend of mine started telling me how good Red was, I was sure he was out of his mind… until I actually bothered to sit down and listen to it. Red is good. Really good. Not mindblowingly good in the ‘opens my mind to a whole new world in terms of music and does great things for its genre” way. But amazingly good in the ‘this brings back everything I actually loved about the mainstream pop industry in America’ good.

The content is a step more mature than her previous works – the songs, while still focused on romance, do have a more frank, emotional take on it than just chattering about high school crushes or the ‘guess which ex pissed me off’ songs of her previous albums. A few songs still retain a tint of country styling and have that distinct ‘Taylor Swift sound’, but most of them seem like a conglomerate of the best parts of all the pop singers I loved back in high school – which is not a terrible thing. I feel like Swift is experimenting more with her musical identity. “Red” brings to mind all the bits I loved about Avril Lavigne, Jewel, Miley Cyrus, even a tiny bit of Ke$ha as I mentioned earlier, and Swift herself. The cutesy sensibilities are mostly gone and in its place is a sweet yet honest album, a diary of a young woman almost ready to face the world. The highlight? The Last Time, Swift’s duet with Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody. Oh, is it heartbreaking.

Happy New Year everyone!

Pause.

So my laptop completely decided to give up on me – it hasn’t actually crashed, but it’s in that ominous pre-crash state (simple programs that usually work don’t work, the graphics card decides to fuck up on me in some way randomly). I’ve been through enough laptop crashes to sense this… what the heck, I must have the black touch with technology or something.

Because of that, I’ve frantically backed up all my files, and deleted a huge bunch off this laptop, which I am resetting to a blank slate during Thanksgiving break.  So, I have no music on my computer right now… which is kind of driving me a bit nuts, but seeing how Windows Media Player won’t even launch without some error message, I suppose it’s for the best.

In short, I’ll need to pause activity on this blog for a bit. I’ll have my computer up and running like usual in about a week, but finals are sneaking up on me…  ARGH. Can you believe that December is in 11 days only?! I’m still convinced it’s only October… oops.

On an unrelated note, my Galileo Galilei merchandise arrived! I now have a copy of their latest release, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, and their biography book. I flipped through it and while I’m not aching to launch a big-scale translation project of the entire thing, I thought I’d at least start with the  “50 questions” portion of each member :)

BUMP OF CHICKEN – Flame Vein

BUMP OF CHICKEN – Flame Vein

(released March 18th, 1999)

1. ガラスのブルース [ Glass no Blues or Glass Blues ]
2. くだらない唄 [ Kudaranai Uta; Trifling Song ]
3. アルエ [ Arue; R. A. ]
4. リトルブレイバー [ Little Braver ]
5. ノーヒットノーラン [ No Hit No Run ]
6. とっておきの唄 [ Totteoki no Uta; Special Song ]
7. ナイフ [ Knife ]
8. バトルクライ [ Battle Cry ]

BUMP OF CHICKEN’s debut album. It was later re-released on April 28th, 2004, when the band was signed to the major label Toy’s Factory.

I can’t even begin to describe how much I love Glass no Blues. It’s your quintessential catchy pop-rock song, and a crowd pleaser.  Glass no Blues starts with a simple, bouncy guitar riff, and then frontman Fujiwara Motoo comes in with the verse. His voice is rough and sometimes pitchy, but still carries the song okay. The chorus is the highlight, with an easy-to-remember melody and Fuji singing his heart out. The lyrics are especially adorable, they’re about a glass-eyed cat singing.

The intro of Kudaranai Uta mellows things out from the previous one, and gives us a glimpse of the slow burning rock songs that BUMP so excel at in the future. This song is about treasuring childhood memories and the simple wonderful things of youth; the lyrics also express fear about becoming an adult. I like hearing the emotion in the choruses, but it also sounds like Fuji is pushing his voice just a tad too hard.

Arue has me laughing because it’s a song dedicated to Ayanami Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion, who Fuji had a crush on when he was 18 years old. The song itself is rather cute, with a rather poppy melody contrasted with the grungy sounding guitars. I’m also fond of the faster-paced chorus and I find the vocal harmonies somewhat awkward, but endearing (I think they’re sung by the bassist, Chama, but I’m not sure).

We get a more relaxed track with Little Braver, which still retains the distortion but also uses an acoustic guitar. The song is about finding courage bit by bit by realizing the things that are important. I would have preferred if the energy of the verses was kept lower and had greater contrast with the choruses, but the song has this overall gradual build up, from the stripped down acoustic beginning to a full blown rock deal by the middle, and finally bringing everything back down at the very end.

No Hit No Run tricks me into thinking it’s a simple, stripped down song when I hear Fuji singing over the sparse backing, and then the usual electric guitars kick in. There’s so much I like about this song, though. The vocal harmonies here are a step up from Arue‘s and I love the parts where I can really hear Chama’s bass line. The melody has this ‘meandering’ feel to it, and when it does peak, it really gives off a wonderful sense of nostalgia.

We get the band’s first love song with Totteoki no Uta, which is about finding a ‘special song’ for that someone and going to a special place with them. I’m a bit disappointed, this track actually had me excited since I could hear the potential, but the draggy arrangement dampened things. Also, Fuji’s voice comes across a little too shouty in the choruses, and it kind of interferes with the heartfelt atmosphere.

Knife sounds like Arue version 2, but more melancholy. The verses led me into thinking this would be another nostalgia-laden song… but when the prechorus and chorus came around, I was a bit jarred. Even the chorus sounds very much like Arue‘s, complete with the similar backing vocals. Not a terrible track, just very disjointed sounding.

Battle Cry closes out the album, and it’s about fighting on through life and not giving up even if they were lying about hanging on. I don’t find the song particularly interesting, but this song has the best vocal performance from Fuji on this CD. He’s singing with conviction, and doesn’t have any pitch issues here. The rest of the band is also solid, nothing stands out about the arrangement but everything holds together really well and nothing seems lazy or out of place.

Closing thoughts: Flame Vein, to me, was an average rock album with a few standout tracks at best and a valiant effort from a bunch of teens in a garage at its worst. There were glimpses of Fuji’s songwriting talent but the band in general was adequate at most. Yet, there was an undeniable wholesomeness, earnestness in their music that must have drawn in a lot of fans. It’s that quality the band would later delve into and really make their own. Among all those aspiring rock bands, why was BUMP OF CHICKEN picked? From this album alone, I would not be convinced, but I’m sure someone saw that hint of potential a lot more than I did. And it’s good that they did.

Choice cuts: Glass no Blues, Little Braver

Weakest link:  Knife

supercell – My Dearest

supercell – My Dearest

(released November 23rd, 2011)

1. My Dearest
2. 罪人 [ Tsumebito; Sinner ]
3. 大貧民 [ Daihinmin; lit. Extreme Needy, it’s a Japanese card game ]
4. My Dearest (TV Edit)
5. My Dearest -instrumental-
6. 罪人 -instrumental-
7. 大貧民 -instrumental-
8. My Dearest (TV Edit) -instrumental-

supercell’s 4th single, and vocalist Koeda’s debut. The title track is the first opening theme for the series Guilty Crown.

My Dearest ticks off everything I like in a pop song – a piano line (though this one is very simple), soaring strings, a catchy chorus, and interesting vocals. It could have done without that cheesy guitar solo in the bridge, though. As for Koeda’s voice, it’s got so many different shades to it, from her more narrow-sounding belt to her round, lilting head voice – she’s got a lot of potential. My Dearest flirts with the fine line between majestic and contrived, and I have to say it leans more towards the former. Stick with the full version – the TV edit is really rushed and didn’t have that build up in the melody (as it used the second verse & chorus, which didn’t have a pre-chorus, as opposed to the first).

Tsumebito is a plain piano ballad, that if it were not for Koeda, would have ended up being passed over. There are some parts could come across as too nasal and harsh, but as I listened more carefully, I really started to appreciate the emotive capability she possesses.  Koeda expresses the song’s heartbreak so well that I felt the unrefined vocal parts added to the song instead of detracting. (Tsumebito is about someone pleading with God to return a loved one)

And… Daihinmin shows us how Koeda should NOT use her voice. This attempt at an edgy rock track just fell completely flat in all ways possible. Not only is the song itself rather uninspired, Koeda’s using her nasal voice throughout the entire song and screaming in a way that is really unappealing. I know it’s not the case, but I can’t help but think she’s doing a poor imitation of Kitade Nana here.

Choice cut: My Dearest

Weakest link: Daihinmin

Male Artists I’d Like to Hear More From

Since I wrote this post, I decided to give the boys their due! This was harder to compile, since I listen to far less male artists… I ended up going with the ones I got into via anime from my late high school and early/mid college years. Here are four male artists that stood out to me from the OP/ED themes I discovered them in, but never really made a splash in the music industry.

Miyamoto Shunichi

Background: Miyamoto started playing the piano when he was four years old, and enrolled in a vocal school when he was in high school. He debuted in 2003, providing the opening and two of the ending songs for the anime adaptation of D.N.Angel, as well as composing a few of the background tracks for the series.

Thoughts: When I was in high school, I dreamed of having Miyamoto serenade me. He has a soothing voice with a bit of a rough side that reminds me of a calmer Fujiwara Motoo – in fact, I think it’s partially because of Miyamoto that I became such a BUMP OF CHICKEN fan. It’s hard for a piano balladeer like him to make an impact on the mainstream market, but I do think his genre is a very female-dominated one that definitely needs more male voices.

Listen to: Caged Bird

 

pigstar

Background: The band was started by the Sekiguchi brothers back in 2000, and they recruited two other members shortly after. pigstar aims to create a ‘new’ rock sound by incorporating classical piano elements (their guitarist also plays piano). Also, the members are fans of Jimmy Eat World. They had a brief stint in anison doing the two opening themes for BL series Junjou Romantica.

Thoughts: For a rock band that wants to create something novel by adding piano to their songs, they sure don’t do it enough. However, they’re at their best when they actually do. There’s an undeniable layer of cheese in a lot of their work, but I actually think that’s one of their charm points. Most of their songs are feel-good rock numbers, and that’s fine with me. The singer has a warm, round tone in his voice you’ll either find stuffy or love.

Listen to: Eien no Sonzaisha

 

Mori Tsubasa

Background: Mori debuted in May 2008, singing the theme song for the movie Ai Ryutsu Center, in which he also had a minor role. Later that year, he performed an ending song for the popular shounen anime Katekyo Hitman Reborn!. In 2009, he did another ending for the same series.

Thoughts: When I first heard him, I was initially turned off by his slightly whiny voice, but the more I listened, the more it grew on me. Mori’s voice seems to thrive best in acoustic guitar-driven songs, and whatever I could find from him seems to follow this formula… almost. I think he’ll probably sound the best if he steps away from the pop-rock scene and is given a chance to sing raw, stripped-down acoustic songs or something more folk or bluegrass influenced.

Listen to: Suberidai

 

redballoon

Background: redballoon got its start as a six-member rock/jazz/funk fusion band but for their official debut, they were pared down to a three member rock band. The drummer quit in 2006, leaving the Muraya brothers, the two founding members to continue on. This band also has tie-ins with a popular shounen anime – you may have heard the two songs (an opening and an ending) they did for Gintama.

Thoughts: Oh, what would I give to actually hear what redballoon sounded like in its original lineup. Despite the watering down treatment they were given, there are still traces of their old influences. Even their catchy mainstream-sounding songs aren’t that generic, but rather fun to listen to. The singer’s voice isn’t as piercing as most rock vocalists’, instead it’s more laid back and blends into the music, something I really liked.

Listen to: Giniro no Sora

Galileo Galilei – Ame Nochi Galileo

Galileo Galilei – 雨のちガリレオ [ Ame Nochi Galileo; Galileo After the Rain ]

(released January 21st, 2009)

1. 管制塔 [ Kanseitou; Control Tower ]
2. Swallow
3. PIXIE
4. 扇風機 [ Senpuuki; Electric Fan ]
5. Monday7s
6. ハローグッバイ [ Hello Goodbye ]
7. ねるら村の感謝祭 [ Nerura Mura no Kanshasai; Thanksgiving in the Sleeping Village ]

Galileo Galilei’s 2nd indies release. This band debuted after winning the teen talent festival and competition Senkou Riot in 2008. The first track, Kanseitou, inspired a movie of the same name set in Wakkanai, Hokkaido, which also happens to be the band’s hometown.

Kanseitou starts with a lone guitar, which is joined by another guitar, then the bass, and then the vocals.  This song is about the struggles of growing up, but with a very hopeful take on it. There’s an earnest quality in frontman Ozaki Yuuki’s voice that makes it especially endearing. For a moment I feared this song would veer off into angst at the chorus, but the arrangement and vocal delivery keeps the uplifting mood there without being -too- happy. This track is very reminiscent of earlier BUMP OF CHICKEN, which is a good thing.

Swallow also falls into the mold of a standard rock song, and it’s more laid back, with a slow burning, build-up-to-it melody instead of a driving one. I’m getting slight BUMP OF CHICKEN vibes again, but not so much as the previous song – it’s definitely edging more towards their own sound. The background music could be quieter during the verses, so the chorus would peak more instead of sounding so static.

Oh, PIXIE – such a fun, energetic song! The highlight would be the addition of female backing vocals, courtesy of Chima. Her voice complements Yuuki’s perfectly and is just so cute. (I wonder if she’s the pixie the title is referring to…) There’s never a dull moment in this song – from when it starts to when it ends, the energy level just keeps going in one seamless stretch. I was initially sad that it’s only 3 and a half minutes, but I think these kind of ‘jumping’ songs do best when they’re short and sweet.

Time to bring down the mood with Senpuuki, a solemn, listless number. Since the title means “electric fan”, I picture a muggy summer day in which one just doesn’t want to do anything but lie in front of the fan in a daze. There’s that wonderful contrast I love so much, with the verses echoing hollow and lonely and the choruses sounding more pained and even angry at times. I also like the random bits of piano sprinkled here and there – they’re not that obvious but they really add that little ‘something’ to the song.

And we’re back to something cheery with Monday7s, a summery rock track. It’s almost as playful as PIXIE. The verses were rather chill, so I was very surprised at how the chorus sounded. I especially love the backing vocals (is that Chima again? maybe with the rest of the band?) – I think that’s what’s giving the song that beach-y  sound.  And that brass solo near the end only adds to the cute factor.

Hello Goodbye changes the pace once again. I think this is a song the guitarist, Iwai Fumito, wrote when he was in his previous band (he joined Galileo Galilei after Senkou Riot). Hello Goodbye is mid-tempo rock, with a slightly barer arrangement compared to rest of the songs on the album. I think the high point is Yuuki’s vocals – I love how smooth they are during the verses. Oh, do I detect a hint of nostalgia in the chorus? I feel like this song hasn’t quite pinned it down yet, but  it’s on the right track.

Nerura Mura no Kanshasai is such a strange album closer. It’s got a bit of a blues feel and we’re treated to another side of Yuuki’s voice – he’s belting it out and yelling at the top of his lungs, and straight out screams in some parts. It’s great – I love how the band is really running away with this track. It’s the perfect rowdy festival song, I’m picturing people feasting, dancing, and drinking (let’s ignore the fact that none of the band members were legal when this was released…)

Closing thoughts: What an amazing debut for Galileo Galilei! (I couldn’t get ahold of the band’s first indies release, 1tas2, so I am assessing their start based on this mini-album).  At this point, they’re still rough around the edges, but this album has demonstrated impressive versatility and maturity, considering it was released when they were barely 18 years old.  Ame Nochi Galileo is packed with a good variety of songs and really showcases the band’s strengths and hints at the great potential they possess.

Choice cuts: Kanseitou, PIXIE, Senpuuki

Weakest link: Swallow