Music Roundup – January, February 2019

Hey, it’s been yet another millennium since I last posted, I’m really putting the Sporadic in Rodrovich’s Thought-Precipitator right now. I have been occupied with stuff relating to my university enrollment, still in limbo. So that’s not great for me.

Still, I’m here today to talk about positive stuff – music. I will go through the albums and tracks I really liked/strongly disliked in the past two months.

Old Stuff (meaning albums I have listened to that didn’t come out in 2019)

Kate Bush – Hounds of Love

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Favorite tracks: Running Up That Hill, Hounds of Love, Mother Stands for Comfort, Cloudbusting, Jig of Life

I was debating with myself to whether or not I would include this because I don’t think I have listened to it enough times. But those four or five listens through the LP (so far) are enough for me to say with confidence that it’s a unique pop record. The backing-tracks are dreamy, Kate Bush’s vocal delivery is theatrical and attention-grabbing and the weird synth textures make the album sound like it’s from the future. It’s really unbelievable that the album was released in 1985. I certainly want to check out more of Kate’s discography in the (hopefully) near future. If you like quirky pop-centric musicians like St. Vincent, Mitski, Regina Spektor – then I strongly recommend you to give this a listen because Kate Bush inspired those cool artists and many more. Respect the greats!

Melt-Banana – Fetch

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Favorite tracks: Candy Gun, The Hive, Lefty Dog, Infection Defective, Lie Lied Lies, Red Data, Red Stage, Zero

It’s really weird that such a shrill, noise-rock album could be as infectiously catchy as it is. I love the unrelenting bass and drums, the shrill digital tone of the guitars, and the way the cacophonous layering of those instruments mesh together to make melodies that got me hooked right from the first listen. Although it’s a noise rock album, the sound of the album never felt too harsh nor did the music ever feel dark and disturbed; it’s just pure electric chaos. Yasuko’s high-pitched, shouted vocal delivery complements the shrill textures like sugar in a latte (given that you like sugar). I recommend you this album even if you aren’t big into noise rock because there are some catchy pop-like motifs in the tracks… and it’s only 32 minutes long!

January 2019

Chiaki Mayumura – Gisshiri Haguki [Favorite album from January]

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I feel bad that Chiaki Mayumura wasn’t on my radar in 2018, but I’m glad that this is the first release I have heard from her because it’s flames, pure J-pop flames (2019 has to be the year she gets popular, I mean… c’mon!). Apparently, this 30-track double album is essentially Chiaki re-recording ‘almost’ all of her discography under a “proper” album release. Her previous albums’ sound had their own brand of DIY, lo-fi production quality to them, and while this aesthetic worked for some songs (like Dokkoi Tomorrow), an overwhelming majority of them felt underdone and demo-like where Chiaki’s voice got drowned in the muddy mix of the instruments.

So I am glad that Chiaki and her agents went forward with this project. Being a 30-track album, I don’t think I have listened to a Jpop release that sounds more “versatile” than this before. From introspective, emotive ballads (like Psychopath, Visit Someone in HospitalPure and Dear My Family) to a trap-flavored pop track (like MC Mayumura), with a weird monkey ad-lib section (like Did Mayumura-san Make This Really?) to something theatrical (like A 20-Year-Old Woman) and then just self-indulgent fun against simple instrumentation (like I was born in Australia and Viva☆Youth☆Turtle☆Tomato), Chiaki covers a lot of ground here. Even though she’s re-recording her previous stuff, she sounds like she was having a lot of fun on the recording booth; like she’s excited to sing these songs as if they were written the day before. Thanks to a crisper production, her energy is as cutting, funny and infectious as ever (I love her ad-libs and death growl segments in tracks like Tsukutsukuboushi and Knuckle Sense.

Her vocal delivery is nuanced and has a wide enough stylistic range to make sure whatever portion of the tracklisting you pick up the album from, you won’t get bored with the rest of them. Hell, she often effortlessly changes up styles in the middle of a song – what’s more cooler than that? I want to get into some highlights of the album by talking about individual tracks, but I would leave that for an essay of a review later on in the year. I still listen to it regularly, and it’s possibly going to be my favorite Jpop album in 2019 for a while… but wait! Mayumura-san’s got a new album over the horizon… I can’t wait.

(This is a “non-album version” of Tsukutsukuboushi…)

Oh yeah, and here is the list of my favorite tracks (didn’t want to put in the beginning since it’s so long lol): *inhales* A 20-Year-Old Woman, I Was Born In Australia. Agokezuriyuko, Tokyo Rusubandenwappu, Dokkoi Tomorrow,  MC Mayumura, Crayon, Viva☆Youth☆Turtle☆Tomato, Psychopath, Did Ms. Mayumura Make This Really?,  Your Weather Elder Sister, Charanporan, Real Dissonance, Tsukutsukuboushi, Coca C○la Slippers Broke, Visit Someone in Hospital, Knuckle Sense,
Meso・Pota・Mia, (no title), Pure, Songs Made By Girls Like Garbage, She Saw, Fukuoka, Dear My Family. *exhales*

Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken

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Favorite tracks: Corn Maze, Tuesday, Save Our Ship, Acid King, Churro, Suicide Big Gulp

This is the first project I have listened through from Aesop Rock. Of course, I have sampled some of his songs from The Impossible Kid album, and my first impressions of him as a songwriter were positive – he can conjure up vivid images through his lyrics. His flow sometimes feel a bit monotone, but if there’s good production backing him up, then that bar gets some extra flavor… and Tobacco did exactly that with his production on this album; it sounds chiptune-inspired, with some acidity and quirkiness in the mix. I just wished the quirkiness of the beats got more space to go all “out there”. Like I said, I loved the vivid (and cynical) lyricism from Aesop Rock – especially the ones in Tuesday, Churro and Acid King. Despite the lyrical content being dark, the overall sound of the beats are relatively colorful – I still enjoy listening through it now and then.

February 2019

CHAI – Punk [Favorite Album from February]

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Favorite tracks: Choose Go!, Great Job, I’m Me, Wintime, This is Chai, Fashionista, Family Member, Curly Adventure and Future

CHAI, the famous four-member band, who turned a lot of heads back with their brand of neo-kawaii music in 2017. This time, they aimed for more noise with more of “punk” aesthetic – although I would say that “neo kawaii” is pretty darn punk in my eyes. Compared to Pink, I think the arrangements in this album are more textured and controlled, which means that it’s less crazy and unhinged than Pink but the shelf-life of this album on my playlist is longer and I think I will be revisiting this album even more into this year – there’s always something new that hooks me into the album again and again. Listening to this album instantly let me know that CHAI has definitely evolved their sound to something that feels impassioned and heartfelt while still having that absurd neo-kawaii-punk flavor to it at the same time.

I really like the anthemic feel to the tracks, they seem more emotionally potent and at the same time, weirdly moe – case(s) in point being tracks like I’m Me, Wintime, Family Member, Feel the Beat and Future. And there are tracks like Choose Go!, This is Chai, Great Job, and Curly Adventure – that have their own flavors of catchy melodies and basslines. There’s really not a single dull moment on this album. So yeah, I like this album a bit more than Pink and I would recommend this over their debut record if you want to get into CHAI’s music for the first time… or just jump in anywhere, it doesn’t really matter – both albums are great.

James Blake – Assume Form

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Favorite tracks: Assume Form, Into the Red, Barefoot in the Park, Can’t Believe the Way We Flow, Are You in Love?, Where’s the Catch, I’ll Come Too, Power On, Don’t Miss It

Never heard anything from James Blake and I am glad this is my introduction to this music because this album is pretty. I really like James’ vocals – they sound so tender and sensual; which complements his icy, dream-like production throughout most of the tracklisting, especially in his softer, ballad-like tracks like Assume Form, Barefoot in the Park (feat. Rosalia – ah, I should listen to one of her albums already!), Can’t Believe the Way We Flow. And also Into the Red, Are You in Love?, I’ll Come Too, Don’t Miss It and Power On which have (retrospectively) emotional lyricism. But I wasn’t the biggest fan of the RnB-inspired tracks like Mile High and Tell Them – which sound smooth and aren’t necessarily bad songs but they don’t comfortably fit into the tender, velvet-like aesthetic of the LP. Where’s the Catch? (feat. Andre 3000) didn’t fit the album’s aesthetic, either – but Andre’s verse won me over. I would say the only underwhelming track for me is the closing track which kind of loops over a bit too many times. That aside, it’s a wonderful album.

LOONA – [XX]

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Favorite tracks: XX, Butterfly, Satellite, Curiosity, Colors, Stylish, Yeolgi, favOrite, Hi High

LOONA’s official debut EP [++] back last summer left me a bit disappointed with the “incomplete” feel the tracklist had. Sure, the EP featured a great crop of catchy tracks but the versatility that its members’ solo works had prior to that release was lacking. So I am glad that Blockberry Creative decided to try to complete that semicircle of an EP with this full-length (or repackaged) release.

I like the newer (first) half of this repackaged EP here, the production is more textured and the producers put more work into their sampling and composition – the melodies are catchier than ever. Overall, these new batch of songs has a more mature and dreamier aspect to them, despite them having a strong bubbly EDM backbone. Even the vocals sound better in the first half, they harmonizations sound great. I really don’t think there’s an underwhelming track in the first half. The second half of the album is just the older [++] EP with tracks in reverse order. There are some great catchy tunes with some fun production, standout tracks include Hi High, Stylish and Yeolgi. Perfect Love is kind of standard (not necessarily bad though), and I think it’s the only underwhelming track in the whole album. It’s great to see LOONA’s long 18-month journey into debut getting paid off through their currently rocketing popularity through a “complete” release like this – [XX] completes the image that LOONA’s debut EP was missing. And I have noticed that music nerds who aren’t normally into Kpop liking LOONA’s music recently, so that’s cool.

Xiu Xiu – Girl with Basket of Fruit

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Favorite tracks: Girl with Basket of Fruit, Ice Cream Truck, Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy, Mary Turner Mary Turner, Scisssssssors

I recently got introduced to Xiu Xiu’s music through one of their album teaser tracks popping up on my Youtube feed – Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy – which immediately infected my playlist for a good couple of weeks, the different instrumental phrases and the theatrical delivery is great. I haven’t listened to any of their albums except this one and Forget – which cripples my contextual commentary.

On first listen, Xiu Xiu’s music sounds like something an art-hippie cooks up in a few hours, but it didn’t take me long to see that there’s some substantial work done with the layering of the samples, and there’s some lyricism to those perverted rants. But between Forget and Girl with Basket of Fruit, this album slants more towards noise, and the LP lets you know that right from the titular opening track. There’s something ritualistic and primal to the sound instead of the harsh electronic sound I imagined when I saw the noise genre tag. I am more of a fan of such ear-grabbing sampled tracks like Ice Cream Truck, Mary Turner Mary Turner and Scisssssssors than the droney ballad ones like in Amargi ve Moo and Normal Love. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been patient enough with this album, but I haven’t gone head over heels for this project. Call me a surface-level fan, it doesn’t matter to me. But there are some seriously amazing and unsettling tracks on this album, as well as some underwhelming ones. I am open to giving it a few more listens later on in the year, though…

Tracks/MVs/Singles

 

The new Seiko Oomori releases:

-The official release the Zettai Kanojo is March 13 but I’m talking about the Youtube MV versions here)

Zettai Kanojo feat. Sayumi Michishige

Yeah, this is a disaster. The MV is cute, the girls’ costumes are super pretty. Then the cuteness is amped up to cloying levels (yeah, even for me) with those high-pitched hats that just rattles against the girls’ overly squeaky autotune… nope. Just feeling a “nope” on the song, but a “yes it’s so cute!” with the video – c’mon they are dancing with small bunnies against a fluffy backdrop with fruits flying all over them!

VOID

Hell yes! Unfiltered Seiko is the best Seiko (yeah, even better than the watches). Made me a fan of her music all over again. The editing in the video is cool. The song has all the hallmarks of her own brand of emotion-erupting pop-punk music – her energy is arresting here.

(G)I-DLE – Senorita

This is currently my favorite Kpop title track of the year so far, Senorita is yet another unconventional track from this group, following up from Hann. Soyeon wrote this one too, which is always great to see as most Kpop tracks aren’t written by the idols themselves. I love the pre-chorus – it’s infectious, and the unorthodox song structure increased its replay value for me. The vocals are sassy and they have their own room in the song since the production doesn’t feel overdone, I really like the brass section in the chorus. I am not the biggest fan of Kpop integrating Spanish musical motifs into their songs, but this is an exception. The set designs in the MV are bright and the color-coordination (or is it the color grading in post-production?) is great – the reds pop and give off this spicy aesthetic. Yup, it’s spicy.

Cherry Bullet – Q&A

This is a new group, and they play to their strengths well. The video game concept is cute, the choreography is cute. Basically, it’s your standard cute Kpop song with nothing going wrong and no out-of-place rap detours in the track. It’s a nice de-stressing track, and it reminded me of why I started listening to Kpop – it’s the cute girls. I know, how shallow of me.

ITZY – Dalla Dalla

This surprised me with the industrial-lite, glitch-lite production on it, I wish the synths could have been louder and harsher so the track would go into noise pop territory. But it’s a decent track nevertheless. The thing I loved about the music videos are the cool glitchy visual effects going on in the background, and the choreography is really eye-catching. I think ITZY is a promising group, I have yet to check out their single album though. I feel that ITZY’s gonna replace/surpass Blackpink in terms of popularity if they do comebacks regularly and put out music videos as well produced as this.

CLC – No

No. Just no. How is this a song? There’s nothing going on in this track. I loved Black Dress, though – and No follows up from a similar concept that. So I’m going to link that below instead.

 

Vampire Weekend – Harmony Hall

I am excited to hear new Vampire Weekend music after all these years. I used to have their albums on repeat back in 9th grade when I wasn’t into listening to too many albums. So when “I don’t wanna live like this. But I don’t wanna die” popped up on this track – it’s a line lifted from Finger Back, one of their songs from their last album 5 years ago – I got anime flashbacks to those days.

I loved the lush instrumentation here, the guitars at the beginning were beautiful – I can smell spring when I listen to this track. Can’t wait for their new album to drop.

Denzel Curry’s cover of Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls on Parade

It’s electric. Denzel Curry hinted his metal game in Taboo but this is something else, he even inserts of one his own verses from Sirens into his performance. I think I like this over the original. Listen to it to feel the anger and heat from Zel for yourself.

Weezer – High as a Kite

This is probably one of the most cathartic tracks Weezer has put out so far. Yet, this reminds of the old Weezer that I loved, like the Blue Album Weezer. I liked the music video too, that Mr. Rogers set is nice and adds to the cathartic aspect of the song. I am yet to listen to the Black Album, but I haven’t heard much praise about that so… uh… fingers crossed…

I think that’s about all for now. I didn’t listen to a lot of individual tracks in the last two months, so the list is kind of short this time.

Thanks for reading

                                      (… feels like it’s been forever since I last typed that)

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My Top 20 Albums of 2018 (Part 2)

Hey, it’s “Oh look at me! I listen to soo much music”- kun here and it’s time for me to go through the top half of my top 20 favorite albums. If you missed the first part, click here.

So yeah, here’s my Top 10:

10. KOTO – Bye Bye Teens Lullaby

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Favorite tracks: Tiger Fire Cyber Fighter, Dancing like a Snail, Dead or Kawaii, Midnight Houdai, Taikutsu ga Tomaranai, Lonely Kong, Bye Bye Teens Lullaby, Tottemo Good na BBQ… yeah, it’s the entire tracklist

Honestly, if I finalized this list in mid-December, Zombie-Chang’s album would have been in this spot, but this one grew on me like a bacterial culture… but in a good, infectiously cute way. This album is like a bag of treats – each tasting slightly different from each other but they are all equally sweet, there’s not a single underwhelming track on this thing. Sasaki Cafe’s manic, 80s-influenced production on the tracks have dizzyingly layered synth-leads, there’s some good funk in the bass and synths here and there, and KOTO’s kawaii vocal performances somehow tie up these crazy dance-pop songs with nice little bows. I don’t know, the sound of the album is intended to be retro but the intense danceable energy of the tracks give a strange futuristic tinge to it. Dare I say I like this album slightly more than her other fantastic album, Platonic Planet?

9. Clarence Clarity – THINK: PEACE

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Favorite tracks: Adam & The Evil, W€ CHANG£, Naysayer, Vapid Feels Ain’t Vapid, Next Best Thing, Tru(e) Love, Law of Fives, 2016

CC’s return with a more cohesive and pop-oriented album had me pleasantly surprised with how well he balanced the glitchy and pop elements and clarified the album’s themes through better lyricism and through more emotive vocal performances. Sure, his debut album No Now was sonically more interesting but it was longer, was kind of all over the place, and felt kind of incomplete – so his new album is definitely an improvement on those fronts. Even with a brighter, pop-like production, Clarence showcases a wide palette of styles with different flavors of dense, trippy synth leads. It feels futuristic and I was addicted to it for a long time.

8. BROCKHAMPTON – iridescence

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Favorite tracks: NEW ORLEANS,  BERLIN, SOMETHING ABOUT HIM, WHERE THE CASH AT, WEIGHT, DISTRICT, J’OUVERT, HONEY, SAN MARCOS, TONYA, FABRIC

I’m glad that Brockhampton tried something out of their “comfort” zone and made a raw, experimental oddball of an album… okay, it’s not that “out there” of a record but the producers and songwriters had the intent to make it a more mature release than usual. Brockhampton blends up a lot of genres and explores different stylistic avenues on this record while laying down some repetitive motifs to make the tracks feel like they are from the same album – I wouldn’t say they did a perfect job of it, but I found it enjoyable nonetheless. There were some really overwhelmingly emotional cuts on this LP, like Kevin’s opening verse for Weight, the entirety of Tonya and the ending choir chorus of San Marcos. Sure, there are some faults and rough edges, but I really resonated with the great parts of the record.

7. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!

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Favorite tracks: Violence, Mardi Gras Beads, Almost Had to Start a Fight/ In and Out of Patience, Freebird II,  Wide Awake, NYC Observation, Death will Bring Change, Tenderness

This funky art-punk record/post-punk record is always exciting to listen through because of how Parquet Courts pick up elements from punk and funk and implement them into their songs so effortlessly and cohesively in this album. There are times in the album where Savage and crew jam out these angry yet dancy tunes like Violence and Almost Had to Start a Fight, while other times the instrumentation gets more textured but the bassline groove never dies. Every instrument pops, and so do the thoughtful socio-political lyrics – I particularly like the lyrics on Violence and Almost Had to Start a Fight. Every track feels part of the album even though they are composed of different styles.

6. Seiko Oomori – Kusokawa Party

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Favorite tracks: Shinigami, ZOC Jikkenshitsu, Reality Magic, GIRL’S GIRL, Last Dance, Amoeba no Koi, Watashimi, Kimoikawa

Yeah, like I said in my review of the album, the record grew on me throughout the latter half of 2018. Half of the tracklist feature some crazy, grimy, punk party tracks like ZOC Jikkenshitsu, Reality Magic, Last Dance and GIRL’S GIRL while the other half of the tracklist consist of intimate ballad-types which reach these strong emotional crescendos that send goosebumps across my neck despite me not knowing Japanese. Sure, on initial listen the album seemed a bit dual sided, but I found more versatility in the production and performances of the tracks the more I listened through the album. It’s great and Seiko Oomori is one of my favorite personalities in Jpop (or J-music in general) right now.

5. Mitski – Be the Cowboy

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Favorite tracks: Geyser, Why Didn’t You Stop Me?, Old Friend, A Pearl, Lonesome Love, Me and My Husband, Come Into the Water, Nobody, Pink in the Night, Washing Machine Heart, Blue Light, Two Slow Dancers (yeah, almost the entire tracklist)

Mitski definitely had been a charismatic singer-songwriter in the indie-scene in 2018 and it’s great to see her getting the acclamation she deserves last year. Mitski conjures up these short-story-like scenes with specific moods and emotions in her songs so effectively. The production sounds more mood-inducingly spacious compared to her previous indie-rock centric buzzing soundscapes in Puberty 2, and there’s more variation in the instrumentals in this record. Her vocal performances are one of my favorites of 2018 – she knew where and how to manipulate her vocals for each track. I feel this strong intimacy with her performances whenever I listen through this album, it’s hypnotic. Her lyrics are poetic even though it feels more like she’s describing scenes in her songs. I don’t know, whenever I put this album on, it feels like pure magical escapism.

4. Death Grips – Year of the Snitch

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Favorite tracks: Death Grips is Online, Flies, Black Paint, Hahaha, Shitshow, Streaky, The Fear, Outro, Disappointed

I love this new palette of sound Death Grips experimented with on this album – it’s more lo-fi and grimy compared to their previous high fidelity abrasive noisy, industrial rap bangers. They bring out more rock-centric tunes since (probably) Jenny Death, MC Ride sounds tamer here but he still got a strong presence as usual. I think the album is probably one of their most diverse collection of tracks they have put out so far, there’s something for everyone (well, almost everyone) – if you like DG for their abrasiveness, then Black Paint’s the song for you. If you want some horror show type shit then listen to The Fear. If you like something bright and bubbly, then Streaky will scratch that itch. Want something weirdly danceable? Linda’s in Custody got you covered. Throwing up a rave? Death Grips is Online. I could go on. Listen to the album if you didn’t like Death Grips for you, maybe this one will change that.

3. Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want

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Favorite tracks: Long Road No Turns, Satan in the Wait, The Flammable Man, The Lords Song, Less Sex, The Reason They Hate Me, Ocean Song, Guest House

Of course, I wouldn’t have checked out this album if the Melon didn’t give it a 10/10 (I know, I’m a big Fantanohead). But this album is actually that fantastic. I listened through some of Daughters’ discography before listening to this one – although they changed from fast grindcore sound to a more patient and atmospheric one, they remain as wild and ominous as ever. Listening through the LP feels like a cinematic horror experience. However there’s something addictive about the album listening experience, it’s like the rush we get from watching scary and twisted stuff. The lyrics are grim, violent yet it’s poetic, they seem to describe scenes and the harsh, tempestuous instrumentation makes them all the more vivid – they make the listener see those shattering of glass, flying sparks, a burning house, somebody is trapped in there. It’s not every day I listen to something as cinematic and harrowing as this album.

2. Haru Nemuri – Haru to Shura

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Favorite tracks: MAKE MORE NOISE OF YOU, Narashite, Haru to Shura, Lost Planet, Sekai wo Torikae Shite Okure, Yoru wo Oyoi Deta, Nineteen, Yume wo Miyou, Rock n’ Roll wa Shinanari with Totsuzen Shonen, and all the remix tracks

With a cohesive collection of tracks flavored with a taste-making (and taste expanding) concoction of various genres, Haru Nemuri’s Haru to Shura rang out through the alternative/underground music scene in 2018 and got people to rave about it. Personally, I am not knee-deep into the Japanese underground music scene but it’s pretty obvious how masterfully Haru carved out her own album that feels anthemic, youthful and overwhelming. I love the fuzzy production on the LP, it drowns me in Haru’s overarching soundscape and puts bridges between her different styles of songs in the album. Haru’s vocal delivery is soulful and changes with her experimental instrumentation – she sings airily, raps nonchalantly like spoken word poetry and develops a growl in some choruses. The instrumentation sounds almost always punchy – the drums sound organic, the synths sound bright and bubbly, the guitars sound deep. All of my favorite albums are addictive to listen to and Haru to Shura is no exception.

1. Jack White – Boarding House Reach

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Favorite tracks: Connected by Love, Why Walk a Dog?, Corporation, Hypermisophoniac, Ice Station Zebra, Over and Over and Over, Everything You’ve Ever Learned, Respect Commander, Get in the Mind Shaft, What’s Done is Done, Humoresque

If you read my review of the album back in August, you wouldn’t be surprised that this album is my number one pick. I wasn’t really familiar with Jack White’s (and The White Stripes’) massive discography before listening through this album, but I fell in love with the raw, unhinged personality of this project within the first couple of listens and it has only grown on me since then – I would even say I love more tracks from the album than I did while writing that review. A majority of the tracklist consists of these instrumentally indulgent jams which I never get tired of listening through, Jack White strays away from his classic blues-rock sound and moves into more electronic-oriented, experimental pastures – and he explores every artistic avenue he could think of, track by track. Lyrically he speaks on long-distance relationships, the absurdity of humanizing pets, how true originality doesn’t really exist, corporations created from vague hype, and so much more. Jack even raps, he showcases on ambient spoken word tracks, dips his toes in classical music, plays with alien synth loops, then he comes full circle and jams out tracks structurally similar to his previous works. Speaking of which, I went back and listened to some of White Stripes’ and his solo discography – and with that context, I ended up loving Boarding House Reach even more. It feels like a bold artistic statement and more punk than most punk albums.

And that concludes my first year-end list. There’s more to come – it will probably be March by the time I finish all the lists but I’m enjoying writing these.

Oh and feel free to share your favorite albums from 2018 – I’m always open to recommendations.

Thanks for reading.

 

My Top 20 Albums of 2018 (Part 1)

Hi, welcome to my first year-end list from 2018 and it’s about the thing I started to talk about unexpectedly and extensively in 2018 – music. Like I mentioned in my last post that 2018 was a big “taste expanding” year for me so you will see a lot of artists where the album in question is the only one I listened from them, meaning I don’t give a lot of contextual commentaries on the artists – I hope you can forgive that and my relative inexperience in describing what I like about the albums.

Anyway, let’s get into the honorable mentions first. I have three of them.

Wednesday Campanella –  Galapagos

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Favorite tracks: The Bamboo Princess, Picasso, Melos, Three Mystic Apes

Wednesday Campanella sound as fresh as ever on their new album, as usual – they continue to genre-blend and genre-bend house, hip-hop, pop, electronica and they even introduce some classical instruments in the mix. I was pleasantly surprised by that tabla interlude in the middle of The Bamboo Princess. KOM_I sings a lot more and the tracks have more IDM-y and ambiance to them. I didn’t end up enjoying it as much as Superman but it’s still worth giving a listen-through. Also, I’m confused as to whether this is an EP or an album.. I mean, there are 8 tracks so I think it can be considered as an album… anyway, it’s good.

SOPHIE – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides

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Favorite tracks: It’s Okay To Cry, Ponyboy, Faceshopping, Immaterial, Whole New World/Pretend World

Sophie’s studio album debut is like a mosaic in terms of overall sound. The beautiful, spacey chimes in It’s Okay to Cry, the industrial BDSM-influenced banger Ponyboy, the post-industrial vibes continue in Faceshopping, takes an ambient form in the rest of the tracklisting except Immaterial, which features bubblegum bass – and Sophie’s mastery over colorful production is amazing as ever. Track-to-track playback isn’t cohesive but I think that’s the scattered feel Sophie was going for, and it works well in some of the transitions. It took me more than a couple of listens to get into this album.

Kali Uchis – Isolation

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Favorite tracks: Miami, Your Teeth In My Neck, Tyrant, Nuestro Planeta, In My Dreams, After the Storm

While I didn’t love every song on this 15-track album, I found the comfy and dreamy sound of the record very easy to listen through. I am not much into the umbrella of genres (jazz, RnB, soul, reggaeton) she showcases in the album, but I can’t deny the bass groove and the slow percussion on the majority of the tracks. She also has some sharp lyrics, some memorable lines in Miami being: “But why would I be Kim? I could be Kanye/ In the land of opportunity and palm trees”. Uchis vocal performances are intimate, airy, sultry and dreamy – and those qualities made me put on this album every once and then during long car rides from cram school last year.

Now let’s get into the list proper…

20. Polyphia – New Levels New Devils

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Favorite tracks: O.D., Death Note, Bad, Yas, Rich Kids, G.O.A.T.

Polyphia really took their technical prog rock sound to new levels on this album – they infused that, electronica, hip-hop and RnB with math rock textures, inviting some cool people to feature (loved the Mario and Hansel from CHON and Yvette Young features). Every instrument sounds clean and sticky where necessary, the riffs sound free-flowing and hyper-technical at the same time, math rock songs I like need some spicy change-ups and Polyphia interjects them seamlessly in the mix. The length of the album is perfect. The layering of the instruments is cyclic yet kaleidoscopic and dizzying. It’s one spicy collection of cool math rock tunes.

19. Noname – Room 25

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Favorite tracks: Self, Blaxploitation, Window, Don’t Forget About Me, Montego Bae, Ace

Room 25 features Noname’s sharp lyricism backed with gorgeous, jazzy, lush instrumentals, with her vocal delivery oscillating between rap and spoken-word, between witty and emotional. Self is one of my favorite album openers of 2018 – the lyrics are sharp as hell. The features are cool – Phoelix’s jazzy backing vocal features are great and Smino’s chorus in Ace is really smooth on the ears. Although I liked some tracks much more than others, I found the overall sound of the album to be cohesive and a really easy to listen through despite its dense, poetic lyricism.

18. Denzel Curry – TA13OO

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Favorite tracks: SWITCH IT UP, CLOUT COBAIN, THE BLACKEST BALLOON, PERCS, VENGEANCE, BLACK METAL TERRORIST

This is a solid conceptual album of three well-paced acts. The first (light) act consists of straight-forward trap-style bangers but stuff gets super interesting from the second act onwards – from which the album is pretty much flawless in terms of how compelling the track-to-track playback is. Denzel’s energy throughout the album is gripping and I loved the grimy production in the last quarter of the track-listing. There are decent features – a standout being Zillakami’s beastly flow in Vengeance. The lyrics on Clout Cobain and Percs are great. Overall, it’s a solid listen.

17. Anna von Hausswolff – Dead Magic

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Favorite tracks: The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra, Ugly and Vengeful and The Marble Eye

This is the only album I listened to from her discography – so I can’t comment on her evolution in terms of depth and themes. But this album very much has depth in terms of arrangements and gothic sinister feel to the sound, albeit just putting it under that wouldn’t be accurate – it’s also meditative and there are some bright, divine moments in the album. Pipe organs make a bulk of the atmosphere and melody on this thing, Anna’s vocal performances range from divinely soft to soul-shredding, and the slow pipe organ riffs remind me of the sound of drone/doom metal. The slow, meditative flow of the songs make listening through the album sort of cinematic experience – as the listener goes to through these ritualistic movements of a motion picture soundtrack. I would have ranked this higher if there was a bit heavier buildup in some the tracks, but it’s great enough as it is.

16. cacophony – Harmony

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Favorite tracks: Breath, kk, In the end, Comme un poisson dans le ciel, Rosetta, Spring

Cacophony’s debut album takes fizzing atmospheric production and couples it with piano and strings – there are mostly haunting and grim pop-ballad-type tracks, but none of them hardly sound the same because she utilizes quite a wide range of synths but still manages to make the overall sound consistent. Maybe it’s her voice – her vocal performances are amazing – she has really smooth inflections and has this even husk that doesn’t break. Her choruses are powerful. Sadly, there aren’t any translations available so I can’t speak on the themes of the album – but just going from the tone and instrumentation, it’s not a happy one. Nonetheless, her production is very promising and already very compelling I hope she deepens that further in future releases.

15. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran

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Favorite tracks – 1539 N. Calvert, Real Nega, Thug Tears, Baby I’m Bleeding, Whole Foods, Rainbow Six, Curb Stomp

Peggy is at everybody’s neck in this album – from alt-right trolls to libtards to bloggers. He makes a bunch of obscure references from name dropping Myke C-town to sampling Ol’ Dirty Bastard to video games like Rainbow Six to titling a song I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies… yeah. The production on this LP is noisy, glitchy, grimy, wet and cold. Peggy’s energy and flow are cutting and so are his lyrics. The album starts out really strong but there are some patches where I thought his beats got a bit samey and watered down, then again, the finishing tracks were great. This 19-track beast of an album is an essential listen because Peggy’s got some shit to say, some of which will stick with you.

14. Kero Kero Bonito – Time ‘n’ Place

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Favorite tracks – Time Today, Only Acting, Flyway, Make Believe, Dear Future Self, If I’d Known, Sometimes, Rest Stop

I really enjoyed this change-up Sarah and her crew brought on in 2018. The band moves on to dreamy indie rock and experimental noise pop pastures while still incorporating their previous Jpop-influenced synths in the mix. While Bonito Generation was more clean-cut in terms of its sound (primarily catchy Jpop tunes about growing up), Time ‘n’ Place is more bold and versatile with each song sounding different from each other – it’s impressive that Kero Kero Bonito still puts out catchy tunes despite all that.

13. MGMT – Little Dark Age

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Favorite tracks – She Works Out Too Much, Little Dark Age, When You Die, Me and Michael Tslamp, One Thing Left to Try, Hand It Over

I don’t know, lo-fi synth pop got me good in 2018. My only exposure to MGMT so far is this album and Electric Feel – regardless of context, I loved the psychedelic synth passages and the new-wave bass on this LP. The reverbed vocals meshed in extremely well to the sound of the album, the hooks on some of the songs are catchy (like When You Die, Me and Michael, Tslamp) and in others the synth sequencing are infectious (Little Dark Age, One Thing Left to Try and She Works Out Too Much). I can go over how each song appeals to me but I will leave it here by saying that this album has a super cohesive sound yet it sounds more free-flowing and multi-faceted than I anticipated.

12. MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS – No New World

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Favorite tracks – New Order, Asahinagu, If Only, Yah Yah Yah, No New World, HuHuHu, Sugar… how about the whole tracklist, huh?

After years of studio silence (a few months for me because I discovered the band around March last year), MoFD returned with their own blend of post-hardcore/shoegaze without skipping a beat, and that’s impressive because Natsuko is the only founding member left in the trio. It’s a short album but it is relatively a lot more versatile – ranging from nostalgic shoegaze to noisy punk rock-type passages to fine-tuned sunny alt-rock tunes. The lengths of the tracks are near perfect, consisting of interesting interludes instead of just being structurally formulaic (verse-chorus-verse). This album is great – it still hasn’t worn off on me in the slightest.

11.  ZOMBIE-CHANG – PETIT PETIT PETIT

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Favorite tracks – Lemonade, Iziwaru Bakari Shinaide, Tokidoki Wakaranakunaruno, Mona Lisa, WE SHOULD KISS, Nanka Mukatsu, Onion Slice

Yung, once again, changes things up with her sound on this album – she gathers a supporting band playing live bass and drums. The overall sound maintains that tinge of lo-fi but Yung’s puts way more work on her singing than her previous two albums – and she sounds as uniquely charming as ever. She departs from the bubbly, bedroom pop synths to ones with a stronger new-wave influence, but it’s super groovy and infectious. It’s all great fun – there’s not a single underwhelming track, and the runtime of the LP is perfect. I know I’m not sounding as excited as I should be since I put this in the 11th spot – it’s just that I don’t know enough about the genres Yung blends up in this album to go into explaining the appeal, but you’ll get it when you put this on.

Alright, I’m stopping here. I’ll be back with the second half (top 10) of the list soon.

2018 & me & 2019

Happy New Year everybody! (No, I’m not late with the wishing, it’s still technically a ‘new year’…. but this post is late – nothing new).

2018 was an okay year IRL – I graduated from high school, still not sure about where I’ll go for college – but I’m going through applications and things aren’t looking as bad as I feared them to be. I’m still alive and healthy, something which I’ve been anxious about since mid-2017. It’s kind-of-irrational for a young guy like me, having that sense of impending doom taking over my mental state for days at a time – but it does happen and it sucks, wish I had more control over it. Also, when I’m not locked in an anxiety cage, I’m just lazy – and I really want to change that because I have control over that, at least. I hope I can just feel like a normal person, not be a sad sloth when I’m feeling like a normal person, and be more motivated this year. That’s all I have for my vague ‘resolutions’ (if you can call them that).

2018 & Anime

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As I said in my update post back in July, I stopped watching anime seasonally – and I still don’t feel like getting back into watching 10 shows every three months week by week for the foreseeable future. Frankly, I think I’m enjoying anime more by not pushing myself to keep up-to-date with shows every week. Of course, binging has its disadvantages – like I can’t always sit down and watch slice-of-life shows in just two or three days. Nonetheless, I learned that not watching anime seasonally works for me.

I just checked my MAL and, unsurprisingly, 2018 has been the year where I watched the least number of new anime ( since 2016 (the year I watched the most number of anime).  Again, I don’t feel like I don’t like anime, it’s just I’m not super excited about new anime before I watch them, unless it has to do with sequels – I’m all aboard on the Chihayafuru and Haikyuu hype trains babyyy!

But I definitely feel more positive on the new shows I watched in 2018, I gave more 8/10’s and above (9) than I did in 2017 (8) on my MAL, even though I watched fewer shows. I think 2018’s been a good year for comedies – I loved Pop Team Epic, Asobi Asobase, Hinamatsuri. Aggretsuko was funny with an enjoyable and well-written cast of characters, and I even enjoyed the over-the-top repetitive comedy of Gokudolls. So if you got some other comedy-centric shows to recommend from 2018, please do in the comments.

I’ve also watched a ton of old OVAs, enjoyed most of them but forgot about them an hour later – the most memorable ones being Otaku no Video (learned some history), Shinesman (cool parody), Golgo 13: Queen Bee (the first Dezaki film I’ve watched) and Cipher (I really want to write a post on it soon). I finally got around to watch Watamote last year and I loved it, even though it kind of got painful and funny watching Tomoko’s overly crippling social-anxiety. Painful because I also have social anxiety, but funny because the show portrays it on an unrealistically over-the-top level. Others among the old anime I loved in 2018 are the eccentric Kuuchuu Buranko, the adventurous youth-tinged Night is Short, Walk on Girl, In this Corner of the World and Barefoot Gen – an anime that uses emotional and tonal clashes as its greatest strengths, and it burns its gory imagery into the back of my eyes through that. Although I loved a lot of old anime, I didn’t watch any old anime from last year that I would put among my all-time favorites.

2018 has also been the year when I finished watching all the Ghibli feature films and realized Isao Takahata is a way better director than Hayao Miyazaki – of course,  they are both great, but Takahata is more adventurous and experiments with more styles than Miyazaki. I plan to make a Top 10 Ghibli films, soon – so I will hold back my opinions on the films until (and if) then.

That’s about all I have to say about my anime-watching in 2018.

2018 & Films

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I’ve been getting into watching a bulk load of movies from 2017, but last year I dived even deeper and became somewhat of a cinephile, and discovered a lot of amazing films and filmmakers.

I love the 3 Kubrick films I’ve watched so far, Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day became one of the most moving films I’ve ever watched. Sion Sono’s Antiporno had beautiful set-designs and Ami Tomite’s performance was amazing, and of course, his epic, tonal hotchpotch of a film – Love Exposure – blew me away. Speaking of blowing me away, Nakashima’s Confessions is now one of my favorite revenge-stories ever. The controversial filmmaker caught my eye with Enter the Void – which was one of my favorite movie-experiences ever, but I was pretty disappointed with his other feature films. And speaking of favorite movie experiences, watching cult-classic Hausu was another amazing one – I watched it a second time with a friend, and I found it as entertaining as I did when I first watched it.

I enjoyed a lot of Korean movies last year – Kim Ki-Duk’s 3-Iron, Lee Chang-dong’s Oasis , Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, Hong Sang-soo’s On the Beach at Night Alone and Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Memories of Murder being standout Korean films for me – I need to watch more from those directors. I enjoyed the cheesy rom-coms way more than I expected, I got a crush on Han Hyo-joo and ended up watching a couple of mediocre films starring her because of that. Watching Architecture 101 and John Lee’s A Moment to Remember got me misty-eyed, which brings me to the point that, generally, Korean films are exceptional in how they portray melancholic and sad stories and make the viewer care about the characters in such a short time. I can’t quite put a finger (or multiple fingers) on what specific aspects make that happen, but it’s something I noticed – so I get why people watch K-dramas and love them so much.

I won’t talk about the films I watched that came out in 2018 – I will talk about them in a year-end list.

2018 & Music

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I sort of underwent a huge “taste expansion” last year – I got into a lot of experimental stuff, I got the appeal of shoegaze, drone metal and post-rock. Got into more Japanese artists – something which I wanted to do in 2018. I’ve become more of an album-guy than a singles-guy, I got more time to listen to music because I was on my desk studying most of the time from May to September.  For non-2018 albums, I had these on repeat: Boris’ Flood and Amplifier Worship, Swans’ To Be Kind, Death Grips’ Bottomless Pit and Exmilitary, and GFOTY’s compilation album. I listened to 5 US-based rap albums from 5 artists instead of 3 rap albums from Brockhampton in 2018 (lol), and I really enjoyed them – so I guess I’m a bit more into rap?

I still like Kpop, although getting into album-centric discovery didn’t boost my love for it because the Kpop industry is more about the MV production, idol shows, singles, mini-albums, and the repackaged mini-albums – and that’s completely fine and I’m enjoying a good amount of tracks anyway, and there were some great group debuts: Nature, fromis_9, LOONA, (G)I-DLE and Stray Kids.

As for other 2018 music… year-end lists are coming!

So yeah, it was a great year of discovering new music, and I hope I can continue in 2019 too.

2018 & this blog & 2019

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It’s not surprising that my blog hasn’t got a boost in readership since 2017 – in fact, views have plummeted. That’s fine, though – I don’t even deserve the readership I am getting now (although I’m really grateful to people who do read the blog once in a while), I’m not currently putting out huge, interesting posts with well-formed opinions, and I don’t have the output to deserve more. Bloggers who work full-time jobs and put out cool posts regularly deserve more readership. Alright, let’s move on before I turn this section into a pity party – I’m excited to try more stuff on this blog in 2019. No, I haven’t scrapped the “Revisiting Favorites” series, I got distracted while watching through Death Note (which was supposed to be the next entry to the series) – so I’ll get back to that soon… yeah, I will, not try to.  I’ll continue to do occasional album reviews, although I don’t think I’m really reviewing them as much as I’m gushing about how much I like them. I want to get more into talking about movies- I mean, films this year at some point.

For now, my top priority is getting my year-end lists out, there will most likely be 8 lists this time: 4 on music, video games I played in 2018, favorite films, favorite OP/EDs, and favorite anime. The music, video game related lists are probably going to be out this month but I need more time to watch more anime and films from 2018 before I finalize my lists. Yes, I take making lists very (and unnecessarily) seriously.

I think I’m going to stop my thought-precipitation/diarrhea right here. Thanks for reading. Here’s to a good 2019.

Haru Nemuri – Haru to Shura [Album Review]

There are albums, where they just click with you, where it couldn’t be more noticeable that there’s a burning ambition and a compelling personality behind it within the first couple of listens – Haru Nemuri’s Haru to Shura is one of them for me.

Haru to Shura is Haru Nemuri’s first studio album, following up from Atom Heart Mother – which is a great EP where she seemed to be experimenting with different sub-genres of electronic pop. But on this album, she takes bits and pieces from her previous EP and builds her sound from scratch – she blends up a wider range of genres and makes her own cocktail of electronic Jpop, noise pop, shoegaze, post-rock, and hip-hop. The album feels like a real body of work with interconnected samples and the noisy, bleeding guitars and synths, repeating phrases – it’s meandering, incorporating change-ups, but no track feels disconnected from the album until we get into the remix section.

Before I go and fawn over the sonic aspects of the album, I will touch on a bit on her lyrics. Going by translations on a Google doc I found on Reddit (I couldn’t find any other reliable sources), the lyrics resemble abstract poetry – which explains why Haru’s vocal delivery often feels like spoken word. And the fact that she seems to repeat certain phrases cement in the idea that the album is a solid body of work rather than just a collection of good tracks.

Haru makes more noise for us in the intro and throws us in a spinning room with organic-sounding drums circling the mix, a sunny guitar and some fizzing synths popping in and out – if nothing else, it’s a good kick to the listener to what to expect from the album. Narashite introduces soaring guitar riffs, along with the drums, and they ring out throughout the entire song like riffs do in a post-rock song. Haru develops a growl in her delivery on this track – her energy is relentless and it keeps spiraling out till the end, but there’s still enough space in the song to get familiar with her brand of sound.

Check out this live version of the track, it’s absolutely electric – better than the studio version in my opinion:

We move onto electronic pastures of the album with Underground, where the synths replace the drums but the post-rock structure is still present. It’s in the titular fourth track where the bleeding, rough feel of the production is used to its maximum potential – it sets up a compelling soundscape before Haru just rewinds the tape and sets fire near the end of the track by bringing back what sounds like a variation of the soaring guitar riff from Narashite, a portion of the verse turns into the chorus. Then the rocketing riff and noisy, crunchy background samples tie up the track – it gives me goosebumps every time, definitely one of my favorite tracks of the album.

After the first zzz interlude I feel a bit underwhelmed with the next track, Lost Planet, because Haru to Shura is such an overwhelming track and the interlude isn’t long enough to recover from it. It’s not a bad track though – there isn’t one on this album. While the instrumentals are great as ever, I felt her vocals lost their primal timbre during the chorus. In Sekai wo Torikae Shite Okure, there are these choral backing vocals (reminiscent of Sayonara Baby Pink) that give the track an anthemic feel. Sonically, it’s a brighter and cleaner than the preceding ones – not super surprising, since the (translated) chorus is “Ah ah ah ah ah! Take back the world, baby!”.

Then the trio of tracks following up from that feature a synth lead resembling the shuffling sound a traveling train makes (it’s most prominent on the second zzz interlude) – it’s cool but I don’t know why it’s on Yoru wo Oyoi Deta – a song seemingly about the sea and swimming. Nonetheless, I really love the (kind of hip-hop) percussion on this track and Haru raps ride the beat well. Transitioning from my favorite zzz interludes, Nineteen is another favorite cut from this LP as well – bringing back the drums and her brand of oozing, sweet and bright synth leads into the mix. I love the synth leads on this song. Again, Haru’s slight transitions in her vocal delivery (during her “ai datta”s) from the verse to the buildup – she does such switch-ups often throughout the album and adds even more things to enjoy from my listens.

Yume wo Miyou is a straightforward, almost-spoken word piece wrapped under a blanket of an ascending chord and changing rhythmic leads. The final ‘proper’ track of the album, Rock n’ Roll wa Shinanari with Totsuzen Shonen, starts with a really crunchy drone and then builds up layers of guitar melodies throughout the song. Another highlight of the track is how Haru puts in all her styles of vocal deliveries from, airy to primal, in this song. The thumping drums sound great here, too – it hammers in their proclamation of “Rock n’ Roll won’t die” – it’s a great ending to the album.

Now, I can’t really complain, the remix section is great – it allows Haru to showcase her alternate takes on the songs on the album. Starting with a more dreamy take on Yoru wo Oyoi Deta – I think this version fits the song better, going by the translated lyrics. I love the icy Underground remix with NERO IMAI – I really enjoy his curled-tongued rap. The real ending of the album is the slowed down jazz rhythmed Narashite remix, I liked the vocal manipulation (making me wish that she did more of this in the album) and the ambient pet sounds near the end of the track. A slow but a spicy ending to the album, I would say.

Haru Nemuri has gained significant traction since Fantano’s positive review (I myself got introduced to this album through that review), and she’s been only getting more and more popular among Japanese music fans and music fans in general – and she deserves it. Since the release of the album, she dropped a single album, kick in the world, the main track being another anthemic song in the vein of Sekai wo Torikae Shite Okure but with even more things going for it in terms of production. Even the remixes on the single album have sharp variations, a standout being the blaringly distorted and indulgent kick in the hell. She also released i wanna, featuring her signature mildly fuzzy synths and an ear-filling bass – overall an easy, fun listen.

Anyway, Haru to Shura is a stellar album – highly inspired and highly inspirational – with excellent replay value and definitely is a must-listen of 2018. It’s one of my favorite album listening experiences of this year. Listening to this is like eating a bag of candy, once I start – I can’t stop. Undoubtedly, it’s my favorite Japanese album of 2018.

My Experience with Happy Sugar Life

Yeah, no – I don’t think I can ‘review’ this anime as a whole thing because my impressions on the show changed sharply – as sharp as the tonal whiplash in the show – as I was watching through the series.

One of the most entertaining aspects of some anime is the use of tonal whiplash. If handled and timed well, it’s impressive and entertaining (ie. March Comes in Like a Lion, Gintama) and if not, it’s still entertaining (ie. Mayoiga, King’s Game). But in Happy Sugar Life, it’s usage is relentless and it’s the core of the anime’s “aesthetic” – with the polarity in tones being one of the widest I’ve seen in anime, yet.

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And that’s because of the staff’s intense focus on the visuals and sound design that make the tones as black and white as they are in the show. During the ‘sweet’ scenes the color palette gets brighter, characters get sparkles or flowers around them and the voice acting gets extra sugary – sometimes even to a cloying degree. With the ‘bitter’ scenes, the anime staff always seemed to want to introduce new ways to get the job done, ranging from vocal distortions to chalky outlines to the perfect facial contortions and glow-in-the-dark (yandere?) eyes.

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Nevertheless, at first, I found the variation in tones so ridiculously binary that in the first three episodes or so, I was finding it pretty goofy and thoroughly entertained watching Satou mess around with her manipulative boss and horny, masochistic teacher. Certainly, the concept of love was being discussed as to what it really is – but the entertainment factor of the tonal whiplash drowned it. It reminded me a bit of Elfen Lied – which is an anime I enjoyed but I just couldn’t take it seriously.

Until episode 4, I was getting kind of bored with the repetitive with the sheer saw-tooth variation of moods. Satou repeating “bitter… it’s so bitter” weren’t doing anything for me and Shio’s interactions with Satou were just cloying to watch over and over again, it was like listening to an album with the same song with the same hook. It was weird that the anime was taking itself a bit too seriously. I didn’t care for Taiyou’s lolicon tendencies and his milfphobia (or is it boss-lady-phobia/dominatrixphobia? Uh… I’ll stop) or the hoody-man with the flyers.

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In episode 4, Shio got some past flashbacks before she started living with Satou and that added some dimensionality to her character, apart from being just cute. She probably ends up having the most substantial development in the anime, because the staff had to layout her psychological baggage from her past. This was one of those moments when I got why the anime has been taking itself seriously.

Because it’s trying to tell a story about love… and the first three episodes were pretty much a set-up of the pieces, yes, pieces not really characters but they act like these dynamic metaphors of ideologies than anything.

That brings me to the point that the show tries to set up more of an allegorical story than a character-centric one. Satou is a person who’s searching for love that satisfies her, and she had nothing more important to her than that. To her, true love is sweet and pure and Shio is the physical manifestation of that feeling. Once she got a hold of it – she would do anything to hold onto it. The reason why I can’t call Satou a ‘real’ character is because she sticks to her ideology of love throughout the entire runtime, and she is “just all about love” which is great for a focused, allegorical narrative – and that’s fine, because even though she doesn’t feel like a character I would care about, she is still compelling as a moving piece in the grand scheme of the story. Speaking of compelling, I found Satou’s aunt to be a great and hot addition to the cast and, honestly, the turning point in my watching experience.

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In episode 7, the aunt’s personality is so well presented, her character design is perfect, and Inoue Kikuko’s voice acting is great –  I found her performance really immersing and it wiped off my smug “lol this is so over-top-and-funny” smile. Especially in the scene with the cop where I was as ‘uncomfortable’ as the cop was. Her destructively erotic masochistic personality and her viewpoint of love being just about “accepting and swallowing up desires” is a sharp juxtaposition to Satou’s “pure” yet unsure point of view on love.

In the first half of episode 8, the show puts down the final piece of what can be the called a jigsaw puzzle of a story. It’s one of my favorite episodes in anime I have seen this year, because of it’s sort-of-experimental style of telling the story of how Satou and Shio ended up together, and at the same time – fleshes out a character we never end up seeing or hearing from, so well in just 10 minutes or so. I say sort-of-experimental because the character in question actually talks, but they get transformed into glitched out black wave lines on-screen, and this is used really effectively to emote him throughout the episode. I know I am not being super-specific about what I love about this episode, but I highly recommend this if even if you find out that the show’s not for you – watch episode 8’s opening half before you drop it.

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The anime from then onwards gets only crazier. I finally took the emotional stakes of the characters seriously, even the hoody-man and the Shio-worshipper. Things start burning down left and right, both figuratively and literally. In the end, Satou becomes more of a character than an allegory because she actually interacts with Shio (outside of cuddling her) and Shio makes mature decisions – those were great character building moments. I won’t go into much detail, but the ending left me pretty satisfied with the series.

I love the OP song, the tone is very sugary but it also it has this sort of ominous sludgy piano-like-synth as the starting melody. The visual sequence itself is great, and sums up the contrasting “sweet-bitter” tones, along with some cheeky symbolism – the shattering candy jar, referring to the temporality of Satou’s and Shio’s happiness, is a standout for me. The opening is definitely among my favorites from this year.

Overall, it’s a really good show – admittedly, if I was watching this episode by episode seasonally, I would’ve been really quick with dismissing the anime as “edgelord” material and dropping it within the first four episodes. But I’m glad I stuck with it because the end result of the experience went well beyond my minuscule expectations of me taking the show kind-of-seriously. I misread the first half of the anime, where I thought that it was telling a story, while in reality, it was setting it up, along with the characters, piece by piece. I ended up getting what the anime wanted to say – it did effectively discuss how different (with different types of psychological baggage) people see love in different ways and put such people in a situation where they were challenged and forced to play against each other.

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… like different flavored candy

Honestly, by the end, the only criticisms I have for the anime are the character designs – which look plastic, and Daichi’s character didn’t seem to add anything to the story. I sympathized with the characters; they turned into actual ones who actually go through changes in their viewpoints after the first half from being these hyperbolic allegories with stagnant traits, except for, of course, Satou’s aunt – she is a textured character. Still, while the characters broke out of their allegorical shells, the story resembles allegory more than a character-centric psychological story. Maybe the characters had as much dimensionality to them from the beginning but I didn’t notice because I was too busy laughing at Mitsuboshi’s lolicon/boss-lady-phobia hijinks. I eventually appreciated that Taiyou’s character was used to highlight how people develop psychological scars from an experience and how they swing to the extreme opposite of their phobias in order to cope… and yeah, the show could’ve put a bit more time and care to hash that out.

Anyway, I think it’s definitely a show everyone should check out, despite it being kind of polarizing.  While I sort of understand both the positive and the negative impressions on the show, overall, I agree with the positive ones more.

That’s all I got for now. I apologize if I have repeated any points, it’s just that I’ve been sitting on this post for four days now and I just want it done and out.

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Seiko Oomori – Kusokawa Party [Album Review]

My introduction to Seiko Oomori’s discography proper was her multifaceted epic kitixxxgaia near the end of last year. A couple of tracks hooked me to the album, but the more I have listened through it over the past year, the more I have come to enjoy it as an album listening experience. Now, it’s one of my favorite albums to listen through – Seiko’s transitions between her different sonic dimensions is near seamless and riveting.

I also listened through Tokyo Black Hole, and it’s a bit more fine-tuned and cohesive in terms of stylistic range but I still enjoy the unbridled madness of kitixxxgaia slightly more.

So after listening to those two amazing albums, my first listen through Kusokawa Party back in July didn’t leave me super impressed – the sonic range wasn’t there, there just seemed to be a psychotic party pop side and a ballad side to the album – even though her emotionally drenched vocals in her ballads instantly floored me. Then, all it took was a couple more listen throughs and I began to see more layers in the pop songs, and the album felt much more versatile than I initially thought. I think I just had unrealistic expectations for the album.

The opening track Shinigami starts with some soft percussions and reaches a crescendo in the chorus where Seiko exhibits her amazing vocal range (not for the last time) and brings it down again. Then the tide rises up again, Seiko tone reaches an apocalyptic level. It’s a powerful start, especially with that guitar solo near the end.

It’s between track 2 and 5 where the tracks feel like they play off each other really well, at least sonically –  which during the first listen I was thinking they all sound the same. They don’t, they just transition well and add positively to the album listening experience. ZOC Jikkenshitsu shares a lot of elements with a ‘conventional’ alt-idol song (hell, she even made a group featuring the song in September) with some great guitar layering, and the ‘korose’ chants (followed by its opposite ‘ikiro’) at the end reminded me why I love Seiko’s music so much. She often plays with polarity in her lyrics with great effect. Oomori throws up a psychotic ice-cream themed rave in Reality Magic where colorful riffs and samples are just popping out everywhere but there’s also some grime muddying the mix here and there.

GIRL’S GIRL amps up the psychotic elements in the mix from the last track and I love the ripping dance synth in the chorus.  Now, this is a song where I was really curious about what it’s about, and thankfully I found someone (Lena from Kitty’s Blues) with a decent translation through a cursory Google search. And the lyrics are kind of what I hoped them to be – Seiko talks about her self-image and how she doesn’t want others to create that for her… she wants to be kawaii and a mom, she doesn’t want to see sacrificing stuff for someone else as this big, virtuous thing – and I completely agree. Speaking of which, according to another lyric translation from the site, of Shinigami, Seiko again brings up people’s image of her as an ‘unfit’ mother and it wears her out. In the chorus, she sings about turning sorrow into money and blooming flowers with rage – all originating from and squirming under love. Lines like these make me wish I could read more of her lyrics since it’s just really good songwriting.

Following up GIRL’S GIRL, Last Dance loses a bit of energy after its cool, shimmery guitar-led intro. Amoeba no Koi is the track that should catch everyone’s ears on their first listen, the raging storm that the instrumentation cooks up drew me in right from the get-go. But it’s Seiko’s scream in the chorus that froze my blood in my veins – I don’t understand Japanese, but the energy in her voice at that moment was overwhelming –  and it doesn’t wear off even with repeated listens. 7:77 follows up from that, and I’m not overly ecstatic with the sped up Pokemon-like-chiptune instrumentation of the song, it’s not underwhelming enough to skip through – on that note, I don’t think I skipped over any track in my last couple of listen throughs.

Seiko ends the album with a trio of poignant-sounding ballads. Starting with an acoustic guitar-driven one, Tokyo Kyou highlights Seiko’s raw voice and that, in turn, highlights her ability to hold onto your attention despite not really knowing what she’s singing about – guessing nostalgia from her tone. Watashimi introduces more instruments in the mix, and Seiko’s delivery gets more tender. Kimoikawa continues with a similar but slightly more elevated melancholic tune on being tired of being called disgusting, and her proclaiming that ‘disgusting is cute’. Even without looking at the translation, the strings and piano make it sound like sunlight peeking through the cloud after a period of heavy rain. It’s a really great ending, Seiko stirs up a storm and unwinds it down perfectly.

This new album, obviously, isn’t as multifaceted (I know, vocabulary level over 9000 right here) as her longer albums and therefore not as compelling as those in terms of an album listening experience, rather it feels more like a collection of singles near the tail-end of the album. But a fantastic collection at that, since Seiko definitely plays to her strengths and that makes the high points of this album hit really high, and drowns the scarce low points under her tide of unbridled emotion.