So I have finalized the categories for my Twelve Days of Christmas Music Countdown, and I’ve (roughly) finalized my favorite albums of the year list.
Of course there are some potentially great releases this month, so I’ll most likely go on a listening spree after my project is over.
Get ready and get hyped! :)
There’s a couple of blog posts that I have in my mind but sadly not enough time nor energy to get to them until I finish this term project that’s been looming over my head.
Things I plan to post soon-ish:
Also considering more casual mini-posts when I feel like talking about music but not feeling up to the task of doing long reviews.
But back to school shit, and in the meantime I’ll plug one of my favorite music-related Tumblr blogs - Sounds of Asian America.
I love that blog because it targets something close to my heart. As a kid, I felt discouraged from trying to explore and compose pop music because I didn’t see any Asian pop stars in America (and the internet wasn’t really a huge thing in the early 90’s so I had no way of really discovering Asian artists in Asia).
It’s also a great blog because it features Asian American artists in a wide span of genres, from indie rock to traditional Asian instrumental to DJs - you name it!
I’ve fallen in love with two of their fairly recent features - Rakkatak, a female-fronted tabla ensemble with some sick rhythms, and Goldspot, an indie pop band with a vaguely old school feel that kind of evokes The Beatles (I’m addicted to The Border Line and I ended up buying their album Aerogramme on iTunes).
I know with blogging it’s easy to go steady for a while then end up disappearing almost completely.
I’m currently drowning in academic stuff and job apps so I will be inactive for a little longer.
There’s just way too much material for me to catch up on the J-Pop roundups (plus I’ve been recently listening to a lot of American music), so I’ll probably do a best hits for every month or something instead of doing EVERY release I listened to.
But yes this blog is still alive!
Aaaaaaand I remember I need to do the Monthly Artist Spotlights. That will get done. Sometime. Hopefully.
casual scribble “review” of capsule’s newest album, from my personal Tumblr
- CONTROL is still awesome.
- probably the most minimalist I’ve heard Nakata in a while (then again I’ve been more focused on Perfume/Kyary and am not super well versed in capsule’s backlog) and I like how sleek sounding everything is.
- I’m probably being Captain Obvious here but it seems like a concept album and idk if this album really evokes computers as a lot of music of this type sounds like it would but I think it works.
- That said, SPACE sounds like it belongs in Tron and is pretty badass.
- I wish Toshiko sang more. While Nakata’s instrumentals can more than hold their own, I prefer it when her voice is one of the main tools in his music.
- I love RETURN, it sounds vaguely like Nakata does Ghibli (I know that sounds weird as heck but that’s what I thought of, kinda reminded me of the Castle in the Sky ending but all electronic), great way to close out - I guess that makes HOME its companion, I love bookended albums, it’s a nice touch.
Reblogging this from my main Tumblr blog - I answered one of those music-related “Ask Me”s since I rarely get any requests in my inbox (also I just wanted an excuse to talk about music).
It’s a lot more casual than my usual writing on this blog, but I figured it should be fun since it’s relevant and gets you inside my head a bit. Enjoy!
And I swear I will catch up with the monthly J-Pop roundups at some point oh crap it’s already October argh
When was the last time you went to a concert? Which one was it?
I saw Stars a week and a half ago. Amazing show. I got chills when they played my favorites. They’re synthpop mostly and tend to come across as static/almost ambient on record but live, they’re much more energetic and rock out more.
Is there any kind of music that you can’t stand?
Death metal or grindcore. And also I can’t stand super long EDM songs (good for clubs, not so much on my iPod…)
Do you play a musical instrument? What instrument?
Yes, many in fact!
Though I’m terrible at most of them.I was formally trained in classical piano as a kid, and played viola in orchestra through half of middle school and all of high school. I’m really rusty at both though. I’ve been teaching myself guitar on and off for almost a year and I can hold down a simple rhythm guitar part while singing (still can’t arpeggiate…). And I can play any song that’s in C Major on the ukulele. I also have rudimentary skills on taiko drums - I’m okay at playing Miyake style flat stand but my arm movements/stance on slant stand playing need a loooooot of work.
How many CDs do you own? From which artist do you have the most CDs?
Gosh, I really don’t know and I’m too lazy to count. And I rarely buy more than 2-3 CDs per artist. I guess Mizuki Nana? I have physical copies of the Magic Attraction, Dream Skipper, Hybrid Universe, and Impact Exciter albums… and the Secret Ambition single.
Name 3 bands you would most like to meet. Why?
RADWIMPS, BUMP OF CHICKEN, noanowa. Because Noda Yojiro and Fujiwara Motoo are two of my biggest inspirations as a songwriter and noanowa seems like they’d be super fun to hang with.
What do your parents think about the music you listen to?
I don’t think they’re really aware because I either listen to music in my room with headphones on or during my commute. My mom liked a lot of the classical-influenced J-Pop singers - we looped Kanon’s Sanctuary and KOKIA’s The VOICE so much back when she drove me to high school. There was a hilarious moment when I was carpooling with my dad last year in which he asked me if BUMP OF CHICKEN was Japanese metal (because the intro for Mayday apparently sounded aggressive enough to him)… oh dad.
Do you still buy CDs? Which was the last CD you bought?
I tend to buy CDs by small unknown artists I see live and like in order to support them, and not so much by established major artists.
Do you most pay attention to the melody or the lyrics?
It really depends - a great song must be strong in both aspects, but a good song can often be carried on the strength of one of them. But I do pay attention to both equally - perhaps a bit more on the music side for Japanese stuff since I can’t understand lyrics while listening but I do look them up and I have been blown away by a lot of lyrics in Japanese music.
Name your top 3 albums from your favorite band/artist.
None of the artists I love have been around long enough to produce such a big catalog that I can pick 3 entire albums that are absolutely amazing so I’ll do one of each:
BUMP OF CHICKEN - orbital period
RADWIMPS - RADWIMPS 4 ~Okazu no Gohan~
Vienna Teng - Aims
Is there any music band you liked years ago that you would not like now?
A lot of artists that were (and still are) prominent on the anime pop scene - I guess stuff like ALI PROJECT, Nakagawa Shoko, Chihara Minori, Kuribayashi Minami, etc. (I guess the current popular equivalents would be Hikasa Yoko, Faylan, fripSide…?) I mean they’re okay to me now but I’m over that ‘stereotypical anime opening’ sound. I still kinda like angela though, but that’s because atsuko’s voice is really unique and katsu knows how to do over the top arrangements and make them good.
Can you concentrate on other things when you are listening to music?
If it takes concentration like coding/reading, then only instrumental music. If it’s something mindless like cleaning my room or doing super easy math homework (though the latter hasn’t occurred in years), then stuff with vocals is fine.
Name your top 5 music videos.
I tend to like music videos more for interesting visuals/story than the song itself (some of my favorite songs have the most boring videos ever!). Gah, I can’t pick just 5. I’ll give you a lucky 7 instead (+ links, yay!)
#7 Florence + the Machine - Cosmic Love
#6 The xx - Islands
#5 RADWIMPS - Dreamer’s High
#4 Scissor Sisters - Any Which Way
#3 Kishi Bashi - Bright Whites
#2 Kina Grannis - In Your Arms
#1 Oren Lavie - Her Morning Elegance
I guess Taylor Swift’s Red gets an honorable mention since the tour footage was so well filmed and makes me want to see that concert again, but it’s not really a planned music video with its own concept, etc.
Put your mp3/ipod on shuffle and name the first 5 songs you stumble upon.
Taylor Swift - The Last Time (feat. Gary Lightbody)
Triple H - ROCK OVER JAPAN [TV size version]
Rurutia - Michiru Mori
Mizuki Nana - suddenly ~Meguriaete~
BUMP OF CHICKEN - Bunbetsu Funtouki
Punk or heavy metal?
Do you sing in the shower?
Yes I do. I like how my voice sounds better there because of the echo.
How much time do you spend listening to music every day?
At least 2 hours (my commute is easily 45 minutes one way), and a lot more when I’m at my computer.
If you could play any musical instrument, what would it be?
Gosh, don’t ask me this I pretty much wish I could play everything. Off the top of my head I want to learn… harp, accordion, mandolin, bass guitar, koto, shamisen, array mbira (thanks Imogen Heap), kora, marimba, autoharp, shakuhachi, cello.
If you could take the place of a band member for one day, who would it be?
Taylor Swift’s touring violinist, Caitlin Evanson… I want to rock out while playing a glittery red violin! And I guess a (currently impossible) fantasy would be Kuwahara Akira from RADWIMPS… god I love his super clean, super fast, rippling, almost math-rock-esque riffs. Favorite lead guitarist ever… I want to learn how to solo like that someday.
If you were a song, what song would you be and why?
I have a few that explain different angles of me
BUMP OF CHICKEN’s firefly. Really captures the feeling of the struggles in my life for the past few years and despite how grim things may look at times, I still haven’t given up on things that are important to me. This song isn’t super uplifting, but has that ‘fighting through the dark’ feel.
Vienna Teng’s The Tower. The person described in there is often how I am - I try my best to be strong and not show it when I’m falling apart to most of the people around me but in the end I do need someone to turn to.
Skye Sweetnam’s Sharada. On a more lighthearted note, this one’s totally me in some ways to - I’m a bit quirky and I tend to reject convention and I guess my head’s up in the clouds a lot and I always have a song stuck in my head…
What do you think the world would be like without music?
Do you really want me to imagine something so horrible?
Name one manufactured band (in your opinion).
Um… I think Perfume is manufactured as hell with all the commercial tie-ins but like who cares if a band/artist is manufactured if they’re making good music (I totally had this conversation with my hipster musician friend a few weeks ago) While I do prefer authenticity in music, I don’t really care if there’s none if the music is good. I mean if being manufactured ends up sacrificing music quality I can see the issue but it doesn’t necessarily mean that and I hate it when people dismiss Top 40 stuff because it’s Top 40 (you should see the eyerolls I get from people when I mention liking Taylor Swift or Ke$ha). Besides, I don’t think good music of any kind can completely lack authenticity because if it’s good, listeners will find some way to connect with it and have their own genuine emotional experience with it.
What musicians did you like 5 years ago? 10 years ago?
In 2008 I mainly listened to anime music, which back then was still really good (I think the decline began around 2009 or 2010). I was into Aqua Timez, UVERworld, the prominent I’ve Sound artists (Lia, KOTOKO, Kawada Mami, Shimamiya Eiko), See-Saw, Sakamoto Maaya, Tamaki Nami, and the Macross Frontier stuff that Nakajima Megumi & May’n did - god that concert at Anime Expo was just ridiculous. Outside of anime, I was into Otsuka Ai, Perfume, and YUI.
In 2003 I was just discovering pop and rock via my peers since I grew up on classical music both Western and Chinese (The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto was the shit okay) and ballet soundtracks (Swan Lake, anyone?)… I was really into Avril Lavigne, Yellowcard, Beyoncé, Evanescence, Aqua, Hilary Duff, Shania Twain, and Tanaka Rie (fell in love with her singing from that one Chobits character song disc - she was my first exposure to J-Pop). Shit why wasn’t Paramore famous back then? 13 year old me would have loved the heck out of them.
If you could invent a new instrument, what would it sound like?
Something that merges the sound of bell-like instruments (like glockenspiel/music boxes) with really pretty, ‘fluttery’ string sounds (think a harp’s high notes).
If you could be any musician in the world, who would you be and why?
Myself, someday. I think it’s important to develop my own musical identity and really create a sound that people can easily associate with me but not lack creativity (I don’t want every song to sound the same). As much as I have artists I really like and I am very much inspired by them, I don’t want to come off as copying them - even when I cover their songs.
BUMP OF CHICKEN - BUMP OF CHICKEN I <1999-2004>, BUMP OF CHICKEN II <2005-2010>
I’ve listened to most of the songs so many times already so it wasn’t really worth going through these. Their music works best in a studio album and not so much in a best-of, though I’m glad they’ve been around for long enough to release one. I wouldn’t recommend these to any new fan of theirs, though. Go check out their albums orbital period and Yggdrasil instead!
cossami - tricolour mermaid
A charming collection of covers of traditional folk songs and classical music melodies with Japanese lyrics. I recognize Greensleeves, Danny Boy, Dance of the Hours, Air on the G String, and a minuet my viola teacher had me study.
GACKT - Best of the Best Vol. 1 - Mild, Best of the Best Vol. 1 - Wild
I was wondering if the Mild album would have all the ballads and the Wild one the hard-hitting songs but it didn’t exactly turn out that way. Wild contains more driving, fun tracks whereas Mild has more emotional songs though neither is limited to this. It’s no surprise I prefer Mild as I like the raw, heartbroken side of Gackt. Emu ~for my dear~ is a new favorite, and god was I nearly brought to tears by the acoustic piano ballad rendition of Last Song.
Yanagi Nagi - Euaru
It seems like her sound heading in the direction of a lesser Sakamoto Maaya, with more electronic elements. Aside from Zoetrope and Yukitoki, I’m not too impressed, though it could have been worse. There’s a bonus disc of her covering anime and J-Pop songs, and I like her take on Hanazawa Kana’s Renai Circulation and YEN TOWN BAND’s Swallowtail Butterfly.
Amuro Namie - FEEL
The best EDM I’ve heard in a while… not that I actually listen to that much EDM so don’t trust me on that. Every single one of these songs is something I can imagine myself getting super emotional to after about five drinks, but I find myself longing for Namie’s more sensual, hip-hop songs - there’s something detached and clinical about this album’s clubbangers. FEEL is well-produced but save for piano ballad Let Me Let You Go and the lead-in single Contrail, the emotion comes across as flat in the absence of alcohol to consume.
aquarifa - Tsukiakari no Seinishite
I read on their website (if my Japanese is not too rusty) that they had the same art director as RADWIMPS and was wondering if there was any musical similarity but not really. These guys (and girl) play straight up driving alt-rock with some seriously awesome bass lines. Frontwoman Iwata Machi has a voice reminiscent of Yakushimaru Etsuko’s drier, less wispy side. My vote goes to Suiheisen no Mukougawa, which features small hints of math rock. Hope they make more songs like it.
Tainaka Sachi - 123
Is this a concept album? Most of these sound like they belong in a stage musical set in Paris. I like the waltz in Croissant, but I could do without her attempts at operatic vocal delivery (Deep Echo). 123 is lovely but I really think Tainaka’s at her best when she sings heartrending ballads - she needs to go back to her early stuff like Itoshii Hito e and Saikou no Kataomoi and recapture that magic.
Takenaka Eri - mele
If you want relaxing folk-pop-rock for lounging on the porch of your beach house on a private island to, she’s got it cornered. (“Mele” means chant, song, or poem in Hawaiian btw). The arrangements are lovely - I really like the guitar work even if it’s not particularly remarkable. My favorite is the ukulele-backed opening track, Kono Michi Sakamichi.
Hikasa Yoko - Glamorous Songs
I was expecting overproduced sounds-like-every-generic-anime-theme electronic pop and while I wasn’t too far off, the songs are not actually bad. Unfortunately I’m over this kind of music… can I hop in the Tardis and give this album to high school me?
Ikimonogakari - I
I’ve been more or less indifferent to them save a couple of awesome songs they made during their debut days, and while this album doesn’t make me do a 180, there’s lots to love about it. Haru Uta and Nande go back to the folk-pop they excel at, and MONSTAR is seriously groovy and unexpected of them.
MINMI - I LOVE
While her single Sakura hit a sour note with me when it came out, it makes sense in the context of the album, which is a mishmash of hip-hop, R&B, and electronic clubbangers. I like the trance-y Lavender and Okinawan folk-influenced Positive Ondo (a collaboration with hip-hop artist SHINGO☆Nishinari) is infectious.
ORANGE RANGE - Spark
Solid rock album that manages to not get lost in the pile of all the random J-Rock I’ve been listening to. Could be the fact that this group is from Okinawa and proud of it - a lot of Okinawan folk sound comes through the melodies and the arrangements really make me want to dance. I think this album would be awesome played live at a beach music festival on a hot day. I also keep waiting for them to break out into reggae and while they never do I feel like they could pull it off.
Soutaiseiriron - TOWN AGE
Even without ex-bassist and songwriter Manabe, they manage to deliver the goods. I’m not sure who’s playing those bass lines or writing the songs but whatever it is, this group’s doing it right. I can’t even begin to pick a favorite song simply because I’m caught up in the magic of the arrangements - everything is an aural treat. The songs are mostly upbeat but with a reserved air, with Yakushimaru Etsuko’s silken whisper on top of it. TOWN AGE manages to be a slightly less twee and more cohesive version of Yakushimaru’s own solo album. This is Japanese indie rock at its finest.
BENI - Red
I don’t listen to that much R&B but BENI’s voice could probably convince me otherwise. This album drags somewhat but there are some highlights, notably the synth-pop OUR SKY. The title track is pretty good too.
Goose house - Phrase #07 Soundtrack?
Definitely better than their first album, with much more polished songwriting. Still a ways to go, as a lot of the ballads come across as dull. Picks of the bunch would be the English language opener, Extra, and the playful Natsu no Mission.
MAXIMUM THE HORMONE - Yoshu Fukushu
Wow are these guys hilarious. Juxtaposing feel good rock phrases with over the top headbanging metal with the occasional cutesy female vocal, it’s like they’re poking fun at themselves. A tad hard to sit through since I’m not into the metal part, but some of these songs are comedy gold. It’s like this Kyary cover with metal sections but done better.
Pick of the Month: TOWN AGE
I did not know that! I changed my post accordingly, thanks for bringing it to my attention!
Also I checked out Jake’s version and it’s really nice. :)
When I bought my ukulele last November, I looked up singer-songwriters (aside from Tsuji Ayano) who play one as their primary accompaniment for inspiration. After a few Tumblr searches, I found Madeline Ava's intriguingly titled album For All Shy Punk Kids. I downloaded it on a whim and fell in love.
Backed by sparse chords or arpeggios, Ava sings in an endearingly honest voice about missing a dear friend, or to cheer you up and remind you you’re wonderful, or about her dwarf hamster. Her songs don’t particularly aim for structure or an attention-grabbing hook - they’re just frank diary entries and streams of thought. Clocking in at about one and a half to two and a half minutes, these short and sweet vignettes are no less insightful than many full length songs out there.
It’s as if someone combined the best parts of Taylor Swift and Gregory and the Hawk - the relateable, confessional narratives of the former (except, thankfully about a variety of things that are not relationships) melded with the contemplative, minimalist, twee-but-meaningful style of the latter - and wrapped them up in a deliciously lo-fi bedroom recording.
Fortunately, she’s put out a few albums distributed for free. Unfortunately, her main website is down, so it’s difficult to get ahold of them. After extensive internet searching, I managed to dig some up. She’s even done an acoustic cover of the entire Neutral Milk Hotel album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. (Her latest work, however, is released on her Bandcamp, which I’ve linked below, so go and check it out!).
Ava also fronts a pop punk band called Nice Try, and they’ve put out some short songs, which are basically rockier versions of her own material. I still prefer the stripped down acoustic approach by far but they’re worth a listen.
Telephone Lines - a cover of the chorus of her friend Jake Lazovick’s song of the same name, and it talks about a long distance relationship or a long distance friend. I love these lines:
we are just body parts
we are organs, bones, we are brains and hearts
And of course that isn’t true, we are much more than that, and the song conveys so much emotion with such simple words.
Teeny Tiny - a humorous song describing how she doesn’t feel her age after being scared of seeing her cat kill her hamster, which then makes her think about what growing up means in general
The School Song - a lament that what you learn in school is rarely what is important or useful in life - something I, and many of you, I bet, can very much relate to. This part says it all:
I’d rather learn what’s important to me
and not the school board
'cause I care about waste-water treatment
and I care about riding my bike
and I care about the fate of all nations
and I care about doing what’s right…
Heart Champions - a story about someone whose friends are good at keeping to themselves but not so good at communicating with each other, thus they come to her about their secrets.
Things I Need - a whimsical musing about staying hydrated and having to pee a lot, which changes to reminiscing about friends she misses
In lieu of reviewing actual albums (since I haven’t felt like doing so), I think I’m going to feature an artist I like every month.
Just whoever I’ve been listening to, discovered, or re-discovered. Doesn’t necessarily have to be a new artist or even one that had a release recently.
And might not be centered on J-Pop, even.
Look forward to it!!