Apr 4, 2012

2012: capsule - STEREO WORXXX

Anyone with a love for electronic music or knowledge of the Japanese music scene is sure to have picked up an album by capsule. Having built up an impressive discography of over a dozen albums, they are one of the most prominent electronic music duos currently stationed in Japan. Their style is an instantly recognizable blend of droning beats, infectious melodies (provided by Yasutaka) and beautiful female vocals by Koshijima Toshiko both very much influenced by acts like Daft Punk. Originally drawing comparisons to the highly influential shibuya-kei movement the duo has become increasingly focused on electro and dance music; Yasutaka moving more and more to the forefront of the music. This is very evident on their newest album STEREO WORXXX (all capital) where Toshiko is slightly less apparent, although she does sing on most of the songs.

Despite this the album is one of their strongest efforts yet, and has a lot of inspired melodies and songcraft. Anyone fearing that capsule might have "sold out" especially taken in consideration Yasutaka's latest collaboration (Kyary Pamyu Pamyu; a stylized-pop artist known for her song "Pon Pon Pon") need not worry here. The songs shift between exercises in almost kitchy droning electronica with sparse vocals to beautifully realized electro pop anthems, striking a tasteful balance between accessibility and genuine artistry. In fact capsule prove themselves to be one of the most consistenly great electronic duos currently producing music. One can only hope their next album is as catchy and ensnaring as this.

Jun 6, 2011

2011: Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See

Suck It and See is Arctic Monkeys' fourth studio album. Eight years since forming it seems they have come a long way in changing their style from hard-hitting indie-rock to a more alternative suit. Suck It and See seems like a more natural transition from Favourite Worst Nightmare than Humbug. Yet they are still oceans apart.

On Suck It and See the band mixes the darker sides of rock with glossily produced indie-pop ballads.
Here songs are either dark and grindy or rather sentimental and softly sung.
The songs are solid and highly enjoyable. However the production doesn't seem to suit the Monkeys very well and doesn't give the album enough lasting value. Some of the songs even border on getting slightly tedious with each listen.
It's a good album though, but just hope that next time around the Monkeys will pick one style and stick with it. This feels more like a disappointment that could have been something more, rather than a successful change in artistic direction.


Jun 3, 2011

2011: Battles - Gloss Drop

Gloss Drop, Battles' sophomore album, is a tough album. It has the drums kicked up to eleven and enough complex song structures to make even the most hardcore fans dizzy.

Starting the album is "Africastle", which is a very strong opener with delightful textures and bombastic drums that also fuel most of the album. But you'd almost wish more of the songs were like it;
A slow build-up, which reveals expertly placed ripples of guitar that unexpectedly and cleverly shifts the melody of the song. Moments like that are missed later in the album when the sometimes dizzying electronics take center stage. Thankfully, the rest of the songs on the album do make for a highly entertaining listen.

Gloss Drop
is a collaborative effort, with 4 of the songs featuring guest vocals. Most refreshing of these is "Ice Cream" featuring Matias Aguayo, who brings melodic joy into a the workings of the album.

A minor problem with the album is that some of the songs aren't engaging enough and it therefore sometimes feels more like a musical exercise than an effort in songwriting. But despite that, Gloss Drop is a skillfully crafted album, which doesn't leave you doubting the band's musical skills. Instead it rather leaves you pleased with the band's unique approach to alternative music.


May 30, 2011

2011: the pillows - Horn Again

Known for their extensive soundtracking of the Japanese mini-anime series Fooly Cooly, their distinct mix of Weezer, Oasis and Stray Cats rockabilly has made them relatively popular in the western part of the world, and deservedly so. Almost no other Japanese band has such an extensive discography.

Horn Again, their seventeenth album, basically continues where OOParts left off, with plenty of energetic and fun songs and an all-round solidness that one might say bests their previous studio albums.
Their sound is a little less daring this time around though; for example there's no mind-blowing distortion like on the opener of OOParts, which is slightly disappointing. The band also doesn't explore the different aspects of pop music as much here as on the aforementioned album. Production-wise, Horn Again is also way more polished, which is fine, but leaves a craving for their previous rawness.

Instead there are plenty of solid songs fitted with inspired guitar solos and enough new sounds to satisfy old and new fans of the band. And though this may be a (small) step down from OOParts it is no doubt one step further in the right direction.


May 13, 2011

2010: Shining - Blackjazz

It isn't every day the Norwegian music scene, or the international music scene for that matter, is graced by the likes of Shining's Blackjazz; an uncompromising, unconventional foray into the (black) metal genre:
A sound built up of grinding guitars, ferociously distorted vocals, menacing synthesizers and a set of bombarding drums. All leaving little breathing room for the listener - who as a result is constantly assaulted with an ear-shattering and heart-stopping record.

As off-putting as that might sound there are more than enough hooks to reel the listener in, and just enough experimentation to warrant a solid lasting value.
Perhaps the key aspect of Blackjazz' success is the tightly wound production, which is every bit as cutting edge and polished as the cover suggests.

Blackjazz may just as well lay the seeds of yet another subgenre of metal; elements of jazz, industrial and black metal are seamlessly put together in an utterly satisfying combination that is one of the best metal albums released in a long time.

Together with the well-known Kvelertak, they both might just prove that the more Norwegian musicians embrace their black metal roots, the more they stand to benefit from it, at least internationally.