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If you have found this blog, it probably means you were searching for something that isn’t in the public eye. My intention is to promote awareness of artists that you would otherwise likely never know existed. If you like what you hear, support the artist by purchasing their music so that they can continue to create, and enjoy the release in the quality they intended.

Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Axis of Metal.

Yamaarashi - Shounan Miraiezu

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 21 October 2010 0 comments


Yamaarashi - Shounan Miraiezu – 4/5
Link

In honour of Hip-Hop now being officially allowed for discussion in the forums, I thought it appropriate to bump this one on my list. It's almost strange how of all the western styles adopted by the flourishing Japanese music scene, Hip-Hop seems to have drawn the short straw as it were. There are Pop/Hip-Hop artists like “Halcali,” or “Orange Range,” Hip-Hop/RnB such as “M-Flo,” or “Kreva,” and indeed Hip-Hop/Rock like the band in question now. Of course it could be coincidence that finding straight-up Hip-Hop artists from Japan seems like a bit of a chore, or simply that my observations of J-pop present themselves once more; that even the most simplistic styles of music often has an immense amount of thought given to the multiple backing layers, something Hip-Hop often finds itself lacking.

One of the most frequently heard criticisms of the genre is that there's too much of a lyrical focus, but there is more to it than that – there has to be here, unless you happen to be fluent in Japanese – and it is the flow that in this case makes the vocals important. The manner they gently meander with an unrelenting stream of words, hell he could be scatting for all the difference it would make to me, but it's being utilised as another instrument with clear variation between the staccato verses and the epic clean chorus lines that just dare you not to at least hum along; the in your face 'party boy' tone exemplified by the “Beastie Boys” contrasted with the slow and emotional, almost grungy tones.

Yet, the lyrics are again only one half of this band, and the backing instrumentation is certainly not forgotten; from the very beginning the bass starts to make itself known and you could swear you'd stumbled onto a forgotten “Rage Against the Machine” track, filling the music with fun funk-filled bass lines and when the guitars are given precedence the whole thing suddenly feels like “Sublime” got loose during the recording process, adding their smooth blend of reggae and ska to the proceedings. The influences are numerous (just listen out for the brief Japanese “Knocking on Heaven's Door” chorus) but never feel less than coherent, allowing each track to feel distinct from the last. It's been nearly two decades since the 'Chilli Peppers' emerged with “Blood Sugar Sex Magick,” 15 since Beastie Boys' “Sabotage,” and this feels like the sort of release rap/rock release fans have been waiting for since.

Highlights: Shonan Graphical Future, Technica Porcupine, Go Your Way

Ryuichi Sakamoto – BTTB

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 18 October 2010 1 comments


Ryuichi Sakamoto – BTTB – 4/5
Link

Now I expect this name would mean absolutely nothing to most, but actually he might be considered something of a living legend. It was after all, his keyboard work with Yellow Magic Orchestra back in the 70s that pretty much pioneered the entire electropop genre that dominates Japan now. Not to mention being amongst the first to make hefty use of sampling that seems so common place to replace vastly more expensive live orchestration, as well as producing synthpop before the UK's new age had truly emerged (though the influence here is questionable). And since they split he's continued to write and perform, maintaining his long standing legacy with a number of ambient and synthpop albums, working with the likes of David Sylvian as well as his old band mates.

But this album is none of that: this is the release that proves that despite all the styles he's influenced, he isn't a one trick pony. Standing for “Back to the Basics,” this album is precisely that; there are none of the samples, electronic effects or even vocal lines that fill his other works. With the exception of a few preset effects the entire album is nothing more than him sitting in front of his piano, and for all its simplicity I can't quite place it. It certainly feels to modern to be purely classically inspired, too organic to be retracing his new wave roots, too attention-demanding for Ambient, though certainly has been influenced by all three. The best I can come up with is that its an unconventional “Avant-Garde Easy Listening” release, but even that gives off the wrong impression; one filled with Peruvian flute bands and Whale Songs.

He'll never wow you with technical mastery but this album is filled with the beauty of his composition, the emotional heights afforded to him by the use of volume and pitch. I don't mean emotional to refer simply to sadness here either, but more detailed and complex notions; calm, melancholy, relief, happiness, worry, agitation; it almost feels like a map of emotions that he's somehow managed to transcribe and perform. There is the occasional filler track – the four minute prelude feeling like I'm doing little more than wait for something to happen – and there are times where the piano's tone feels a little too 'hard;' the difference between the gentle and the effervescent perhaps not as pronounced as it could have been, and yet when it was released 'Energy Flow' succeeded in topping the charts in Japan (the first, and to my knowledge, only time an instrumental has succeeded in doing so), and quite frankly, it's not particularly difficult to see why.

Highlights: Energy Flow, Opus, Intermezzo, Aqua

Nagisa Cosmetic – Nagisa Cosmetic

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 15 October 2010 0 comments


Nagisa Cosmetic – Nagisa Cosmetic – 3.5/5
Link

Just when I think my quest for more of the short-lived Shibuya-Kei revival is coming to a head, the number of bands that seem to be mentioned rapidly dwindling, my quest for another fix has led my crack like addiction to lesser known artists. In this case, the duo known as Nagisa Cosmetic; a marriage between a Japanese fashion model (who after this only album, would pursue a career there) and the the electronica producer with far too much time on his hands, lending his signature style to the likes of Perfume, Marino and Capsule.

It is, however, Marino that this most closely resembles; it doesn't have the overt electropop melodies of Perfume, nor the chaotic freneticism of Capsule, and instead feels altogether more laid back and content to let things roll out slowly. Neither does it feel particularly adventurous, but then he doesn't really need to be as everything quite simply works. It's almost lounge-jazz like quality at times makes it feel suitable for elevator music for some sort of Japanese Pokémon centre; the simple catchy beat with a touch of 8-bit likeness in the use of glockenspiel complementing the rather more harsh bass of the drums to create a glorious contrast that only improves as more instrumentation gets layered on top, never bombarding with a broad tone but creating a number of converging thinner layers that at no point convolute the track with more lines than it can handle.

In fact, by comparison to the backing, the vocalist seems like an almost unnecessary component to the overarching sound. Beyond the cutesy but unenthusiastic cries of 'yay' and the like that she adds in the way of actual melody to the proceedings, there are no overt catchy chorus' like much of this producer's other work, and there are barely any lyrics at all (much of it is her just going 'nah nah nah'). Quite often she finds herself drowned out by the other instrumentation, though this gets no complaints from me. Kept short at under 30 minutes, I often find it ironic that the lengthier offerings in the genre seem sparse of creativity, and yet releases like this find the instrumental melodies coming thick and fast. It's unlikely to replace my favourites in the genre any time soon, but is nonetheless a solid effort from at least one half of this duo.

Highlights: Life Balance, I am a Computer

Bush – Razorblade Suitcase

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 13 October 2010 2 comments


No. 4 – Bush – Razorblade Suitcase - 4.5/5
{Link Removed due to Request}

Produced by notable noise rocker Steve Albini (Big Black), this second offering from post-grungers Bush is raw, bloody and brutal. With an atmosphere thick enough to warrant sludge comparisons, and a tone often reminding me of doom, this is a phenomenal album which seems to be overlooked time and time again.

The drums lay most of the framework, and are fairly basic without feeling too bland or underdeveloped. The bass unfortunately doesn’t play as prominent a role as I’d often like, but this isn’t where the focus of their music is directed. The guitars are raw, and produced in such a minimal way, giving it a live edge to it. The riffs display a variety of tones, from the deep, simplistic, making good use of repetition to reflect the grinding repetition in life, the soft and cleaner ‘calm before the storm’ style, and the downright twisted, and screeching and messy side. They aren’t intended to produce something catchy, they emphasise the theme of the song by their very nature, discontinuous deep and grinding, slow and depressive, cynical, cruel and twisted and they aren’t even the best part of this line-up.

In the same way, the vocals are often repetitive, retaining a raw honesty, a grim and bloody take on realistic situations, and has perfected that grunge drawl, displaying the emotions and depressive doom-like tone, whilst retaining a level of clarity, a balance the best vocalists in the genre can rarely accomplish. And he hasn’t just laid his emotions on this album, it sounds like he has ripped out his still beating heart and put it on display, the occasional use of violin doing more than just adding diversity, succeeding in enhancing this overwhelming presence presented by the vocalist.

This album is raw enough that only few bands beyond the raw black metal can compare. It displays emotions fully encompassing, rich and vivid as they grind away. The no frills bizarre guitar work providing a twisted and evil tone, the crashing of the drums as they thunder away, this isn’t just another grunge clone. It makes the likes of Nirvana look like Bee Gee’s by comparison.

Highlights: Insect Kin, Cold Contagious, Mouth

By T. Bawden

Antennasia – Qus-Cus

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 12 October 2010 2 comments


Antennasia – Qus-Cus – 4.5/5
Link

This release has been playing for the best part of two weeks now, and yet oddly I have great difficulty in picking out memorable tracks or passages, yet that's not to say its forgettable. The soft sweet lullabies of the lead vocalist, San, is in fact anything but; somehow with an almost Bjork-like level of quirkiness her melodies and yet so filled with a sense of dreaminess that it leaves you floating amongst the waves of calm. It almost feels appropriate to be called music to drift to sleep to, but for all its innocence it's still not without its own character. Subtle differences in tracks gradually become more noticeable and they soon become another puzzle piece to unlocking the key to this artist; that the tone, for all its consistency, is never created in quite the same manner.

It certainly fits the description of Trip-Hop from a technical perspective; there's often the prominent looped back beat behind a simple melody, be it from a flute, guitar, violin or piano; the vocals forming a central point of attention, but it altogether feels much more ambient inspired in its objectives. It never feels obtrusive, never gets bogged down with emotional weight and as a result seems all the more content to drift into the background, the inherent simplicity of the backing tracks regardless of how they're formed doing little to constrain the vocals which seem capable of transforming from a thick multi-layered harmonious pop-like wailing to a sort of fluid scat or even something altogether more unpredictable and fragile.

This collaboration of two is very subtle; the experimentation inherent from taking influences from everything from dubstep, glitch and even a touch of folk and classical harmonies never makes itself apparent from the outset, blending into the background in such a way that it never feels anything less than natural. It's initial lack of memorability seems to be, in the end, something of a misnomer, and unusually does nothing to detract from the pieces overall impact. It takes time for the subtle nuances to sink in but the journey there is never laborious, and as you become more familiar with its ambient beauty, the unveiling of new unheard subtleties becomes a joy with each track seeming to re-invent itself. This is one of those rare kinds of releases I can see myself still listening to in years to come, and that really doesn't happen often.

Highlights: Metronome Wiper, Noanoa, Goats in the Blue Sky

Aikawa Nanase – ReBorn

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 4 October 2010 0 comments


Aikawa Nanase – ReBorn – 2.5/5
Link

If anyone cares to recall, Nanase was the artist to first find me interested in J-pop (being accidentally linked to her “FOXTROT” release by someone thinking it was the Genesis album of the same name) and it wasn't long before I noticed her collaboration with Friedman on “R.U.O.K?”, a short release that would be the last we would hear from her until now, returning with the aptly (if cheesy) full-length release ReBorn. Spawning only one single – and even that failed to get more than a digital release – is something that is quite uncommon for artists in this field (3+ singles per album isn't unheard of) and means one of two things; there are no stand out tracks that would hold universal appeal, demonstrating a maturing artist blooming, or that there's nothing on here that's worth shelling out for.

It doesn't take long for you to realise that this isn't going to be like her past efforts; her studio musicians seem to have been replaced by machines, drums and trance tones flood her opening track in a flurry that adds a new tone to her pop/rock style, providing plenty of variety despite the artificial instrumentation. As the tracks go on, however, this well of creativity rapidly dries up and by the time the fourth track emerges you realise it's barely distinguishable from the rest. The ballads fall flat on their face as emotional has never been her forté and the backing can't compensate, and the lack of an actual instrument makes the synthesized guitar samples just seem amateurish.

It's concept; the notion of catchy pop vocals without the vocoder with chaotic electro and hard hitting rock all combining into one sublime track is certainly one that tickles my interest but this feels confused. She was never known as one of the bigger artists in the industry but this feels like she's trying to leech on the back of the likes of Mami Kawada and KOTOKO (technopop), artists that have spent a long time honing their craft, whilst still retaining that semblance of rock that made her interesting to begin with and it just feels muddled. It'll hop between pseudo-rock, cliché sounding ballads with no emotional weight behind it and some sort of techno/trance. There are a few stand-out tracks providing a glimmer of hope for the future, but this looks like one to skip.

Highlights: Yumemiru, Keep Singing, Dark&Bright

Massive Attack – Mezzanine

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 3 October 2010 0 comments


Massive Attack – Mezzanine - 4/5
Link

One of the hazards of having long hair amidst a crowd of drunks is that very rapidly you become stereotyped, and with my present occupation this happens with relative frequency; it becomes an invitation to mention every band under the sun with everyone claiming to be an expert on rock, telling me how great their favourite "Doors" album is, or how brutal metalcore can be. Well that, or they think you're a woman, but that doesn't happen so often thankfully. The day this album was brought to my attention was not that different, but rather than throwing out phrases such as “oh the guitars, fuck me the guitars” before pretending to air guitar and stumbling backwards, this drunks description actually had me intrigued. He told me this was the perfect album to fuck to.

Now hear me out, because this is actually I problem I've considered; you bring a woman back to your place and all that's needed is some mood-setting music, but what the hell says “I want to hit that?” If you believe in 'the fresh prince' you'd end up with James Brown or Barry White and probably get laughed at. There's classical music but then you'd look pretentious and suffer the lack of a solid beat. Drum and Bass is too far the opposite way, unless you can break the sound barrier with each thrust it'll be too quick paced. If she looks the type, grindcore could work but then you'd have to put up with the fact that she might well end up tearing you limb from limb afterwards and/or during. Kenny G could almost work if not for the slight drawback everything sounds like he had a cheesy 70s porno in mind when writing it. Point in fact, this album may be the closest thing to that perfect all-purpose album.

The beat is strong enough to be heard but at a pace that says passion without getting all wussy on you; you can remove all thoughts of Portishead's brand of pain-laden and depressive trip-hop, as it's certainly still dark and gothic in tone but its almost sensual, retaining a kinky twisted sense of rhythm. In fact, the only foreseeable problem is that when “Tear Drop” kicks in she'll pause and ask “Isn't this the theme from House?” (It is, in fact, the theme from House), but when the dream-like vocals of guest vocalist Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins) comes into play this question quickly fades away. And yet she isn't the vocal highlight of the album; the well known vocalist layered on top of the instantly recognisable theme tune paling in comparison to their own hip-hop vocalist who would make his last appearance here, or the little known reggae artist that would open up the release.

There's always the risk when a band gets spouted as 'influential' and a 'pivotal band' in the success of a given genre that all it really means is that they've made it more palletable to a wider audience of people, but this isn't the case here. They could easily have done so, but the decision to become more experimental with their style, taking in a wider variety of influences to distinguish the tracks and still producing a level of darkness unprecedented at the time is not something that's lost on me. Mezzanine is the culmination of three musicians returning after a short hiatus with their own opinions, their own style and their own deep set conflict with one another as they became continually more difficult to work with, but rather than make a documentary about it, they got it all down here; the highs, the lows, the anger and the sadness, and that all makes this something quite unique.

Highlights: Angel, Inertia Creeps, Mezzanine

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Guide

Guide to the Ratings
0/5 - This caused me physical pain
1/5 - This is really bloody awful
2/5 - This was below average
3/5 - This was above average
4/5 - This was pretty darn good.
5/5 - I cannot fault this epitome of perfection.

I cant guarantee all reviewers adhere to these guidelines, but work as a general guide.

Author's credit is given on all posts.