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.

Mariko Goto - 299792458

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 12 September 2012 0 comments

Mariko Goto - 299792458 - 4/5

If I was charged with describing this album in one word it'd be easy. It would simply be KAWAIIIII!!!! And I mean that with no sense of irony stemming from the fact I usually loathe obsessive Japanophiles who use Japanese words when perfectly good English ones exist. Well alright, maybe there's still a hint of irony in there, but simply calling it 'cutesy pop' as she described it doesn't convey the sheer sense of my wide and blurry eyed squeeing in delight at how god damn adorable this is. It's like a journey into the mind of the cutest child you've never laid eyes upon, seeing the world through her eyes in all its delights; through the temper tantrums, excitement and contentment at having found something sugary to nibble on, and I don't even like kids.

This may well be her first solo effort but it's most certainly not the first album where she's found herself the centre of attention, having brief cult success in Midori, splitting up shortly after making their first major label release in 2010. If you're familiar with their odd addictive brand of paedo-punk-jazz you'll be glad to know she hasn't given up the jazzy piano lines and the occasional screeched vocal, but certainly there is less of the contrasting chaos to her jaw-achingly cute side. Nonetheless, to simply dismiss this out of hand as 'just another J-pop album' would be doing it grave disservice as it's nothing of the sort. As the intro prepares you, consisting of nothing more than Goto herself playfully singing nonsensically, this is gonna be an album so sugary you'll swear you can feel your teeth rotting by the minute. It's almost glitch like in its imperfections – the musical equivalent of a small child failing to colour inside the lines of her favourite colouring book – and in a world of auto-tuned “perfect pitch” voices and overproduced backing music, it's these imperfections that give it its charm.

There is certainly an easy to listen to pop-like sensibility to much of the instrumentation; bouncy piano lines form the heart of the tracks rhythm, utilising the inherent versatility of the instrument to traverse between all out noise-laden chaos and the simpler, again child-like melodies, at times almost evocative of a nursery rhyme. The guitars and the rest of the backing instrumentation – particularly the drums who never seem to find themselves stuck for a new jazzy beat for the track at hand – are often little more than that, backing to lend a little more flavour to the proceedings, and despite the piano interludes and brief guitar solos, Goto herself always stands at the forefront. The album title seems bizarre but a quick google shows that it is, in fact, the speed of light in metres per second. Get it? No, can't exactly say I did either, but in an odd way it's a perfect example of her quirkiness; how you don't really have to understand its purpose to enjoy it, and it's all part of what makes her so unique.

To call her a talented vocalist seems like something of an oxymoron; by any standard you could use to determine a vocalist's ability, whether in vocal range, register, ability to sustain a note, add vibrato, alternate pitch in rapid succession or even being able to sing in key, she is by all these standards fairly awful. And yet, it is through all these faults that her childish persona is allowed to flourish; through all the imperfections that she is able to sing like no other – a fact made even more incredible when you consider her decade long music career; how she must be closer to 30 than the 13 year old school girl she still seems to represent. That there is more to the instrumentation than meets the eye is apparent but it is really here, in the vocals, that the album really provides it's draw, delivering upon a style that can be said to belong to no other, and whilst perhaps not up to the best of her work in Midori, it doesn't matter. I still want to snuggle her like the all too adorable kitten she is.

Highlights: Mamaku, Utopia, Atashi no Shoudou

Kaipa – Vittjar

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 10 September 2012 0 comments

Kaipa – Vittjar – 4.5/5

One of my guilty pleasures – or rather, 'songs I love that I expect most reading this will hate,' seeing as I'm not really ashamed in my love of this tune – has to be Polyphonic Spree's 'Light and Day.' I can't confess to liking much else of their material but something about that track always puts a smile on my face. Because when you spend so long listening to the aggressive and depressive depths of metal with an obsessive attitude it's very easy to get lost in a world that's bleak, pessimistically forgetting that there is still good and beauty in the world. I admit this is an odd way of beginning a review, but I assure you it's perfectly relevant: Kaipa have reminded me once again that there is still beauty in the world and have done it in a way few others have done before.

For an artist with a 40 year old career you would have thought their name would have come up more often. True, they are Swedish, but it's hardly as if nothing from that frostbitten land makes it across, and yes, they did go on a 20 year hiatus, but they also reformed a decade ago. It's also true that the line-up has changed considerably since their conception with only one original member left handling the keyboards duty, and the only other name I recognise is that of Per Nilsson of 'Scar Symmetry.' Not that his guitar work here bears any resemblance. Quite frankly I'm not sure why I brought it up. What we have here are old fashioned prog rockers who aren't so much 'retro' as they are valuable relics from the 70s, surviving all this time and arriving from another time; their blend of jazzy lines and folk melodies in their compositions never anything but natural, laid back and rather than forcing anything, just letting the music flow and meander from them as it chooses. It's this laid back feel to their work that is their defining trait; not necessarily uncaring but joyously carefree, never getting too bogged down with serious topics but contemplating and expressing their love for life’s simple pleasures. Length doesn't matter; 'epic' tracks never feel that way despite one clocking in at over 20 minutes. That it's long feels irrelevant, it's not trying to create something larger than life, nor does it ever gets boring due to being stretched out, it's simply content to take all the time it needs to let the song develop.

That it's so light and airy is surely to be off-putting for some, but don't go mistaking this for some pop outfit; it's hardly superficial in it's output and despite the tone manages to throw up plenty of interesting passages; jazzy bass lines and drum beats; upbeat guitar solo's amongst the slower; vocal lines left to convey the atmosphere alone; recorders; violins; and a whole range of keyboard work forming a rich fabric that is subtle in it's complexity. It's certainly no less technically inclined than the classics; your King Crimson's, Jethro Tull's and Rush's, but it's purpose is focussed in a different way, subtly weaving flourishes of masterful musicianship such that it feels merely a means to an end, furthering the track in it's intended direction.

With perhaps the notable exception of the lead male vocalist – as there is also a lead female vocalist – whose powerful and distinctive vocals sometimes manage to steal the show, going on to elaborate on the individual elements seems rather pointless. Each member demonstrates their phenomenal capabilities and feels perfectly suited, not for what they bring to the music themselves but for how they work with the rest of the band. There is no singular stand out element because there is no one trying to stand out; there is no one-upmanship with one musician trying to steal the show from another, though I don't doubt most could if they tried. Kaipa might just be the last surviving remnant of a bygone era, and without them the only thing left will be 'retro' artists pretending they could have belonged. Whether it's taken them this long to perfect their craft or if they've always been writing music of this standard I don't know, all I know is that with Vittjar, perfect it they have. Easily one of the most impressive albums this year.

Highlights: Silent Ballroom Band, Treasure-House



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.