album review–SPOOKYWONDERLAND (The CANDY SPOOKY THEATER)

In celebration of Halloween, I’m putting off my review of Miyavi’s What’s my Name (yet again) to give way for the latest album of the Tim Burton-inspired gothic rock band, The CANDY SPOOKY THEATER. True to form, SPOOKYWONDERLAND is chockfull of tracks that YOU should definitely be playing this Allhallows Eve. Yes, it is eerie but at the same time pays great homage to the spirit of revelry that has come to be associated with this special night. And with titles such as La Dance Macabre, THIS IS HALLOWEEN and TRICK or TREAT, how could you possibly go wrong?

SPOOKYWONDERLAND

The title track is actually a series of short instrumentals that serves as a sort of “framing device” for the track list. The first of which, SPOOKYWONDERLAND PARADE-Introduction-, as the name suggests, jumpstarts the album and sets the mood for the loony yet impactful duo of PRINCE OF DARKNESS and The LIVING DEAD. To be honest, it’s a bit hard to distinguish these 2 songs apart so putting them one after the other makes sense as we can perceive them as 1 song with 2 acts.

SPOOKYWONDERLAND PARADE -CABARETTA- then preludes La Dance Macabre. If during one drunken night, goth and ragtime music hooked up and forgot to use protection, the resulting spawn would be La Dance Macabre. The song is ironically, full of life, even vibrant. Clever use of special effects gave the song an uncanny feel that is both unsettling and addicting at the same time.

After the undead had their fun, it’s time for the ghouls to party via the playful THIS IS HALLOWEEN as introduced by SPOOKYWONDERLAND PARADE -SPOOKY HALLOWEEN-. Think of little critters toying with the piano and you’d get the gist of the song. The statement “this is halloween” is repeated many times over and the song does have the goods to back up the claim. It’s weird, it’s spooky and most of all, it’s fun.

The Candy Spooky Theater

SPOOKYWONDERLAND PARADE -Kill You!- samples synth rock and does a good job of setting the tone for Alice. The first to not heavily really on the piano, Alice is also the best track in SPOOKYWONDERLAND. The song is a heady mix of industrial and darkwave influences stamped with the band’s quirky signature. SPOOK HOUSE brings back the groovy piano but save for a more boombastic presence, it’s not very different from PRINCE OF DARKNESS and The LIVING DEAD.

The parade ends with SPOOKYWONDERLAND PARADE -Finale- which actually just features the sound of heavy downpour with its more than fair share of lightning and thunder. But just as you think the party’s over, the piano track that has permeated most of the songs takes the spotlight for more than 3 minutes in TRICK or TREAT -End Credits-.

Consider it a trick or a treat, but The CANDY SPOOKY THEATER refuses to call it a night just yet and squeezes in another song after the so-called end credits. The creatively titled Let’s Meet with Chocolate and Candy transports the listener to some sinister wonderland where the main attraction is Jack Spooky sharing vocal duties with –believe it or not- a Donald and Daffy duck. It is, by all means, a bizarre song. But in the land of the loony and the quirky, bizarre is king.

Sweeney Todd reference for the win!

album review–Karma (MUCC)

This post is dedicated to the good people at the FedEx local office. Thank you for finally answering a simple query after 7 days, 5 phone calls, 3 different customer service representatives each saying different things and 4 emails, the last one of which I sent to every possible address related to your office that I could find. Because of your excellent red tape coupled with the fact that customs charged me an unprecedented and downright ridiculous taxes and duties, I presently have in my hands the most expensive pair of cds ever.

Now that we have the rant out of the way, I give you my much delayed review of MUCC’s Karma.

One thing MUCC can never be accused of is being one-note. With each release they give us a different facet, another proof of their versatility. But what’s more admirable is that while other bands tend to get the flak whenever they change styles (did someone just say girugamesh?), MUCC is relatively scot free. In their latest release, MUCC achieves to own a more upbeat and dare I say it, radio-friendly sound. Can they get away with it? Let’s check out each song to find out.

After a techno-esque intro, Karma kicks off with FALLING DOWN Organic Edition. This version adopts a more rocking sound than the single (click here for my review of falling down single). The guitars are more pronounced and whilst the original ends with Tatsurou doing falsetto, in the organic version he lets out a big growl as the rest of the band goes on hyperdrive. FALLING DOWN Organic Edition then makes a clean transition to the energetic Zeroshiki. One of the more fast-paced songs in the album, Zeroshiki is regrettably short, clocking in at only 2 minutes and 53 seconds. As for Chemical Parade Blueday, there’s a nice guitar solo midway and the “wo-oh-oh” parts are amusing. The beat tends to be repetitive though. Still, the song has a unique charm.

A. is the first slow song to make it to the track list and it is nothing spectacular, just your run of the mill acoustic rock ballad. I Am Computer, on the other hand, is a surprise. With a title like that, I kinda expected it to be another electronic dance track or a synth-pop concoction but on the contrary, it is a slightly mid-tempo song with a very catchy rhythm. The title track Karma is another surprise. It joins the intro Chemical Parade as instrumentals that the album can truly do without.

MUCC afterwards dishes out a 3-song sweep that gives justice to the myriad of influences that the band has experimented with: jazz for Corruption, brass band for Circus and finally, orchestral for Polaris. Piano-driven and with all-English lyrics sung with commendable coherence and emotion, Corruption is seductively sexy while Circus has a groovy vibe going on that got me thinking of Austin Powers. The inclusion of trumpets and the general big brass band sound are welcomed innovations and gave the song a lot of character. Finally, Polaris paints a pretty atmosphere with its soothing mix of string instruments.

Then Lion makes its entrance and all the prettiness is gone. The air thickens and the mood takes a dramatic turn. The dark and gritty MUCC of yesteryears is back. At least for a few precious minutes. Lion is without a doubt, the heaviest song in the album and the only one who would not be out of place during the pre-neo MUCC era. There’s plenty to love in the guitar rifts and the drums take a more prominent role than in any of the other songs in Karma. Tatsurou even throws in a few growls for old times sake. If I’m to summarize my impression of this song into one word it would only be: nostalgic.

Lion may be the heaviest, but it is Feather that takes the cake for being the sappiest song in Karma. It is also the most lifeless of the 14 tracks. True to its name, Feather is a flimsy ballad that is too melodramatic for its own good. The succeeding track is Yakusoku (Original Lyric Version) and it’s very similar to the single (click here for my review of the Yakusoku single).

Winding down the album is Freesia (Karma edit). I have a certain weakness for the Electro Mix that was featured in the Yakusoku maxi-single but the Karma edit edges it out big time. MUCC tinkered with the song so much that it resulted to a half-spoken/half sung track rife with emotion. The chorus is especially intense and the vocals remind me so much of Kuchiki no Tou. This, despite the fact that the two songs are as similar as night and day. Freesia runs for more than 6 minutes and the atmosphere is charged all throughout – from the industrial sounding intro up to the show-stopping finale.

So going back now to our earlier question: Can MUCC get away with their “new” sound? The answer is yes. Karma is actually a good album – it has variety yet the songs complement each other very well. In fact, a major plus point for this album is how the track list was arranged. As mentioned in my comment on FALLING DOWN and Zeroshiki, there is a clean transition between songs and the same could be said for the whole album. It is as if the final notes of one song naturally flows into the intro of another. The end result is a really, really long medley that captures the high and the lows – both musically and emotionally.

album review–RAZZLE DAZZLE (Buck-Tick)

I note with such awe and reverence the fact that while naysayers are predicting that visual kei will soon be singing its own swan song, the acknowledged founders of the movement are still very much alive and kicking. X-Japan, well we all know what X-Japan is up to currently so no need to dwell on that.  Their counterpart Buck-Tick, on the other hand, just released their much anticipated 18th studio album RAZZLE DAZZLE.

razzle_dazzle_cover

Contrary to its title, RAZZLE DAZZLE is not a mindless display of pomp and pageantry – rather it is a sensual musical excursion via 15 strong tracks that saw Buck-Tick revisiting their new wave and retro rock-n-roll side.

Picking a favorite is quite hard but I was able to narrow the truly standout tracks to 6 (which is still many actually). The title track RAZZLE DAZZLE is one and it features a prominent bass line rippling through a very 80’s beat. Much of the songs in the album employed the same technique but it was in RAZZLE DAZZLE where it shines the most.

Next is Yougetsu no Utage which is a scorching, sultry number that unleashes enough steam to fog up the windows. Sakurai raises up the sexual ante as he sang in a breathy, sometimes pained voice.

Buck-Tick then channels the Beach Boys in BOLERO, a song that has “summer spent at the beach” written all over it. The mood shifts with Django!!! – Genwaku no Django. Django!!! is a groovy, retro dance track with a very, very catchy chorus. Listening to it would evoke images of roller disco, afro hair and bell-bottoms.

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The band turns up the heat again with PIXY. If I have to pick out just ONE favorite, PIXY would be it. It seems to call out to our primitive and carnal nature. Much more, the song practically drips with sexual tension.

Rounding off my list of standout tracks is the album’s closer, Solaris. The track begins as an acoustic ballad only to evolve into a bass-driven atmospheric weapon of seduction. Sakurai’s rich baritone voice seduces with each verse. Solaris also has a cathartic feel to it and with this, it does its job as a closer brilliantly.

RAZZLE DAZZLE is a highly recommended release for Buck-Tick fans. If you are not but is on the lookout for a visual kei band that has stayed true to its roots whilst still keeping up with the times, then this album is for you.

single review- guilty garden (Luzmelt)

Lunartail introduced me to Luzmelt and though I found the single ethereal it was not enough for me to fully appreciate the band. Half the time I was wondering whether an original version of the song exists somewhere as Lunartail has that remix feel to it. Blatantly auto-tuned vocals and synthesized beats transport to a metallic wonderland where electric sheep roam but by the time the song clocks in its 3rd minute, I’ve counted enough sheep and was just fighting the urge to doze off.

Thank goodness then for second chances. Luzmelt manages to redeem themselves via their latest single, ‘>guilty garden.

guilty garden cover

Fast-paced and ferocious, guilty garden is the polar opposite of the drowsy Lunartail. Right off the bat, guilty garden unleashes some pretty hectic guitar shredding paired with heavy drum pounding. Death growls are aplenty as lyrics were often times screamed rather than sung. It’s not irksome though, rather it suited the brutal stance of the song perfectly. And if one would listen intently, they might even hear guest vocals from the Predator! (check out 1:05 to 1:19). Really smashing stuff, I tell you.

The b-side primal fear, on the other hand, allows me to final hear some actual singing from yuhma. There is still the hint of auto-tuning but it could be forgiven. primal fear’s pacing is a bit slower than guilty garden but the songs complement each other in intensity very well. Kinda disappointing though how the song loses steam as it approaches its finale considering the more than promising intro. Nevertheless, primal fear and guilty garden together makes up one of the better releases from the jrock scene nowadays.

single review–BLACK DEAD MUZIC (BORN)

black dead muzic_born

BORN follows-up the engaging mini-album BLACK BORN MARKET with the single BLACK DEAD MUZIC. Neither of the two tracks involved are entitled BLACK DEAD MUZIC. However both are rowdy enough to wake up, well, the dead who else.

The first track, Karasu, has a very nice hook. The song is definitely bouncy, as if it has an intrinsic pacer that cues listeners to headbang. Karasu also has high sing-along factor, especially during the member shoutout portions. Screaming aside, Karasu is reminiscent of the BORN’s earlier song, MY SWEET BLACK.

BUZZ though takes the cake for being the best song in BLACK DEAD MUZIC. An all-out track highlighted with lots of growling and awesome drumming, BUZZ is lightning in a bottle. It is rowdy. It is energetic. It is one heck of a joyride.

Net, though not necessarily outstanding, BLACK DEAD MUZIC rocks. Play it while out on a road trip with friends and watch the speed meter go up, up and away.

single review – Nanka Buttobase (SCANDAL)

Scandal Nanka Buttobase [Regular Edition]

SCANDAL’s Myspace account describes them as “the most powerful Japanese girl band” that “started their musical activity with their fearless personality and aggressive rock sound". However, with only their latest single ‘>Nanka Buttobase as basis, I find the claim somehow farfetched.

The girls all share vocal duties while playing their assigned instruments: HARUNA on guitar, MAMI on guitar, TOMOMI on bass and RINA on drums. In Nanka Buttobase, they strike me as 4 variations of Nana Kitade during her Kesenai Tsumi days.

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The song certainly has that garage rock feel but there’s something about the refrain that defies their promise to “send anything flying”. It has a nice beat but not enough sass to project the “aggressive rock sound” that they are said to personify. A few more tweaks (like a more prominent bass, maybe?) and we may have ourselves a winner. And perhaps the girls could consider doing away with the synchronized dancing in the pv? Sure, it looks cute but I don’t think that’s exactly what they are aiming for.

single review – LET ME’ CRAZY!! (LM.C)

Part Orange Range, part UVERworld. Those are my thought bubbles upon listening to LM.C’s latest single ‘>LET ME’ CRAZY. It does have that hybrid sound of rock and electronic pop that encompasses the band’s New Century Electrock.LET ME' CRAZY!!

There’s not much to get excited about during the first half of the song but things do perk up come the latter half. My favorite part is when they break it down and leads in chanting “Say Ho! Say Hey!” However, save for the rap part, LET ME’ CRAZY runs the risk of getting overlooked in a jrock playlist. It’s fun but lacks the oomph to make it truly stand-out.