Category Archives: music review

album review–TWIN GATE (exist†trace)

twin_gate

Dear exist†trace,

Since you are recycling tracks from VANGUARD –of the muses- and Ambivalent Symphony anyway, how come you did not include Lost in Helix and ROUGE? Those two are far much better than KNIFE and most of the new material in TWIN GATE.

My layman ears tell me that there’s not much difference between the original versions of オルレアンの少女, VANGUARD, RESONANCE 「終わりのない世界」and their current incarnations in TWIN GATE. KNIFE, despite the ‘album mix’ tag, remains dull as ever.

Of the previous unreleased tracks, only 1 stood out for me. I like unforgive you for its melodic appeal but it’s just a sliver away from sounding tried and tested like the rest. Cradle is a different story.

Your attempt at the symphonic caught me off guard. Cradle is a good song and if sung by more gifted singer, perhaps even epic. Don’t get me wrong though. Jyou did an excellent job in singing it. She sounded so frail especially when her voice almost falters during the song’s final lines.

Like the gentlest of lullabies, Cradle is soft on the ears yet hits the heart like a battering ram. Cradle is exist†trace getting in touch with your vulnerability – and in doing this, y0u are also at your toughest.

Best regards,

kenryoku

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maxi-single review–棘-toge (Sadie)

Great anime songs are aplenty. I should know as anime introduced me to jrock. However, I’ve been immersed in the scene long enough to know that being featured in an anime does not necessarily mean that the song is great.

Case in point: Sadie’s latest release, 棘-toge.

I can sense the attempt to appeal to a broader audience in the title track. What resulted though is a song that is utterly lacking in ambition. 棘-toge strikes me as akin to fireworks that just wouldn’t take off. The fire is there and we hear the hiss then the pffttt… but we never get to the BOOM! And another thing, why is it that Mao sings as if he’s constipated? An instrumental version of 棘-toge is mercifully included but it only underlines how hackneyed the song really is.

And then we have GREEDY EMOTION. In fairness to the band, the song sounds as if they really put an effort into it. The first minute with the electronica intro and Mao “rapping” in the first verse is novel enough for one to give GREEDY EMOTION a chance. The energy plateaus a bit during the chorus but the solos afterwards are commendable. This portion is best appreciated in the instrumental version of the song as it allows better appreciation of the build-up and the nice interplay of all the instruments.

Final verdict? 棘-toge is Sadie being complacent. The spikes are there, only they could hardly cause a splinter.

single review–Stargazer (Alice Nine)

Stargazer_cover (1)

One fine day, the Alice Nine boys were all taking a breather in their office. While they are still riding high on the warm welcome received by Senkou, the boys were tired and close to burn out due to touring and preparations for their big concert at Nippon Budokan.

Then suddenly, Big Bad Record Executive made a grand entrance and broke the serene mood (Let’s hide him under the name, Mr. Satoh).

“Alright, boys” exclaimed the very giddy Mr. Satoh. “I say we strike while the iron is hot. We need to release another single soon.”

“But Satoh-sama,” pouted Shou “we’ve been extremely busy and hadn’t had time to create new material.”

Mr. Satoh became very livid causing both Shou and Hiroto to cower. Saga retreated in a corner, pretending to lick clean his bass guitar. Tora and Nao seemed unaffected.

“Preposterous! I know fully well that you have a stash of unreleased songs stored somewhere.” said Mr. Satoh. “Or you could very well start writing new ones. Think boys. Think! Or have the hair dyes finally seeped to your brains?”

All eyes were then directed to band leader Nao who first cleared his throat before muttering, “Well, I guess we could release Karma as a single. It was supposed to be on Vandalize but we had to let it go when we were told to trim down the tracklist.”

“But MUCC is already working on an album called Karma!” exclaimed the now-blonde Hiroto who has been fussing on his hair since Mr, Satoh remarked about the hair dye.

Mr. Satoh walked back and forth, “Don’t you have anything upbeat? Something fun and positive?”

Shou finally had the courage to speak up again, “How about STARLIGHT? We initially wrote it as the theme for Doraemon but the producers thought it was cheesy. Funny, the people behind Digimon said the same thing for Shinkirou.”

“STARLIGHT?” The wheels inside Mr. Satoh’s head seemed to be spinning on hyper mode. “That could work. But change the title to.. to Stargazer! Flower names as titles are a charm. Just think how many jrocks songs are named after that weed freesia.”

Shou was just about to protest on the name change but Mr. Satoh was already busy on the phone.

“Alright boys,” repeated the once again giddy Mr. Satoh. “Stargazer will be your new single. We’ll even add that Karma and that Shinkirou for good measure. Announcements are being posted online as we speak.”

And that, my friends, is the story of how Alice Nine’s Stargazer, undoubtedly one of the most disappointing and insipid releases of the year, came to be.

THE END

note: This work is entirely pure fiction, of course. In one interview, Shou shares that Stargazer was written with performing in Budokan in mind. However, as I was listening to the entire single, I can’t help but think of children’s anime hence the reference to Doreamon and Digimon.

I initially didn’t want to review the single but I needed to block out a very devastating news so I came up with this. I eschewed my usual way of reviewing but I believe the above still gets my point across.

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.

image

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.