Like Father, Like Daughter

Just spent some time listening to the self-titled debut album of Mai (麻衣), which was released sometime last month. A wholly unremarkable name at first glance until you consider her surname Fujisawa (藤澤), put two-and-two together and realise that her father is one Hisaishi Joe, real name Fujisawa Mamoru.

Is it any surprise then, that Mai’s own writing style closely resembles that of her father’s? Honestly, it was pretty hard to tell which songs on the album were the work of Mai’s own hand and which were Hisaishi’s. Her voice too, seems to be tailor-made for her father’s material, all floaty and ethereal-like.

Overall Mai is an album that’s easily digested, no treacherous bones here. Bit like watching a Ghibli movie actually. Picking an obvious highlight – Kokoro no Kakera, which serves as the theme song for DS game Ni no Kuni and is written by Hisaishi. 

Today’s humming song: 君をのせて by 井上あずみ [Kimi o Nosete by Inoue Azumi]

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Peppermint on the Radio

It’s taken almost half a year for me to get hold of Kate Walsh’s latest album Peppermint Radio. No, not the girl from Grey’s Anatomy, but the Essex folk singer who I like everyone else, discovered when her Tim’s House album became a minor hit on iTunes in 2007. She remains the only unsigned artist to achieve a #1 album there.

Peppermint Radio is a covers album of songs and artists that influenced Walsh over the course of her less-than-a-decade-long career. She’s only a year older than me so it’s no surprise that I’m familiar with most of the material found here, though some choices are a bit left-field – I can’t quite imagine anyone else picking up Turin Brakes’s Feeling Oblivion from their 2001 Mercury-nominated The Optimist LP as a foremost candidate for the cover treatment, for example.

Walsh’s last proper album Light & Dark as its title suggests, mixed things up with bright country-folk tracks parked next to darker, mournful ballads. Peppermint Radio definitely leans to the ‘dark’ side, most songs reduced to a simple piano arrangement, with the occasional strings courtesy of producer Tim Bidwell.

This pared-down approach works best on material that’s light years away from Walsh’s own sound – EMF’s ’90s rap-rock anthem Unbelievable, The Shamen’s disco hit Move Any Mountain, Erasure’s cheesy A Little Respect. Doesn’t work quite so well on Beetlebum (Blur) though.

Listening to the album in one go can be a slightly drowsy affair with little variation in mood and pace but that’s just nitpicking. Peppermint Radio is definitely one of the best covers efforts out there, highly recommended.

Today’s humming song: Underdog (Save Me) by Turin Brakes

Fresh Sounds #2: Surprises & Disappointments

Tail-end of December/start of January is traditionally a dead zone as far as notable new releases are concerned, which is fine by me as I get a little more time to go through my ever-growing backlog. 

What’s been good:
Kokoro no Uta. CureaL – The Hokkaido duo’s brand of folk/country-inflected pop gets straight to my heart, sounding like FREENOTE doesn’t hurt their standing (in my eyes) a single bit. Very confident, very good major debut album. I think I might regret leaving this off my year-end best of list.

Shunkashuto. NIKIIE – I’m thinking Hoshimura Mai or Takenaka Eri here. Writes her own songs, backed by Dr.StrangeLove’s Negishi Takamune. Big voice for a big ballad, maybe a little generic but still ideal for the season(s). It’s NIKIIE’s first single so there may or may not be further great things to come from her.

Live @ Sapporo Kitara. sleepy.ac – Their songs don’t truly come to life until you hear them done live and once again, they do the trick for songs from the paratroop album that I found boring. Pity no Diver or Doremi though.

Aru Haru no Koibito. Minuano – Only just begun exploring Minuano’s stuff, though I have been meaning to thanks to the Lamp connection (vocalist Sakakibara Kaori is part of the project). Definitely liking what I’m hearing so far – a relaxing blend of bossa nova, jazz and blues that throws up inevitable comparisons to well, Lamp. And all those other Brazilian artists that I’ve not yet listened to. Someday!

Okapi Horn. 4 Bonjour’s Parties – A bit of an oddity. Shugo Tokumaru dream-like soundscapes, an album to listen to when you’re in a floaty mood.

What’s been OK:
Rhythm. RYTHEM – Not groundbreaking but it’s a good send-off for the duo. The melancholy of songs like all-ways is already making me feel so wistful ahead of their impending split.

Flash Keeper. nano.RIPEPatricia was better. I wonder why they’re signed to Lantis…a mediocre career beckons.

ALMA. ACIDMAN – I’m not sure what to make of them anymore. Noel might be the best song they’ve written in a long, long while but the rest of it somewhat flatters to deceive. Might need a few more months of listening…

What’s been not so good:
Close To You. Sugawara Sayuri – If the aim is to put me into winter hibernation, then this sleepy mini-album sure did the trick.

???. Aira Mitsuki – I wonder if the novelty is starting to wear off now. Album just feels way too safe and boring, though I might still say I prefer her lispy ‘voice’ to the Perfume machinery.

table. Half-Life – For a band with such a bad-ass name this sure is a terribly generic emo-rock album.

Seasons. Dew – I hate to say this but Seasons is a major disappointment. Maybe one or two highlights in there (Swing in the wind, Yuuki no Chikara), otherwise it’s just rehashing Dew ballad #859703.

Haraiso. Hana*Hana – Well, it’s not like their songs were ever that great in the first place but if this is the best they can come up with after a hiatus that lasted the better part of a decade…

Yadorigi. Any – Evidently, they pressed the ‘insert cheese’ button too hard during the album’s making.

There’s still quite a lot of stuff in the ‘Listen to Me!!!’ pile, and it keeps growing. Woe is me.

Tsubakiya Shijuusou split

Official site announcement, though it was already whispered around after their countdown live at Zepp Sendai.

Well, I did not see that one coming – not at this time anyway. If at any point I thought they might call it quits, it was when they released their two best-of CDs in 2008.

It is quite strange in some ways since the trio were at their creative peak and commercially successful too, with their last three albums (released in consecutive years over 2008-2010) all charting within the Top 20. I thought they could only get better after the high of NIGHTLIFE but like that cliché goes, I guess it was not meant to be.

Thanks for the 7 & 1/2 years of great music guys, you’ll be missed.

Doin’ a bit of doujin music digging

Opportunity costs. When you’ve got as many hobbies as I’ve got, there’s gotta be a trade-off made somewhere. Over the past 4-5 years when I spent most of my spare time chasing seiyuu and playing the blogging game, the ‘something(s)’ that gave were manga and doujin music. There wasn’t any particular reason to it at the time, but I’m sure it did have something to do with the huge amount of time both activities required.

Doujin music has, during my little ‘break’, exploded with the help of Nico Douga, Miku and all that jazz. I’ve never been keen on Vocaloid, but the whole 歌ってみた thing is a different kettle of fish. It always brings much joy to stumble upon raw talent, to hear how their skills develop over time and eventually, become good/popular enough to sell CDs at Comiket and M3. I think I’ve really missed that aspect of ‘discovering’, hence my recent efforts to try and dig back for all those gems I’ve missed.

First port of call has been M3-26 and what I was most eager to try out was Nico singer シャノ (Chano)’s Shalimar-Tea. Having seen her cover of aiko’s カブトムシ on Nico, it’s no surprise that the album follows a similar piano-ballad route with a strong emphasis on melody. The songs, which she wrote herself, are a strong bunch indeed. I really like the album and unsurprisingly, I’m going to find a way to acquire it for myself.

Good signs so far. Next up, exploring 三澤秋 (Misawa Aki). Hopefully, I’ll report back here soon.

Speeding through the 61st NHK Kohaku

Watched bits of the show on TV the other night whilst eating dinner and playing a couple of rounds of gin rummy. With the Jpop scene as boring as it is right now, I didn’t find too many of the songs or performances memorable. Enka is as always, not my cup of tea. Personal highlights:

Angela Aki’s 輝く人 – The song is pants but Angela’s performance was as always, tops. At least she didn’t do 手紙 again!
HY’s 時をこえ – Did well despite having to chop the whole thing down by half. The choice of song was typically safe and played to NHK’s sappy image, but I guess they had to do that if they wanted to do the Kohaku gig.
the Gegege band – Probably the only song during the character battle thing where I didn’t fall asleep.
Kayama Yuzo – His medley was pretty electrifying! Ossan rock rules.
Kuwata Keisuke – Apart from the fact that he looked a bit like a rabbit in the headlights (“Are we broadcasting live on national TV right now?”), Kuwata’s set was well entertaining. Though a bit risque with all those bunny girls…I’m not too fond of the new song he did (それ行けベイビー!!) either. But hey, the guy just recovered from esophageal cancer, and he still sang better than 80% of the other acts.
Uemura Kana’s トイレの神様 – Nice to see that she managed to cut it down to 7 and a half minutes ahaha.
Hikawa Kiyoshi’s 虹色のバイヨン – Holy shit that was even camper than he usually is lmfao. But you can’t deny that the guy never fails to be entertaining, which is exactly what enka needs to liven up its dull image.

The rubbish – flumpool were awful, SMAP are as crap as they ever are and Nishino Kana was kinda painful at points.

And gosh AKB48 were everywhere what the hell. I know NHK is desperate for ratings but making them dance in the background during enka performances is just pathetic.

Also, Matsushita Nao is a terrible host. I hope we get Nakama Yukie back for the next round.