LOVE LOVE LOVE – Sun in the Rain

I caught these guys live at the Que three years ago, back when they were still young, innocent and enthusiastic…okay, maybe they still are. Surprisingly, Sun in the Rain is their first full-length album release, though they’ve put out a bunch of minis and singles as well as a Tower Records-exclusive double disc CD in the interim. I was only half impressed with the latter (Kyotokyo), which suffered from a severe lack of quality control and an over-eagerness to add variation for the sake of adding variation, resulting in a bafflingly disjointed record. As you would expect when you have 22 tracks’ worth of material to fill.

The trio have got their hands steadily on the steering wheel with Sun in the Rain though; there is still a bit of experimentation with different styles and even a collaboration with songstress Tsuji Ayano but sticking to their core strengths of simple-but-great melodic sense and strong instrumentation brings great rewards. Both of their glorious singles (Planetarium, Usotsuki Kata) are included here and slot in perfectly amongst potential new fan-favourite anthems such as the upbeat Okinawan folk sing-a-long number Arigato Sansan and the falsetto-driven Fujifabric-ish Magic.

LOVE LOVE LOVE had a lot of fangirls that one night three years ago, people who turned up just to watch their set and who promptly left after they were done. I wondered then if they would last the distance amongst the plethora of young rock bands but Sun in the Rain has put those doubts to rest – what an excellent album, bringing together the sounds of many of the rock bands I’ve loved over the years, from Base Ball Bear to BUMP OF CHICKEN to GOING UNDER GROUND. There is a lot to discover and a plenty to love about Sun in the Rain and it gets two thumbs up from me – just really good stuff.

Check out the Planetarium PV below:

Keep: Arigato Sansan, Koi wa Wana, Aruke Aruke ya
Dump: None.

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Passepied – ONOMIMONO

Naming your band after some obscure 17-18th century French baroque dance is certainly bizarre. Or pretentious, depending on how seriously you take band naming from a nation that’s given us Bump of Chicken, Ogre You Asshole and the chef cooks me…

Apparently the quintet headed by keyboardist Narita Haneda aspire to ‘mix French music with pop-rock’. I’m not sure what strain of French music that might be referring to when they say that, but there certainly aren’t too many examples being offered on Passepied’s major label debut album ONOMIMONO unless they happen to think that raining keyboards and weird key changes on everything can be considered distinctly Francophilic.

The one thing that stands out about them is Ogoda Natsuki’s singing. I say ‘stand out’, but what I really mean is ‘how similar she sounds to other people’; in this case being a hybrid of YUKI, Yakushimaru Etsuko & Iwasawa Masami (of Hoover’s Ooover). Some people would hate the notion of such a voice even existing but I must admit to being a bit of a sucker for the raw emotion and power such styles carry and Ogoda’s voice does lend a certain charm to otherwise formulaic proceedings. There may be some good ideas here and there; the marriage of electronica and ’80s Jpop balladry on Plastic Girl and the quirky Trip being examples but overall, ONOMIMONO is a little too messy and unfocused for Passepied to be thinking of troubling Soutaiseiriron or Shiina Ringo any time soon.

Bulletpointing

Mercury Prize nominations are out, ‘experts’ reckon Richard Hawley will win. I haven’t actually listened to Standing at the Sky’s Edge yet but if the masterful Coles Corner couldn’t grab the top prize…

I guess I’m only mentioning this since a couple of albums on the following list were amongst the shortlist. I’m short on time, so let’s keep it brief:

Beacon. Two Door Cinema Club – They are literally taking the whole ‘if it ain’t broke, why bother fixing it?’ philosophy well to heart, aren’t they? Fantastic for the hardcore, turgid for the casuals.

Channel Orange. Frank Ocean – Just about manages to live up to the enormous hype.

Total Loss. How To Dress Well – An r’n’b album for people who hate r’n’b.

Devotion. Jessie Ware – Of the three mainstream pop noms for the Mercury (Lianne La Havas & Michael Kiwanuka being the others), the sassy Ware is my pick.

Misty Eye. Aiden Grimshaw – The second best thing to come out of X Factor after Rebecca Ferguson. At times Aiden’s singing is so intense I fear he’ll burst a blood vessel.

Strangeland. Keane – I admit I am partial to singing along to Sovereign Light Cafe if it comes on on the radio…let’s move along then.

Coexist. The xx – Like TDCC, these guys are serving up what the fans want to hear on a plate. Can’t say I mind, when you get something as amazing as Sunset out of it.

The North. Stars – I don’t think I’ll ever hear another Calendar Girl from them. This album just about passes muster.

Family. The Cast of Cheers – Great Foals tribute album here…well OK, it is a very catchy, very bouncy record. And there’s no harm in bettering the sounds of the masters…I do like this a lot.

Ground of Its Own. Sam Lee – Blimey, here’s one Mercury guy who’s folkier than Seth Lakeman. I think I prefer something a little less…hardcore..

Every Kingdom. Ben Howard – …and Ben Howard is less hardcore. Not as pandering as Damien Rice or Ed Sheeran, maybe a little more Benjamin Francis Leftwich. He’ll sell well.

Just Tell Me That You Want Me -A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac-. Various – This is a good sight better than that Rumours tribute album that had The Corrs and Duncan Sheik on it..remember that? Thought not.

GOOD ON THE REEL – Mugon no Sangenshoku

The last time I checked in with these guys was slightly over a year ago and I’ve finally got to check out their 3rd mini album that was released sometime in April. They’ve certainly done everything I hoped they would do – clean up their sound a bit, add a bit of muscle and try out different things. The Base Ball Bear-esque Maigo Gokko is the pick of a very fine lot of songs and is perhaps, a sign of good things ahead – their first full-length album drops on 21st November.

THE SOLUTIONS – THE SOLUTIONS

I’m normally suspicious of Asian rock bands singing in Engrish – singing in a language you’re barely fluent in seems rather pointless to me; at worst you come off sounding like a horribly pretentious prick who’s trying (and failing) to be cool and at best, you might just sound a little comical. It’s why I could never bring myself to take Ellegarden or Husking Bee seriously in spite of the decent songs they wrote.

And so we come to THE SOLUTIONS, a new duo that’s signed to Happy Robot Records that happens to be the home of indie darlings The Koxx. I honestly didn’t have much of a clue about them until this Billboard piece shed some light – Naru and Superstar K3’s Park Sol lent a hand to proceedings, which goes some way to explaining the record’s polish and verve. The article also mentions the Britpop and Japanese influences on their sound but they should’ve looked a bit closer to home and namechecked even more obvious sources of inspiration – hint: The Black Skirts, Glen Check and…The Koxx. It ain’t a bad thing to be taking one’s cues from the masters if you pull it off as masterfully as THE SOLUTIONS have here; their self-titled début is incredibly self-assured and never do they put a foot wrong. Yes, I can excuse the fact that all bar one song is performed in drunken Engrish!

Interestingly enough, the two videos uploaded on Youtube so far are labeled ‘PV’ instead of the Korean norm of ‘MV’…is this a sign of them gearing up for a tilt at the the Japanese market? One thing’s for sure though – THE SOLUTIONS’s fortunes in the Land of the Rising Sun would certainly be enhanced by the fact that they’re singing in Engrish.

Check out the PV for the single Lines.

Highlights: Otherside, Nothing’s Wrong, Talk,Dance,Party for Love
Lowlights: none.

ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION – Landmark

Goto Masafumi described Landmark as a ‘masterpiece’ on Twitter. I beg to differ.

Of course, it is too much to expect a reinvention of the wheel with every subsequent Ajikan album. Instead, I merely hope that the damn wheels don’t suddenly detach themselves from the wagon and roll off into a ditch halfway through the ride. Okay maybe I’m being a bit harsh here but let’s be honest – 7 studio albums in 9 years and not one of them sticks memorably in the mind. They have produced the odd good song here and there (Solanin, Rewrite) but none of them are on Landmark and most puzzlingly, N2, a c/w track off last year’s Marching Band single makes the cut…a lack of material perhaps?

Kotobuki Minako – My Stride

I’m surprised it’s taken quite this long for Sony to get a Kotobuki album out of the gate – it’s been nigh on 2 years from her debut single Shiny+ after all. Plus the fact that out of the four members of Sphere, she’s the one who appears to be most marketable in terms of looks and genre and has the voice to back it up (sorry Takagaki Ayahi, you’re not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination).

As far as the music goes you get a dozen or so takes on generic pop-rock; as you would imagine, one’s patience does start to wear thin by the time the fifth or sixth similar-sounding track rolls around. Ballad Tsuki no Hikari is the only song that tries to break the mold but unfortunately, it possesses a chorus that is about as memorable as a rainy day at the beach. It’s too bad metamorphose was left off, that is by far the best thing Kotobuki’s ever done and would’ve done a good job of adding colour to what is a very bland and safe album.

FNC Omnibus Review

I am generally not a fan of the dumbed-down tunelessness that FNC’s artists try to pass off as ‘rock’, but circumstances dictated that I had to check out some of their artists’ recent output for evaluation purposes. Let’s try to talk about what I thought of them, one by one.

F.T.Island – Five Treasure Box
I quite like their Japanese stuff so it is rather odd that I had not until 2 weeks ago, listened to any of their Korean material…turns out I wasn’t missing a lot. Is there some law out there that decrees that Kpop groups must keep their locally-released material as mushy as peas as possible? Don’t be fooled by all those hard riffs, they only fail to disguise the underlying tube of cheese that never seems to run out no matter how much you squeeze it.

CNBLUE – Code Name Blue
I loathe to describe this as the quartet’s ‘first full-length Japanese album’ when more than half of it is being sung in indecipherable Engrish. The good thing is that like their seniors F.T.Island, they boys are actually thinking out of the box and taking a bit more risk songwise but the efforts are somewhat negated by their incoherent English & Japanese and a lack of purpose in the songs. You sense that they’re just trying too hard to impress and it all feels forced, a bit fake.

Juniel – My First June
The label’s newest kid on the block. Not even out of her teens yet, Juniel’s obviously eager to please and this earnestness comes across in her easy-on-the-ears ditties. She gets a helping hand from CNBLUE’s Yonghwa on the charming-but-bland Jason Mraz/Colbie Caillat duet-wannabe Babo but with the evidence provided, doesn’t really need it – illa illa and Everlasting Sunset are already fine songs by themselves. This kid’s definitely one to watch in coming years, but will she be able to carve out a niche for herself? Korea doesn’t really give two hoots about her type of acoustic songstress.

Achime – Overcome

Of all the K-indie discoveries I’d made since last year, Achime’s one of the bands that has really stood out. Like Glen Check and The KOXX there’s an inherent Britishness to their playful, electronic sound – think Franz Ferdinand meets Klaxons if you want a comparable description. They do have their quirks that set them apart, like the odd chiptune melodies casually inserted on 02시 무지개 and DOH! but in the main they stick to the raucous sound that has dominated their last few releases. That’s not to say that it’s not all fun and rowdy bar games for Achime though; the kids do know how to quiet things down when required as aptly demonstrated by the tender ballads아는 여자 and the ironically titled Hyperactivity.

Equal parts brash/abrasive and tender/understated; Overcome is one of the few K-indie albums put out this year that’s grabbed my attention on first listen. It’s too early to say whether it’ll overtake Hunch in my affections but at the very least, it’s just as good a record.

Keep: 피핑 톰, 02시 무지개, Overcome
Dump: the 4 minutes of fuzzy feedback tacked onto the end of 2012 is totally unnecessary

KARA – KARA Collection

Well I got my answer to the last line of my last post fairly quickly. KARA Collection isn’t quite a full-fledged album but it does give fans a nice little treat with solo songs for all of the members (plus a rather pointless remix of GO GO Summer!). Seungyeon scores the best song with Guilty, a rather ‘anime theme’-ish pulsating rock number, though the tango of Gyuri’s Hakuchumu and smooth soul of Nicole’s Lost (feat. 2AM’s Jinwoon) are pretty decent stabs at offering something a little different to the regular KARA sound.

While there aren’t any particular standouts here, the idea of a collection of solo songs is something that more idol groups should explore – which Sone wouldn’t want an album featuring 9 different songs by 9 different members?