Momoiro Clover Z – Saraba, Itoshiki Kanashimi-tachi yo

I don’t think I’m quite ready to re-immerse myself in the mindfucking, IQ-sapping world of Jpop idols any time soon but I know that if I ever chose to take the plunge, Momokuro would be my first choice to stan. My preference for this ragged band of weekend idols over a certain other monstrous girl group boils down to a few simple reasons: there’s only 5 of them (which helps preserve my brain cells), Momota Kanako’s dimples are crazy cute, and their new song is all sorts of win.

Saraba is composed by Hotei Tomoyasu and like most of the master axe-wielder’s material with BOØWY and in a solo capacity, is just ridiculously over the top, with a crazy-ass PV to boot.

Yeah, they could be my next big obsession…if I can get over my aversion to seifuku and meido outfits and all those other crazy Japanese fetishes.

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Shojo Jidai – GIRLS’ GENERATION II ~Girls & Peace~

It was always going to be a tough ask for the girls to follow up the pop perfection that was their debut Japanese album and perhaps not very surprisingly, they don’t manage to get anywhere near those heady heights. Where GIRLS GENERATION was catchy and immediate, Girls & Peace is a lot more subtle, like a difficult, hard-to-love second child who takes times for you to get acquainted with her finer qualities. While roughly following the same template of its predecessor, the album takes a few welcome deviations from autotuned electropop, venturing into the rarely explored genres of hip-hop, disco and mid-tempo ballads. The one thing missing from G&P though, is a song that knocks people’s socks off with the ability to create fads and memes – basically, the role that Mr.Taxi played on the first album. Unfortunately neither Flower Power nor Paparazzi possesses the same magnetic pull that song had, lacking that special ‘something’ that made Mr.Taxi click.

The lack of hit-ready material is best exemplified by two mystifying decisions made for the second album cycle: the first of which happens to be the rehashing & releasing of the nauseatingly sugary Oh! as a single in Japan. You have to wonder what the producers, A&R or whoever is in charge of steering the increasingly wobbly ship that is Shojo Jidai’s Japanese career, were thinking when they chose to relegate All My Love is For You as a lead single in favour of the dead wood that is Oh!. Baffling indeed. Second, the re-recording of ‘lost’ song Boomerang, which was originally mooted as a title track in Korea before the advent of Gee and of which a demo version can be easily found floating around on the interwebs. It’s at least three years old and its age comes across in the rather clunky and old-fashioned arrangement, especially when you line it up next to the sleek and sexy beasts that are Animal and I’m a Diamond.

The latter in particular, hits hard with its rapid-fire rap verses and a mish-mash melody line & backing track that incorporates Chopin’s Funeral March and borrows more than a couple of notes off After School’s Bang. Thankfully T.O.P is not a cover of Shinhwa’s decade-old song as once rumoured but is instead, a call-to-arms anthem that rips off the intro to Genie, throws in plenty of horns and a chorus that recalls parts of The Boys. It’s really quite fantastic.

G&P is heavily backloaded, a trio of singles being fired off in succession before closing with a pair of new tracks better best forgotten – title track Girls & Peace is the kind of cheery ’90s pop song SNSD used to churn out on Baby Baby and predictably, is not my cup of tea at all. We then get token ballad Not Alone to round off the album and while it will no doubt be a popular at concerts for its tearjerking potential, it is just utterly dull on record.

I loved both Girls Generation (JP) and TTS’s Twinkle from the word go but those records were easily adored. For the moment, the jury is out on where Girls & Peace stands in my overall SNSD album affections ranking and I reckon I’ll only be able to tell you circa April 2013, which is when I’ll have attended some dates on the girls’ second Japanese tour.

Sophomore slump averted then, but the question remains – where does Shojo Jidai go from here with regards to their strategy for Japan? My biggest wish is that they actually bother to learn the language properly, something that looks rather unlikely to happen given SM’s grand plans to advance the girls against the brick wall of the US market. Oh well, questions to ponder on another day.

For now, I score Girls & Peace a solid-but-unspectacular 6 out of 10.

Keep: Reflection, I’m a Diamond, T.O.P
Dump: Oh!, Boomerang

Mr.Children – [(an imitation) blood orange]

I had thought Sakurai and the boys were back on the right track with 2010’s SENSE which got the balance of sentimental ballads and aggressive folk-rock just right to ensure that both new and old fans were kept happy and well-fed. [(an imitation) blood orange] sees that work come undone thanks to a never-ending sequence of soppy sappiness, a host of tracks ultimately flattering to deceive. Yeah, I’m sure Jotoku and hypnosis are meant to sound similar to the classics like Sign and Kimi ga Suki…but well, they don’t. Pale imitations, all of these songs. The only exception to the rule is Kako to Mirai to Koshin suru Otoko but alas, one great song maketh not a good album.

KARA – Girls Forever

First-week sales of Girls Forever were down by more than 70% from those of preceding album Super Girl, a result that can be attributed to a million-and-one-things: anti Korean sentiment, general Kpop apathy thanks to over-saturation etc. but the quality of music shouldn’t be one of them. Credit where credit’s due – KARA has been very good at tailoring its sound to the Japanese market since debuting and in terms of quality, Girls Forever is their most well-rounded album to date even if it lacks a killer hit song in the mold of Go Go Summer!. Regardless, I’ll take 10 reasonably well-written songs over 4 awesome + 6 mediocre tunes any day, as Girls Forever is over Super Girl.

Fortnightly Shorts #2

Quickly dumping another series of posts that never were.

Korean
HyunA – Melting
The only things melting are my brain and my eardrums.

B.A.P – Stop It
What an appropriately titled single! Like..I know TS are desperate to win awards, but you don’t have to shove B.A.P in our faces til we’re sick of them.

Hot Potato – Who Doesn’t Like Sweet Things.
Except this record ain’t conventionally sweet. I really like Kim C’s style though.

Casker – Journey
Really don’t get the hype about Casker. Minimalist music doesn’t have to be this boring (re: the xx).

Urban Zakapa – 02
I used to think they were OK but the last couple of releases have reeked of awful muzak. No improvement here.

Son Seung Yeon – Ugly Duckling’s Wings
Bit of a Jekyll ‘n’ Hyde album from the winner of Korea’s The Voice – the pop-rock tracks are great but the slower songs are dreadful.

Kim Bo Kyung – Rockin’
Way more ballads than I expected. 잊어도 지워도 is really nice though.

Romantic Punch – Silent Night
Spaced out every time I put the album on despite my best efforts to concentrate. Very ordinary.

Kim Jong Kook – Journey Home
Gosh his mosquito voice is really an acquired taste. Otherwise a decent album with one or two outstanding tracks.

Baek Seung Heon – Baek Seung Heon
Having Jaejoong in the MV doesn’t make the song sound any less awful I’m afraid.

English
Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
I would say this is infinitely better than Frank Ocean.

Beth Orton – Sugaring Season
Rather alarming to see that it’s been 13 years(!) since I bought my first Beth Orton record (Central Reservation). Trip-hop has gone out of the window for straight-up folk and I prefer it that way.

Tracey Thorn – Tinsel and Lights
Another unconventional Christmas soundtrack following last year’s effort by Tim Wheeler. Great stuff.

Lucy Rose – Like I Used To
aka the girl who sings with Bombay Bicycle Club. Ain’t a bad record but there is already a fuckton of singers out there who sound like clones of Laura Marling/Amy MacDonald. Give her a couple more years…

Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
Talkin’ bout female singers who make themselves sound distinct amongst the throng, here’s one of them. Khan just gets better and better and better.

Japanese
Various – YUI tribute She loves you
And I thought only artists with notable contributions to the music industry got tribute albums…well, YUI supervised this one herself. Which you can tell by the quality of the music…

SPECIAL OTHERS – Have A Nice Day
‘Lost the plot’ would be an appropriate description of the guys’ music these days.

Goosehouse – Beautiful Day
Cheesy enough to make a serving wench blush. Also utterly dull.

Sasagawa Miwa – Orokana Negai
What a way to end a self-imposed five-year indie exile. It’s people like Sasagawa that keep mainstream Jpop from drowning in a sea of tuneless idols.

suneohair – Slow Dance
One of his better singles in recent memory. Lead track’s usage in an anime I’m actually watching helps I guess.

Weather Girls – Koi no Tenki Yohou
They’re Taiwanese. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to suck, but…they do. Very much so.

Anime
Kalafina – Hikari Furu
I don’t know if it’s just me but I’m getting really sick and tired of Kajiura’s Kalafina/FictionJunction projects…it’s all becoming a pile of indistinguishable glop.

Hanazawa Kana – happy endings
Really hate to admit that I’m enjoying Hanazawa’s solo career so far. Just the songs though – I don’t want to see her videos or hear her sing live, thank you very much.

Tomatsu Haruka – Sword Art Online Character Song CD 1: Asuna
1. Why the hell is the intro in English… 2. Wait this is Tomatsu, she might as well be singing in Greek.

Ray – Rakuen Project
This was never going to match up to sign.

Various. Kimi ni Todoke Chara Songs Album
Wow someone released this onto the internets..then again, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea judging by how dreadful some of the songs are :|

The next instalment will definitely be delayed since I’ll be in Japan in two weeks’ time…

Primary – Primary and the Messengers LP

Hip-hop producer Primary has assembled an all-star cast of collaborators (thus the ‘messengers’) for this ambitious double album – one disc compiles the tracks released over the course of the last 2 years while the other features fresh cuts featuring the likes of mainstream pop idols Jay Park and MBLAQ’s G.O. With an old school sound that relies less on electronic tricks and more on hard-hitting funk instrumentation and even harder-hitting rhymes, casual Kpop fans might find this kind of thing a shock to the system if the only kind of rap you’ve been listening to is the awful trash peddled by pretty boys with coiffed hair in garish clothes.

Not that the LP is without its flaws, of course. The quality of the material on the second disc is noticeably weaker than that of the first; I doubt either of the tunes featuring G.O. or Jay Park would’ve been missed if they’d been left off the album. Those little missteps are however, thankfully offset by the two excellent promo tracks,  (with E-Sens) and ? with Choiza & Zion.T as well as my personal favourite, Playboy’s Diary which employs the talents of r’n’b singer Junggigo and rapper Dead’P.

I’m normally a tough customer when it comes to hip-hop but Primary has easily won me over. If he keeps this run going he might just take over Verbal Jint, Leessang and Dynamic Duo in my affections..