Thursday, April 28, 2005

Spangle call Lilli line's Trace

Spangle call Lilli Line's new album, Trace. Posted by Hello

It’s only April but I have little doubt that Spangle call Lilli line’s Trace will turn out to be, at the end of the year, one of the best Japanese albums of 2005. Trace is a blockbuster.

For long-time fans of this Japanese band, however, the album might take some getting used to. SCLL is clearly exploring new musical territory.

In their first three albums (the self-titled debut album, Nanae and Or), SCLL created music that might be described as avant-garde pop—perhaps a contradiction in terms, but one I think fairly reflects the band’s sound, which is innovative and unorthodox, but also melodious in a pop way. (The band is often characterized as post-rock too.)

In Trace, though, SCLL has added new musical colors to its palette of sound—listeners can hear echoes of popular musical styles such as R&B, soul, and dance music.

The individual songs in Trace are also shorter than the epic compositions in their earlier albums. In their previous albums, almost all songs were longer than five minutes, and some of their best tunes stretched even longer, with ‘Piano’ in their album Or lasting 7 minutes and 23 seconds, and ‘E’ in Nanae continuing for eight-and-a-half minutes.

But those older songs don’t feel long at all. On the contrary, it’s a joy to listen to the way SCLL slowly develops beautiful musical themes. It’s like watching a fast-forwarded video of a flower blooming or an insect emerging from its cocoon. (I’d heartily recommend a listen to their songs ‘E’ or ‘Nano” to get a feel for what I mean.)

In the latest album, however, only two songs are longer and most are about four.

Maybe the most striking example of this new SCLL sound--more pop and shorter in length-- is the third song on the album, “U-Lite”.

Opening with singer Kana Otsubo’s humming accompanied by an electric organ and an ordinary rock band arrangement, this tune, less than three minutes long, is a joyous pop gem. But it’s the sort of song that would have been hard to imagine SCLL doing, considering their previous works. The tune could almost pass for one in the Top 40 chart, though maybe a Top 40 in a parallel universe where pop songs are made with the goal of musical uniqueness and perfection rather than monetary gain…

One thing that hasn’t changed in SCLL’s sound is Otsubo’s instantly recognizable, slightly husky, light, dreamily enchanting singing voice. But her unchanged singing style serves to highlight how different the rest of the music has become. The effect is striking: it’s like a woman you are used to seeing in a kimono dressed up one day in an African dress.

For old fans the song that sounds most like the SCLL of past albums is the seventh track on the album, ‘stereo’. Trace is worth a listen for this song alone, to listen to the way SCLL weaves a gorgeous tapestry of sound in a way only they can.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Plectrum's Uchiage

One for the history books? Posted by Hello

I took this photo above for the benefit of Rock Music History. Or so I thought Friday night with a few beers inside me. It was after Plectrum’s stunning solo show at the Que. About fifty of us were celebrating at the uchiage (pronounced something like 'ooh, chee, ah, gay'), an after-show party, at some random Japanese bistro. Everyone was excited.

From right, in the photo, is Osamu Shimada, guitarist for pop bands Swinging Popsicle and Caraway; Yoshiharu Ishizaka, guitarist for advantage Lucy and the creator of that band’s gorgeous music; Jun Inoue, singer for CleanDistortion; and on the left, smiling to someone outside of the picture, is Naoki Kishihara, bassist for Plectrum.

Each one of their bands is outstanding, and I try never to miss any of their shows. To see them all sitting in front of me, chatting about something, was the height of cool. In my musical worldview it was like seeing Nirvana hanging out with Sonic Youth, or witnessing the first meeting in England between the Ramones and the Clash. Sound overblown? Perhaps. But one of the things I’ve found out writing Japan Live is that there are many more fans than I thought, in Asia, Europe and the Americas, of these modest, friendly musicians.

The Plectrum show that preceded the party was mind-blowing. My friend Dr. I said he was on the verge of tears at the band’s rendition of its 1996 hit ‘Flow’, Plectrum’s first major label single. I was in the same state when they did “3 P.M. Lazy” from the album Sorry and “Book End” from Colombia, two of their best songs. The show lasted nearly three hours, but none of us was tired at the end—no, we were energized—and Taisuke Takata, Plectrum’s singer, hopped from one table to the next being a model party host.

Other musicians were at the party too, to revel after a great show. At one point I saw the bassist for the Waffles paying homage to Ishizaka of Lucy, about ten years his senior. During the evening, on top of beer, I downed two big glasses of awamori, the potent liquor of Okinawa, so by the time the group split into two and mine moved to some bar in Shimokitazawa, I was quite smashed. I ended the evening teaching one version of the Jive Handshake to Plectrum's drummer, Mikiya Tatsui. Next morning I suffered from a slight hangover, but I also brought back from the night the picture above to keep its memory fresh.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Hartfield Becomes A Duo

Tokyo rock band Hartfield says in its e-mail magazine that bassist Komine and drummer Tatsu are leaving the band, making it a duo rather than a quartet. I'll miss the two, but what can you do, nothing's permanent. The band says it will have guest musicians playing the rhythm parts at shows, and their April 25 gig at the Que (with Kaimy Plants, ZARIGANI 5 and Throw Curve)will be the last one in Japan for a while so make sure to attend it.

Meanwhile, in an interesting pairing, Hartfield says it will tour South Korea from April 29 with Swinging Popsicle. The two bands play quite difference types of music--Hartfield, melodic rock with lots of distortion, while Swinging Popsicle is soulful pop--but they are both outstanding bands and well worth going to see if you are in the area.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Round Table, Vasallo Crab 75, Swinging Popsicle

Vasallo Crab Kudo's Christmas-lit guitar. Posted by Hello

Sunday was Major League Guitar Pop night at the Shimokitazawa Club Que. The three pop bands that played—Swinging Popsicle, Round Table and Vasallo Crab 75—were all outstanding, veteran groups, each with a big fan base of its own. Those three came together for the second installment of the Vasallo-hosted monthly Mirrorball Disco Night, at which the idea is to get down to cool Japanese pop music (though in reality most of the shy audience do no more than shake their heads a bit).

Swinging Popsicle's Fujishima with Vasallo Crab's Kudo. Posted by Hello

It had been a while since I’d seen the first act, Swinging Popsicle, and I was happy to see them once again. Singer Mineko Fujishima was spectacular as always—she’s a Soul Woman wearing the body of a petite Japanese girl. Osamu Shimada, the guitarist, and Hironobu Hirata, the bassist, are both virtuosos and also play for a number of other good bands (Shimada is in Caraway, while Hirata is in Auroranote). When the three jam together, the playing is joyful but also professional—this isn’t a band that loses its cool, or gets mushy, but they put their hearts into doing the show.

The second band, Round Table, I’d seen once before. A smooth pop band that reminds me a little of Flippers’ Guitar, the trail-blazing 90's Japanese group, guitarist Katsutoshi Kitagawa sings while keyboardist Rieko Ito punches out explosive solos.

Swinging Popsicle's Hirata with Vasallo Crab's violinist, Yasuhito Kawabe. Posted by Hello

Last was Vasallo Crab 75, who I’ve written about many times before. Any music fan in Tokyo who has a taste for funky pop music should check them out. Recently at their shows they’ve interspersed their pop songs with long funky jam sessions. A friend said he preferred the old Vasallo with its more ordinary pop sound, but I’m no pop purist and have to say Vasallo’s sound now gets me moving like an internal metronome.

Vasallo likes interesting stage visuals—for a period a few months back, they played in the pitch dark except for a lone, lit disco ball—but they are an indies band so there are no pyrotechnics or Stonehedge descending down to the stage or what have you. Instead, the band put up reflective sheets on the back wall that glittered in the colors of the stage lights. And at a key moment guitarist Daisuke Kudo said to the audience, ‘look at my guitar’, which then lit up like a little Christmas tree with green light bulbs.

Later Kudo said he bought the mini-lights, taped them onto his guitar, and had a switch on his side to turn it on at the right moment. What if it malfunctioned and the guitar didn’t light up? Yeah, I actually regretted bringing the guitar to the audience’s attention even as I was doing so, he said.

In front of the stage were a mother and her daughter, who looked about eight, with intricately braided hair. The girl had a look that alternated between bewilderment and boredom all through the show, and she glanced nervously once in a while at the dancing adults around her. She made me remember that rock ‘n’ roll made no sense to me either as a child until one pre-pubescent day, when I suddenly understood, and was hooked.


UPDATE: For people who will be in Tokyo in May and June, just to let you know that Vasallo Crab 75 will be doing a solo show on May 26, and a show with advantage Lucy and Condor 44 on June 22, both at the Que. Both are must-see shows!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

DJ iPod

I don't think Apple is telling iPod customers everything they need to know. There's a lot of weirdness about the iPod. For example, most people believe that the iPod's shuffle function picks songs by random. That, I'm pretty sure, isn't the case.

Now, to back up a bit for people who don't use iPods, the iPod has a thing called 'shuffle' where you can listen to all your songs in 'random' order. It's fun at first, but after a while it gets a bit unsettling. The shuffle command, you see, chooses songs well. You almost never get, say, a hardcore punk song after, for instance, a church hymn. The iPod usually gradually eases you into different kinds of music, going little by little from soft to loud, mellow to intense, and so on. In other words, it can't be random.

So what's going on?

I'm no IT engineer -- I couldn't assemble a transistor radio -- so here I'm going to have to use metaphors to explain how I think the iPod works. The gadget is like a huge library of singles. On the library payroll are a bunch of tiny dwarves. Everytime you press 'play' on a song, one of the dwarves scurries to find the single you requested, and puts it on the record player. That's how you hear the songs.

But there's one dwarf in the staff who has a Gift: he has a genuine, uncanny ability to dee-jay records. When you put on the 'shuffle' function, you're actually telling this dwarf -- let's call him DJ iPod: do the rest. And he does. He's good. He knows how to spin those disks to make you not want to stop listening.

Anyway, to test my dwarf-DJ-in-iPod hypothesis, I decided to observe how the songs were chosen tonight when I turned on the shuffle function.

I started with the Germ's We Must Bleed, because you have to begin somewhere, and I thought it would be a good challenge for DJ iPod: what will he choose next in my mostly punk-free song library?

He picked: Syrup 16g's Roller Met. A good call. While Japan's Syrup 16g isn't punk, the band is certainly hard rock, and one could argue the two bands share a certain attitude of nihilism. Off to a good start. What next?

Next: Travis's Turn. Nice! This is in line with my hypothesis: DJ iPod went from punk to hard rock to the more mellow rock of Travis in a smooth progression. Plus I have a feeling the DJ knows I haven't listened to Travis as much as I've wanted to because I've been busy with Japanese music. I'm looking forward to the next song.

Which is: Japanese songstress Misako Odani's Boku no E ('My painting'). That has moved the mood completely to mellow and pop from the initial punk of the Germs. Impressive. And, again, this is an Odani song I haven't listened to that much.

With the next song, DJ iPod appears to want to make things more upbeat. But not so abruptly that the transition seems unnatural. He picks the Cymbals' Air Guitar. The carefree singing of the Cymbals' Asako Toki is a good follow-up to the intense, passionate voice of Odani, like fruit after prime ribs.

Next: Husking Bee's A Single Word. The change to rock seems a bit sudden, but it works. And I hadn't listened to the Japanese band's song in a while and had half-forgotten how good it is.

Next: Lucy van Pelt's change. Now things are starting to get a little strange. Lucy? The Japanese guitar pop band (now called advantage Lucy) doesn't share much with Husking except that both songs were recorded in the late-90's. Hmm. What's next?



No! That's just perverse! Black Sabbath following Lucy?? That's just not right. I can't know, but I have a strong feeling that never before in history have these two songs been played one after the other in a music player anywhere...

Here I think DJ iPod was either asleep at the wheels, or some drug he took earlier had started to kick in. Or... my hypothesis is starting to look somewhat shaky. Worried, I wait for the next song.

Which is: Husking Bee's Day Break. Didn't we just listen to Husking? The transition is also a little rocky, though that may be inevitable after Black Sabbath.

Next: Art-School's Charlotte. Nice one. The DJ dwarf is getting back in shape -- Art-School is, like Husking, emotion-packed Japanese rock, and this DJ move makes sense.

Next: Misako Odani's I. I'd complain that we just listened to Odani a few songs back if it weren't for the fact that this transition is unexpected, and brilliant! One sort of passion melting into another. Good stuff, DJ!

Here the DJ decides to be adventurous, and puts on a song by a Korean band, Cocore, but it's in Hangul so I can't read it. But it works.

The DJ decides it's mellow-out time with the next song, and puts on Kuchu- Ko-dan's Kyu-jitsu ('Day Off'). It's as if he's reminding me that I really ought to listen to Kuchu- Ko-dan more. They are a great girl pop band, but I hardly ever listen to their stuff for some reason.

Next: Syrup 16g's Mouth to Mouse. OK, good transition, but Syrup 16g again?

Next: Unicorn's Elegy. This is one of those albums I have in my iPod that I've never listened to, but haven't cleaned it out due to laziness. The pop song by the old Japanese band is actually not bad. Maybe I should go back and listen to the full album.

Which is followed by: The Clash's Remote Control. And then: Husking Bee's Shinkyu- Dynamism. Husking Bee, again?? It's the third time Husking has come on in the space of about fifteen songs.

The next song has a gorgeous acoustic guitar start, and I wonder what is it, until I hear the deep, raspy voice of the male singer. Right away I know it's the U.S. band Tangerine's It's Focus, from a CD the guys sent to me.

Next is early Art-School, the song Negative, which has a garage band feel and works well after Tangerine.

At this point, DJ iPod decides to play a few Western pop songs in a row, starting with Happydeadmen's The Seas Are Sailed, followed by the Lucksmiths' What You'll Miss, and then, another Lucksmiths song (!), Stayaway Stars (I mean, if you think the shuffle function is truly random, think about what a small probability there is of two Lucksmiths songs randomly playing back to back, when I only have about 12 of their songs out of 3,000...).

The final song that comes on for this experiment is Luminous Orange's Fall Again, which matches the mood of the Lucksmiths song that came before it.

If you're still with me, I think I've made my point that a brain, and not randomness, is behind the iPod's shuffle function. What do you think?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Three Berry & Cherry Weekend

Prime Minister Koizumi's flower viewing party. Posted by Hello

Three Berry Icecream, the musical unit of singer/accordionist/glockenspiel-player Mayumi Ikemizu, performed on Sunday afternoon at a tiny place called the Cafe See More Glass in Harajuku, Tokyo. If a gig at an arena with mammoth sound and light systems is one extreme of the rock concert spectrum, this show was probably near the other extreme. The cafe was in a non-descript basement floor next to a cheap-looking Chinese restaurant and across from a shop that sells ao-jiru, a bitter, green plankton-like drink that proponents claim is good for you. Inside See More Glass was room for about thirty seated people at most. Its owner must have been trying to bring to life a childhood dream of a warm, comfortable home by creating this cafe - bookshelves were stuffed with hundreds of picture books, and brightly-colored art was everywhere.

Three Berry Icecream live. Posted by Hello

Ikemizu, the performer, is a veteran musician who once played in the 90's Japanese pop band Bridge (Hideki Kaji was the group's most famous member). She's now the mother of a cute and outgoing three-year-old daughter, Ruka, and despite the demands of parenthood has continued to record music, though slowly, and has been doing shows occasionally. Ikemizu is friends with members of guitar pop bands like advantage Lucy and Vasallo Crab 75, and indeed, at this show Lucy guitarist Yoshiharu Ishizaka played guitar, and Vasallo's violinist and bassist helped out too.

The sound system was as simple as could be, but that served to highlight what accomplished musicians these guys are. A pleasant surprise for me was to hear how good the accordion and violin sound together playing pop/bossa nova. Three Berry did two shows, each about an hour for a crowd of around 25 people , many of whom knew each other, like cafe regulars.

Prime Minister Koizumi (click to enlarge) Posted by Hello

Saturday I was invited to, of all things, the flower-viewing party hosted by Prime Minister Koizumi. It was at the Shinjuku Gyoen, or Shinjuku Gardens, a big park in central Tokyo. The day was perfect for the party, sunny, with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. A pamphlet said the park contained about twenty varieties of cherry trees, including a rare type with green-colored cherry blossoms. And it was true, the park was colored that day in various shades of pink and white of cherry flowers. However, many of the 8,000 or so guests seemed more interested in taking photos of the celebrities that Koizumi had invited, than appreciating the cherry flowers' beauty.

Usually though, Japanese people make a big fuss about the cherry blossoms, partly out of habit, but also in part because the cherry's brief bloom I think confirms their view that youth is fleeting, and strikes a sentimental chord within them. Personally I prefer the plum blossom, which is pretty in its own way (either a dark pink or paler white than the cherry), stays in bloom longer than the cherry, but is largely ignored by people because it flowers ahead of the warmth of spring.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Tornado Tatsumaki, Travelling Panda, On Botton Down

Springtime in Tokyo. Posted by Hello

Most of the rock shows I go to in Tokyo take place at the Club Que in Shimokitazawa, and there's a reason for that: its managers book some of the most interesting, innovative, highest quality Japanese bands. Tonight was another reminder why I love this dinky basement club. The three bands that played, Tornado Tatsumaki, Travelling Panda and On Botton Down, were all wonderful.

The three's style might be called progressive pop, as opposed to progressive rock. Their songs are approachable, gorgeous and swinging, but they always have a twist, such as unusual chords or eccentric rhythms. Theirs was pop that rocked and had brains, and I enjoyed it tremendously.


On Botton Down is a girl singer and guy guitar duo, and they played with supporting musicians. Maybe I use this word too often to describe Japanese bands, but they were a quirky bunch. At the start of the show, when the drummer took a while to appear on stage, the other members said he was just now in the midst of, er, the final act in the digestive process... The drummer wore about half a dozen T-shirts, and stripped off one T-shirt at the end of each song. Despite those and other eccentricities, on botton down's performance was a delight, melodious and adventurous.

On Botton Down at the Que. Posted by Hello

Travelling Panda, not to be confused with Texas Panda, was a girl singer/girl keyboard/guy guitarist trio, also playing tonight with support musicians. They mixed pop, funk, hiphop and fusion jazz sounds in a cauldron of rocking noise. The guitarist looked like a tall Japanese Buddy Holly. The singer marched back and forth on stage in vaguely hiphop way, holding the mike parallel to the ground rapper-like, but in spite of that she sang in a pleasant, girlish voice.


I'd come to see the last band, Tornado Tatsumaki ('tatsumaki' means ... 'tornado'. So their name is 'tornado tornado', or, perhaps, 'tornado times two'?). They were the loudest of the three bands, and at times their music dissolved into Sonic Youth-like distorted chaos. The frizzy-haired singer (all three of the bands had female vocalists), wearing a strange white blouse and shorts outfit that puffed up in weird places and seemed on the verge of falling apart, danced in a puppet-like hard-jointed way, but she had a lot of stage presence and a strong voice.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

MP3s & 3,000 Yen CDs

I'm not an MP3 file-sharing guy. Napster came and went, without my ever trying it out. I don't use the latest file-sharing services either. Partly I guess I'm old-fashioned -- I grew up on LPs, and it still doesn't feel right when music doesn't come packaged in a box with art and words. What a shock it was to read a few years about Napster-using kids who had never owned a single CD!

But I can understand people outside of Japan who get most, or maybe all, of their Japanese music online. Especially with independent Japanese labels it's hard to buy their CDs abroad, and often expensive. I think there's value in itself in indies bands being listened to by foreign fans, even for free. If you are one of those people though, I urge you, if you become crazy about one of those indies bands that you found on the web, to try to actually buy that group's CD if there is some way to. It would make a lot of difference for the musicians.

Major label artists are another matter. Unless I'm crazy about a band, I'm not ready to fork out the 3,000 yen (about U.S.$30) that big Japanese record labels charge for a full-length album these days. Partly, I'm a cheapskate. But there are also principles involved in this -- why should I pay double the price of equivalent CDs in the U.S.? With a shiny new 10,000 yen bill, I could buy four 2,500 yen indies CDs, or even five 2,000 yen ones, but only three 3,000 yen major label disks, plus maybe a cup of cofee. And even $15 for a CD in the U.S. isn't inexpensive: Fugazi used to charge only $8 for their albums (maybe still do?).

Where does the 3,000 yen go? I picked up a Japanese book called Ongaku Gyo-kai Urawaza ('Tricks of the Trade in the Music Industry'), which gave a hypothetical revenue breakdown for a 3,000 yen CD that sold 100,000 copies. It said the record label gets about 35% of the total. The vendors get 25% to 30%. Advertising accounts for 15% And so on, until the musicians, assuming they wrote the music themselves, only end up with less than one-twentieth of the money.

I'm no expert in the music business and maybe this sort of revenue division is ordinary in other countries too. But even if that were the case, it's clear that Japanese labels are being inefficient because the end result is that CD prices in Japan are double those in the U.S., and as far as I know more expensive than anywhere else.

I read an interview of rock band Art-School, which now records with Toshiba-EMI, in which singer Kinoshita was saying Art-School and Mo'some Tonebender were the only "alternative bands" in Japan. Though I like both groups, that remark disappointed me. So you're proud to be classifying yourself by that genre name, 'alternative', that corporate U.S. dreamed up to market indies music that isn't indies anymore? You, the sensitive poet guy? And meanwhile, you charge 3,000 yen for CDs?

I don't think it's the sole reason, but overpriced CDs must be one big explanation for falling CD sales industry-wide and rampant illegal file-sharing. I mean, I make a decent living but I hardly ever buy 3,000 yen CDs. (Just to add, I'm not unconditionally against major labels. I just want them to cut their prices.)

But maybe I'm just cheap.


So how do I spend my money? Tonight would have been a good example, if I had only succeeded.

Yahoo Japan's auction site for the past week has had someone selling as one package 16 late-90's Japanese guitar pop cassette tapes, including that highly-sought rarity, Lucy Van Pelt's Red Bicycle tape, as well as two early tapes of Teeny Frahoop. The auction was to end at 10:05 P.M. tonight. These were treasure the likes of which you don't see on sale often!

As expected, people waited until the last minutes to place their bids, so that by bidding too early they don't encourage some crazy rich guy to outbid them. Ten minutes before the auction finished, the bid price surged to 7,250 yen from the starting 1,000 yen.

I was ready to go as high as 15,000 yen (around $150), and to think really hard and fast on whether to bid higher if even my top bid is defeated. I waited until a minute and 45 seconds before the virtual gavel was to hit the virtual lectern. Then... when I finally inputted my bid, it was rejected because the seller had specified that bidders had to have won a Yahoo Japan auction at least once before, which I hadn't. The tapes slipped through my fingers...

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Cool CDs From Japan, Korea, HK & U.S.

A few CDs I've liked a lot recently:

Cocore's Boyish Posted by Hello

Peppertones' A Preview Posted by Hello

These two are CDs of Korean bands that my friend Wonyul sent me from Seoul. He says one of the two groups, Cocore, is a representative band of Seoul's Hongde scene (Hongde, an abbreviation of Hongik University, has a lot of record shops and music clubs around it. It seems to be a hip Seoul equivalent of Tokyo's Shimokitazawa).

Cocore is Korean grunge. The first time I heard the album, I thought: "Nirvana, but in Korean!". I found I was on the right track when Wonyul confirmed that these guys are big Nirvana fans. Still, they aren't Kurt Cobain clones. Their music, which rocks, is more varied and not as heavy-sounding as the Seattle trio.

The other band, Peppertones, reminds me of the Cymbals of Japan, and, again, Wonyul said I wasn't off the mark - the band members are big Cymbals fans. To back up a bit, since they aren't nearly as well-known as Nirvana: the Cymbals are a defunct Japanese trio that created some of the catchiest pop songs in recent years. My favorite albums of theirs are their first two independent releases, Neat, or Cymbal! and Missiles & Chocolate. Their later major label albums are good too, but I think their first two works contain the essence of Cymbal goodness.

Anyway, the Peppertones play fast-tempoed, danceable pop. Some of the songs in this mini-disk sound like the sort of dance music that was popular in the early 90's, with synthesizer string parts, and rising flute glissandos (the thing where flutes play an ascending passage really fast). Another nice listen.

Wonyul says members of these two bands are soju drinking buddies. I'd like to hang out with them too and drink the potent liquor at one of those tiny Korean barbecue places in Hongde...

Mix Market's Chronicle Posted by Hello

Crawl's Milkicking Posted by Hello

These two albums are both of Japanese bands that recorded with the independent K.O.G.A. label, whose specialty is girl punk and rock groups. The K.O.G.A. girls typically sing with a high, almost child-like voice (usually higher than their normal speaking voice) over punk or hard rock musical compositions.

I've heard people ask, why don't these girls sing in a more natural voice? I think it's a stylistic issue. The mixing of the child-like voice and heavy rock music parts creates musical tension, and the final product is an interesting sound that is distinctly Japanese.

Mix Market, a quintet (all guys except for the female singer), and Crawl, a trio that has already split up, are two exemplars of this style.

Of the two, Mix Market has the heavier rock sound. Chronicle combines a few new songs with material from four of their singles.

Crawl's singer's voice is Lolita to the max. Their Milkicking, released in 1995, contains several pop gems like "High & Dry", which I heard originally in a compilation album and got me interested in the group. In a parallel universe where record sales accurately reflect quality, this pop song would have been in the Top 40.

My Little Airport's the ok thing to do on sunday afternoon is to toddle in the zoo Posted by Hello

At Apple Crumble Record in Shibuya, I picked up this album by the Hong Kong duo My Little Airport, who I'd heard was one of the better Asia ex-Japan bands. And they were. This album, with its provocative cover (what are these two uniformed girls doing in a school hallway?!), includes songs in both English and Cantonese. Like the Pancakes, another Hong Kong unit, the singing is breezy and the compositions quiet and simple, constructed of Casio keyboard and programmed sounds for the most part, but they manage to make the tunes artsy and satisfying to listen to.

Primrose's Abyssal Posted by Hello

I admire Tokyo rock band Primrose a lot, but I hadn't been listening to their albums that much recently, because you have to be in a certain state of mind to get into their slowly-developed, psychelic-sounding rock epics. A friend said they reminded him of Pink Floyd.

Then, recently, I was walking somewhere with my iPod on shuffle mode, and "Queer Place" from this album came on, and it KO-ed me on the spot. With trippy distorted guitar parts, a trance-inducing repeated bass line, a drum part that drives the emotion of the music forward, this song (if it can be described in such a traditional manner...) makes you forget it's twelve minutes long as it gradually but surely builds up to an explosive climax. The album is worth buying to listen to this song alone, though the rest is good too. (As an aside, isn't it amazing what a great DJ the iPod's random mode can be? One song melts into the next in the most imaginative ways.)

Ivy's In the Clear Posted by Hello

Finally, have you listened yet to In the Clear, the latest album by New York trio Ivy?

I have no idea how popular Ivy is back home in the U.S., but they are huge among the Tokyo pop in-crowd. Their older albums are sold with a sticker quoting singer Chara saying Ivy is a band she's only want to tell her best friends about. That may be just a marketing thing, but I've also seen Winnie singer Iori list the band as one of her favorites, and singer Aiko of advantage Lucy says Ivy's French vocalist Dominique Durand is one of her most beloved singers and one whose style she wants to emulate.