A few CDs I've liked a lot recently:
Peppertones' A Preview
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
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
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.
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
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.