Thursday, January 25, 2007

More Fliers, More Flyers...

Nothing extraordinary, no Toulouse-Lautrec posters, but here are a few event fliers that caught my eye at a recent show, beginning with this rather un-P.C. illustration above (do those stairs lead to the Basement Bar? Hmm, don't remember that entrance, maybe it's a side door...).

Fuzzy, pastel Tokyo Tower...

Flying oreo cookies, dancing licorice twists, and a path leading up to a gingerbread house...

Weird tree against a blue-gray sky...

And is that the Chinese animal that eats your dreams?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Texas Pandaa, Contrary Parade At Basement Bar

Are there pandas in Texas?

If so, do they wear ten-gallon hats and prospect for oil?

Or, is a 'pandaa' something different from a panda?

Those are some of the questions that might come up when pondering the name of a brilliant Tokyo band named texas pandaa, who I saw Friday night at the Shimokitazawa Basement Bar.

Sometimes it's good to have a weird band name, which many many bands in Japan do, because it stays in your mind. That was the case when I last saw texas panda three years ago: their name was imprinted in my brain, though that was also because these performing pandas were wonderful live.

I seemed to remember them being hyper and sorta punk, but Friday night they were clearly more in the shoegazer camp, a bit like My Bloody Valentine, except instead of Kevin and Bilinda there were two Japanese girls on vocals. The guitar girl is the main singer while the bass gal mostly does harmonies, and between on stage is the lead guitar guy (they're a two-girl, two-guy band). Most of the songs started quiet, and built up in intensity to final feedback-packed explosions. They were understated between songs, in the classic tradition of the shoe-gazing movement, but their music was in-my-face in a dazzling way: this was one of the better shows I've seen in a while.

What I need to do next is listen to a CD by these Lone Star State b&w bears. I see a trip to Tower Records Shibuya in the near future...

Contrary Parade

I found out about this event because I got an e-mail from Satoshi Iwai, drummer for Contrary Parade of Osaka, saying they are coming to Tokyo to do a show, do I want to go? Yes!, I replied immediately--I loved this piano pop quartet's last gig in Tokyo (my report here).

They were great again at this show; they did a couple of new songs that I hope they will release on CD soon. They also said they are on a compilation album with a bunch of other Osaka bands, with all the other groups besides Contrary Parade being hard-core, and a book-CD featuring their music is coming out in March. As a compilation nut, both of these sounded like things I should check out. You can sample Contrary Parade's songs on

One thing, though, I need to at some point ask Contrary Parade's Iwai-san: how did he end up in a band with three female members?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hazel Nuts Chocolate At The Que

Hazel Nuts Chocolate wasn't quite what I expected.

The same way that, say, a historical site looks different in real life from what you'd imagined, favorite musicians I see for the first time often bely my expectations. This was the case with Hazel Nuts Chocolate, the electronic pop unit of a girl nick-named Yuppa. I've been a fan of hers for a while but had never seen her play live, and Friday night's show at the Que was her first in a year.

From the photos I'd seen of her and the often kid-TV-show-like sound of her music, I expected Yuppa to be some sort of bubbly, petite nymph. But the actual Yuppa, coming on the stage wearing a silky, orange-gold gown and jeans, was fairly tall and slender. Her two albums , stuffed full of bright, picture book illustrations (her bio says she studied children's literature in school) and songs about topics like witches, her hat collection and cooking vegetable soup for a boyfriend, give her the persona of a visitor from a parallel, Peter Rabbit universe. In reality, she talks like an ordinary Japanese girl, using the currently popular expressions, about things like the Nintendo Wii.

She played the Wii with her family over New Year's, and exclaimed that anyone, including her parents, can have fun playing it, and showed the audience how her family moved their arms wildly playing the bowling game. Swinging her own arm, she then went into one of her best songs, "Swing Life".

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rightround Column: Anime Visual Unit Fice

My first rightround column of the year is on Fice, the "Anime Visual Performance Unit" comprising Fire and Ice, a charming duo of perfectly human-like androids. Fice's otaku fans do dances with names like O.A.D. (short for 'over-action dolphin') for five to six hours a night.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Compilation Albums (LOVE Them) 2

A while back I wrote about my big love for indie compilation albums--one of the joys of being a music fan is finding a great song by a band I've never heard of in a compilation CD, tracking them down on the Web, and, a few weeks or months later, seeing them play live. This is how I discovered a lot of favorite groups (off the top of my head: The Kitchen Gorilla, Jimmy Pops, Contrary Parade, Mix Market, etc. etc.).

Here are a few other multi-artist albums I've enjoyed recently:

Galaxie 500 #Sugar; #Plum; #Fairy

This three-part compilation CD series is extraordinary: in a market where full-length albums usually sell for more than 2000 yen (US$20+), each of these CDs only cost 500 yen (that is, under five bucks). But, in spite of that low price tag, the music featured in this series uniformly sound brilliant and innovative. 'You Get What You Pay For' doesn't apply in this case.

Included are several indie artists I know, including Shugo Tokumaru, Apartment and 4 Bonjour's Parties, but lots of shoegazer, indie pop, psychedelia, electronica and other genre groups that are new to me; of those, I especially liked the bands Hot Fudge Sundae, Muffin (the Japanese food infatuation continues...) and Early Bird.

The compilation series is released by Finderpop Label, who also produce CDs by Apartment. I don't know how they can afford to make the CDs only 500 yen each--are they trying to subvert capitalism in the music industry? They've only released 500 copies of each installation, so if you are interested, get them at Amazon Japan before they run out.

* One of the CDs available here (maybe).

Easy Living vol. 1

This compilation, released by a label called Philia Records, features mellow-out guitar pop, neo-acoustic, soft rock-type songs. It's probably not for everyone: there's nothing even remotely heavy or hardcore about this collection. If you are the sort of person who spends days off sipping tea at home and glancing through coffee table art books, this CD might be for you--it will make good background music. I like the contributions by margarets hope, roly poly rag bear, Kobayashi Shino and frenesi. Easy Living also contains the only recorded track I know of by the now-defunct duo Harum (formerly Snow Ball), a nice tune called "Answer Song" I listened to so much for a time that it became sort of a personal soundtrack of the 2006 autumn season.

* CD available here.


K.O.G.A. Records, which is behind this compilation, might be my favorite indie label in the world. It's known most of all for its fab girl-rock/punk groups, though it also has great guy bands (including label owner Mr. Koga's own band Rocket K), and its extensive catalogue contains many treasures, including the debut albums of Luminous Orange and Macdonald Duck Eclair.

This collection, a follow-up to the also excellent GOOD GIRLS DON'T, contains new songs by polyABC, Mix Market, Macdonald Duck Eclair, a cute new tune by Jimmy Pops called "C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E" that I play all the time on Japan Live Radio ('Let's go to the supermarket/to buy a pound of chocolate/your favorite one/do you like bitter or sweet/less or more cacao/as you like it...C,H,O,C,O, Chocolate'), and many more gems, including the last The Clicks song I know of before they quit, called "Cast A Spell".

* CD available here.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Sensuous Days (Cornelius)

For at least a week, Cornelius' Sensuous was the best-selling Japanese music CD at the huge Tower Records Shibuya store. When he did a free gig at the Apple Store in Ginza, people started lining up in the morning for a 7PM event, and the line was closed at 4PM. His show at the Ebisu Liquid Room, one of Tokyo's biggest venues, is already sold out, even though it's in March. The new album was a constant topic of conversation among musicians here, before and after its release.

In short, the release of Cornelius' first album in five years has been a genuine Event in Tokyo's music scene, the likes of which haven't been seen for some time. It makes me proud to be a Tokyoite--even considering Cornelius' fame, musical track record (extending to Flipper's Guitar days) and his long sabbatical, it's remarkable that so many people have embraced an album like Sensuous, which isn't very commercially minded (none of its 12 tracks ever had a chance of landing on the Top 40 hit charts) and is instead innovative in a risk-taking way.

I've read a number of mixed to negative English reviews of Sensuous (for example, here, here and here), which, in summary, say that the album's songs are too repetitive, dry, self-absorbed; long for the Cornelius of Fantasma days; but conclude Sensuous is still worth listening to because Cornelius is Cornelius.

On this, I'm a contrarian--I think Sensuous is the best Japanese album of 2006. From the first listen, I've been struck by its gentle, emotional quality. There's a fatherly feel to some of its compositions--a judgment that is probably influenced by reports that Keigo Oyamada (a.k.a. Cornelius) is a devoted dad in real life. The bittersweet chord progressions of a guitar in the title track, for example, evoke for me the way time flows in a different way when you are bringing up a young child--moments are loaded with both hope and sadness about the passage of time. That might not be what was on Cornelius' mind as he composed this, or he might have been thinking purely in terms of how notes fit together--the point, I think, is that this is a composition that can make you visualize, which isn't all that common a thing. This song in itself makes Sensuous a good album.

Some songs in the album do develop slowly through repeated phrases, and that might not make this the perfect soundtrack to, say, a midnight drive (the songs 'Fit Song', 'Breezin'', and 'Wataridori', for instance). But, as a whole, Sensuous holds together well--the energetic rock of 'Gum' follows the hypnotic 'Wataridori', for example, and the final three song sequence, starting with the Eno-like synth sound and goofy bells of 'Like a Rolling Stone', followed by the catchy single 'Music', and brought to a close with a sweet cover of 'Sleep Warm', is a brilliant finale to the album. It also sounds spectacular--it's a true treat for the ears.

I sometimes question Japanese musical tastes when I listen to the most popular acts, but not this time--give us more like this!


By the way, Happy New Year!