Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Music From The Martian Tornado

If band names were accurate, Japan's Music From The Mars would be called something like Music From New York Circa 1974 because they are basically a prog/fusion outfit and aren't all that extra-planetary. Which isn't to say that Music From The Mars are boring: they mix together rock, pop, funk, soul, jazz, Latin music etc. and concoct a fresh sound. Seeing them at the O-Nest I also found out the quartet are all fabulous musicians, ripping through solos easily like someone frying eggs for breakfast. In front of the stage was a college kid from Hosei University who had invited MFTM to perform at his school's festival and he was totally getting down—hooray for students with good musical taste.


Music From The Mars are a hard act to follow, the unfortunate position that Tornado Tatsumaki were in, and their act did appear understated at first. But after a while, the double-tornado flavor came through. I'm not sure why Tornado Tatsumaki ('tatsumaki' means 'tornado') aren't that well known outside of Japan: they are a delightful female vocal pop group with a twist, playing easy-to-swallow melodies that contain secret musical ingredients from exotic style locales; fans of advantage Lucy, Spangle call Lilli line and Luminous Orange should enjoy them. I liked them even more because after the show, even though they are now sorta-Big-shots with a major label, they came up to the bar floor of the O-Nest and mixed freely with their friends and fans.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Favorite Of 2007 - 4 Bonjour's Parties

My favorite J-music album so far this year is 4 Bonjour's Parties' debut effort, pigments drift down to the brook, a work that's so different from anything I've heard before that it made me want to go and listen to the group's favorite musicians and influences, to get a sense of their origins. I listened to Yo La Tengo, Broken Social Scene, Architecture in Helsinki, Belle & Sebastian and others that they list as favorites, but that didn't help me much in figuring them out, and there were only trace signs of influence. 4 Bonjour's Parties are original.

They are like a pop chamber orchestra, but one in which almost everyone plays more than one instrument, with the female vocalist Tomomi Shikano handling, for example, the flute, accordion, piano, cello and glocken. (It's fun to see them at shows, changing places during songs to play new instruments, looking like a sliding-block puzzle being solved on the cramped stage.) All the musical colors they produce with their panoply of instruments such as vibraphone, trombone and accordion mix together and drift like streams of sound in their mellow, long songs, the melodies often taking surprising turns, but never in a jarring way—'pigments drift down to the brook', the album's title, is an apt description of their sound.

One of the songs I like most on the album, “Ruins”, starts out dreamily with a keyboard and repeated guitar note, is soon joined by a vibraphone and then flute and trumpet, and it isn't until the minute-and-a-half mark that a female voice is introduced. The remarkable thing about the song is that while it's long, lasting 6 minutes and 43 seconds, there isn't much variation in dynamics and emotion—the feel of the first minute of the song is maintained throughout—yet even so it hooks you. That must be due to the way that the various sounds, including the voices, appear, fade out and intermix without rest—it's 'pop chamber music'. And all 10 songs on pigments are of this nature. (You can listen to the intro of “Ruins” on their MySpace page.)

Frankly, I'm not quite sure how 4 Bonjour's Parties pulled this album off. From what I understand, their song-making is a collaborative effort between the seven members, and the songs are ever-evolving, so the tunes could very well have turned out mediocre and chaotic. Instead, they are beautiful, and the album as a whole has a unified feel. Is one of their members a visionary that was able to lead and shape this musical venture? Or are they just a group that works very well together, so that multiple opinions actually improve, rather than worsen, the final product? I'm not certain, but I get the sense that this band is a rare example of the latter.

It will be interesting to see how 4 Bonjour's Parties follows up on this album. They could keep the sound and feel of the first album, and come up with another collection of laid-back, color-filled, gorgeous songs like pigments. I'm hoping, though, that they will try new things, go on new adventures. They should be able to succeed at that, and give us more fresh music that surprises and delights.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Call And Response Event At Koenji 20000V

“You've come at exactly the wrong time!” Ian said to me as I stepped in late to the event he'd organized.

“Right before this was a girl indie pop band...and right after this is digital hardcore!”

Call and Response's Ian apparently felt bad that I missed the evening's only Japanese girl indie pop group, a genre that he seemed to think I'm obsessed with. Hmm, wonder what made him think THAT!

In any case, though I was disappointed to miss the girl group, I actually ended up thoroughly enjoying the digital hardcore guy, Non-poli Radical. Over loud sampled sounds and music, he screamed repeated slogans, as hyperactive video images of cops, Bush, warplanes, bombs, etc., flashed on a screen behind him. The cartoon and collage images reminded me a bit of the animation in Yellow Submarine, though this was about a thousand times more manic and disorienting. I especially liked a song (?) called “Art School Asshole”. Multi-media music shows are good—everyone should do them.


Next up was tacobonds, a time-signature-change-abusing, “hard psychedelic”, neo-prog quartet who are regulars in Tokyo's underground music scene. They aren't exactly super-showmen on stage, but the music is fast, tight and unpredictable enough to keep the audience's attention, plus the drummer should be declared a Living National Treasure for awesome technical prowess.


Band #4 was MIR, a girl bassist in a bunny rabbit cap, and guitarist and drummer guys both in white overalls. They alternated between sentimental, kayoukyoku-like ballads and hardcore explosions. At one point, the bunny rabbit girl screamed that, “Of all the religions, Capitalism is the most barbarous!”, to which I thought, yes, but it's also the 'religion' that bought you that nice headless bass...


The band I most wanted to see was the last act, Hyacca, 'A Hundred Mosquitos' from Fukuoka, because of the positive reviews I'd read of them, and they WERE good, but I don't exactly remember in what way, because by that time I was tipsy from the cheap wine that was on offer for 100 yen a paper cup. (Not to criticize, but when I sipped the wine at first I thought it was sour and maybe had been left out in the sun too long, until I realized that's just the way it normally tastes...Still, I got used to it after a while, and it did the trick on the inebriation front.)

“Have you all drunk the cheap wine?” asked the girl vocalist Mosquito, in a rust-red dress, and we answered Y-E-E-E-S. From that point, the wine seemed to gradually go to her own head, so that in a few minutes she tipped over an amp tower, and at the end she was crawling around on stage, ripping out the strings of her guitar and creating spontaneous found-object artwork with the effect pedals. Ian said they were overcompensating tonight because their show the night before didn't go well for some reason I didn't quite hear and wouldn't have remembered anyway at that point, but that 'overcompensation' sure made for fine entertainment!

The event was at a Koenji punk live house wallpapered with band stickers called the 20000V, and part of the reason I was late was because I got lost on the way over there, but it was pleasant wandering Koenji's streets, with ramen stores galore and one-counter bars and old izakaya's all over the place.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Can't Wait For Micro Mach Machine's 1st Album

A demonic anime trio (one of them holding a bloody ax, and wearing a guilty, zigzagged smile). A Satanic conjurer, unholy light flashing from an outstretched arm, a funeral photo of a dead bunny in the other. An irresistible, mach-speed pop punk tune, one minute and 51 seconds in length, featuring twin J-girl vocals...

This video by Micro Mach Machine is radical!

And squeaky-voiced J-girl pop punk will take over the world, one day.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Tokyo Incidents, Sold Out

That was fast.

Tickets for the latest live tour of Tokyo Incidents (a.k.a. Tokyo Jihen), Shiina Ringo's band, went on sale on the 29th, and everything sold out in a matter of minutes. In Tokyo, tickets for all four nights at the Zepp, which holds 2,700 people, are gone. Reading some of the fan sites, it sounds like buying the tickets on the official first day of sales was a last resort--before that there were various escape routes, like applying for the tickets through the official fan club or taking part in contests, in order for fans to get their hands on that coveted prize, tickets to an actual Tokyo Incidents gig.

Ho hum. I'm a fan of Tokyo Incidents and Shiina Ringo, but I still find the way that big major-label artists like Shiina do shows disappointing and un-musician-like. They basically only perform live when they release albums (this latest tour comes after the band's 3rd album, Variety, or Goraku, hit the stores), and, by playing only once in a while, raise the scarcity value of their appearances. Buying tickets becomes tough, thus elevating the mystique of the performer.

But it's so contrived. What's the true worth of a musician that doesn't perform often? Not much, in my opinion. Which is why I'm an indie fan. I'd like to see Tokyo Incidents one day, but what silliness to come up with a detailed battle plan to get tickets, when you can see great shows every night of the week at the Que or O-Nest or Shelter, etc. And besides, the security staff at the Zepp are going to be little Blue Meanies anyway, hovering over you to spoil your fun...