If you are interested in ‘alternative’ Japanese contemporary music (as in, stuff that isn’t in the charts or a tie-in to an anime show) you may have heard of Boris. I heard their songs for the first time around a year ago in Tetsuya Nakeshima’s chilling psycho-thriller Kokuhaku (Confessions), in which a nosebleed-inducing guitar riff cuts through the murmured vocals of Rainbow like a hot knife through butter, and the crashing heartbreak of Farewell brings the movie to a close. I was hooked from that point on.
Quite honestly they’re such a prolific band, who tour so extensively and collaborate with so many artists internationally, I would have stumbled on them eventually. It’s only a shame this didn’t happen to me sooner, so I hope this article will help you avoid that “where has this band been all my life?!” feeling that I experienced.
I realised I never said anything on here about Kalafina’s 2011 LP After Eden, despite going into the official shop in Shibuya and picking up a copy on release day. It’s a really nice record with some standout tracks, but looking back it sounds like it was trying too hard. It came out only a year after their previous full-length effort, so with that in mind I suspect that they were over-reaching themselves a bit and were suffering from the notorious ‘third album syndrome’.
Two years later, with their first European appearances under their belts, where do they stand with their fourth record? While AE took a few listens to get into, Consolation endeared it to me from the get-go. Quite honestly I don’t think they’ve sounded better – the songs on offer here are easily of the standard they set right back in ’09 with their debut Seventh Heaven.
There’s always that nervous feeling when you hear any new material from one of your favourite bands for the first time. If it’s different from what’s gone before it may clash with whatever expectations you may have had, and of course there’s the worry that the sound loses the special something that made you love it to begin with.
Throughout their career MONO have been placed alongside a distinct group of bands whose common characteristics are basically long, instrumental guitar-based songs. In recent years though they have moved away from this experimental rock-based format and have gradually crept closer to an ‘orchestral rock’ or neo-classical one. Their 2012 studio effort, For My Parents, is a continuation of that and holds back on the noise in favour of classical-style arrangements.
I should have reviewed After Eden by now since I bought the thing on release day but like many things, I never got around to it. Even after watching the live DVD that arrived last week I still don’t have a burning desire to write about it; I don’t think it’s the strongest offering from them so far but there are some great tracks on there so I like it and still recommend it. What was interesting though was the unexpected response I received from my “Kalafina live blu-ray arrived! Awesome night in!” Facebook status update I posted late last week.
Relevant to the interests of sixty-something motorbike-riding UK rock fans, apparently
I’m sure those of you who share my tastes in Japanese music, art, entertainment, culture and whatnot will have your own stories about what families and friends think…a lot of that depends on whether you make a public show of it, but some of us are surrounded by like-minded people while some of us…well, aren’t.
One of the first things I learned when getting into Jpop/Jrock was this: never judge a band by their name. Mass of the Fermenting Dregs (or Masu Dore to their fans) seem to follow the same path as the likes of School Food Punishment and Bump of Chicken in the sense that their name has no relation whatsoever to the music (for the record, Mogwai are also quoted as saying “it [their name] has no significant meaning and we always intended on getting a better one, but like a lot of other things we never got round to it.” so I guess it’s not a Japanese thing either).
Their sound is described as partly shoegaze, but to my ears the similarities are somewhat limited next to the early-90s bands of that genre; they do make use of the female vocals paired with distorted guitar-based arrangements and they also strike a balance between catchy melodies and experimental noise though. The songs are also quite punk/new wave- and powerpop-influenced so I’d say they share as much with the pillows and early Supercar as, say, My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive.
I wish it were easier for us overseas listeners to sample the eclectic and inventive independent Japanese music scene. We often have to rely on the efforts of bilingual fellow fans and/or word of mouth, which was how I discovered the instrumental five-piece mudy on the 昨晩 (the kana segment of their name is pronounced ‘sakuban’). Thanks to the wonders of the internet I was impressed enough with their full-length debut Pavilion to import the CD. Who says online music file-sharing is bad for record sales? ^_^
Sakuban already have two EPs Voi and Kidnie to their name but their reputation at home appears to be based largely on their live shows. Perhaps this is why the production of Pavilion has a deliberately live feel with little evidence of overdubbing or studio effects processing. Although it is the polar opposite of overproduced, the sound is clear, powerful and exhilarating; the arrangements are noticably more complex than those of their earlier material too.
The PC’s on the blink again. It’ll be over a week before I can put right whatever’s wrong so in the meantime I’m working on the backup machine, my trusty four-year-old low-spec laptop. So here I am, running in the Aniblog Tourney with little to write about because I can’t watch much; I feel like I have an important call to make when my mobile phone’s in the pocket of My Other Jacket.
So I thought I might as well write about Perfume. Music dominates a lot of my spare time: I immerse myself in as much as possible, ignoring the usual boundaries of time, trends and genre in favour of my own so sometimes my tastes are a bit unpredictable. My fascination with Perfume is a guilty-pleasure kind of thing, but not completely so.
I first heard the songwriting of Yuki Kajiura through the soundtrack to Koichi Mashimo’s Noir but for me her style became intrinsically linked to a certain visual aesthetic after the haunting Portrait de Petit Cossette. Kalafina, her current project, is best known as the vocal group behind the soundtrack to the Kara no Kyoukai films; my love for that series aside, the ‘Kalafina sound’ is instantly recognisable yet hard to categorise.
The fact that so many of their tracks are tie-ins to films and TV shows does carry an associated burden if you want to appreciate them on their own: the first LP, Seventh Heaven, is and always will be the Kara no Kyoukai vocal album to me but Red Moon follows a mere year behind with more album-only numbers in comparison. While it doesn’t quite scale the heights of, say, Oblivious or Aria, it’s still Kalafina. And these three girls can still sure as hell sing.
In the space of a year or two I’ve grown to appreciate the sound of instrumentalists Mono, mainly because I’ve been a long-standing fan of experimental guitar-driven soundscapes. My initial reaction to their Gone compilation – the first time I’d listened to them properly – was a fanboyish exclamation of “Holy shit, a J-rock Mogwai!”, although in retrospect I was selling them short. It’s easy to lump bands together when something as obvious as the lack of lyrics is one thing they have in common, after all.
Their latest studio effort at the time of writing, Hymn to the Immortal Wind, is my favourite so far because of its cinematic, orchestral grandeur but Gone is a neat way of experiencing a cross-section of their sound’s evolution since the tracks are set out in chronological order. Over time the arrangements have become more structured and purposeful; tunefulness is a subjective thing but alongside similar bands Mono lean towards the more sentimental as well as being one that uses the power of volume to get the listener’s attention.
I’ve had a .flac version of Seventh Heaven on my HD for a while now but when I was in Akihabara I was able to pick up the legal version (I decided against the limited edition since I was worried about spending too much…). It has the prettiest CD inlay booklet I’ve seen in a long time but above all else it’s the neatest way of getting Kalafina’s best material on one shiny disc. In fact the only disappointing omission here for me is the Lacrimosa single and its B-side Gloria but it does include all the major vocal numbers from the Kara no Kyoukai movie series, plus a track or two that you won’t find on any of the OSTs.
Interestingly the group members and Yuki Kajiura, the songwriter behind it all, are reluctant to categorise the material, instead describing it simply as ‘Kalafina sound’; given the range of influences in evidence I can understand their point. Choral-gothic-synth-folk is a bit of a mouthful yet still doesn’t go all the way to summing up how the musical approach of, say, Uninstall (or any of Kajiura’s similar work so far) has progressed. It’s pleasantly surprising how wonderfully this collection of songs works on its own merits outside the BGM/film theme context: you certainly shouldn’t be discouraged if you’re not familiar with the anime that inspired it.