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MU – Out of Breach (Manchester’s Revenge)

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Output Recordings Limited, 2004mu_outofBreach

Hey alright, an angry Japanese girl with a knife.  She’s also wearing the Hamburger Helper mascot as a hat and thinks a sheer, white skirt with polka-dotted leggings are valid accompaniment.  Then there’s the bright pink logo, which causes a conflict.  Is this a fun, quirky pop album or is this a deadly noise effort by a batty songstress?  I was crossing my fingers for the former when I picked this album up for less than a dollar, but you probably already know what it turned out to be.

There is no Japanese pop on this record.  Forget anything cute, either.  MU, otherwise known as Mutsumi Kanamori, is one truly aggressive Japanese chick.  She may have some fun-lovin’ photos throughout the enclosed booklet, showing her in a witch costume or smiling happily in front of a peaceful audience, but every song has a sharp edge. Call it noise, art rock, or a violent stream of consciousness, but “Out of Breach (Manchester’s Revenge)” is a teeth-grating assault.

In the opening track of “Haters”, Kanamori screams and yelps about those who, of course, hate her music.  It’s not hard to imagine who consists of this hater group, since it likely encapsulates most of the listening public.  However, although Kanamori does confess that “Yes, I might have no talent” that does not mean that a woman is not allowed to express herself artistically.  It’s just a rough venture to sit through twelve tracks of “no talent” noise that’s the rub.

The tune “Stop Bothering Michael Jackson” is another shout out to haters, except this is to those who complained about Michael Jackson’s success back around 2004.  No mention of Jackson’s eccentricity or child-based accusations can be found within this six minute epic piece of confusion, for Kanamori is an angry fan.  Kanamori comes across as angry in other places, like on “Tigerbastard” (“I’m holding you by the balls/Every time you restrict my freedom I’ll squeeze this hand tighter”) and “So Weak People” (“I’ll kick hard into your face/Put handcuffs and hold your neck”).  Then there’s “I’m Coming to Get You”, which sums up that album cover nicely, eh?

There are some decent moments here and there, whether it be lyrics or the music (essentially, when she’s not singing the album is tolerable).  On “Throwing Up”, there’s a solid instrumental bit at the end of the song that Boof (aka Maurice Fulton) puts together.  Unfortunately, he’s also responsible for the manic background to Kanamori’s abrasive delivery on each song, so he doesn’t really get a pass.  Kanomori, for her part, reconciles with her heavily drunk self on the tune after reflecting that the toilet is her best friend too often.  There is something to learn here if you can get this far into the record.

If you want to hear the equivalent to a brick to the face, head on over to Kanomori’s MySpace page.  She’s been updating it.

I got a bit of a headache listening to this album by MU, most likely because there was utterly nothing to grab onto.  None of the electronic, thudding beats were cohesive and Kanamori’s vocals were like an ice pick to my ears.  Unless you want to hear what the other side of the J-Pop spectrum sounds like then there is no reason to pick up this album.  The album cover’s curious lure only serves to punish those who approach the lady with eclectic style.  Still smarting from the audio ambush, I gotta throw this one in the Can.

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Various Artists – Secret Recipe From the Far East

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Nice and Neat Records, 2005

I’ll be honest that when I picked this album up for cheap I was under the impression that a band named Secret Recipe created an EP with songs like “Prambath” and “The Nailclippers”.  Hey man, when you don’t put the song titles next to the band names, you’ll believe anything.  So, it was with a bit of surprise that when I got home and flipped through the booklet there were six Japanese rock bands looking at me from their well-crafted band photos.  Well hey, even better!  I’ve always been a fan of Japanese rock as they all seem to have modeled themselves after the Ramones, and any country that does that has got it right in my book.

Psychotic Reaction begins the compilation with a fantastic tune “You’re Around”, which begins with a blitzing guitar and rapid fire dual vocals from a couple of singers.  Though their second song, “Crossing Gate”, doesn’t consist of the same amount of fire, the first track would have been enough for me to pick up something else from them.  The next group, Prambath, have a very squeaky sounding lead singer.  That can certainly irritate, yet she’s fantastic on “Play Loud! Play Loud!” as she keeps/squeaks up with her band’s aggressive pop punk sound.  Unfortunately, on the second song (“Silly Talk”) her coy quirkiness comes across a little too thickly and works against her.  The band still sounds excellent, though.

Unlike Prambath, Nylon has a female singer who sounds like she has been drinking razorblades with her sake.  Definitely a rock chick voice with a band that has a fantastic sixties rockabilly sound to it.  Both of their songs sound similar, which can be great news who like their rockin’ rambunctious and dirty.  Neither song, however, really stands out as a ‘must listen’ even if Nylon surely must be quite an experience to see live in a Japanese club.  Don Flames are probably the fastest band on the compilation, as their guitars are louder and their drums are heavier.  The vocals, therefore, are utterly incomprehensible and drowned out, but that doesn’t matter if a song like “Groovin’ ” is so fantastic with its chorus.  I can’t hear much in terms of lyrics on the freight train-speed song, but there’s a lot of “groovin’ groovin’ groovin’ ” all over the place.

The Nailclippers sound like a traditional pop rock group that easily fits in today but could have existed in the sixties during that psychedelic era.  “Mess You Are” cools one off a little bit from Don Flames’ assault, but it’s a good cool off as it has plenty of hooks, solos, and tempo changes one needs for a good rock song.  The curious title of “Hello!  Mr. Drain” unfortunately doesn’t match up with full scale song enjoyment, but I did like the high-pitched chorus (which may or may not contain the title because I think it’s in Japanese).  Finally, the possibly best group of the bunch is the last one, where Teenage Confidential pull off two excellent songs to finish the compilation.  The first, “Anyway You Want It” (originally done by the Dave Clark Five, NOT Journey … awww), is an immediate room crasher.  I can just picture tons of spiky-haired Japanese bopping around to this one, for it sounds like a sped up surf pop song a la the Ramones.  “Sick On You”, by band member Mickey Romance, is a little slower and contains some simple chord changes, but ends the compilation well as a fine mid-tempo tune.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a whole lot on these groups for you readers to listen to, but there was some success.  You can hear Prambath on their MySpace page while Mickey Romance (of Teenage Confidential) has his own Youtube channel.

It has been six years since this compilation has come out and, as we all know, six years is a long time for a band to stick together.  Who knows how many of these groups still put out the wonderful rock ‘n roll?  As you read above, I couldn’t find a whole lot on these groups aside from Prambath, who at least still have some music available that might even be current.  Regardless, this compilation showed me that while some of us were toiling with what passed for rock ‘n roll on this side of the globe, the Japanese were clearly having a lot more fun.  I imagine that if one dropped by a Tokyo club on a whim some Saturday night they’d get to hear bands just like these guys.

Thee Michelle Gun Elephant – Gear Blues

April 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Alive Records, 2000

This ain’t no Japanese boy pop group, maaaan.  Look at those guys.  I think they’re Yakuza.  Well, they may not want to chop off your finger or give you some kind of samurai blade to the head, but they definitely give off a pretty vicious vibe by simply standing there and blending in with the black background.  If I met this crew standing on the street in Osaka somewhere I would probably have barely enough guts to ask the third guy from the left what the four of ’em are about.  If he says anything other than rock n roll, I bolt.  However, I was pretty sure that is exactly who these guys were when I snagged them for a few coins.  That is also exactly what I got as well, even if it it all still ended up with the group shouting at me as if I’m trespassing on their turf.

Thee Michelle Gun Elephant (TMGE) are the garage rock band of Japan, or at least they were ten years ago.  Their look is their card of credibility, for anybody who likely went to one of their shows got it in the face with raw noise and little comprehension of lyrics.  Unlike their pop punk counterparts in Shonen Knife, TMGE are all guitars and drums and in your face.  I have no idea what they’re singing because it’s in Japanese, but I probably would have a hard enough time with it anyway given that there’s little consideration for pronunciation.  What TMGE do well is acceleration and sound, and that is very evident on “Smokin’ Billy”.  The verses mostly consist of the steady pace of drums and the screeching of the lead vocalist, only to crash into some serious guitars (and eventual solo) on the chorus.  “Free Devil Jam” is a great surf-tinged tune that, in my honest opinion, could have been an even better track if the singer was left out of it.

The moodily swinging “Hotel Bronco” does have the band trying to be somewhat funny with only the phrase “son of a bitch” as its periodic lyrics, which perhaps is more amusing over there.  I guess they weren’t banking on the fact that some Americans might just think it’s dumb.   Despite this hiccup, one of the best songs on the record could easily be its last.  “Danny Go” just rolls along like a train and perhaps sounds so much better than the other tracks because the vocalist doesn’t get too carried away with himself.  I guess that, even if the songs aren’t in English, the vocalist can still get annoying.  Thankfully, this nearly five minute track at the end of the record shows what the band can do if they focus a little more on the instruments.

Check these guys out on Last.fm:  Japanese rock out!

Thee Michelle Gun Elephant lasted a few more years before calling it quits in 2003.  In their twelve years of existence I’m sure they fostered a movement in Japan that inspired the creation of heavier rock bands that contradict the more popular Japanese pop groups.  Even though the Elephant are no longer together, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on your local club listings to see if an international tour is coming through and with that, perhaps the next foreign rock band whose lyrics you won’t (and don’t need to) understand.

Love Psychedelico – This is Love Psychedelico

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

HackTone Records, 2008

With an absolute mob scene of artists jostling to grab the attention spans of millions of Americans, it comes as a wonder as to which artists have yet to do so.  This usually has nothing to with their aspirations and more to do with the rather crowded and money-making mentality of the American music business, which no doubt puts up some walls when it comes to opportunities for groups outside of the country.  This makes some sense, I suppose, since we’re wrapped up in ourselves as pioneers of music that doesn’t involve sitars or strange one-string instruments that an elderly guy likes to twang in the middle of Harvard Square once in awhile.  Unless one is Canadian or British, it is not likely that a band from the hundreds of other countries will have influenced the general masses in the States.

This does not stop those outsider artists from trying, of course.  Although you’ve likely never heard of them, Love Psychedelico appear to be huge, Huge, in Japan and the surrounding asian countries.  I mean, hey, check them out at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.

They love ’em over there!  You’re lucky to get a crowd handclapping simultaneously for 10 seconds before we get bored over here.  As you can see, Love Psychedelico are a pop duo that plays positive music with a bright amount of energy.  Nothing crude, nothing flashy, just straight pop.  Unlike the metalheads, country dancers and goths roaming around various cities and establishments in the U.S., most of the populations in China, Korea and Japan are really big into sappy pop that focuses on the vocals instead of glitz and hooks.  Now granted, Love Psychedelico doesn’t seem terribly sappy, but they are always upbeat and crisp.

Along with the release of this record last year, Love Psychedelico decided it was time to gauge how an American audience might receive them by going on their first U.S. Tour.  If one gave a listen to the record before they showed up they might’ve wanted to go out and see them because, like that live clip above, they do have the stage thing down.  The record itself is what can be expected with some light pop and a lot of strong singing from Kumi.  At first I thought the songs were going to be in Japanese, but then I heard her sing in English.  Turns out she mixes the lyrics up in Japanese and English in each song, sometimes within the same sentence.  This makes deciphering a bit tricky, but as you can imagine it is not like you’re going to get a really thick story out of this stuff since most of it is about love or loss of love.   Most of the music has standard, mostly supportive beats, though such simplicity works for songs like “Your Song”, “Unchained”, and “My Last Fight” (stream them here).  Other songs are a little too light to the point of boring in my opinion, but then again, I’m not from the other side of the world.

For a dollar this was an educational pick up that got me to write a little more than I thought I would.  Since I’m rather more familiar these days with Korean pop music and have listened to a lot of Shonen Knife over the years, I had a good idea of what this group would sound like before I gave it a spin.  I also figured that the note on the album’s back cover of “100% Pure Rock & Roll” was more of an amusement than a likely truth.  Overall it’s a bouncy disc that those who aren’t searching for something particularly complicated but would at least want music that doesn’t bring them down could enjoy.  I am not sure if Love Psychedelico are going to try another venture to America anytime soon, but if you’ve got some vacation time set aside and are thinking of going to Japan, you might want to consider buying tickets early to see these guys.  I hear they sell out Budokan.

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