Sunday, 31 May 2009

My sister and I saw this when it was live on TV with a whole host of other similar acts, then she magicked it onto the internet the same way she magicked a new Freshness Burger into Odori. I can't believe they didn't win, but then adorable children dressed up as dandelion seeds probably have the hop on everyone:

In case you don't know it's a take off of the standard Japanese stand-up Manzai formula and it's AWESOME!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Cruel Taunts of Commerce

On sale now across Japan, the two volume new novel from Murakami Haruki. Pictured here in a tiny Supermarket in the middle of nowhere, North Tomakomai (it's kind of like Leicester by the sea):

Don't you see? I can touch it, but I can't read it.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Ooooh Stellar Place, you make me so mad!

Living here in Japan you mostly become innured to the bad English used in advertising copy. It's not (necessarily) bad because they can't speak English well (although at times it is), but because while English is a visually catchy hook for an advert, the message has to be conveyed in a way that is easy for non-English speakers to catch. Hence I reckon they use the transitive verb enjoy as an intransitive one because the Japanese verb equivalent is intransitive (you can just "enjoy" you don't have to say what).

Even so, the posters in the fancy central shopping mall Stellar Place are pissing me off more and more. Last season it was "Rhythm of Springs", which made me think of bed-springs rather than lambs a-gambollin', and this year:

Trip is an activity, not a place! The place is fancy! They must have an English speaker on staff somewhere, or be able to call someone who can speak English!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Grand Duchy

Frank Black's new album with Violet Clark under the name Grand Duchy is pretty great. That Japanese edition runs pretty pricey, but does include three bonus tracks plus a DVD which also features new music. Also Frank Black Francis is an all time hero of yrs truly, and I never begrudge shoving my sheckels into that man's pocket, so I picked it up after payday. I haven't played the DVD yet, but I'm looking forward to it - and I found this pretty fun Shaky-Cam video of them playing live:

I'm a sucker for it, but I still dig it when he lets loose with that scream. Also I like how he looks about the size of God from that angle.

It's got a nice feel, somewhere between the classic rock of the Catholics, the more punky feel of the last album and the spacy feel of his early solo-stuff. I'm not out to convert anyone but I like it a lot.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


Every now and then I forget my many, many failed attempts and again try to find some American comics in Sapporo. While in the big Book-Off the other week I came closer than most times by finding a bumper reprint of old X-Men comics. In Japanese of course:

That's what Chris Claremont's dialogue looks like in Japanese. He did tend to go on a little. Then again he also pretty much defined the X-Men in the late 80s and early 90s, and the volume I picked up features an X-Men vs. Magneto scrap that he wrote and Jim Lee (who pretty much defined the look of the X-Men and 90s comics in general) pencilled.

I like Jim Lee a lot, I've really dug his recent work on the mentally unbalanced All Star Batman and Robin book. The volume also reprints an Omega Red tussle, from when John Byrne was helping Jim Lee write the book. It's got a little prologue for a Longshot story. Longshot, my favourite 80's-pop-star-looking-genetically-engineered-slave-race-superhero.

And Wolverine punking Jubilee on the basketball court.

Just thank your stars I didn't include any of the panels of Gambit going all "King of the Hoop". It's not as fun as I assume it was in 1992.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Polaroid Joy

So, Bunny bequeathed me a fantastic device upon her departure for England... a device the old ones call "A Polaroid Camera". That is, she has more than one, and she figured she could fit another four rolls of tape with animals on it into her case if she ditched the camera in Japan. I'm not sure how many polaroid cameras Bunny has - at times I imagine she lives in a hut on the moor, built entirely from polaroid cameras held together by animal pattern tape.

Anyway, this weekend I obtained film for said camera at a princely cost. Seriously, a real stomp to the wallet. But the sheer joy of weilding this huge plastic box that "k'chonk"s open and spits out actual physical photos soon put my misgivings away.

On polaroid film everything looks like it takes place in the 1970s and is awesome.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Rising Sun Rock Festival 2009 in EZO... pre-game!

Last year I was all flipping out about some of the bands playing at Rising Sun Rock, the big music festival that's held half an hour from where I live, and where I'm going again in August. But since it only features Japanese artists some of the Western folks weren't so up on the line-up, so I decided to try and help a bit this year.

And since I've started using 8tracks... hmmm, that's a nice bit of serendipity. So here are 8 of the artists that'll be appearing at this year's Rising Sun Rock Festival 2009 in EZO. I don't vouch for or endorse all of these (although some of them are fuckin' awesome) but it's a taster, and I'll try and keep adding mixes as I get hold of music and they add more artists.

Man, not camping outside the goddamn festival is gonna rock so hard.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Darth Vader: Cycle Safety Team Leader

It was kinda like this:

James: Do you want to go see this thing with Stormtroopers?
Me: What? No. I'm still in bed.
James: Ok.
Me: Stormtroopers?
James: My friend from college is coming up from Tokyo to do this thing with Stormtroopers.
Me: ?
James: Like from Starwars.
Me: Well...

And so:

It was like some sort of road and cycle safety show out in Shin-Sapporo. They had flown James' friend and his team of Starwars guys up from Tokyo to make an appearance and they had a big brass band and cheerleaders (see above). Ninety-nine percent of the crowd were in uniform or safety gear or bright yellow jackets and their attendance was probably mandatory. They didn't look like they were having fun. But it was fun, in a ver surreal kind of way. And we saw Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers (of the 501st regiment I believe). I didn't snap them on stage, but I got them getting ready during their break:

I think James got an absolute peach of a shot of them crossing the road in suburban Sapporo, it'll be on his blog I'm sure so check it out (he's in the links on the right). Vader's sash says something like "Bicycle Manners Instructional Team Leader". Which is awesome, but along with the Pachinko ads I've seen does continue Japan's trend of making Vader a little less scary:

Also we had a go on a car crash simulator:

The wound it back and then said "pull the lever!" So we did. It gave us quite a bump and that was only at 5km/h. Educational! And they gave us a small can of Sapporo Ribbon Soda afterwards, bless 'em.

It was a strange and wonderful Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Shiina Ringo - Ariamaru Tomi

Man, I kept seeing all these ads for Matsu-Jun's new TV drama "Smile" a month ago, and since Matsu-Jun always looks like a trainee-date-rapist to me I turned over sharpish. I didn't realise there was a new Shiina Ringo song as the theme tune. Anyway it's out properly as her new single this week and it's pretty good:

I'd imagine it's a damn sight better than the drama it's tacked on to (Japanese TV drama themes are always just tacked on, there's never any pretense of them having anything to do with the drama in question, they're just cross-marketed pop songs). It's nice and I'm excited about her new album in June. Ariamaru Tomi translates, or so I'm told, as something like "Excessive Wealth" which fits with that awesome video.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Drawing not writing contd.

After that Eurovision bonanza last week I found myself completely (and, in my opinion, understandably) unable to post on this blog. I'll fill in the blanks now (from the throne of Monday) but those were positively treatises on Eurovision, so it wasn't like I didn't put in the hours last week.

Saturday night I got drunk and drew some pictures of people on the board where I post. Like this one:

Considering I was pretty trolleyed when I got home and I was drawing with a brushtip marker, freehand with no correction, I'm pretty happy how they turned out. I should probably drink and draw more often.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Eurovision 2009 - Chapter Two: The Golden 25

Ok Ladies and Germs, hang on to your hats because this might get messy! The Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final 2009, blow by tragi-comic blow!

May I also take this moment to point you in the direction of my 8track mixes page, where I've upped a mix of the 8 best songs from Eurovision. I left out a couple of half decent ones, but 8 pretty much covers it:

Look, you can listen while you read!

I felt that Russia, the hosts, kicked things off in a slightly disengenuous way, with a spectacular opening rendition of last year's winning track that noticably lacked the figure skater and ripped open shirt that almost certainly won it for them. It was like: "Hey, here's that fantastic song that won it for us last year. Where's the figure skater? No... no, I definitely don't remember there being a figure skater... ah... involved. I think I would remember something like that."

I liked the final hosts a lot less than the semi-final hosts too. The semi-final hosts were borderline incompetent, but carried it with an indomitably exuberant charm. The final hosts were, eh, kinda boring. And their bad jokes just came off like bad jokes rather than so-so jokes that were fumbled into failure, then ressurected by shouting "Hello lovely audience!" Overall though there was surprisingly little dead, boring time, and barring the inevitably excruciating voting process (where the arena emptied of live audience at a hilarious pace) the whole thing held your attention pretty well. And here're the ladies and gents who held it, in order of their appearance.

1) Lithuania - Sasha Son - Love

There were a number of entries this year that provoked a spit-take when they made it through the semis into the final. Young Sasha was a rake-like gentleman who sang a simple piano ballad and concealed a hand-held flamethrower until the very end of the song. That little stunt raised my eyebrow a touch, but it was a boring song to kick things off with.

2) Israel - Noa & Mira Awad - There Must Be Another Way

An annoyingly worthy world-peace ballad, sung in a duet by a Palestinian singer and an Israeli singer. Mira changed her hairstyle drastically between the semi and the final and there was some drumming on tin-drums but it was a poor song that probably made it through on the unity gimmick. Man, I sound cynical about this whole thing, it's good that Israel can send a message of unity at the Eurovision song contest, I know! But still I laughed out loud during the results of the semifinal when the presenter yelled out "The most politically correct song goes to the final!"

3) France - Patricia Kaas - Et S'il Fallait Le Faire

As I'm sure you know, France are one of the automatic qualifiers because they're one of the biggest economies in Europe so they pay for a lot of the competition. Last year they entered Sebastien Tellier in a song that was both ridiculous and brilliant, but this year they went a lot more serious with Patricia Kaas who gave a wrenching performance of a real French torch ballad. It was intense, very French and actually pretty good. Not as good as Sebastien Tellier but better than Spain.

4) Sweden - Malena Ernman - La Voix

This was a terrible pop/opera car crash where Malena's voice soared breathtakingly into the operatic choruses and struggled for strength when she dropped to the disco verses. She seemed surprisingly self-concious to be there too, occasionally pulling goofy smiles and odd facial expressions as if to agree with the audience: "Wow! This is kinda silly and fun isn't it?" Darling. Don't ruin the magic. And you only made it to the final because you're from the same country as Abba, so don't push your luck.

5) Croatia - Igor Cukrov feat. Andrea - Lijepa Tena

Eurovision cliches that I'm sick of: the juxtaposition of white and black. Yes, as colours, they are very different, and when you dress one person in white and the rest in black they stand out. But c'mon - it's losing it's impact when Sweden, Croatia, Greece and more are all using the same trick. I was staggered that this piffling flamenco ballad got through to the final, and won't waste any more of your time with it other than to say that his boots were horrible. Just horrible.

6) Portugal - Flor-de-lis - Todas As Ruas Dos Amor

Portugal sent their hippies, and I don't much like hippies. She sang much better in the semi-final than the final too, and I was kinda sad about that. But it was no damn good, so I didn't feel very sad.

7) Iceland - Yohanna - Is It True?

I am not a big fan of ballads, but y'know this one was alright. It was "Very Disney" for sure, but it was a really well written, well sung, well produced tear-jerker that deserved to come second in the competition. I knew I could count on Iceland. Now if only Finland hadn't let me down so badly.

8) Greece - Sakas Rouvas - This Is Our Night

This one was hotly tipped and I'm guessing it was because of Sakas' god-like physique, coz it sure as hell couldn't have been the song. The performance was pretty good, involving some nice jumping and a kind of giant stapler that doubled as both a moving walkway and a raising platform, but between the semi-final and the final... Sakas was a changed man. In the semi his polo shirt and hearty physical presence (along with the instantly forgettable tune) made the whole thing seem like a keep-fit DVD. But in the final the shirt was hanging open (obscenely or invitingly, I'll let you decide) and Sakas was giving it so much extra va-va-voom I was worried he was going to do himself or someone else an injury. I prepared a presentation, look:

In a way I'm sad that being a male-stripper didn't net him much success. But again it wasn't a very good song, so not that sad.

9) Armenia - Inga & Anush - Jan Jan

My favourite, and I think overall the best song in the competition. It's always good when they can balance some of the sound of the country with a kick-ass pop song. It starts off inauspiciously with generic wailing; but by the end they've gone through so many sections, and thrown so many melodic and harmonic kicks and splashes in there... it's exhausting.

Plus - lasers!

10) Russia - Anastasia Prikhodko - Mamo

Russia, triumphant last year, had nothing to lose. So they put in this insanely melodramatic, screaming dirge. Awesome, and for some reason it feels so much more... Russian, than their winning entry last year.

See? Russian.

11) Azerbaijan - AySel and Arash - Always

Yuki liked this one coz it was a fun pop song; I couldn't believe it made it past the semis. A hi-energy dance pop duet sung by an honest-to-god couple. You could understand why he was so happy - he was nothing much to look at but he got to sing on Eurovision with his super-hot girlfriend and play a little banjo-thing. Whatever dude, whatever.

12) Bosnia & Herzegovina - Regina - Bistra Voda

Again, I was surprised this made it through to the final - it seemed shockingly dull to me. The all-cream military themed costumes came across well but then when it zoomed in they all looked sickly and had stupid greasy emo hair and lame stubble. Were they meant to resemble soldiers on the front? And if so why did the girls have such perfect make-up and ruby-red lips? Ah, conceptual innacuracy, I can always rely on you to string pop music up.

13) Moldova - Nelly Ciobanu - Hora Din Moldova

This rocked for so many reasons, and probably ended up my second favourite of the competition. They were decked out in very traditional clothes, and the music again comfortably bridged that gap between their historic roots and their sci-fi future. Other reasons for awesomeness: the backing dancers were great, but all kinds of dorky; the backing singer did all thise cool "woooooaaahh!"s and tongue rolls while shaking a spear in the air; there was a bit that was just shouting, and the actual sound of the thing was great. I mean the sound production - the trumpets and drums just sounded really fucking awesome, and gave the whole thing a lot of punch.

Yeah, don't fuck with Moldova huh? He will throw that goddamn spear at you.

14) Malta - Chiara - What If We

Ok, yes, she was a big girl. But she had probably the best voice of the competition, she never seemed to be even trying to hit those notes. Not a bad song too.

15) Estonia - Urban Symphony - Randajad

This was a weirdly depressing number from some kind of chamber-pop group mostly composed of cute girls. Yuki was seriously impressed with the adorable lead singer and her adorable, adorable straight fringe. Seriously - swoon. The song wasn't that great but along with the star field projected through the stage they at least built up quite an atmosphere by the end. And the singer? Her fringe?


16) Denmark - Brinck - Believe Again

I think that Denmark wanted to hire Ronan Keating for their song. But maybe there's some sub-clause in the Eurovision rules that prevented them from doing that, so instead they hired Ronan Keating to co-write the song and cloned a slightly weaker version of him to sing it. Really, this could have come straight offa one of Ronan's solo albums (he did have more than one didn't he?) and that should give you some idea of the quality we're dealing with here.

It sucked balls.

Also he had this stupid, open-grip, action-figure pose during the choruses that made him look like he was assembled from a kit. Hey! A Ronan Keating kit!

17) Germany - Alex Swings Oscar Sings - Miss Kiss Kiss Bang

The big news in this number was that Dita Von Tease was part of the stage show, performing a burlesque while some disco-swing berks span Cab Calloway in his grave like a top. But put Dita aside for a second (it's tough, but please try) and the song already had its fair share of show in the lead singer, who: 1) ripped his shirt open 2) wore a pair of glittering trousers so tight that for the first minute I was sure he was unable to move from the spot 3) tap danced, and 4) looked like a horse. All that and Dita Von Tease and the song still sucked. Go figure.

18) Turkey - Hadise - Dum Tek Tek

Another hotly tipped favourite, this one did better, coming in 4th. It probably deserved it too, it's a good pop song in that Turkish-dance-pop style that they've bequeathed to the world now via Holly Valance. This one in particular had some nice off-key diversions and was notable in that it wasn't written for the human voice, but for the human hips.

Seriously, you don't need to open your mouth to sing that song, just... 1, 2, 3. I wouldn't have been pissed if that had won actually, and I think they fucked up the levels on the backing vocals at first. Which sucks, but proves they were singing live I guess.

19) Albania - Kejsi Tola - Carry Me In Your Dreams

Oh man, this one. For a start it suffered coz it traded in exactly the same goods as the Turkish entry, but wasn't as good. And also...

... the performance was freakishly worrying. She was the youngest entrant to this years Eurovision, and she spent her time cavorting with a man in a turquoise, sequined, gimp-suit and two face-painted midgets. Occasionally she would stand or sit on one of the little people while the other span on his head or something. It was simultaneously everything that Eurovision can be, and everything that Eurovision should never be.

20) Norway - Alexander Ryback - Fairytale

The overwhelming favourite before the final, and the overwhelming victor at the end. And for once, I don't really begrudge him the glory - it's a pretty good song. Not too gimmicky, kind of daffy, but a lot of fun and the dancers put on a great show. At first he kind of creeped me out a little because of his ENORMOUS smile and the way he resembles a one man Jonas Brothers. But he's a lot more wholesome and less sleazy than the Jonas Brothers, and maybe he's a little simple but so what? I didn't mind this guy winning Eurovision.

Those backing singers were awesome too, they came on halfway through with their eyes fixed on him adoringly. They were all like "Oooh Alexander, make love to both of us at the same time all night! Oooh Alexander give us babies! Oooh Alexander!" Pschaw, whatever, he's too pure for them. I hope.

21) Ukraine - Svetlana Loboda - Be My Valentine! (Anti-Crisis Girl)

Man, I guess they must mine that shiny, shiny metal in the Ukraine - they've covered all their performers and stage props in it for the last couple of years. Or maybe they just cut up last year's costumes to make this year's. Whatever, Ukraine never go half - they allways go hard. This disco-glam-pop abomination featured backing singers on stilts, an interlude where a drumkit was rolled out for Svetlana to play, spinning dancing poles built into three massive gear wheels on the stage, and these guys:

Cyber-punk centurion backing dancers. The song rode a beat that could've come from a Timbaland production, and by that I mean they ripped off Madonna's Four Minutes and that beat is a fucking travesty to start with. The music was borderline unlistenable, but there was so much attacking my eyes I think my brain diverted all processing power in that direction and shut off my ears completely. Good work brain, but a three minute coma would've worked too.

22) Romania - Elena - The Balkan Girls

This generic dance-pop number started off all floral, with Elena sitting on a stone throne, and her dancers wearing floaty, forest-spirit dresses; but turned out to be about how Balkan girls like to get hammered and kiss boys on the weekend. Don't let me be misunderstood, that ain't a bad topic for a song, but lyrics like "It's time for me to unwind / I'm gonna start my weekend with gin, tonic and lime" aren't the classiest way to explore it. Pretty frank though, and that I admire.

23) UK - Jade Ewen - It's My Time

I actually have no idea how people back in Blighty have reacted to us placing a miraculous fifth in the competition. I was pretty damn impressed, not with the song of course, but with the fact that we could get Europe to at least pretend like they don't hate us. The song was so-so, it sounds like what you would imagine an Andrew Lloyd Webber song written for Eurovision would sound like, or like what Andrew Lloyd Webber thinks an Andrew Lloyd Webber power ballad should sound like. I guess having him on stage earned us the "ice skater" points that Russia got last year too. Since Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of the most physically unattractive beings in the world, I was worried that it might backfire spectacularly but I guess my fears were unfounded. Still it's funny how Germany put this beatiful woman on stage and take a kicking, while we put this repulsive frog-person out there and rake in the points. I wonder how these things happen? Maybe it was just the song.

24) Finland - Waldo's People - Lose Control

You know, I've always had a soft spot for Finland. Not any more. If I was amazed that some songs got through to the final, this one left me thinking I'd been taking crazy pills. Every aspect of it is wretched, from concept to execution, and I only include the video here so that ALL CAN SUFFER. It's about homelessness you know. You can tell by the flaming oil barrels and the way the singers are dressed like hookers and the rapper is their pimp. I'm pretty sure that's not the intention, but y'know - death of the author and all that...

Hahahaha! I just found that the Finland entry is so bad that the SurpriseTurk, whose fine youtube vids of Eurovision I've been embedding, didn't even bother to upload their performance from the final. He did every single other one though. Ok, I've found it now.

Look at all that fire on stage. If only some of it could be on them.

25) Spain - Soraya - La Noche Es Para Mi (The Night Is For Me)

Last year Spain entered a diminutive comedy rapper with slapstick backing dancers and were accused of not taking things seriously. This year they entered, like, a boring euro-pop song that even a stage magic trick couldn't enliven, and the world is worse for it. Boring.

- - -

And that... is... it? Jesus wept, was that as long for you as it was for me? I think I need to go to bed now. As the hosts of every Eurovision broadcast across the world said - see you next year in Oslo!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Eurovision 2009 - Chapter One: The Unlucky Losers

Well the smoke, glitter, balloons and soaking wet Argentinians have all cleared now, so we can take a deep breath and look back at the glory that was Eurovision 2009. As much as I am the world's foremost Eurovision taste-maker, and my knowledge is second to none, I don't actually possess any instruments to measure how awesome this year's Eurovision was, or compare it to previous years. However my gut says that musically it was slightly less awesome than last year, but that in terms of spectacle Russia's 30 million dollar shindig was second to none.

They cut the obligatory heritage dance section back to the semi-finals, and filled the dead air in the final with Cirque du Soleil and some awesome Argentinian dance troup that were far more passable than the usual fare. Every single surface on the stage seemed capable of projecting an image with some spectacular results, and the wide panning shots were awesome.

Of course, what I'm learning about Eurovision (and yes, I'm learning all the time) is that every year some of the better, and some of the crazier entries go out in the semi-final stage. Because apparently no-one wants to vote for a bear-like Serbian with a bleached afro and a gravelly rapping voice. More's the pity. They'd rather just send Sweden through on the Abba ticket that says "if it's from Sweden, it must be pop gold!" That's gotta stop for a start.

So here then, a round up of the seventeen entries who made the semi-finals - when they were padding the crowd with paid flag wavers, but who didn't make the packed house of the grand final.

Montenegro - Andrea Demirovic - Just Get Out Of My Life

Kicked the whole thing off in ignominious style. A lacklustre, girl-power, dance-pop number that would go on to be outshone by any number of other girl-power, dance-pop numbers. It made me weep for Eurovision that they chose to kick things off with this. Pleasingly, this is one of those songs where you can take the title and say it back to them with far more feeling than they ever did.

Czech Republic - - Aven Romale

The first one I wanted to go through, that didn't. Comic-book, gypsy, super-hero, balkan, party-stomp thing. Oh, please ignore the terrible, terrible name - there's a special hell reserved for people who include bits of URLs in their band names. Now that the voting has been swung back in favour of Western Europe with the move to half audience voting and half "expert judges" there's little chance of one of these slightly malnourished romany bands winning Eurovision. But then again, that balkan beat is just getting hotter and hotter right now... you never know.

He can make you really sing like Gypsy. Oh yes.

Belgium - Copycat - Copycat

I think, hands down, the weirdest entry this year. A thuggish looking Elvis impersonator, singing about people trying to impersonate him and steal his "soul", and with a deranged sounding bridge where he seems to be threatening to hide and kill his "fair Priscilla". It seems to be some kind of Elvis blackout song whereby Elvis, or a psychotic Elvis impersonator, hunts and kills other Elvis impersonators.


Did Belgium really think this was going to win the hearts and minds of Eurovision viewers? Did they care? Fantastic.

By the way, I'm sorry about the long intro and clipping voice-over on these youtube vids, but they have the best quality video and audio of the songs themselves that I could find on youtube, so just skip to that bit and quit yer belly-aching.

Belarus - Petr Elfimov - Eyes That Never Lie

Check this out:


I didn't think so.

Andorra - Susanne Georgi - La Teve Decisio (Get A Life)

Girls with guitars, but... not really in a good way. I know, you're thinking girls with guitars? How can that be a bad thing? I'll tell you how. Meredith Brooks, that's how - and this was sadly reminiscent of her oeuvre. The main singer (I want to say she looked brassy... is that offensive? she had a nice smile!) put her guitar down halfway through too. Sorry Andorra, the bar is low, but it ain't that low.

Switzerland - Lovebugs - The Heighest Heights

No, not like that kite song from Mary Poppins. Are you ready for the formula? It was almost exactly like the Killers, and how the Killers REALLY want to be U2 - but with Scott Weiland on vocals. Oh, and Scott Weiland had surgery to look like Ethan Hawke. Oh and it was shit.

Bulgaria - Krassimir Avramov - Illusion

The kind of song that make the nay-sayers right about Eurovision. I was happy to put money on this as the worst song of the competition even this early on, but little was I to know that the worst song of the competition was still to come and would actually make it through to the final! This was a still shocking performance of a terrible song. It had a bit towards the end where they were all wailing and going for the falsettos and NONE OF IT WAS IN TUNE. It was like some malfunctioning sine-wave test. And look:

World's shittest LOTR cosplay winners 2009.

Macedonia - Next Time - Neshto Shto Ke Ostane

Gentlemen, you'll be the Macedonian Bon Jovi I presume? Down to the Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora back-to-back opening pose? Let me check my clipboard... hmmm... let's see here... yeah, I thought so. I'm afraid there's simply no concievable reason for you to exist! Yeah, I know, sucks for you but what can you do? Just wait on that bus over there with the Swiss Killers and someone'll take you home in a bit.

Ireland - Sinead Mulvey and Black Daisy - Et Cetera

Well, Ireland are taking steps towards taking the competition seriously again at least. This one might have even got through, except that it didn't. After last year entering a tuneless puppet, this year Ireland opted for the all-girl rock band from a 1997 TV movie about a fictional all-girl rock band and their boy troubles. Kinda like the Donnas meets the Commitments, but not very good.

Latvia - Intars Busulis - Probka

Another of my favourites that didn't make it through, but then this one never stood a chance. A diminutive, badly dressed frontman throwing a New-Wave-Huey-Lewis temper tantrum about traffic jams. I liked the song, his bendy legs, and the way he was dwarfed by his cute backing singers. I was confused by the bit where water was flowing through the hands on the projection... the metaphor was lost on me. It's the time we spend in cars is like water... um... The song's in Russian too, which didn't seem to help him garner votes.

Serbia - Marko Kon and Milaan - Cipela

Minimal balkan comedy rap? I will buy that for a dollar. And comedy hair too? Sir, you had me at comedy rap, you needed go no further. Another one that would've made the final more interesting had it gone through. Not fantastic, but it's got a lot going for it. Kind of like an electro drinking chant with a strangely threatening melody and a billiously green stage:

Poland - Lydia Kopania - I Don't Wanna Leave

I honestly can't remember what this was or whether it was any good. My notes (yes, I take notes) say "Ballad thing - ballet dancers. Nice chords in the chorus. Bit boring." Hold on a sec.

OK, I checked it out on youtube. What I wrote there pretty much covers it. You're not missing much.

Cyprus - Christina Metaxa - Firefly

Some dude in the audience gave a hoarse, strangled yelp of "Christina!" in the silence just before the music kicked in. She was a wide-eyed ingenue, sitting on a spinning cube of light, singing a ballad about... I'm assuming the wonder and magic of the world in which we all live. Together, need I remind you. Really, she looked far to innocent to be caught up in the sleazy, sordid world of Eurovision. I can't imagine what they did to her backstage. I thought that several songs this year were "Very Disney" but this one was "Disney-rific!" You could swap it in for that Elton John ballad in The Lion King, in that scene where the two lions are fucking or whatever, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Slovakia - Kamil Mikulcik & Nena Pociskova - Let' Tmou

Another ballad, this one a duet by a beautiful girl and a guy who thought it would look rugged not to shave for a couple of weeks. I mean, I'm one to talk, but at least I'm under no illusions that I look like a drunk or a transient. This one made me wonder: cummerbunds? Are they hot or not?

Slovenia - Quartissimo feat. Martina - Love Symphony

So apparently, Martina has been on Eurovision as a backing singer several times before, but this is her first shot up front. Or, out back, as it were, because she spent at least half the song hidden from view. I found a snap from the early rehearsals that shows you:

While I was watching, waiting for her to appear, as the string quartet (a male Bond) prowled the stage like slightly pasty lotharios, I ran through a number of possibilities in my head. It's a terrible Spinal Tap-esque stage malfunction, that has left her trapped behind a paper sheet! She's actually really ugly, and the only way she was allowed to sing lead was if she was kept hidden from the viewers' eyes! She's not ugly but she was accidentally hideously scarred during rehearsals by a misfiring pyrotechnic and they're hiding her away for now! None of these turned out to be true, she looked nice and came out at what might have been a climactic moment, but wasn't because it wasn't a very good song.

Hungary - Zoli Adok - Dance With Me

I found it hard to hate this guile-less Euro-disco number, awful as it was. He and all his dancers wore tearaway clothes that changed them from fairly simple, classy looking dancers; to gaudy, tasteless buffoons. It had male falsetto backing vocals, and didn't deserve to go through but y'know... it was a nice reminder of Eurovision's heritage.

The Netherlands - The Toppers - Shine

Apparently this was tipped? It was a favourite? At first I had it pegged as the pub entry; as in the head of the Dutch Eurovision entry was in the pub and realised he'd forgotten to put an entry together, so he got whoever was in there at the time, gave them shiny suits and sent them to Moscow. But on reflection (look at the suits, re-read that phrase, enjoy play-on-words) they look like veteran entertainers with big hearts who were given a shot at Eurovision. I don't think the Dutch care much about Eurovision, and I'm not judging them for that, but I'm surprised that anyone thought this feel-good kiddie-pop was going anywhere.

Yeah, that lady was scratching a mixing desk thing that she was carrying around her neck. At first I thought she was dishing out snacks. I'm not sure which would be better.

- - -

So, those are the songs that didn't make it to the Grand Final. Providing my sanity, my fingers and my laptop hold up, tomorrow I'll try and take you through the twenty five finalists. You'll never make it on your own.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Eurovision 2009... A Minor Delay

C'est finit. I watched both Eurovision semis and the final to learn that maybe an obscene amount of money and effort is enough to buy the UK back into the hearts of the rest of Europe, and that sometimes the winners do kinda deserve it. But now it's like 3am and the sun'll be up soon so I'm not gonna attempt a proper post about it till tomorrow.

This year, since Wogan jacked it in, I didn't bother spending any time trying to find the British TV broadcast of Eurovision. Graham Norton did it right? I have nothing against him really, but imagining Graham Norton doing Eurovision made me feel really tired for some reason. Instead I watched the first semi with Swedish commentary (which was very soothing) and the second semi and the final from the Australian broadcast, which was really pretty good. Especially when the camera showed them in their little commentary booth and they were wearing this:

Awesome. They were pretty good presenters, and funny without being too smart-arsed for their own good, I approved. God bless you Australia, and let's face it, you've got about as much right to claim membership of Europe as Israel does, so I reckon you should compete too next year.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Eurovision 2009... The Appetiser

Eurovision has come and gone, and today I watched the two semi finals in an ill-advised four hour chunk. Tomorrow I'm gonna take down the final. It was fun, but I'm worried about the final, since a lot of the fun songs (read "novelty" or "mentally imbalanced") didn't make it through to the final and a whole lot of boring ones did.

Tomorrow I'll post about all those unlucky losers who didn't even make Saturday night, so whom most people won't even have seen, and then the day after that I'll run my coruscating eye of flame over the final. My judgement will be pedantic and frivolous and none shall escape.

I liked the presenters for the semis a lot, especially Andre. Nothing seemed scripted except for the French bits, which I worry they learned by rote because the supermodel whose name I didn't catch flubbed her lines at the start and had to consult a card. This lack of script/rehearsal gave the semi-finals a refreshing, shambolic air as the pair often lapsed into a moment's awkward silence before he would reset their momentum with a thunderous "My good friends! We have most wonderful night for you!" Yeah, he dropped his articles a lot, it was endearing. They shouted all the time, and I was worried about the little girls who they had on stage at the start because he seemed to be bellowing too close to their ears. But when the kids (2006 Junior Eurovision Champions) were handed the mic they hollered away in exactly the same hearty way.

One of the highlights of the first semi-final for me was fat-unenthusiastic-audience-member-in-the-front-row:

There he is just after Iceland had brought the house down with their heart-tugging ballad, only barely managing to muster the energy to applaud. He popped up a couple of other times, and by the time the camera panned past him after Portugal had sung song number 16 out of 18 he wasn't even bothering to applaud:

In fact he seems to be clenching his fists and trying not to scream. I can kinda understand.

The first semi featured a performance from TATU of their hit single that seemed to be trying to combine Russia's terrifying military history with their smiley, hippy, gypsy folksy side. They painted a tank and a fighter jet in hippy colours. I'm not sure how succesful it was. TATU by the way, now look like adults, which makes them more appealing to me but probably defeats the purpose of why they were first invented.

The second semi-final had dance performances, including this one:

Yeah, it was as awesome as it looks. And I haven't even got to the actual competition yet. See you tomorrow.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

J-Pop! Kaela-chan loves the colours...

A while back I posted about Kimura Kaela's pop/pop singles, and she's got a new one out in advance of her new album. The song's better than either of the other two (despite the vocoder, which... c'mon now world - enough), and the video is fantastic:

COLOURS! Oh boy, oh gosh, I love colours. And if there's anything I love almost as much as colours it's hat-headed gonks with dangly arms, and physical manifestations of sound effects and dance-punctuation. Therefore, I love that video.

However, I am a little... confused. You see, Yuki and I were looking at the cover of the single in a record store yesterday and I was just taken at first by the colours (oh boy, the colours), but then Yuki pointed out Kaela-chan's pose:

What does that... um, what does that say to you? Because I'm not sure what to read into it to be honest. Well, either way, the whole thing looks like she's having a lot of fun.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Pity Poor Yubari

I thought that I wrote about Yubari before, but just realised that I didn't because I couldn't find the piece of footage I wanted online. That piece of footage was one of the saddest I had ever seen on TV - Yubari Robot Museum being torn down by JCBs, the front of the building being torn away and revealing a giant robot statue inside that was, in turn, torn down. It ran on the local news and I found a link to the piece online, but in the end it's probably for the best that I couldn't post that story because your heart would have wept.

Yubari is a small mountain town in Hokkaido, famous for delicious sweet orange melons, that has fallen on hard times. When the coal mines shut down a huge effort was made to turn the town into a tourist centre, with a Robot Museum, an international film festival (that Quentin Tarantino attended), and various other tourist attractions. Sadly it didn't work out and the town borrowed so heavily to finance these endeavours that it bankrupted itself and now, as several people have told me who have visited the place in the last year, it's dying slowly.

So, it doesn't really cheer me up to read about the latest blow that Yubari has suffered: the first melons of the season haven't sold for as much as they did last year.

I have tried Yubari melons and they are really, really tasty. Melon usually inspires in me a feeling of ambivalence or mild distaste, but Yubari melons are incredibly sweet and delicious. That said they are crazy expensive, and while that article wants to point out that the recession is hitting luxury items hard, the guy they interview at the end is probably right - the prices for the first melons of the season were just insane for the last few years - $5000 is probably much more reasonable for a pair of melons.

Man, there's one of those sentences that you never expect to type in your life.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Alex Recommends Comics! Seaguy again! And WE3 and Vimanarama!

I am in the process of obtaining certain footage - certain Eurovision footage. This will probably result in a brain melting marathon of both semi's and the grand final, which in turn will lead to a giga-post next week clocking in at somewhere far beyond indulgent.

But some poor sap also mentioned that he wanted me to recommend some single volume graphic novels or comic books here. I do use comic panels to fill space... ahem, as visually arresting blog posts pretty regularly, and I did want to post about this today anyway so here's a good place to start. Seaguy is so freakin' awesome it hurts my teeth. These panels are from the second issue of the second mini-series, which came out last week:

I'm not sure if I should go over it again, since I'm pretty sure I've written about it quite a few times now. It's a demented, surreal, rapid-fire, super-hero subversion where everyone's a hero, but the heroes are no longer needed as a massive Disney-esque corporation works to opiate the world with pink goo and children's cartoons. It's illustrated in a fabulous, classic style by Cameron Stewart and Grant Morrison's writing is like a stream of awesomeness, straight from the subconcious.

I'm kind of cheating to include it here, since that ol' sap wanted one volume stories and Seaguy is going to be three when it's finished. But only the first volume is out at the moment (possibly out of print, since it came out in 2005) and it's so short and fun in itself, and one of my favourite comics of all time, it seemed like a no brainer.

Also it leads onto another two easy recommendations: We3 and Vimanarama . Seaguy, WE3 and Vimanarama were all three issue mini-series that were published at the same time as part of a rough "Crack!Comicks" concept by Grant Morrison. They're all amazing and they're all wonderful as short, stand-alone graphic novels. Vimanarama is a cosmic-Bollywood-apocalypse story set in the North of England and WE3 is Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey except with cyborg tank-pets. It's so good that people talk about turning it into a movie every now and then, which... eh, probably means nothing. What does mean something is that Vimanarama is drawn by Phillip Bond and WE3 by Frank Quitely and they might be two of my favourite artists ever too. I love all of those books.

So there you go, recommendations and amazon links and all's well with the world.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Mosdo - That's a bit more like it.

Still not got the Eurovision semi, but at least I should be able to stream it now - I'll check out how plausible that is later. In the mean time - junk food.

Last year Mos Burger (a damn fine Japanese burger chain with a shop next door to where I work) and Mister Donut (a fine Japanese donut emporium) collaborated on a spectacularly underwhelming "Mosdo" campaign. I filed it under "Missed Opportunities" since the collaboration included neither burger nor donut, and instead some sort of spicy chicken that they had "created together". Just thinking about that bullshit gets me pissed off all over again - what the hell is so hard about cutting a donut open and putting a burger in the middle?

Thankfully, this year they've taken a step in the right direction with two different kinds of Donut Burger:

Mos burger's eponymous Mos Burger, or their popular Teriyaki Burger, with a hole in the middle, and a surprise dollop of wasabi sauce (actually in this case horseradish) in the middle. I had one today and it was good, but it didn't expand my conciousness or anything. In the cosmology of awesome, it's still not very far into the heavens, but it's a start. And at least it has a connection to the two spheres of Burger and Donut. Mister Donut have topped it though:

Those are burgers and fries made entirely out of Donut products. Donut buns with chocolate cake for the burger and strawberry or matcha (green tea) flavoured sauce. I'll be checking them out too, don't you worry.

Still, c'mon. Plain ring donut, sliced in half horizontally with a beef patty in the middle. You know it makes sense.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

8 Tracks and Good Omens

I was totally geared up to bounce into some kind of deranged stream of conciousness post about the first Eurovision semi, but fate has raised it's massive, soil-encrusted hand to stop me dead. I came back from work and there are no torrents to be found, no streaming media, nothing but the broken bits and shards, and I have no taste for piecemeal when it comes to Eurovision.

But there was a nice piece of serendipity the other day when the music at work was changed to Abba the day after I found out about Eurovision. Nicely played fate.

And today I find out that my favourite band ever, the Young Fresh Fellows, have a new album out in July. O frabjous day!

Instead, chew on this: remember Muxtape? It was a kind of online mixtape service where you could upload mixes and then people could listen or not or whatever. It was a fun but flawed service, and the fact that they couldn't clear the legal issues and got shut down was a pretty big flaw. 8tracks is a similar but, frankly, better service where you can upload an 8 track mix for people to listen to. Much like, it's a great way to find new music. You can't choose the order that your songs are played in, and the listener can't see what's coming up, but for me that just adds to the fun. And anyway it's that stuff that keeps it legal and means that it won't just get wrapped up and shut down while you're in the middle of listening to something. The whole site and interface is a lot better too. I've got one j-pop mix up there at the moment and I'll upload a bunch more different things in the future.

MagicSword aka Kumaboshi aka Alex on 8tracks

Hey! Why don't you make a mix too? Then I can listen to whatever crap you like!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Eurovision 2009 Prologue: Prepare for Eurovisionisation

It begins...

I didn't realise until this weekend that this week... is Eurovision week. I love the Eurovision Song Contest, and if, at this point you don't know what it is, I suggest you familiarise yourself with my treatise on the subject from last year, and prepare yourself for what is to come.

The Eurovision Song Contest, basically decides which is the greatest nation in Europe via the venerable medium of bad pop music. I mean, I love the whole process, and every artist involved, but it's still mostly bad. And at the end of two semi-finals and a final that have seen around 32 nations in total take part one nation is crowned "God-King of Europe" and all the other nations have to pay them a third of their GDP and every citizen gets a little gold plastic crown to wear whenever they visit another European country.

Or something like that. They get to host the competition next year anyway.

Last year, these boys took it back to Mother Russia.

Yeah, that dude on the right is an olympic figure skater, and contributed nothing to the song, but the gimmick probably helped them walk away with it. That and Shirtless Joe Abdominator in the middle there.

Anyway, for the last few years Eurovision has been decided by viewer votes from the participating countries, which meant that all the countries with historic connections and alliances voted for each other and that it was won every year by Eastern European countries. After last year's competition was pretty much declared a farce by the rest of Europe, this year the rules have changed slightly, with half the votes coming from the viewers, the other half from a panel of expert judges.

There's a semi final on Tuesday and a semi final on Thursday, with 10 countries coming from each to join the 6 or so automatic finalists (including the UK, mwah, thank you financial supremacy) in the final on Saturday. I'm kind of intending to watch the whole thing, semis and all, so I don't want to spoil it too much for myself, but I've got a couple of predictions.

This lady came up almost before the logo in the google image search for Eurovision 2009 goodies, so I'd say she'll probably figure large. Hadise is representing Turkey, but is already a TV presenter and recording artist in Belgium. Which is about par for the course when it comes to Eurovision. Notice how she's playing with the strands of her hair to make it look like her cleavage extends all the way to her neck? Oh wait, that would be quite freakish, that's probably not the intention.

Something for the boys, something for the girls. This fine figure of a man is Sakis Rouvas, representing Greece and is ripped to the point of having those incredible muscles that make it look like his legs attach like an action figure. The message here is "My penis is like a stick of dynamite - it gives girls orgasms" (joke appropriated from Jon Lajoie). Remember when Eminem and David LaChapelle did that? Is this homage or rip-off? How many good singles did Eminem have anyway?

I'm getting side-tracked. The important thing is what comes next - pure Eurovision joy.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Kiyoshi Awazu 1929 - 2009

Last year I went to see an exhibition by the artist and designer Kiyoshi Awazu at Miyanomori Art Museum. I wrote about it here too, with some images of Awazu's work. Sadly I just read (here) that Awazu passed away last month.

I really loved his work, he made me want to paint everything with the most vibrant colours I could find. More so than usual I mean. I found a publicity photo of the exhibition that I saw that should give you an idea of how great his work was.

And here's another example of his vivid palette and flair for montage.

It's a sad loss, but I'm sure he'll continue to inspire me and many others for a long time to come.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Ask the Magic Building

Magic Building, are my new sneakers the total and absolute bomb?

Y'know, you're alright Magic Building.

The Magic Building lives in downtown Sapporo and will give any outfit the thumbs-up.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Sapporo Food: FAB Cafe

Oh man, I'm up to date again! I just posted the last five days in one long, rambling splurge. Enjoy!

FAB Cafe is a nice cafe in East Odori, Sapporo. I can't really rave about it too much, but every time I've been there the food's been good and the atmosphere is really nice. They sell some second hand books and furniture outside, and some cool looking homeware stuff inside too.

It's near a bunch of interesting and fancy clothes shops like Acoustic Rock, Cream Soda, and that terrifying one where the walls all seem to be marked out but not filled in and everything costs half a month's salary. Here I am tucking into a fine plate of pasta:

My biggest complaint with FAB Cafe is that I'm often lured into trying their fancy, fancy coffees by the mouthwatering descriptions, only to find them sorely lacking. That also means I've never just ordered a black coffee there, so I can't really speak for the quality of their "black gold", which is something that's usually really important to me.

It's on the map yo.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Park Review! Asahiyama Memorial Park!

Man, I was like a park fiend this Golden Week with Bunny, I really got my fix. I finally went to Asahiyama Park, which I wanted to visit for a long time. It's low in the mountains to the West of Sapporo, and it has a beautiful panoramic view of the city like Mount Moiwa, the Mount Okura Ski Jump and that rose garden whose name I've forgotten. This might be my favourite one though, it's really beautiful:

The park goes off into the hills as well, but we didn't explore, we just soaked up the view. I guess the problem with this place is that I don't know how you get there without a car and... frankly can't be bothered to do the research right now. It's worth the trip though.