Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year

Ok, so first of all my New Year's Resolution this year is... to not write this blog daily!


Yeah, so 568 posts in and over a year of daily posting (barring a couple of vacations) I think I've kind of proved... whatever it was I was trying to prove to myself. I'd rather use my brain for other, more creative things in 2010, so I'll just post here randomly, like any other sane blog and not fit one post every day like I have been doing. I promised Andy I'd do another post about Girls Aloud and I want to do one about the Kouhaku Utagassen, and I hope I can keep adding stuff to my Sapporo Map, so I'm certainly not done here completely. But output will be sporadic to say the least. If you've been reading while I spout off every single day then thanks a lot but it'd be better for me to spend some time writing more songs or maybe even finishing one of the many novels I've started.

Also, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest is a huge book, I really need some time to get cracking on that.

And I need to get a job.

Still, I'm very optimistic about this year. Why? Because of my omikuji.

That's me in the freezing wind and snow outside Hokkaido Shrine where I went on New Year's Day to draw omikuji - divination by lots (check out the wikipedia link there, it tells you all about it). You make a donation, take a piece of paper and it tells you how your future is going to be. For the last two years on New Year's Day I drew Shou-Kichi - small blessing, which is probably the most common one. Nothing too bad, nothing great this year. This year though - Dai-Kichi - Great Blessing! That's as good as it gets. It comes with a lot of reminders to give of myself, my wealth and my strength; to be aware when I am blessed - but it also has nothing but good messages about my future.

Using it even only as cognitive fuel I hope to have a great year, and I hope you will too.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The January Sales Breakdown

So clearly the January sales didn't start on December 30th, again I am projecting my post back in time in order to give you filler that's all killer. Or something like that. How can I describe the January sales in Japan? With an image:

I think that what has happened there is that the tussle for sale goods was so violent that somebody punched a fucking mannequin in the face. Hard core. So what you need to know about the January sales in Japan is the following: that although January 1st is one of the most important holidays of the year, it's also fukubukuro (lucky bag) day and all the big shops, department stores and malls open to sell discount bags full of random goods; and that the sales proper start on January 2nd (along with the smaller stores fukubukuro sale). This year, as last, I went shopping both days. I didn't get a lucky bag this year since I have no money and couldn't justify it to myself. I found it remarkably easy to justify the purchase of the following though, part of the Spring Bape drop that came out on the 2nd... I couldn't resist:

I know what you're thinking - but what would Kanye West look like in that? Luckily he wore it in the new Bape lookbook:

Have you seen Kanye's new year post on his blog? I love that guy.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

My favourite albums of 2009

So this year I had more time and thus found more music. It seems to be as simple as that! I read a bunch of people saying that 2009 was a crappy year for music, but, y'know, those people are idiots. It's never a crappy year for anything, it's just impossible to be exposed to everything that might possibly be good. Give yourself a break, give the world a break, just... can't we all just get along?

Anyway I got you seven albums that I loved, ten albums that I really liked, a couple that I know sucked but still kind of liked, and a few that I haven't decided about yet. Some of these I've written about before, and I'll try not to repeat myself but... hell I repeat myself enough in real life so that would just be an accurate reflection of myself. Once you have an actual thought in your head you owe it too the world to get as much mileage out of it as possible, right? Right? Don't leave me hanging here.

Themselves - Crownsdown

It's like they set out to make a real hip-hop album, but they've accidentally evolved beyond musical genres, so for all the references and put-downs they throw in - they've kind of already won because they've transferred to a different league and are kind of on their own there. The hip-hop references are delicious though, and while it didn't blow me away at first (I was still pretty impressed) it was a massive grower, and I really love the record now. Just writing about it makes me want to listen to it again, and this is one of my favourite videos this year:

Converge - Axe To Fall

Every now and then I go back to this album and think - do I really like it or am I in awe of it? The answer is probably both. I'm not exactly a die-hard hard-core fan, so I can understand some people thinking that they're either a) stuck in a rut or b) moving too far into the mainstream (though it's kind of surreal that those two criticisms - the main ones I've read - come from completely opposite directions) because they probably know more about hard-core than me. But I like this album a lot, it's my favourite thing I've heard by Converge and it sounds like terrible, powerful things being given form.

The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

So basically, and quite surreally for a band who put on one of the most stunning stage shows ever, I totally lost interest in the Flaming Lips after Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. That album, to sum it up, sucks, and I figured that all the craziness and invention that I had loved about them until that point - and especially a certain demented flame that always seemed to drive them - had gone for good. This album was not just a return to form but sounds like they've evolved into a whole new strange, wonderful, disquieting band. It's just so fucking exciting to hear a band that's been going for so long metamorphose so powerfully and convincingly into this kind of monster. The levels, the sound, the songs, the structure, the album - everything is too much, and it's amazing.

Charlotte Hatherley - New Worlds

I reckon in the end, I just like the way she writes songs. I really, really like the way she writes songs.

Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3

I think I said before I don't know why there's people running around saying that this was a let down. The last track - Forever Young - is a travesty, contemplating the existence of which upsets me greatly, but the rest of the album is impressively strong. Well worth the hype.

OneOne - Aooooon

Beautiful, folky music, and I really like everything that Tenniscoats and Deerhoof put out, but this one captured my imagination a lot more than I expected it to.

Future of the Left - Travels With Myself And Another

Like some deranged, musclebound dictator of the land of half-forgoten pop culture who's angry. Angry! Always angry! And churning and riffing and spitting and grinning and occasionally calming down enough to make you think it's making sense, but really it's still half out of its mind on pop-tarts and real ale.

Those albums, I loved. These ones I liked a lot, but not enough to really gush about them.

Chuck Prophet - Let Freedom Ring

Shiina Ringo - Sanmon Gossip

Health - Get Color

Young Fresh Fellows - I Think This Is

Eyedea & Abilities - By The Throat

Luke Haines - 21st Century Man / Achtung Mutha

Grand Duchy - Petit Fours

Monobright - 2

Boredoms - Super Roots 10

Annie - Don't Stop

And the ones I know kind of suck, but I liked anyway were:

Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon : The End of Day

Teriyaki Boyz - Serious Japanese

And the few that I picked up at the end of the year, and dug to varying degrees but don't feel good about properly rating were:

St Vincent - Actor

Gallows - Grey Britain

Clipse - Til The Casket Drops

Ah, music. Bring the hell on 2010 already. Give me more. MORE! MY HUNGER CANNOT BE SATED!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Movies: Juno and Inglourious Basterds

Again, apologies - posting from the safety of January 4th. And now that I come to think of it, I watched both of these movies after New Year, so it should be impossible for me to make comments about them on the date this post was made. That my friends, is either me being psychic, time travel or... blog magic. I'll let you decide which.

Juno was wonderful - funny and touching and better than I expected. The plot was interesting, the characters were just... implausibly likable and the dialogue (which I'd heard so much about) was playful and witty without being smug. I mean, it was smug at times, but it was meant to be smug within the banterous little universe they'd created there. It's not perfect by any means but I really liked it, and it had the best performance I've seen Michael Cera give yet. I mean, come on, I'm willing to be proven wrong here but so far in his burgeoning career Michael Cera seems to be a terrible actor. He gives exactly the same super-geeky performance in everything I've seen him in, and while that generally works and I like it well enough, it's only because the film makers are crafting the parts specifically for him. In Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist he was really fucking pushing it, playing the kind of romantic lead where the relationship - cute though it was - didn't ring true for me. I'm kind of worried about him in the upcoming Scott Pilgrim adaptation, because everything else about that seems utterly awesome.

Enough about Michael Cera. Juno was really good and the worst thing about it is the smugly twee faux indie films that have probably been green-lit because of it.

I liked Inglourious Basterds too, having finally had a chance to watch it, but I'm fairly bemused at the praise it has recieved. I mean, I liked it because it was a kind of demented pop-culture mash up - just Tarantino watching a bunch of second world war movies and thinking - man I'd love to make something like this, with Jews hiding from the Nazis and commandos in the French countryside and the tension of The Great Escape and the camaraderie and like... something to do with The Dirty Dozen... And then he just mixed all that up and slapped it together into a series of tight, very Tarantino-esque scenes and the whole thing is really kind of fun if you like Tarantino's directorial voice.

But by any kind of objective standards that I can think of, it's a terrible fucking movie.

I mean none of the characters were believable, likeable or interesting in anyway. They were mostly annoying in pretty deliberate, entertaining ways, but that doesn't really count. One would think that a lot of the drama of WW2 movies is symbiotic with the idea that the people are in real danger within... well, within World War Two. Inglourious Basterds is famously cavalier with historical facts, and I have no problem with that, but it just makes the slow boiling tension that Tarantino is trying to capture in most of the scenes seem cheap and pointless. The characters are cartoons, the setting is a cartoon... there's no reason to care about anything so it all becomes really uninvolving.

And even more absurdly by the time the finale has come around the ending is so clearly signposted that there's no tension at all! It's just a kind of Nazi bashing free-for-all which... y'know, is fine. But I didn't really like any of the heroes, and I didn't really feel like those Nazis were real Nazis so much as random baddies dressed up in Nazi uniforms, so I turned off completely.

The movie is divided into a small number of long scenes that act like mini-plays for Tarantino to basically play around with war-movie tropes. They're each kind of fun, but they make the whole thing seem very stilted and they sap any momentum the movie might have as a whole. Again, I'm sure the structure and its pros and cons were very deliberate choices that the director made, but... it really kinda sucks.

The one thing that I was technically impressed with was the way in which Tarantino moved the plot along. He used the stilted, extended-scene structure and in every scene gave you exactly what you needed to know to get to the next 'vignette', cutting away all the exposition inbetween. That - paring it down to just the long, tension building scenes that he obviously wanted to get cracking on - was a really nice way of telling the story. It's just that the tension seemed to be pointless since I didn't care about any of the characters, the whole thing seemed utterly contrived and it certainly never seemed to bear much resemblence to the actual historical conflict.

Also the music was interesting but terribly used. Really awfully used.

And despite all that griping I still liked it, but mostly because I like car-crash art, and entertaining, interestingly-bad art and there were plenty of bits that I just plain loved. All the typefaces and text throughout, the main bad guy, Mike Myers (why?), the Bowie track - all awesome. But the movie? Appalling.

I recommend it.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Comics Stuff : More Goon!

What can I say about this? I was a little burned out over Christmas and New Year? I wasn't really, I just wasn't really in the mood to blog. These posts then, all from January 4th with small notes of apology attached to each one. And with reference to that please read the post dated December 31st! I'm going to be blurring the laws of time on these few post-Christmas / pre-New Years posts so events might not occur in order. I'm also padding a little with some book, comic and movies stuff. Just so's you know. Today = Comics.

The Goon#33, no dialogue just pictoral thought bubbles. Eric Powell is a bleedin' genius.

Someone should give him a big gold medal or something. Maybe just a lot of money. Whatever makes him happy. Then again he already has his own Girl's Roller Derby team - what else could a man want?

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Alex's Book Club - The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Ah yes, just to bring you down from Christmas with a bump, a quick post about a notoriously depressing masterpiece:

In fact I found Cormac McCarthy's The Road (coming soon with extra Mortensen to a cinema near you!) to be not nearly as depressing as I'd feared. The story is bleak for sure, but it's so beautifully written as to be almost uplifting. It's a wonderful book and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who can avoid getting hung up on the apocalyptic nihilism of the story.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Moments from It's A Wonderful Life

Well, that's just one of the best movies ever isn't it?

God damn you Frank Capra - playing me like a man-sized fiddle.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Moments from Elf

I love Elf. And Jon Favreau's career as a director is constantly fascinating for me. I just always think of him as he appears in Swingers, no matter how many great films he directs.

Also Zooey Deschanel is so much better when she's underplaying the Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl role.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Moments from Bad Santa

Actually, according to the DVD case I was watching "Badder Santa: The Unrated Version". Having never seen the original I guess the difference was lost on me - I guess it was a highly profane piece of cinema, maybe there were even more F-words in this one? There certainly were a lot! Fuck!

It was good, if not great then certainly unique and entertaining enough to get a big thumbs up from me. And when Sheriff John Bunnell there turned up - that added a whole extra star on for me.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Ash - Doin' It Right

Consider this an online music commerce post. I just wanted to mention, again, that Ash are really impressing me with their A-Z subscription (y'know pay less than fifteen quid and get a new song every two weeks for a year). They're making it easy to buy their music online (that's me saying 'If You Like It Buy It'), but if you want a physical copy you can get a cool seven inch, and they're providing what I... hesitate slightly to call... fan service. This week I got a bonus track they recorded earlier in the year and a link to a podcast of Tim Wheeler's honeyed tones introducing a selection of some of his favourite music. More of that and I'll be feeling like I haven't paid them enough money and want to buy my subscription all over again.

And the songs have been remarkably strong too:

Forgive the video, that kind of cut up thing from old videos gives me a headache. No it doesn't, sorry, it just looks shit and pisses me off. Just stick it over a picture of the cover you wankers.

If Ash can make money this way, by selling things online through their own label then that is a very good sign for the future of bands making music. Not for major labels but... for the future of people making music for a living. Because Radiohead and NIN have done it but with the best will in the world, Ash aren't Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails. They're kind of... on the next level. From them the next step would be seeing a band start from scratch with that kind of model. Somebody's probably already done it, and I'd imagine it's hard work but - y'never know.

Special shout out to Carina Round too, whose US major label daliance has, I guess, come to an end, and who is selling a new EP with a bunch of super-special bonus business (e.g. you can buy her ep for like a thousand dollars or something and she'll throw in a performance at your house) to finance her next album. That's how more and more artists will be working, and I really hope they can make a go of it.

That and the fact that people look at the charts and talk about album tracks charting now as if it's always been that way makes me very happy. But of course - there are a lot of horror stories about how the big record companies are paying out on online royalties so... y'know "Albini Was Right" and all that on a red tee with a picture of his buzzcut instead of Magneto's helmet.

Monday, 21 December 2009

The Good Stuff

Well, I wasn't going to gloat, but this was something I had pegged for a blog post for a while. We've had a lot of snow here:

That was like, over a week ago, and there's been a lot more since then. So while it's got dirtier, it's also got higher. And of course in Sapporo, nothing stops. Everything just carries on as normal - sorry England! This is my third winter here, and actually I think there's been a lot more snow this December than in the last two years, it just came very, very late. There was almost nothing for the first two weeks of December (which is unusual) and then... it's just been snowing every day since. Therefore this has been the whitest Christmas I've had here. It was pretty awesome.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Snowboarding at Rusutsu

Rusutsu resort offers you a wonderful blend of pretty high-end facilities, many runs spread over three mountains, great snow and hideous, nightmarish animatronics and carnival rides.

That tree thing was right there in the lobby, and all I ever heard were people saying "kowaii!" (scary!) I felt kind of sorry for the resort for splashing out on it - and then I remembered Dogs and Demons, the book I finished recently, and then I got a little depressed.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Bumper Christmas 8tracks!

Hey, I don't know about your advent calendar, but my advent calendar says there are only three sleeps until Christmas! (Ahem, as usual, I'm posing this... from the future, so let's just skip over any confusing about 'day counts' or whatever, ok?) And you know what I love? No, not that, something else. I mean, I love that, but I love something else too.

That's right! Christmas!

So I put twenty Christmas songs on a playlist for you to listen to!

And trust me when I tell you that they are all solid gold and shot through with the spirit of Christmas. If you don't like any of those songs, then I would ask you if you had ever been in the same room as Ebeneezer Scrooge before, and if not, then perhaps it would be clement for you to perhaps start questioning your own identity because it may be more than possible that you - yourself - are Ebeneezer Scrooge!

Or possibly The Grinch!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Moments from Southland Tales

Man, I'm not afraid to tell you that I was waiting to see Southland Tales for a lo-o-ong time. As one of the many people who fell head over heels in love with Donnie Darko, when I heard that Richard Kelly's second movie was going to be a crazy ensemble piece about the end of the world, starring The Rock, Sean William Scott and Sarah Michelle Gellar, that would be prefaced by three graphic novels I was 100%-no-refunds sold.

Then it got mauled at Cannes, scaled back, recieved what might charitably be called "mixed reviews" and most people seem to think that Kelly pretty much blew it. The only review I've read of his latest one has been bad too.

Well, y'know. I finally picked up the DVD for cheap when I was back in England and finally sat down with it this week. And of course it's awesome.

I mean, it's a mess, but it's awesome.

I've read two of the three prologue graphic novels (could never seem to track down the last one, and wasn't even sure that it came out, but now I see that it has) so the insanely rushed synopsis at the start actually jogged some memories for me and then I could pick it up pretty well, but I can understand why a lot of people might not. He just tries to pack so much stuff in there, and yes, the story is told in an confusing way, but Jesus there are two strikingly different cuts of Donnie Darko and this was easier to follow than both of them. It's just that Donnie Darko was hung around a 1980s coming of age movie, it was an underdog movie, and people were lured in by that a lot I think. Southland Tales is an apocalyptic sci-fi farce (and there was far more straight comedy than I expected) starring an ex pro-wrestler, an actor known for peurile comedy, a pulp TV actress and a pop star. Unless you like the willfully eclectic (like me, and probably a lot of other people too) it's a pretty hard sell. Worth noting that I thought all the performances - and yes, a lot of the time it seemed like people were acting in entirely different movies - were perfectly pitched for this movie.

I really did love it. I kept thinking it was going to take a nose dive into the unwatchable, but it never did. The weakest point was that terrible opening, where a whole other movie was summarised in voice over and via faux news reels. In the end that stuff played out and was essential to the story, but even I've gotta admit you're asking a lot of your audience to follow that and then jump right into part four. But once it got going the way the story played out, tricky as it was, became a real strength. Kelly wasn't sloppy in telling the story, he was just asking the viewer to keep up, and that's never a bad thing.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Comics Stuff: The Sublime Genius of Brandon Graham

Ok now, seriously. Everything Brandon Graham does makes me happy to be alive, and just... makes me feel like making stuff. He's like a five hundred mil bottle of inspiration whenever I need one. I've bookmarked his livejournal on the right here, and I've read this issue of King City about five times already:

It was the only one I could find when I went back to England, but I'm desperate to get everything I can. I want his babies basically.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Alex's Book Club - Dog and Demons by Alex Kerr

Started several years ago and recently rediscovered on my trip back to Mother England, I just finished Dogs and Demons and boy was it depressing.

If you don't want to like Japan, Dogs and Demons is the book for you. No, that's a little uncharitable - overall it's a fascinating, well written treatise on the way modern Japan has completely (and in almost every respect) lost its way. Alex Kerr, who is American but seems to have spent most of his life in Japan, goes through almost every aspect of Japanese life and explains why it sucks, and how Japan has sold out its land and its traditions in desperate, misguided bids for industrial power and some mistaken view of modernism that passed away in the 70s.

It is very readable, but if you currently live in Japan, it is not exactly an easy read. Y'know, what with the painting nihilistically depressing portraits of the country in which you currently reside.

I believe Kerr received some stick for being so critical about almost every aspect of Japan, as a foreigner - and to an extent he tempts it. Non-Japanese, when they pop up in the book, are never responsible for the erosion and corruption of Japanese values. Kerr's point is that the Japanese have done that themselves. Foreigners are the voices of reason, who have helped the developing economies in Thailand and other Asian countries advance in a way that respects their heritage, and the foreigners in Dogs and Demons are almost invariably bemoaning the changes they've witnessed, or fighting to preserve some part of Japan that the Japanese government wants to turn into a pachinko parlour. I've gotta call shenanigans on that - it may be the case that some foreigners are like that, but there must be a lot out for a quick buck too, and Kerr's examples are so one sided that he starts seeming patronising to the Japanese pretty early on, relying on a series of Japanese traditionalists and academics to keep him from sounding absurdly one sided in this.

When he turns his attention to modern culture he hits a fair few wrong notes too. He bemoans the infantilising of modern pop culture, the dominance of cutismo and so on, while saying that in the west those trends are only popular with children, never with more important demographics. Even when he wrote the book back in 2001, that would have been crazy. Japan's popular culture, it's 'soft power', is one of the biggest things it has going for it now. In fact I was reading last year about how people were criticising the Japanese government for not taking advantage of that more. Kerr comes across as basically out of step with the times in those areas; and a few other times when he relies on anecdotes rather than facts he seems far too subjective - ranting about things that piss him off rather than real problems.

But that said, when he backs up his points with figures, facts about the hideous knots in which Japan has become bound due to its rampant, corrupt beauracracy (which he does for the vast majority of the book), and the central 'Dogs and Demons' premise (that Japan loves to build gimmicky 'Demons' because they're more eye-catching, while the basic 'Dogs' of everyday services are neglected)... I can't argue against any of that. His story of Japan - basically that it is sick from the roots up and that there's nothing anyone can do about it - is pretty much spot on.

Depressingly enough.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Alex Listens to Every Girls Aloud Album For You

So, Girls Aloud - the TV manufactured girl group of (I suppose) debatable talent, the majority of whose oeuvre has been written and composed by the sugar-pop-warlock-surgeons at Xenomania. Their songs being so good that they gave a "Get Out of Authenticity Free" card to almost every indie listener in the world. Myself, of course, included. But still you bump up against the ugly wall of prejudice: Girls Aloud? No! Manufactured! TV show! Pop music! MUST DISMISS!

Gah, some people can take no joy in life, can they?

Should I mention that I'm delighted that Rage Against The Machine got to Christmas no. 1? Putting aside every other issue and purely based on the fact that the song they chose for Joe McElderry single to sing was so utterly shit. If he'd been doing a Xenomania track I'd probably have been in his corner.

And while I'm digressing... did he fuck Cheryl Cole? Because the video seems to be narrating some kind of torturous love story between Joe and Cheryl, lots of eye contact, tearful hugging, begging for their lives in front of a massive audience and finally being granted a reprieve. I don't know, maybe I was misreading it.

Anyway, astonishingly they hit five albums this year, and I finally decided to step up my love from listening to The Show and Biology on repeat and actually listen to each of their five albums from start to finish. Many times over. Interestingly while I admit my love is mostly based on those unstoppable melodies I hadn't thought much about the members themselves. I mean, not being in the country for a couple of years means that I don't really get to see them perform or appear on TV, and my impression before I left wasn't so great - they were just the faces the songs I liked came out of. That said, listening to a lot of their music together... their voices don't sound autotuned or post-polished to death (I mean, not as much as some other pop artists), and that actually adds a lot to the whole.

Anyway, I did not regret my undertaking for one second, and I'm sure neither will you.

1) Girls Aloud - Sound of The Underground

What an oddly cheap looking album cover! Mummy, is that what the underground looks like? Is that the resistance? The first album was a strong start but is by no means the peak of their career so far. The singles are great, but my favourite track here must be Some Kind of Miracle, which didn't even get picked as a single. That, my friends, was the kind of gold I was mining for. It's worth noting now, early on, that while occasionally there are clearly different voices singing (as different girls pick up the mic for different verses) I have absolutely no idea who is singing what, and while there are five girls, there are only two or three different voices that I've been able to discern... I mean at least they aren't Exile though, where you have two singers and twelve dancers. Also worth noting that titling a song "Girls Allowed" on their first album really... wasn't necessary. We... we get it.

2) Girls Aloud - What Will The Neighbours Say?

Oh, now I see what they were going for with that cover but I'd say they probably failed in... everything? The type is quite nice I guess. The second album, featuring as it does The Show (one of my favourite Girls Aloud songs) and Love Machine (one of everyone else's favourite Girls Aloud songs), is where things get really good. The first album is solid, occasionally inspired, but wouldn't have been enough to make me a staunch defender, y'know. This one starts (with some assist from a couple of covers) with a straight five track blast of brilliance. And after that there's still Graffiti My Soul, which just... wow. A song so good that the tyros of youtube have been compelled to slap the music on top of every other Girls Aloud video in some cack-handed attempt to magic a Graffiti My Soul video into existence.

3) Girls Aloud - Chemistry

Probably their best cover, which tells you how shit their covers are in general. Honestly, making cover art for Girls Aloud should be like hitting the ground when you fall over, and yet time and again... Anyway this makes two classics in a row. It starts with a trifecta of ass-kicking, and still the structure and majesty of Biology gets me every goddamn time. So good. It's difficult to pick between WWTNS and C (hmmm... abbreviations not working quite so well there), because while I think the second album has better highlights - the lesser songs on Chemistry are greater than those on 'Neighbours'. Anyway, best non-single is probably the track that kicks the album off - Models. Wow, I should watch more Girls Aloud live stuff on youtube, then I can see who sings what!

4) Girls Aloud - Tangled Up

Ah, the classy album. Actually, probably just as good as the previous two now that I think about it. This was one of the albums they released after I'd left the country so I have no idea about the singles, the promotion or the videos - I just listened to the whole thing as an album and it was interesting to see that minimal (still crappy) cover art and hear the (slightly) more mature, restrained sound that they aimed for. The first track, Calling The Shots, is especially impressive for capturing a kind of longing that they had occasionally aimed for on previous albums but fallen far short of, landing in kind of emoticon territory. Close To Love could be an Annie song at the start (while the Xenomania tracks on Annie's last album could have been Girls Aloud songs) which is nothing but good. Sexy! No No No... is amazing, and even the slow single Can't Speak French is a killer on this album. Wow, and then there's Blackjacks and Fling and the insanely awesomely titled (sadly not all that awesome) Control Of The Knife... Let's just say that on reflection this one is up there with the previous two.

5) Girls Aloud - Out Of Control

Well, I don't want to be too damning here, after all it might be a grower, but this still feels like their worst album so far to me. I guess it's tough (as a chart pop act) to keep up the insanely high level of quality that they'd displayed until this point in this career, but whereas before their songs had stomped you to the ground and demanded your attention, on this album they're just kind of... ok. The album cover is even not-bad, in a hideous way, but the music... I was disappointed. In a way, despite the title, it's even more classy and restrained than Tangled Up, there are no truly up-beat singles even! Love is the Key is worth a listen, but feels pieced together from bits of other, better songs. I'd probably pick Miss You Bow Wow as my favourite track on this rekkid (the live version behind that link is actually better than the album version), and even then it only really sparkles in the chorus, and thinking about songs like Biology where every part individually shines... that's quite a step down. I don't know, the whole thing sounds... a little lacking.

But still! I have hope and they might have a new album "Back in Control" next year? Not sure about that but... that might be a return to their previous standards? Here's hoping. In the mean time Girls Aloud are awesome and if you find you don't agree with that, I can only encourage you to check yourself... most thoroughly.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Sapporo Food: Gombei Spice Soup Curry

Slowly but surely keeping my promise to talk about my favourite soup curry restaurants (as opposed to the ones that I remember to take my camera to, which invariably end up somewhat lacklustre it seems), today I present Gombei Spice:

I used to go to Gombei Spice in Asabu all the time - like at least once every two weeks - partly because it was about twenty seconds from my front door. Oh, but that wasn't the only reason! Their awesome, life-giving vegetable soup curry was probably the main reason.

Now, Gombei Spice is not for everyone, and I can't just wholeheartedly recommend it, but it's definitely worth visiting for a number of reasons. Firstly - organic vegetables. Gombei Spice use just the best vegetables of any soup curry place I know, and I find the selection they give you in the vegetable curry very satisfying. Secondly it has a very unique curry base. It's a lot less... aromatic than most places, and a lot more blunt and harsh. That's why a lot of people I know aren't too keen on the place - it's a much darker, more intense soup in general, and that totally isn't for everyone. They have four different kinds of soup base to choose from, but they're all pretty formidable. Which brings us to the spice level - it's great providing you've got the constitution for it. Last night I choose a level two out of ten and my nose would not stop running. When I first went there, picking my level with reference to the only soup curry I'd had before, I had a level four and was left shaken and beaten. Like Lavi Lavi - I can only imagine what the upper echelons of the scale are like.

The other big issue regarding Gombei Spice is that I've been there so many times and yet almost every time I get the exact same thing, because their vegetable soup curry is by far the best thing on the menu:

In fact, I'd go so far as to say I would recommend the place a lot less without this one dish. It's amazing, and I know a couple of other people who agree that the vegetable soup curry at Gombei Spice is what makes the whole place great. That's avocado tempura topping too (you have to order it separately, but it's completely and utterly worth it). So what I'm saying is - go to Gombei Spice and order the vegetable soup curry and you won't regret it. I don't know how healthy it really is, but it sure feels healthy to eat a bowl of spicy soup full of organic vegetables.

Gombei Spice is another place that has an original branch in the suburbs and then a city centre branch too - and again I have no idea where the inner-city restaurant is. I'm happy to assume that it's just as good as the Asabu one though, and strongly recommend it. The Asabu branch has been slapped on the map.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Snowboarding at Kiroro Resort

Insured and semi-ready. Back on the mountain - back in the snow:

I was delighted to find that I hadn't forgotten much, and that I could pick things up again fairly easily. Today however, is a pretty painful day for me.

Excuse me if I don't get up. I'm sure you can see yourselves out.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sapporo Cafes: Fabulous Cafe

I went to Fabulous Cafe the other day, and thought... wait, have I actually blogged about this place? Or put it on my map? A search of my site says no, I haven't, so I will now.

Fabulous Cafe is a really, really, trendy cafe near to Bus Centre Mae Station, just over the river from the TV Tower (y'know, at the point in Sapporo where there is actually no river, just a road with a river under it, even though the river is still marked on maps). It's actually more a combination cafe/design boutique/men's clothing store - which should give you an idea what it's like. As should this photo:

Sadly I don't seem to have more photos, and it's the kind of place where snapping away might make you feel a little gauche. It's a fantastically cool place where they play nothing but cool music, stock nothing but cool design innovations and cool men's clothes, and you can go and sit in there feeling just... cool.

Of course, it's incredibly expensive.

Well, not so bad really, not like - wincingly expensive. But I know many people who would blanche at the prices for coffee there, and the servings are never what you would call 'generous'. Everything's good though, I took my folks there and I seem to remember my dad saying that the cheese toast (read: cheese on toast) was amazing. He'd have to confirm that though. The coffees are all great though, and I always find the staff there to be incredibly nice too, although, obviously, hipsters. The photo I took up there was from a while ago, and that guy's afro is now long, straight and cool in a totally different way.

The place looks amazing, always, and I think it's really fantastic if you're after a high-end cafe, or just a cool, interesting place to go. They stock D-Bros. stationery, which I love too. But I want to be utterly straight here - it is pretty darned expensive. I never have a problem dropping a little more than usual to go somewhere like this from time to time, but your mileage (as they say) may vary.

I have stuck it on the map, and not before time.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Uchiyama Naohito live at Tower Records

In a slightly surreal turn of events today I caught an awesome live electronic set from Uchiyama Naohito and... another guy whose name I shamefully forgot at Tower Records. I was just popping in there and got collared by Ryuta, who owns the awesome bar Provo and is now in the business of releasing music. "Do you have time?" he asked, to which... y'know what? I did. So I got a coffee and came back to see a really fucking impressive set of downbeat-but-danceable house-inflected electronica (I hate describing electronic music, I have no concept of genres beyond "S'good!" or "M'nah..."):

Tower Records Christmas tree there of course. No one was dancing, but there were quite a few people watching and bobbing their heads. It was fun to see this kind of music in a brightly lit place too of course, coz I could go upstairs and really see how they laid things out: