Monday, 15 February 2010

Alex vs. JUNGLE LIFE February 2010

Every now and then I think I'm gonna grow out of music. Like, I'm just going to suddenly not feel like finding out who's popular or who's any good anymore and then I'll just keep up on the bands I like and let the rest just wash over me. Hasn't happened yet though. While I've missed out on a zillion new bands from America and England I try to keep up with whatever new Japanese music is out there, and after watching a bunch of music shows over the weekend I was all geed up like "OK! That swas all shit!" (it was) But there's got to be lots more good stuff out there, right?

Thus: In a coffee shop on Sunday I picked up the February 2010 edition of JUNGLE LIFE a free indie music magazine (basically UK's The Fly in Japan, right down to the format).

And now, I'm going to go through every single band, listen to 'em write about 'em and give you a myspace link. To be perfectly honest my hopes are not high going into this, but I'm willing to be surprised and there is at least one band with cute girls, so there's always that. I'm limiting myself to bands with features or interviews, and I'm not gonna face the myriad albums that are reviewed at the back, for the sake of my own health. Consider this a State of Japanese Indie, Feb'10 bite-sized sampling. Here we go...

HY - HY are a big indie band. They had a Music Lovers showcase on TV the other day introduced by manzai rising stars (still rising? they had a shaky period but they're hanging in there) Audrey, and I've seen them promoting their new single and album on many TV shows. Of course, they suck. They suck... mightily. The kind of soft droning indie that is perfect for when you don't really want to listen to music, but you just want a few hooks which sound like other hooks that you used to like. Ugh. Their myspace puts them under rock/J-Pop/Hip-Hop and if they have anything that actually approaches hip-hop I will kill and eat the surviving members of Run DMC. They have some songs sung by their female pianist, and some sung by their male guitarist. That's as good as it gets. From the looks of things, all their album covers suck too.

STANCE PUNKS - Are a well established punk band, and they make that very authentic melodic punk that many bands make in Japan. I mean they do it well and listening to them now, if I had to make some kind of ranking of Japanese trad-punk bands, I'd put STANCE PUNKS pretty high on that list, but unless you're a huge punk fan... you don't need for there to be so goddamn many of them. Still, if you like punk music, like good old fashioned double kick drums and shouty vocals - check this lot out.

aobozu (藍坊主) - Up-tempo J-indie rock. Going by their myspace not too bad... and in fact might grow on me. When Chris came to stay with me (soooo long ago now!) he commented that he couldn't get into the vocals on a lot of Japanese bands because they were so studied and uninvolved, or sounded so to his ears. You could probably say that about this lot... but I kinda like them. On their myspace go for Gymnopedic - it loses me at the chorus, going for the key-change sky scraping chorus that is just massively over-used in Japanese pop music, but it sounds pretty good. On reflection this lot aren't great, but they've got something going on.

Flower Companyz - This lot have been going for twenty years! Their (possibly 2nd) Best Of... is coming out and they don't have a myspace, so I went by youtube. Fun pop-rock. Didn't bug me but didn't really grab me, middle of the road and kind of cheesy at times, but you can't really hate a band for that. Man, that makes it sound like I'm going through this trying to hate these bands, when in fact the opposite is true... sigh.

kariyushi58 - The first song of theirs I listened to was exactly the same as the last song by Flower Companyz that I listened to, which was a little surreal. Again, happy pop-rock with that faux-reggae beat that pretty much guarantees you a summer hit in Japan and goes down pretty well in the US too. We Brits don't get it because it only works on people who come from a place with real summers. Kariyushi58 are not very good. They sounds a little bit like Weezer at times.

竹内電気 - Again, no myspace (which means that this project is already three times as hard as I thought it would be) so going by youtube. Again with the upbeat pop-indie. This lot are better than the last two though, but still have that energetic good-times vibe that doesn't sit well with the sour British disposition I'm saddled with. I kid, but it's a very American sound - these bands would do well over there. Takeuchi Denki clearly don't take themselves very seriously, which is always a good thing, and I kinda liked some of the songs. But not all of them. By any means.

My Way My Love - Oh wow, My Way My Love are one of those big indie-ish bands (in this case a kind of psych-punk, noisy as hell rock band) who I've never bothered checking out because I didn't get a good vibe offa what I knew about them. Turns out they're pretty good! In a good way. I'll check them out for real sometime! Looks like they've got an album out in the UK too...

The Back Horn - The Back Horn are a big deal rock band that I caught a little of at Rising Sun two years ago. Not terrible by any means, but the kind of professional stadium rock (Japanese style) that I'm not all that interested in. Check 'em out though, by all means.

Fact - Wow these guys got it going on in American and Japan already! English language lyrics and pretty typical American emo (mid-stage emo, that is). Super-professional, very accomplished, I'm sure they'll be huge. I hate it, but I'm happy to admit it's a personal thing and yr mileage may vary. When did Myspace start doing this thirty second sample length thing? I mean, it's perfect for what I'm doing today, but it would probably bug me if I actually wanted to, y'know, listen to music.

General Head Mountain - Chart friendly indie-rock from this lot. Their hearts are firmly stiched to their sleeves, their BPMs are cranked and they sound very earnest, if not all that interesting. Not a thumbs down, would have been good for a sixteen year-old me I reckon. Now, I'm old and cynical and I think they suck, but what do I know.

soulkids - Basically it's pretty easy to come off as sounding ok when you make that slightly angsty emo-ish radio rock. But to step up from there to being a really, really good band is really, really fucking hard. That's why I dismiss most radio-friendly rock out of hand, and it's only occasionally that I spot something that really chimes with me. This lot aren't bad at all. They're not up there with the best and I'm not sold, but they're one of the bands on this list worth checking out if you like kinda popular indie-rock.

Tokyo 60 Watts
- Phew, after those last few fast, rocky bands it's a relief to find a more classy, mid-tempo indie-pop outfit. Nicely crafted songs, foot off the accelerator... that's better... ONLY JOKING! I don't like the sound of this lot much, but they do sound like they can take you on a hammond-driven rocket to a very nice dinner party. If that was where you wanted a rocket trip to. Seems like a waste of a rocket trip to me.

Good Dog Happy Men
- I still think it's quite nice that there's a Japanese group named after a Bill Frisell album, but these guys (from their one track on myspace) sound like snivelling curs, rather than good dogs. See what I did there? I exaggerated to make the joke work! But really, they do suck. My least favourite band so far.

Taro Kobayashi - Wow again, much more 'rock' than I expected from a solo artist, but Myspace's 30 second clips pretty much stop me from forming much of an impression. His first "album" has four tracks... does that mean the tracks are really long? Or is it not really an album? Doesn't sound too bad, kinda big, catchy rock music... not what I'm looking for though.

Soul Junctions - They look like very nice boys, and they seem to be playing very nice jangly pop music.

Kinoco Hotel - Oh my god. At least they're girls. The sheer indie-boy-ness of the list so far was getting to me... And they're a retro-psych-pop outfit too. And wearing marching band uniform things? Frank Zappa on their friends list? Kinda awesome. The music's not too bad either, and since they're one of the few bands stepping outside of the indie-rock spectrum so far (in order to go back to the 60s admittedly) I'm going to give them a gold star. Check-them-out-why-don't-you-do-that-very-thing.

The Cokeheads
- Oh God. What a horrible name (worth noting that there's also an ad for Cokehead Hipsters later in this very issue. What?! Japan! You don't even know what a cokehead is!). I like that it's sloppy, punkish indie without being the kind of trad-punk I was rambling about earlier. Possibly even worth checking out! And I like that they aren't limiting you to 30 second snippets (I realise now that it must be the band's choice, not myspace, sorry myspace). Adorably they still have "Tom" as their friend on myspace. Awww... Maybe they were too busy doing cocaine to change their friends list... I DON'T THINK.

Jina - Oh my God! Kula Shaker are up at the top of their friends list! Crispin Mills, you'll always have fans in Japan. Indie rock that isn't bad, but I don't feel compelled to write home about it. Perhaps you will feel differently.

DOES - Ah, back to the... 45 second clips this time. More radio friendly than the last two, in a way that I find predictably boring. I like their album cover, but their music gives me the "Mehs".

Spank Page
- Spank Page's page in JUNGLE LIFE is a picture of some phone booths and a poetic message that I kinda liked. Their music is reverby indie-rock by the book, but one of the bands that I would slap a 'not-too-bad' sticker on, were they being stocked in my farcically judgmental record shop.

Half-Life - Indie-rock, again the heart-on-sleeve always reaching for the most dramatic, emotive button they can push. They have an '80s Version' of a song on myspace that sounds not at all 80s. Anthemic might be a good word to describe them, but I've already heard them three times already under different names on this list.

wash? - Fairly spacey, but not as spacey as you would think to look at them. I was expecting noisy, psychedelic-ish music, which you get a little, but not too much, to their credit. I mean, it's not too far into navel-gazing psychedelia - it is pretty noisy. I liked the slacker chant track and SLOWDANCE and you can listen to whole tracks on their myspace which I'm starting to love them for. If you know Japanese music, a bit like HiGE maybe? Maybe? I'm not sure. Final justice = GOOD AND GETTING BETTER WITH EVERY LISTEN.

Supe - Metal! Nu-ish, but not terribly so. Still - not my bag now. The vocalist has a perfect American accent, so I'm sure they travel well.

- Emo-punk-metal thing for kids. They look about fourteen and sound pretty catchy to be honest, but... you know.

Haysay Josay
平成女性 - Another one of those bands that was irritating to track down, look 'em up with the kanji on youtube (this video is fun for the way the kick drum is so loud it makes the camera lose focus). I never know what to call this music - not primitivist, but really simple, untaught, rock by people who just decided to start a band without learning any instruments (I assume!). Sometimes I'm really in the mood for this and sometimes I'm not. I can't decide with this lot, but of course I like 'em a lot better than 90% of this list. Fun.

Andou Yumi - I'm a little thrown as to why Andou Yumi is in amongst this clutch of indie boys, she sounds very MOR... almost easy listening... Is there an anime connection? To be honest it was kind of a relief, even though it's not my thing at all. Oh wait... are we getting into the nods to pop and the mainstream now?

Okumura Kyoudai
奥村兄弟 - Oh my God it is the pop section! This is a band with two brothers who have to still be in school. The kind of thing that you can't criticize for fear of crushing children's dreams. The elementary school kid on the tea-box drum thing is pretty awesome though, and I assume they don't have a myspace because exposing kids like this to the depravity of myspace would be unthinkable.

Saru Da Concrete (
猿ダコンクリート) - Yeah, I'm not sure how to romanize that one. Is it 'Monkey The Concrete'? Saruda? Is that a word? I was hoping for something a little weirder, but like Ogre You Asshole their names promises more than they actually deliver. Complex, sophisticated indie-rock to be sure, but the kind of thing that doesn't grab me so much. Worth a look perhaps. I'd put 'em in the same box as Sakanaction, but I like Sakanaction more.

The Royal Sweetest Embalming
- Look at that name. Imagine what it takes to transpose that into Japanese phonics. Can you imagine what kind of music they make? No, it's not very subtle, but it's not as cheesy as I expected, which is something at least. Pop-rock like GLAY or L'Arc-en-Ciel but not as bad... probably. Did I mention that I shout at the TV every time L'Arc-en-Ciel come on recently? Christ, I hate them.

FLiP - I'm starting to think there's actually a reason that Japanese bands drop to lower-case for 'i's beyond a mere stylistic choice. It happens pretty often... does it mean something? A group of four girls making poppy alt-rock. Not bad, but again, not all that great. There's a touch of early Shiina Ringo in there that I like, but it's just a touch and it's the more traditional side of her rock music, rather than the magic that I love about her. So-so.

Wait... that was the last one? Obviously, there are harder things to do, like competing in the Moguls in the Winter Olympics, or wrestling a bear, but that did actually take longer than I thought. Then again, I did find an indie band I liked - wash? - and I did catch a few others - Kinoco Hotel, My Way My Love, The (shudder) Cokeheads, poooossibly Takeuchi Denki - that I'll keep an eye on.

And you read it! Didn't you?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Sapporo Cafes: Cafe Sahabi

Ugh, I thought I wasn't going to write this thing anymore! Look, the whole place is so dirty I'm going to have to clean everything up before I actually get back to blogging. Or I can just pile the lot in the sink I guess...

Well y'know, don't blog because you have to, blog because you want to. Words to that effect.

I stumbled over Cafe Sahabi randomly one time, and have dragged a few people there for the coffee, the amazing donuts and the atmosphere. Here are two of those people:

Ignore them. Pleasant though they may be to look at, the cafe is the point. It's a retro-styled cave of pop-culture ephemera with the standard manga library, several cabinets worth of characters and action figures, heaps of CDs and even an old NES you can play. It's a little tricky to find I guess. I've marked it on the map, but it's inside the building on the ground floor, not actually facing onto the street. There's a sign outside with a camel on though, it should be easy to spot and it's well worth the trip if you don't mind spending a little more for your coffee and actually enjoying the experience. It's pretty central too, just a couple of blocks off Eki-mae Dori next to Tanuki Koji

And they make fresh donuts, really fucking good fresh donuts. Donuts that make you think - mmmm, Mister Donut donuts are just donuts. These are Donuts. They're really good.

Matt got some kind of paprika based rice-bowl dish which he said was good but small (which is par for the course at this kind of place). I myself have only tried the donuts and can, as above, recommend them thoroughly. The drinks are served in "Fire-King" mugs, which I guess must be something of a big deal since it's mentioned on the menu. I'm not sure if it makes the coffee taste better, but it certainly helps you caffeinate in style:

Mmmm, retro-tastic. So, if yer in Odori and want a coffee that isn't from a chain (frankly it goes without saying that the coffee here, while not spectacular, is better than any chain I can think of... could have done with a little more though) I really recommend this place. We stumbled in there after wandering around the Snow Festival in a -10 blizzard and it was a little bit like heaven.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

It's 2010

Whoa! Where am I? What day is it? Did I miss the last season of Lost? Who's the Prime Minister?

No, don't answer that last one. No matter at which point I wake up in the year I probably won't like the answer.

So hey! It's 2010 and what have I been doing? Working! Working and watching awesome movies like:

Crank: High Voltage that is, and District 9 which was exactly as good as everyone and their dog has been telling me. I've been listening to lots of music too, and more importantly working on some 'projects'. Mmm-hmmm, projects.

One of those projects, which I've been working on for about... eh, half and hour as of now is a tumblr (aka a minimi-blog!) that I'm just gonna dump links and stuff at, and we'll see if I post there far more often than I post here! We will see. Anyway it is:

And please to look, though there ain't much there yet.

I'll come back and post the stuff I should really post at some point too, but that'll hold the baying masses for now I dare say.