I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten stuck into a predicable state when it comes to reviewing music, so I thought that my horizons needed some spicing up, especially in the sense that I needed to start writing again from the vantage point of a music ‘reviewer’ rather than let my writing be dictated by some arbitrary likes and dislikes. There’s a lot of Asian music out there and I wanted to give proper representation for genres that rarely get featured in a blog full of pop and rock. I’m not going to leave those main genres overall (I’m going to write about what is most accessible to me and I have some comfort in talking about) but I think it’s worth having a couple of posts where I push myself into unfamiliar musical territory while trying to escape from over-emphasizing Korean artists.
So how is iTunes Radio Roulette going to work? I’ll pick an artist I know and like and have iTunes run its radio service. The songs that randomly show up are the songs that I’m going to discuss here. The only real caveat is that I can only “review” songs from artists I haven’t encountered before! Just for context, I’ll post all the songs that came up while I was listening, even if I won’t talk about them.
Monkey Cage — Monoral
Upside Down — Boom Boom Satellites
“Upside Down” was a little too techno-rock for my tastes. I think it sounds cool to embrace distortions in music (I really like Radiohead, for example) but if it gets to the point where the net ‘vectors’ of the sound end up canceling each other out, I don’t get a lot of information out of the experience. In less science-y jargon, I want to follow a song through its natural waves than absorb it as discrete pockets of repeated noises. A controlled cacophony (yes that’s oxymoronic) is still a cacophony even if there’s enough contrast between sections of chaos to tie the song together. The only way you can allow people discern different components of music is by providing a lot of what you want your listener to hear and less of what you don’t. Excessive randomness can disrupt that process even with artistic intentions.
Session 9 — Monoral
The Sun, Love, and Myself — Pay Money to My Pain
Pay Money to My Pain is an alternative metal band, and “The Sun, Love, and Myself” is characteristic of stereotypical screamo. And honestly, I don’t have much to say beyond that. If you like the static-ladden, brain throbbing music, then I think you’ll be very happy with the group. While I have listened to more melodic forms of metal, screamo is not only something I’m unfamiliar with, I’m not a fan either. “The Sun, Love, and Myself” reminds me a lot of popular Korean bands such as No Brain, or better yet, Yellow Monsters. I know there are heavy metal groups as well, so certainly seek them out if you’re interested in non-Japanese metal.
Kings of Dawn — fade
“Kings of Dawn” is a solid song from alternative rock band fade. I know I always end up taking comfort in alternative rock, and I can’t say that attempting to “broaden my horizons” changes how much I enjoy listening to it. In some ways hearing fade comes with nostalgia, and in others it’s merely enhancing a feeling of empowerment. I often have the perception that I’m less critical of rock and the related genres because it’s pretty hard to get rock wrong, and the only time you’d care to be overly negative toward a song is when it’s exceptionally bad. There are many times that I think that pop, despite its reputation as the ‘lesser music,’ is probably genre that undergoes the most robust criticism, especially on a technical level. I guess that complexity isn’t a necessarily a precursor to a great track, though it appears that rock gets away with ‘unimaginative’ and ‘mediocre’ at a far greater rate than pop. Does this imply that “Kings of Dawn” is mediocre? Well, no, but I can’t say it does anything to be imaginative. It’s the kind of rock music you can find from ten different groups, and as the economists say, high supply only leads to low demand.
Kiri — Monoral
Rave Circus — MUCC
Where fade failed to bring life to a saturated genre, MUCC finds itself trapped as well. I admit that despite my criticisms of fade’s song, the pop influenced alternative-rock here feels cleaner and therefore I’m kinder to it. MUCC’s brand of rock has a soft spot in my heart because I listened to so much of it as a kid. Anime openings tend to be snappy, and shounen anime (which I mostly watched) usually lends itself to classic Japanese Pop-rock. MUCC, as expected, has the properties of every great Japanese pop-rock band, and Psychedelic Analysis encompasses all of them. I would recommend checking out the album if you like Japanese rock, because there are sparks of sophistication to be found there. (It’s also worth noting that “Rave Circus” is the intro song to the Psychedelic Analysis. There’s also a part II!)
The Cape of Storms — Hyde
Hyde is definitely one of real gems that came out of this experiment. “The Cape of Storms” is a very old song, over a decade old, and it’s just as beautiful now as it was 10 years ago. We always talk about songs that are “timeless,” and I find that to be a poor word to be using when the meaning behind the statement is that the song “stands the test of time.” The first implies that the environment the song exists within has been maintained across time (“The Cape of Storms” for example). The second, and more accurate statement, is that independent to changes in the musical environment of a genre, its value still holds (ABBA songs). “The Cape of Storms” is truly timeless, in that it fits within the alternative rock scene of today. The liberal use of orchestra (orchestra is never a bad thing) adds to its transient nature, while the vocals have the same kind of light strain that is only used to the extent that it serves an artistic purpose. For the most part, the vocals are clear and complementary to the orchestra. Hyde’s genius is that its music lives squarely within its genre’s framework, and yet the ratios of different elements magically fit together. Unlike most rock bands, Hyde lets the orchestra take over the roles usually given to the guitarists, and that decision really pays off during the solo violin at the end. The whole thing was just elegant. Loved it.
Inner Universe — Origa (Composed by Yoko Kanno)
I’m a huge, huge fan of gothic meets rock and electronic because it reminds me so much of my days of listening to Nightwish and Within Temptation. I actually prefer Origa’s voice to that of Sharon and Nightwish’s two lead voices because she has a cleaner tone than the other three. When Origa hits those high, iridescent registers, the clarity of her voice becomes the cornerstone element that unifies the musical contrast created between the fluid melody and the grittier band elements. While Nightwish and Within Temptation stay away from the techno overtones, “Inner Universe” makes the discordant package feel seamless. I know that I often talk about “contrasting elements that layer and unify a song” but the reason I bring it up so much is not all that different from why art teachers emphasize complementary colors in color theory. There are many ways to approach musical identity, but really only one to make a song broadly successful: one, familiarity, and two, development of contrast/systematic progression. “Inner Universe” certainly meets those criteria, even if you don’t take to electronica well. If nothing else, come for Origa. Her voice will make a fan out of you.
“Lust for Blood” — GACKT
The name alone is enough to make the band stand out in a small sea of songs and artists that I had absolutely no idea existed. GACKT is an extremely famous band in Japan, yet I don’t think I’ve ever given them the time of day they deserve. After hearing “Lust for Blood,” I should have tried listening to the group earlier, as they are quite deserving of their claims to fame. Frankly, this must be “Old is Gold” week for Music of the Week, because “Lust for Blood” is just as old as “The Cape of Storms,” and equally epic. Actually “Lust” probably has a more robust audial experience, and it’s pretty easy what made the group as popular as it is. I don’t know if I can say they are or are not exceptionally innovative because I don’t have the time frame to make those decisions, but in today’s rock world, I wouldn’t say so. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if GACKT became a living benchmark for Japanese rock in some capacity.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s sample of songs! If you’re wondering why I didn’t post the videos of most of the tracks, it’s just because I want the people who happen upon this post to have as much fun as I have had stumbling upon tracks. Do a google search and see what you get; odds are, you won’t be disappointed. I think I enjoyed these songs more by virtue of just happening upon them. It’s nice to spend some time listening to other things and thinking about what I hear in a similar manner that I do with general K-pop. When it comes to music writing, I really play by intuition and a tiny bit of research, so this experiment was useful for my self-assesment.
Anyway, enough about me, and let me know whether the Roulettes are fun or boring to read, because if they aren’t particularly interesting I’ll just go back to the regular Music of the Week style. On the other hand, if they’re fun, I’ll probably alternate weeks between regular MOTWs and these, but who knows what will strike my fancy?
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