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Japan Report  Preview
19 December 07 from glenn mcdonald 2
Great, I'm very glad you posted this! Excellent report, and much interesting listening. For the record, I got Spin Aqua, OLIVIA and FINE LINES as a result of this, and "Stars shining out" will probably make my 2007 best-of list!
18 December 07 from Ryan Allaer 1
Recently, I sent glenn an email with a detailed list of some Japanese music I found and enjoyed this year. He suggested I post it on vF, so here's the relevant excerpt. I hope it proves useful to anyone who's interested.  
 

Spin Aqua - Pisces (2003)  

I wish I could have enjoyed Anna Tsuchiya's solo album more, but I really just wanted it to be as exceptional as Spin Aqua's Pisces, which was clearly too lofty an expectation. I don't hate it; it just doesn't compare to Pisces, an album that consistently amasses gravity wells of epic guitar fervor and breathtaking spirit, and easily earns a place as one of my favorite rock albums ever. (Although for someone who's only a 21 year-old college student, I admit that the scope of "ever," in music-listening terms, probably isn't astonishingly vast.) But I'm sure I didn't imply nearly enough last time that this album is really worth having.  

"Unchained"  
 

OLIVIA - The Cloudy Dreamer (2007)  

Have you already heard of OLIVIA? The reason I ask is several songs of hers shared billing with Anna's work on the anime NANA, and one of your furialog entries (the one with the turtles and stars, entitled "waiting for you") seemed suspiciously reflective of this EP. If it is just a coincidence, then I hope that more coincidences eventually inspire this type of shimmering balladry and rock goddess potential. The last two songs alone almost entirely compensate for my slight disappointment with Anna.  

"Stars shining out"  
 

Salyu - TERMINAL (2007)  

A strong voice, backed by the eminently graceful pop music of Takeshi Kobayashi, forms the soul of this record. Salyu's previous incarnation as Lily-Chou Chou didn't seem to make much emotional sense to me (maybe I'll revisit her later...), but here she untwists her diaphragm and throws unnecessary vocal restraints to the wind, and suddenly I don't know how I could live without her. Sailing on big touches of love and refinement, these swelling five-minute-plus pop songs are lengthy, but always enchanting.  

"Yoru No Umi Tooi Deai Ni"
"Tobira " video  
 

avengers in sci-fi - avenger strikes back (2006), the APRILS -
SPACE DREAM BATHROOM (2005)  

avenger strikes back is quite possibly the coolest album I've ever heard, a beaming construction of modern futurescapes bristling with rhythmic energy and electronic melancholy. There's Supercar influence here, and maybe some from those "shoegaze" bands I can't seem to distinguish at the moment, and maybe some from those electronica nonbands I can't untangle either, but avengers in sci-fi have leapt over all of them into a strata of production I wasn't sure even existed. This music feels alien to me, but still intoxicating and intimate, as if the experience of it emerges through the technology-laced senses of an extraterrestrial visiting Earth for the first time, just as he/she/it discovers that, barring the blue-green tentacles and cybernetically morphing spaceships, we aren't that different after all. Maybe, then, if those off-worlders ever do land on Earth, our most appropriate response might be to queue up this album and hope that curious Stars Wars references, a minimum of lyrics and a maximum of spectacular dancing rhythms, and the palpable remorse of lives forfeited away will be enough to cross light-years of cultural divide.  

"darkside of a nation"  

If avengers in sci-fi can be deemed outer space dancing mourners, then the APRILS might be the complimentary outer space dancing exulters. I think if there's anything I can accurately claim of my art/entertainment preferences, with relative certainty, it's that I have a weakness for this kind of spirited-silliness-camouflaged-as-pop-music that excites my heart so effortlessly. "Kirameki Muun Daibaa" sings of riding a rocket-powered bathtub to the moon, probably (even if my still fledgling Japanese skills can't really interpret the lyrics), and I couldn't imagine a more evocative playground than the bubbling starry road they travel. Unfortunately, SPACE DREAM BATHROOM has recently gone out of print, but electronic data and the music it contains can't be skirted so easily, and if the APRILS continue to make music I'll remember to check back on them mainly because of these songs.  

"Kirameki Muun Daibaa"
"COSMO 80s"  
 

advantage Lucy - Echo Park (2005)  

The surrounding air expresses its undying affection for the creatures that breathe its life-giving vapors, or the threads of love emerge to signal us home when we least expect it. Jangle-pop has rarely felt so exhilarating.  

"Anderson"  
 

Shocking Lemon - Solvent Echo (2007), FINE LINES - substratosphere (2007)  

These are my two current favorite straight-ahead rock albums. Shocking Lemon weave and coalesce their sharp, ambitious guitars and uncomplicated, heavy backbeats into fluent craftwork, never leaving a lesser impression than light shattering through painted glass windows. I think there's probably an express limit on the number of times one can use words like "baby" in an album before it can be qualitatively considered lyrically stilted (even for non-English speakers), but I never hated the word, and I'm usually too busy slamming air drums and singing along to really keep track anyway. Unlike most of these albums, Solvent Echo seems to be available on iTunes (with spelling mistakes and the wrong album release year), but not on CDJapan, strangely enough.  

"Sweet Song"
"Together"  

FINE LINES are just as basic, but I'd say their rock focus is a little less abstract and a little more primary, more rough than sharp, with a few quieter shades in between. Thematically, "Spin into Love" could be the gender-switched follow-up to "Anderson," with zipping guitar distortion swapping out the hovering jangle breeziness.  

"Spin into Love"  
 

SNoW - Hatsuyuki (2007)  

Sometimes I'm a little dismayed at myself for clinging tightly to Japanese songs sung in English, as though I have to maintain a certain interval from real Japanese music. But I usually reassure myself by proposing that it's fundamentally easier, and perhaps more fulfilling, to connect our distances by moving toward one another than it is by flying all the way there alone. Trying to decipher contextual meanings in languages I'm already familiar with is problematic enough, so when I see that segments of a Japanese album are sung in English, I usually pay closer attention. SNoW corroborates with me a lot further by not assimilating too conspicuously into the realm of pop starlet whitewash, and it doesn't hurt that we're the same age and I'm easily allured by a pretty voice, but until I become more proficient in Japanese, I'll have to wish she had included the English version of "on&on" in her first album, if only for my personal comprehension. She earns a little extra for performing a Christmas song I actually care for (not two, though).  

"I'm No"
"on&on (english version)"  
 

The FLARE - Positivity (2005), Tourbillon -
A Tide of New Era (2006)  

Since they formed from ex-Luna Sea members, I wasn't too surprised when the short-lived band The FLARE sounded like Luna Sea. I was, however, legitimately pleased that the voice of the new singer, Yuna, didn't extend to the higher registers nearly as often. That was one thing I couldn't stand about the old band. The FLARE's lone self-titled album, which has now also mysteriously joined the APRILS in out-of-print status, wanders into a little bit of fairly ridiculous rap verses and odd structural dishevelment amidst its solid rock core, but I'm not one to begrudge anyone their moments of near perfection, and luckily The FLARE's is still available in single form. Positivity, self-evidently manifested as either a mental rejuvenator or a guitar constellation, is the absolute purest energy source.  

"Positivity"  

And then Tourbillon actually has the singer from Luna Sea. I'm not sure how my aesthetic senses allowed me to evade that particular fact, but I'm glad they did, because A Tide of New Era is pretty interesting, as if Luna Sea turned a corner somewhere around Oblivion Dust and Fake? territory. The soaring choruses of "saturation" and the vaulting guitars and meditative piano twinkles of "Don't Hold Your Feeling" are my two favorite moments in the set. And this is the only other album I was able to find on iTunes...  

"saturation"
"Don't Hold Your Feeling"  
 

sleepy.ab - fantasia (2007)  

If you were never quite sure where it was that forever began, and in truth you find that the practice of wondering about a sky limit or contemplating a place dreams and souls might disappear to does seem uncannily myopic, this album will feel lost right along with you, maybe in search of fields less immeasurably lonesome.  

"sonar"  
 
 

Last minute additions: I just got L'Arc~en~Ciel's and Tommy heavenly6's latest, and I'm liking them both a lot. New singles from little by little and the brilliant green are out too; hopefully they're indicative of forthcoming albums.
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