A strong first quarter, depending on where you look

There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the news about the US economy. The company for which I work actually told Wall Street it was going to dial down its expectations for the first quarter of 2008, and our stock price took a hit for it. (My options are, as usual, underwater.) It doesn’t help that this morning, I read an article stating the unemployment rate is rising faster than economists predicted.

So this first quarter is kind of sucking for American corporations.

But this site does not deal with matters of economy. It deals with matters of music, and the first quarter of 2008 has turned out to be quite fertile. I’m usually not impressed with the first quarter releases of any year, but this time, even albums I don’t absolutely adore are still really, really good.

The 2008 Q1 release schedule in Japan has been particularly notable.

ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, World World World

Unless you’re really, really into the polished melodic rock of ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, it’s tough to tell one album from another. The first album of AFKG’s I listened to was their second, Sol-fa, and I liked it well enough. But the band’s third album, Fan Club, just didn’t distinguish itself enough from Sol-fa.

That’s not the case with their fourth, World World World. AFKG really put a lot of thought in how the album was constructed, with songs segueing into each other, and the "world world world" idea popping up now and again throughout. On the surface, the songs feel familiar, the chugging guitar work and the appealing vocals of Kita Kensuke providing a sturdy foundation, but deep down, the band aims for an ambition it hadn’t yet sought till now.

avengers in sci-fi, avenger strikes back

If Boom Boom Satellites weren’t always so intensely serious, they would probably sound a lot like avengers in sci-fi. The trio’s first album, avenger strikes back, combines robotic dance beats and electronic effects with rock guitars. Guitarist/singer Taro Kohata has a nondescript voice that weaves nicely into the song’s textures, and the minimal melodies have enough hooks to give the band’s sound some real appeal. Unfortunately, most of the songs overstay their welcome. The avengers know less is more in building the inner workings of their songs, but they haven’t quite learned that more is less when it comes to length.

BUGY CRAXONE, Good morning, Punk Lovers

I haven’t yet listened to BUGY CRAXONE’s previous self-titled album, but Keikaku has. And what they say about that album seems to apply to Good morning, Punk Lovers as well. The garage rock sound unveiled with Northern Hymns still drives the band’s sound, but a bit of BUGY CRAXONE’s early alt-rock work seeps into the abbreviated riffs and compact melodies. Speaking of melody, Good morning, Punk Lovers features some of the band’s best. I don’t remember much of Sorry, I will scream here, but this album is quite reminiscent of Northern Hymns in terms of catchiness. In a word, enjoyable.

detroit7, GREAT Romantic

detroit7, Third Star from the Earth

I heard snatches of detroit7 years ago, and the overt garage rock gestures struck me as calculated, given the prominence of the White Stripes at the time. But during the band’s SXSW 2008 showcase, they proved me wrong. Like BUGY CRAXONE, detroit7 uses garage rock as a foundation but do a lot more with it. In fact, the band does an excellent job integrating dance beats with their rustic guitar work, calling to mind the Gossip’s Standing in the Way of Control. 2006’s GREAT Romantic jumps back and forth from straight-forward rock to its more danceable off-shoot. Third Star from the Earth, on the other hand, brings out more of the dance influences, while simultaneous sounding grittier.

Fuji Fabric, TEENAGER

I’m not into classic rock because, well, I don’t need to be. The Who, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath have more than enough fans, and the music that influenced my youth tended to be a reaction to that canon. That’s mostly why I couldn’t get into Fuji Fabric’s previous album, FAB FOX — it was a paean to classic rock. TEENAGER brings the band back to its more eclectic sound but doesn’t totally lose that classic rock influence. A Latin swagger underscores "Strawberry Shortcakes", while "Surfer King" mixes surf music with a slight hint of ska. "Tokyo Enjou" and "Chocolate Panic" have their moments of psychedelia, while "Kinen Shashin" and the title track set whimsical melodies to driving beats. Singer Shimura Masahiko sounds as good as ever, his easy croon adding a lightness to the band’s sometimes cluttered arrangements.

OBLIVION DUST, OBLIVION DUST

Seven years ago, OBLIVION DUST broke up at a point where their music was really starting to come together. Three-quarters of the band reunited in 2007, releasing an album in 2008. After all this time, can OBLIVION DUST recapture what it once had? Yes and no. The new self-titled album won’t erase anyone’s memories of REBORN or BUTTERFLY HEAD, but the band’s familiar Pacific Northwest rock (my code for post-grunge) surprisingly doesn’t sound outdated. Singer Ken Lloyd is as unhinged as ever, while guitarist Kaz reliably delivers the goods. The electronics that started to creep into the band’s later albums pops up on a few tracks and takes over on "Haze", but for the most part, OBLIVION DUST sound leaner and trimmer.

Quruli, Philharmonic or die

This two-disc live set features Quruli in distinct settings — in an arena and in a club. Disc one features the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, which means most of the performance focuses on the band’s most recent studio album Tanz Walzer. A number of tracks from THE WORLD IS MINE also get the orchestral treatment to great effect, especially the band’s best single "World’s End Supernova". Disc two does away with the orchestra, thus allowing Quruli to explore their earlier material. I’m much more partial to the orchestral concert, although I wish more of the band’s back catalog had been included on the set list. The club performance doesn’t show any new facets to the music the way the orchestral concert does, but the mix of material is better. If Quruli had been more judicious, this live album could have been reduced to one disc.

Yorico, Negau

After bringing out her inner-hair metal dude on second VERSE, Yorico scales way back on Negau. The opening track, "Yume no Kajitsu", starts with a music box melody, and that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Negau sports a much softer sound, not as intensely introspective as Cocoon, and the closest she gets to the boisterousness of second VERSE is "TELL ME THE TRUTH", a song driven mostly by acoustic guitar. This album doesn’t reach the extremes of her previous work, but it’s not a bad set of songs either. She still includes a few eclectic twists — the swing of "Uzu", the easy shuffle of "Darling" — and the singles, "Kokoro no Kagi" and "Hoshi ni Negai wo", are excellent. Negau is not Yorico’s best album, but she has yet to record a real dud. (Although I don’t remember Aizenaha being all that focused.)

Comments

  • ehiga says:

    I look forward to your take on newer releases, especially Japanese releases.
    I’m a huge fan of Utada, and was wondering what you thought of Heart Station. You’d mentioned it briefly before, but there’s been no mention of it since it’s release.

  • NemesisVex says:

    I’m saving HEART STATION for a more thorough review, but first, I have to clear the backlog of reviews accumulating since late January. I think I may be able to write about HEART STATION later in the month. (I’m not known for a quick turn-around time!)

  • Jim says:

    I really like this avengers in sci-fi album. After hearing them at SXSW, I was pretty convinced, but the album itself tells a cool story that seems to be presented in musical form with very few lyrics. Maybe it’s all just my imagination, but well, I like to think it was intentional. Too bad it came out in 2006 so I can’t put it on my 2008 list…