Monthly Archives: May 2007

Norah Jones songwriter produces Hatakeyama Miyuki’s next album

CD Japan had sent an e-mail a few weeks back about a new Hatakeyama Miyuki album coming in July, and at the time, I couldn’t find any information about it, not even on the singer’s web site. So I waited until something hit or Oops Music, which it has. Jesse Harris, who wrote Norah Jones’ Grammy award-winning hit "Don’t Know Why", produced the album, titled Summer Clouds, Summer Rain. The album, which hits stores July 4, also includes covers of Hank Williams, Billie Holiday, Neil Young and Marisa Monte.

I’m puzzled by Jones’ outrageous success, because her albums put me to sleep. As much as I enjoyed Hatakeyama’s cover of "Don’t Know Why" on Fragile, she too tends to get lulled by the adult contemporary/light jazz trap. The fact Harris is behind the console of this album doesn’t give me much hope it’ll be any better than Reflection. The only good tracks off that album were all stashed on the single "Ai ni Melody".

JPOPSUKI, don’t fail me now …

Naxos is one year away from the legal drinking age

Was it really 20 years ago that Naxos was launched? I was a freshman in high school when the label launched, and I remember reading the sneers in classical music publications I read around that time.

I was starting to explore classical music at the time, and impressionable as I was, I steered clear of Naxos releases, instead opting for budget line discs from the majors (which, of course, started those lines to compete with the burgeoning success of Naxos.)

Today, pretty much any classical music section of a music shop is stuffed bin to bin with Naxos releases. A few years back, I wanted to listen to Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima while I was working a shift at Waterloo Records. The store’s Penderecki section was slim, but a Naxos release of the composer’s orchestral works included the piece. The mercifully cheap price was a boon to my retail wage.

The fact Naxos embraces digital media and licenses its catalog to eMusic — free from DRM — is a strong selling point for the label, and its presence on eMusic convinced me to sign up.

So happy birthday, Naxos. In the words of the old Virginia Slim ads (or Fatboy Slim): "You’ve come a long way, baby."

P.S. The Deutsche Grammophon logo often gets spoofed on rock releases. Has anyone emulated Naxos’ no-nonsense cover template?

Ore wa Konna Mon Ja Nai: 2

I don’t know if a four-year college education is required to understand jazz, but it sure seems like it does. Just by tangential study, I could probably tell you what jazz was. But I was reared on pop, and despite a college education in classical music, I couldn’t begin to tell you what jazz is.

All that disclaimer to say, Ore wa Konna Mon Ja Nai (owkmjn, for short) feels like jazz to me.

But it’s not swing, it’s not be-bop, it’s not even Lower East Side Manhattan noise. If anything, the music of owkmjn is more closely rooted to indie rock than jazz. It’s the same kind of confounding improvisational style trafficked by LOSALIOS, just far more rhythmic and significantly more unhinged.

The band’s second album, dryly titled 2, is a difficult and challenging listen. The harmonies are brash and discordant, the rhythms complex and obtuse. Improvisation is important to the pieces, but it can take a back seat to hooks. And these hooks aren’t necessarily melodic.

Continue reading »

Explosions in the Sky: All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

The first Explosions in the Sky album I listened to was The Earth Is Not a Cold, Dead Place. I thought labelmates mono had a far stronger sound, but the more genteel aspects of the album ultimately won me over.

The second Explosions in the Sky album I listened to was How Strange Innocence. The band itself disclaimed the album as a product of youth, and I have to say a bigger studio budget did the quartet real justice. Not to say this auspicious debut was bad.

The third Explosions in the Sky album I listened to was Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever. Then I understood how powerful the band’s music can be.

Which brings me to the fourth Explosions in the Sky album, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone. It doesn’t stray too far from what has gone before, but it’s hard to dismiss there’s something different this time around.

Continue reading »

Grizzly Bear: Horn of Plenty

How can you call an album "perfect background music" without having it come across as an insult? Because honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever consciously listened to Horn of Plenty by Grizzly Bear.

The album’s transparently sparse songs hover so close to a perceptual horizon that focus would dispel the music’s hypnotic charm. Yeah, I don’t know what that last sentence says either. I can only liken it to that time between dreaming and wakefulness, when the conscious mind can’t tell it’s slipping into a deep sleep.

Extend that feeling for the entire length of Horn of Plenty, and that’s what it feels like listening to this album.

Continue reading »

Help me broadcast annoying Flash ads to you!

So I signed up for the blog reader demographics survey. I’ve never really done much research into who the readers of this site are. I was collecting some demographic data when the old Audiobins were around, and back then, the average age of the typical reader was 18 years old.

Yeah. Shocked me too.

But that was five years ago. I don’t know who’s reading now, especially after the drastic redesign of 2005. So I’m giving this blog survey thing a try. Please help me unduly influence my editorial judgment!

UPDATE: To seed the survey, I took it myself. It takes a while to get through. Just mentioning.

The Slush Pile, or too too much

The longer I wait to write reviews, the bigger the listening pile gets. And right now, the pile is pretty big. I think my Winamp playlist at home has about 2 1/2 days’ worth of stuff. I’ve tried to listen to it all, but sometimes, losses will just have to be cut.

So here are the albums that will go into the slush pile:

Continue reading »

Tokyo Jihen releases new single in July

CD Japan sent an e-mail about it, and Kevin mentioned it in a comment. is also reporting it: Tokyo Jihen releases a new single on July 11, titled "OSCA". The Bounce articles indicates the band members will be more involved with the songwriting, while Shiina devotes her time to lyrics and vocals. The music for "OSCA", in fact, was written by guitarist Ukigumo. This new method of working should make the band’s third album quite interesting. It’s been a year and a half since Tokyo Jihen released its second album, Otona (Adult).

Looking ahead: May 2007-July 2007

How much does a release schedule suck that I don’t even bother to write a column about it? The last time I looked ahead was back in January. Heck, I don’t think anything was released in April to get my attention.

I’ve seen articles criticizing the major labels’ habit of stacking all the best releases for the end of the year. With so many releases by big name artists hitting at one time, releases that deserve attention are bound to fall through the cracks. What’s that saying about too much of a good thing?

I’ll give this column the old college try, but man … do I miss ICE magazine.

Continue reading »

Tommy heavenly6: Heavy Starry heavenly

Back in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, albums were just a collection of singles. Greatest hits albums, in fact, were some of the first kinds ever made. In Japan, that model still holds true. Many Japanese pop acts tend to release three or four singles before an album, and those singles invariably end up in the final product.

Such is the case with Tommy heavenly6’s second album, Heavy Starry heavenly. If you’re a fan who bought every single since the release of Tommy’s debut, you already possess eight of the album’s 12 songs. In fact, the only coupling track not to make it on the album is "Always Somethin’ New" from the "Heavy Starry Chain" single. The album itself offers up only four new songs.

Luckily, I did not buy any of the singles, so Heavy Starry heavenly ends up sparing me from having to. (I’m not so much of a fan to be a completist.)

Continue reading »