Monthly Archives: March 2009

Listen: A Taste of Honey – Sukiyaki

A few months back, I cataloged some 7-inch singles that have been sitting in the closet, which gave me opportunity to seek these songs out on various online retailers. Many of these singles date back to 1980, when I was a wee youngster bugging my mom to get me this or that.

My music collecting habit didn’t really take off till 1984, but these early purchases were a harbinger of things to come.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a "Listen" column, so over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some of these songs with you. (All files detonate after a week, of course.)

A Taste of Honey’s "Sukiyaki" isn’t really a cover of Sakamoto Kyu’s US hit from the 1950’s. The English lyrics aren’t a translation of the original. An 8-year-old, however, wouldn’t really care about that. Back then, I just dug the mix of koto with Western instruments, something that would reinforced a number of years later when Hiroshima recorded "Hawaiian Electric".

If I were to cover the song today, I’d probably do the original Japanese version, but I couldn’t do it in an enka style.

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ZAZEN BOYS III was a polarizing album.

Some listeners admired the audacity of the band’s reckless abandon. Other listeners (myself included) found the wild improvisation lacking and unskilled.

In the end, ZAZEN BOYS III was an extreme album, and going further would have taken Mukai Shuutoku and company down some creatively treacherous paths.

Instead, Mukai stepped back. He went to long-time producer Dave Fridmann to helm the follow-up, and the band started to experiment with synthesizers and beat boxes. ZAZEN BOYS 4 is the result, and it reigns in all the ideas Mukai has been exploring up to this point into something actually cohesive.

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VOLA & THE ORIENTAL MACHINE: Halan’na-ca Darkside


Before VOLA & THE ORIENTAL MACHINE released its full-length debut album, Android ~like a house mannequin~, the band did a few live shows with POLYSICS. The one-note, Ritalin-immune influence of VOLA’s tourmates could be felt all over the album, and it didn’t do it any favors.

Some of that unfortunate residue can still be heard on VOLA’s major label debut, Halan’na-ca Darkside, but it’s been mitigated with the tunesmithing from 2005’s brilliant debut, Waiting for My Food. Despite the compact 20-minute length, Halan’na-ca Darkside is actually an incredibly ambitious release.

(I guess you can tell I can’t fucking stand POLYSICS.)

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Matt Alber: Hide Nothing

All right — let’s just get the Rufus Wainwright comparisons out of the way.

Matt Alber and Wainwright do share a certain timbral similarities in their voices — rich and crooning. Both are grounded in classical training — Alber probably moreso than Wainwright — and neither is afraid to employ it. And they’re both gay.

But the differences in the details are more striking than the similarities.

Wainwright makes no bones about his fabulousness. (Check out the minor role he plays in the movie Heights.) His music reflects that flamboyance. Alber, on the other hand, comes across as more rustic, even when his music dives deep into the ethereal.

And as convenient as comparing the two may be, it is ultimately an exercise in inaccuracy. The most important commonality they share is a distinct sound.

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Girl Talk: Feed the Animals

When I was in high school, sampling was still fairly new technology, and its use in pop music was crude even back then. You need look no further than MC Hammer — his commandeering of Rick James’ "Superfreak" conned a lot of unschooled listeners into thinking wholesale theft of a hook was creatively OK.

I didn’t buy it. I rolled my eyes at my classmates who would light up when someone would play that hook. They would answer, "You can’t touch this". I would answer, "She’s a superfreak, superfreak".

A few years later, Public Enemy and N.W.A. would break samples down further, pasting together aural collages that inched toward something with its own identity. But Hammer and Chuck D and Dr. Dre probably would have never imagined the power of software today or the mashup culture that would emerge.

DJ Greg Gilles, who also goes by the moniker Girl Talk, uses more than 300 samples on his latest album, Feed the Animals. He’s chopped up, sliced and layered the most unlikely sources to create the ultimate conundrum — new music that’s instantly familiar.

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Sam Amidon: All Is Well

One of the highlights of Nico Muhly’s Mothertongue was the simultaneously unhinged and unflappable performance of Sam Amidon. Amidon’s cool delivery of a traditional murder ballad integrated seamlessly with Muhly’s fractured score. It was enough for me to seek out Amidon’s most recent album, All Is Well, which features orchestrations by Muhly.

As much as I liked Mothertongue, I loved what Muhly did for All Is Well.

Amidon’s previous album, But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted, established a template by which traditional material could be warped and re-rendered. All Is Well takes that aesthetic to a whole new level.

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Spangle call Lilli line: ISOLATION

When news first broke that Spangle call Lilli line were recording a "Gothic classical album" of "salon music", my first reaction was, "What the hell is ‘Gothic classical music’?"

That’s my classical training getting in the way — there is no such thing as "Gothic classical". There’s Romantic, modern, Baroque, Medieval and Classical (as in 18th century), but Gothic? And "salon music" is just as meaningless, unless "salon" is supposed to be "chamber".

I had to listen to this album when it was released just to figure out what the band meant. As it turns out, "Gothic classical" is actually French impressionist music from the early 20th Century, and ISOLATION does a beautiful job weaving the hazy harmonic language of Erik Satie and Claude Debussy into the band’s usual dreamy pop.

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Do As Infinity holds an open song contest reports Do As Infinity is holding a song contest, but rather than translate the article, you can read the details of the contest for yourself at the band’s official site. Since the site is translated into both Japanese and English, I’m wondering if the band is accepting songs from outside of Japan. Of course to get around the logistical nightmare of international publishing rights, a condition of the contest is an automatic transfer of publishing rights to Avex Trax — and they get to keep the song forever!

If entrants from outside of Japan are accepted, I just may send something their way. Of course, I can’t send anything I’ve already written because I’ve already registered the rights with my own publishing company. So I’m going to have to send them something new — but nothing I’d want to keep for myself, though!

Entries will be accepted at the Do! Creative!! site from March 14 through April 13. The band plans to hold this contest twice a year.

Fuji Fabric releases new album in May

Fuji Fabric releases its next album titled CHRONICLE on May 20, reports A single produced by Kameda Seiji (Shiina Ringo, Tokyo Jihen), titled "Sugar!!", precedes the album on April 8. It’s been a year and four months since the release of the group’s previous album, TEENAGER, and the new album is expected to contain 15 songs. Details of a limited edition first pressing have yet to be determined. Bounce describes the album as a fresh start for Fuji Fabric, which now operates as a quartet. The band goes on tour in support of the album starting in June.