Monthly Archives: December 2009


LEO Imai’s major label debut in 2008, FIX NEON, held a lot of promise. Capturing the feel of New Wave without ripping it off wholesale, the album demonstrated Imai’s keen ability to synthesize the essence, not the sound, of a style.

He just sang too many "Oh oh oh"s while doing so.

He’s mitigated the wordless vocalizing on his second major label album, LASER RAIN, while also performing a major upgrade to the music. The music goes deeper into the dance roots of his refracted ’80s sound, dipping into some of the ’70s better moments, while maintaining a foothold in rock.

The opening single, "Synchronize", gets excessive with the Autotune, but with the spare disco bass and the space age effects, he’s more Sam Sparro than Duran Duran.

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Japan Nite 2010 line-up announced for SXSW

It’s odd I would actually break this news on Keikaku’s message boards before I would post it here. The reaction is pretty much the same as mine.

The line-up for Japan Nite 2010 has been announced, and it looks like it’s been downsized to one night, from the traditional two. Guess everyone is hurting in this economy.

The headlining act is Chatmonchy, a band of whom I’m not entirely curious. The remaining bands on the line-up represent a cross-section of Japanese rock styles, including one visual act. It’s actually pretty familiar stuff — a garage act, a girl-punk act, a crazy creative act, a best-selling act. It’s actually a bit too familiar.

LEO Imai and MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS aren’t interested?

Slightly tangentially related, but last year’s SXSW favorite, FLiP, is now signed to Sony Music Entertainment and will release its debut single, "Dear Girls", on Feb. 3

Fuji Fabric singer dies on Christmas Eve

I saw this report on Christmas Day, but I’m only getting around to posting it here.

Fuji Fabric lead singer Shimura Masahiko died from yet-unknown illness on Christmas Eve, reports. He was 29 years old. Shimura was the last remaining original member of the band, and he was responsible for all the songwriting. An announcement on the band’s web site states Fuji Fabric’s remaining members will announce later if they will continue. The band’s upcoming performances at RADIO CRAZY and COUNT DOWN JAPAN 09/10 have been canceled.

I’ve been meaning to get Fuji Fabric’s previous album, TEENAGER, and I forgot to pick it up while I was in Japan. Haven’t yet heard CHRONICLE. I’m not the biggest Fuji Fabric fan in the world, but I did like Shimura’s voice. It reminded me of a less-polished, more-charming Kishida Shigeru. He’ll be missed.

Tomosaka Rie: Toridori.

One of the best singles Shiina Ringo ever recorded was not recorded by Shiina Ringo.

"Shoujo Robot" was the last single Tomosaka Rie would release before concentrating her attention on acting, leaving her abbreviated music career behind. Despite Tomosaka’s starring role, the three-track release was pure Shiina — part mechanical, part noir, all sophistication and all rock.

Compared to the pop confections of Tomosaka’s preceding albums, "Shoujo Robot" was the protein anomaly, a substantive ear meal.

That was in 2000, when Shiina was still a fairly new but rising commodity and Tomosaka was a burgeoning actress. Nine years have passed, and Shiina has become rock royalty. Back then, Tomosaka was boosting Shiina’s career. This time, it’s the other way around.

For Toridori., Tomosaka’s first album in almost a decade, she’s hooked up with Shiina and her Tokyo Jihen crew, plus members of Clammbon and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. The difference from her early work is stark.

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Utada Hikaru: This Is the One

Utada Hikaru’s 2004 English-language debut, Exodus, came at a transitional time for the singer creatively.

The reliable template she forged in Japan over the course of three albums showed signs of wear, and what works at home risks getting lost in translation abroad. (Although for the multi-national Utada, where is home? And where is abroad?)

So she underwent a drastic sonic makeover, creating a heavy-handed work that bent too far backward to distance itself from what had gone before. Beneath all the sonic sizzle of Exodus was a songwriter reaching the end point of a style.

It would mean the beginning of another.

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Daniel J. Levitin: This Is Your Brain on Music

I wanted to like this book — really I did.

This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin attempts to unlock the neuroscience behind music. What does the brain do to illicit such human attachment to music?

Levitin faces a difficult task with this book — how to explain the science in lay man’s terms while connecting it to our experiences with music. There’s no doubt Levitin, a former record producer turned doctorate, knows his material.

He explains how one of the pathways sound takes to our brain leads to the portion that controls motion and emotion. Music’s ability to move a person — literally — is rooted in the survival instinct to use sound as a warning.

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Official Book Club Selection

You may have noticed is branching out into book reviews with a new category, Book Club.

While I was staying in Honolulu before and after my trip to Japan, I started reading for recreation again. Recreational reading was pretty much been squeezed out by music-making and Internet-surfing in the last decade, and I don’t have a good reading chair.

If I get too absorbed in a book, I’ll contort myself on the futon uncomfortably, then realize I strained something when I reach a stopping point. If a book bores me, I end up messing up my sleep schedule because I dozed off. Those are my hazards of reading while prone.

This time, I’m reading non-fiction. Most of the non-fiction books on my shelves are references, guides or textbooks. No narrative non-fiction. So I used all the flights on my trip to read such books as Freakonomics and Blink. I also passed some time re-reading Alex Ross’ The Rest Is Noise.

I’m staying away from fiction for the time being because whenever I read fiction, I feel the compulsion to chip away at my own. Non-fiction gives me the luxury of distraction without distracting me to work. That’s really a weird circular reason there.

Steve Knopper: Appetite for Self-Destruction

In the hey day of the CD boom, chain store Tower Records was big enough to publish its own magazine, titled Pulse! (The exclamation point was part of the name.) At one point, Pulse! offered supplemental publications for classical music and video.

Pulse! magazine, dismissed as a shopping guide masquerading as a glossy, did report on the industry itself. It was a poor man’s Billboard, since it was offered for free where a single copy of the industry trade cost $7. Nothing beat free, especially for a broke teenager.

The period of time covered by Steve Knopper’s book Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Music Industry in the Digital Age unfolded in the pages of Pulse! as I became a budding listener.

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One day of the trip was set aside for my brother and me to do our own things. He opted to explore a region outside Kyoto. I wanted to shoot a music video.

I brought a tripod, and I walked around the Higashi Honganji temple, taking random shots of the courtyard and the trees, which were yellowing in the autumn weather. I also spent a few hours lip-syncing to my cover of "Hallelujah", till the hotel staff had to clean the room.

I took a few more exterior shots, then went back to the inn, only to find the room still being made up. So I spent some time in the inn’s salon, where they had a modern version of a player piano. I tried to get through the only three pieces I knew, and the staff members who were eating their lunch at the time asked me if I was a professional musician. Just a hobby, I answered.

I was wearing a suit for the video shoot, and when I saw the staff was done with the room, I decided to head out to lunch in the suit.

When in Kyoto …

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Having grown up in Honolulu, I ought to know a tourist trap when I see one. The French Quarter in New Orleans is designed to be a tourist ghetto. Times Square in New York City used to be just tacky, but now it’s a fucking amusement park. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but I’m already judgmental of it.

It wasn’t until I realized I hadn’t set aside a budget for admission prices that I concluded Kyoto is a tourist trap — a very beautiful and appealing tourist trap, the kind of tourist trap you from which you would happily part with your money.

Kyoto’s main industry, according to teh Wikipediaz, is electronics, but with so many national treasures in one city, tourism is not far behind. Kyoto was once considered a target for the atomic bomb. The world owes a debt of gratitude to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson for stopping that from happening.

My brother prefers Kyoto over other cities, and most of his stays in Japan use Kyoto as his base.

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