BLOG | Afterthoughts on newly released albums

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Hey guys, it’s Alex!

The last two weeks have been pretty crazy in terms of big releases, and luckily (almost surprisingly, to be honest) I’ve been able to review all of them prior to the release date. Thank you all for the comments and feedback on these articles, I appreciate it!

Let’s take a look at all the releases we had the pleasure to listen to these days: First, we had the long awaited Seiko Oomori album TOKYO BLACK HOLE, that ultimately elevated the singer/songwriter as icon and relevant figure of today’s J-pop scene. This album is her most consistent and various piece of work yet, and the crazy/adorable charisma of this girl flows through each of these great tracks. The chorus in SHINPIN is still stuck in my head. Definitely the most valid release of the wave of long awaited works that hit the Japanese market in the last couple of weeks, that I awarded with a score of 9.

Sadly (in a way) Seiko Oomori’s outstanding record was the only one that fully met my expectations. Maison Book Girl‘s new EP played it well despite not really bringing anything new to the table, something that the group’s new record will hopefully achieve: I gave summer continue a 7.5, as I enjoyed this short but fresh-sounding record. A few days later, BABYMETAL‘s long awaited (and highly acclaimed) album METAL RESISTANCE hit the shelves of music stores in all the world: I really didn’t feel this record as a whole, despite having some nice tracks here and there and lots of talent showcased by the three lovely girls and their band. I gave this record a 6.5, and as expectable, many fans took it as a negative vote: It always seems like that any score under 8 means the album is crap, which is obviously not true: METAL RESISTANCE is an album with several valid moments, some of them even great, but sadly the tracks that sound like plain standard metal are what take most space in this record, and as a fan of this group since their debut on the Japanese market, it’s a factor that left me disappointed. I approached this album expecting a fully BABYMETAL work, that unique blend of Metal and Idol pop that conquered the hearts of thousands of people: instead, I got an album that’s mostly filled with standard Heavy/Power/Speed/Progressive metal tracks. As a result, I barely listen to this album in its entirety anymore and just pick those four tracks that I really enjoy (for the record: YAVA!, Amore, From Dusk Till Dawn, Syncopation). On the other hand, I was glad to read constructive critics towards my point of view instead of insults from hardcore fans like I was expecting: It was nice discussing with you all, and I really appreciated it. Also took some time to exchange opinions with Maniac from Homicidols about it, a debate you can check out here.

Last but not least, another eagerly awaited release: Perfume‘s new album COSMIC EXPLORER. As a huge fan of the Techno-pop trio from Hiroshima, I had mixed feelings about this record, as it’s been shamelessly split into two between new and old tracks: I enjoyed the new compositions the most, in particular the title track and Miracle Worker, while the already-released tracks definitely deserved a better treatment and placement. All in all, it’s still an album with several valid moments that I’m still playing and enjoying, but at the same time it’s clear that this is also Perfume’s most inconsistent studio album so far, which is really a shame considering how it could have been much better if treated with more care. As in the case of METAL RESISTANCE, I think the tracks in this record as well will be much more enjoyable live.

All in all, I’m glad to say that none of these releases were bad, but instead delivered enjoyable moments. Despite the mixed results of a few records, it was interesting to analyze these important and long awaited releases, as well as discussing about it with all of you.

Thanks a lot for your support, and be sure to stay tuned on my blog for more reviews and articles on Japanese Music. See ya!

– Alex

 

Perfume – COSMIC EXPLORER | ALBUM REVIEW

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Release Date: April 6th 2016
Format: CD
Number of Editions (3): Regular Edition (CD only), Limited Edition (2CD + DVD), Limited Edition (2CDs + Blu-Ray)


A Cosmic conflict.

Right after the astonishing Dome Tour in 2013, many were starting to wonder how long Perfume would have continued their career after all these years and milestones proudly achieved. Indeed, the three girls from Hiroshima could have just easily called it quits and relax, but following their hardworking instincts and passion, they instead decided to keep going on through another stage of their story, performing in Japan twice for their “Gurun Gurun Tour” and 15 Years Anniversary celebrations and touring overseas for the third time, with a successful U.S. live debut particularly worth of mention. It’s a fact that Perfume is still hot, surely not as they were back in their GAME/Triangle momentum, but still more than relevant in the mainstream scene. But most of all, they’re still one of the best artists when it comes to deliver genuinely enjoyable Techno-pop music.

The trio’s new studio album COSMIC EXPLORER reinforces this opinion, as catchy melodies and Dance beats permeate most of the fourteen-tracks present in here, occasionally flirting with EDM influences under the crystal clear production of their historical producer/hitmaker Yasutaka Nakata. Despite the mixed feelings about the various singles composing this era (that take half the space in this record) the direction in this album is clear, standing in between the J-pop softness of JPN and the Techno/EDM euphoria of LEVEL3, comfortably taking advantage from these two approaches the group mastered over the years.

Despite adopting familiar sonorities, this record partly offers a previously unheard vibe due to a different approach applied to the classic formula that formed the musical identity of the group in the post-Tokuma era, with a noticeable focus on instrumental sections and vocals: The space-inspired vibe of the title track COSMIC EXPLORER is a prime example of this new approach, with synths reminiscing of the early Yellow Magic Orchestra works based on a standard structure that emphasizes each part clearly, showcasing an almost unusual focus on every section, offering a more mature approach for the Perfume standards, and a very enjoyable as well. A similar formula is followed by Next Stage with YOU, kicking off with a funky guitar coupled by the classic Nakata soothing bass (reminding of the pre-2010 capsule works) followed by a chorus emphasized by catchy vocals melodies, and despite diving too much into the instrumental side that can lead to boredom on the long-term, it remains a pretty nice listen, even though a better balance between sections could have made it better. Baby Face follows the same pattern but in a more balanced and thoughtful way thanks to a worth mentioning arrangement, successfully bringing cute and sweet vibes without interrupting the Dance-ish flow of the record, also exposing one of the constant elements of this album which is the use of vocal extensions.

Always present in the recent forms of the Perfume sound, EDM too finds its fair share of space in this record, and while the input from western artists is clear, almost every EDM inspired track here (excluding the hard-hitting Trance vibes of STORY) features that touch of the Nakata productions to distinguish it from the club bangers populating the western charts: The dreamy Miracle Worker is the prime example of this approach and one of the best tracks on the record, featuring fresh synths and addicting joyful melodies built around a simple verse/build up/instrumental structure: Nothing technically outstanding, but it works wonderfully, and it’ll be a sure favorite for all the lovers of recent Perfume compositions, that will probably appreciate the FLASH album-mix as well, that fixes the flaws of the original version by adding a drop and enriching it with a more consistent arrangement. It’s genuinely nice to see these tracks coming out as well done representation of EDM-influenced Perfume tracks, and along with all the other new numbers featured here, they successfully represent the personality of this album.

Or, more precisely, what this album could have been in its entirety. Indeed, if pretty much all the new tracks do the job fine, the already released seven tracks all stacked up in a row in the second half of the album sadly come into conflict with the new material. It’s no secret that the Perfume singles released in this era were of mixed quality, and except for that pop masterpiece that goes by the name of Pick me Up and the B-side TOKIMEKI LIGHTS, all the remaining tracks feel out of place, creating an annoying stylistic gap: One moment you’re listening to an album focused on instrumental sections, uplifting vibes and melodic vocals, and a few tracks later you’re into the shallowness of STAR TRAIN, Sweet Refrain and Hold your Hand. What’s even worse, this would have been a much easier issue to face if the album mixes featured here weren’t even a bigger problem, as most of them barely have any sense: While the intent is to clearly sacrifice the original vibes to give these tracks a rhythm-boost to fit the album, messy results like the Cling Cling mix and some unnecessary ones like the Sweet Refrain revisitation genuinely make wonder if all of this was really necessary. The treatment reserved to these tracks is rushed and badly organized, from the mixes, to the choice of the B-sides, and even the order they’re placed in the tracklist, as shown by a simple yet decent number like Relax in the City, that suffers from its placement after three relatively calm tracks, unavoidably losing charm in the album’s progression.

With twelve tracks released throughout four singles in almost three years, Perfume had all the necessary material to choose the right numbers and make them fit into the album’s context, and it’s a shame they chose some of the less appropriated ones and just thrown them in a completely random order in unnecessary revisitations, and sadly enough, it’s a mistake that unavoidably compromises the overall flow and cohesiveness of this record. An avoidable misstep for sure.

All in all, COSMIC EXPLORER is an album with several good tracks: The new compositions showcase a consistent and refreshing approach thanks to the focus dedicated to instrumental sections and vocal melodies, pleasantly spacing from the group’s EDM-ish side to more deeply structured numbers, while old tracks like the hit Pick me Up and TOKIMEKI LIGHTS fit the album greatly. Sadly enough, the lazy way the rest of the already released tracks have been managed prevents this album from being a totally cohesive work, staining its flow and making it less enjoyable when taken in its entirety. Nonetheless, COSMIC EXPLORER delivers various enjoyable moments that all the Perfume fans will appreciate, while newcomers may want to take a look at the trio’s previous works to get a more consistent portrait of the group.

Vote: 7.5 / 10


Tracklist

01. Navigate
02. COSMIC EXPLORER
03. Miracle Worker
04. Next Stage with YOU
05. STORY
06. FLASH (Album-mix)
07. Sweet Refrain (Album-mix)
08. Baby Face
09. TOKIMEKI LIGHTS (Album-mix)
10. STAR TRAIN (Album-mix)
11. Relax In The City
12. Pick Me Up
13. Cling Cling (Album-mix)
14. Hold Your Hand

– Alex

 

BABYMETAL’s METAL RESISTANCE | Alex Shenmue VS. Homicidols

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Most of you who follow my blog already probably read my review of BABYMETAL’s METAL RESISTANCE, a record that kinda divided the fandom for its approach. It is not a perfect album, but it is a nice one, and in the end I gave it a positive score, despite not being an high one.

I was reading some hater’s comment about my review on Reddit when Maniac, the mind behind the Homicidol blog, contacted me, interested on my take on METAL RESISTANCE, offering an exchange of opinions that I gladly accepted. Don’t take me wrong: I didn’t like this dude. How could you trust someone called “Maniac” after all. Then I realized I’m not that better since I watch Ladybaby’s videos only to stare at Rie Kaneko, so I was like, yeah let’s go.

As owner of a blog that analyzes the Alternative Idol scene (and does a great job at that) Maniac obviously reviewed BABYMETAL’s latest studio effort, giving it a positive score, and leaving a generally positive opinion to his readers. And despite being a fool, he gave good reasons and analyzed the album with interesting point of views, so I was glad I wasn’t talking to a  “AAAAH, THIS ALBUM IS PERFECT, PERIOD” kind of person, and I was glad he contacted me for this article.

We had some fun assaulting one another’s opinions. Check it out!


Let’s begin!

Maniac: Alex, thank you so much. Your grace and charm are well-known. Please know that everything I say from here on out is with the utmost respect.

Alex: I appreciate that, Maniac, and thanks for having me.

Maniac: Great. I’ll get this started.


Maniac Point: You have a not good, but bad, opinion of “Tales of the Destinies.”

You wrote, “The biggest problem with METAL RESISTANCE is its attempt at pleasing a way too broad audience, and in adopting the influences to second this illogical purpose, it creates inconsistency” and then you peed all over “Tales” for sounding too much like Dream Theater but not pulling it off.

But please allow me to retort. As you may guess from my hyperbolic reactions to various idols, ridiculous, nightmarish sounds are basically gold to me, and “Tales” sounds like a bad dream Su-metal had while recording in Australia. It’s disjointed and thematically bizarre and has too much happening sometimes and it’s absolutely beautiful when it finally comes together.

Alex: It sounds like a nightmare and that’s it to me. As a long-time Dream Theater fan, the similarities are honestly exaggerated and almost embarrassing. I’m not kidding, and I’m really sorry for that. I’ll give you my address, send me bullets in a white envelope.

Maniac: Well aren’t we a salty one? You may think that Babymetal should never change or adapt, but I personally hope they keep trying to push genre boundaries with the same neophyte’s vigor that birthed them.

Alex: That’s what I hope too. But again, a lot of METAL RESISTANCE sounds much more standard to me when compared with their older material.

Maniac: /pretends to give Alex the stink-eye

Alex: My turn.


Alex Point: Nothing in this album is better than the previous one

Alex: You wrote:This isn’t a perfect album, but it is a very good one, one the entire Babymetal team should be proud of, often better than the debut but also missing in a few spots.” I honestly think none of these tracks are better than anything that was in BABYMETAL.

Maniac: Bite your tongue.

Alex: First off: I never pretended this album to be like their debut. It’s obviously different, but I couldn’t hear anything that was better. There’s more technique, and the Kami Band truly went into Berserk mode more than once, but again, skills and speed aren’t necessarily synonyms of quality. What’s better here when compared to the first album in your opinion?

Maniac: In almost every sense, the first album is like a time capsule for an idol/band as it grew up, so I feel like I have to strip away the purely fun (“Onedari Daisakusen”) and the Classic Babymetal (“Doki Doki Morning”) from everything “good” to ID what’s more objectively great, and I come away with the no-brainers “Megitsune” (arguably still their best), “IDZ” and “Headbangya!!” I’ll also throw in both Sulos, “Akumu no Rondo” and “Akatsuki,” as personal favorites.

Alex: I can see that. Go on…

Maniac: For this album, the more I listen to it, the more impressed I am with similarly three songs: “Amore,” “Sis.Anger” and “Tales of the Destinies.” I realize that I’m in the vocal minority on “Tales” and I don’t care because its’ better to be right than be popular. But others get it, too – “Amore” is so gorgeous that it might be the literal apotheosis of idol-meets-metal, and “Sis.Anger” is not only peak BLACK BABYMETAL (seriously, read the lyrics), it’s dangerously close to going down as their single most brutal song ever.

Alex: Sis. Anger is undoubtedly their most brutal song to date, it was instant love when I first heard it. Moa and Yui pulled it off greatly. I think it can be at the same level of their previous BLACK BABYMETAL songs. Not better, I still think the old tracks are still more charismatic, but they definitely nailed it here. But again, even “Amore”, one of the most beautiful tracks in METAL RESISTANCE, pales when compared with “Akatsuki”. “Tales of the Destinies”… c’mon bro…

Maniac: You crazy? Those three songs alone beat about half of Babymetal and could be put into any stack-ranking engine with the original Big Three, but then toss in other highlights. “Road of Resistance” has no peer. “The One” might as well become their theme song. “Syncopation” alone trumps almost everything from the original.

Alex: “Syncopation” is life, so I’ll give you that.

Maniac: I’m actually convincing myself more and more: Metal Resistance is a good head taller than Babymetal. Maybe you feel differently because you don’t feel the totality of BLACK BABYMETAL’s presence on the album. So:


Maniac Point: This album is like a coming-out party for BLACK BABYMETAL.

They’re way more involved than they seem. I covered that, anyway, but look: Between the first genuine trio parts since Legend D and big contributions on several other songs, and the fact that they got “Sis.Anger,” easily one of the best songs on the album, I don’t know how BLACK BABYMETAL could have been more included.

Alex: I agree, they rocked the shit out of GJ! and Sis Anger. But otherwise, yes and no. Their vocal contribution was much more relevant before. You know, the “Dame! Dame! Dame!” of Ijime, Dame, Zettai, the “Atatatata zukkyun” of Gimme Choco!!, the genial “Hedoban-ban-ban-ban” of Headbanger: That stuff made those tracks unforgettable and super charismatic, and still fire up the crowd at live shows. It’s the missing ingredient of METAL RESISTANCE. The most relevant thing in here are their chants in KARATE, which work great. They get a lot of space in META TARO, but geez, that track is friggin horrible to me.

Maniac: I agreed with you on META TARO when I reviewed it, and I did until like yesterday. It’s too infectious. It should be inserted into children’s toys and used to indoctrinate the world.

But back to the matter at hand. With what I see as an expanded role and with the really heavy stuff falling to BLACK BABYMETAL, I think this could be heralding a change in the whole idea of what Babymetal’s about.

Alex: Have you been drinking? I can’t imagine what they’re gonna do with their vocals to be honest. I’d just love to hear them more, in a way or another. Some tracks in here barely feature them. Do you mind if I go again?

Maniac: A little bit, you person with weird opinions, but go ahead.


Alex Point: KARATE does the job right, and it’s better than many other tracks in here.

Alex: When KARATE first came out, it was immediately clear that it was a friendly, catchy track to promote the album, and it did the job right. I like Yui and Moa’s chants here, they are relevant and give a proper contribute to the track (same for YAVA!, one of my favorites), something that misses 80% of the times in this record excluding the BLACK BABYMETAL tracks. It’s less technical, less complicated, definitely more “simple”, but it does the job very well and it’s the best track in here when it comes to balance of their voices. It’s nothing outstanding, but clearly one of the few tracks here that screams “BABYMETAL”

Maniac: Is it too late to find another debate partner? I’ll give you that “KARATE” is better than … “Awadama Fever” and “Dusk.” The song honestly bores me. I didn’t care for it when the first fancams popped up after Yokohama, I didn’t like hearing it as the lead single, and while I can concede that the video is boss and the total package in that regard is okay, it’s just so—you say “simple”—I say “safe.” “What’s the most rock radio-friendly song we can get away with?” is basically the formula.

Also, now I know why you have such a bad read on BLACK BABYMETAL; insofar as those two devil children can ever be less than great, “KARATE” is by far my least favorite contribution of theirs pretty much ever. #hottake!

Now I have a good one for you.


Maniac Point: What you dislike about “From Dusk Till Dawn” is one of its few selling points.

I know that I promised in multiple places to treat Metal Resistance as anything other than a Babymetal album, with all of what that entails, but it’s perfectly natural to expect a metal band to have metal in their songs. That being said, if not for those little proto-breakdowns, those little flashes of sonic heaviness, the song wouldn’t have any kind of place on the album. It’s already more at home on a Massive Attack record and—

Alex: I’m not familiar with Massive Attack.

Maniac: How are we talking again? Damn, son. Go look up “Teardrop” and get back to me.

Alex: Maybe later. No, I love this track so much. It seriously gave me the chills when I first heard it. The break could have been fine if it wasn’t for the friggin dubstep. It was so out of place and forced. It was fine in Uki Uki Midnight, but not here. They think it’s trending stuff, but even Skrillex barely makes that stuff anymore.

Maniac: Then we actually have something in common here, I think. Because while, yeah, things are going to happen in the booth, but to digitally alter Su-metal’s voice just for the sake of doing so is a crime against humanity.

Alex: I kinda agree, but it works great with this track. It’s not “that” altered, it’s just adapted to the vibe of the track. Live is gonna be crazy. [Ed. Note: They didn’t play it at Wembley! Probably because it is butt.] [Alex Note: They didn’t play “Tales of the Destinies” either, trollolol]

I think we’re getting to a key point here, and it’s this:


Alex Point: This album really changes according to your perspective

Alex: Despite my review having analyzed several negative aspects, I had no problem in highlighting the good ones, and after all I ended up giving it a positive score, despite not being a high one. Do I think it’s a bad record? Nope. It’s actually a nice one. But I’ve also noticed many different takes on it, with fans loving the fact “they don’t care about genres and try many different things at once” when I just see it as “Ok, there’s a Dragonforce track, a semi-Dream Theater track, a shallow power ballad, and a parody of a Viking march” and so on. From my point of view, it’s sometimes annoyingly sycophantic, like how they are always walking around taking pictures with famous metal people.

Maniac: Wait. You dislike that?

Alex: Not at all, It’s cool until a certain point, but their management brought it too far in my opinion. It’s less “meet your heroes” and more “see, haters, Slayer likes us!” Stop playing to the masses and just play. Of course I’m referring to their management, not the girls.

By the way. BABYMETAL has changed during the last few years, and it’s a natural consequence of the huge global exposure they got and are still getting, which is great. But with the group, the perspective and expectations changed as well, and everyone’s got their own. I personally was expecting an evolution of their sound and identity, something that I found only in “Syncopation” and other two or three tracks. The rest was just standard metal I could hear anywhere else.

Maniac: You know that old saying about giving someone enough rope to hang themselves?

Alex: That’s terrible. So agree to disagree, then?

Maniac: Only if we can agree that “Awadama Fever” is butt.

Alex: I have mixed feelings about it. Everyone keeps telling me it’s way better live. A lot of fans seem to dislike it. It has issues, I think it could have been much better to be honest, but it’s a catchy track overall.

Maniac: Somebody get this man medication.

Alex: If you really feel that strongly, why not say what you did like? What’s your top five?

Maniac: In no particular order, “Amore,” “Syncopation,” “Sis.Anger,” “Tales of the Destinies” and “The One.”

Alex: Not bad. You know I’ll take “From Dusk Till Dawn” all day, and I agree on “Syncopation” and “Amore.” But my BLACK BABYMETAL song is actually “GJ!”, and I’ll take “YAVA!” too, great example of the BABYMETAL sound.

Maniac: Well, at least your opinion there isn’t completely bad.

Alex: If I’ll ever get to write for Metal Hammer, I swear my opinions will be much more positive.

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In conclusion…

Maniac: So what did you think? Yes, Alex is very wrong in his view of Metal Resistance, but that’s okay! We played this little game together specifically because one of us (Maniac) had one set of (good) ideas and one of us (Alex) had (bad) ideas that conflicted with them. Yeah, it’s always me!

Alex: Jokes aside, what are your ideas? Did we give you something to think about? Comment below here, or head on over to Homicidol Maniac’s site and leave your comment there.

Maniac: But the best thing will be how we’ll all get a sense for how a collection of really unique music can be viewed, and we’ll probably all be able to appreciate it more.

Well, except for Alex.

Alex: STAHP IT!