I might switch permanently to Wordpress - Tumblr’s limitations are starting to annoy me.

https://j1muzak.wordpress.com as an experiment.

Timely once again! I’ve been on a bit of a roll these days in terms of regular posting so this quarter’s list will look familiar enough…

1.Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm. Benjamin Francis Leftwich - I think I’ve really missed hearing this sort of tuneful acoustic-folk ever since people like David Gray and Damien Rice turned a bit crap. Leftwich may have the most ridiculously pompous and posh name ever but his music is nothing like that, understated in its beauty and simplicity.

2.Lead Balloon. Rosi Golan - There’s nothing subtle about the way Golan piles on those sugarcoated lyrics and melodies but boy, is that voice of hers ever so persuasive.

3.DocumentaLy. Sakanaction - Yes, I’m still incredibly excited about this album.

4.Velociraptor!. Kasabian - Sleek, smooth, sexy, smokin’. Chewing on monkey brains, baby!

5.STRAIGHTENER. STRAIGHTENER -This is STRAIGHTENER back to their kickass best.

6.Vol.2: Friendship Motel. Goonam and Yeo Riding Stellar - Korean indie music that sounds nothing like Korean indie music. As far removed from the traditional sappiness of Kpop as you could possibly hope for, packed with raw charm and tons of quirk.

7.This One’s Different. Howler - Album title’s a misnomer since there is really nothing original about the music Howler make, which blatantly cops the best bits of labelmates The Strokes’s back catalogue. Doesn’t stop it being an incredibly thrilling ride though. Full album please!

8.Schrodinger no Futari. GOOD ON THE REEL - Proof that the generic rock formula can still succeed if a balance between artistry and a desire to please is found.

9.humble music. Gontiti - A bit like a bowl of warm potato gruel on a bitterly cold winter’s day - humble but satisfying fare.

10.Love Delight. Davichi - Pulls no fancy tricks, just good ‘ol fashioned love songs straight from the heart. And that, is enough to get at the heart of a romantic such as I…

If there’s one album that I’ve been sorely disappointed by, it’s Lady Antebellum’s Own The Night - it’s a definite regression from Need You Now and highlights a severe lack of ideas.

Also, I’d like to give an honorary mention to Gillian Welch’s excellent The Harrow and The Harvest, which should have made the 2Q list but didn’t cos it was released on 28th June & I didn’t get a chance to listen to it ‘til much later.

Ooh, I’m right on time for the 2Q edition.

1.Paper Airplane. Alison Krauss & Union Station - A welcome return to bluegrass territory for Krauss after her work with Robert Plant.

2.Daihakken. Tokyo Jihen - Every new Ringo album is an event by itself, and this is a major one.

3.the shimmer. toddle - Tabuchi’s got her fingers in so many pies these days yet always comes up with top-drawer stuff like this. Licking my fingers in anticipation of LAMA!

4.Suck It and See. Arctic Monkeys - Better than I could ever have hoped for - the boys are back on song.

5.Shiroana. Chirinuruwowaka - What is it with long gestational periods for new material? Yuu (from GO!GO!7188) took 6 years to come up with this gem of a kayokyoku/punk album.

6.phatmans after school. phatmans after school - Of all the bands made in a similar melodic-rock mould (Galileo Galilei, DIRTY OLD MEN, LOVEx3), this Hokkaido quartet have made the biggest impression. That despite only being formed last year.

7.Helplessness Blues. Fleet Foxes - Another amazing mish-mash of gospel, folk, choral music and God knows whatever weird influence they’ve picked up on their pilgrimages. 

8.ONE. Ochi Masahiro - In an endlessly muddy stream of dull male singer-songwriters, Ochi gets his head above water with a well-crafted collection of mid-tempo acoustic ballads. Now watch as he morphs into yet another soulless Hata Motohiro sound-a-like!

9.You & I. The Pierces - They’ve dropped the quirky folk in a totally obvious bid for mainstream acceptance, but that’s not a bad thing when you can harvest perfect pop gems in You’ll Be Mine and Love You More.

10.GIRLS’ GENERATION. Shojo Jidai - I was expecting disposable fluff but instead, the album is packed with tunes catchier than a bad bout of summer flu. This KARA fan bows down to SNSD’s songwriters.

Music fans are really spoilt for choice this week - the first day of this week’s top 10 Oricon singles chart consisted entirely of new releases, which meant I spent longer than usual trekking around CD shops trying to determine what was worth a purchase, what was good enough for a rental and what was better left at the listening posts. Skipping the boyband stuff (sorry Kanjani8 & J-Soul Brothers, I just can’t tolerate you), how much salt are the new top 20 new entries worth?

Buy it
Koi no Super Ball/Home. aiko - Doesn’t help to have been poisoned by repeatedly hearing the main A-side on the Calpis Water ads featuring Nagasawa Masami & Kawashima Umika.

Sora ga Natteiru/Onna no ko wa dare demo. Tokyo Jihen - After an eternal delay thanks to Hata Toshiki’s drunken asshat antics, this single finally makes it to the shelves! And what a stonkin’ rocker of a song Sora ga Natteiru truly is. The jazz stylings of Onna no ko wa dare demo are no slouch either.

C’mon, Let’s Go. KREVA - One of the few Japanese rappers that really knows a good hook when he stumbles upon one.

Rent it
Kikkake wa YOU!. Kikkawa You - This would easily be in the ‘buy it’ section if Universal didn’t go & release three versions of the single with a different c/w track on each to confuse me. But my my, how much our little HP!Egg has grown up! While not quite managing to shed her cutesy image, the variety across the four bubbly pop tracks on the single hints at a bright future ahead for Kikkawa.

Smile. BUMP OF CHICKEN - 1000yen for one song? Smile is decent, but not worth a purchase for that amount of money.

RPG. school food punishment - The A-side is not one of their finest moments, but you should at least sit through this for the very fine c/w tracks.

Listening posts
Kakkowarui I love you!. French Kiss - Honestly, listening to this only conjures up mental images of Bossun, Onihime & Switch’s faces. It’s not pretty, and neither is the song.

Scarlet Ballet. May’n - Nope, I still abhor her duck-like warbling. It probably doesn’t help that both songs here are fairly uninspiring.

Camellia no Hitomi. Nakano Aiko - Oh dear. The last song I remember hearing from her already appalled me enough, this is even worse.

CORE PRIDE. UVERworld - I’m just not a fan of their style, it just reeks of too much cheese.

Orion o Nazoru. UNISON SQUARE GARDEN - They seem to be gaining a bit of attention lately, but I just don’t hear anything special here. There’s a few dozen other cookie-cutter young Shimokita rock bands out there that sound exactly the same…

Have a Good Day!. noanowa - It’s not that I’m biased, but this is a textbook example of how mainstream success makes bands compromise on quality. This song is so shit I am just at an utter loss for…anything positive to say.

It was really hot yesterday (for Tokyo standards). Close to 30°C? We actually had to turn on the air-conditioning in the room, which is rare with the current craze for 節電. 

That may or may not be related to the fact that I was feeling rather annoyed by 2pm, having trekked up the very steep hill to Animate in hopes of getting my hands on Sphere’s new single Hazy only to be told by the staff that ‘yes, we’ve got the shipment but we don’t know when we’ll be putting it on the shelves’.

If it was some other artist I’d probably just shrug my shoulders and come back another day, but I was desperate to get my hands on my shiny CD and tokuten bromide so I ended up walking to the other end of Shibuya to see if TSUTAYA or Tower had gotten the single on the shelves yet. 

TSUTAYA didn’t. It’s a huge week for new releases, large posters of BIG BANG, French Kiss & aiko adorning the shop’s walls but Sphere nowhere to be found. I was ready to give up at that point but thought I might as well drag myself to Tower to complete my misery. Wandering around random floors seemed to confirm that I was destined to go home empty-handed…but lo and behold:

…it was tucked away on the anime CD floor though. I guess it’s still a bit of a problem to look for otaku-oriented releases in places people don’t normally look for them, but this inconvenience is still not enough to make me want to drag myself to Otome Road or Akiba.

I’ve been doing something very silly since I came to Tokyo. Whenever I get into a conversation with any Japanese person about music, I’ll ask them if they like AKB48. Even if it’s totally out of context or if the topic (as the idiom goes) succeeds in making 話の腰を折る.

To put it simply, I’m interested in the circles that AKB48 fans move in and curious to see how normal (whatever that means) Japanese people think of them. So far, I’ve not succeeded in meeting a single person in my daily interactions with my classmates, fellow churchgoers or similar Japanese music-mad acquaintances who likes or can name a single member of the group. Amusingly, most of them furrow their eyebrows as if the very mention of the word ‘AKB48’ will kill them but then light up at the mention of Kpop groups - SNSD are pretty popular both with young women (style icons) and guys (nice legs, hrhrhr).

I guess I’m just looking in the wrong places - idol and anime otaku probably only exist in Akihabara or in their homes and on the Internet. Honestly, I’m only curious about the Japanese perspective on AKB48 and I hope I’m not causing embarrassment to closet otaku by bringing up the subject of ‘idol’ worship, haha.

The quest continues…

…incidentally, I haven’t been to Akihabara yet. Eventually I will, if only to pick up the Music Ray’n Hitorigoto CDs from Gamers.

I was just watching the latest episode of HEY!HEY!HEY! with its special feature on Okinawan music and was surprised to learn about a bunch of artists I wasn’t aware hailed from Okinawa: GACKT, DA PUMP, Max, Kiroro etc, and those I did know about: Cocco, Amuro Namie, BEGIN, THE BOOM, Orange Range, Aragaki Yui, HY, Hajime Chitose.

Okinawan folk music has a long and proud history, but just looking at that list of names above - they’re definitely no slouches in producing musical talents in other genres and fields either.

Press and the internet music aficionados (like, Twitterers and bloggers) have been making a big deal about the current girlpop craze, what with the seemingly unstoppable AKB48 bullet train killing everyone else in the charts. I’ve never been a fan of smiley prancing, cute-as-a-button tuneless girl idols, so the kind of chipmunk music they make tends to fly over my head unnoticed…most of the time.

Everyone (appears to) likes it though… Maybe it’s time for me to give them a go again? Things might have changed over the last 10 years, who knows?

So, picking out a pile of idol-ish music out to listen at random. I know next to nothing ‘bout most of them…

Mirai Bowl. Momoiro Clover - Oh shi….. Right, I probably chose the wrong single to kick off this listening spree. I’ve never listened to Momoiro Clover in my life, and this Mirai Bowl song is doing a good job of making sure I never do again. It’s got rap. It’s got disco. It’s sickeningly cutesy. It’s a complete mess. I’ve got a colossal headache at this point…On to the c/w tracks then - Chai Maxx is equally dreadful, devoid of redeeming qualities. Next!! Zenryoku Shoujo…hey I like this one. It’s got a nice little traditional feel to it, there’s a melody in there I can actually hum. Yeah that gets my stamp of approval.

Banzai VENUS. SKE48 - Again, I’m one of those people who wouldn’t know an AKB48 song even if it slammed me in the head with a sledgehammer. Oh wait, I know Beginner…only because of that fantastic ‘banned’ PV. OK let’s see what the Nagoya equivalent has to offer….well, a song with Banzai in the title has to be endlessly summery and shimmery, hasn’t it. This just isn’t my cup of tea though - it’s really generic. Ai no Kazu is much, much better - very catchy, very sing-a-long. Still generic, but at least it sounds fun. Me likey! Next c/w track is like a bad ’90s pop tune that KinKi Kids would be ashamed to sing these days…not good. 

SHINING☆STAR. 9nine - LesPros’s newly revamped attempt at making a dent in the idol market huh…Cross Over was pretty good, I’ll give you. SHINING☆STAR on the other hand, is not. This is like terrible animu song #24306958. Yuck. Moving on… Konwaku Confuse is…club music. Wow. It’s honestly crazy good - very rare to hear proper dance tunes coming from these sorta girl groups. Catchy, great beat, fantastic arrangement, definitely something that’d get me up and on the dancefloor - I’d totally love a remix of this. Right, managed to tear myself away from looping Konwaku to move on to Cute. Oh hey, it’s not ‘cute’ at all - in fact, it’s rather edgy pop-rock that sounds like something YUI might do…it’s good. I do like that 9nine are not really aiming for the cute, or to appeal to lolicons. Yeah, I might grow to be a fan of the music rather than just fapping over Umika.

Why. 4minute - Kpop import. It’s clear I’m going to like this so I’ll just keep it short - HELL YEAH. Hyuna’s solo song ain’t too shabby either.

Heroine ni Narouka!. Berryz Kobou - …the song is barely passable, the vocals are les terribles. Someone needs to send them back for vocal training pronto! Hero Arawaru is slightly better in that they’re all singing together. Slightly better than awful is no consolation though.

Yarakai Heart. Idoling!!! - I had to google them up to see who or what they were…so it turns out they’re picked from various agencies and not just one (like MomoKuro or 9nine). Perhaps surprisingly, I rather enjoyed Yarakai Heart - it’s catchy as always, but the harmonies are quite good and the hooks relentless. Good stuff. First c/w track Queen Bee sounds so Korean…oh right, it is written by Koreans. It’s not bad. For the other c/w tracks, Konayuki…is a decent 90s styled girlpop ballad, the kind I can live with - while the Wo-o-oah refrain on Ichikoi is pretty fun. STOP THE PRESS, I THINK I MIGHT REALLY LIKE IDOLING!!! Hrrrm. I guess this demands more digging back in time…will report back later to see if it was just a one-off thing.

Answer. no3b - Treading back into AKB48 zone…and I don’t like it. There’s nothing about either Answer nor Monozuki 1-gou that captures the imagination. Very, very dull.

Sakura Ki ni Narou. AKB48 - And now for the mother of them all! I’m expecting great things..here…ZZzzzZZZzzz. OK, this is as boring as I feared it would be. Yeah, I totally don’t get the love for them. Some of the girls are cute, no doubt…but the music is blander than a soggy Pop Tart cardboard box. Well, that’s not the point of idol groups. Honestly, people like Akimoto Sayaka and Kashiwagi Yuki (sorry, throwing up the only 2 AKB members’ names I recall off-hand) are best seen and not heard.

I couldn’t find Tomapai or bump.y’s new singles, unfortunately.

So if I had to rank the stuff I listened to this time out, it’d be:

1.Idoling!!!
2.4minute
3.9nine
4.SKE48
5.Momoiro Clover
6.no3b
7.AKB48
8.Berryz Kobou (Strewth, I left them off before I edited the post. They’re that unmemorable!)

Conclusion - I prefer sexy over cute. I like grown-up women music (hi Namie). Smiley idols just don’t have a defined or developed-enough sound for me, they remind me of my friends’ little sisters that I want to smack into oblivion - how could they ever compare to the joys of Kpop plasticity, hip-swiveling & long, luscious legs? Must admit I’m a teeny bit intrigued about Idoling!!! though. Now…time for some Youtubing.

I let everything pile up again…

Thankfully I have mostly good things to say this time. Guess I’m less inclined to try things I just know I’ll hate (sorry, boybands and emo rockers).

Top of the Pops
Matome I & II. aiko - You really can’t go wrong with hits collections, can you? What’s more surprising is that it’s taken aiko so long to put one out - 15 years, 27 singles, 9 studio albums, to be exact. Me, tire of her honey-sweet ballads? Probably never.

Tin Pan Alley. Kegawa no Maries - This is the first time I’ve been taken by the group’s brand of gritty retro-rock - past albums were a little too rough for my taste, but they get the balance between raw and polished just right here.

Mother Goose. sleepy.ab - Their last album didn’t leave me too good an impression, neither did the two singles preceding this. Worries for naught though, starting from Machi through to the end, the quality rarely let up. You ain’t gonna find too many bands titling their songs Maggot Brain either..

folklore. Sekaiichi - Missing Oasis? Of all the places to look for a replacement…try Japan. I’m not sure what’s gotten into Sekaiichi all of a sudden, they’ve never sounded so much like Western bands before - Step On has got Noel Gallagher stamped all over it, and there’s that crazy good cover of the boys’ own Married With Children to boot. Rest of the album is equally surprising, from that throwback to The LA’s on Kids Are Alright, American punk on the title track, jazz-funk on Daylight.

Kioku no Mori no Ghibli. Takenaka Eri - One of the more underrated singer-songwriters around, Takenaka made an oddly brave choice to record an entire album of covers of Ghibli movie themes. Most songs are kept simple with just Eri and her guitar plus minimum accompaniment, and the approach works better than you think it would. Heck, there’s a banjo on Rouge no Dengon! Pick of the tracks would be Mononoke Hime, I’ve always had a soft spot for that particular song and movie…

AZyoU. AZU - Skipped the last album so I’m pretty out-of-date with regards to AZU’s fortunes at the moment, but on this evidence I should probably go back and check out Two Of Us. Very nice, and I rarely think that of r’n’b records.

Sasurai Ki. Humbert Humbert - Everyone and their monkey’s already proclaimed this one of the best albums of 2010, too bad I was rather late to the party.

Baka no Uta. Hoshino Gen - Hoshino’s a man of many talents, fronting SAKEROCK as well as being a fairly successful actor and scriptwriter. Unsurprisingly, he excels here too, with a wonderfully warm, laidback album that transcends genres with ease. C’mon, country?

picnic album 2. Kotringo - Another round of covers. You would think her quirky style would be hopeless on material such as Radiohead’s Let Down or The Jackson Five’s I Want You Back, but it…works, somehow. This lady is really bewitching to watch live, I must make it a point to catch one of her shows again in the future.

Parade. Galileo Galilei - Been sort of wavering between love and hate for them in the past, but this album’s totally changed my mind. Excellent pop-rock record that makes up for the garbage put out by some of their peers (hello, Hotaru Biyori) lately.

Watashi no Uta. Makichang - She’s sacrificed the experimentation on her first record for a more developed, polished gospel-based sound. Great move.

carapace. Ishibashi Eiko - PANICSMILE’s drummer for almost 20 years now, Ishibashi’s third solo CD is a bit of a revelation for me. Mostly piano-based, ambient pop…a bit like Kotringo actually.

Very Special. CHARA - I mistakenly thought this to be a new album (that only comes out end of March) when it was actually a hits package. CHARA’s the voice behind my most favourite Jpop song of all time (YEN TOWN BAND’s Swallowtail Butterfly) so it’s no surprise that I think so fondly of all the tunes here - they have a ‘very special’ place in my heart indeed.

So-so
Toumei. Furuuchi Touko - Smooth blues ballads don’t pop up on my listening radar too often, but there was enough on Toumei to keep me entertained for about 20 minutes. A little too smooth maybe.

Ano..Yume Motemasu kedo.. Yusuke - He’s carved a nice little niche out for himself in the pop market all things considered. Yusuke’s pretty limited vocally (hey, he’s a rapper…sort of), but a bunch of smart collabs with HEARTBEAT & the lovely JAY’ED make this album worth a couple of spins.

MUSICMAN. Kuwata Keisuke - Still the same-old mix of ’70s-styled ballads and unsexy rock tunes I see. If the album consisted just of the former, this would be a home run…but I have never understood the appeal of Kuwata or SAS’s old-man rock tunes. Oh well, even if he did a polka-metal hybrid CD it’d still sell by the bucketload…

GUIDANCE. Dirty Old Men - First full-length album falls short of greatness by being packed with too much boring filler. There’s nothing on here that matches the excellence of the somewhere EP, unfortunately.

BUOYANCY. Kirinji - They sure weren’t joking when they titled this album. Way more upbeat than you’d expect from them, too bad they dialed in a bit too much cheese.

Veranda no Tabako. suzumoku - Couple of decent songs in here but lacks the charm and strong melodies of his first 3 albums.

Mahiru no Strangeland. GRAPEVINE - Frankly, this album was heading for the turd pile before the second half saved it. Mahiru no Kodomotachi may be the best thing they’ve done in years, but I can’t help feeling like their best days are long gone now.

Horn Again. the pillows - Probably the only reason why Horn Again even sounds remotely good was because OOPARTS was so bad. I’m still not convinced.

Turd
Onsoku no Sekai. Onso9 Line - It’s all gone so, so wrong. When they released Fuukei Byousha (probably one of my top 100 favourite Japanese language albums) they sounded fresh, enthusiastic, ready to take on the world. Sadly they’ve really struggled to get anywhere near those dizzy heights since, and this is another tired, idea-free record. I fear they’ll never recover…

Hand to Hand. Oshio Kotaro - Never thought Guitar God would lose his golden touch but…this is a really boring album. Methinks Oshio should just take some time out.

door. androp - Noisy, shouty. Not my cup of tea…my head hurts.

Puzzle no Kakera to Yume no Tsuzuki. SPANK PAGE - This is supposedly a best-of collection…wait, this is the best that they can offer? Generic loser rock to a tee.

Carpe Diem. Aqua Timez - Clearly, they’ve been producing nothing but crap for a long while now (some would say they’ve never produced anything but).

Yeah, that was long. I’m sorry.

Tail-end of December/start of January is traditionally a dead zone as far as notable new releases are concerned, which is fine by me as I get a little more time to go through my ever-growing backlog. 

What’s been good:
Kokoro no Uta. CureaL - The Hokkaido duo’s brand of folk/country-inflected pop gets straight to my heart, sounding like FREENOTE doesn’t hurt their standing (in my eyes) a single bit. Very confident, very good major debut album. I think I might regret leaving this off my year-end best of list.

Shunkashuto. NIKIIE - I’m thinking Hoshimura Mai or Takenaka Eri here. Writes her own songs, backed by Dr.StrangeLove’s Negishi Takamune. Big voice for a big ballad, maybe a little generic but still ideal for the season(s). It’s NIKIIE’s first single so there may or may not be further great things to come from her.

Live @ Sapporo Kitara. sleepy.ac - Their songs don’t truly come to life until you hear them done live and once again, they do the trick for songs from the paratroop album that I found boring. Pity no Diver or Doremi though.

Aru Haru no Koibito. Minuano - Only just begun exploring Minuano’s stuff, though I have been meaning to thanks to the Lamp connection (vocalist Sakakibara Kaori is part of the project). Definitely liking what I’m hearing so far - a relaxing blend of bossa nova, jazz and blues that throws up inevitable comparisons to well, Lamp. And all those other Brazilian artists that I’ve not yet listened to. Someday!

Okapi Horn. 4 Bonjour’s Parties - A bit of an oddity. Shugo Tokumaru dream-like soundscapes, an album to listen to when you’re in a floaty mood.

What’s been OK:
Rhythm. RYTHEM - Not groundbreaking but it’s a good send-off for the duo. The melancholy of songs like all-ways is already making me feel so wistful ahead of their impending split.

Flash Keeper. nano.RIPE - Patricia was better. I wonder why they’re signed to Lantis…a mediocre career beckons.

ALMA. ACIDMAN - I’m not sure what to make of them anymore. Noel might be the best song they’ve written in a long, long while but the rest of it somewhat flatters to deceive. Might need a few more months of listening…

What’s been not so good:
Close To You. Sugawara Sayuri - If the aim is to put me into winter hibernation, then this sleepy mini-album sure did the trick.

???. Aira Mitsuki - I wonder if the novelty is starting to wear off now. Album just feels way too safe and boring, though I might still say I prefer her lispy ‘voice’ to the Perfume machinery.

table. Half-Life - For a band with such a bad-ass name this sure is a terribly generic emo-rock album.

Seasons. Dew - I hate to say this but Seasons is a major disappointment. Maybe one or two highlights in there (Swing in the wind, Yuuki no Chikara), otherwise it’s just rehashing Dew ballad #859703.

Haraiso. Hana*Hana - Well, it’s not like their songs were ever that great in the first place but if this is the best they can come up with after a hiatus that lasted the better part of a decade…

Yadorigi. Any - Evidently, they pressed the ‘insert cheese’ button too hard during the album’s making.

There’s still quite a lot of stuff in the ‘Listen to Me!!!’ pile, and it keeps growing. Woe is me.