October 25, 2010

椎名 林檎 (Ringo Shiina) – 三文ゴシップ (Sanmon Gossip)
j-pop, soul, jazz, big-band, experimental-pop

With Sanmon Gossip, her fifth solo album 椎名 林檎 (Ringo Shiina) - 三文ゴシップ (Sanmon Gossip)and first in six years, Ringo Shiina once again took the approach that’s made her previous works such a joy to hear – a willingness to embrace and experiment with a wide range of musical genres and techniques, combined with a firm grasp on pop-songwriting and a determination to make her songs as engaging, memorable and accessible as possible. In my opinion, it’s her finest album yet, an exuberant firecracker that crams so much content into its fourteen tracks that it constantly feels like it’s about to burst. Throughout the album, Shiina engages colourful splashes of just about every genre she could possibly shoehorn into her style of music, including big-band/swing (“Mittei Monogatari”, “Karisome Otome”, “Irokoizata”), American soul music (“Rōdōsha”), hip-hop (“Ryūkō”), laid-back soft-pop (“Shun”), alt-rock (“Yokyō”), electro (“Maru Chiten Kara”, “Togatta Teguchi”) and show-tunes-inspired vocal jazz (“Tsugō no Ii Karada”, “Futaribocchi Jikan”, the latter of which goes so far as to include a tap-solo!). She even finds time for a surprising, left-field display of minimalism on the accordion and vocals track “Bonsaihada”, one of the album’s finest cuts. The whole thing is an absolute feast, generously applying new musical angles, instruments, vocal touches and stylistic approaches at every turn, to the extent that, were it not for Shiina’s inescapable personality, Sanmon Gossip would verge on resembling a multi-artist compilation. That fantastic personality is the glue that makes Sanmon Gossip a genuinely thrilling success, though, as Shiina’s irresistible vocal twists and turns through the record, softly charming you on one track before knocking the roof off the building and reaching for the stars on the next. This album is simply huge, both in sound and scope, and is one of the most lively, expansive and ambitious pop releases I’ve ever heard.


September 18, 2010

Various Artists塊フォルテッシモ魂 [Katamari Fortissimo Damacy]
video game soundtrack, jazz, j-pop, lounge, electronic

Various Artists - 塊フォルテッシモ魂Vocoders, electronic, samba, jazz, goofy hip-hop, Latin dance passages, titanic horn sections, j-pop, a capella, piano overtures, carnival sounds, mambo, lounge music and a whole bunch more, all wrapped up in infinite feel-good vibes and a sense of sheer unrelenting mayhem. The soundtrack to Katamari Fortissimo Damacy is a hyperactive delight, fearlessly sampling genres with total abandon throughout its generous 21 track runtime. If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to exist inside a video game, then this is about the closest you’ll ever come to finding out. Even if you’ve never played a Katamari game (tip: you should), the music still carries a giddy, animated vibrancy all on its own, one which delights without the merest hint of context. There’s also some highly irreverent humour to enjoy throughout the album, from the ultra-sincere piano version of the game’s cheesy theme tune (“Overture”) to the robotically monotone, looping singalong of “You Are Smart”, which functions as a wonderfully patronising reward for performing well during the game itself. The bottom line is this – this album is just so lovable, in all of its glitchy, can’t-sit-still glory, that I can’t imagine any lover of good pop music not getting down to it. By the time the ridiculous sweeping horn section of “Katamari on the Rocks” hits, anyone who isn’t pogoing around their loungeroom has to admit that they’re secretly an android.


August 27, 2010

椎名 林檎 (Ringo Shiina) – 加爾基 精液 栗ノ花 (Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana)
experimental-pop, j-pop

Pop songstress Ringo Shiina, 椎名 林檎 (Ringo Shiina) - 加爾基 精液 栗ノ花 (Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana)who enjoys huge mainstream popularity in Japan yet remains relatively obscure to Western audiences, is regularly cited as an example of a pop musician with a flair for the experimental. To this end, she finds herself being compared to similarly minded female musicians like Bjork. In a career forged on blurring the line between infectious melody and extensive creativity, Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana – her third album – stands as her most overtly left-field work, but don’t let that scare you – those tags of “experimental” and “left-field” are 99% indicative of Shiina’s firm desire to achieve a unique sound via her broad palate of musical influences, encompassing genres which are grounded firmly on the listenable and accessible side of the spectrum. There’s flourishes of jazz, electronic-pop, girl-group, rock, balladry, singer/songwriter and (of course) j-pop littered throughout the album, and these frequently overlap with one another in the course of a single track, and while the album’s production aims for a big, bright, polished sound, it never becomes cluttered, overbearing or weird for weird’s sake. This is the kind of music where the individual parts making up the whole are simple and familiar but the overall result is something altogether unexpected and delightful. Between her solo work and her releases with group Tokyo Jihen, Shiina released a number of knockout albums during the decade, enough to put her in serious contention to be regarded as its finest individual artist. You can be sure this won’t be her final appearance on the list.