November 3, 2010

Boris – Heavy Rocks
hard-rock, stoner-rock, metal

Perhaps the most appropriate album title ever? Heavy Rocks is heavy, and good lord does it ever rock. I’ve always found that Boris are at their best when they keep it relatively simple, putting aside the longform drone and experimental detours so they can focus purely on red-raw guitar-driven power and layers of speaker-destroying bass, delivering explosive, psychedelia-tinged rock music better than pretty much anyone else on the planet. That’s exactly what you get from this album – chunky guitar riffs so crushingly massive they sound like they could level whole buildings, maniacal, rip-roaring percussion and layer upon layer of distortion, all topped off with some truly epic, visceral singing that kicks the adrenaline up to a previously unfelt height. Opening track “Heavy Friends” is an absolute beast of stoner-rock perfection, alternating between Boris - Heavy Rocksgraveyard-bass and gleeful meedly-mees for a murky showcase of sheer attitude, and it’s followed by the one-two punch of “Korosu” and “Dyna-Soar”, easily two of the best rapid-fire rockers the 2000s have to offer. The sonic barrage never really lets up after that – barring the gorgeously soulful instrumental interlude “Soft Edge”, an unexpected highlight – making Heavy Rocks an incredibly consistent joyride from beginning to end. Boris are the kings of larger-than-life rock bliss, and this might well be their finest hour (well, finest 45 minutes, at any rate). I only wish this album wasn’t so damn hard to find!




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.


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.