November 10, 2010

Jackie-O Motherfucker – Fig. 5
free-folk, post-rock, jazz, New Weird America

On Fig 5, Jackie-O Motherfucker take an overtly exploratory approach to the soulful twang of Southern folk and Americana, in which their improvvy, jam-band stylings are driven along by multiple guitars, touches of banjo, varying percussion, harmonica, free-jazz and even some sparse sampling. Their expansive takes on traditional songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Go Down, Old Hannah” are filled with warmth and beauty, while “Your Cells are in Motion”, with its propulsive rhythm and looping guitar lines, is a personal favourite. The band have about a dozen members, and being such a large collective with a somewhat improvisational playstyle, there are moments when the music can feel a bit directionless (somewhat akin to an Americana orchestra in the process of warming up), particularly on the first listen. While some listeners will find this instantly charming, to others it’ll act as something of a barrier. In time, though, it becomes apparent that the band Jackie-O Motherfucker - Fig. 5are simply piecing together their songs in a carefully organic manner, and it can be quite a fascinating experience to hear each musical genesis gradually run its course. It’s a true pleasure to witness some of the finest free-folk music of the decade being constructed “one brick at a time”, however, the point when all those bricks fall into place and the band lock into their groove is where Jackie-O Motherfucker truly come into their own. The results are uniformly captivating.




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 23, 2010

Bobby PreviteThe 23 Constellations of Joan Miró
avant-garde jazz, modern classical, minimalism

The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró is a collection of creative jazz snippets by New York musician Bobby Previte, utilising a variety of instruments (both traditional and somewhat unconventional) and some subtle electronic touches to achieve a lush, theatrical aesthetic that strikes a range of emotional chords. Keeping things uniformly short and sweet, each one of his sonic concepts is given just enough time to establish itself and whirl around the listener’s mind for a quick spell, and is then elegantly concluded to make way Bobby Previte - The 23 Constellations of Joan Mirófor the next one. Previte deserves some major kudos for knowing exactly how much space any given concept deserves when he commits it to record – when you’re trying to cram 23 individual pieces into a single recording, each of which with their own distinct style and personality, it’s inevitably going to be difficult to avoid sounding cramped and chaotic. Nothing on The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró ever wears out its welcome, though, nor does anything ever feel underdeveloped or clash with a neighbouring piece, which is really quite remarkable when all of your songs fall in the 90-180 second range. Instead, the songs fit together quite beautifully, fulfilling their purposes flawlessly, both as distinct jazz concepts and as the combined elements of a colourful tapestry.