Posts Tagged ‘ Pop Rock ’

Scandal to tour Europe: “We feel more confident and responsible”

Exactly one week from now, the second European tour of Japanese Pop/Rock queens Scandal will take off in Amsterdam. The band is already quite a phenomenon in their home country with sales numbers many western bands could envy, high-profile sponsorship deals and theme songs for several popular anime series. Their 2014 album ‘Hello World’ seems to have more than a randomly chosen title; the rest of the world is slowly catching up to Scandal. B7Klan offered me the opportunity to talk to guitarists Haruna Ono and Mami Sasazaki, bassist Tomomi Ogawa and drummer Rina Suzuki, all of whom sing for the band as well. One thing is for sure: the band seems to be looking forward to this second European journey.

Rina Suzuki:European audiences are really enjoying the show itself. Japanese audiences can’t enjoy the show unless they actually know the songs, but I really appreciate that European audiences have fun even when they hear the songs for the first time.

This isn’t your first time in Europe. Why do you think only a few Japanese bands consistently tour Europe and America?

Haruna Ono:It takes manpower and money to organize concerts. Much more than you’d think. So in order to organize our concerts, we need to keep making good music and we need the fans’ support more and more.

You quite famously started doing open air shows at the Osaka Castle Park. How different were those shows from what you’re doing these days?

Rina Suzuki:When we played open air shows, we didn’t know anything and we didn’t fear anything. That was a great time, but these days when we play concerts, we feel much more confident and responsible. We want to meet the expectations of the audience.

Many Japanese bands make a clear division between their indie days and their major days. You have dealt with both. Are the differences really that big?

Tomomi Ogawa:We don’t feel there’s much of a difference. Of course there are differences, like the size of the audiences, but we still play the songs from our indie days live. The most important day in the history of Scandal is the day we formed the band, not the day of our debut. Forming the band was really the big thing for us.

There are clear influences from J-Rock bands, but also from western Rock bands in your music. What influenced you when you formed?

Haruna Ono:We all have different influences, but we didn’t start playing music being influenced by bands. When we started, we loved idols and pop singers and we went to the same dance school. One of our teachers advised us to play instruments at the time and then we formed Scandal. At that time, we were strongly influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Foo Fighters, but also Japanese bands like Judy And Mary.

What musicians influence you these days?

Mami Sasazaki:I still often listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Foo Fighters and Two Door Cinema Club.

Unlike many other Japanese bands, your instruments are mainly from American manufacturers. There’s a lot of Fender among your equipment, for instance. Why did you go for these instruments?

Haruna Ono:Because they are so cool! We didn’t choose these instruments because they are made in the USA, but the instruments we like are coincidentally American.

As a band that is not strictly a part of the visual scene, how important is the visual aspect of your shows?

Rina Suzuki:Formerly wearing costumes on stage was very important to us. But the way our career is now, we can freely wear what we want.

Like many Japanese Rock musicians, you are big anime fans. Your songs are even included in a few series. How would you describe this combination?

Mami Sasazaki:Since a couple of years, anime and Rock music are a very good combination to connect us with foreign audiences. This relationship has really opened the entrance to Rock and other Japanese music.

Scandal will be touring Europe until the end of September at the following venues:

10/09/2016 Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Melkweg
13/09/2016 Cologne, Germany @ Luxor
14/09/2016 Hamburg, Germany @ Kaiserkeller
16/09/2016 Wroclaw, Poland @ Firlej
17/09/2016 Wien, Austria @ Szene
18/09/2016 Milano, Italy @ Elyon
20/09/2016 Marseille, France @ Poste a galene
21/09/2016 Barcelona, Spain @ Apolo2
24/09/2016 London, UK @ Islington Academy
25/09/2016 Paris, France @ La Machine


Album of the Week 32-2016: Porcupine Tree – The Incident

For a genre with “progressive” in its name, there have been relatively little young progressive Rock heroes these last years. Steven Wilson has been the last man to be widely accepted as a Prog guru and even though he doesn’t look like it, he is in his late forties. A more positive explanation would be that he set the bar incredibly high and although people like Wilson – to no fault of their own – have an army of admirers incapable of criticizing him, they may be right in this case. Of all his project, Porcupine Tree is easily my favorite, because of its use of dynamics.

Despite being released seven years ago, ‘The Incident’ is Porcupine Tree’s most recent work and features probably their most fully realized material. Personally, I really enjoyed its predecessor ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’, but that record was quite driven by the Metal elements that have been present since current drummer Gavin Harrison joined the band and Wilson has been producing Opeth around the turn of the century. ‘The Incident’ truly has the band moving from the calmest Folk sections through the most spacey, psychedelic passages to some surprisingly heavy riffing. As a result, the album stays interesting throughout its entire 75 minute run – spread out over two discs.

The centerpiece of the album is the 55 minute titular “song cycle”. Their words, not mine. It’s not one of those “one song albums” in a strict sense. In fact, the approach more closely resembles a traditional concept album with recurring themes, atmospheric interludes, but also expertly written songs that work very well as stand-alone songs. The dark, melancholic vibe, occasional Pop hooks and the way the obvious musical prowess of the instrumentalists generally a backseat in favor of the actual songs make the cycle feel like a modern take on Marillion’s ‘Brave’, albeit with a vastly different sound.

While I would generally prefer a powerhouse singer over this type of material, Wilson’s soft voice actually works really well with the introspective nature of the music and especially the lyrics. His guitar work is usuall simple, but brutally effective. He doesn’t play a lot of notes – Harrison is the only one who sometimes does – but what he does play resonates icredibly on an emotional level. The middle section of the 12 minute ‘Time Flies’ is the perfect example. This approach has an advantage; when the band does fire on all cylinders, like they do on ‘Octane Twisted’, it sounds highly overwhelming, even though it isn’t particularly complex in terms of composition or musicianship.

After the emotional roller coaster that is ‘The Incident’, the four songs on the second cd sound slightly out of place. It’s not like they’re bad songs; in fact, the abstract rocker ‘Bonnie The Cat’ and the powerfully built-up ‘Remember Me Lover’ are excellent, but they feel a little tacked onto the end of the record because… Well, let’s face it, they are. They may have worked better as a separate release without an epic, mind-blowing 55 minute journey fresh in mind.

Naturally, the conceptual nature of the record helps ‘The Incident’ have a consistency that many of the more disjointed modern progressive acts lack. Most of Wilson’s records do. What makes ‘The Incident’ so strong, however, is the fact that it manages to move all over the stylistic map without ever losing its focus. There’s the Folky feel of early Genesis, the layered Pop of the latter days of The Beatles, the riffy propulsion of Heavy Metal and even the Krautrock influences that were more prominent on Porcupine Tree’s oldest records haven’t faded away entirely. Combine that in a way that won’t make the listener lose his way and you’ve got an excellent record on your hands.

Recommended tracks: ‘Time Flies’, ‘The Incident’, ‘Octane Twisted’

Album of the Week 51-2015: George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

George Harrison’s proper solo debut is easily the best record released by anyone ever involved with The Beatles. The Quiet Beatle’s songs were always my favorite of the legendary British quartet, but one listen to ‘All Things Must Pass’ is enough to make the listener realize that whatever reasons John Lennon and Paul McCartney had for not alowing more Harrison compositions on their records, they weren’t musical. Don’t let the fact that some of these songs were rejected by The Beatles fool you: this triple album is filled with amazing songwriting, a great deal of variation and an almost tangible joy of performing.

While McCartney was probably the best musician in The Beatles, Harrison was always craving musical innovation and that shows on ‘All Things Must Pass’. All of the songs have a strong Pop vibe, but there’s experiments with Folk, Americana, Rock, Blues and Gospel throughout the record and almost all of them are successful. In addition, Harrison assembled a cast of friends around him that consisted of musical legends like Eric Clapton, former Beatle Ringo Starr and the always amazing Billy Preston, while Bob Dylan contributed to the songwriting. But the true power of the album lies within the songs themselves.

Best known are the Gospel-light of ‘My Sweet Lord’ and the uplifting, almost celebratory ‘What Is Life’, but that’s not where the highlights stop. Opening track ‘I’d Have You Any Time’ is a surprisingly brooding ode to friendship, ‘Beware Of Darkness’ and ‘Hear Me Lord’ are brilliantly structured ballads that build toward fantastic climaxes. ‘The Art Of Dying’, which was recorded with what would become Derek And The Dominos, is a driving Hard Rock track with a dark vibe, awesome dual lead vocals and amazing lead guitar work by Clapton. Speaking of lead guitars: this is the record where Harrison’s slide guitar really came into its own.

Much of the album’s criticism is aimed at “Apple Jam”, the third record of Bluesy jam sessions. While I tend to agree that some of them go on a little too long and it would have been better had they been more evenly distributed over the records, it’s a delight to just hear the musicians play without any pretense or assertiveness. Even Phil Spector doesn’t dominate the record; where I usually consider his productions too busy, ‘All Things Must Pass’ sounds exactly like it’s supposed to sound. Harrison, co-producing the record, probably reigned him in a little.

Even people who aren’t necessarily into The Beatles should give ‘All Things Must Pass’ a chance. It’s a lot of material, but honestly: it’s worth it. What you hear here is a music lover with loads of different ideas who is finally free to share them with the world. How can I not love that? And while Harrison would continue to record quality albums afterward – ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘Living In The Material World’ and his closing statement ‘Brainwashed’ most prominently – this is still the one that highlights all sides of his broad musical spectrum best. Recommended to everyone.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Art Of Dying’, ‘Hear Me Lord’, ‘Beware Of Darkness’

Album of the Week 24-2014: Şebnem Ferah – Can Kırıkları

Turkey’s Rock scene has quite a number of great female singers. Two of the most influential have once played together in an all-female band called Volvox. But while Özlem Tekin has been all over the map stylistically on her solo releases, Şebnem Ferah’s work has always rocked. However poppy it sometimes gets. Especially since she started working with producer – and Pentagram bassist – Tarkan Gözübüyük, who seems to realize that even though Ferah is proficient at all the subtleties of Pop music, her powerhouse vocals work best when she has to push her way to the foreground through loud guitars and string backings.

If it’s Gözübüyük’s influence or just the fact that Ferah wrote heavier songs this time around, I truly can’t tell, but it’s a fact that ‘Can Kırıkları’ has the heaviest guitar work on any Şebnem Ferah album so far. One doesn’t need to look any further than the dark, brooding opening track ‘Okyanus’ to hear that direction in full effect; the unpredictably timed chords by Metin Türkcan – another Pentagram member – add an almost Dream Theater-like feel to the verses and the riff in the middle section is extremely Metal, but Ferah’s keen ear for melody keeps this accessible. That’s why the album works for fans of both Pop and Rock. Possibly even Metal fans.

‘Can Kırıkları’ isn’t chock full of Metal though. Ferah is quite likely the best power ballad singer in Turkey and there’s quite a lot of those here. Some are a little heavier (the title track, with its heavy chorus and awesome orchestration) and some are a little more subdued (closing track ‘Hoşçakal’, although Ferah herself really lets it rip there) and there’s even an acoustic-based Rock song in the shape of the awesome ‘Çakıl Taşları’. Ultimately, it’s those changes in dynamics that make the album enjoyable all the way through.

My favorite Şebnem Ferah song – not just on this album – is ‘Delgeç’. That song alone is a lesson in dynamics; it starts out with a mighty Power Metal melody, turns into Pop Rock for the verses in which Ferah occasionally harmonizes with herself amazingly and then gets back to all the heavy riffing in the chorus, which has a lot of tension and drama to it. Though Ferah wrote a number of amazing songs after this one, it’s still the one I’ll play people to show what she’s about. It’s quite illustrative of how many sides there are to her voice and songwriting.

As with many Turkish releases – especially the ones with Turkish lyrics – it’s quite difficult to find this one outside of Turkey, but I would urge everyone with any interest in good Rock music or powerful female vocals to try and pick ‘Can Kırıkları’ up. If you want to get your money’s worth for shipping, get Ferah’s latest effort ‘Od’ as well. This is an example to all western producers of female Rock singers that you don’t have to castrate the music to make your singer stand out. It’s also a testament to Şebnem Ferah’s unbelievable skills as a singer and a songwriter.

Recommended tracks: ‘Delgeç’, ‘Can Kırıkları’, ‘Çakıl Taşları’, ‘Okyanus’