Posts Tagged ‘ Rock ’

Album of the Week 44-2018: Kinniku Shojo Tai – Za Shisa


Despite being somewhat unpredictable stylistically, Kinniku Shojo Tai has been experiencing a very solid run recently. More so than during the latter years of their original run, in fact. Some of their recent albums are slightly better than others, ‘Omake No Ichinichi (Tatakai No Hibi)’ in particular, but none of them is less than enjoyable. ‘Za Shisa’ is another convincing entry into their discography, which currently counts over twenty studio albums. The general vibe is slightly more relaxed and less crazy than on their previous records, but anyone who liked their melting pot of influences before will certainly enjoy ‘Za Shisa’.

Kinniku Shojo Tai’s unpredictability is a result of every band member bringing something different to the table. ‘Za Shisa’ features a relatively large amount of the playful funk rock riffs that guitarist Toshiaki Honjo specializes in. Everything muscular, classy and melodic is the work of Fumihiko Kitsutaka, who in my opinion is one of the world’s greatest guitarists and arrangers. Founding bassist Yuichiro Uchida usually is responsible for the weird progressive and psychedelic stuff, while his co-founder Kenji Otsuki yells, speaks and sings everything together. That sounds like it may not work, but ‘Za Shisa’ proves it does.

The first peak of ‘Za Shisa’ arrives quite early. The elegant melodic hardrock of ‘Shogeki No Outsider Art’ is Kitsutaka in its purest form with a gorgeous chorus, after which the darker, vaguely Middle Eastern tones of the climactic ‘Occult’ account for one of the album’s most atmospheric moments. What follows is the most metallic track of the album; the aggressive speed metal of ‘Zombie River ~ Row Your Boat’ would not have sounded out of place on one of the band’s earliest releases. And like on those albums, the creative use of piano and dynamics lends gravitas to the energetic aggression.

After that, the album takes a slight dip. Not that ‘Naze Hito Wo Koroshi Cha Ike Nai No Daro Ka?’ and ‘Uchu No Hosoku’ are bad songs, it’s just too much consecutive tranquillity. The pace is picked back up quite quickly though, with the subdued seventies rock feel with spoken verses of the awesome ‘Marilyn Monroe Returns’ bringing Thin Lizzy’s ‘Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed’ to mind. Uchida’s songs ‘Kenji No Zundoku Fushi’ and ‘Parallax No Shisa’ have the dynamic, haunting quality he excels at. The former has a pleasant stomp, while the way the guitar line and piano melody teasingly dance in unison on the latter is only the beginning of its ominous atmosphere. ‘Next Generation’ and ‘I, Toya’ are pleasant upbeat rockers.

Though ‘Za Shisa’ feels somewhat more laid-back, Kinniku Shojo Tai is still as weird and reluctant to stick to one genre as ever. As always, it may require some time to sink in, but it is a rewarding album for repeated spins. If you have not heard of the band before and need a western reference: imagine if Queen had embraced punk and further developed the metallic leanings of their first few albums. Now add a dash of Japanese weirdness to the mix. Sounds impossible? Tell that to them. They have been doing it for over thirty years.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shogeki No Outsider Art’, ‘Zombie River ~ Row Your Boat’, ‘Occult’

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Album of the Week 41-2018: The Tea Party – The Edges Of Twilight


Curiosity about world music is natural for every rock band inspired by Led Zeppelin’s latter days. Very few make the leap of actually learning to play indigenous instruments beyond some rudimentary percussion though. This is exactly what The Tea Party did to further emphasize their – mainly – Indian and North African influences on ‘The Edges Of Twilight’. It takes the idea of incorporating these sounds further than just adding some melodies that vaguely sound like the western idea of Arabic or Indian music. And quite surprisingly, the Canadian trio manages to still sound like a powerful rock band while doing so.

Ever the ambitious band, The Tea Party created a densely layered album, but in a way that can also be played with just three people. The arrangements on ‘The Edges Of Twilight’ are securely anchored within their trio line-up, after which bassist Stuart Chatwood and singer/guitarist Jeff Martin have added touches of traditional instruments. However, the world music is in Martin’s Gibsons almost as much as it is in the indigenous instruments through extensive use of twelve string guitars and Indian and Arabic minor scales. It all accounts for an immersive listening experience that is slightly dark, but never depressive.

Since the band’s earliest shows, they have been accused of copying Led Zeppelin and borrowing a string phrase from ‘Kashmir’ in opening track ‘Fire In The Head’ probably wasn’t very beneficial to dispelling that criticism, but the fact is that there is much more to the song than that. Martin’s deep voice sets the somewhat seductive tone of the tune immediately and the riff work is extremely powerful. Even more powerful is the following ‘The Bazaar’, on which a monumental guitar riff is doubled by Chatwood’s harmonium. The song is relatively simple in construction, but still manages to move through several moods.

Highlighting the album are undoubtedly the epics ‘Sister Awake’ and ‘Walk With Me’. The former starts out as a calm, folky tune, but quickly builds from an exciting percussive middle break to a monster of a dark rocker, while ‘Walk With Me’ manages to combine the gloomy atmosphere of most of the album with a begging, almost bluesy character. ‘Silence’ and ‘Drawing Down The Moon’ have a more traditional bluesy inclination, with the latter having a truly incredible climax. ‘Correspondences’ is a gorgeous, dynamic ballad, while ‘The Badger’, ‘Shadows On The Mountainside’ and ‘Inanna’ are calmer songs that draw on folk influences from all over the world.

Ultimately, my only criticism of this album would be that ‘Turn The Lamp Down Low’ feels a little out of place on the record by being straight blues with added percussion, but the song itself is really good. As a whole, ‘The Edges Of Twilight’ is a very exciting album that takes a lot of interesting turns, despite their only being three guys. Martin and Chatwood should be happy that they can depend on a solid power hitter like Jeff Burrows, but it also helps that all the songs are extremely well-written. As for the accusations of being a Led Zeppelin copy: I’d say they took one idea Zep had and developed it further with spectacular results.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sister Awake’, ‘The Bazaar’, ‘Drawing Down The Moon’, ‘Walk With Me’

Album of the Week 37-2018: Atsushi Sakurai – Ai No Wakusei


With his amazing voice being the defining factor that it is in Buck-Tick, it is quite surprising that no one in the Japanese record industry pushed Atsushi Sakurai to release more solo albums than just ‘Ai No Wakusei’. It sold reasonably well, but it would be logical to assume that Buck-Tick took up most of his time, given that their second career peak started shortly after its release. With several of the song titles containing references to his contributors, it is likely that Sakurai was inspired by the people he worked with. That also explains the wide range of styles here.

A different songwriter and different musicians on every track sounds like the album could turn out quite messy and to be honest, it kind of is. After Wayne Hussey’s sublime gothic rock of opening track ‘Sacrifice’ and Raymond Watts’ heavy industrial rock with Arabic string interlude in ‘Yellow Pig’, the album is all over the place for a while. There’s electronic tracks (‘X-Lover’), sparse funk highly reminiscent of Prince (the surprisingly cool ‘Smell’) and J.D. Thirlwell – perhaps better known as Foetus – contributed the hyperactive, chaotic jazz of ‘I Hate You All’. That could throw you off, but it’s worth hanging on.

The album settles for a certain groove during its latter half, that groove being low-key rock with a distinct dark vibe. It is public knowledge that Buck-Tick guitarist Hisashi Imai was inspired to write a more gothic-leaning album (the incredible ‘Jusankai wa Gekko’) after hearing Sakurai’s solo performances in support of ‘Ai No Wakusei’. And with songs like the menacing ‘Hallelujah!’, the incredibly dynamic ‘Shingetsu’ and the brooding majesty of ‘Yokan’, a reworking of his excellent collaboration with Dutch electro-goths Clan of Xymox, it is clear why Imai heard the impact Sakurai could have in dark, gothic surroundings. His deep, emotional baritone is tailor-made for it.

However, that does not mean that ‘Ai No Wakusei’ is all dark all the time. ‘Taiji’ has an optimistic chorus with subtle guitar work and a gently purring hammond organ in the background, while as a whole, the track is simply a powerful, well-constructed pop rocker with several surprising climaxes. ‘Fantasy’ is an upbeat electro-based track and the semi-title track ‘Wakusei’ has a bit of a positive ring to it, despite being built upon crunchy power chords and reverb-drenched lead guitar parts. ‘Neko’, which I assume is a tribute to Sakurai’s cat, even closes the album in a surprisingly soothing manner.

Somehow, ‘Ai No Wakusei’ is one of those albums where you don’t know what to expect even after you have heard it. But that is part of its charm as well. What the first half of the album lacks in terms of flow, the album as a whole more than makes up for in the individual quality of the songs. It is also not quite as vocal-centric as one might expect from a solo release by a singer as characteristic as Sakurai. A decade later, Sakurai would team up with several ‘Ai No Wakusei’ contributors to form The Mortal, but in name, this is truly the only album where he could do whatever the hell he wanted and one thing is for sure: he ran with it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Yokan’, ‘Smell’, ‘Taiji’, ‘Shingetsu’

Album of the Week 36-2018: Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog


A twisted riff, an overall gloomy vibe, haunting vocal harmonies… Opening track ‘The One You Know’ leaves very little doubt that we are listening to Alice In Chains. This could be interpreted as a lack of originality, but since Jerry Cantrell and his cohorts single-handedly developed and perfected this style, why bother doing anything else? Especially since ‘Rainier Fog’ finds the Seattle-based band doing their own thing so well. Though it lacks the urgency that their comeback album ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ and their masterpiece ‘Dirt’ had, it is more memorable than its predecessor ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’.

When original lead singer Layne Staley died, it took Alice In Chains surprisingly little time to find their footing with William DuVall. As a result, the band sound really comfortable with their own style this time around, especially in jam-oriented tracks like the Zeppelin-esque ‘Drone’. That also means the miserable darkness of songs like ‘Frogs’ and ‘Down In A Hole’ is not quite reached here, though the absolutely gorgeous closer ‘All I Am’ does come close with its somber acoustic basis and eerie electric touches. Due to its powerful dreary harmonies in both the vocal and the guitar department, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’ is another song that would not have sounded out of place on an early Alice In Chains record.

Though good enough, ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ was short on true highlights. By contrast, ‘Rainier Fog’ has a few songs that immediately stick, the title track being one of them. It moves from a typical Alice In Chains mid-tempo rocker with a great chorus to a cathartic tranquil middle section that truly highlights the dual lead vocals of DuVall and Cantrell. Furthermore, ‘The One You Know’, the particularly powerful ‘Red Giant’ and – surprisingly – especially DuVall’s composition ‘So Far Under’ have all the trademark Alice In Chains elements in place without having the band sounding like they are on auto-pilot.

One area where ‘Rainier Fog’ truly outshines its predecessor is the ballads. Initially, all but ‘All I Am’ seemed to suffer from the same flaw as the ones on ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ – being good, but unremarkable – but repeated spins bring out their qualities. ‘Maybe’ fluently goes through several moodswings and ends up being one of Cantrell’s best ballads by sheer unpredictability, while ‘Fly’ is a rather typical Cantrell ballad, though its chorus and guitar solo are delightfully climactic. Even the relatively upbeat ‘Never Fade’ manages to be highly convincing, with great performances by both DuVall and Cantrell, culminating in what is easily the most unforgettable chorus on the record.

Like most of Alice In Chains’ albums, ‘Rainier Fog’ is a bit of a grower. It appears to be immediate at first spin, but there are too many subtleties here to play it once and then toss it aside. Fortunately, the album has plenty of replay value. Aside from the incredible songwriting – this is Jerry Cantrell, after all – the great production does wonders as well. Sean Kinney’s drums sound very natural and even Mike Inez’ bass isn’t buried beneath everything else. With Alice In Chains’ style being as distinctive as it is, ‘Rainier Fog’ is unlikely to draw new listeners in, but it is indispensible for people who loved them before. It might even surpass their expectations.

Recommended tracks: ‘All I Am’, ‘Rainier Fog’, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’, ‘Red Giant’

Album of the Week 34-2018: Eisbrecher – Shock


Often labelled a Rammstein clone – which is not entirely unjustified – Eisbrecher has been moving away from sounding like outright clones and more into “inspired by” territory in recent years. Sure, there are German lyrics sung with a reasonably deep voice over semi-electronic rhythms and simple, but brutally heavy guitar riffs, but the music Eisbrecher put out on ‘Die Hölle Muss Warten’ and ‘Schock’ technically has the potential to appeal to a wider audience than Rammstein, had they not come first. Eisbrecher’s songs are more melodic, the choruses are highly catchy without exception and ‘Shock’ especially has an extremely pleasant flow.

In a way, Rammstein and Oomph! marked the boundaries of what the Neue Deutsche Härte genre should be so clearly that it can be seen as quite a limiting genre. That alone is reason enough to praise Eisbrecher, as their relatively poppy, yet still heavy and driven take on the genre is a clear attempt to craft their own sound within the niche. With the lyrics being either rebellious or romantic, Eisbrecher’s sympathetic frontman Alex Wesselsky seems to aim for the heart, which is perfectly accompanied by the strong melodic writings of guitarist and keyboard player Noel Pix and a small army of outside writers.

Taking the old adage that the first strike is deadly, Eisbrecher kicks off ‘Shock’ with what is probably the greatest song they have ever written. ‘Volle Kraft Voraus’ (“full steam ahead”) is a perfect title for an album opener, but what really makes the song a winner is the way it manages to perfectly marry a yearning feeling and the anthemic pride of its brilliant chorus. It is followed by ‘1000 Narben’, another one of the band’s stronger tracks, which has everything in it to please even the most pop-oriented listeners of alternative rock radio stations.

While the level of the first two tracks is never reached again, it is remarkable how consistent ‘Shock’ is. Even the ballads, generally not the forte of NDH bands, are quite good. The deeply sentimental ‘Noch Zu Retten’ and the gorgeously arranged ‘Schlachtbank’, which is somewhat reminiscent of their early masterpiece ‘Leider’, are highlights, as is the more gothic-tinged ‘Rot Wie Die Liebe’. Those who like their German rock heavy will certainly like ‘So Oder So’, ‘Unschuldsengel’, ‘Fehler Machen Leute’ and the particularly Rammstein-esque ‘Himmel, Arsch Und Zwirn’, while ‘Dreizehn’ and the dancey ‘Nachtfieber’ make perfect use of the dynamics between guitars and electronics. The duet ‘Zwischen Uns’ with Swiss singer Mia Aegerter is irresistably catchy.

Although originality is next to impossible for an NDH band, I applaud Eisbrecher for how fresh and recognizable they sound on ‘Shock’. Once you let go of the genre tag, chances are that you will appreciate ‘Shock’ for what it really is: a collection of extremely well-written, impeccably produced rock songs that will refuse to leave your head even if you try. Fans of complexity should look elsewhere, but ‘Shock’ is full of heavy, uncomplicated fun that may end up being surprisingly melodic for those who only know the genre casually.

Recommended tracks: ‘Volle Kraft Voraus’, ‘1000 Narben’, ‘Himmel, Arsch Und Zwirn’

Album of the Week 22-2018: Garbage – Garbage


When I was a kid, Garbage was one of the few modern rock bands on MTV that would not cause me to immediately change the channel. They intrigued me. That was in part because of Shirley Manson’s voice and – I reluctantly admit – appearance, but their music was undeniably atmospheric and unlike anything ever done before or since. It was still modern rock, but it was not as bluntly unmelodic as the nu metal bands that were big at the time, nor was it as self-pitying as American radio rock. And despite the strong productional focus, the songwriting is simply excellent.

More than twenty years later, Garbage’s self-titled debut still holds up. That in itself is a testament to the band’s compositional brilliance. Often in music history, embracing new technology dates a production considerably. Garbage’s practice of incorporating electronic beats and synthetic sounds into the foundation of a rock band still sounds fresh and, surprisingly, in no way dated. This approach combines the best elements of densely layered productions and a live band and the results are often hypnotizing. But it’s not a trick; even the relatively straightforward songs that would have worked with just the band playing still sound convincing.

In the latter category, we find the insanely memorable and borderline self-parody ‘Only Happy When It Rains’. The chord progression is simple, but not predictable, especially with its insistent chorus providing a perfect contrast to its more morose verses. ‘Dog New Tricks’ is another strong electrorocker with a great chorus and a focus on guitars and drums. A majority of the other more straightforward songs are a little more laid-back, including the massive hit singles ‘Stupid Girl’ and ‘Queer’. This approach really suits Manson’s voice, which sounds seductive when it has to, but also occasionally excels in brilliantly suppressed anger.

At other times, ‘Garbage’ proves that spending a lot of time on your production does not necessarily result in overproduction. The darkly brooding ‘As Heaven Is Wide’ probably illustrates this best. Its combination of tribal rhythms, fuzzy bass line and electronically tinged bridge should not work in a rock context, but it does. It is also the best example of Manson’s subdued aggression. The more intimate ‘A Stroke Of Luck’ is less propulsive, but just about as good. It has also been provided a perfect juxtaposition in the shape of the more outspokenly aggressive rocker ‘Vow’, one of the brightest shining gems on ‘Garbage’.

Confusingly, ‘Garbage’ is as much a product of its time as it is timeless. An album like this more or less could only have been thought up in the ninteties, but it was so far ahead of its time that it will probably still sound contemporary ten years from now. That in itself is something that not many artists can claim and will become rarer as more and more musical territory is no longer uncharted. For Garbage, their debut album was so revolutionary, that they had a hard time trying to equal it both in terms of success and overall quality, though they came close several times and are fortunately still artistically relevant to this day.

Recommended tracks: ‘Only Happy When It Rains’, ‘As Heaven Is Wide’, ‘Vow’

Album of the Week 19-2018: The Mortal – I Am Mortal


Atsushi Sakurai was born to sing gothic rock. His deep, emotional baritone belongs in the genre. But somehow, despite their gothic masterpiece ‘Jusankai Wa Gekko’, his main band Buck-Tick does not want to make the full leap into the genre. As a result, he needs to set up projects like The Mortal every once in a while. In a way, ‘I Am Mortal’ is a logical continuation of Sakurai’s solo debut ‘Ai No Wakusei’, but the album leans far more to the goth side of things and because of that, this dark monster of an album feels a lot more consistent.

On the ‘Spirit’ EP released a month prior to ‘I Am Mortal’, The Mortal was already quite clear about its influences. Sakurai has never made a secret of his love for Bauhaus and the fact that he covered them – alongside The Damned and Souxsie And The Banshees – on that EP should already give a clear hint of what The Mortal sounds like. The Mission is a clear influence as well, especially in ‘Mortal’. At times, the band explores the noisier end of the post-punk spectrum, however, resulting in intense, aggressive moments such as ‘Barbaric Man’ and ‘Pain Drop -It Rains Cats & Dogs’.

While those explosions of energy certainly contribute to the varied nature of ‘I Am Mortal’, the album is best when introspective. ‘Yume – Deep Dream’ has the huge eighties goth production, but in essence feels like a really dark love song. Closing track ‘Sayonara Waltz’ keeps things considerably smaller, being rooted in just Sakurai’s vocals and the classical guitar of Jake Cloudchair, but is no less atmospheric. The album starts in quite a dark, introspective manner with as well with ‘Tenshi’, which is a really good taster to set the horror-like mood of the rest of the album.

The calmer moments are not the only highlights of ‘I Am Mortal’ though. ‘Tsuki’ is the opposite end of the spectrum, with its propulsive, straightforward punk beat and intensely repetitive chorus. The rhythmically unpredictable ‘Grotesque’, ‘Guignol’, ‘Dead Can Dance’ and the spectacular ‘Fantômas – Tenrankai No Otoko’ are masterpieces of creepy goth and horror punk and the aforementioned ‘Mortal’, probably the most traditional gothic rock track on here, is simply too catchy and emotional to be ignored. It should be noted that the atmospheric memorability of the choruses is the rule rather than the exception here. Even if you are not adept at Japanese, these melodies will stick. Trust me, I should know.

‘I Am Mortal’ was followed by the impressive live dvd ‘Immortal’, but as of this writing, no new The Mortal plans have been announced. I truly hope there will be a sequel to the album though, because the album shows Atsushi Sakurai doing what he does best: singing dark, emotionally laden gothic rock songs. His love for the genre oozes out of the album’s pores. Also, Sakurai and his band mates appear to have a very strong connection musically, so it would be a pity to not hear more of this. Even the classic goth bands cannot quite reach these heights anymore.

Recommended tracks: ‘Fantômas – Tenrankai No Otoko’, ‘Mortal’, ‘Sayonara Waltz’, ‘Tsuki’

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