highball - highball (2011, Japan) Rating: 2.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Tettsui, Ishitsubutsutodoke, Be the seeker
When I heard former leader and guitarist of 12012 Yuusuke was making a solo album, I was really curious how this would pan out. "Tettsui" opens up the album very loudly with near screaming vocals and intense musical presentation. There's minimal lyrics, but the music makes up for it. "Ignorance" is a little more aggressive than the first track, but it has some great guitar lines in it. "Six/Nine" presents some better vocal talent and strong guitar and bass ties throughout the song. Although, the chorus/bridge area is a bit weak compared to the rest of the song. "COUNTER" keeps about the same vibe as the previous. I guess a somewhat L'Arc~en~Ciel fun rock sound. "Yesterday" is a nice little ballad piece with a lovely piano and violin arrangement. "Hirai" takes a step back and gives off that j-indies sound, especially in the vocals. It's very generic and forgettable. "Ishitsubutsutodoke" steps it up a notch and brings more powerful instrumentation, but the vocals are so-so. "Drug Queen" has a bit of an American grunge feel with muffled vocals, estranged guitars, and a strong bassline. "Kurofune" takes a different direction by adding some rapping and experimenting with some different sounds and synth-ish guitars. "THINNER" has a reminiscent hide rush vibe with the vocal and music arrangement. It's not a terrible thing, but it's interesting. "Be the seeker" almost goes back to Laraku sound, but Loki's vocals, I'm guessing it's Sugar's former vocalist, changes that feeling with the prominent bass throughout the song. The music that really compliments his voice. "Desire" mixes up things with a strong rock tone, bits of piano, and some dual vocals. Not particularly fond of the dual vocals though. "Acoustic avenue" closes out the album with a mellow tone. I think the bass overpowered the acoustic guitar too much which was a bit saddening and the vocals were too soft as well. Overall, I wasn't super impressed or disappointed with this album. Everything seem pretty neutral or just reminded me of Laraku. I honestly didn't know what to expect in the first place, but I'm looking for to Yuusuke's new band, the rhedoric.
Para:noir - Amaryllis/Cosmos (2011, Japan) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: Prominence Inc., Amaryllis, The Code Number [13.]
Let's just jump right into it. "Cosmos" starts off with some heartfelt vocals and decent acoustic work, then bounces right up with an upbeat melody and very strong basslines. It definitely shows a different side to this band other than the fast, hard stuff. "Amaryllis" was used for promotion of this single and if you saw in the previous post I really enjoyed it. It reminds me of everything I love about this band. It has some great music moments and vocals are truly them. No j-indies band can touch Akane's vocals. "Prominence Inc." was re-released for this single and it has some great high energy that the band is known for, some growls, and fast paced drumming. Sure, the vocals are autotuned, but Para:noir makes it seem so effortless and it blends in to a point you don't really care. I think this perhaps better than the original. "The Code Number [13.]" has been one of my favorite Para:noir songs for quite some time and now they have remade it for this single. Luring us in with counting drums, strong bass, impressive guitars, and wailing screams, this song remains awesome. Although, I don't really like the vocal changes with the verse layering and extra screams. Fortunately, those changes didn't completely take away too much of the awesomeness of this song. I'm really pleased with this band and I hope they keep doing what they're doing.
Aural Vampire - Kerguelen Vortex (2011, Japan) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Kerguelen Vortex, Makki no Body Checkmate
"Kerguelen Vortex" opens with a dark, electronic vibe that Aural Vampire is very good at producing. The melody is really catchy and makes you want to move around to the music. I really love how it lightens up around the chorus and Exo-Chika's voice is just so sweet. "Antenna Phenomenon" takes a different direction with a stop/start retro sound. It's interesting how the vocals slow down, then proceeds to its normal speed. "Human Noise" goes back to the dark, gritty club sound with some fun electronic elements and equally fun vocal melody. "Makki no Body Checkmate" incorporates signature Aural sounds and some new developments that keep this track interesting. "Repoman (album version)" has revived itself for this mini. It's very upbeat and kinda sounds a bit retro musically, like 80s workout video meets 90s dance mix. "Raising City" opens with some cheesy laughter and some equally cheesy 80s retro synth sound. I feel like Eddie Murphy might pop out of no where in his leather red jacket or something and a police badge. It's a purely instrumental track to keep you in those good old 80s days. "GENOM" keeps the retro vibe with a somewhat simple melody until you reach the fast pace chorus. Exo-Chika is back, of course, and I must admit her highest note seems a bit strained, but the song isn't that bad. I continue to enjoy the risks this duo takes and I hope they continue experimenting with different sounds and arrangements in the future.
Daichi Miura - D.M. (2011, Japan) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: Black Hole, The Answer, 4am, Turn Off the Light
One of my most anticipated albums toward the end of the year and, I'm sorry, I spazzed out when I got my hard copy in the mail. I was going to give this album it's own post, but I'll just cross my fingers and hope that my descriptions are short. "Black Hole" sounds like your typical Daichi track that incorporates some pretty impressive vocal and choreography, but when the break down hits with the chorus we get some dubstep. Surprisingly, it's not that cheesy, it's quite impressive when you watch the music video. "Touch Me" was a nice little taste to this album, excluding the singles leading up to it. It has a basic beat, nice bass, and, of course, great vocals with a simple chorus. It took me a little while to get into this song, but it's pretty good. "Illusion Show" also took me some time to adjust to this almost loungey piano sound, but it has a fun melody and the vocals are pretty strong. "Love is like a bassline" has that Jackson5 vibe, but a nice Daichi modern twist to it that makes it even more enjoyable. "The Answer" has been so abused by the replay button when the single was released. It still remains to be a beautiful song with a solid track that truly settles in your mind. "Only You" begins with some strong drums and keyboarding. A new direction to most of Daichi's tracks, but it's an interesting one. Very simplistic and I like that they emphasized on his voice throughout the track. So, when I first listened to this album, I listened to it out of order and "4am" was the last track. I must admit...I nearly cried at how beautiful and powerful this song is. It has simplistic sprinkles of classic R&B piano with a strong melody that empowers Daichi's flawless vocal presentation. I recommend you save this song for last, if this is your first listen of D.M. because it will surprise you. "RUN WAY" tries something new musically by adding some rock to it. It's an okay track, but a few steps down from the previous track. "Turn Off the Light" was the last single released before the album dropped and I still really enjoy this song. It falls into Daichi's usual material, but it's still fresh and fun. "SHOUT IT" is another attempt at incorporate some rock elements to it, but I like this better than "RUN WAY". It has a lot of energy and really pumps you up. "Lullaby" was another previously released single. It sounds just like the title suggests, a sweet R&B lullaby that is quite impressive. "Magic Word" closes out the album with some strong R&B sounds that incorporates some guitar work and such. It's pretty basic overall, but it's a decent track. Honestly, I think this might be Daichi's best album to date. I was really impressed with it, although...I think it would've been even better if he added "Drama" to the tracklist. I've listened to that song more than "Lullaby", but I'm looking forward to more for sure.
Suicide Ali - The Cold Body (2012, Japan) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: The Cold Body, Sequential Soda
So, I think this band was my second choice of inspiration to name this lovely blog, but obviously Nega won out. Suicide Ali is probably my favorite Kiwamu creation or whatever. Anyway, "The Cold Body" opens up in the band's usual peculiar music arrangement, but still keeps a hold of what makes them great with ties of synth elements, piano, violin, and strong guitar riffs. "Sequential Soda" takes a different rock approach in the beginning, then steers you back on track to their crazy, warped sound that the band is known for. It has an interesting arrangement that shows off their roots and growth. "Ningen no kaname (Retake)" brings back one of my favorite tracks and changes it up. It's still a great song, but I like the intensity in the original a lot more. I think the band started the new year with a great start and I hope an album is in the near future.
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