Sunday, 21 November 2010

麓健一 - 「美化」[2008]



Artist: Kenichi Fumoto
Album: Beautification
Label: Bijin Record

Kenichi Fumoto is a singer-songwriter from Japan. Like many others (in fact it seems like everyone in the west), I discovered him through the fabulous Female Trouble blog, the first stop for unknown gems from the Japanese underground. To the best of my knowledge, this album, a compilation of previous material released on his early CD-Rs, has no official (or even unofficial for that matter) English title, but Beautification is what came out every time when I put the Kanji through a few different online translators. The romaji title is Bika.

Fumoto's music is recorded in beautiful low fidelity on Garageband in his room. While many of his songs follow the formula of guitar and voice associated with singer-songwriters, his range is far greater than this; this compilation sees Fumoto playing organs, percussion, drum machines and synthesisers, alongside his own heartbreaking vocals and gentle guitar utterances. The songs often begin simply and are fleshed out over the course of the track, building into big dreamy sound-clouds. There are several instances when Fumoto is joined by Nisennenmondai guitarist and Bijin Record owner Takada Masako, who adds her light, pretty voice to some songs.

Any description of this album will undoubtedly fall short however, because this album really is, as said on Female Trouble, far greater than the sum of its parts. There's nothing flashy or groundbreaking about this album, everything from the production to the instrumentation is modest, creating only as much as is needed for the songs to communicate their individual messages. After being fairly obsessed with the album and individual tracks from it for over half a year now, I feel that I finally understand why it has so much staying power and remains relevant after repeated listenings. I frequently go through phases of being obsessed with an album or a single song for weeks on end, and I'm unable to think about much else other than the sound or melody of this song until I hear it again. Beautification is essentially an album with sixteen songs that will infect your very being in that way. Every single song has an undeniable energy which has the power to captivate and refuse to leave your mind. I feel like I can say little else about this record; if you're anything like me, you will be hugely moved by this album and will take pleasure in knowing a record with more longevity than anything else that I've listened to in a very long time.

Tracklist:

1) 自治
2) 十字
3) うぐいすの谷
4) ダンスホールの雨
5) 西海岸
6) 余りに短い
7) 踊り続けて
8) バリケード
9) 尖塔から
10) コールドハート
11) 五月と永遠
12) 17
13) 輪廻と天国
14) 彼女はそう言う そう言う
15) 王子たち
16) 郵便#2

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Bilinda Butchers - Tulips / This Love Is Fucking Right! [2009]


Artist: The Bilinda Butchers
Single: Tulips / This Love Is Fucking Right!
Label: Beko DSL

The Bilinda Butchers are a fantastically named dream pop band hailing from San Francisco. The group is made up of two members, named Michael and Adam and their sound sits somewhere between the reverb-drenched acoustic ambience associated with dream pop and that of a very laid-back electro-pop group.

This digital single shows the two sides of this sound very well; 'Tulips' is a chilled out affair, with a lethargic drumbeat, Motown bass-line and ethereally melancholic vocals, beneath which lie thick layers of echoing analogue synthesisers. 'This Love Is Fucking Right!' is a cover of the The Pains of Being Pure at Heart song of the same name. While in the same vein as the first track, it's a much sparser affair: no percussion, just a lonely voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar and what sounds like a mellotron brushing clusters of sampled choirs over the melody. The track floats along in a hazily fluid way, until a synthesiser comes through really brightly and lifts the clouds.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves dream pop. I also recommend checking out other Beko releases; they have an ever-growing catalogue of great music, all released for free.

Tracklist:

1) Tulips
2) This Love Is Fucking Right!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

John Bauer


John Bauer was an artist and illustrator, known for his illustrations of Scandinavian folklore. Bauer was born in 1882, in Jönköping, Sweden. He grew up, the third of four children, in his family's flat above his father's charcuterie in Östra torget, on the outskirts of Jönköping. At 16 years old, Bauer travelled to Stockholm to study art. Two years later, he was accepted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, during which time he was working part-time as a freelance illustrator. While at the academy, Bauer met his future-wife Ester Ellqvist, with whom he travelled to (and eventually settled in) Italy. Bauer stayed in his villa in Volterra for two years, studying the Italian renaissance, during which period he was also receiving regular commissions for fairytale illustrations, most famously, for the first eight volumes of Bland Tomtar och Troll, a collection of fairytales written by Swedish authors. By 1915 however, Bauer was looking to distance himself from his fairytale work and began painting religious figures, heavily influenced by his time spent in Italy. By 1918, his marriage was on the rocks, the world was at war, and he was suffering from depression brought on by self-doubt in his own abilities as an artist. On his move back to Stockholm, the canal boat Per Brahe sank and the whole family, Ester, Bauer and their three-year-old son Bengt, drowned.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Eri Is Asleep

I started a new blog on tumblr called Eri Is Asleep. It's a place for me to discuss and write about things that I don't want to put up here. I feel like recently I've been wanting to write more about my own personal experiences in a different context to reviews. Recently I think that I've been crossing over the reviews with my own experiences, and I want this to be primarily a place for reviewing and sharing art. Welcome to the Space World is still my main blog, but I just wanted to do something a bit more personal so that I could keep reviews and other writing and sharing separate.

Caravan - In the Land of Grey and Pink [1971]



Artist: Caravan
Album: In the Land of Grey and Pink
Label: Deram Records

Caravan is an English progressive rock band formed in 1968 in Canterbury. They are closely associated with the "Canterbury sound"; a unique fusion of progressive rock, psychedelia, jazz and English classical and folk influences. I've never been a big prog fan at all; I've been introduced to Yes a countless amount of times and I can never quite get past the camp theatricality of it all. I find Caravan much more listenable than the majority of progressive rock that I've heard. Instead of the central focus of the music being guitar-wankery and general virtuosity, there is a focus on creating pieces with a strong groove that are also structurally interesting. Caravan also happen to be potentially the most English band of all-time. The first track on The Land of Grey and Pink is about meeting a girl on a golf course and drinking tea with her. On top of this, the members names are: David Sinclair, Richard Sinclair, Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan.

In the Land of Grey and Pink is Caravan's second album, released in 1971 on Decca's progressive subsidiary label, Deram. The album shows the group as pioneers of the Canterbury sound; the structure of the music is very much in the vein of other progressive rock bands; pieces that constantly shift and change. However, the album also shows a lot of psychedelic influences, like David Sinclair's filtered organ and a slew of nonsensical lyrics. These elements culminate in the twenty-two minute masterpiece 'Nine Feet Underground', within which there are eight movements. Sinclair's organ tears it's way through the whole song, its melody continuing without refrain, there's some really tight drumming, an incredible bass groove and smatterings of saxophone, guitar and organ solos which get tied together by the singing of Pye Hastings, whose voice shows up when the jams break down into simpler songs. The whole thing works magnificently well, with enough melodic interest generated from the long-form instrumentals to hold ones attention infinitely. Amidst these instrumentals though, are brief moments of more conventional rock songs, offering moments for all of the instrumentation to come together and benefit from a simpler structure. Although I've just been talking about one track (it does take up half of the album), the first half isn't half bad either. The first side of the album is more pop-based, and by that I mean shorter tracks and sweet melodies. Caravan are often described as a progressive pop band, and the first half of this record shows you why.

Big thanks to Ben Dawton who introduced me to this album and a load of other great stuff that I'll probably end up posting up here sometime soon!

Tracklist:

1) Golf Girl
2) Winter Wine
3) Love to Love You (and Tonight Pigs Will Fly)
4) In the Land of Grey & Pink
5) Nine Feet Underground

Thursday, 4 November 2010

潤二伊藤 - 闇の声 [2003]



Title: Voices in the Dark
Artist: Junji Ito
Scanlator: Daniel Lau

Voices in the Dark is a comic book by renowned Japanese horror mangaka Junji Ito, famous for works like Uzumaki, Gyō and Tomie, the first of which was made into a feature-length film. Ito is known for his dark style and his intricate character designs. I've read quite a lot of his stuff now; Uzumaki was the first comic book I read and remains one of my favourites, Gyō is grotesque (and I mean that in the best way) and Voices in the Dark is yet another horror masterpiece.

Unlike many of his books which are released in a series and follow a linear storyline, or follow the exploits of a single character, like Tomie for instance, Voices in the Dark is a collection of stories which stand completely separate from one another. This short collection holds what are, for me, some of Ito's best concepts and story-lines. One such story, Roar of Ages, is a tale in which a phantom flood sweeps its way through a village, haunting the villagers that lost their loved ones and consuming survivors. Glyceride is another classic about a girl whose father owns a greasy barbeque shop below where they live. Her house gets so filled with grease from the shop that it begins having adverse effects on the family. I won't give any more away, but let me just say that it all comes to a wonderfully disgusting conclusion. Other stories include a comedy duo that make people cry to death, a haunted house with a cannibal boy as its main attraction, and a boy that metamorphoses into a bat. This really is a must read.

The book has not yet been translated or published in English. Fortunately, Daniel Lau has done a great translation of this book, available for English speakers to read so we don't have to wait for official release. Check out his site here.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Jim O'Rourke - Eureka/Perfume - Macaroni



I really wanted to share this video with everyone. I watched this just after seeing the film Eureka, in a desperate search to listen again to Jim O'Rourke's song of the same name. The film is more or less completely devoid of music (excepting a few sparse piano notes), so when this track comes on Akihiko's portable stereo in the bus at the end, it really hits you on a different level.

This video is a mix of the track 'Eureka' and some edited clips from Perfume's music video for 'Macaroni'. Somehow the combination works remarkably well, especially when Nocchi drops her camera and runs towards the sun; it's just an emotional rush. The whole nostalgia present in the music gets perfectly reflected back by the grainy home-made super-8 feel of the video. I think that even if there was an official video made for this beautiful piece of music, it couldn't top this. Enjoy.

Piana - Snow Bird [2003]



Artist: Piana
Album: Snow Bird
Label: Happy

Snow Bird is Piana's first album, released on Taylor Deupree's Happy label, which has now merged with 12k. Unfortunately, this means that it's nearly impossible to get ahold of this album as it hasn't been reissued which is a real shame, because this is certainly a contender for her best album and that's saying a lot for such a consistent artist.

On Snow Bird, Piana shows herself to be an experimental musician with a keen ear for unique melodies, rather than just a pop singer flirting with electronics. After listening to her most recent album Eternal Castle (2007) for a while, I forgot that in the beginning of her career, she trod a middle path between the type of glitchy soundscapes of other Japanese ambient artists like Fourcolor and Sawako, and her own unique brand of ethereal pop. Eternal Castle was certainly a step into a realm of more conventional sounds, putting a far greater emphasis on acoustic instrumentation and melody than on her previous two albums. Snow Bird is such a wonderful album because she manages to get (in my opinion) the perfect balance between her experimental tendencies and her voice as a pop singer and composer.

Snow Bird is in fact the third album of Piana's that I made my way around to listening to, Ephemeral (2005) being the first. Snow Bird is definitely her most experimental album to date, but also the album where she manages to transmit her melodies in their purest form. On top of this, the instrumentation on Snow Bird is much more stripped down than on any of her other albums, with more of an emphasis on electronic manipulation and processing. The result is something profoundly beautiful; just Naoko's voice, some guitars, piano, strings and her laptop guiding the recordings.

After listening to Snow Bird through several times, I must say that I think this is her best effort to date. Her vocal melodies and harmonies are completely original on these recordings and they shine through from behind the layers of digital glitches which permeate her sound. It was evident to me that she had sampled some material from Ephemeral on Eternal Castle, primarily just synthesised sounds, but also some strings. If, however, you're looking for the greatest interpretation of the Piana sound, then just go straight to Snow Bird. For me, she delivers her sonic vision in its purest form on this record, and it surpasses all of her later records.

Tracklist:

1) 20 Years Ago
2) Butterfly
3) Snow Bird
4) Spring Has Come!!!
5) Winter Sleep
6) Hide and Seek
7) Voice
8) Monster
9) April
10) Blue Bell
11) After 20 Years