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9.26.2005 - [Kaneko Atsushi Raises Beauty In "SOIL" 3] Hide
[SOIL] by Kaneko Atsushi

Kaneko Atsushi is one of my favorite comic creators in any language. He's becoming known for [BAMBi] in the US, but his latest series is [SOIL], now being serialized in Japan, in the monthly [Comic Beam] magazine.

[SOIL] Volume 3, the latest collection of his serialized manga novel, will be released in Japan on 9.30.2005, and it's just more of the same greatness. It juxtaposes "typical" life in a smallish town, with a growing mystery that threatens to engulf all normalcy. Science fiction and fantasy meet a grounded exploration of the hopes, quirks and fears of a population, as they try to discover just what seems to be corrupting their way of life.

Perhaps I over-melodramatize, but it has comets, big piles of salt, people acting all crazy, a fair amount of blood, broad slapstick humor, and more, all rendered in that Kaneko Atsushi style that simply can't be beat. You might as well import and appreciate now, or else wait many years to see it translated. Either way, we all win.


9.26.2005 - [Tommy Is Heavenly All Months Of The Year] Hide
Tommy heavenly6

Tommy heavenly 6, OK? If you haven't already been indoctrinated, Tomoko Kawase was an amazingly talented and beautiful part of the brilliant green, who were quite popular around the turn of the millennium.

She eventually struck out on her own, as a synth-peppy-pop Tommy february6 (named after her birthdate). I didn't care for that project all that much, due to the relative vapidity of the music. It was above average, and the visual components were greatly kitchy (so many cheerleaders!) but just not my beloved BuriGuri

So, when her first band released [The Winter Album], their last record in 12.2002, I only cried a little bit, because I knew that Tommy had some secret, sparkly tricks left in her gig bag - namely her rockin' Tommy heavenly 6 project. It's everything that february6 was not - incredibly catchy in a guitar heavy sort of way, presented at times at a must faster pace then the brilliant green. So you have a combination of English and Japanese lyrics, soothing yet slightly edgy vocals, distortion and a solid back beat, plus loads and loads of pop rocks, already soda mixed and ready to maim.

Tommy heavenly6

While february6 already has had two albums so far, heavenly6 didn't give us pure, unfiltered joy until 8.24.2005. I ordered my limited edition copy of [Tommy heavenly6] way before then, but due to the slow magic of shipping from Japan, didn't receive it unit last weekend. Without belaboring the point, it is truly amazing, containing her hit singles [Ready?], [Wait Till I Can Dream], [Hey My Friend] (from the [Shimotsuma Story] sountrack), not to mention some fan-fave B-sides ([Swear] and [Gimme All Of Your Love!]). Those 5 songs alone are well worth the purchase price. but they are surrounded by 6 other fine tracks, all of which I'm learining to love in their own special way.

Tommy heavenly6

Specifically, I now adore [2Bfree] the album opener that starts with a question but then chokes you with sweet exclamation points. [fell in love with you] slows things down a bit with some familiar Tommy jingle jangle, only to propel the chorus the hell down the street, like an anxious water balloon. [Wanna be your idol] is better than anything on Fox reality shows, with a little lurch mid-song before the gas kicks in, and [+gothic Pink+] is cute yet hilarious ("Hello, welcome to my dark side/Why don't you have a picnic there") that the rollicking chorus more than makes up for. [Lost My Pieces] is very BuriGuri, albeit a more depressed, slinky version, with another of those killer choruses that Tommy seems to specialize in. Finally, [LCDD] is perfectly pretty, a nice culmination of the new Tommy sound that melds the past with the present.

In short, this is one of the best records of 2005, without question. It might not be for everyone, but if you're a BuriGuri fan, or a Tommy fan in general, then you will be doing front flips with chair firmly under your ass. That's quite difficult, you know, which speaks to the world-shifting power of such pretty pop. A JM Best Bet.


9.20.2005 - [Juliana Hatfield Is The Real McCoy] Hide
[Made In China] by Juliana Hatfield

I've always been quite taken by Juliana Hatfield - not her persona, just her music. In college (the early 90s) I discovered her amazing Blake Babies output (a project she started in her teens), and those albums are still some of my all time favorites. I also enjoyed her then new [Hey Babe] album, which introduced her solo career with indie pop perfection. She's definitely sounds like other rock musicians from Massachusetts, but she tempered melodic cuteness with a rough sonic edge that was quite progressive in its day and age.

[Become What You Are] saw her on a major label, and while she had some success, I wasn't that taken, and said so in my first [Junk Magnet] print issues (which were packed to the gills with reviews). After that point I lost track of her work for the rest of the 90s, assuming that she was just no longer for me.

Juliana Hatfield

I was quite wrong, because over the past few years she's been on fire, first with a Blake Babies reunion album, and then work by Some Girls (a new band she fronts, along with Freda Love of the Blake Babies), not to mention her last two solo albums.

[In Exile Deo] from 5.2004 was quite the powerful record that fully ignited my fandom again, and one of my faves for last year. In 8.2005 she topped that with [Made In China], her almost masterpiece that has been on heavy rotation for me as of late.

[Made In China] is a patchwork quilt spanning her career, albeit with all new songs. It's rough and tumble, which song fragments as opposed to long epics, yet every single track works to create a mesmerizing whole. It's feedbacky yet folk, personal yet abstract, with tons of sing-along moments. I haven't quite heard Juliana like this before, but I'm quite appreciative of the slightly more experimental turn. Plus, it's on her own label, Ye Olde Records, so buy a copy to more directly support her efforts.

Now I just need to buy the 4 or 5 albums I'm missing from the middle of her career, and then I can fully champion this up and coming artist, who should have been a superstar long ago.


9.19.2005 - [Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re and Suicide Girls Conquer US] Hide
Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re

I adore Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re (aka TsuShiMaMiRe), the amazing trio from Japan. I heard from Yayoi (their beautiful bassist) a few days ago, and I was excited to receive their final schedule for their Fall tour of the US.

Note that they are a part of the Suicide Girls Live Burlesque tour, which should add interest to the shows:

09.30.05 - Phoenix, AZ, The Clubhouse
10.01.05 - Tuscon, AZ, Club Congress
10.03.05 - Denton, TX, Hailey's
10.04.05 - Austin, TX, Emo's
10.05.05 - Houston, TX, Engine Room
10.07.05 - Charlotte, NC, Amos
10.08.05 - Baltimore, MD, Ottobar
10.09.05 - Philadelphia, PA, Starlight Ballroom
10.10.05 - NYC, Knitting Factory
10.11.05 - NYC, Knitting Factory
10.12.05 - Boston, MA, Middle East
10.13.05 - Northampton, MA, Pearl St.
10.14.05 - Buffalo, NY, The Icon
10.15.05 - Pittsburgh, PA, Rex Theater
10.16.05 - Cleveland, OH, Beachland
10.18.05 - Indianapolis, IN, Vogue Theater
10.21.05 - Chicago, IL, Logan Square Auditorium
10.22.05 - Minneapolis, MN, Fine Line
10.24.05 - Kansas City, MO, Granada
10.25.05 - Denver, CO, Gothic Theater
10.28.05 - Seattle, WA, Neumo's
10.31.05 - Petaluma, CA, Mystic Theater
11.02.05 - San Francisco, CA, The Independent
11.03.05 - San Francisco, CA, The Independent
11.04.05 - Modesto, CA, Fat Cat
11.05.05 - Los Angeles, CA, El Rey

There also might be this show, which I'm not certain is cancelled:
10.19.05 - Newport, KY, Southgate House
Check with the venue to see if that's still on.

11.07.05 to 11.13.05 - Japan Girls Nite US Tour, TsuShiMaMiRe / AMPPEZ/ Red Bacteria Vacuum

If you want to be entertained by a funky pop-noise-punk trio that know how to rock, then by all means hit as many of these dates as possible. I know I will.


9.14.2005 - ["Corpse Bride": Always Early To The Altar] Hide
[Corpse Bride]

Last night I attended a sneak preview of [Corpse Bride], Tim Burton's latest stop-animated adventure, which opens nationwide on 9.23.05. I've seen about 95% of his work, so I can say with some authority that it's pretty much par for the course, artistically abundant but a bit meager in the graveyard plot. It does have star voices (Mr. Depp, Ms. Bonham Carter), bony dogs and cute maggots, and a bright merchandizing future, so perhaps that makes up for the occasional meagerness.

You could summarize the happenings in two comma filled sentences, but I'll refrain - the trailer alone gets you there. Sufficed to say that it's animated, and thus somehow associated with children's fare in the minds of many, but in actually is quite dark and grim, with a playfully mean streak. The Land of the Living is dreary and gray, filled with ugly adults and dead fish, and once Vincent hits the Land of the Dead, all heck breaks loose, with colors and skulls a dancing (see all of his movies from [Beetlejuice] to [The Nightmare Before Christmas] for the aesthetic). Thus, I guess some commentary is being made, but I don't quite get it ("Death is cooler than life"?).

[Corpse Bride]

However, all such metaphysics are barely explored, and most of the movie is a passible love story, with poor poor Vincent taking his pick of a living and dead wife, both smart and beautiful. Perhaps you can guess which one gets the matrimonial prize in the end? In that respect [Corpse Bride], where suicide is seen as an act of love at one point, is strangely traditional.

No matter, as musical, charnel affairs go, this was a pleasant one, with witty lyrics and enough reanimated bodies to satiate most anyone who likes the walking dead. Myself, I'm more partial to skin rather than bones, but I could still get enough visual satisfaction to make my rating a firm 3 magnets out of 4.


9.12.2005 - [No More Strays - Be Your Own Pet] Hide

Part 11 in a Series: SXSW 2005 Bands I Adore, From Afar

[Damn Damn Leash] by be your own PET

SXSW 2005 has long since departed, but the memory of great music remains. One of the attending bands that I was turned on to (via MP3s) was be your own PET. A youngsome, toothsome, fearsome foursome, these high school age teens crawl out of the nearest volcano, setting all stages on fire, and melting their equipment mid chord.

be your own PET

Yes, Jemina Pearl (Vocals), Jonas Stein (Guitar), Nathan Vasquez (Bass), and Jamin Orrall (Drums) are simply that hot, scorching enough that for a time, the music press couldn't get enough of their singles or live set. So far, the've only released a few songs, typified by their Japan-only EP called [Damn Damn Leash]. 6 songs that jump out of the sweaty, heaving union of Picasso Trigger and Yeah Yeah Yeahs ($10 to anyone that understands what I'm getting at); in other words, female-vocalized garage indie-punk rock with fast songs and rough edges.

They are from Nashville. They yell and scream, and sound kinda like the Lunachicks, only with a taste of Pretty Girls Make Graves. Actually, I can't quite put their sound into words, even though it's immediately accessible, with much resemblance to bands past. Still, they're true teenage rockers, all cute and afroed and ready to rule the world. Go here for their first fansite, or go to Infinity Cat for the latest be your own PET brilliance.


9.7.2005 - [Apple-Powered "Extraordinary Machine" Is On] Hide
[Extraordinary Machine] by Fiona Apple

Almost 9 months ago, I wrote about Fiona Apple's long-lost 3rd album, [Extraordinary Machine], that was liberated (leaked) over the internet and radio, even when Sony had no intentions of releasing it. This was all due to the machinations and protests of a dedicated fan base, who went so far as to gather en masse in front of the record label, until they were noticed. You can read that article right here (really - go read it right now), so I don't have to repeat myself. For the less-motivated: The album was great, and I promised that "if it was actually for sale, I would buy it in a instant."

Free Fiona Apple

Well, come 10.4.2005, it will be for sale, on actual, physical CDs, and even a DuoDisc with extra stuff like videos. I'm so incredibly excited about this, you can't even understand, since this has been one of my favorite albums of the year. The final version will have extra production on most songs, and you can get a sneak preview at her official website, or at the iTunes music store (which has a 2 song single, before the album hits). The new versions have more strings and instrumentation, which isn't really necessary, but I'm sure won't kill the unique sound too much.

You are well advised to check out [Extraordinary Machine] when it comes out in a few weeks, and those who already downloaded the earlier version have a duty to hit the stores, to prove with their pocketbooks that Sony was absolutely wrong before, but absolutely right now. Sometimes justice prevails (even if I have no idea about whether "injustice" was the cause of the past problems related to this album) and celebration is in order.


9.6.2005 - ["MPD Psycho": Beware The Barcoders] Hide
[MPD Psycho]

I'm a big Takashi Miike fan. Big as in a witness to a few dozen of his movies and TV productions, basically everything that has been released in the US market. He's extremely productive, sometimes making heaping handfuls of movies each and every year, and is generally known for a violent, sadistic, phantasmagoric streak, at least in a fair amount of his filmed fiction.

[MPD Psycho] (MPD = Multiple Personality Detective) is his latest release in the US, although the series was first shown on Japanese TV in 2000. The manga it's based on ([Tajyuu Jinkaku Tantei PSYCHO] by Eiji Otsuka and Sho-u Tajima) was published in the late 1990s, and focused on a criminal profiler, Kazuhiko Amamiya, his many multiple personalities, and how they relate to a weird and evil conspiracy.

I can't speak for the original manga series, since I've never encountered it. However, I can assume that the television series at least attempts at its essence. Takashi Miike works from a screenplay by Eiji Ootsuka, the author of the original manga and novels, and the audience is thrown in face first, as the death of his girlfriend seemingly splits Kazuhiko Amamiya into other personalities.

[MPD Psycho II]

As the series progresses, he flip-flops between the profiler and Yousuke Kobayashi, who is a more mild-mannered detective. He's chasing Shinji Nishizono, either another part of his personality that has been disembodied, or some other sort of evil spirt. It's not that clear from the first few episodes (each DVD contains two, hour-long parts), but there is a definite connection between his past and Lu-C Monostone, a musician and killer meant to remind of Charles Manson. The life and music of Monostone is intertwined with the events in each episode, as past horror seems to be crossing over into the present.

Without spoiling the plot, here are some highlights that speak to the overall thrust of the series, and why I think Miike wanted to be involved. Episode one has the discovery of girls with their brain case sawed off, so their noggin can be used as a flower plot. Episode two has a killer that cuts living babies from the wombs of unsuspecting mothers. Episode three (the best so far, and featuring the lovely yet powerful Chiaki Kuriyama for the first 5 minutes) is about a boarding school with a possessed student body, scores of which are gunned down by the end. Episode four involves a sadistic teen who uses body parts for bingo, and then dismembers someone important to the lead character.

[MPD Psycho] manga

All of these events are driven by people possessed by Shinji Nishizono, who can transfer himself telephonically or by touch to others marked by a barcode underneath an eyelid. This barcode comes in a few generations (black, red), involves our main character somehow, and is seemingly transmissible en masse. Thus, a whole generation of young Japanese are infected by this mark, that allows them to be influenced by an evil force. That's about the extent of my understanding, which is hard won, since the episodes are extremely dense, and not quite forthcoming with the almost mystical facts.

As mentioned above, there is much gore, although anything involving cutting or dismembering has been permanently blurred by Japanese TV censors. Thus, you don't get the full effect that Miike obviously envisioned, that other movies like [Ichi The Killer] demonstrated.

[MPD Psycho] both a humorous and incredibly morbid series, that picks up steam at it progresses. It's SF-Horror, with visions of the internet as a medium for electronic life, and snuff films being the ultimate underground entertainment. Filled with fruity iMacs and inexplicable, fake, glowing rain, you'll get more than your fair share of ferris wheels and eyeball shots, and still come away with a weird, paranoiac feeling, based less on understanding, and more on the fear that something could be calling for you via your cell phone, a manifestation of cultural psychosis.

In short, I dig the series, enough to want to track down the print material from which it originates. More on Takashi Miike as time permits - he has many amazing works to discuss and discover.


9.1.2005 - [Disaster And Togetherness] Hide
The Aftermath Of Katrina

I was going to start new contests today, but recent events made the act of giving away T-Shirts and CDs seem cheap. So, that will happen later.

For the past few days, my focus has been on the Gulf States of the US, particularly Louisiana and Mississippi, which as most everyone knows are in dire straights. Over 100,000 people need immediate help, of the life or death variety - an apt metaphor is that many people woke up and found themselves on thousands of tiny desert islands (their former homes), with nothing but their wits or fear to guide them.

Of course, we all knew that particular storm was coming, and so there were days that could have been spent in evacuation, or shoring things up. Experts and lay-people knew for decades that the levees were not enough, and that the federal government was increasingly unwilling to pay for their upkeep. That's simply unforgivable, especially considering that New Orleans is below sea level, so the threat has always been clear.

Now, it's not all gone forever, but at least for months or even years everything will be different. It's not the first natural disaster, and odds are there will be dozens around the world before this year is up. I think the point is to get some real foresight in action, instead of just trailing after catastrophes with inadequate financial resources, and perhaps the best intentions in hindsight.You can find all sorts of analysis everywhere this week, so I'll spare you my lack of expertise. I know my share about Japanese music, but I'm not smart enough to think of a real solution for such larger issues. One could say that it's simply the inextricable forces of nature, and shrug shoulders, or we could all act, trying to create mitigation on many fronts. If we can send our young to war, then we can send them to build bridges and dams and homes instead.

All I know is that I'm searching for ways to help in this particular case - the Red Cross is a good place to begin - knowing all too well that in a few days, months or years, a disaster of similar scale (earthquake) is all but assured to hit my home towns. I would hope to be prepared by then, but outside help will no doubt be necessary. Thus, I work to help those in need now, and hope that in the future some of that can be repaid in kind.

In conclusion: Help, please. That's about thousands have the strength to say, so I'm doing my best to listen, and respond. Hopefully a lot of little arms can remove this big burden.



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