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Part 2 In A Series: Year-End Lists Of Various Lengths
Although I focus my ears (and wallet) on music from Japan, I also pay attention to releases from elsewhere. I didn't hear thousands of albums, but here are some that I heard, and liked:
01) Some Girls, [Crushing Love] - As close as I've come to a perfect record in quite a while. Juliana Hatfield and crew should be applauded.
02) Be Your Own Pet, [Be Your Own Pet] - The best no-holds-barred punk rock record of the year. Guaranteed to get you pumped up despite (or because of) the simple lyrics and constant attack.
03) Lady Sovereign, [Public Warning] - Not the best or most serious rap/grime record ever, but it sure sounds great, with inventive production and flows. S-O-V is quite fun, and I like this a lot.
04) Veruca Salt, [IV] - Louise Post has surpassed her prior work with this bundle of angst and sonic joy.
05) Art Circus, [Art Circus] - A sophisticated and intimate anthology, solely from female artists, and one of the best Infinity Cat releases yet.
06) Hot IQs, [Dangling Modifier EP] - 5 songs that satisfy like an album would, so charming and lyrically playful, not to mention post-indie-rocky tuneful.
07) Joanna Newsom, [Ys] - 5 long songs that sound like 20, with amazing lyrical and orchestral leaps centered around her wonderful harp. Intimate, intellectual and thought provoking, this is something that opens further with each listen.
08) Built To Spill, [You In Reverse] - I've been with BTS since the very beginning, and this is a long awaited addition to the discography. Sounds like guitar magic.
09) Taking Back Sunday, [Louder Now] - I don't like most things that make their way to modern rock radio, but I do love this album. Emo for the rest of us.
10) The Loud Family And Anton Barbeau, [What If It Works?] - If Scott Miller is involved, then it has to be in the top 10. So great in so many ways.
For the sake of completeness, here are six more notable releases that almost made the cut:
11) The Like Young, [Last Secrets] - The best husband/wife rock band gets better with every release. Compact yet complex.
12) JoJo, [High Road] - You may not believe it, but I'm really into most of this album. Compared to the other highly polished teen stars in the US, she's by far the most talented.
13) Yo La Tengo, [I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass] - I'm more of an old school (pre Matador) YLT fiend, but this generous helping of amazingness will do nicely.
14) Morrissey, [Ringleader Of The Tormentors] - I'm a sucker for his genre of one, so it's a given I would be applauding his wit and presentation.
15) Bettie Serveert, [Bare Stripped Naked] - Not the best BS record, but even their average releases outclass most else.
16) Gwen Stefani, [The Sweet Escape] - Half of this is brilliant, and the other half surprisingly poor (no more pseudo-raps with minimal rhyme schemes, please!). Still, the solid part more than makes up for the misses.
Part 1 In A Series: Year-End Lists Of Various Lengths
As always, there are more great albums from Japan than I can rank comfortably, but of the ones I heard this year, a few stand out:
01) Hikaru Utada, [Ultra Blue] - I was shocked at the maturity and skill this album presents, but leave it to Hikki to better her best. A rare case of the ultra-popular truly worthy of the adoration.
02) Tokyo Jihen, [Adult] - My life changed for the better when I first heard Ringo Sheena, and her work with Tokyo Jihen has surpassed my expectations. Truly adult in complexity and charm. Make sure to seek out new Ringo-san solo work in early 2007.
03) Kenichi Asai, [Johnny Hell] - Without warning, Kenichi Asai released his best release in years. Whether "solo" or in various groups, he's a force to be awed at.
04) Yuki, [Wave] - Every solo album by Yuki thus far has been brilliant, and this is more of the same shine.
05) Puffy, [Splurge] - Not the best Puffy album ever, but their average rises well above all challengers. Catchy, comfortable, and a fine addition to their catalogue.
06) Zazen Boys, [Zazen Boys III] - Out of the ashes of Number Girl rise a more starkly funky version of the sounds I love. Worth tracking down.
07) Kaela Kimura, [Circle] - My new favorite pop-rock figure, who transforms cute with interesting and catchy tunes. Doesn't come close to her amazing first album, but a good listen until her third release in early 2007.
08) Noodles, [Cover Me Shakespeare] - Consistently solid female-produced music that simply out rocks most everyone else, in an advanced The Brilliant Green meets The Pillows way.
09) Anna Tsuchiya, [strip me?] - Besides the fact that I'm a sucker for her beauty, Anna is an up-and-coming actress that actually has the chops to make it as a singer. Some of her songs are just OK, but many are quite impressive and sure to promote sing-alongs, of the gravely voiced sort.
10) Hitomi, [LOVE CONCENT] - Her last album was disappointing, but before I gave up hope, Hitomi proved to still have the starshine that her mid-career albums boasted of. A far better record than one would expect, and one that has proved to be a constant listen.
Update On 12.30.06: [My Foot] by The Pillows should be quite high on this list, but I forgot that it was released on 1.12.06, instead of in late 2005. Just know that it's a great record, as usual for The Pillows, and definitely better than most releases on this list. I'd put it around number 4.
After 7 months of not reporting my activities, I have an updated list of some CDs and DVDs on preorder from Japan. As always, I'm sure this was lowly anticipated, but the idea is that you might come across one or two items that interest you as well.
I'm also terribly excited about [Terminal], the third album from Salyu which will no doubt destroy lesser works, albeit in a pleasant way.
01) [LIVE DVD], Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re, 12.6.06, DAKBNTN-66, 2000yen (DVD)
02) [Black Cherry], Kumi Koda, 12.20.06, RZCD-45506, 4,800yen (album, version with 2 DVDs)
03) [OOEYEOO-EYE REMIX], OOIOO, 1.1.07, MTCD-1076, 1,429yen (album)
04) [OOHOHOO-OOIOO MUSIC VIDEO'S '99-'07], OOIOO, 1.1.07, MTBD-1002, 2,857yen (DVD)
05) [Tengu 2], Thmlues, 1.1.07, KIBM-127, 2,800yen (DVD)
06) [100 Manmai Toppa!], Thmlues, 1.1.07, KICS-1287, 2,667yen (single)
07) [Kuroi Namida], ANNA inspi' NANA (BLACK STONES), 1.10.07, CTCR-40247, 1,600yen (single, version with DVD)
08) [Anna Tsuchiya 1st Live Tour Blood Of Roses], Anna Tsuchiya, 1.10.07, CTBR-92045, 3,800yen (DVD)
09) [Terminal], Salyu, 1.17.07, TFCC-86213, 2,913yen (album)
10) [LOVE MY LIFE Original Soundtrack performed by noodles], Noodles, 1.17.07, DAKBUMP-25, 1,715yen
11) [Snowdome], Kaela Kimura, 1.17.07, COZA-241, 1,300yen (single, version with DVD)
12) [Konoyo no Kagiri], Ringo Shiina, Neko Saito, Junpei Shiina, 1.17.07, TOCT-40084, 1,143yen (single)
13) [Untitled], Morning Musume. Tanjo 10 Nen Kinentai, 1.24.07, EPCE-5448, 1,200yen (single, version with DVD)
14) [Catch On Everywhere], Polysics, 1.31.07, KSCL-1091, 1,165yen (single)
15) [Lostman Go To America], The Pillows, 2.7.07, AVBD-91372, 3,714yen (DVD)
16) [Untitled], Tommy heavenly6, 2.7.07, DFCL-1327, 1,429yen (single, version with DVD)
17) [Untitled], ANNA inspi' NANA (BLACK STONES), 2.14.07, CTCR-40249, 1,800yen (single, version with DVD)
18) [Untitled], Morning Musume, 2.14.07, EPCE-5450, 1,600yen (single, version with DVD)
19) [Dai Ikkai Ringohan Taikai no Moyo], Sheena Ringo, 2.21.07, QIFK-50005, 3.905yen (Live DVD)
20) [Heisei Fuzoku], Ringo Shiina, Neko Saito, 2.21.07, TOCT-26211, 3,238yen (album)
Yipes! Guess you can tell that importing music is my sole hobby these days. I hope you noticed the work by Kaela Kimura, Noodles, The Pillows, and Anna Tsuchiya, which speaks volumes about what artists I'll be adding to my Japanese Pop pages next. Don't be surprised if Hitomi shows up as well, since her latest album [LOVE CONCENT] tipped my scales back into like.
Here are some older releases you should note, that haven't reached my PO Box yet:
01) [Lollipop Candy Bad Girl], Tommy heavenly6, 10.11.06, DFCL-1292, 1,429yen (single, version with DVD)
02) [Condor], ROVO, 10.18.06, WRCD-36, 2,800yen (album)
03) [You-You-You], Polysics, 10.25.06, KSCL-1045, 1,429yen (single, version with DVD)
04) [Platform], Salyu, 11.1.06, TFCC-89187, 1,048yen (single)
05) [Moody Moon Dance], Thmlues, 11.1.06, KICM-1184, 952yen (single)
06) [Level 32], Triceratops, 11.1.06, VICL-62144, 2,900yen (album)
07) [Boku wa Kuma Regular Edition (w/DVD)], Hikaru Utada, 11.22.06, TOCT-40069, 1,143yen (single, version with DVD)
08) [Hataraku Otoko], Puffy, 11.27.06, KSCL-1073, 1,165yen (single)
09) [Secret], Ayumi Hamasaki, 11.29.06, AVCD-23178, 3,800yen (album, version with DVD)
10) [I Love Xmas], Tommy heavenly6, 12.6.06, DFCL-1317, 1,429yen (single, version with DVD)
What should be apparent by now is that 1) Tommy heavenly6 releases lots of singles, and I have to catch 'em all, 2) Polysics must be gearing up for a new album, 3) I love Boredoms-related bands, like OOIOO and ROVO, and 4) Morning Musume and Kumi Koda, while reviled by me in the past, are hard to resist when extra DVDs are involved.
Kaneko Atsushi is one of my favorite comic creators in any language. He's becoming known for [BAMBi And Her Pink Gun] in the US, but his latest series is [SOIL], now being serialized in Japan, in the monthly [Comic Beam] magazine.
[SOIL] Volume 5, the latest collection of his serialized manga novel, was released in Japan on 11.27.2006, 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.
It has comets, vortexes, 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. The story has really solidified over the past few volumes, and it's quite satisfying. You might as well import and appreciate now, or else wait many years to see it translated. Either way, we all win.
Feel free to find out much more about the work of Kaneko Atsushi at my fan site now.
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