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Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

[ATTENDED: May 20,2019] Mono

It seems entirely possible that I could subsist on rock bands from Japan for a couple of months.  Between Acid Mothers Temple, Boris and now Mono, I have an amazing collection of experiences both on record and in person.

I was unfamiliar with Mono when Union Transfer announced that they’d be playing a “big, intense show, like usual.”  But I had to check them out…  (especially since tickets were only $10–a criminally low price for such an amazing show).

Mono has released some ten albums (plus EPs and more) since 2001.   They have been a band since 1999 with only one lineup change.  The original drummer left in 2018 and was replaced by New Yorker Dahm Majuri Cipolla. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAROLINA EYCK AND CLARICE JENSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #816 (January 11, 2019).

There have been a lot of bands I have first heard of on Tiny Desk and whom I hope to see live one day.  Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen are two women I would love to see live–together or separately.

The concert opens with a looping voice (Carolina’s) and what appears to be her using a theremin to play looped samples.  And then soon enough, she starts showing off how awesome she is at the futuristic 100-year-old instrument.

Carolina Eyck is the first to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk. The early electronic instrument with the slithery sound was invented almost 100 years ago by Leon Theremin, a Soviet scientist with a penchant for espionage. It looks like a simple black metal box with a couple of protruding antennae, but to play the theremin like Eyck does, with her lyrical phrasing and precisely “fingered” articulation, takes a special kind of virtuosity.

After playing a remarkably sophisticated melody on the theremin (with suitable trippy effects here and there), for about three minutes, she explains how the instrument works.  She even shows a very precise scale.

The position of the hands influences electromagnetic fields to produce pitch and volume. Recognized as one of today’s preeminent theremin specialists, Eyck writes her own compositions, such as the pulsating “Delphic” which opens the set, and she’s got big shot composers writing theremin concertos for her.

Up next is Clarice Jensen with “her wonderful cello.”

Joining Eyck for this two-musician-in-one Tiny Desk is cellist Clarice Jensen. When she’s not making gorgeous, drone-infused albums like last year’s For This From That Will be Filled, Jensen directs one of today’s leading new music outfits, ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Jensen doesn’t explain what’s going on, but she makes some amazing sounds out of that instrument–she’s clearly got pedals and she modifies and loops the sounds she’s making.

“Three Leos,” composed by Jensen, offers her masterful art of looping the cello into symphonic layers of swirling, submerged choirs with a wistful tune soaring above.

Vak Eyck comes back for the final song, a wonderfully odd duet of cello and theremin.

The two musicians close with “Frequencies,” a piece jointly composed specifically for this Tiny Desk performance. Amid roiling figures in cello and melodies hovering in the theremin, listen closely for a wink at the NPR Morning Edition theme music.

Van Eyck make soaring sounds, while Jensen scratches and squeals the cello.  Within a minute Jensen is playing beautiful cello and Van Eyck is flicking melodies out of thin air.

[READ: June 24, 2017] Less

It wasn’t until several chapters into this book that I realized I had read an excerpt from it (and that’s probably why I grabbed it in the first place).  I also had no idea it won the Pulitzer (PULL-It-ser, not PEW-lit-ser) until when I looked for some details about it just now.

It opens with a narrator talking about Arthur Less.  He describes him somewhat unflatteringly but more in a realistic-he’s-turning-fifty way, than a displeased way.

And soon the humor kicks in.

The driver who arrives to take Less to an interview assumes he is a woman because she found his previous novel’s female protagonist so compelling and persuasive that she was sure the book was written by a woman (and there was no author photo).  So she has been calling out for “Miss Arthur,” which he has ignored because he is not a woman.  This makes him late and, strangely, apologetic.

He is in New York to interview a famous author H. H. H. Mandern who has, at the last moment, come down with food poisoning.

It takes only ten pages to get the main plot out of the way:

Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrived in the mail: his boyfriend of the past nine years is about to be married to someone else. He can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and he can’t say no–it would look like defeat. The solution might just be on his desk –a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.  Can he simply get out of town, and go around the world, as a way to avoid looking foolish? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAPANDROIDS-Live at Massey Hall (October 4, 2017).

Japandroids are one of the most energetic bands around.  Is that because there are only two of them and they need to do even more?

Well, whatever the case, they rock Massey Hall.

They are playing four nights in a row at Boot & Saddle in Philly in a couple of weeks.  The shows sold out almost instantly, but I got a ticket for the second night.  And this video has gotten me really psyched to see them again.

The show opens with David Prowse, the drummer talking about Massey Hall.  It’s by far the most legendary venue in all of Canada.  There’s a lot of emotion tied up in playing this room–equal parts terrifying and inspiring.  It’s an honor just to be asked to play here.  We couldn’t pass up the opportunity but it’s large boots to fill.

The show opens with Prowse’s very fast snare drums and Brian King eking out feedback from his guitar.

And from there it’s 35 minutes of nonstop energy from both the band and the crowd. The guitars are fast and the drumming in maniacal.   It’s amazing.

What’s so especially interesting to me about this band is that there’s two of them and they don;t rally do guitar solos.  This all seems like a recipe for short songs. But no, most of their songs are about 4 minutes long and live they tend to jam them out a bit, too.

So in this show except you don;t get a lot of songs, but you get a lot of music.

“Near to the wild Heart of Life” plays for nearly five minutes before it is interrupted so Brian can talk about playing Massey Hall and how Toronto has always been good to them.

It’s followed by some great, really exciting versions of these songs: “Fire’s Highway,” “Heart Sweats” and “Younger Us” covering all three of their albums.

Brian thanks then all for coming out and spending a school night with them.

Introducing “North East South West” Brian says, there happens to be a Toronto reference in this song.  Its 10% more fun to play when we play here.  Be sure to sing it out if you know it.  It’s the one glorious moment on tour when we get to hear people in Toronto sing Toronto.

After the song they interview: the participatory nature of our shows makes you feel so connected with a roomful of strangers and we’ve both become quiet addicted to that feeling of connection.  It’s so visceral and it’s a big part of why we tour so much.

Our audience is part of the show.  Their energy is part of the show.  Sometimes it’s just as fun watching the audience as it is watching the band

“No Known Drink or Drug” and “The House Than Heaven Built” end the show in incredible fashion.  There’s even some stage divers (in Massey Hall!) which makes them laugh while singing.

Seeing Brian climb on the bass drum at the end of the set is a great moment.  I’m psyched for next week.

[READ: April 14, 2014] “Rat Beach”

William Styron is a pretty legendary writer, although I have never read him.  I don’t even know what he typically writes about.  This story is about Marines awaiting their next move as they wait on the Shore of Japan in WWII.

The narrator says that if he was a year older he would have been in the Iwo Jima bloodbath. Rather he and his troop were waiting on the island of Saipan.

He says he was “so fucking scared,” but it seemed the others would never let on just how scared they were (he wouldn’t either, of course). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TYLER CHILDERS-Tiny Desk Concert #729 (April 11, 2018).

I didn’t expect to like this set–I’ve really had it with country music encroaching on my radio station.  So when Childers was described as having “a coarse and soulful Kentucky drawl,” I wasn’t interested.

Especially when the songs were “about hard lives and hard love with direct heart.”

But he surprised me because it’s the coarseness that comes to the fore more than the drawl.  At least on the first song “Nose on the Grindstone” a song about a miner and the consequences of addiction.  I like his delivery and the intensity of the song.

The second song “22nd Winter” is a little less aggressive and his drawl does comes out, but he keeps it on the side of folk, in fact I would say more like English ballads than American folk.  He describes:

“This is a song about the first time I got snowed in with my in-laws,” he says, expecting a laugh, and giving it a beat. “It’s not a blues song, it’s a love song”)  “I’m pretty partial to my in-laws.  If you see my in-laws tell ’em I was talking good about then.

The final song is about the love of his life, “Lady May.”  It also has the feel of an old English ballad with the interesting chords and melody that opens the song.  I won’t be a huge fan or anything but I’d take him over many of the alt-country artists that I hear these days.

[READ: February 26, 2018] “Whites”

This is an excerpt from The Buddha in the Attic.

This excerpt is written entirely in the second person plural and it is about Japanese women coming to America–the first wave of migrant workers

It tells all of their stories in a sort of continuous forward motion.

The women settled at the edges of “their” towns. Unless “they” wouldn’t let them.  They moved from labor camp to labor camp.  They learned the word for water or they died from heatstroke.

In the beginning they wondered about the white men–why did they mount their horses from the left, why were the always shouting, why did they drink cows milk?

We were told to stay away from them to say yes sir no sir or nothing at all.

Some worked quickly, to impress, and they were admired for their tiny fingers and stature.

Even if their husbands were layabouts

Sometimes the bosses would proposition them with money or threats

Other times they shot holes at their shacks.

Some went to the suburbs and worked as maids, “we sang their children to sleep ever night in a language not their own.  Nemure. Nemure.”

We were taught how to light a stove, use a faucet, light a cigarette.

Some were inept and easily dismissed. Some made stupid errors and may have been fired or not

Some were seduced by the husbands.

Some went to J-Town which was more like Japan than Japan.

We promised ourselves we would leave and go to some other place.  Argentina or Mexico.  But eventually we’d go back home.

But for now we stayed.  What would they do without us?

This was an interesting excerpt–a realistic look at an overlooked subject.

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SOUNDTRACK: AHI-Tiny Desk Concert #693 (January 16, 2018).

AHI is apparently, inexplicably pronounced “eye.”  He is an Ontario-based singer.  There’s nothing strikingly original about his sound, but his songs are pretty and thoughtful and his voice has a pleasing rough edge.

Bob says,

AHI’s gruff but sweet voice and openly honest words were my gateway to this young Ontario-based singer. AHI says he sings Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” at the end of every set with a sense of hope. It was powerfully moving, without a note that felt clichéd or overly nostalgic. At that moment, I knew he needed to play a Tiny Desk Concert.

With a tasteful band comprised of Frank Carter Rische on electric guitar, Robbie Crowell on bass guitar and Shawn Killaly (a man of a million faces) on drums, AHI put his heart into three songs in just about 11 minutes, all from his debut album We Made It Through The Wreckage, which came out a year ago this week.

“Alive Again” builds slowly, but by the time the chorus comes around and he adds some whoops, the song really moves. I’m quite intrigued at the constant soloing from guitarist Frank Carter Rische.  It’s virtually nonstop and really seems to propel the song along.  It’s a catchy and fun song the way each round seems to make the song bigger and bigger.

About “Closer (From a Distance)” he says, we all have relationships.  Some are good; some are bad and some are just awful.  You may care about someone with your whole heart only to realize that you care about that person more than they care about themselves.  No matter how strong you are your strengths may not be as strong as their weaknesses.  Sometimes the only way to save the relationship is to walk away–“maybe we’ll be closer from a distance.”   This is a really heartbreaking song.  The lyrics are clearly very personal and quite powerful.  And the soloing throughout the song is really quiet and beautiful.

“Ol’ Sweet Day” is bouncy and catchy with a propulsive acoustic guitar and lovely licks on the lead acoustic guitar.  The drums are fun on this song as Killaly plays the wall and uses his elbow to change the sound of the drum at the end of the song.

The burning question that is never addressed is way he is wearing a helmet –motorcycle? horse riding?  It stays on the whole time.  At one point he even seems to “tip” his hat.  How peculiar.

[READ: December 8, 2017] Glorious and or Free

The Beaverton is a satirical news source based in Canada.  It began as a website in 2010 and then added a TV Show in 2016 (now in its second season).  To celebrate 2017, the creators made this book.

They have divided the history of Canada into 13 sections.  As with many satirical history books, you can learn a lot about a country or a time from the kinds of jokes made.  Obviously the joke of each article is fake, but they are all based in something.  Historical figures are accurate and their stereotypes and broadsides certainly give a picture of the person.

Some of the humor is dependent upon knowing at least a little about the topic, but some of the other articles are just broadly funny whether you know anything about it or not.

When we made this book our goal was to transport readers back to grade school to remember what they were taught n Canadian history class.  And so what if your teacher was hungover most of the time?

~30,000 Years of History in About Four Page (3,200,000,000 BCE – 1496)

“What the hell is that?”  –God after forgetting he made beavers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANIMAL MASKS-EP (2017).

Animal Masks is a band based out of Somerville, NJ (almost my home town).  They have an EP out (buy or stream on bandcamp), and it’s a great four song collection that melds a 70’s glam rock feel with a kind of 80s pop punk.

They are a trio and have the thick, meaty sound that trios do so well.  The disc doesn’t give a lot of details, but the band consists of Dave DeCastro, Dan Zachary and Ronny Day (not sure who does what).

The last three songs of the Ep have more of the punk edge–the songs are faster and shorter (“Tear It Down” is just over 2 minutes), but they are in no way hardcore.  There’s a distinct  major label Hüsker Dü vibe to these latter songs.

“Sad Day” has some nice harmonies in unexpected places and I love the gritty minor key guitars.  The chord progression in the bridge is also a nicely unexpected change up for an otherwise simple melody.  It’s a sweet touch to get a fuzzy wah wah sound in the second half of the (not at all flashy) guitar solo as well.  The “Ohhs” at the end of the song are pure Mould/Hart/Norton.

“Tear It Down” is a bit more upbeat (surprisingly given the “when everything falls apart, it’s time to tear it down” lyrics).  I love the thumping drums (and the screamed harmonies) in the chorus.  “Used By the Universe” is a bit muddier than the other songs–I can’t tell if it’s the same singer on all the songs–he’s harder to hear on this track.  He sounds a bit deeper, gruffer on this one.  There’s some great bass lines in this song, and once again, the drum has some great fills.

The glam comes to the fore on the first song, “For Real.”  The singer’s voice sounds a bit less snarly and the guitars are wah-wahed and echoey in a way they aren’t on the other three.  There appears to be some other kind of interesting overdub sound floating behind the guitars, which is a nice addition.  The song is slower, but I really like the way the drum plays a fast four beats in the middle of the chorus.

One thing that tickles me about this song is that the main body of the song has a chorus of “is it always… now or never” the “for real” of the title doesn’t come until after four minutes (the song is just under 5) with a coda that repeats “are you for real.”

I wish the recording was a little crisper, but that’s probably personal preference.  I definitely wish the drums were mixed differently–they sound kind of flat–which is a shame because the drumming is outstanding.  All of this just speaks to how great they probably sound live.

[READ: October 30, 2016] Cool Japan Guide

After enjoying Diary of a Tokyo Teen, I saw that Tuttle Publishing also put out this book. I got it out for Clark but wound up reading it before he did.

Abby Denson is a cartoonist (the other subtitle is A Comic Book Writer’s Personal Tour of Japan).  She and her husband (Matt Loux–who did the Salt Water Taffy stories) love Japan and Japanese culture and they travel there a lot.  So this is her personal guide book to visiting the wild world of Japan.

While it has some of the same features as Tokyo Teen, this book is far more of a guide book for travelers than a personal memoir of one girl’s travels. The book opens with a pronunciation guide (very helpful) and each chapter has a list of useful phrases and expressions all introduced by the very helpful Kitty Sweet Tooth.

Denson is quite thorough in this book.  Starting from before you leave–getting a passport, making reservations, getting rail passes, everything.  Even what to expect in each of the seasons.  Upon arrival there’s all kinds of fun things to see immediately–train stamps (you get a stamp for every station you go to) vending machines (and how to understand them) and even what kind of (apparently delicious) food you can buy on a train in the country. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SNAIL MAIL-Tiny Desk Concert #650 (September 15, 2017).

It’s always encouraging that young musicians are still picking up guitars and writing catchy and interesting songs.  I’d never heard of Snail Mail, but finding out that lead singer/guitarist Lindsey Jordan graduated high school last year is pretty cool.

I think that it helps to have some connections, though:

Jordan started Snail Mail at 15 and released the quietly stunning Habit EP via Priests’ in-house label last year. She’s quickly found fans in Helium and Ex Hex’s Mary Timony (who also happens to be Jordan’s guitar teacher) and just went on tour with Waxahatchee and Palehound.

They play three songs.  On one it’s just her, but on the first two, she is joined “by what’s become her consistent live band (drummer Ray Brown and bassist Alex Bass).”

“Slug” has a propulsive verse and a cool thumping bridge.  It’s an ode to a slug, in fact, but it also looks internally: “I have waited my whole life to know the difference and I should know better than that.”  I really like the way the song builds and builds and then drops out for a second for a few curlicues of guitar.

Her lyrics are wonderful mix of maturity and teenager (I do like the “my whole life bit,” but I really like this couplet from the next song “Thinning.”

I want to face the entire year just face down / and on my own time I wanna waste mine.
spend the rest of it asking myself is this who you are / and I don’t know it just feels gross.  (And her delivery of the word “gross” is wonderful).

From her reaction and this blurb, I guess the band is a bit louder than what they play here:

Because we often ask bands to turn down for the office space, she jokes, “I guess I don’t really know what we sound like because we’re so loud. Now we’re quiet and Ray’s using the mallets and my guitar’s all the way down — I was like, ‘We sound like this?'”

For the last song, the guys leave as she re tunes her guitar:

Jordan closes the set solo with a new song, “Anytime.” It is, perhaps typically for Snail Mail, slow and sad, but the alternate guitar tuning and Jordan’s drawled vocal performance gives this song about a crush an aerial motion, like acrobats sliding down a long sheet of fabric.

With just her and her guitar this song is far more spare and less bouncy but it works perfectly were her delivery.  I also like watching her bend strings with her third finger while playing a chord–she has learned some mad skills from Timony for sure.  I wish I had seen them open for Waxahatchee, that’s a bitchin’ double bill, for sure.

[READ: October 20, 2016] Diary of a Tokyo Teen

Sarah brought this book home and it seemed really fun.  It’s a look at Japan through the eyes of a girl who was born there about 15 years earlier but then moved to the U.S. with her family.  She is older and somewhat wiser and is delighted to have a chance to explore what is familiar and unfamiliar.

And it’s all done in a simple comic book style diary which she self published at age 17.

So Christine flies to Kashiwa, a small city outside of Tokyo to stay with her Baba and Jiji (grandparents).  She says the best reunion (aside from her grandparents) was with her favorite fast food chain unavailable in America: Mos Burger (you eat the wrapper because it would be messy to take it out of the wrapper).

What I love about this book is that unlike a more formal guide book, Christine is a typical teenager with typically American experiences.  So she notices that the people who work fast food are happy–or at least appear to be.  She’s also aware right form the start how trendy the other kids are.  And while an adult might not care, for a teen aged girl, that’ pretty devastating. (more…)

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