When one has to make two year-ender music lists, one is already compromising. Why not just mishmash them together? See, its easier this way. Once you present the reader with a somewhat familiar and current, rock-oriented list, you lead them to another list that comprises of sunny, joyous music, sung in a language I don’t understand myself, with a lot of pretty girls dancing. This way, the reader is already seated, and its just rude for them not to finish the show.
The Standard List
One would write something like this for publication, and sometimes, I still do think of myself as that hesitant music pundit, who once fancied to be in the pages of music magazines Jingle (80s de facto music rag) and Rock N Rhythm (90s rocker bible). Truth is, though, I haven’t listened to enough of this year’s releases to make this critic-worthy. Yes, I have tried listening to the favorites: Frank Ocean, Alt-J, Japandroids, etc. To up the ante on honesty here, not enough material hooked me. Here are the exceptions:
Two bands I hope to exist forever. The former trumps the latter here, though. Dinosaur Jr., with this year’s I Bet On Sky, maintains that guitar crunch, and everything else J Mascis wins at. King Animal, Soundgarden‘s post-reunion release, is a heavy slow-creep, but this seems like a machine operating at 60% of its optimum power. Ben Shepherd’s bass pummels like never heard before.
Cody ChesnuTT‘s double album The Headphone Masterpiece (2002) was a mainstay in my playlist, that I’m always hesitant to take it out every time I include a fresh batch of music. He finally released Landing On A Hundred this year, and though the only times I was able to consume the album was via a now-expired web stream, what I heard this time -versus the raw, uneven coating of his previous effort- is nothing but polished, shiny, shimmering gold.
Dragged Into Sunlight/Krallice
Dragged Into Sunlight was featured briefly over a podcast preview of a metalfest a few months ago, and though I don’t have much of the patience required for blackened stoner metal, there was an instant attraction to this sound. I started with their first record, Hatred for Mankind (2009), as their full-length, three-track release, Widowmaker, came out much later this year (sample second track here). Krallice, whose experimental black metal sound I’ve had great interest in since their first record, Dimensional Bleedthrough (2009), also came out with an album this 2012, Years Past Matter, keeping that relentless guitar wizardry, a tireless rhythm section, and two vocalists who seem to be leading warring medieval tribes against each other.
I still start the album, Koi No Yokan, with their pre-release preview track, Leathers. That isn’t to undermine what precedes it. Best to listen to the album in its entirety. The most emotional love letter of the year.
If only the mp3 players I used had a playcount, Now Now‘s lead song Thread would easily be in the Top 10. This young band’s sound easily falls into that post-2000 rock genre that gets recycled by every other young, upstart band, but as much as I have little affinity for that sound, I probably have peddled this band the most to people this year. The songs from the album Threads also have that impression that these really shouldn’t be sing-along-and-mosh-now anthems. The frail vocals and the pain-laden lyrics, and everything else behind it -even the basslines, which is non-existent live, since this three-piece doesn’t have a bass player- just work so damn well.
The Real List
The rough list of my music phases are: shoegaze (late 90s), indiepop (early 2000s), post-rock (mid-2000s). Jpop started sometime in 2008, and that phase is not over yet. There was once this self I took the role of, who regarded this brand of music as nonsense, pointless and annoying, and why would I care for this dancing-and-barely-singing schtick. About half a decade later, there’s still a lot from the Jpop scene that’s hard to pass as pleasant and audible, but it’s now obviously a quicksand I choose to revel in.
Constant chart-topper Kana Nishino released her fourth album, Love Place, this year, though the track standout for me was a single released from last year, Tatoe Donna ni… (live video below), which played through most of my cold bus trips that time. I lost all hope for 9Nine, after coming out with lackluster single after another, and then they put out a Christmas song (Youku video link here), one that probably trumps anything they’ve released after their latest reformation.
Its real easy to brush off what looks like an attempt to copy the Kpop formula, but not when it works, in such a surprising, and lovely package, and they’re not even Japanese. They’re Taiwan imports, and you can still scour Youtube for their old videos, where each would model to along to a themed weather forecast. The behind-the-scenes videos after their Japanese debut this year expose a highly Nihonggo-fluent, infectiously noisy and fun bunch, that even those who post highly-critical fan comments on Jpop blogs find hard not to like. They released their first single last October, Koi no Tenki Yohou. Like most Jpop songs, just wait until the chorus for the hook.
Yes, they’re Korean. Yes, I just found out about them last week, via a Reddit post. This cheat item on this list cannot be discounted. This K-indie duo churns out cry-all-you-want-its-OK ballads, and then there are those fun ditties that, if one were to consolidate the bulk of their Youtube video comments, makes everyone else’s day better. They can do Disney, they can do Brubeck. They released their second album, Looking Around, this year.
Tokyo Girls’ Style
Put yourself in an early 80s Japanese period movie, in a club, where a showband is jamming to a slick bassline, ample amounts of guitar funk, fronted by a few female singers in gold sequins urging you to dance along. Then, take yourself out of that scenario, and replace the singers with five frilly-frocked 14-16 year olds, who will dance for you instead. Tokyo Girls’ Style released Limited Addiction this year, aside from my top pick, occupied my playlist the most.
Their Perfume Global Compilation “Love the World”, released this year internationally, is a great starter kit for the uninitated to this group, touted recently by Time as one of “The Next 10 Artists Poised for U.S. Stardom”.
Though the techno-pop girl trio Perfume started out as a traditional J-Pop group in 2000 with adorably synchronized dance routines and photo-op ready looks, they have evolved into the technologically driven pop group of William Gibson’s dreams, incorporating wild graphics, 3D technology and fully interactive CG into their shows.
NOTE: The live performance video below concludes at 9:40, with no other numbers after it.
Their recent jump to Universal Music Japan also signified the group’s personal yearning to reach a much wider audience. Barely in their mid-20s, Perfume -a group started by the girls themselves in actor’s school in Hiroshima- started my semi-exit out of Western music, and into the breadth of what Jmusic can offer. My fan badge was realized that one night in Hong Kong, when they performed ten feet away from my front-row-and-center position (serialized in the previous blog posts). They also released two singles this year: Spring of Life and Spending All My Time.
No OPM? No, but I’ll make it a point to ask people who will be going home for the holidays to pick up a few CDs for me when they get back.