20 July 2014

Live Review of Remember Remember and Kogumaza / Recent Album Reviews For LeftLion

Remember Remember are signed to Mogwai's Rock Action record label and have just released their wonderful third album titled Forgetting The Present. Graeme, who the band revolves around, has recently moved to Nottingham and they played a gig in the city at The Chameleon with Kogumaza. You can read my review of the show on the LeftLion website

Also up on the LeftLion website are the Nottingham Music Reviews from issue #59 of the magazine. I reviewed recent releases from Grey Hairs, Sleaford Mods, Kundalini, and Timothy J Simpson.

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Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Pika Pika Fantajin

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Pika Pika Fantajin

Pika Pika Fantajin is the third album from Japan's J-pop megastar Kyary Pamyu Pamyu following 2013's reputation cementing Nanda Collection. Famous for her twisted, satirical take on Japan's Kawaii culture, as well as her visually stunning and elaborate music videos; in my opinion she is also one of the world's most entertaining and interesting pop performers.  

Pika Pika Fantajin (ピカピカふぁんたじん)     
The album's title track and nothing more than a musical intro that acts to build-up anticipation for what is about to come.  

Kira Kira Killer (きらきらキラー   
Here we have Kyary Pamyu Pamyu the cheerleader, gleefully shouting and chanting her way through this hyperactive opener and well and truly high-kicking the album open. It's another pop banger that is relentless in its energy. The bleepy synths have been pushed in to overdrive, everyone involved sounds like they've overdosed on E-numbers and Red Bull, while Kyary frantically shouts and sings with irresistible enthusiasm.   
Yume no Hajima Ring Ring (ゆめのはじまりんりん -album mix-)   
My thoughts on this utterly delightful song can be found elsewhere on this blog. Still very much my favourite Kyary Pamyu Pamyu track and proves that she can perform songs with depth and meaning, a route I would be interested to see her explore more as she matures as a performer. What I do want to say is that this is the album mix and adds more lush synth sounds to the original while also slightly changing the structure. I'm really not sure that it suits the delicate, thoughtful nature of the song to be honest and much prefer the original's more organic sound. I presume this has been re-mixed to be in keeping with the rest of the album's more electronic textures, but every time I listen to it it I think what have they done to this song? If you have both versions of Yume no Hajima Ring Ring I would suggest swapping out the album version for the much more rewarding single version. 
Mottai Night Land (もったいないとらんど)    
It feels like this song has been around for ages now; and it has, being originally released back in November of last year. The reasons for this is that, as with many J-pop songs, it was commissioned for an advert; which sounds wrong to many Western music fans because we are used to it being the other way round - adverts using pre-existing songs rather than commissioning artists to write a track specifically for an advert. This is classic Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - irresistibly catchy chorus that you will be unable to shake from your head, twinkling and playful pianos and glockenspiels, an overwhelming sense of hyperactivity as if the song is chasing its own tail, and with a bizarre dream-like quality to it all. An all-round, punch-the-air, great pop song. 

Serious Hitomi (シリアスひとみ)   
Blimey, where did this come from? Seemingly out of nowhere we've got Kyary Pamyu Pamyu channeling the B52s and making them sound like they were from the future. This is a monster of a chiptune powered new-wave pop song. That fuzzed-up guitar riff hits you from the off, it's completely unexpected, and pins you back for what is a rollercoaster of delight that screeches by pumped-up on its own adrenalin. She is dragging that classic 1960s girl group sound, via early 80s new wave, very much in to the 21st century.  Surfy, garage rock guitars, wailing synths, and classic pop melodies all collide to make what is undoubtedly one of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's best songs. It's stretched out to over 5 minutes, but the song just whizzes by it is that frantic; and by the time it's over, all you want to do is give it another spin. You can read an English translation of the lyrics on the Super Happy Awesome blog.
do do pi do (Capsule cover)       
A cover of a song by her producer, Capsule. There's a lot going on here, but at the same time there isn't. Pretty one paced, but nevertheless a tight sounding modern dance song. Against a backdrop of 'housey' sounding pianos we hear Kyary gently singing, her vocals flowing in and out of the music, adding texture rather than being pushed up front as they would be on a more straight forward 'pop song'. This sounds like festival time in the robot factory. At first I pegged it as filler, but the more I've listened to it the more it has grown on me, and it's the relative simplicity and subtlety of the repetitive pianos and drifting vocals that make it work and turn it in to one of the best songs on Pika Pika Fantajin. You can listen to original here if you want to compare

Family Party (ファミリーパーティー -album mix-)    
Written specifically for a Japanese anime film it has the feeling of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-by-numbers unfortunately. Although props must go to the epic sounding 8bit intro. She has performed and will go on to perform better songs. Family Party probably works better within the setting of the film, but as a track on an album that is full of well-crafted and intelligent pop songs, it just doesn't stand up.  
Ring a Bell    
Following Family Party another blip at the start of the second half of Pika Pika Fantajin. This is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's first ever song that she's performed entirely in English. And it's a pretty big disappointment. It's evident that her non-Japanese speaking fans don't mind that she doesn't sing in English. They buy her albums, watch her videos and and pack out her shows even though the majority of them can't understand what she is singing. I don't think they are crying out for English language Kyary Pamyu Pamyu songs. But they've been given one anyway, and it's full of simple lyrics about going to the studio and ringing a bell. A pretty pointless exercise that I'm hoping she won't repeat again and uses it as a learning experience.     
Tokyo Highway (トーキョーハイウェイ)    
A classic sounding Capsule produced song. Slick electronica that bounces along locked in to a mechanized rhythm, with Kyary's high, wistful vocals cutting through the mix and taking the song skywards. It doesn't do a lot, but does what it needs to do, the song has been left plenty of room to breath and move along organically. Euphoric house that shows that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is perfectly at home fronting slick, modern dance songs just as she is making frantic schizoid pop. 
Koi Koi Koi (こいこいこい)    
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has a certain style or genre of novelty song that she does every now and again, and this is one of them. Over twinkling, playful, instrumentation, we essentially have her singing the song title over and over again. It has the feeling of a very eerie children's nursery rhyme. Far removed from her banging electro-pop tracks that she can do so well. Even if Koi Koi Koi doesn't exactly work, it's nice to see her putting her hand at something different and attempting to give the album texture and different styles of song. 
Sungoi Aura (すんごいオーラ -album mix-)    
Pika Pika Fantajin feels like an album of two halves. Whereas the first 6 songs are among some of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's best songs and really get the album off to a flying start, the second half is very hit-and-miss, feels patchy, and the album loses its momentum because of this. I wonder though if this was a deliberate ploy: top load the album with the grade-A pop material and then leave the second half to the more odd and peculiar songs for those who don't have the attention span to listen to full albums anymore? Anyway, those people who don't pick their way through the second half are going to miss out on wonderful, playful songs like Sungoi Aura. Parping drums, tin whistles, rolling piano, and another hooky melody. It's a classic Capsule and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu combination and one of their more organic sounding songs in a similar vein to Yume no Hajima Ring Ring. This song isn't immediate and doesn't go out of it's way to smash itself in to your ears, but its gradually unfolding charms eventually win you over. 
Explorer (エクスプローラー)
The final song ends on a hopeful sounding note. Against a military style backing, all marching band drums and whistles, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu sounds victorious and grateful. I have no idea what she is singing about, but it sounds like a thank you note to those of you who have listened to the album and have supported her career up to this point so far. It's elated, positive and poignant end to an album that will go some way to cementing her reputation as one of the world's finest pop stars. 

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13 July 2014

Photographs of Hong Kong (July 2014)

From a recent visit to Hong Kong. All taken between 4 - 9 July 2014. 

View from the train somewhere between the airport and Kowloon

Gloucester Road, Wan Chai

Hopewell Centre

Hay Hay Restaurant, Wan Chai

Lockhart Road, Wan Chai

Nathan Road, Kowloon

Seafood Restaurant on Nathan Road

Seafood Restaurant on Nathan Road

Avenue of Comic Stars, Kowloon

Avenue of Comic Stars, Kowloon

Victoria Harbour looking towards Hong Kong Island

Victoria Harbour looking towards Hong Kong Island

Star Ferry Terminal, Kowloon

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from IFC Mall

View from International Finance Centre

View from International Finance Centre

View from International Finance Centre

View from International Finance Centre

And Batman was there too

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19 June 2014

Kogumaza Interview for LeftLion

Kogumaza Interview LeftLion Thom Stone Photography

Click the above image to read the online version of my recent interview with Kogumaza that originally featured in LeftLion Magazine #59.

Sludgy, heavy, spacey; whatever you want to call them, Kogumaza are one of those bands where no amount of attempting to describe their sound or pigeonholing will do them justice. The only way to get what they are about is to listen to their records, or even better, experience their sonic onslaught live and feel the full-force of their sound. 

A truly remarkable band, and it was a pleasure to not only do this piece, but to finally feature them in the magazine. For a band who are so hard to nail-down in terms of sound, I think this interview gives a good idea of what they are trying to achieve. It's also rare to speak to a band (in Nottingham anyhow) who are clued-up on what they are trying to do, the way they want to sound, and how they want to put that across to the audience.  

Give them a listen on the Kogumaza Bandcamp.

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13 June 2014

Live Review of Supersonic Festival 2014 for LeftLion


Click on the image of Sleaford Mods to read my review for LeftLion of Supersonic Festival 2014

Two weeks ago today I was in Birmingham for the weekend attending the Supersonic Festival, which is held at the Custard Factory in the Digbeth area of the city. 

The festival is now in its 11th year and prides itself on having an eccentric and eclectic line-up. It was my first time attending and It certainly didn't disappoint, it was the most fun I've had at a festival for a long time and I will definitely be trying to attend future events.

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Live Review of Flaming Lips and Young Knives for LeftLion


Click the image of Wayne Coyne to go to my recent review for LeftLion of Flaming Lips and Young Knives at Rock City in Nottingham. 

The recent Flaming Lips show in Nottingham was downsized from the Arena to Rock City, which still holds 2000 people so it is not exactly tiny. I did think it was a little optimistic to be booking Nottingham Arena for a band who are little more than a very big cult band. 

As with a lot of these things, I managed to wrangle tickets via the support act, Young Knives, in exchange for agreeing to review their set. I wasn't too enamored with Young Knives, I couldn't get on with their attitude and 'kookiness'. Flaming Lips on the other hand were an enormous amount of fun.
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5 Must-Watch Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Videos

Partly to accompany this post I recently wrote explaining my love of Yume No Hajima Ring Ring, and partly inspired by this recent i-D Magazine website piece looking at her most weird and wonderful videos and thinking that I could do something similar, I thought that I would put something together highlighting five must-watch videos by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the kawaii J-Pop megastar.  

PonPonPon (Moshi Moshi Harajuku, 2011)

Her debut song is still more insanely catchy than any song ever deserves to be. I dare you to listen to it and not have that chorus stuck in your head for the following days - no, scrap that - weeks. While the video is a hyperactive bombardment of the weird and wonderful, laying out the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu style from the start. Look out for when she farts out a rainbow. 

Fashion Monster (Nanda Collection, 2012)

I imagine that this Halloween inspired video is what family gatherings at Tim Burton's gaff are like. We see Kyary wearing a Beetjuice inspired costume as she jams with a band of ghouls. At one point an old Samurai master is summoned, the moon grows a body, and she makes a phone call using her guitar. Much like her songs, her videos always have so much going on in them it can be overwhelming trying to take it all in, and this is no exception. There's even some naughty bits pixeled out.

Re Ninja Bang Bang (Nanda Collection, 2013)

Another song with an ear-worm of a chorus. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu rides a fish while singing through a megaphone, cartoon robots have a dance-off, and there's a fair bit of jumping around in this chiptune inspired ode to a Ninja (I presume).

Invader Invader (Nanda Collection, 2013)

Hyperactive electro-pop with a dubsteppy breakdown that sounds like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu flying a spaceship powered by a dying NES before crash landing it on an alien planet and proceeding to hold the most insane E-numbers fuelled party with the extra-terrestrial inhabitants. Again, features a chorus that buries itself deep within your ears where it refuses to budge. The video has a vaguely sci-fi theme, but doesn't go out of it's way to make much sense.

Mottai Nightland (Pikapika Fantasian, 2013)

The first single from her very-soon-to-be-released forthcoming new album and where we get invited in to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's dreams, and they're just as bizarre and surreal as you would have hoped for; over-sized hands, dancing ghouls, gyrating bikini-clad ghouls, an anime section, a bit where she turns in to a dog and lays a strawberry coloured turd, and just the general next-level insanity we have come to expect from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu music videos. The music is less bombastic than usual, with bright, tinkling pianos and glockenspiels adding to the light-hearted feel. 

This recent Vice Magazine interview with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is worth a read too.

Read my track-by-track review of Pika Pika Fantajin. 

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12 June 2014

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Yume No Hajima Ring Ring

I have been fortunate enough to travel to Tokyo twice this year for work reasons. The first trip was at the end of February and the second at the end of March. It was during that second visit to Japan when I was introduced to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the Empress of J-Pop

After being told to check her out, back in my hotel room later that evening I typed her name in to YouTube and with it being her most recent song at the time, I played Yume No Hajima Ring Ring. It wasn't what I was expecting at all. 

Anticipating some dreary ballad or an EDM nightmare, I was pleasantly surprised that this song wasn't anything like that - It was considered, playful, oddly dreamlike, with that nagging piano motif keeping me locked in. 

Yume No Hajima Ring Ring has this weird sense of longing and melancholy to it, but it isn't depressing; it feels hopeful and bittersweet. I was hooked and have been quietly obsessed with this song ever since.

Of course, not being able to speak Japanese I was unable to work out what Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was singing and what the song was about. I was just drawn to this exotic and strangely catchy pop song.

Going online when I returned to the UK I fortunately stumbled upon this post on the blog Super Happy Awesome that helpfully analysed the song and translated the lyrics in to English. It's where I discovered that it's a 'graduation' song about moving on to the next stage in your life or coming of age, a theme popular in Japanese culture especially amongst young people. The blog I have linked to explains more. 

Yume No Hajima Ring Ring is a song dealing with the sadness of growing-up and moving on to the next stage of your life and having to leave your old life behind. It is testament to the strength of the song that I was able to pick up on these themes without understanding the lyrics and being ignorant to the clues laid out in the video.

As the Super Happy Awesome blog explains, in the video we see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu 'graduating' through the different stages of her life so far. The video depicts her leaving versions of her old self behind, shedding a tear each time before moving on to the next phase. This video is almost meta in the fact that it cleverly references her career up to this point; from student to the breakthrough of her first song PonPonPon, through to Fashion Monster and eventually we see her in a hakama at the end for the graduation section. It's perfectly and beautifully executed. 

Something about this song has resonated with me, I can't stop listening to it even now a few months down the line. Part of the reason for writing this blog is to try and work out what it is about this song that makes me keep going back to it. It's definitely my song of the year so far. 

It was a welcome delight to discover that she makes absolutely bonkers pop music with equally delightful and surreal music videos. Although I know that I shouldn't look too much in to this, I am perturbed to find that the YouTube plays for Yume No Hajima Ring Ring lag far behind those of her other songs. Perhaps not everyone appreciates the subtleties as much as I do?

I have also put together this post on the 5 must-watch Kyary Pamyu Pamyu music videos.

Read my track-by-track review of Pika Pika Fantajin by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

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11 June 2014

Jake Bugg The Biography

Jake Bugg Biography

Click the image to read my review for LeftLion of the Jake Bugg Biography.

The biography charts Jake's rise to fame by talking to friends and family as well as people who have written about it from his early days. It even uses a few LeftLion reviews and articles as sources of information. It was a bit strange reading a book where not only do you find yourself quoted, but people I know and have worked with in some capacity are quoted too. 

I thought it was a pretty fair write-up of the book, but I'm not sure the author thought so judging by this tweet.  

As I said in my review, it's telling of the growing stature of Nottingham's music scene that people from outside of the city are now taking an active interest in it, making the effort to visit the city to find out for themselves what is going on, and writing about it too. 
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