One of my biggest concerns about the online music community is the unflinching push forward. Plenty have said it before me, but the advent of music blogs, Twitter and other platforms that emphasize the all-valuable “firsties” have turned music listening into a never-ending dash. Everyday, blogs from all corners of the world celebrate new tracks from artists both known and unknown. The next day – whole new cast of characters, a whole new list of songs one needs to hear if they want to stay up with the pack. We, as listeners, aren’t taking the time to really think about the music in front of us – in the same way the recent HBO show Girls let many down because the characters didn’t “click” with some viewers (this opinion is all over the place, Google it), music listening has become an activity hurt by lowered attention spans.
I’ve thought about this a lot recently, because I haven’t been keeping up with new non-Japanese music. A combination of a new job and lack of Internet means I haven’t heard anything from Death Grips or Peaking Lights or whatever else I should be listening to according to various online sources. Rather, I’ve been thinking about the past, and all the great music I’ve listened over the last five years. And surprisingly enough – it feels great to ignore the new and revisit the songs once hoisted up by blogs but now turned into relics lining “best of” lists nobody revisits that often.
So, with the past on my mind…and no Music Station to serve as the end-of-week feature…I’m going to do a little bit of looking back, specifically at the songs and albums this blog called “favorites” in 2010 (our first year-end list-o-mania). It’s not that much of look back – not even two years! – but in the digital age, that actually does feel like an eternity. Let’s go!
She Talks Silence Noise And Novels – Lets start with the big one, and I’m happy to say opinions on this one haven’t changed – Noise And Novels remains the best Japanese album I’ve heard since starting Make Believe Melodies, one I still wish people outside of Japan would have stumbled across and given a listen. Listening back to this one in 2012 hasn’t changed the sense of urban isolation running through Noise And Novels that seemed evident the first go through. More impressively, STS sounded sorta ahead of the curve – at it’s lonely center, Noise And Novels is an indie-pop album, but not a walking stereotype (which, as much as I dig it, is sorta how a lot of current Japanese indie-pop bands come across). STS summoned the best parts of Black Tambourine…and somehow predicted Frankie Rose, whose Interstellar traverses a lot of the same paths STS did…and made a simple yet strange album truly deserving of the now-exhausted adjective “Lynchian.”
Halfby The Island Of Curiosity – Nearly everything else this dude has released after The Island has been a wet willie aimed squarely at his listeners, meant to be goofy and funny but ultimately just uncomfortable. Now, though, for the big reveal – in 2010, The Island was the only Halfby album I had heard, his back catalog completely alien to me. Now I’ve mostly caught up and…I don’t know how Halfby managed to put together an album as fun and warm as The Island considering he spent most of his career parodying music. That’s harsh, but seriously those old Halfby albums blow. If everyone one has one truly great idea in them, here is Halfby’s.
Kimonos Kimonos – In my year end blurb for Kimonos, I promised an actual review of the duo’s album in the near future. That never happened for whatever reason, and it was probably for the best as otherwise I would have needed to also comb through that to explain why this record would fall the furthest down the list if I redid it. It’s not a bad album – and I stand by the singles being amazing, especially “Soundtrack To Murder,” with its borrowed-from-Deerhoof drummer and all – but when I sit down and wonder when I last listened to Kimonos I realize it was…back in January of 2011? Whereas every Zazen Boys’ release still has a home on my dusty iPod, Kimonos sits somewhere near the bottom of my CD case. Again, not a failure, but 2010 had way better releases like….
Miu Sakamoto Phantom Girl – Lost J-Pop classic, right here. I’m currently pecking away at a post about J-Pop in 2012 and how it’s having a creative renaissance (though after reviewing the Kimonos paragraph above, keep your fingers crossed), and Phantom Girl seems like an artsy release that impacted at least a few of the folks making great pop today. Besides being a great influence, it’s also a hell of a great pop album still demanding attention in 2012.
New House “Disturb” – Honesty first – “I’m waiting for The New House to release a non “demo” version of “Transparent Box,” to the point where I kept the current in-work version streaming on their MySpace off this list, holding out hope 2011 will bring a polished version that would be guaranteed to crash at least the top 20.”
Lot of statements in the above paragraph did not pan out – New House didn’t release a polished version of “Transparent Box” until 2012, said 2012 version will not be touching the top 20 and MySpace now exists as a .GIF file graveyard. This year’s Burning Ship Fractal highlights everything good about New House – the globally-aware blend of styles, the confidence to balls out with experimental sounds – but it’s also a debut suffering from really bad sequencing (shouldn’t have put the two Animal Collective-ist songs back to back, and shouldn’t have made the back half of the album the boring drone comedown) and bad timing. It was way easier to get jazzed about “Transparent Box”…or the skeletal “Disturb,” which would have been a welcome bit of minimalistic rock on Burning Ship Fractal…back in 2010, when Animal Collective’s pop tribalism still sounded like a brave new frontier. Now, even Animal Collective moved on from that.
Asian Kung-Fu Generation “Shinseiki No Love Song” – Context is everything for some of these songs and albums. In 2010, an existential rock song about being an adult but feeling lost in a rapidly changing world courtesy of Asian Kung-Fu Generation sounded great. And it was! Unfortunately, Sakanaction evolved into the Japanese Radiohead (here not referring to their sound so much as their merger of smarts with angst) and made “Shinseiki No Love Song” completely outdated.
MIR “TV 2010” – “TV 2010,” meanwhile, remains as vital as ever, and maybe even more important as Japan continues embracing social networks and smartphones and other world-altering electronics. It’s still a buzzing modem of a song, all social isolation and chilly New Wave keyboards crossing together to create something that sounds like the perfect soundtrack to opening eight Firefox tabs at once.
Even heavier, the world probably won’t ever hear anything else from MIR, a truly gifted outfit that left us with a great collection of music. Hell of a bow, “TV 2010,” though.
Nu Clear Classmate Lick The Star – This past January, at a live show featuring Canopies And Drapes which is a project born out of the ashes of Nu Clear Classmate, a friend explained the idea of foreigners living in Japan “adopting” bands. To paraphrase – when they come to Japan, people from outside the country tend to “adopt” a Japanese band, going to a bunch of their shows and in general supporting them. They also tend to not really support any sort of scene, but rather just one project. Eventually, this conversation reached the point where my friend said that the band I sorta adopted was Nu Clear Classmate.
He’s probably right.
I mention this as a sort of disclaimer for the second half of this sentence, the part right here where I say the group’s Lick The Star should have been in my top five albums list and probably could have creeped up as high as number two on the right day. Nu Clear Classmate’s “suicide pop” (their term, not mine, though I wish I could have thought of that) didn’t get wishy-washy with emotions – rather, they fucking blew that shit up into size 96, the sad songs feeling like the end of the world while the happy songs sound like pure sunshine injections. Few projects anywhere in the world since have been so maximalist about feeling while still making great pop music.
Personally, though, Lick The Star has become the CD from 2010 I revisit the most, like a scream therapist who wants me to purge all my emotions out on a monthly basis. I’ll spare you the goop, but Lick The Star helped me through some pretty bleak times, giving me a soundtrack to be completely consumed by bad feeling while also offering the sort of concentrated hope you should need a prescription for. Today, Nu Clear Classmate doesn’t exist, the members of that group transforming into Canopies And Drapes (a really good project worth bandwagoning on, but also one with a lot of potential waiting to be unleashed) and…well, a good Twitter feed. Nu Clear Classmate themselves probably wouldn’t gel with this idea – they loved the promise of the future – but albums like this make looking back necessary.
Hotel Mexico “It’s Twinkle” – Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit I didn’t put this in the top ten? That was stupid of me, this song still kills.
Perfume “Natural Ni Koishite” and “575” – The narrative post Game has been about Perfume becoming more “pop,” with a few brave souls (read: misguided high schoolers I hope) claiming they “sold out” at some point in the last few years. Ignoring the bizarre thinking that an idol group wouldn’t immediately rack up whatever commercial endorsements they could with the onset of success, I’d also be a little hesitant to say Perfume have been trending exclusively pop since “Polyrhythm.” Case in point – this pair of singles from 2010, two of the trio’s best. “Natural” makes a case for Perfume to try selling music in international lands what with its nail-polish-slick sheen and weirdo touches, while “575” finds the trio nudged into sexy minimalism…until the post-chorus rap hits.
Basically, I’m just reassuring ya’ll that my opinions of Perfume haven’t changed, thanks for listening.