Cubismo Grafico Five Half Dozen
Not the actual artwork, but a filler photo.
A lot of artists behind great albums in 2010 came back with impressive EPs in 2011, highlighted by She Talks Silence and Puffyshoes (well, I guess that was a mini album). Half Dozen isn’t quite in the same league, more of an obvious stopgap following Cubismo Grafico Five’s triumphant Double Dozen than any hint of what is to come, the titular-ly accurate six songs here feeling like leftovers for the most part. Lead track “Shoelace” stands as this EP’s strongest moment, a blistering rock number that could have easily slid somewhere on Cubismo’s best album to date and not feel out of place. “Blue On Pink” comes off as a more appropriate castaway, OK here but probably a momentum killer on Double Dozen. The other two new songs are unremarkable, and the two remixes of Double Dozen songs seem unnecessary when the originals are so good. This box is for devotees only. Yet Cubismo had something a bit more interesting to offer too….
Here, Cubismo’s lead singer Chabe sets out on his own to make a seemingly personal album, blessed with the title Me as if dude just has to get some stuff off his chest…and wants the world to know about it. Funny thing is, for an album sorta billing itself as “personal,” Chabe has a lot of ink spelling “featuring” on the tracklisting here, as if he’s using a wide range of guests to serve as mental actors on this album, some Being John Malkovich shit going on. Still, he makes it work – this is an album where the reckless energy of Cubismo gets replaced by the wistful knowledge of Chabe.
The music skews towards electric ambient albeit with a little more kick, moments like “Song For Claes” and the tropically tinged “Rewind (Holiday 91)” practically glowing. Most of Me unfolds slowly, as if Chabe is mentally tumbling the mix of ideas in his head as the music goes on. He makes time for one legitimate pop gem – the fuzzy island bounce of “White Cube,” blessed with one of the sweetest choruses he’s ever conjured up – and tackles The Velvet Underground’s “After Hours” among a few other covers. And yeah…lotta guests. Harka lends a touch of vocal beauty to “Song For Claes,” while Love And Hates show up to cover a Brigitte Bardot tune. Not all of Chabe’s pals come through…the rapper on “Soumatou” needs to be erased Eternal Sunshine-like fast…but I’d take it just to hear Sayaka Kushibiki’s silky voice on the pulsing cover of The Sunday’s “Here’s Where The Story Ends.”
What really pushes Me up, though, is how much Chabe opens up. No dark secrets get confessed, but considering that his Cubismo lyrics lean towards subject matter like french fries and beer, the places he goes on his solo effort are surprising. “Rewind (Holiday 91)” finds him making a case for nostalgia as he turns the past over in his mind, while “White Cube” serves as his mental escape. The best moment comes through the most simple sentiment – on “And Me,” Chabe simply rattles off a list of words that link to his life. “Love, beer, happy?” eventually leads to “Pub, music, girl” and so on. It’s an easy mental checklist of things he (presumably likes), set into a song so these simple joys aren’t lost. This album ends with him sitting around with his “kaleidoscopic memories” and it was nice of him to let us tag along.
Alfred Beach Sandal One Day Calypso
In which “weirdness” doesn’t instantly translate into a great album. One Day Calypso has good moments – the herky-jerk pace of “Camping Car Is Dead” stands as a highlight, and it’s nice to hear beach-evoking music that isn’t what a Moog imagines a tidal wave to look like – but dude’s overall approach to this album gets grating quickly. To sum it up – Alfred Beach Sandal doesn’t sing as much as he talks fast, and oftentimes the music surrounding his quickfire voice either sounds out of time with everything else or like a child’s music practice. It’s a noble idea, taking what would have been straightforward folk songs and turning them into dizzying compositions, except an entire album of it gets tiring quickly. Even the stripped-down moments like “Chinese Shampoo” manage to sound like a guy mostly just dicking around. A bit too gimmicky.
Misato Kinoshita それからの子供
A sneaky good J-Pop album here – at her absolute best, Misato Kinoshita strips J-Pop of its usual hyperness and breaks it down like one of those photos of food shown by only ingredients. “彼方からの手紙” and “Sailor” find her working over bare, chilly synths, pop dissected into something as simple as IKEA furniture but still being catchy. Late cut “とんだボール” turns the electronics towards “bumping,” using buzzing sounds to construct a surprisingly hip-moving number. The rest of this album ends up all over the place – Kinoshita indulges in a few jazzy experiments (read: a lot of horns) that sound fine, but she also gives herself over to ho-hum balladry a couple times, hurting her momentum. Still, one of the more interesting pop albums in Japan this year.
Vanilla Beans Vanilla Beans II
Vanilla Beans subversive “alternative idol” gimmick works wonders visually, the duo’s silly videos and goofy promotional pushes (sitting in a see-through bus in downtown Tokyo, just reading magazines and playing video games) poking fun at the zany idol culture oh-so-prominent in Japan. Yet what happens when they lose the visual component, and just have the music? Well, as 2011 album Vanilla Beans II demonstrates, they can get by just fine. The album artwork hints at weirdness (since I can’t find any good shots, go here to see it) but the music never really approaches Weird Al territory of parody. The language barrier should be taken into account, as the lyrics could be saying all sorts of zany thing…and with a song just titled “Breasts,” that’s a safe bet…but the lyric book also features plenty of straight-faced “love me nows” and odes to Summer.
Vanilla Beans II, then, confirms something great past singles like “Nicola” laid out – they might be having fun with the idol thing, but Vanilla Beans are also setting out to make catchy pop. This album ends up a plenty enjoyable listen, the duo mimicking various incarnations of J-Pop through the ages. The above “älskar dig”is a slightly slower but still enjoyable number from them, while “Musunde Hiraite” one of the bounciest things they’ve ever put together. The few times they try to be more “rock” stand out as the album’s weaker moments, but there are plenty of pop-centric moments to offset those.
Oh, and in case you think they aren’t still messing with you, they end the album with a cover of “Stairway To Heaven.” Vanilla Beans, never change.