December arrives, bringing with it the most truly joyous time of the year…the month where every music critic/blogger labors over their “Year End List” before sharing it with a mostly indifferent world. Of course, this blog isn’t remotely above that…we (by which I mean “just me”) is currently creating such lists with as much care as one devotes to a 3-D puzzle. Expect that jazz in like two weeks-ish. Before that, expect a few special features and this new feature, where I quickly tackle a few albums that I listened to a lot in 2010 but never got around to writing a super wordy review of. These albums aren’t good…some probably suck..but they seem worth talking about. First up…MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS and Asian Kung-Fu Generation.
MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS Zero Comma, Iro Toridori No Sekai
SparkPlugged writer Shen recently named MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS (DREGS from here on out) the “biggest artist of 2010” and I think dude’s got a point. After a few years working the minors, DREGS released a major label full-length (longwinded Zero Comma, Iro Toridori No Sekai that absolutely pulverizes any other major label J-Rock release this year unless Bump Of Chicken drop something insane. Sorry to use the most otaku-ish of imagery here, but imagine an adorable, cartoon schoolgirl punching you in the face with a robotic arm. That’s this album.
Being noisy and melodic isn’t anything new of course, but in the world of J-Rock DREGS dropped this full-length it sounds like a revelation. J-Rock (my definition of this being any pop-rock band who can soundtrack a commercial but don’t often appear on the music shows) rarely sounds this confrontational, usually playing it safe to get that wide-audience money (see the next entry!). DREGS make songs folks from a lot of different walks of life would love…that also happen to be loud and at times, ugly. The best moment on Zero Comma…and summing up what makes DREGS so special…comes on second song “Made (Jounetsu Mix).” What seems like a subdued bit of melodic pop bounces along contently – then comes the chorus. I feel a lot of bands in DREGS position would run the ball up the middle and just have a pleasant, soaring chorus. DREGS speed the drums up to the point where they seemingly break through the song, not matching with the vocals at all. THEN they drop the great, soaring bit.
And so Zero Comma goes. “RAT” merges shoegaze atmosphere with the relentless speed of a prison break, while “Zureru” jerks around in an extremely pretty way. They even slay it on the fucking slow allad “ONEDAY.” Triumphantly looming above the rest, though, is “Hikizuru Beat.” Natsuko Miyamoto’s singing…the chief reason DREGS remains so melodic while trying to give you a bloody nose…delivers a passion-dripping vocal performance that makes the relentless chug of the guitars and drums even better. Like the album as a whole, it’s a special single – managing to be so familiar and so alien at the same time. I hope Shen and I aren’t the only ones trumpeting these guys in English in 2011.
Asian Kung-Fu Generation Magic Disk
I really wanted to write an in-depth review of this one, dear reader. I did everything I usually do when I’m determined to really figure an album out…I played it on loop from my computer, read up on the band’s history and put the whole shebang on my iPod so I could listen to it on the train. Fam, I braced to write this thing. “This is one of the most important J-Rock bands ever and they’ve released a new album, one featuring cover art that supposedly does crazy stuff when placed in front of certain makes of web cameras. THIS WILL BE DEEP.”
The days turned into weeks turned into months until this moment, where I come to you and admit I couldn’t find much of interest to say about Magic Disk. It’s not remotely bad but also far from exciting. It’s…just there. This felt like going into the Louvre and discovering the only thing you could look at was the water fountain.
This CD just comes off as such an OK J-Rock experience I’m left pawing at empty thought bubbles, desperate to come across something to say. Asian Kung-Fu Generation mastered this sound long ago and they remain one of the best sorta mainstream J-Rock bands around…though Magic Disk being one of the better examples of that faux-genre speaks more about the landscape than the album…but yeah. I think they might be shooting for some sort of generational message, evidenced by sometimes singing about a “lost generations” and titling songs “Shinseiki no Love Song” (translation: “Love Song Of The New Century”) or “”Sayonara Lost Generation.” Great…but the music just doesn’t move me to write anything besides these rambles.
To be fair, Magic Disk has some great moments. The title track features the album’s best lyrical structure, a buzzy rush leading into a chorus that’s basically just a howl. Some of the slower songs impress, and “Last Dance wa Kanashimi o Nosete” boasts some downright fun percussion that makes what could have been a very same-sounding song on this album jump out. Best of all remains the lead single “Shinseiki no Love Song,” which turns a simple trick (reversed guitars) into something hypnotic when paired with slightly hushed vocals before…well, the song totally flips out on itself and turns incredible.
Those moments shine, but as a whole Magic Disk just seems…good? I don’t regret spending so much time with this album and I’ll admit that thematically this might be way deeper than I’m giving it credit for, Asian Kung-Fun Generation’s The Suburbs even. Still it all seems so unnoteworthy, especially when juxtaposed with the album featured above this entry – DREGS pounds on your door demanding that you hear it. Asian Kung-Fu knocks nicely a couple times and leaves when you don’t answer.