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Nintendo & Vinyl

June 9, 2010

So it’s been a while since the last post eh? Not without good reason of course. Who knew I’d want to stay so productive during the summer? No one that’s who.
To catch up though, I’d like to start with a trip to NYC a week or two ago.
A couple of friends and I took the trek into the Big Apple making a stop (after staring at electronics in B&H) at Nintendo World. Formerly the New York Pokemon Center, Nintendo World still has a section dedicated to the franchise.

What was really cool (in an uber-geeky kind of way) was that the Pokemon Center music from the games was playing in the store as I was contemplating what to buy. I believe my thought process when I realized that went something like: “ZOMG!!!1!!11!POKEMANZZ!!IWANNAABDAVeRYBEST!111!!1!” Though it’s been a couple weeks already so I cannot verify if that is exact.
On the second floor of Nintendo World was the “mini-exhibit” showcasing pieces of Nintendo history:

After fanboying over all the displays (and getting in some Tatsunoko vs. Capcom at a Wii kiosk) we left Nintendo World for St. Mark’s Place. At this point I thought I had gotten all the fanboy out of me for the day but then I saw an ad for Pocky that nearly broke my brain.

To the average person walking by this ad it wouldn’t mean anything. Being the big fan of Japanese pop group Morning Musume that I am though, I immediately recognized the girls (from left to right) as former Musumes Yaguchi Mari, Yoshizawa Hitomi and Iida Kaori. I once played one of their more recent singles during the radio show days of As Seen On Radio but don’t really feature them that heavily on the blog because I don’t want to spend a post ranting and fanboying. So instead I think I’m just adding this picture and blurb as a way to satisfy the part of me that wants to completely redo As Seen On Radio as a Morning Musume/Hello! Project tribute blog.

Moving on though, we came across a record store which meant we HAD to go in. The store was called Rockit Scientist and it was a pretty well stocked store. If I had one gripe it’d be the way the records were ordered in the bins. There was a loose grouping by genre that broke down into 2 or 3 artists that define the genre but then a random filing of anything not by those artists behind them. A bit messy but not unnavigable. The records I ended up buying I’ll cover in a future post of Vinyl Gets! (believe me, I will get to them.)
Quite a fun trip to say the least despite the too-hot weather that day and the closure of a train due to a Bon Jovi concert. More Tales of New York to come!

2000s: A Musical Retrospective in Real Time: Nosaj Thing

May 28, 2010

I imagine I’m a pretty East Coast (of the US) kind of person. And I don’t mean Florida or the Carolinas either. I’m talking about the gloomy Northeast. It might be all the Lovecraft I’m reading or the couple days of rain induced humidity but I figure New Jersey to be quite a gloomy, gray place. So it surprised me to learn that Nosaj Thing, who’s music seems like it was made for rainy Jersey streets, came all the way from sunny California.
The Los Angeles based beatmaker performs live with the help of an Akai MPD32 and Ableton Live to recreate the meticulous subtleties in each of his songs. Faint voices fade in and out while mellow synths wash over the mix. It’s hard to call it ambient because of its definite hip-hop influence. Trip-hop might come close but Nosaj Thing seems to embrace his electronic side with the way he uses synths in lieu of samples.

2000s: A Musical Retrospective in Real Time: Kokusyoku Sumire

May 16, 2010

Kind of on the same tip as the last post’s rant on image, I came across Kokusyoku Sumire (“Black Violet” in Japanese), the two-woman Japanese cabaret act. If you had to you could call the music they make “dark cabaret” but I never felt that was a good name for the music it supposedly describes. Whatever you decide to call it you can’t ignore the interesting fusion of Eastern and Western theatrical elements.
There are definite influences from opera music and pseudo-Victorian era aesthetics by way of the Japanese “Gothic Lolita” movement. While I hesitate to say that there is direct influence from noh or kabuki in Kokusyoku Sumire’s music, the vocals sound like they owe a bit to old Japanese theater.
So far I’ve only listened to their album アンデルメルヘン歌曲集 (Anderumeruhen Kakyokusyu) but am looking forward to their latest album, ALICE IN THE UNDERGROUND, which comes out in a couple days (May 19th to be precise). Apparently Tim Burton is a fan, so why not you?

Style and Substance

May 8, 2010

KISS is not a very good band but damn it if they don't know how to put on a show.

There was a time when I would’ve dismissed groups with carefully constructed images as “style over substance”. It’s a pretty easy trap to fall in, after all, if a musician is devoting so much time to making themselves look a certain way then they’re not focusing on the music. Older, wiser and slightly less angsty, I almost expect a well thought out image to be a part of the musical package. That’s not to say musicality should suffer or be watered down in cultivating a visual component for a musical act but if a group is willing to put more time and effort on an art experience well then, more power to them.
And to be honest if you’re claiming musical integrity because you wear a t-shirt and jeans then you fail to see the inherent irony. The “no-look” look is just that, a look. The only difference is that thousands of people use it, to the point that it doesn’t carry any impact. It’s hard to remember a band of four guys in t-shirts and jeans making mediocre music, but you’re going to have a hard time forgetting a band of four guys dressed as Elven demon slayers from 16th century Mars even if they do play mediocre music.

Psycho le Cému is an example of a great image and great music.

Again, my point is not to say music should take a backseat to image but that the modern performer should be willing to invest time on their presentation. Presentation doesn’t just mean physical appearance though. It extends to releases.
These days a CD is just the middleman between a studio and a computer/mp3 player. The format has lost a lot of it’s value because all it does is store files. If artists, labels and distributors want keep up their sales, they should be wondering what would make their audience want another mass produced piece of plastic. Realistically, it’s a pretty hard sell.
There have been a couple clever solutions over the years though. Artists are releasing music on different mediums (vinyl, cassettes, 8-tracks, NES/Gameboy cartridges, USB drives) in attempts to engage their audience’s interest. Others are including various extras (DVDs, posters, miscellaneous swag) to make a CD purchase more appealing. I know that for me, those kinds of additions can mean the difference between my buying the product or moving on to the next thing.
More than a gimmick, more than something bright and shiny to distract people with, an image should be another chance for an artist to explore his or her (or their) own creative self, be it through elaborate Lady Gaga-esque costumes or a shirt and jeans.

The Fifth of Mayo

May 5, 2010

Lord Sandwich

Happy Cinco de Mayo! For those of you who don’t know, Cinco de Mayo is a very holy holiday for the Mayo People (the Mayonese) during which they celebrate the second coming of John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. At 5:55 (on 5/5 of all days) Lord Sandwich shall descend from the Great Deli in the sky to Wrapture up his people, but you know the rest.
Anyway, you’re probably wondering what Sandwich Lords and Cinco de Mayo are doing on a (predominantly) music focused blog. Well, I don’t know. But what I do know is with my classes coming to a close for the semester I will hopefully be able to concentrate more time on As Seen On Radio. If things go according to plan you can look forward to more vinyl reviews, interviews, music suggestions, videos, etc. Huzzah!

2000s: A Musical Retrospective in Real Time: The Ladies

April 26, 2010

I love me some Rob Crow. I also love me some Zach Hill. Thus, it should follow that I love me some Ladies, the Crow-Hill collab that released the album They Mean Us in 2006. A strange pairing at first listen that quickly grows on you whether you only like one member or both. There are elements of Crow’s pop inclinations and sludgy guitar work as well as Hill’s trademark rapid fire drumming. The result is somewhere between post-hardcore and math rock with melodic tendencies.
I feel as though had I discovered this album back when it came out I would have liked it more than I do now. Not that I don’t like it now but perhaps my appreciation for it stems more from my curiosity about what these two excellent musicians could create together than just simple musical enjoyment. There are some great moments on the album but they’re sandwiched between drawn out jams, a definite Zach Hill influence. While it would probably sound a lot better in a live context, through my headphones it seems bumbling at the worst of times. Granted, all this could be an artistic choice on the part of The Ladies but maybe I just expected something more along the lines of prog-pop.
Despite any criticisms I have, the album is pretty solid and it’s always great to listen to some Rob Crow or Zach Hill.

Vinyl Gets!: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

April 21, 2010

It’s been a while since I watched an anime series. I would say somewhere in the vicinity of three years going on four. I could probably fill up another post on the reasons why but I’ll save that for the future (when I don’t have several projects to work on for school). What’s important here is that as I venture back into the headache of episodic Japanese cartoons I find myself for the first time getting into anime merchandise.
One of the first popular series I missed while on hiatus from the “anime-osphere” was The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Being that I’m still in the process of catching up (something about chronologically out of order episodes confuses me) I can’t speak (type?) with the conviction that Melancholy, and by extension heroine Haruhi, is one of the greatest things to happen to anime like many others do. Instead I can say that it does impress me when animes opt out of using a musical act’s single for a theme and instead create something specifically for a series.

“Hare Hare Yukai” is such a song. Before stumbling across the vinyl version of the Melancholy ending theme I thought that the anime merchandising industry had abandoned vinyl back in the ’80s. Plus I’m not sure how many otaku hung onto turntables through the decades (especially when you need to make room for all those miniDiscs). Despite that, I don’t doubt Bandai managed to move enough copies to make a vinyl release worth it.

Gifts! (on a dirty turntable)

Not knowing what to expect when I ordered the record, I was all the more surprised to open the package and find two awesome free gifts: a Haruhi headband and armband.
Now, this might go over the heads of the anime-challenged, but you just need to know that the titular character Haruhi wears a orange/yellow ribbon in her hair and a red arm band that reads “group/squad leader” in moonspeak. I might not be wearing either one anytime soon but it’s very cool of Bandai to bundle them with the record.

The double sided cover/lyrics booklet is a nice touch. I personally prefer the “back” cover for it’s simplicity, but the “front” has its own charm as well. Inside, you can read the lyrics, that is if you can read Japanese, or stare at the pretty picture sandwiched between the A-side and B-side lyrics.

For a single that was released way back in 2006, this is really a great package. It satisfies my inner otaku and my inner vinyl lover, two inner-selves I didn’t think had much in common. You can pick one up from Bandai’s online store though I’m not sure for how long they’ll have them in stock since it seems people are willing to buy them, regardless of how many miniDiscs they own.