Listen Back 12-10-10


Woof! Computer problems and losing my will to live sort of made this week's Listen Back post a little late. But, good news everyone! Everything worked out just fine and I'm still alive and here we are.

So what has the staff been rockin' out to this week? Well, as you can tell from the header image, I really like the new Kanye West album. But that's just a small tastes of the smorgasbord that awaits you after the jump!

How about you? Watcha' been listenin' too?

Zac Bentz



This is a bit of a cheat, since I really just got this on Wednesday of this week, but I've listened to it enough times in a row to more than make up for lost time.

This is the fist release since keyboard player and must cutest member Kayo left last year after over ten years with the band. The short review is that this is the same Polysics we've come to know over the last couple releases, namely very clear, sharp as hell and really poppy. It's a solid release, but maybe a bit light on hooks.

Having said that, the electronics on it are incredible. It would seem that getting rid of the possibility of having to actually play the keyboard parts live has allowed Hiro to just go nuts and make them not only unplayable but downright otherworldly. And the songs generally rock harder, like more of the power trio they've become. Both "How Are You?" and "Rock Wave Don't Stop" are the most listener friendly and catchy, while the other three tracks are more complex, noisy and more or less just the band showing off their love of weird time signatures and spazzy shifts. Not a problem for me, since that's what I love most about them.

The closest comparison to eee-P!!! that they've released is the Kaja Kaja Goo EP. That EP is one of my favorite releases from Polysics as each song has its own perfectly realized feel, yet the entire EP is very well defined and has its own personality. It's a brutal release and I don't think the new clean and poppy sound that the band has cultivated since then is able to carry the same weight.

That's a lot of blathering and analysis for a small, 15 minute EP, but I think that just proves how much these guys mean to me. I still think they're fantastic and I look forward to their next move with great anticipation, as always.

(Oh, and the DVD with the interview and behind the scenes gear documentary is great, mostly because of the English subtitles. More of this, please!)

Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Album of the year.

Now, I don't know anything about hip-hop or rap. It's a genre that's never struck a chord with me, aside from a track or two every now and then. Mostly it's because I've never cared much about lyrics, which is what hip-hop is all about, and cared much more about music, which hip-hop is certainly not about. And, despite the media shenanigans and hype (and the fact that Japanator is Kanye's favorite site on the internet,) I don't know anything about mister Kanye West. Well, other than what we've covered about him here, here, here, here, here and here. But somehow I kept hearing about this album in the strangest places (like NPR), and what I was hearing actually sounded interesting, musically speaking, so I checked it out. And boy oh boy, am I ever glad I did.

First off, the production is jaw dropping. This is not a hip-hop album, at least not as I understand them. To use a really hackneyed comparison, it's like Sgt. Pepper's compared to Hard Days Night. The songs are unapologetically musical, touching on techno, rock, soul, classical, tribal, and yeah, regular old hip-hop. It's like going from gray to full on 3D, Technicolor, Wizard of Oz shit.

And that's saying nothing about the lyrics, which are both hilarious and deadly serious. From religion, fame, drugs, money and women, it hits on just about everything in grand fashion. Most notable are both Kanye's self-deprecation and self-aggrandizing. He loves himself and hates himself in equal measure, which makes him much more relatable than the usual MC just reading his own press releases into the mic.

And then there are the various samples and nods to bands like King Crimson, Black Sabbath and Aphex Twin. There are the guest spots by Jay-Z, The RZA, an incredible performance on "Monster" by Nicki Minaj, a stunningly funny Chris Rock bit and, oddly enough, Bon Iver, just to name a few. None of the tracks ever fall into a rut or sit still. Sure, some of the songs run a bit long at times, like the epic "Runaway," which is an amazing track but nine minutes is pushing even that. But the staggering energy, sheer epicness and introspection of most of the songs easily makes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy the album of the year.

Colette Bennett

Ken Hirai

I'm having a Ken Hirai week. It's because I have Pedro in town and I said "Hey, you want to hear the gayest Japanese music of all TIME?" And he was like, "YES." So I played him Ken Hirai's "Popstar" (which I wouldn't know about it in the first place if it wasn't for Dale North).

Jeff Chuang

Rasmus Faber presents Platina Jazz - Anime Standards Vol.02

My grandma likes Barry Manilow. I'm not so big of a fan. So I call this a compromise. I see her a lot during December, since it's the holidays and all, and I think these jazz arrangements do fit the season, sort of.

If you didn't know (and I didn't), Faber is a Stockholm-based producer/DJ and somehow he was able to round up a bunch of jazz types to do these arrangements and sell them in Japan. In this second edition more popular pieces get poached, from the first Toradora opening to folksy pieces like Hajimete no Chuu to random things like RahXephon ED yume no tamago (although that one is jazz-rooted originally) and older pieces like Skies of Love from Legend of Galatic Heroes and HELLO, VIFAM. My favorites out of the bunch are Yoko Kanno's Ai no Field from Brain Powered and FOR FRUITS BASKET.

Check out their videos. I thought that was more interesting than the jazz renditions themselves. For a track list (what you really want), CD Japan has it.

Tim Sheehy

"12gatsu no Love Song"

I listen to this song every year around this time. I'm not sure if I can call it amazing, but it's really fun to sing along with while driving in my car. It also has a touching little PV that goes along with the song. I'm not sure how many different versions he's recorded to date, but there's a bunch. The re-recorded Japanese from 2004 and his Chinese duet with Leehom Wang are among my favorites.

Mike LeChevallier

Wild Nothing
Golden Haze EP

When I did my Japanator Radio guest DJ set a few weeks back, one of the songs that people consistently tweeted me about for more information was Wild Nothing's "Summer Holiday". Gemini is unquestionably one of my favorite records of the year, something akin to listening to late 80s/early 90s shoegaze for what feels like the first time all over again. The band's new EP, Golden Haze, is a terrific companion piece to that full-length with songs that actually shy away from the more upbeat tone of "Summer Holiday" and lean towards a slower, more contemplative mood. The title track is a standout, but the closing number "Vultures Like Lovers" is a close second. Every song on this album is fine-tuned and passionate, allowing me to recall a time when I skipped out on less-than-important high school classes because I was trapped in my car, entranced by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride, Cocteau Twins or Chapterhouse. Why has this kind of music taken so long to resurface properly?

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Zac Bentz
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