Friday, December 29, 2006

Rockasoo's Recommended Holiday Viewing

I know this site is called The GOOD music but there are some things that are just as important to me as music. Of course I am talking about the GOOD television. Today is my first ever feature on television that makes Rocky's heart go a-thumpety-thump. I had a chance to watch three of my favorite programs ever over the holidays and would like to invite you to do the same. If some time in the past you have watched and enjoyed all of the following, please let's get married; this being Canada, I have no gender preferences.

Over the second season I have really warmed up to the American adaptation of England's brilliant "The Office". Steve Carell may not be as subtle in his unique managerial stylings as his UK counterpart Ricky Gervais but nevertheless makes for enjoyable viewing. Both series are wholly recommended viewing especially if you have ever worked in an office. It only seems appropriate for the holiday season to offer up "A Benihana Christmas". Observe the not-so-subtle nod to my homeland of Japan. Simply, know the name of the episode you want and type it into Dailymotion's search for the rest.

I never could get into Japanese Doramas as much as I tried. Four and a half years yielded nothing for me. I'm sure there were many worthwhile offerings but my lack of Japanese and cultural understanding made it difficult to get anywhere. While packing my boxes for my fated journey back to Canada I decided to take a short break and see what was on the tube (it was at least 40 degrees out there, man). That's when I discovered "GTO", or Great Teacher Onizuka. Starring the absolutely amazing Takashi Sorimachi, GTO is the story about the life of Eikichi Onizuka. He sets out to become the greatest teacher ever, using his own brand of philosophy and the ability to do nearly anything when under sufficient pressure. It's simply the finest school drama in existence. And yes, it's got sub-titles. You can find the other 11 episodes here.

And finally, here's something from my university days, Twitch City! I am so happy to hear that this gem is finally available on DVD. I remember being called up from my art studio by a bunch of friends to take a break to watch "Fishing with John", "Space Ghost" and some trumpeted new CBC program that I had seen cryptic ads for but never paid much attention to. Luckily for me, my friends had a talent for finding the cool and my life is that much better for it. Twitch City, starring Don McKellar as Curtis, is about a near clinical shut-in who goes about his life watching television. He devises a method of sustaining an income by double renting every square inch of his apartment. It's not a comedy or a drama but it's funny and dramatic. It's simply beyond the traditional cannon of television and it's possibly the greatest Canadian program ever made. Hai, douzo.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

While I was Out - An Update on the Lack Thereof

My computer died. It died a slow nasty death. I had been planning on extending its usefulness by buying a new hard drive and simply ignoring the obvious bottlenecks and workarounds for another year or so when my computer would be crap by every single measurable standard; but it died. My beloved Hitachi Prius has left this mortal coil by way of a failing power supply. Rather, I suspect the connection that is soldered on the circuit board has come loose and the power just isn't getting where it's supposed to be very well anymore. I still have the task of trying to get the information off this beast and backed up onto disc. This whole effort makes me kind of nervous because the supply could say it's true final farewells at any given moment and the battery life is literally no more than fifteen minutes. Not a great prospect for someone who wants to hold onto over three years of teaching materials, drawings and miscellaneous accumulated curiosities. But that is for another time. As nice as my new wide screen Acer Aspire is, typing this entry is trying my patience a little bit. The main complaint is the lousy North American keyboard configuration.

The Prius was a Japanese machine and as such has gone with what Europe and the rest of the world sees as the superior keyboard configuration. For one, the Enter key is massive on the European design and now when ever I try to hit the Enter key it turns out as a (\) half the time. Don't get me started on the (@,',") keys. Anyone who has had to deal with the shitty N.A. layout after using a European keyboard will know exactly what I'm talking about.

While as was AFK (away from keyboard), I was surprised at just how much reading I was capable of doing. I read three books over the course of the week. All thanks to my bookworm of a friend, really more of a booksnake (draw your own conclusions) Mark Guppy. Mark has distinction of being the only person featured in my links area. Mark's a great guy and an infinitely better writer than me so please check him out. First, I read Modern Manners - An Etiquette Book For Rude People by P.J. O'Rourke. I read this book entirely while on the can. Methinks there's nothing more polite than reading a book on good manners while pinching loafs. Next, I read a book on punctuation called Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. While funny and informative the book is British and concentrates on the Queen's punctuation. I am Canadian, and while we take our cues from the motherland we also follow many of the standards from that country below us. At least I know can start up a sparkling (and very polite) conversation about the use of Oxford commas with all my friends. Finally, I trucked through Koji Suzuki's Ring in two days. It wasn't much like the movie at all and that turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

worthy books in their own right but that chapter has come to an end because, once more, I have an endless supply of media to keep me occupied. Kinda sad really, I'll miss you Hitachi Prius...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

ROYKSOPP - Remind Me

Over the past few weeks I've been submitting resumes to different companies all over the world. I'll go anywhere for a chance at a brighter future - preferably one that isn't 35 below. I've been struggling with the idea of returning back to Japan for a threepeat. I miss that place so damn much. I miss the food and foul stench of Osakan streets. I miss the tacky cosmopolitan pleasures I took for granted and are non-existent in Winkler, Manitoba. I miss my friends and my freedom. I miss my money and my music (I know the Japanese music scene is passing me by...). Hell, I even miss my damn job. Despite my greater efforts I have yet to receive a single reply from a prospective employer. I refuse to admit defeat just yet.

Thinking about the past makes me think about people who have had an impact on my life. Today's video reminds me of someone who did just that. Röyksopp may be a bit of a one trick pony and this track isn't exactly new but in my opinion rises above the rest and there's a small spot in my heart reserved for this song. A small spot because I got a lot of songs in there.

Officially formed in 1998, Röyksopp is an electronic music duo based in Bergen, Norway composed of Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge. The popularity of the duo's first album entitled, 'Melody A.M.' was boosted by several graphically experimental music videos. Today's video for 'Remind Me', an infographic-styled video by French company H5, won the 2002 MTV Europe Music Award for best music video. A well deserved prize if you ask me, if ever there was a video that inspired me to fire up Adobe Illustrator and 'go for it' this would be it. It's constantly fighting for the top place on my best CG video of all time (tho Groovisions produced 'Rodeo Machine' is still in the contention).

Somehow I don't think I need to say who I dedicate this video to. I think anyone who is in the know already knows. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lullatone - Little Songs About Raindrops

I have always loved cute things. It's one of the things that initially attracted me to Japan - it's pretty freaking cute. Out in North America being cute draws parallels to being weak. I am weak. Most of us are. So screw you if you can't handle my choice to rock out like Hello Kitty every once in a while.

Self-proclaimed pajama pop duo Lullatone does just that. I expect they are pretty big fans of Gus Gus's Sleepytime album. But where Gus Gus puts you most pleasantly to sleep, Lullatone's latest is surprisingly uplifting with it's quiet beats and toy orchestra. Many bands use toy instruments these days, they're even in the forefront of the new college rock inspired (and surprisingly fun) Tragically Hip album. Toys can make some pretty cool sounds and a lot of lame ones as well because they're, well, toys.

Lullatone hails
from Nagoya which is probably most famous for it's red light district in Sakae, a place I can say I had the awkward opportunity to experience. It's also famous in smaller way for it's indie post rock scene which I have also experienced first hand. Both make the Kansai/Kanto border city a worthy place to visit. Lullatone consists of Shawn James Seymour and Yoshimi Tomida. They say their influences consist of daydreaming and humming in the bathtub which I can relate to as I do both to excess. Despite the fact their website is in English there isn't much information on them although they do have separate labels both in Japan and in America. Both labels' sites generously provide samples of their artists work and are worth checking out.

The video created by the duo features some homegrown stop-motion animation. It would be easy enough these days to take a more hands-off approach using consumer friendly flash to create a slick finished product but I like their choice in making the process more transparent. You can see their shadows in the shots as they reposition each frame. It's a signature that really makes the work feel more intimate and brings the viewer into the piece. It's cute, it's friendly and it's little like songs about raindrops should be.

Oh, and they really do rock out like Hello Kitty.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

ASANA - Across The River (Tanaka Akira Cocharo Mix)/Le Le

I hate a lot of things about my job. I have bad hours that (these last two weeks) make me get up at 4:45 or earlier. I am under the constant threat of having to go downstairs and work in the packing area which means manual labour and worse than that, an unrelenting boredom. This week I've been luck so far, I've actually been doing what they hired me for which is creating covers for books while listening to my iPod. Those things make me very happy. Today's video(s!!) are the result of my week's listening. Today's artist has made a daily contribution to my productivity. Another one of Japan's great exports, Asana.

I first heard Asana the same way I've first heard many great Japanese artists, at a listening booth in the best music shop on Earth, Osaka's Amemura Tower Records. A lot of snobs might want to claim that the smaller side shops (of which there are many) better cater to their specifics tastes, but only that Tower could offer such a wide range of music that consistently suited me. If you are ever in Osaka's American Village I HIGHLY recommend dedicating a few hours to the listening booths. It's a virtual box of chocolates, maan. The disc I heard was the 2005 'Split' EP between Asana and Akira Tanaka.

Initially I was seduced by Tanaka's electronic beats but was eventually won over by Asana's organic meanderings. What really does it for me with this guy is no matter where you start off and where you are taken through to the middle of the song you know you are home by the third act. It's really magical and makes me so fuckin' happy every time. My co-workers catch me dancing in my seat all the time.
Here is what one website had to say about Asana's first (and possibly my favorite) CD:

'Inspired by the sounds of insects and frogs encountered on a trip to Bali, Yusuke Asano started the organic post rock project Asana in 2002. As can be imagined by this origin, Asana's compositions flow with an exotic ambience accented beautifully by the use of various instruments such as: jambe, gamelan, kalimba, ukulele, sitar, trumpet and analogue synthesizers... all used to push the keys and pluck the strings of audiences' hearts worldwide. Asana's debut album "Kupu Kupu" was released by the Japanese label Stiff Slack in 2002. The album has proved to be a long time seller, not only in record stores, but also in cafes, design goods stores, and select furniture shops.'

That pretty much says it all - heart strings and furniture shops. If that sounds strange to you than you've never been to Japan. Yusuke Asano's favorite bands reads like my iPod tracklist, minus my Hank III album but that's another blog entry. Check out Asana's
MySpace page to sample some of this artists wonderful tracks. My biggest Asana related regret was not picking up his latest CD, LeLe before coming back to Canada. Oh well, I guess there's always SoulSeek.

Today is a first for my blog I have posted no one, but two Asana videos. The first is Across the River remixed by Akira Tanaka of Asana's Ina Ipa which features remixes of his first album. The second is a live performance in Taiwan together with Lullatone which shows how those wonderful sounds are made.

Friday, November 10, 2006


If I could go back in time and see three bands in concert it would be Johnny Cash in the 60's, Led Zeppelin in the 70's and Run DMC in the 80's. I will, however, have to live the remaining years of my life knowing this will never happen and that's OK, because in 2002 I got to see the most influential act of the 90's, by which of course I mean Wesley Willis.

My friend told me there was going to be a Wesley Willis concert in the 'Peg and it was pretty much implied that we had to go. The strange thing was that this news generated a pretty big buzz in our sleepy little town and soon we had FIVE people psyched about the show. Yes, where I come from five people showing interest in anything, let alone the same thing, is considered a seriously big buzz. Days felt like weeks as we waited patiently for that fateful day to arrive. The concert was held at the Pyramid Cabaret, a super-cool (but not too cool for school) club in Winnipeg. Out of all the concert venues I visited in Winnipeg, the Pyramid was easily my favorite. It has history, a decent sound system, two lava-lamp inspired projection lights, proper seating and stage areas, nice patrons and I could go on. From where I stand, it would be hard to think of what I don't like about the place. Go see a concert at the Pyramid if you ever are in the neighborhood (fat chance), you are gonna have a good time.

When we arrived, it was dead - it always is at the Pyramid. Oh, people will come, but I'm just not hip enough to show up an hour or two late which is always when the jet set get there. We ordered some drinks and before we knew it we were donned the heavy drinking table by our waitress. I was surprised because I had just commented on how we all seemed to be taking it easy that evening. I seldom drink because I usually land up driving somewhere and really can't afford to lose my license on account of a dry throat. That day however, I had a ride and so I partook in a few Molsons. This was going to be a real rock experience and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to have some kind of buzz on. Even so I was taking it easy because too much beer whilst chasing the green dragon equals a rock n' roll disaster waiting to happen. On stage was the first sign of things to come - we beheld Wesley's Technics KN1200 keyboard, all covered in Christmas lights.

The 300+ pound clinically-schizophrenic superstar entered from the back and walked over to the front and sat down near the main entrance so that people who came in would have a chance to meet the man. And meet the man we did. The first thing a noticed was the perma-bruise on the center of his forehead. Wesley head butts his friends and fans as a sign of affection and judging by the size of his skull it must have been five inches thick. My friend asked Wesley to play the crowd pleasing 'Rock n' Roll McDonald's' to which he muttered something complete unintelligible. We stood there briefly wondering if there was going to be more so he capped it off with 'buy a CD?'.

My words are simply inadequate to describe a Willis show and I'm not sure that anyone could do it justice so that's why today's video is from an actual concert. It wasn't the one I went to but it looks like it could have been. The Wesley Willis formula is refined to perfection and so all his shows (and songs) look alike on the surface. It's only through Willis' keen audience interaction that we see the genius of his live shows. Near the end of the show my friend donned a children's Burger King crown and danced on stage as Wesley obliged him with his requested 'Rock n' Roll McDonald's'. People kept rushing up on stage for headbutts and everyone had the best silly time you could ever imagine. A year after I saw him, Wesley Willis died of Leukemia. I am truly saddened by the death of such a strange man who had such power over myself and his adoring crowds. I will never see another concert as cool as the one I saw in 2002, I am so honored I got to see him at all.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

BECK - Nausea

When I started university there was a call for programing at the brand new campus television station. I approached my long time friend and partner in crime to pitch a show and just like that the debauchery known as Rockasoo Owen Television was born. The origins of the name will be saved for another entry. It seemed every idea I pitched was widely well received and for the first time in my life things I said had a small but genuine impact. Highlights included the 30 Hour Binge that accidentally (honestly!) took place at the EXACT same time as the 30 Hour Famine held next door. We called up our local Molson brewery and told them that we wanted them to sponsor a drinking telethon that would be broadcast on campus. To my great surprise they were all like, hell yeah, where do we sign up and promptly delivered cratefuls of beer. The peak of imperfection had to be when the pizza we ordered was delivered to the room next door, yes, our sacrilegious pizza was delivered to the 30 Hour Famine. I'm going to hell for that one, that I'm sure but to this day I still drink the Molson. I owe them a life debt. But it wasn't all drinking telethons on ROTV, we had some serious segments too. Take this unaired bit of cinematic juiciness - a music review program that involved dancing marionettes where the better the song the more intensely they danced. The marionettes were mostly paper towel ghosts and a couple of He-man figures that toppled around the floor to lame techno music. Realizing that this was neither hardcore or drug-inspired enough this activity quickly turned into the destruction of glass where me and my partner in crime proceeded to break quite literally a thousand beer bottles and florescent tubes. This was all done INSIDE (as in indoors) the university in the name of art. In retrospect I can't remember where or how we got all that glass, how we didn't kill ourselves or how we managed to clean it up. Come to think about it there are a lot of plotholes from my university days. Which brings us to today's music video.

My apparent inability to spell nausea correctly made finding today's video more than a two click venture, but eventually after that third click, the amazingness that follows was revealed. I'm talking about 'Nausea', the song off Beck's brand new album 'The Information'. The second album to be released from Beck in as many years. I always liked Beck as a university student and while his latest albums haven't exactly been receiving the critical acclaim they used to there are always a few stand-out tracks. It seems gone are the days when a new Beck release would completely change the way you perceive music, blame it on age - blame it on Scientology, but pretty packed likkle bits of video remain. He seems to have gotten into the habit of releasing a thousand versions of each single that comes out and I'd say we're all luckier for it. In an interview Beck talks about how the internet is the best way to show off his videos and plans on passing on the 'MTV that makes him wanna smoke crack'. Well said, my good man.

This video features marionettes that are much cooler than ours were at ROTV but the same silliness is there. It made me pang for the days of my youth. A time when fucking with hungry people was a sponsor worthy event.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


This will serve as my final entry in my official series of New Wave features. So far I've covered bands from Japan, Canada, UK and the US. Last night I stumbled upon another gem in rough, this time in Beijing. I was surprised to see the heavily regulated country even allowed to produce weirdness of this magnitude - so much so that I will immediately apply for work in this country. If fate allows and people ask me what brought me to China I will have an answer ready, the answer my friend is Newpants.

Newpants is a quartet formed in 1996 with Millionaire Peng as the vocalist, Groove Dog on guitar, Lobo on bass and the keyboard stylings of Fox Pang. As strange as this band is compared with China's standard fare, Newpants have enjoyed a number of appearances on Chinese television, released three CD's and are a popular draw at fashionable Chinese night clubs. The bands influences range from New Order, Blur and Pulp to Guns N' Roses and Ramones to Pet Shop Boys, Daft Punk and Michael Jackson. Having heard a number of tracks I'd say that their music does seem to embody by and large the qualities of the above bands. I'd argue that today's track is most reminiscent of the Japanese YMO's 1979 release, Tong Poo, Newpants seems to have been influenced by a number of other earlier Japanese artists - who incidentally got a lot of their influence from traditional Chinese music. Aural and aesthetic parallels to Denki Groove, another Japanese tongue and cheek electronic band heavily featured on this blog are also pretty clear.

DT Jintan is from the 'Dragon Tiger Panacea' released in 2003. It's a nice shout out to Chinese export culture right down to deliberate misspellings and kung-fu fighting. Millionaire Peng even 're-enacts' the famous battle between Bruce Lee and a slightly disheveled Chuck Norris. Check this gloden album wherever government regulated Techno-Pop discs are sold!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

AJDAR ANIK- Çikita Muz

I spend too much time hunting on the web for interesting bits of music video to post in this here blog and usually don't turn up anything I didn't know about before. Then there are other times when I'm not even looking for anything and greatness stares me in the face. Today is one of those days. Today is the first ever Saturday night WTF and it stars none other than Turkey's newest bargain basement pop sensation, the wise and mighty Ajdar!! My dearest friend is planning his wedding in the not-so-distant future and I will require this song to be played on repeat not only during the reception but throughout the entire ceremony as well. That's how much this song rules. Yes, I'm being a bit cheeky here but if it didn't hit me somewhere on my special place it wouldn't have a home on my blog.

As a long time fan of Turkish cinematic masterpieces like 3 Dev Adam (3 Mighty Men or Turkish Spiderman), Badi (Turkish E.T.) and Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam (Turkish Star Wars), my love for their pop culture was again realized through the Arabesque-pop music of this mysterious artist. While there is virtually (absolutely) no English information on Ajdar, I believe he was in Popstar Türkiye, a kind of American Idol style music show and as unlikely as it seems I can't confirm or deny his success in the competition. Somewhere, somehow this guy gained a large enough following to release an album called 'Nane Nane'. 'Çikita Muz' appears to be the album's hit single and it should be rushed to clubs everywhere while the wax is still hot! Other videos are available online through YouTube and his very own fan site.

Today's video is full of great things. Firstly, it's good to know the guy who played the bass tracks at the beginning of Seinfeld episodes found work in Ajdar's band. It's funky fresh dressed to impress and ready to party. Ajdar's singing is reminiscent of days gone by, listening to drunken Japanese businessmen trying to manage Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' when we all knew full well he never has had it his way. And even though Turkey doesn't exactly share borders with Russia they still seemed able to import some of their finest underage 'models' for the video shoot. The banana motif I can kinda understand but Ajdar himself seems more entertained by them than do his two female boat guests. I won't lie, I don't understand the radishes at all and can only guess that they are some sort of Turkish aphrodisiac. And his hair, what's up with that?

Friday, November 03, 2006

THE QUEENHATERS - I Hate the Bloody Queen

A band so punk they only had one song. And what a song it was. A song criticizing the Falkland War, a song against figure heads, a song about scoring drugs - it's all there. A song with so much brit-punk attitude that it could have only come from our mighty 'piss-taking' Canadian kings of comedy, SCTV. As with my previous SCTV post, this segment had a profound impact in my pathetically twisted pubescent past. I remember acting out this skit (ON CAMERA) with my like-minded friend and thinking we were doing something truly cool - nay, important.

The Queenhaters (or incorrectly, The Queen Haters) were featured one time only (03/18/83) on a regular segment known as 'Mel's Rock Pile'. Clued-out and unhip, Mel Slirrup hosted a teen popular music show akin to American Bandstand or Top of the Pops. His audience was expecting top 40 bubble gum when Mel proudly announces that they would have a special feature on punk music and introduces the Queenhaters. The band was fronted by Martin Short who plays an angry coked-up British Punk quite convincingly. Joe Flaherty on bass and Eugene Levy (who also plays Mel) and Andrea Martin on guitar add full-on stage presence. John Candy, the bands drummer, works his magic with a demure intensity that only today's finest Ritalin could provide. It's a sight to behold and in my opinion one of the finer moments in Canadian comedy and strangely enough Punk music. The song is pretty cool and actually has an ounce of skewed Canadian street cred. It has been covered - there is actually version by Mudhoney on 'Oh Canaduh! 2', a tribute to Canadian punk disc. Too bad that it is much slower and nowhere near as fun... and slightly misnamed.

There are even some rumors floating around the net on exactly who wrote the music for the segment. Here is a comment found at one punk site speaking one strong possibility:

'Sometime in late 1982 about six months before The Queen Haters episode aired, Mike Lion of The Young Lions was going around outside the Domino Club on the Toronto scene telling everybody that The Young Lions had been taped as guests on SCTV. All we punks were telling him he was full of S*#t because SCTV only ever took the biggest acts such as The Tubes or The Plasmatics. Well, Mike changed his story and said that The Young Lions had really just taped some music for SCTV, and we all told him he was full of s*$t again. Six months went by, SCTV aired it's Queen Haters episode, and we all ate our words. But The Queen Haters didn't sound quite like The Young Lions, so we all had our doubts and asked Mike for confirmation. But he merely smirked. So the question remains. Were The Queen Haters really The Young Lions?'

And that was the last we were to hear from that magical band. Or was it? According to the SCTV homepage, in a later SCTV show, the "It's a Wonderful Film" sketch (12/20/83), a character is listening to the radio playing the unlikely collaboration of extravagant lounge singer Jackie Rogers, Jr. (also played by Short) and The Queenhaters. I've found a new mission in life, feck a girlfriend, I need that song!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

54-71 - 69 My Pheromone Up

It was my last big party before leaving Japan. It was a big deal for a few of us but most people were too jaded to bother showing up. I was really disappointed and little angry at those who didn't come. But as it usually is, the people who did come were for the greater part, the people I cared to see. It took place at a Japanese beer garden. Japanese beer gardens are a lot different from what many of us in the west are accustomed to. They are usually on the rooftops of large department stores and provide food and drinks for a set price. In this case it amounted to $30 for three hours for all you can eat and all you can drink. And as is tradition, everyone up there did just that. 'Off the hook' is an expression invented to describe events like these. After literally gallons of beer (each) people usually go to karaoke as an after party which always mean, another generous serving of the drink. Jude, one of my friends who always dreamed of DJing professionally, was with us which was a rare treat as he didn't come out that often. One of the girls in our group selected a Chili Peppers song to sing and Jude turned to me and said how much he hated the Peppers and actually hid outside of the room until the song was over. 54-71 is what the Peppers might have been if they were more interested in pushing their musical envelope rather than playing to their rapidly aging female demographic. Play for integrity or play for pussy, I can understand the dilemma.

54-71, which is pronounced 'gojyuyon no nanajyuichi' is the embodiment of Japanese post-hip-hop. I think the hip-hop scene has been around long enough that we can start post prefacing the word. I make up genres to suit my needs, I'm a self-proclaimed genius asshole (that is getting tardy on posting on this blog I might add). The band was first introduced to me by a friend on the Soulseek network whose knowledge of music from around the world dwarfs mine to near insignificance. 57-41 consists of Horikawa Hiroyuki, Kawaguchi Kentaro, Sato Shingo, and Takada Noriaki. In 1995, Kawaguchi and Sato started their musical activities together and by 1997, the current four members were performing together. Notably, every song is sung in English though it might not be ant kind of English you are accustomed to. After hearing several of their albums I have to think Kawaguchi's wonky lyrical choices are largely deliberate.

Never having seen them live, here is a rather large concert review from the amazing and essential Rock of Japan website:

'When I walked in 54-71 were already on the stage, but had not yet begun their set. They were setting up, but it wasn’t clear to me what they were waiting for. They seemed to be ready a while before they actually began. The singer was wearing camouflage pants and glasses. He’s a thin, young man, and comes off as a quiet, sensitive type. It would have helped their show a lot if he hadn’t been standing on the stage for twenty minutes before they began the first song, because even with his awkward rapping, and his modern dancing, it really took him about twenty minutes to wipe away the image of normality he had projected before the show started. The modern dance included some pantomime and was mostly quite mediocre, but its uniqueness eventually helped to envelop the singer into a rich character, half artist/half clown. By the end of the performance, I had a deep respect for the guy. His rapping (usually in English) never really took him too far, but he stretched his vocals in many other directions, and most of them were quite effective. Toward the end of the set he did a kind of drunken torch song, which totally won me over and elicited many cheers from the audience throughout its dramatic performance. He was supported by a drummer, a bassist, and a guitarist. The guitarist subtly mixed what seemed to be jazz stylings with a simple kind of funk twitch. There was a good bit of range in the material, but except for one or two numbers that involved all out epileptic thrashing, the rhythm section kept the beat simple and nervous. For some reason the bass guitarist performed the majority of the set at the rear of the stage with his back turned to the audience. It did not detract from the overall show, though. With a frontman of this caliber, the entire band could have turned their backs to the audience, and it would have remained a thoughtful and entertaining performance.'

I wasn't ever completely sold on the 'every track sameness' of their debut album but never under-estimating the staying power of mediocrity I felt compelled to pick up the 2002 'enClorox'. Recorded in Chicago, it was the band's first major-label release and it was amazing, every track had a unique flavor and a sense of humor about it. Today's video is from the follow-up to enClorox, 2003's 'True Men of Non-Doing'. It's a soulful little number that makes me long for another day in Japan - but then again these days everything makes me pang for that wonderful place I left behind.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

YUKI - Joy

I went to a lot of concerts when I lived in Japan and I saw a lot of talented Japanese musicians. Some were popular amongst very specific demographics while others were famous with people across the board. Today is an example of the latter, the time I saw YUKI. I went with a couple of Japanese friends to this great music festival that had all kinds of great and interesting artists. Two of which have already been featured on this blog - Ua and Polysics. YUKI was seen by many as the headliner of the event because she is probably the most famous and has remained relevant for almost 15 years. Just before the concert began one of my friends told me that YUKI had recently had a miscarriage which actually made it pretty hard for me to listen to her songs which were no doubt inspired by the child that never was. And her songs are always quite beautiful. Just recently she gave birth to a child on August 29, 2006.

Yuki Isoya, or generally just YUKI, began her career as the front woman for the near generation-defining noisy pop Judy and Mary in 1991. If you are Japanese, you'd have had to have been in a coma for the past 15 years not to know at least one of their songs. In all, they released seven albums, three compilation albums and twenty-two singles. Judy and Mary broke up in 2001 following the WARP Tour Final held at the Tokyo Dome, where fans bid them a tearful farewell. I thinks it's a matter of time before they rejoin if only to release an 'it's been a while' album. Japanese bands usually seem to enjoy functional relationships and if they break up it's usually genuinely to explore other creative directions.

YUKI has done that. While I don't mind JAM, I think she has really pushed herself to new directions exploring everything from dub to club-inspired dance pop. Both incarnations enjoy popularity in Japan and abroad. She's a J-pop girl whose talent and innovation makes her more than a guilty pleasure. Today's video for Joy is off her 2005 release by the same name. It's really hard to choose which YUKI video to show because they're all pretty great but this is the song that really stood out at the concert so I have to give her props for that. The video really seems to borrow from the early Daft Punk play book which is great to see - it's all a lot of fun.

Friday, October 27, 2006

TALKING HEADS - Once in a Lifetime

When I was in my first year of high school I discovered SCTV. I loved it. Every night at 11pm (or Thursday Nights at 9 if you are a fan) on Channel 9 CKND, I would watch 30 minutes of pure Canadian comic genius. A lot of big players too, John Candy, Andrea Martin, Katherine O'Hara, Dave Thomas, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, and Harold Ramis. SCTV was in principle the story of a perpetually failing television station with no budget, stars or talent. Of course in reality it had all of the above but they had a lot of fun making it look otherwise. But because this is a music blog I will draw attention to one particular semi-regular segment, The Gerry Todd show. Veejay Gerry Todd (Rick Moranis) welcomes Talking Heads and The Plastics to his high-tech variety show 'Midnight Video Special' - only to be defeated by an attack of superior technology from Japanese entrepreneur Tim Ishimuni (Dave Thomas). Plastics videos seem impossible to find or I would show one today, but of course Talking Heads videos are another matter. When I first saw the 'Once in a Lifetime' video on SCTV I was in awe of its - well, awesomeness.

To promise a series of New Wave videos and not show anything by the New York based Talking Heads would be unforgivable. I know maybe most people wouldn't group the band in such a tightly packaged genre but we have all the token traits. Synths, confused-sounding vocalist, more chroma keying than you can shake a stick at, Rugrats inspired haircut, seizure dancing, horned glasses, and a freaking bow tie. This ladies and gentlemen is New Wave.

A Talking Head is term used in cinema to describe a head and shoulders shot of a person on screen who carries dialog. Essentially all talk and no action. The band found this description in a TV Guide and thought it suited them perfectly. 'Remain in Light' was released in 1980 and 'Once in Lifetime' was the album's big single. Only the single didn't get any radio play. Music videos were becoming the next big thing at the time and when packaged with visuals the song suddenly became an overnight success. A well deserved one I might add. David Byrne, the group's singer is as interesting to watch as he is to listen too. A live version of the song has become pretty popular over time as well. Byrne looks like some Sunday School teacher who has accidentally stumbled onto the stage and decides to wing it in hopes of saving face. Really funny to watch.

PRUSSIAN BLUE - When I'm With You/Stand Up

My friend told me a funny story at work yesterday. He told me about his trip to Germany he took a few years back. He was with a tour group and they were at Octoberfest. I should have asked if it really was October or if the German's keep that bitch going all year round, you know, for the tourists and as an excuse to get pissed all year through. They were at a beer tasting event and one of the girls on the tour was apparently not happy with the size of her taste so she complained. The server had refused to top her off and she yelled, 'What, are you some kind of beer Nazi!?'. A few minutes later she realized what she had actually said. Ha ha. She shouldn't worry too much, I bet Germans watch a lot of Seinfeld too.

How does that tie in with today's entry? Very poorly. Today we will look at a controversial group known as Prussian Blue formed in early 2003 by then 11-year-old fraternal twins Lamb and Lynx Gaede. Here's a recap if you are the only person on earth who hasn't heard about these girls yet. Prussian Blue are popularly referred to as the Olsen Twins of White Nationalism. The girls were home schooled by their mother, April Gaede, an activist and writer for the white nationalist organization National Vanguard. The twins' grandfather wears a swastika belt buckle, uses the Nazi symbol on his truck, and registered it as a cattle brand. Prussian Blue is named after the residue that was left over by the use of Zyklon B, the poison the Nazis employed to kill millions of Jews concentration camps during World War II.

Many news articles and television reports understandably have attacked their politics but what I find interesting is that they never hit them where it hurts - their music. Many people have heard of Prussian Blue but very few have actually heard them. Now 14, it's strange to think of these teens as a recruitment tool for intolerance but audiences are fickle and if they can't hold a note their effect will be limited. The bottom line for me is and will forever be is their music any good. Do these Neo-Nazis have any talent?

There are a few videos floating around YouTube but they are from their first and most amateurish album called 'Fragment of the Future'. It's crap. It really sucks, you can practically hear their Nazi mother prodding them in the background. I won't ever feature something that bad on my site - ever. That's why their latest 2005 album, 'The Path We Choose' is a bit surprising. It's actually not that bad - and THAT is kinda scary. Most of the songs on the second album lack the racial and nationalist overtones of Fragment of the Future and are about more mainstream subject matter like boys, crushes, and dating. That's what I find interesting about these brainwashed twins, material that has to do with white pride = crap while songs about bubblegum = better (if not quite good). One can't help but wonder if they're trying to tell their mother something through these mixed signals.

So while there are no videos for their latest effort, April Gaede has been kind enough to put up a few of PB's new tracks online. The first is off The Path We Choose called 'When I'm with You'. It's not that bad, the girls' husky tween voices work it as well as can be expected. I have visions of less successful Hanson b-sides when listening to the song. The other is 'Stand Up', which is their contribution to the 'Free Matt Hale' (of the Creativity Movement) CD being produced by Condemned Records.

UPDATE!! While I have purposely left the above entry as neutral as possible considering its obvious offensiveness (and how sorry I feel for the girls), I have found an excellent documentary that really helps fill in the blanks. BBS's Louis and the Nazis
is available via Google Video for what I imagine to be a limited time only. It is really worth watching and shows just how sad the world of the White Nationalist movement is. Really, take the hour and a half to see it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


You know what I really appreciated about the early 80's? Weirdness seemed to have a certain mainstream appeal, if you were weird you were cool. Sure there are probably just as many, if not more, weird bands nowadays but they don't get the kind of exposure they used to. Maybe its near-sighted of me to say, but it's almost as if pushing the envelope in any interesting way means banishment to some dark part of web only to be discovered by a handful of obsessive elitist audio hounds. Why radio stations and video channels feel pressured into playing the same dull 'hits' over and over again is something I'll never understand. It's really too bad cause it's often exposure to innovative bands that pushes further growth in the music industry. Fortunetly, Gary Numan got some air time and has influenced a whole generation of artists who have imitated or hacked and slashed at his electro beats.

Gary Numan's most famous and enduring hit is without a doubt the 1979 song 'Cars'. I remember being really young (like 4) when I first heard it on the radio and loving this track so much. I know I had a full-on New Wave dance and everything for this puppy. The song seemed to have pretty much disappeared by the time I started school but I never did completely forget somewhere out there there was this totally awesome track hiding, waiting to be rediscovered. Fast-forward about 12 years or so and I found this great little used CD shop in Winnipeg called 'Into the Music' and I was once again reintroduced to the magic of this song along with many others.

Initially, recording under the band name Tubeway Army, 'Cars' is from 'Pleasure Principle' the first album to be released under his newly assumed Numan moniker which he plucked nearly randomly from a phone book. A lot of artists at the time pretty much hated Numan as a person. David Bowie, who Numan admired greatly, refused to appear on the same television program that they were both scheduled to perform. Eventually Numan fell out of the public eye despite many attempts to recapture his initial success. However, a generation later his contemporaries began referring to him as 'the godfather of electronic music' and he started to enjoy some respect from his peers. The list of artists that have either sampled his tracks or cited him as a major influence is really just too long to list. It would seem that I wasn't the only 4-year-old out there doing a New Wave dance to that kick ass track.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

PETE SHELLEY - Homosapien

Record companies are beginning to crack down on videos being 'illegally' hosted on YouTube (GoogleTube). I don't know what that will mean to the future of this blog because without them I don't have much to work with. I guess the question I need answered is why this form of online distribution is being discouraged. The Japanese seem to have the right idea when they refer to music videos as PROMOTIONAL videos. That's what they are - commercials. Maybe very cool commercials but people are supposed to see the video and say, 'My, how cool was that', and run over to their local record store and buy the LP. MTV doesn't play videos anymore so one would think that people willing to do the advertising for free should be able to in peace. But then again I'm not pimping the latest 50 Cent track... today I'm pimping Pete Shelley.

Pete Shelley is better known as the front man for the punk band the Buzzcocks. The Manchester-based Buzzcocks were one of the first punk rock bands to come out in the mid 70's. The name Buzzcocks comes from a local slang term meaning 'youngster'. Click the following link to check out 'Breakdown', a damn fine early recording by the band which is cool enough to deserve it's own entry. The Buzzcocks are still pretty darn good, they are still making new and fun punk tracks and are worth looking into. In fact, they just released a new CD this year called 'Flat-Pack Philosphy'.

Shelley's 1982 solo effort came to be almost by accident. He began writing the 'Homosapien' track for the new Buzzcocks album. He began composing the track on guitar and seeing his band mates were elsewhere, began using some synths to simulate the other backing instruments. By the time the song was done he realized he had a totally different beast on his hands and so he continued with this process until his first full-length solo disc was born. The BBC saw the title track as a gay anthem (it is) and banned it from the airwaves.

Both Javis Cocker of Blur and Trent Reznor of NIN have credited this single as a major influence, which is interesting considering the extreme differing end results. The track is very catchy and the video cries 80's from the bad luma keying to the immaculately designed Commodore PET computer. As an aside, I'd give my left nut for one of those Star Trek inspired bad boys. I especially like Shelley with his neatly parted hair and his all too tight white suit. Really, there's a New Wave Synth-Pop extravaganza waiting for you just below!