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!