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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Aggregation #01

(I recently made myself a tumblr to post things that I didn't feel warranted essay length entries here.  I have aggregated some of it in this article)

C82#01: 幻想郷茶房~tea for two~ - 10th Avenue Café

Sometime early this morning, the first uploads from C82 began appearing on /jp/, slowly but steadily. It will likely take at least a week for even half of the stuff I actually wanted to listen to starts appearing, but I am a patient fellow (though that cruel, cruel premature upload thread was hard to deal with). I have the Tokyo Active NEETs album downloading as I’m writing this, but for now, I’m trying out some stuff that went under my radar.

I had never heard anything by the 10th Avenue Café before, but there were some familiar names on the credits. Miki - the vocalist on Close to You - I seem to remember from somewhere. The mastering was done by Shibata Takahiro of ShibayanRecords, a very familiar name indeed. His Bossa Nova albums show an interest in lighter, jazzy music, in contrast to his very heavy electro that most know him for. It is not surprising, then, to see him working with the 10th Avenue Café.

This album is rather short, but I feel like a longer album would overstay its welcome. There is, after all, only so much smooth jazz you can listen to at a time and not become a little bit bored. As ambience though, it works wonderfully.

Unfortunately, smooth jazz is hard to talk about in any interesting way. The arrangement makes heavy use of electronic instrumentation for harmonics and backup, but the melodies are primarily carried by piano (or keyboard) and vocal. In terms of license, the arrangements take very little: it’s very easy to tell what songs are arrangements of what originals.

The mishmash of backup elements could, if handled poorly, end up sounding off, but as unchallenging as the arrangements are, they are also masterfully done. That the tracks sound like anything at all is impressive: for soft jazz, it has a fair measure of soul in it.

Mood stays more or less consistent across the album - another reason for it to be short. Albiet, the first two tracks make more use of funk guitar and harmonics than the last two. Forest Calling especially seems to be the most focused on rhythm and groove of them, containing a piano riff that covers an unexpectedly broad range of octaves for a soft jazz arrangement.

In the end, I’m not sure how much I’ll end up listening to this, but it’s eminently pleasant, if just as eminently unchallenging.
C82#02: Mythology - Sound Online
Remember Sound Online, guys? The guy who Alstroemeria Records and REDALiCE would team up with to make those triparte albums way back when? Fun times. He doesn’t seem to be doing all that much on his own of late. His last album was six tracks: three with vocals, three instrumentals. This appears to be his new business model, and it appears to be working out for him.

I keep up with his releases, but I really don’t get exited by his stuff. He had, back in the day, a very clear style. Very clean sounding instrumentals and ambient reverb were dominant. In the present day, his work seems to have taken on more rock influences than were present in his heyday of co-releases with RAMM. I do not care as much for this new direction, but he still has his moments. Perhaps Tsubaki is no longer hitting his stride as he used to, but he isn’t down for the count yet.

Since it’s a short album, I’m going to be all unprofessional and do a track-by-track. Sorry y’all.

We see what this new direction means in the first track - 春暁ストライド - with an arrangement that features prominently guitar backing and a rock style drum kit. In a way, it reminds me of a faster, less intense Cytokine, before he went heavier to the electronic side of things. 3L delivers excellent vocals, as always, but as a whole, it lacks progression, either rhythmically or melodically or in pacing. It starts off as it ends: rapid and with little in the way of tonal contrast. It’s okay at the outset, but it gets rather tiring quickly.

The vocal version of Borderland has some problems keeping itself integrated. The synth work does not flow well with Nachi Sakue’s vocals, which, because she’s Nachi Sakue, are in moé timbre. The combination of squealy dancefloor synth and squealy voice doesn’t work. However, the instrumental version largely solves this. We discover, in the vocal-less version, a throwback to SO’s older work. The underlying arrangement is actually both ambient and powerful, like his best days.

The third track - 白銀桜花 - handles its vocals far better. Aki Misawa does not sing in moé timbre, and mostly sticks to octaves she can reliably hit. It also helps that the background arrangement is more subdued, primarily consisting of continuo, piano, and placid electronic drums. On the instrumental version, this makes it a more ambient piece than the others. Some added electronic flute and synth work makes it work well enough, though at 4:23, it runs the risk of overstaying its welcome slightly.

So, just like his last album, we have two kinda passable tracks, and a pretty good one. Is it worth it? Maybe. Do I wish Tsubaki would pick up his game? Yes, but honestly, I know nothing about the man himself, or whether this is his full time job, or simply a diversion. If it is a diversion, it is a good one. If not much more than that.

C82#03: 東方爆音ジャズ3 - 東京アクティブNEETs
Okay, our first full length album!

As a fan of hard jazz and fusion, I am rather surprised I never came across these guys before. However, I am glad I did.

Despite being a fan of it, I am unfortunately not very well acquainted with the technical side of jazz, which makes it hard for me to talk about it very engagingly. Since the jazz almost writes about itself, putting into words that which comes intuitively from the music is impossibly difficult, so I won’t even try to do an analysis of any individual songs.

Instead, I do give a hearty recommendation just from the outset to go and check out the album if you like either hard jazz or Touhou. If you live in Japan, buy this shit.

I still have observations about it though. NEETs’ interpretations are excellent, but they feel very strange when they’re quoting ZUN directly. It encounters the same phenomena as Shostakovich’s singularly odd jazz album: the strong classical tendencies find their ways into the piece and end up overpowering the jazz-ness, converting it into some sort of hybrid. In some contexts, this would ruin the soul of the thing, but here, everyone’s playing with enough style and cohesion that it never feels like it’s departing the jazz envelope.

Still, the juxtaposition of ZUN’s neo-romanticism with the flow of the jazz itself means that this is a very, very different beast than, say, Kind of Blue. It’s melodic and tonal in ways that BeBop generally isn’t. Which is because, it’s not consistently BeBop. It falls into the softer end of the scale (though never into soft, and never at the cost of its complexity) from time to time, just as it sometimes treads the border of fusion. It brings variety, which is always a good thing. Never once was I anywhere even close to bored with this album.

I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed in their interpretation of Greenwich Upon the Heavens. In its original, it’s already a track highly suited to jazz arrangement, but the NEETs’ interpretation doesn’t really play that up. Though “this truly spectacular music isn’t as spectacular as it could be” is hardly a complaint.

So if you couldn’t tell already, this is a godly frakking album, and you should, like, listen to it right now.

So, all the albums I had assumed would be showing up last are the ones that were showing up at the outset. The Tokyo Active NEETs’ album, and ButaOtome’s Bowling both were on the first day, but Alstroemeria Record’s new album is still nowhere to be found.

On the other hand, this gives me time to enjoy each in turn, and even more time to write a short something about it here, before going onto the next thing.

C82#04: Crimson Tempest - REDALiCE
REDALiCE is one of those guys. Occasionally, he’ll have something really neat, and occasionally, he’ll just kinda…pass by. Back in the day, he and Minoshima of Alstroemeria Records would do a bunch of collaboration, but I haven’t seen them working on Touhou much together. What they did work on, however, was the ED to the spring’s Haiyore, Nyarlko-San, I’ll Absolutely Be With You (or something like that). Which, unfortunately, isn’t all that great (hey, kinda like the anime itself).
I wish I could say this album goes to show that REDALiCE still has it in him. It…kinda doesn’t. Admittedly, the style of most of the album is not one that greatly appeals to me, so I’m having a hard time separating the technical genius from my personal taste, but honestly, not a whole lot of it was particularly interesting listening.

The problem is mostly with his vocal stuff. A very (surprisingly) wide variety of vocalists show up on this album, from the familiar Nomiya Ayumi to the less familiar Rizuna. For the majority of the songs, REDALiCE has them sing in moe timbre. And honestly, that’s probably what, say, Nachi Sakue is best at. At the outset, this is unpromising for my own tastes, but it also seems that, on the vocal tracks, REDALiCE’s arrangements get a lot less interesting as well. Either that, or the mastering is such that they get overpowered by the vocals.

This is, of course, a generalization. Some songs work considerably better than others, and some are actually rather good. Your mileage will vary on which ones, but, having put the album on shuffle while writing this, the current song, Hungry Girl, is very nice in both how it phrases the vocals and the way it contrasts tones.

On the other hand, the two vocal-less, j-core oriented tracks on the album, are pretty neat. It is what he’s good at, and it’s what I listen to his albums for. If he delivers at nothing else, he delivers at that.

So far, I’ve talked only of REDAliCE’s own tracks, but he shares almost 40% of the album with guest arrangers: t+pazolite, ARM of IOSYS fame, and someone named Gennya, who is as of yet unfamiliar to me. t+pazolite has two tracks, similar in their flaws to REDALiCE’s own, and neither one of which I particularly care for. In truth, I have not heard enough t+pazolite to compare it to his normal, but I have not been too thrilled with his work that I have heard. ARM’s track is…well, he’s IOSYS, so that means crazy out-of-character humor. And indeed, that’s exactly what it is. At least, the fragments I actually understood. Gennya sounds like what I’d imagine Sound Online would sound like if Tsukasa did happy hardcore. Which isn’t terrible, but the track doesn’t really go anywhere either.

All told, I’m not really a fan of this album. A lot of the tracks don’t really go anywhere, and about 70% of it is rather underwhelming in general. I’m not writing off the whole album, but if you’re really interested, wait for some of it to get uploaded to youtube, then decide if you want to buy it/download it/get low quality rips of it from youtube.

C82#05: THE WORLD DESTINATION - Alstroemeria Records
I had intended on writing something about every album I listened to from C82. I had this notion that I’d just write brief blurbs about stuff I hadn’t been anticipating. How silly of me, I don’t do ”brief.” I only do long, convoluted, and flowery.

I listened to Bowling, but I want to make sure I can’t actually purchase it legally before writing about it. I’ll give it a while. Maybe do that one last. I’ll go ahead and say this though: it’s really, really good. As if that were ever in doubt.

So as of now, I have a few albums I need to write about:
  • xi~on’s 12th Spell Card 
  • EastNewSound’s Blaze Out 
  • TAMusic’s Touhou Quartet 7 
  • Unlucky Morpheus’s Parallelism α 
And this one.

More widely known as The Granite Countertop Album (Not really)

It’s actually a nice change of pace from tats’ normal covers, and it’s not just the cover that’s changed either. This is not one of Minoshima’s “Dancehall” albums (see Haunted Dancehall, Killed Dancehall, and Abandoned Dancehall, his previous three). Unlike them, it is separated into distinct tracks rather than a continuous play. Because of this, Minoshima has more freedom in terms of sound and tone diversity, since they need not lead into each other as smoothly.

He demonstrates this with his first track, an original. Brostep. I am not a fan of brostep (most of it has all the subtlety and art of a power drill), but I do not shun it, and this is a pretty good example of how to do it in a way that doesn’t get annoying fast. More importantly, I don’t think Minoshima has ever done straight up brostep before.

As a whole, the album is heavier than the usual for Minoshima. It sounds more like Plastik World than Abandoned Dancehall at times, though the electro and brostep influences are definitely still there. It’s definitely still nu-Minoshima, but I think he’s taking slightly more risks with this album.

Most of the tracks have something interesting in their conception, and though towards the longish side, none of them really and truly start to drag. At seven minutes, YOU’RE MINE almost runs into this, but it’s an improvement on some of his other longer tracks (like Plastik Mind).

Minoshima seems to have started working more with a producer called Camelia. He is not a Touhou arranger and does not have a circle of his own: he produces Vocaloid albums. Moreover, he produces pretty good Vocaloid albums, from the one that I listened to, but I’m glad to hear him use real people on Minoshima’s albums. A funny artifact of his background is that his vocals still sound like they were written for Vocaloid, a sense reinforced in his track - IN THE FLICKERING - from the processing he did to it. The vocalist, Takanashi Toriko, does well in following Camelia’s baroque and demanding score.

I honestly was rather skeptical of this album, when I heard the crossfade. I was anticipating it regardless because I trust Minoshima to, at the very least, fail in an interesting way, but I was only expecting maybe a few good tracks. THE WORLD DESTINATION, as it turns out, is not only pretty good, but very good. Recently, I’ve wondered why it is I still hold Alstroemeria Records in such high esteem, especially compared to Shibayan and Syrufit. I no longer wonder.

C82#06: Parallelism α - Unlucky Morpheus
I think I’m gonna make myself only do one of these a day. Otherwise I’ll burn out and start getting boring.

Well, more boring.

That, and I want to do at least some actual fiction writing this summer.

Today’s album comes to us providence of Unlucky Morpheus. My first exposure to Unlucky Morpheus was Rebirth, a 2009 album. Rebirth was primarily speed and power metal, with vocals. It was pretty okay, and I never listened to it all that much. I paid them no attention until last Comiket, when they released Faith & Warfare, a fusion album. It was surprisingly really good. I just assumed that they were better at fusion than they were at actual metal.

Still, they made me curious, so when this Comiket came around, I went ahead and listened to this.

What I got was this.

It seems that in the interim, Unlucky Morpheus not only got a hell of a lot better (providence of some roster changes, I believe), they morphed into Dark Moor: Touhou Edition. Specifically, Dark Moor when they had Elisa Martin, though they too brought on a male vocalist for a few tracks.

I am at a loss to provide much more criticism than that. The team of Fuki and Yuki have gotten better at making interesting arrangement, and the newcomer vocalist - Denshirenji “Most Dangerous” Takeshi - has a powerful and emotive voice (I…err…actually mistook him for a girl at first). The drummer, who previously on Rebirth did little more than a straight and tiring double base drum attack and was the source of most of their problems, has either gotten much better, or left. The percussion on this album is still not its high point - it’s a bit stiff and still pretty basic - but it’s serviceable and allows their high points to show.

That isn’t to say that the album doesn’t have one or two problems. Yuki makes the questionable decision to try to sing in English for Inside of Me. Yes, she still sings pretty well (if a bit too emotively), but I haven’t the faintest what she’s actually saying, and it does stick out to a native speaker. The album itself is also mastered rather poorly, though it is not too egregious, and a good sound system or pair of headphones will help.

But those things aside, if you like power metal, go for it. Demetori has the harder end of the spectrum filled out (here’s hoping to C83!), and xi~on has the progressive metal handled, but besides for Sound Holic’s two pretty-good metal albums, we’ve lacked a really consistent vocal metal act. Perhaps, until now.

Favorite track.

Wait, sorry, I meant this.


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