TAIA – Seeds of Rain (Review)

Seeds of Rain

Review by David Cirone


TAIA’s fearless use of keyboard synthesizers and trademark mid-song tempo changes set them apart from the current wave of female-fronted J-Rock bands. The 6th band member on keyboards isn’t just an afterthought — it’s an essential part of their dramatic rock style. Their album Seeds of Rain foregoes mosh-pit metal in favor of thoughtfully designed and soulfully executed musicianship.

Opening tracks “Praise,” “Magnolia,” and “Asagiri” prove they’ve got their rocking hearts in the right place, but the blending of hard-rock guitars, ethereal keyboards, and SEIKA’s vocals solidifies in the album’s mid-section.

“Tapestry” and “Whiteout” are a powerhouse combination of tracks that start a magical and turbulent dream-like section within the album, diving deep into subconcious desires. The instrumental “Light pierce a cloud…” seems oddly placed at first until it connects seemlessly with “Ametosumato’s” hypnotic rhythms.

“Another Aspect” and “Shine, at last” are strong guitar-rock tracks to finish the album.

Recommended tracks: Kazamai, Tapestry, Magnolia, Another Aspect

Seeds of Rain - Taia
Download TAIA – Seeds of Rain on iTunes

tokyo pinsalocks – LU-LA Hallelujah (PV)

tokyo pinsalocks – LU-LA Hallelujah (PV)

For anybody who didn’t already know about tokyo pinsalocks’ not-so-secret crush on Devo, the Japanese all-girl techno-synth trio just released their new video for “LU-LA Hallelujah” from their January 2012 album Hallelujah Girls. ハレルヤガールズ

Drummer Reiko seems to be the most transformed by the neon makeover — it’s a creepy-cool effect that warps into the tokyo pinsalocks’ swirly, psychedelic space-travel visuals.

SpecialThanks – SEVEN LOVERS (Review)


Review by David Cirone


Indie Japanese pop-punk group SpecialThanks’ first full-length CD SEVEN LOVERS builds on the success of their earlier EPs SEVEN COLORS and SEVEN SHOWERS. The 14-track album puts vocalist/guitarist Masaki squarely at the forefront, but benefits from solid instrumental and background vocal support from band-mates Lupin (bass, backing vocals), Sean (guitar, backing vocals) and Nochi (drums).

Opening track “1.2.3! 4.5.6.!” shows off Masaki’s ready-for-anything, spunky attitude (standard for girl-fronted J-punk), but the album confidently shifts to a surprising melody in the next track “You = Music I Love”. This sets the stage for a series of songs revealingSEVEN LOVERS’ overall theme of personal relationships.

The lead single “Hello Colorful” is solid pop, with a chorus that will stick in your head all day. Masaki’s vocals are especially confident here and in the following “Morning Coffee,” where she repeats “I will do better than her” over and over through the song’s climax.

In “He looks tired these days,” Masaki finds clarity in a relationship that may be taking its final turn. Nochi’s drums and Sean’s guitar work add dramatic urgency and finally take over the end of the song where words no longer help the situation.

Just in case you think things have gotten too serious, the short-and-sweet “Make You Happy” shows the band’s aggressive side and slaps you in the face for a minute-and-a-half before making a quick getaway. “My name is SUN” is a trippy detour that betrays a Beatles-leaning sensibility. “Anything” is SEVEN LOVERS’ longest track (over 6 minutes) with a traditional verse/chorus structure, and it’s a credit to the versatilty of the band that it doesn’t seem out of place in an album scattered with power-punk.

With SEVEN LOVERS, SpecialThanks has created a fun and fast-moving album that signals a step forward past their pop-punk roots.

Recommended tracks: Hello Colorful, He looks tired these days, Anything, You = Music I Love

Buy SpecialThanks – SEVEN LOVERS at CDJapan

Seven Lovers - SpecialThanks
Download SpecialThanks – SEVEN LOVERS on iTunes

Onmyouza – Kongo Kyuubi (Review)


Review by David Cirone


Onmyouza is a 10-year legend for metal fans in Japan, and they dive deep into their mythological roots for their latest full-length CD “Kongo Kyuubi.” The album takes its title (meaning “Dazzling Nine Tails”) from the Japanese folklore character Tamamo-no-mae, and the jacket art features lead vocalist Kuroneko portraying the evil, nine-tailed fox spirit.

Magical chimes and a haunting male voice (bassist Matatabi) set the tone with opening track “Baku” (a dream-devouring creature in Japanese folklore) before “Aoki Dokugan” pushes the album into top gear.

“Kuzaku Ninpocho” (“Peacock Ninja Stories”) is a dead-on re-creation of the band’s live-show style, and “Izayoi no Ame” is perhaps the most iconic Onmyouza track on this album, with a signature trade-off between Kuroneko’s vocals and the dual guitars.

After a series of fast-paced shredders, Matatabi borrows the vocal spotlight for a soulful performance on “Banka” (“Elegy”), followed by the mixed-vocals of “Soukoku,” (fittingly titled, “Rivalry”). “Doukoku” (“Lamentation”) brings back the magical feeling with a measured, beautiful vocal by Kuroneko.

This theme of shifting balance and the pattern of “3” is a warm-up for the majestic 20-minute “Nine Tails” Suite (collectively titled “Kumikyoku Kyuubi”). “Tamamonomae” starts out with Kuroneko assuming the title character’s unapologetic point-of-view, and it’s a slow-build setup for “Shoumakyou” (the mirror that shows the true figure of evil). “Shoumakyou” features a fantastic guitar bridge and dual-vocal harmony, shifting into Matatabi’s animal-like growls. (Listen with your headphones to catch some precise drum and bass support on this track.)

“Sesshouseki” (“Killing Stone”) ends the trilogy with escalating guitar solos and a final lament from Tamamonomae before her betrayal is punished. Onmyouza pulls off this dramatic narrative with a confidence that couldn’t be achieved by a younger band, and there are multiple layers to discover with repeated listens.

-“Soukoku” is the opening theme of Nintendo DS game “Inugamike No Ichizoku”
-“Doukoku” is the ending theme of Nintendo DS game “Inugamike No Ichizoku”
-“Aoki Dokugan” is the main theme song for the pachinko game “CR Sengoku Ranbu -Aoki Dokugan-“

Recommended tracks: Aoki Dokugan, Banka, Kumikyoku “Kyuubi” (3 parts)

Buy Onmyouza – Kongo Kyuubi at CDJapan

SpecialThanks – Interview (2011)

Interview by David Cirone
January 27, 2011


Female-vocal pop-punk band SpecialThanks came together in 2005 in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture. After some changes in their original lineup, the band is now comprised of Misaki (vocals, guitar), Sean (guitar, backing vocals), Hiromu (bass, backing vocals), and Nochi (drums).

Their single “You Say Good Bye” was the iTunes Japan Single of the Week with 60,000 downloads in its first 7 days of release, and the song’s PV was a Power Push on Japan’s Space Shower TV. Their debut mini-album SEVEN COLORS debuted at Number 1 on Japan’s IndiesMusic.com sales charts in August 2008.

Why is the number 7 so important in your CD titles? “SEVEN SHOWERS,” “SEVEN COLORS,” “SEVEN LOVERS”.

Misaki: I like the number 7 because it’s “Lucky Seven.” But more than that, it’s because we’ve been so lucky right from the beginning. We’re a lucky band that depends on luck. (*laugh)

SEVEN LOVERS has a mix of short and loud punk songs, and more traditional pop/rock songs. Do you write all the fast punk songs first, then concentrate on the other songs?

Misaki: I usually mix them all together in my head when I’m writing, but when I decide to write a punk song, I actually try really hard to write a punk song. For ballads and pop songs, I don’t really think too much, I just let it come naturally.

Why are English lyrics so important to SpecialThanks?

Misaki: Since I was a kid, all of my favorite Japanese bands (DONUT MAN, STOMPIN’ BIRD) were singing in English, so I thought “Being in a band = singing in English.” I thought that was normal.

Which band member speaks the best English?

Misaki: Probably Sean is the best. He was just saying the other day, “My English teacher said my pronounciation is great!”

Sean: …So-so (*laugh)

Nochi: On the other hand, the worst one is definitely me.

What’s the meaning of “SpecialThanks”? Why are the two words combined?

Misaki: Because I wanted it to be recognized as one word. I like how it looks, too.

Nochi: It makes our logo look really cool.

Misaki: I mean… you know how many bands say “Special Thanks!” at the end of their CDs, so I kinda wanted to be happy to see that — like “Hey, that’s our name!” (*laugh)


exist†trace – THE LAST DAYBREAK (Review)


Review by David Cirone


THE LAST DAYBREAK belongs to the guitars this time.

While bassist Naoto and drummer Mally do excellent work with the tricky turns of “Daybreak” and “be Naked”, they’re in supporting roles this time for an EP dominated by miko and Omi’s ferocious guitar work.

Jyou’s vocals are always the soul of exist†trace, and her audible deep breath at the beginning of “Daybreak – Jyusan gatsu no shikisai” (“The colors of the 13th month”) makes it personal. A plea to find human connection in the world’s final moments, she celebrates “my lovely gasmask” as she paints a vivid picture that twists our expectations — usually sunrise plays the symbolic role of hope and renewal, but the rich colors in “Daybreak’s” sky signify a certain doom.

Daybreak / The morning glow signifies the end
Daybreak / Let’s huddle close to view
Daybreak / The vivid conclusion
Daybreak / The 2 of us together

Similar to TRUE, the dueling guitar solos are the climax of “Daybreak”. miko and Omi dip in and out of synchronicity and opposing melodies so smoothly, it becomes a musical dance with the majesty and power of two dragons in flight.

Continue reading

exist†trace – TRUE (Review)


Review by David Cirone


All-female visual kei band exist†trace’s major-label debut EP TRUE starts out strong, picking up the challenging tone of their previous indie release TWIN GATE.

“Shot to the limit… Shot to the limit…”

The title track “TRUE” (see video below) demonstrates a band hell-bent on moving past their own expectations. Every element of exist†trace is in top form, and Mally and Naoto almost steal the song for themselves with a murderous combination of drums and bass at the song’s mid-point, right before a double-guitar solo by Omi and miko lights the song on fire. Jyou’s passionate delivery of lyrics about moving past betrayal and fear show some of the best work of her career as exist†trace’s front-woman.

On “HONNOU” (“Instinct”), Jyou’s playful invitation “Shall we dance?” belongs even more to Omi’s lead guitar, and the blistering guitar solo following Jyou’s laughter at a male opponent should rightfully scare any man thinking about crossing women of this caliber. The hard-rock riffs in “HONNOU” are instantly catchy, and it’s a disappointment when the song fades out (an uncharacteristic move for exist†trace, who usually end their songs with a musical and vocal finality). Fans will wish this song had gone on longer.

While “TRUE” and “HONNOU” were written by miko, “Tokoyami no Yoake” is Omi’s song, and the shift in tone is immediately recognizeable as Jyou’s soft, alluring black-widow voice weaves along with Naoto’s creeping bass. Omi has a stand-out solo here, and exist†trace’s combination of strength and sensuality really shines through on this track.

Continue reading

BO-PEEP – VIBE (Review)


Review by David Cirone


BO-PEEP’s garage-punk, bare-knuckle style returns in full force with VIBE, the all-girl trio’s follow-up to last year’s SICK ORANGE TELEVISION. The 7-song album clocks in at just over 25 minutes, and while it feels like it’s over way too fast, I’ll give credit to the band for not cluttering up the time with any filler.

Mika’s signature high-pitched vocals and rhythm-chord guitar dominate VIBE, especially on lead track “Power”. That’s not to say the album doesn’t have variety — Ryoko’s drums and Junko’s bass virtually kidnap the album on middle tracks “She” and “Level 3”, demonstrating the synchronicity that’s been the backbone of their live shows for nearly ten years.

Don’t let VIBE’s kiddie-pool cover image fool you — that’s not just some sweet girl taking a relaxing moment to daydream; three hard-rocking girls from Fukuoka very likely stuck her in there by force, just inches away from a last gasp.

BO-PEEP holds no soft spot for sweetness. If you’re lucky enough to experience BO-PEEP’s live show, you’ll see all the screaming and kicking (and drinking) for yourself. This is still the Japanese punk band most lilkely to win a bar fight.

Recommended tracks: Power, Level 3, Try, Try, Try

Buy BO-PEEP – VIBE at CDJapan

VIBE - Bo-Peep
Download BO-PEEP – VIBE on iTunes

the brilliant green – BLACKOUT (Review)

the brilliant green

Review by David Cirone


If you’re looking for a jumping-off place to bridge the 8-year gap between the brilliant green’s new album BLACKOUT and their previous full-length release The Winter Album (2002), you’re better off skipping ahead to the group’s final singles for former label Sony. The aggressive style of “Ash Like Snow” and “Enemy” weren’t just a temporary departure from The Winter Album’s somber, relaxed compositions — it turns out the brilliant green were getting ready to pick a fight with their past.

BLACKOUT’s opening title track delivers a clear warning: “I’m in a bad mood… don’t talk to me.” Immediately followed by “Black Dark Knight” and “I’m Sick of this Place,” there’s little room to doubt TBG is taking us into vocalist/lyricist Tomoko Kawase’s dangerous side. After years of dual-personality double-duty as Tommy February6 / Tommy Heavenly6, the punk side has emerged victorious and more than a little pissed-off.

Read complete review

detroit7 – NUDE (Review)


Review by David Cirone


Long-time detroit7 fans will recognize NUDE’s cover image right away. Vocalist / guitarist Tomomi Nabana’s bare feet are a staple of detroit7’s live shows, and it’s a fitting image for the band’s rawest album since 2003’s Vertigo.

Straight out of the gate, the album’s “JOY” commands “GO GENKAI! BUKKOWASE WARE!” — a challenge to destroy everything in their path. This is an album that wants to beat you senseless, and if Tomomi’s full-force scream doesn’t convince you within seconds of hitting the “play” button,” she delivers some scorching guitar work in the follow-up track “Furueru Sora” (Shaking Sky).

In “Nounai POP,” Tomomi name-drops her hero Iggy Pop, and it’s a noisy jumble of sound that leads directly into the Amazon warrior screams of “BREAK.”

Read complete review…