Tag Archives: Chi-na

Top 20 releases of 2014: Intro

Given that here we are in a fresh new year, it feels appropriately perverse to spend the majority of January wallowing in the backwash of 2014, in a painstakingly detailed series of posts counting down this site’s (by which I mean my) top twenty albums of the year. As with last year’s, I could have made this list much longer, and there’s a lot of superb stuff left out, but since the most important part of compiling a list like this is the filtering and pruning that goes on before the list is completed I resisted that temptation. Before getting stuck in with the actual list itself, however, there are a few things that I want to get out of the way, and a few that I just think are interesting and worth discussing a bit.

Firstly, the usual caveats about what isn’t on the list. I took a pretty liberal interpretation of what constitutes an “album” (which is why I phrase it as “releases” in the title) that includes any EPs with three or more songs, or in theory less if the music is sufficiently expansive and developed (progressive or psychedelic bands will sometimes release a single extraordinarily long track and call it an album, and I generously grant them my permission to do this).

I don’t include my own Call And Response label’s releases in my list, although for reasons I’ll come to later (and will probably develop in more writing I do over the year) there are actually some broader problems related to this due to the changing nature and environment of music journalism. This means Jebiotto’s Love Song Duet and Futtachi’s Tane to Zenra are instantly disqualified even though they are both brilliant, and Lo-shi’s Baku is also disqualified since it is due for a limited vinyl release through Call And Response Records very soon. I also didn’t include the magnificent and utterly ridiculous Black Sabbath covers album that Call And Response gave away for free on Valentine’s Day. Great stuff, but I wouldn’t know how to rate them relative to the other great stuff that came out this year, and including them would get in the way of the authoritativeness and impartiality for which I know I am famed.

One of the other things that happened this year was that Call And Response started distributing CDs by bands unconnected to the label in a limited fashion. Those CDs are eligible for inclusion in the list. I realise it’s a bit of a fine line, but if I love something enough to recommend it through my store, it stands to reason that I love it enough to recommend it on these pages and vice versa. My role still remains an essentially passive one in this instance, so I trust readers of this site not to whine about conflict of interest. As the roles of blogs and labels (not to mention organisers and suchlike) as curators of particular streams of musical taste increasingly converge, this line is an increasingly difficult one to maintain, and I’m feeling my way through it based primarily on what feels comfortable for me. It’s an unscientific process, but I’ll get there in the end.

Of course there were a lot of terrific releases that didn’t make the list because I either didn’t hear them or the wind of my whim at the time of compiling the final twenty was blowing in another direction, so Teen Runnings, Mukokyu Kakokyu Shinkokyu, Compact Club, Chiina and many others can still hold their heads high despite the shame of not making the golden twenty this time.Chiina: Syllabus

I’m going to draw this out to tedious length with (hopefully) daily posts tackling each of the twenty releases I’ve selected one by one, with the first post in the countdown tomorrow, so keep your eyes on this space and wonders await.

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Interview: Chi-na

To coincide with the release of their new mini album Docci, I interviewed Chi-na for The Japan Times. Chi-na aren’t the sort of band I would normally expect to like, but there’s such an irrepressible joy to their music and performance, and they manage to avoid falling into the songwriting clichés of both J-pop and Rockin’ On-style indie rock in such a way that any time spent with their music is happy time. Docci is more eclectic than 2012’s Granville, and you might say more introspective. Again I find their devotion to putting the music first charming where I might sneer it off as a cliché from someone else — Chi-na walk the walk, as they say. You can read the feature here.Chi-na: Syllabus

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Preview: Shimokitazawa Sound Cruising

For any of you based in Tokyo, I did a short preview for The Japan Times of tomorrow’s Shimokitazawa Sound Cruising event. It’s an indie festival using venues all over the Shimokitazawa area, with more than a hundred artists performing. For what it’s worth, here are the ones I recommend.

Chi-na: Really quite charming violin and piano-led alt-pop band. Their last album, Granville, was really good and they put on an energetic live show.Chiina: Granville Island Market

Deepslauter: At the other end of the scale, I’m not familiar enough with all the various subgenres of hardcore, metal and thrash to say with confidence exactly what kind of band Deepslauter are, but they’re ace.Deepslauter live in Kobe

Lagitagida: Lightning speed instrumental prog rock. The guitarist is a fucking maniac but the whole band is just a circus of these lunatic musicians just showing off, and it’s a pretty intense experience.Lagitagida: Terrible Boy

Tadzio: Presumably named after the character from Thomas Mann’s A Death in Venice, Tadzio are a thrilling and brutal, somewhat avant-garde garage-punk duo and one of my personal favourites from the whole event.Tadzio: Worst Friends

The Keys: On the gentler side of things, The Keys are a solid, melodic guitar pop band and will make a nice break from some of the more intense stuff on the bill.The Keys: (Everybody Was Leaving) Chinatown — Acoustic version

Mitsume: New wave-edged indiepop band who don’t always make a big impact at first impression, but reward attention with a lot going on under the bonnet. Probably another of my personal favourites from this lineup.Mitsume: Entotsu

Sono na wa Spade/The Lady Spade: Not really a music act so much as an eroticism-tinged cabaret parody of otaku culture, they’re worth watching at least once in your life. It’s hard to know to what extent what they’re doing is satire and how much is just genuine, sincere geekery, but it’s, um, interesting.Sono na wa Space: Sweetholic

Wrench: Probably the best of all the properly loud bands at this event, Wrench take in elements of industrial, EBM and hardcore. They’ve been at it for years and have a semi-legendary status in the scene now, so they’re well worth watching.Wrench, live at Shibuya O-East

There are lots of other bands worth watching, like Nacano, Ana, Lite, Shonen Knife, Kettles, and even some of the idol stuff that’s still busy colonising the indie mindset, like Dempagumi inc. and BiS is likely to be fun to watch. it’s also worth just checking out something you’ve no idea about, just for the hell of it. Anyway, if you go, good luck, and bring your walking shoes, because there’s a lot to see and a lot of ground to cover.

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Top 20 Releases of 2012: No.14 – Chi-na – Granville

Granville

CD, Sophori Field Company, 2012

Chi-na make the sort of catchy, well-produced, richly arranged pop songs that if there was any justice in the pop charts would be absolutely massive, and one suspects that even as recently as ten years ago, they really would have been. Granville is cleanly produced, bursting with technical confidence and a disarmingly positive outlook, like Annie stopped solving crimes and fighting communists, and formed a piano and violin-led pop-rock quintet. You get the impression that buried deep in the depths of their hearts, Chi-na are a 90s alt-rock band, a tendency that comes to the surface when they decide to really rock out, as on tunes like the furious Higaimozo where vocalist Kyoko Shiina’s voice leaves the comfort zone of of sweetly melodic, optimistic pop and starts to tear at the limits of its range. But what hits you first and foremost is what a striking pop band they are. Granville Island Market leaps out of the traps like an even more chirpy younger sister of The Bluebells’ 80s/90s hit Young at Heart, and throughout they display a McCartneyesque knack for an uplifting pop melody. Shiina’s parallel universe blues singer alter-ego slips through to this plane of reality on tracks like the the Beatles-esque psych-pop freakout of Nekono Toboe, but Granville is also a pick-and-mix of many of the best elements of Japanese rock and pop history. There are moments where they recall the classic Japanese “new music” style of Yumi Matsutoya or Haruomi Hosono, as on the song Happy End (yeah, see what they did there?) Other times Chi-na recall the late 80s/early 90s band boom that set the stage for the birth of J-Pop, with the perky Kanpai no Aisatsu recalling Jitterin’ Jinn at their most joyous and upbeat. In fact it’s easy to forget in these grey musical times that J-Pop in its initial incarnation was a radical, creative step forward and there are also occasions on Granville, as on Kodomo no Kuni, where the band’s melding of J-Pop balladry and epic psychedelic rock sound like something Takeshi Kobayashi might have produced in the mid-90s for Mr. Children or My Little Lover, but way, way better. An embittered cynic like me might question whether there needs to be violin all over absolutely every single song. Violin always seems to make whatever it’s on sound a bit whimsical and twee, although in Chi-na’s case, it certainly feeds into the group’s particular brand of big-hearted, innocent exuberance. Granville is perhaps the ultimate word in crypto-psychedelic alt-pop for bronies, combining a solid grounding in both leftfield rock, classic pop songwriting and attacking both with jubilant, wide-eyed sincerity.

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