New music reviews: The FUJI ROCK edition.

This year’s edition of the Fuji Rock festival, held in Niigata, concluded on July 26th and I’m back with some music recommendations based on the bands and artists who performed at this grandiose festival.

AWESOMENESS

Lily Allen: When her first album came out (Alright, Still – in 2006) I thought she was going to be just another flash in the pan British pop singer. And while her second album (It’s Not Me, It’s You), released earlier this year, is not getting as positive reviews, I still think Lily Allen will have staying power for several years to come. She offers a reallllly entertaining and laid-back performance where you can tell she loves being on stage and getting the crowd involved. She’s one of those female singers that, when you see a picture of her, you don’t immediately think she’s hot; but once she’s on stage, OMG you can hardly resist the urge to make out with her.

Doves: Experienced British rockers provide an authentic – no-gadgets, no gimmicks –  performance. It’s simply a talented group of musicians on stage playing their instruments and singing really well. While they won’t rock your face off or make you want to start a mosh pit, I still highly recommend them for quality of the music they put out. Their latest album, Kingdom of Rust, has several good songs on it. However, Some Cities, released in 2005, remains my favourite.

Peaches: This multi-talented Canadian (and former elementary school teacher!!!) is not for the faint of heart. Many will quickly be turned off by her overtly sexual lyrics and provocative costumes (she ended her set wearing a see-through nylon leotard with a tiny blinking light barrrrely covering her genital area). Beyond that, her infectious beats will get you dancing in no time. For a sample of what can be expected from her albums, have a listen to F*ck the Pain Away (you might recognize the song from Lost in Translation – the strip club scene).

The following electro collectives (Fake Blood, 80kidz, The Bloody Beetroots and Crookers): I’ve mentioned most of these before in my previous posts and… I’ll do it again. Seriously, if you have any interest in dirty electro (not that Euro dance stuff or the crappy trance they often play in clubs here), you CAN NOT ignore these. 80kidz are actually from Japan so you’re quite likely to see them on one of your future nights out in Tokyo. I was lucky enough to see them last weekend at Club Asia and the next-day-body-soreness I endured simply reaffirms to me how awesome they are.

Weezer: Feels like they’ve been around for a looooong time and have built a large international following. Regardless, I think they’re still a relevant band who takes their tours and music lightly. The lead singer gave comical comments in Japanese between songs and their medley cover of current pop songs towards the end of their set was certainly a highlight. Looking at Weezer’s discography, it seems like they alternate good albums and crappy ones. The Red Album that came out in 2008 wasn’t fantastic so there’s hope their next effort In Love, scheduled to come out later this year, will be better. The Blue Album from 1994 remains their masterpiece, in my opinion.

Fall Out Boy: You’ve probably heard of them. Haha. This band quickly gets lumped in with other teen-pop-punk-rock bands due to their relatively young, and often female, fanbase (and the fact that Pete Wentz is a magazine cover whore). But not in Japan! Japanese fans of Fall Out Boy crowd-surf and form mosh pits! Musically, I don’t think they get enough credit. Sure, their songs are catchy but they’ve evolved with every album and aren’t afraid to experiment with new producers. Their latest record, Folie a Deux is well worth a spin. And stop making fun of me for liking Fall Out Boy

Basement Jaxx: British duo often categorized as “house” but their influences are varied and numerous. Masters of the stage, which is surprising since you’d expect to just see two guys spinning records and playing on their laptops. Think again. On this specific occasion, they had a full band, 3 female vocalists, 1 male vocalist, dancers, people in extravagant costumes (the gorillas and the weird lobster robot monster were my favourite) to accompany them. I’m excited to listen to Scars, expected out later this year. Add Basement Jaxx: The Singles from 2005 to your pre-party mix.

SHITTINESS

Oasis: Oh man, these guys are so washed up. There’s no energy in their performance and I couldn’t even tell you the last time they came out with a decent single that stuck with me. I went to see them out of curiosity because, you know, they’re OASIS! Error. All their best stuff is on (What’s the Story) Morning Glory from 1995 (!!!), which makes me wish I had seen them live 13-14 years ago (yikes!). Sorry John AY and Joel.

Gang Gang Dance: With an upbeat, fun, name like that, I was expecting to see a bright colourful performance and hear stuff of the Go!Team or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah genres. Nope. Don’t get wrong, I’m familiar with the whole Sigur Ros, Mogwai, and Bjork to a certain extent, type but I’ll never forgive GGD for the torture they put me through. I actually turned to the guy next to me and asked what was going on. He replied: “just let it slide, man, this isn’t real life.”

Bright Eyes: I know you’re a dude with a guitar sitting on a chair but, I was bored. I fell asleep standing up despite the gorgeous Mexican girl singing back vocals. Cassadaga, from 2007, isn’t a horrible album so I just don’t know why it was so boring to listen to live.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: I had seen these guys before, 3 years ago, and they had left a really pleasant, lasting, impression on me. I was excited to see them again. Not so good this time. Virginia (who was also in attendance) put it best: “kinda underwhelming.” Somewhere along the way, CYHSY lost their happiness and just turned whinny. To hear how good this band used to be, get their self-titled album from 2005.

DISCOVERIES

Guitar Wolf: Veteran Japanese garage punk group. I’m pretty sure they know they’re on the older side of life but they refuse to give up on rockin. Expect to see lots of black leather and leg kicks. Expect to hear heavy guitar riffs and Japanese being screamed at you. Perfect for those “I’m so ANGRRRRRRRRY” moments or while you’re cleaning your apartment (just make sure the neighbours aren’t sleeping).

The Virgins: A recently formed band out of New York City. Think Kings of Leon (but not so Nashville) meets ACDC (with less “TNT”) meets The Strokes (but more danceable) meets the Bee Gees (for those funky tones) meets one of my new favourite bands. Honestly, these guys are about to become huge. Many music festivals and magazines are pinning them as the next “IT” band. It comes down to young guys having fun on stage and wanting you to join in on their fun. For a sample of what to expect, listen to Fernando Pando or their single Rich Girls. If I haven’t done enough to convince you, consider this: their lead singer looks like Aizu’s very own Rich Estey. I knew that would work ; )

Buraka Som Sistema: A Portuguese DJ set. Portugal is certainly not know for its electro but what makes these guys special is that they’re highly influenced by an Angolan musical genre called “kuduro.” As a result, their tracks are highly danceable and have an international flavour: Latin, Brazilian and African beats jumbled together and electrocized. Get Black Diamond and shake that ghetto booty all you want.

The Gaslight Anthem: Young guys from New Jersey covered in tattoos. They supported Bruce Springsteen during his last tour and that’s evident when you listen to their tracks. They are highly influenced by the Boss but without trying to be him. They’re basically a GOOD rock band that give a good show and are refreshing to listen to at home for those rock ‘n roll moments. Highly recommended. Thanks to D Gubbins for suggesting we go see them.

Takkyu Ishino: A mega talented, no frills, Japanese DJ. He basically showed up on stage, dressed all in black, gave the crowd a gentle wave, put on the headphones and proceeded to drop some of the sickest beats I heard all weekend. His music is more on the trance side than what I’m accustomed to but I was still highly impressed and would certainly go see him again at Womb in Tokyo, for example (apparently he plays there a lot).

DISAPPOINTED THAT I MISSED

Justin Nozuka: A Canadian-Japanese acoustic guitar prodige (he’s just 20 and already has an album out!). He was nominated for best new artist at the 2008 Junos (the Canadian Grammy’s). I could listen to After Tonight over and over and over. His voice is super soothing – sometimes I need that.

Polysics: A Japanese new wave rock group. They’ve been recommended to me by a couple of people. Expect lots of synthesizers. They’re known for the crazy costumes they wear on stage and one of their music videos that consists of a little girl doing the robot dance throughout the video. Their tracks have been featured in several video games.

Holy F*ck: A Canadian electronica duo that doesn’t use laptops. Yes, you read correctly, electronica WITHOUT laptops. I’ve seen them twice already and it’s quite impressive to see them yank musical film and tap sound producing toys to create their tracks. They caused a bit of controversy in 2008 when the Canadian (Conservative) government cut their funding due to their explicit name. Their track Lovely Allen has been featured in many commercials. You might’ve heard it already.

So there you have ’em! Those were my highlights and lowlights from the FUJI ROCK festival. Overall, it was an amazing experience despite the semi-constant rain, which made camping and standing in crowds annoying at times. The 3 days of shows were ABSOLUTELY worth it and I highly encourage you to attend the 2010 edition. In the meantime, go get yourselves some new music and let me know what you think!

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