GazettE’s So TOXIC, I’m Slipping Under

…I don’t know who I’m more ashamed of, those of you who get the reference, or myself for making it. But what can I say; I mean, it’s the world we live in. Some things once seen, cannot be unseen, and for some reason they always come into focus when I’m typing in titles. Holy hell I’m corrupt.

Last we heard on SG in regards to The GazettE, I’d begun tentatively shifting positions from thinking the continued mystery of Reita’s likely-disfigured nose just isn’t enough to disguise the band’s obviously-disfigured sense of good music  into an amiable appreciation of their latest single, Vortex. The single’s bounty certainly whipped it up (after the band spent a good few releases dragging their creative heels, trying to hide their brewing incompetence by increasing the coolness of Ruki’s outfits and covering their heels economically by shipping poor Kai off to work in catering. Not cool.), for a refreshing change of pace, leaving those few left unglamored by The Goddess’s imperturbable charm while still unable to acknowledge Red‘s existence on musical-earth, at least back in the GazeRock conversation.

Whew that was a long paragraph.

Well, if nothing else, plenty can certainly be said for The GazettE‘s persistence. GazettE singles seem to drop with the frequency of lunar tides — the only thing left wanting (aside from maybe a break long enough to replenish their creative juices?) is the eclipse of releases, the original album.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. They’ve been kind enough to give us a headstart so we can begin arranging the loans most of us will have to take out in order to actually afford the album (a nasty exchange rate, plus the fact that you’ll most likely want the ltd. edition with the DVD, paired with shipping costs from Japan will bring the album well over $60). So, literally, the release is so toxic we’re (economically) slipping under.

Just because we get a headstart doesn’t mean they’re cutting us any slack– if you want to be a true fan, you’ll most like want the single that’ll drop at the end of August, titled REMEMBER THE URGE. Released 8.31.11 in 2 versions (is the Auditory Impressions/Optical Impressions thing becoming a new trademark?), the single should tide Gaze-Minions over until October.

The GazettE‘s first original album since 2009’s DIM will overwhelm fangirls (and Reita still won’t take his mask off) on 10.05.11, in two editions (think more Budget and Luxury, rather than Auditory/Optical), and bears the title TOXIC.

I wonder if the title track is a collab? Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Pre-order the ill shizz here (TOXIC) & here (RTU).

Auditory Impression: Vortex

Auditory Impression

Released in two versions, dubbed “Optical Impression” and “Auditory Impression”, I enjoyed the concept for Vortex a lot more than, well, most of their other covers for singles. The covers are clean, totally clutter-free, and artistic. They also bring in a sense of modernity with the use of a microphone and headphones, rather than some impaled skull or white people (not impaled) that would ring of typical metal-head album concept work. The splash of color on the bright white/chrome center-piece is a nice touch. I like the way it could be blood, paint, or even a liquidized, stylistic portrayal of fire. Very cool.

Optical Impression

The Optical Impression version includes songs Vortex and Uncertain Sense, and making-of and music clip DVD. Auditory Impression version comes with 3 songs, Vortex, Uncertain Sense, and BREAK ME.

I’ll admit, I have been less than impressed by any of The GazettE‘s recent releases, leaving me more of a critic-in-passing than a dedicated fan. I’ll watch the MVs, prod their singles with a ten-foot-pole, as it were, but I have to say it, the thing that most interests me about the band these days is the adventures in outfitting Kai. He goes from catering-staff to feudal-era princess to gauntletted ninja, all in about 2 seasons. Whereas their music goes from Red to Red to oh, fancy that, I feel like I’m listening to Red again. Don’t know about you, but I’ve got my priorities straight.

 That being said, after seeing their new look, and the cover of the single, I decided to give PSC’s sullen badboys another chance, and check out Vortex.

I must say, I really liked the song. The construction of the piece felt less and less hectic the more times I listened through, and I thought the verse was at least one note different from the rest of their increasingly more redundant signature chord progressions, although it wouldn’t be a GazettE song if Ruki didn’t hit that one particular note. Come on, you all know the one.

 The screaming wasn’t overbearing, And although I could almost lean toward having left it out entirely, in the end I decided that I’m glad they put it in there. A fast-paced song, Vortex is like running-through-a-daisy-filled-field-at-noon soundtrack music for angry Visualist types, and I felt like the screaming was….upbeat? And added a….put…a…smile…on your face kind of cheerful…..No, I can’t do this.

 Some highlights of the song were the little bridge parts, one at about the 1:20 mark, and another about 20 seconds later right before the guitar solo, which turned out to be another highlight. Another great section was post-guitar-solo, which is the part where you’re meant to start headbanging. I liked how this transitioned smoothly back into the bridge and verses.

I’ve noticed quite a few complaints around the web in regards to the use of “autotune” in the song. He’s actually not really using autotune, and you will notice that he uses it only selectively throughout the song. I think what he’s using is more of a vocoder overlay effect. In any case, let’s talk about this.

Obviously the vocalist’s natural voice is what we want to hear, but I think you gotta realize that, like any other effects used to produce a song, autotune is just another tool available for the musicians to use. In the same way that a guitarist or bassist will use an effects pedal to alter the sound of his instrument, so will the vocalist (who is also a musician, simply one who uses his voice as his instrument) sometimes wish to alter his instrument by using vocoder.
In the (not-verbatim) words of Khatzumoto of the website AJATT (which I highly recommend to any and all Japanese language students), “…the decision to use or not to use [kanji] should be made out of stylistic preference, rather than ignorance.” I tend to feel the same about the use of autotune/vocoder in music. I find the occasional use of vocoder to be acceptable as long as the band is making the decision to use it out of a stylistic preference, rather than a way of covering up sloppy or lackluster vocals.

Since we all know Ruki has nothing to hide, I actually rather enjoyed the use of “autotune” in Vortex. They really didn’t over-do it, and the result was edgy and had a little “pop” to it. It jumped off the page a little more– and actually I enjoyed the way it took me by surprise.

Their music has been so b-average throughout so many consecutive releases that I think they can really risk trying some new things– and we all know they have a natural tendency toward random electronic effects and unnecessary gangsterness coughstackedrubbishcough. Being one of the few Visualists I know who has always enjoyed use of rap and electronica in Visual Kei, though, I am generally more accepting of these things.

By the way, he says “I don’t wanna become the fuckin’ garbage like you”, but I heard the lyrics as: “I want to become the funky garbage like you”. Made sure to look that up before I commended his creative compositional concepts…

Second song on the single, Uncertain Sense, has a slower BPM, heavier riff, and opens to a brilliant replica of the Cassis vocal melody. Just kidding. Kind of. The heavy, steady instrumental backing is really quite good, and I enjoyed the screamy vocals. The vocal melody was also good, except for the parts when it goes into GazettE Medley mode. Barely good 30 seconds shorter than the title track, Uncertain Sense somehow felt like it cropped kinda short, but I feel like short and sweet is better than a long meandering perambulation through snippets of their entire discography. Generally, I liked Uncertain Sense, although I do wish they would take notes on their keys and chord progressions to avoid too much recycling. There were sections in the song, especially in the beginning, that were particularly memorable, and altogether the song came together into a satisfying, heavy half-ballad. Approve.

I instinctively don’t trust songs that begin with the sound of clapping hands. BREAK ME begins with clapping hands, and works its way into faded out vocals– that kind of sultry drawl found often in GazettE‘s repertoire. The song is pretty solid, although I feel like how BREAK ME is repeated so frequently in the lyrics gets old…pet-peeve, I guess. All nit-picking aside, I thought BREAK ME was a decent close to the single, and ended up complementing the other songs and rounding the whole thing off nicely.

All in all, Vortex came out a surprisingly pleasant ray of sunshine after many singles-worth of rain. I actually made it through not only the title track, but also 2 whole B-sides, and am even inspired to keep the single on rotation, rather than open that secret trap-door behind my CD-case where the occasional reject single gets hidden away, lest someone should think I actually listen to it. Whether The GazettE are starting to step their game up and feel a little more inspired (keep workin’ at those vocal melodies, Ruki. I know you’ve got at least one more unique chord prog up your velour sleeve), or I’m just starting to take it all a little less seriously and just enjoy the music more, either way I think I can actually say I appreciated these tracks and even, gasp, recommend the single to both fans, and drop-out fans alike.

Aoi Defies Dye Lot 335 “Asian Blonde”

“The New Look”, always a much anticipated release of information. In my experience, the disclosure of a Visual Kei band’s “New Look”, as organized for the promotion of a new album or single, is always a testament to rock bands’ abilities to create infinite variety with one or less colors.

In the past, I’ve found The GazettE to be satisfactorily edgy in their looks. Veering shockingly away from the standard black pants, black blazer, and the occasional, unnerving splash of gray, The GazettE‘s image always pops up in my head dressed in colorful velour suits with perfectly coiffed blonde mullets.

However, when black became the new, well, rainbow circa 2009, and the word on the street was “chic”, it seemed like Visual Kei started getting a little less, y’know, visual. The host-boy hair syndrome overwhelmed the industry as the standard hair-fare, and, that-which-must-not-be-named (oshare) aside (out of the discussion, where it belongs), the universally accepted Visual Kei uniform became the angry angura badass bad-lands look. That is, blackblackblack.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t worn color since 2009 either. But I will pass judgment here and say, I think that Visual Kei bands could stand to break out of the angura thing and at least give us a splash of something that’s not just black clothes and blonde hair. I’m pleased to see that one of the most universally accepted “cool-looking” bands have let at least one member go out on a limb this time¹. First of all, let me just say that I think the concept for these shots is pretty epic. The industrial, utterly lackluster backdrop contrasts with the striking paint-splatters smeared over each portrait, giving a creative twist to otherwise standard Type A new look portraits. I’m actually astounded by this “new look”, simply because they actually did something with Aoi’s hair. Gone is the ultra simple black coif of their past, and present now is a spiky, edgy, and very……purple… style that totally defies the “Asian Blonde” I thought it was illegal for a Visual Kei band-member to not have. Whether he actually had a hair color for past single Pledge cannot really be known, as the PV was monochrome, and I bet they stood behind a monochrome holograph for all their promotions. Can never be too careful– you never know when a splash of color might invade your cool, black-clad life and ruin everything with its recklessness.

The hair and high collar also bring across something of a hide-feel, which I think is probably a healthy direction to be moving in.

As usual, Uruha, with his tumbling golden locks and smoldering glare, just begs to be worshiped by men and women alike. Putting all androgynous Visual Kei creatures eternally to shame as he does, even after all these years I cannot reason with normies who say he looks like a woman. No disrespect- you have to be utterly and irreparably confused to even attempt to deny it.

I like what they’ve done with his hair– some edgy layers and of course a pretty little twist of the hair-iron produces that little iconic curl. That being said, from the neck down I can’t help but have this feeling that he’s wearing one of Ozaki Nana’s outfits from the anime Nana. The signature leather jacket and….please tell me that’s not a tulle dress?

Some things may change, but Reita will forever look the same.

I can’t say I’ve ever disapproved of a Ruki look, unless you consider that one time he tried to be totally gangster, which I think was succeeded by The Perm….Which I think was succeeded by…Nah, just messing with you guys. The slight wave to his hair is acceptable, and all the clean lines and simple details make for a solid vocalist ensemble. No big shockers here.

Who is this ninja musician, and when will the waiter be here with my check?

All together now:

 

¹ – Would like to take this moment to also mention Jyou of exist trace who is rocking some fiery locks.

images from http://gzrock.wordpress.com & google

Pledge Allegiance to GazettE 12/15

I’ll admit, The GazettE is, much like girugamesh, one of the mainstream Visual Kei bands whose releases I don’t procure religiously anymore. I more or less skipped over Red, although in retrospect it was a pretty decent single. In many ways, I’ve enjoyed their earlier work to such an extent that I’m pretty content keeping NIL in heavy rotation, and if something utterly mind-blowing is released, that’s okay too.

Heading into mid-November now, a new wave of release dates are being announced for the December and January rounds of economic Visual Kei worship. I find it quite fascinating when I’m paying the bills…There’s always Rent, Cellphone, Internet, List of Visual Kei singles to pre-order for [insert month]. It’s one of the few I pay cheerfully and with a sense of great reverence. Coming up to reward your December tithe is new single Pledge from The GazettE on 12/15, just in time for their first Tokyo Dome performance on Dec. 26th. I bet that leaves no mystery as to how I want to spend my holidays.

Check out the preview for the heavy ballad (Yeah, I wasn’t surprised either), and Gazerock fans, censoring any spewing of “Reita omg kawaii kawaii!”, let me know what you think.

Mug Shot

Finally the stylists stopped being on strike, recognized that Kai is, in fact, part of the band and not a misplaced member of the catering crew, and outfitted him accordingly. For once in their career he is actually starting to fit in with the band, and it’s working wonders for him. The sharp black outfit (what can be seen of it, anyway) is…a…y’know, sharp black outfit for which too much can never be said. The extreme layers and long hair bring me way back to Visual Kei in the late ’80s and early ’90s, before Host Boy Hair Syndrome (HBHS) took over the scene.

Mug Shot

Best part of my weekend: when The GazettE changes their look, and all the fangirls spam comment all over our lives with “Oooh omfg Reita kawaii kawaii!” When…his look never changes. Ah, a world without GazettE fangirls would be a sad, sad place indeed.

Mug Shot

Aoi always tends to pull off these minimalistic chic looks, with simple hair and normal-ish outfits to which he lends his natural enigmatic charm and makes everyone else look like they’re trying way too hard. He, like Reita, never surprises me. At least it’s in a good way.

Mug Shot

Uruha says, If my face ends up on another British T-shirt ever again…..at least send one to all of my band members.

Nosebleed

I’m not too much of a man to admit that I got a nosebleed.


New Look Needs New Designer

While twiddling our thumbs waiting for alice nine‘s SENKOU single to hit shelves and counting the days of September to see how much longer we have to wait for MIYAVI’s promising new album due out in October, the Visual Kei community has been busying themselves with snaring a scandal.

It would seem that there’s a bit of a border issue that comes up every now and then in the world of international creativity. While art is meant to defy all borders, its ownership, legalities, and respectful usage shouldn’t be brushed aside while leaving the country– or appearing on the web.

There are a lot of vague gray areas and many questions concerning copyright and the internet. With the vast amount of media content being posted for all to see, save, and upload back into the viscious cycle that ravages the entire concept of sharing-is-caring, it can become confusing as to what belongs to who and who can use what for why and when and how.

However, if one thing is clear to me, at least, it is this: art may defy all borders, but what goes up on Deviant Art stays on Deviant Art unless the Deviant Artist says otherwise. It would seem, however, that British fashion brand New Look disagrees.

It has recently been uncovered by GazettE fans that a likeness of guitarist Uruha’s goddess-like visage was used as the graphics on a New Look top. But not only that, the image, described on the online store as a “Pixelated punky girl illustration”, doesn’t credit the illustrator, Deviant Kyunai, whose remarkable Uruha fanart originally appeared on their Deviant Art page in 2007.

As I haven’t received permission from Kyunai to post their image here, surf on over to their DA page and check out the original illustration. It is absolutely worthy of appearing on a stylish top…however, the artist’s permission should be solicited, their affiliation approved, and their dues delivered in that clear, clean-cut and very legitimate fashion (no pun inten– well, ok, fine).

Using an image like this is a terrific idea- the illustration, and the face captured in it, are both exquisite, and such a depiction could be incredible promotion for a lucky artist as well as the band. Unfortunately, this interesting marketing op has been massacred by the tactlessness of whoever ‘designed’ the shirt for New Look. Now, instead of great promotion for the band and the artist resulting in an awesome piece of clothing, we are left simply with image-theft, a bad rap for New Look in the Jrock crowd, and a bunch of people hoping Kyunai’s request that the brand recall the item be peacefully passed.

Original artwork by Kyunai…Used without permission by New Look UK.

Thanks to Tweeps @ToshiChica @JanecutiehWARP for spreading the word.

Visual Mononokei…?

She reminds me of someone...

Admit it, even hardcore Visualists like you and I aren’t too badass to stock Tonari no Totoro on our iPods. Granted it can be a little disturbing when you’re thrashing to The GazettE and suddenly you’re headbanging to “Tonari no To-to-ro to-toooo-roo…You only see him when you’re very young….a magical adventure for youuuu…”. Some of this psychological whiplash may be relieved, however, with the July 21st release of cover album Ghibli Rock.

Although the feel-good classics have been arranged for orchestra, and even Celtic harp, I think we have yet to hear a punk rendition of the Mononoke theme.  Well, it’s coming. The album will feature 9 tracks, all rock’n’roll covers of Ghibli classics. The only artist who has been revealed so far is Nakamori Ayako, of the now-disbanded girl group Nakanomori BAND. Yeah, I’ve never heard of her either.

Oh, right.

Image: Kyo; Kevin Pletcher/ concert-pictures.com

Zen Visual Kei

I apologize for not being very active lately. Truth be told, I haven’t really been feeling inspired by anything enough that I would want to write about it/review it. Most of what I’ve been listening to this past month has been pretty much the same old stuff. To put it in internet layman’s terms: meh.

So, recently, instead of listening to tons of music, I climbed into the mountains to hear the sound of the birds, and live off the land, miles and miles from the nearest tub of Gatsby Moving Rubber, without a perm in sight…And while I was in retreat…I wish I could say something like “I became enlightened”, but unfortunately my realization was somewhat lesser. I realized that I’ve been kind of snobbish, mostly because I’ve become paranoid in recent days about the creativity involved in the recent Visual Kei (and Jrock at large) releases. Some of them have felt more than a little mainstream, and of late, I’ve been waking up from gloomy nightmares, the word Commercialism…commercialism…commercialism… echoing around the room.

However, thankfully before my threats of KAT-TUN rebellion actually resulted in the buying of best-of albums and switching my banner out for one of Kamenashi Kazuya with his hair knotted up in a pink hair-tie, I started thinking more about where things stand, not in regards to the music industry and commercialistic totalitarianism,  but in regards to being a Visualist, and the listening to music aspect of our fandom. (I made the new banner just in case though!)

Just being annoying...

I like the Japanese word “Hajime” 「始め」 which means “beginning”. What I like about it is the kanji because it’s an extremely common and simple character, 始, but it has multiple parts, which, in my eyes, kind of represents the causes and conditions that need to be in place for anything to “begin”. In Japanese, the phrase meaning “Nice to meet you/How do you do” is “Hajimemashite” 「始めまして」 which means, literally, “it has begun”. I like this sentiment because, unlike “Nice to meet you”, it has a feeling of continuity and progressiveness.

In the same way that a personal relationship has a “it has begun” moment, which then develops and progresses into a “now we’re bros” plateau of mutual acknowledgement, media and music has the same patterning (in fact, most things do). In this case, you’re hearing a song for the first time– that’s the “hajimemashite”. Then, if you liked that song enough to look into it further, you will continue to explore that artist’s works (music, movies, media), to the point that maybe you will even travel to foreign countries to see them perform live (is the personal-relationship equivalent engagement? just kidding).

A while ago I read a book called Zen Guitar, which, you guessed it, applied the concepts of zen to playing guitar. The format of the “method” in this book was that the “student” was supposed to think of playing the guitar in the same way you would practice a martial art. The first thing the author tackled was the “black belt” issue. People wanted to know what it took to become a “black belt”. Sparing you the sentiments about how “one will forever be a student” and all that (he doesn’t spare you, but I will), I did like his comment on the topic. He said (paraphrased, as I can’t remember it verbatim) that “in the way of Zen Guitar there is only one belt: the white belt. The student must always return to white belt, every time. The only way that you can attain a “black belt” is by practicing to such an extent that your white belt becomes soiled, and steadily, blackens from use.”

Now, taking all of this philosophy into consideration and then looking at the actual experience of this developing relationship with the experience of listening to certain music, there is no definite point of fulfillment, is there? And yet we rush (it’s a side-effect of visualist dementia– don’t worry, we all have it) forward as if there’s some sort of finish line, or black belt. Essentially, there isn’t one.  At least I don’t think there is– not for me, anyway. And yet it’s interesting to see how, even with something as circular in nature as the appreciation of music, impatience develops. We obsess over when new material will be released– forgetting that there are still songs on old albums that we haven’t even listened to properly.

Essentially, it’s hard to avoid becoming jaded to something. At first and for a while it’s exciting, but if you do something enough, live it and breathe it enough, it becomes a habit – something done without thinking. Even if new material comes out, are we really as excited about it as we were right when we first started listening to The GazettE? I’m not trying to speak for anyone else, or state that this is just how it is. But for me, at least, Visual Kei and Jrock isn’t just a “phase” or something that I will lose interest in after a while. I would never “break up with it” as it were, just because I’ve hit a flat area. These are the points in ones relationship– with anyone and anything– where it actually starts to take awareness and conscious action to keep something alive, strong, and healthy. When you stop appreciating something properly, the jadedness creeps in, lethargy soon follows, and then who knows what’s next– gangrene, maybe. Or even worse, you find yourself actually checking out DBSK albums on eBay (don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying I’ve done that. Not yet, anyway.).

What I’m going to do about it, to both help refresh my appreciation of Visual Kei, and bring some new material to SG, is go back through all of my albums/singles/DVDs/whatever, many of which are dated from several years ago and haven’t been reviewed (I won’t do repeats) yet. I will do my best to listen to them with a “white belt” ear, and review them. It will definitely help me get back in touch with the older stuff, hopefully it will help newcomers to VK check out some classics, and maybe it will send some of you vets back to your dusty collections. Who knows, right?