exist trace Major Debut: TRUE

1. TRUE
2. 本能 (Honnou)
3. 常闇の夜明け (Tokoyami no Yoake)
4. KISS IN THE DARK
5. 自由の空、地上の歌 (Jiyuu no Sora, Chijou no Uta)

 After passing up single Knife and album TWIN GATE simply due to lack of feeling like previews of either releases struck me like a lightning bolt, and trading the chance to see the babes live in Seattle in order to see girugamesh in Boston, I think my frosty misogyny is finally melting under the spell of exist trace‘s honest-to-goodness Visual Kei. …My negligence didn’t have anything to do with Jyou’s inexcusably butch hairstyle. Honest.

   Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known from the first time I heard them that they were, and were going to continue to be, spectacular. The way they have never had to use their gender to prove themselves or establish a place– they have been able to crack open a gender-generalized genre while keeping their integrity, sincerity, and badassness intact. This, I think, is a commendable feat. The best part? Half the dude-groups can’t even rock this hard anymore.

 It was a subtle nudge that drew me back to exist trace– an alert somewhere notifying me of the release of their major-label debut EP and the fact that Jyou grew out her hair, and then, a few days ago, that nudge shoved me onto Youtube and straight into the PV for title track TRUE.

 

 The track starts off with wicked solid metal riffs, plunging right into the soulful wails of the vocal melody. The construction of the song is great. The instrumentals are impressive, grungy, and heavy, charging along at a fast pace without feeling rushed. Instrumental/guitar solo is quite badass and may or may not definitely induce headbanging.
Jyou’s vocals soar as always, and the melodic-metal-type vocal line is pretty sweet. One thing I’ve always appreciated about the vocals in exist trace songs are the even balance Jyou finds between growling/screaming and melodic warbling. I often find “melodic metal” to be preachy, presumptuous, and often just plain boring, but exist trace finds a great middle-ground, keeping everything conscious, concise, and creative. Great track, and great opening for the EP.

Next song is Honnou. Electronic effects open the piece, with some ampy-distortion, and the surly, girly voice that says Shall we dance? Which, while seeming like a minor detail, actually sets up for more of the song than one might expect. Less soaring/melodic than its predecessor, Honnou gets down and dirty, staying grungy, while bringing in a poppish chorus line. I enjoy the combination of pop and metal flavors throughout the song. I did feel like they downplayed the vocals somewhat during the verses, and they were almost too quiet. The electronica was well-utilized, and the bass solo around the 2:30 mark was a great intro for a great instrumental break that I can’t really count as a guitar solo, since the guitars didn’t do anything particularly memorable, and if they did, it was hidden by a muddy pool of electronic effects. So I give this one up to Naoto.

 Tokoyami no Yoake brings everything down several levels. Jyou’s vocals are in the spotlight more than anything, backed by simple details and a spacious, elegant bass-line. I enjoyed the song a lot, and I thought the verses, instrumental and vocal bridges were quite beautiful, although I feel like they could have been more inventive with the chorus. Choruses have really been a pet-peeve for me with most releases. I just can’t help thinking many of these groups use the same freaking chorus in every song, and it’s starting to get to me.

KISS IN THE DARK brings in some carnival sounds, opening to a neat funk line which I didn’t see coming from exist trace. Although this kind of song is pretty common fair in Visual Kei– you know, “piero”s taking over all the lyrics (creepy clowns)–, and Jyou’s vocals felt out of placed when I was all geared up for Yomi to start droning along. I guess it’s good they tried something kind of different…for them, anyway. Although I think Visual Kei could use some new locales, you know, like we’re allowed to go to carnivals, vampire castles, and…Versailles. Right. I’ll let someone else try and come up with an explanation for that. Like, seriously. When is a Visual Kei song going to have traffic sounds, or rain forest sounds or something in it? Are Visualists exiled from those places or something? And what am I supposed to do when I finally come out of denial and realize I sleep in a coffin and my windows are curtained by roses, and I leave the front foyer unfurnished in case Versailles PQ wants to film their next 10 minute long PV there?

Anyway…I enjoyed how the past couple of songs showcased Naoto, the bassist. They do a good job of sharing the spotlight– you don’t ever feel like you’re straining to hear one or the other members, the instruments are clearly defined while staying busy, and they spread it out through each of the songs so that it’s not just guitars shred shred shred shred shredding incessantly. Really nice attribute. Probably my least favorite song on the album so far, the highlight of KISS IN THE DARK was when they transpose everything at around the 3:15 mark. Aside from that segment and the bass work, it was forgettable.

 I thought Jiyuu no Sora, Chijou no Uta has a nice structure. The instrumentals carry the piece along, but the verse was thoroughly enjoyable– one of the highlights of the 5 tracks, I would say, and Jyou even took the time to write a new chorus. Good for her. The track wound things down nicely, and I liked the way they ended it with the final chord fading out, simple but nice. However, I felt like the transition from KISS IN THE DARK (which, in retrospect was stressful) to Jiyuu no Sora, Chijou no Uta seemed hurried. My elite expectations would probably have been better satisfied had they slipped a mediating track between the two, giving a little more time to come down from our thoughtful, “Huh…” into that release of compositional tension that has buoyed us from the elation of the EP’s beginning to its final seconds that ease into silence. I suppose the challenge of the EP vs. the single, is that, like an album it has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end– but unlike an album, you don’t really have the 10-15 songs it can often take to really get all the loose ends tied up and the character arcs resolved.

Limited edition includes the same tracks, and a DVD with the TRUE PV and Special Movie.

My only real complaints about the EP, which seem to be strangely common complaints to have about major debuts, was that it lacked edge. Remember when you played Judea for your metal-head [male] friends and they all cried? Yeah. Me too. So although I like the music, I like the songs, I like their look, and I think the PV is baller, I sure as hell hope they don’t lose that je nes se quai that makes them stand out amidst the babbling oshare babies as one of the few bands that can really, honestly, and wicked sickly rock.

All in all I think that TRUE hits the spot, with my picks off the tracklist being TRUE, Tokoyami no Yoake, and Jiyuu no Sora, Chijou no Uta. The instrumentals were really good, the compositions strong, and the vocals, although a little lacking at times, really pulled through, especially given these hard times we live in, full of recycled choruses and regurgitated chord-progressions. I definitely think exist trace is one of the better bands still making the rounds in the popular scene, and while they may not always be perfect, their songs always feel new.

 

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IMPO…

On Thursday I will be driving down to Boston to spend the weekend at Anime Boston, specifically with the primary intention of attending girugamesh’s concert and panels. I’ve been prepping for it by listening to their albums and tuning into their Ustream events online. Pretty foolproof.

In anticipation of the founders of Visual Kei fusion genre Anime OP <3’s Teen Angst girugamesh‘s long-awaited US appearance, and following on the heels of their January release (first original album since ‘o9’s toeheaded NOW), entitled GO, I’ve been ruminating on the black-clad host boys an awful lot lately. So before I hit up Boston and see them live and then have everyone blame this on post-concert bias, I wanted to address some things about girugamesh and Visual Kei Today.

Over the past 2 or 3 years, there’s been a lot of griping about what girugamesh has been and will be doing stylistically. As far back as 2008, they began entering their re-debut of adolescent, agonized expressionist experimentation that stirred up some mixed feelings from fans. What started out as white-noise steadily developed into doubtfulness about where the band was moving with its sound and image as they began incorporating elements of mixing, pop and electronica into their previously hardcore shredder scene. This developed into outright concern with releases as early as MUSIC, and certainly increased over time when NOW disappointed in its offerings. Now, with the release of b-average sub-standard singles such as COLOR, doubt and concern is turning to dissatisfaction and, potentially, dissension.

I’ll admit, I have not been remotely hesitant to express my opinions and concerns for the future. Although it’s not usually my wont to do so, I may have, of late, been (in regards to girugamesh, among others) unselfconsciously harsh and, possibly, somewhat insensitive to the quivering, vulnerable feelings of COLOR-loving fangirls.

Although I don’t feel the need to explain myself or my views, as I believe vehemently in that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and certainly I believe that my own blog ought to be allowed to be the vomitorium of my own personal opinions, with or without explanation, but that being said, I have an immense respect for, and value highly, the qualities of objectivity and fairness. Generally I think that if people have something negative, critical, or hateful to say, they should save everyone’s time by not saying it at all. I believe that any criticism should not be spoken unless it has at least a somewhat intellectual argument to back it. If you have an intellectual argument, you can say whatever you want as long as you can express your opinion in a respectful, un-trollish way. Any criticisms that I may have toward girugamesh, or any other band or media figure, would never see the light of internet unless they were spoken from a sense of constructive debate and, from the heart of a Visualist and follower of the band, hopefulness for their continued success and talent.

We should know better by now than to judge something without really giving it a chance, but that being said, sometimes some things are just not a good fit when you first discover them. If you judge or criticize something and then do a 180 and start to admire or respect what you previously bashed, I personally don’t believe in that type of “hypocrisy” at all. When I was younger, I used to ardently despise hardcore music, screamo, death-metal, heavy-metal, hard-rock. Even if I talked bull about it when I was 12, that was just because it hadn’t found me yet. When the correct circumstances came into place, I became quite passionate about that kind of music.

I’ve had a lot of 180’s over the past 5 or 10 years, and through them I’ve (mostly) learned not to judge things or people without a good reason. And if there is a good reason to judge it, and I feel like judging it, it doesn’t make sense to waste energy judging something I don’t even like, so it’s better to make peace with it in yourself and just let it phase right out of your reality. This is why I believe a “dislike” option on Youtube is a pointless idea, and why people’s negative comments look intensely foolish. If you don’t like something, just walk away from it.

For everything you like, there is someone who hates it. For everything you hate, there is someone who loves it. I don’t care how anonymous the internet is, when you bash something, it hurts someone who takes pleasure from the something in question. It’s always easier to find a creative way to say something negative about something you dislike– criticism is by default easier than critique.

I’ve read some reviews on blogs and websites that really buy into negativity. People can write the way they want, and if I don’t like their blogs, I just choose not to read them. However, I do have a hard time accepting critics who have difficulty differentiating between “good music” and “music that I think is good”. Obviously all critics are doing is expressing an arbitrary opinion. All they are saying is “I think this is good,” or “I think this is bad,”, and in the end the only way we can truly judge its quality is by the way it makes us feel. When I listen to music that I think is really superb, it’s struck a certain note in my soul, it makes me feel something. Of course there’s quality of technical content– lyrical composition, programming, skill of the musicians. But I’ve heard some really good musicians play some really boring music and in the end it made me realize how, for me at least, technical quality is just a backseat factor, not a deciding one.

 I don’t think “good music” is a flawless recording played by great musicians. “Good music” is any music that speaks to you, that makes you feel like you could take on the world– regardless of how cheesy or obnoxious it may be technically.

Although mostly all bloggers and critics (professional and amateur alike) post their reviews and critiques as if the contents are Fact, every critic should be forced to have IMPO… tattooed to their forehead for whenever they start dishing.

Musical tolerance is really difficult for a lot of people. I used to only want to hear the music I liked and everybody else could go to hell–and take their mixed tapes with them. But, over the past year or two especially, I’ve developed a lot of tolerance for other types of music. This helps to make you not look like an idiot. And now that I’m a little more open-minded, I can tolerate listening to my sister’s rap music or a friend’s Top 40 station in the car without my soul shriveling up into some cold slimy dead thing in the recesses of my being. Even if I wouldn’t choose to listen to any of that music, I can still hear it from time to time and be able to think, that was really good. I enjoyed that.

Tolerance and acceptance is great and all when you’re wandering around like some kind of Ghandi letting people play their entire Muse discography for you, but sometimes the harshest judgment I see passed is by fans, on the bands they love most. Amidst the irony this makes sense, because obviously you love a band for its most prominent sound, and when the band goes to change that sound, it’s like they’re shattering your hopes and dreams. Stop waving your pitchforks– I know all about this. To be perfectly honest, although I appreciate GACKT’s music and projects now, I wish that on the day I get to see him perform live, that it was his 2004 self. Part of my soul curled up and died when I realized I would never hear or see the Sixth Day Seventh Night tour. Ever. That’s a regret I hope they carve on my headstone.

But people change. People need to change. Look back on a photograph or creative work from a year or two ago and you’ll see how much you have changed reflected in it, even if just a little. Now think what it must be like to have fans all over the world watching your every move. It’s much harder to change from that place, I think. It has to take a lot of courage and trust– trust and belief in your followers that they will support you in doing what needs to be done. If this is the GACKT that he needs to be, now that he is older, wiser, more insane, then I can accept, admire, and appreciate that. And know that I own that particular DVD, so it’s all good really.

I know it seems blasphemous that girugamesh goes from being one of the most awesome, angsty, screamy groups in Jrock today, to being a mainstream pop-rock group. However, if you listen to albums such as NOW and GO, they’re not really bad quality, or even worse than girugamesh or 13’s Reborn, they’re just different. They have an inherently different quality. Their music isn’t as dark, but it’s still pretty heavy. They may have added some rap and electronica elements– that’s popular in Visual Kei right now, better learn to accept it or stop sounding surprised whenever you pick up a new release and find that there’s a whole ton of sounds mixed into each track and, no, those aren’t guitar effects.

I’m not going to stop expressing dissatisfaction with a new release if I find reason to be dissatisfied, and I’m not saying that I won’t review an album I disliked just for the sake of having a blog about rainbow-puking unicorns. It’s important to be tolerant and appreciative, yes, but it’s equally as important to be transparent and honest, and be able to call it when a band fucks up. We’re not drooling adolescent fangirls who will “love” any old single just because one of the band-members has a shirtless gravure up on Photobucket. But GO got me wondering if giru‘s new stuff was really that bad, or if it’s just a case of Visualist stubbornness.

Pink Panthers, Delicate Dragons, and Pop Poseidons: the disconcerting ratio of Sadie to SHINEE

Part I: The Set Up

So here I am writing from the farthest-most corner of the United States, some 4,000 miles north-west of my usual office, sitting in a bustling cafe attempting a record consumption of caffeine, flipping through the March 2011 edition of Arena 37c, front-cover: T.M.Revolution rocking hot military in distressed denim.

Since I currently reside in a less prehistoric city than usual, I’m located very close to China Town, the International District, and a little corner of Japanophile heaven—this particular patch of wonders being home to the unsuspecting Visualist’s den of colander-wallet syndrome, Kinokuniya books. It’s the one moment when I actually feel ‘at home’ in the US; the one place where I can find the CDs I’m looking for in the CD section, where I actually find magazines I want to (wish I could) read in the newsstand, and where names like YOSHIKI and AnCafe pop off the bindings of books. It’s a brief compromise between East and West.

It’s hard to stay calm. Especially when hoards of giggling, daisy-dukes-and-tights-wearing Japanese girls are hurrying past with armloads of Tohoshinki CDs and those 30-pound, $5 fashion magazines they have to Saran wrap and rubber-band just to keep the inserts, posters, and packs of makeup samples all intact for purchase.

image: cidbia.org

Although I, personally, tend to pre-order my CDs and singles months in advance via the internet, magazines are one product I want from Japan that I tend to stock up on once in a while IRL when opportunity strikes. My (exceedingly) infrequent visits to Kinokuniya rarely send me out with discs, but a few Shoxx, Fools Mate, and Arena37c’s usually find their way home with me (where they typically end up encased in plastic and stored carefully in an air-tight safe, hidden away from the dangers of fingerprints and dog-earing caused by ignorant mortals). With the yen-dollar + import mark-up on these publications, it’s clear I’m not saving for retirement.

As long as I could carry on singing the praises of the mystical waypoint, what I’m trying to say right now is not that I went to Kinokuniya and dropped bank on magazines I can’t even read yet, but more to do with the contents of said magazines.

First of all, I had a difficult time finding the content matter I look for. Is it the general fact that a lot of respected Visual Kei artists are playing it cool or on hiatus, or is classic Visual Kei just not front-cover news anymore? Whatever it is, the magazines that, in 2009 and 2010, were covered with abingdon boys school, D’espairsRay, The GazettE and GACKT, are suspiciously devoid of any of those holy names. Today’s issue of Arena37, featuring an excessively elegant yet somewhat lackluster main feature of T.M.Revolution, fills the rest of its pages with cutesy oshare-mania and WTF moments such as Jin Akanishi, Tohoshinki, and SHINEE. It’s nearly enough to make me feel more like a hardcore metal-head were I to buy Can Can Cream’s jumbo-edition featuring Koda Kumi’s latest eyelid surgery result story*. SHINEE….seriously? Is this what the Visual Kei industry has become? Spreads of The Kiddie making chocolate fondue and Jin Akanishi repping thug-life in a fitted-hat? On that note, who exactly is Jin Akanishi?

Also, what is with the interview on page 98 with a trio of guys dressed in white feather boas, calling themselves “Panther”, “Dragon” and “Poseidon”?

The most badass part of the magazine (aside from T.M.’s typical glitzy bride+groom-in-one shoot) is the back cover advertisement for SADIE’s newest releases and lives. Honestly, aside from the brief insert for The GazettE, it’s the only page reminiscent of classic Visual Kei.

The clean pastel tones of nude-gravure-fronted Shoxx promise a slightly more familiar lineup of content, including: The GazettE, Kagrra,, girugamesh, Vidoll, and heidi.. Mostly devoid of the collection of gawky 14-year-olds masquerading as promising Visual Kei musicians, Shoxx presented more interesting shoots of cooler looking people and better (in my opinion) bands.

heidi. still looks like a Visual Kei band, as do boogieman and TOON-FACTORY. The disappointments maxed out mercifully at having the same gravure of Sid as the Arena37 interview, and the shocking realization that Visual Kei stylists have outdone The Perm by instating the Goldilocks Regime. Page after page of tumbling gold ringlets unfold before my horrified Visualist eyes…

* Please note, Can Can Cream is not a factual magazine title, I invented it to serve my creative purposes, so spare your dignity any blows and don’t go out and try and buy it.. Also, don’t ever believe anything I ever say about Koda Kumi. I don’t even know who she is, let alone how much eyelid surgery she’s had or when.

Story Time With Lc5

Having an acute case of osharephobia, my AnCafe awareness phase hit me during my angsty early days, back before I became jaded enough to have opinions and a sense of distinction about what I listened to. My appreciation for the hyperactive, affectedly-nasal, stressful listening experience was, needless to say, short-lived. Although I never came to dislike the band, and will still even admit to enjoying a few songs (Ryuusei Rocket and Snow Scene pop up on shuffle from time to time and don’t get skipped), I stopped following them or listening actively.

That is, until last year when vocalist miku finally won his battle against the chronic sinus-infection that seemed to last, oh bloody hell, like 6 years (poor guy), put the whole project on hiatus, and went off to develop his ennui and strip down to monochrome for the debut of side-project Lc5 and their fresh-faced new-born first single, Loveless. My first impression of them being somewhat in the gray zone, I put them on the short-list and moved on…until the time was right, and I picked up their second single, Story.

First of all, the concept for the single is pretty sweet. I’m down with the contrast of density and spaciousness, light and dark. Also, the way they worked the cold, clean lines of the background and the soft furs and miku’s mellow expression. Simple and striking, it’s classy and understated.

The titular track, Story, opens with a clean piano line and straight guitar chords that flow neatly into a concise, heartfelt rock piece. The vocals are light and low, and play crisply on the airy highnotes of emotion that prove miku can express elegantly without a stuffy nose. The verses are sweetly satisfying, and the chorus stays out of your face while still being catchy. Like the cover, the title track is all clean lines and soft depth, a sweet rock ballad with a good vocal break and a versatile feel. My favorite part of the song has to be the last third of the track, when they transpose keys, switch up the vocal breaks, and throw in a whammy-riding guitar solo to fade out a well-rounded rock ballad.

Story fades into Deeper Than Fate, the meat of the single. Cruising and rocking from the onset, the bassy track is a great middle-ground between tender Story and heavier DIRTY STAR. miku’s vocals ring strongly of Hyde back in his early L’arc days of melodic emo wails. In fact, the whole sound of Lc5 does follow on L’arc‘s heels somewhat, creating a strong, classic sound that makes for quality Jrock like bands were putting out in the early 00’s before everyone started experimenting with electronic samples and live mixing (I blame [thank] Toshiyuki Kishi for this). The guitar solos are solid, the bass is well-equalized, the riffs are well-put-together, and everything is orderly and very easy on the ears.

The single finishes off with DIRTY STAR, the title of which doesn’t really some congruous, but the actual song is really decent. The jazzy, bassy opening with the airy vocal overlay feels fresh and new, while the vocals spin through another classic Jrock track. The details of the track are great, and I enjoyed the effects they layered on the vocals throughout, mixing things up a bit. The “and”-beat feel of the lead into the chorus creates a trip-up sort of feel that I thought was pretty cool.

All in all the single is a really solid piece of work, and I have to say that I am impressed by what Lc5 has put out so far. The entire single is classy and elegant, with some nice detailing and a strong foundation. The arrangement of all 3 pieces is well-done, and they felt congruous as a set, while at the same time able to hold their own if separated out…

I will certainly be following Lc5 more closely from now on, and should they [not] surprise us with a full-length album this year, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick it up or recommend others to do the same.

D’s ‘in the name of justice’ Goes All Chivalry And Noblesse Oblige

After announcing their international debut, it seemed fitting to follow up with some thoughts on D‘s recent work. Although D‘s In the name of justice was one of those singles that I didn’t hesitate to acquire as soon as the post-office could deliver it, it’s testament to my monkey-mind lifestyle that it’s taken this many months to get a review up, as obviously it was no fault of the single’s.

In the name of justice takes a slightly different turn from D‘s earlier stuff.  The characteristically long-winded, 5+ minute-long shredder sagas, blood-drenched ballads and meandering melodramas are nowhere to be found on the 4-track [note that tracklists vary per version of release] hustle to slay the dragon and save the world.

Industrial, ultra-thick and heavy, the titular track opens with a rolling thunder of drums and bass, and some grungy, aggro guitar work shoves you right into the chorus. The chorus blends the upbeat cheeriness of their sub-silly tracks such as Day By Day with their standard D lilting gloom. The verse is built on the mysterious, sultry progressions everyone knows and respects ASAGI for, and it’s the verse and guitar solo that are the heart of the song. Although I’m not blown away by the chorus, the general disarray of the song and the hearty emphasis on the drums, bass, and vocals made the track a refreshing break from the overdone eight-guitars-ultra- complex-riffs-guitar-hero stuff that has been so prevalent lately.

As with all of their work, the true joy of the title track lies in its details. The finale vocal break and guitar solo were both great. The energy of the piece is phenomenal…and not just in regards to quality. The quality was good, yes, but the amount of power and life that they packed into the brief 3 minutes and 44 seconds made the track like a tornado that tears through quickly, leaving a trail of mass destruction. I enjoyed this aspect of it a lot. Through the entire piece it’s as if you’re emotionally/energetically charging through the dark woods of a Grimm’s grim fairytale on a white stallion, rapier in one hand, microphone in the other, belting it out in Japanese.

By the time the whirlwind of In the name of justice ends, you feel like you accomplished a lot — I hardly did anything today, and after listening to just the first song I feel like I conquered a kingdom, saved the damsel in distress, killed a couple of dragons and discovered my lost twin sister who was raised in the neighboring kingdom to protect our inheritance. And I might almost need to pitch camp before charging right into Nightly Knights, but… somehow I think I can handle the badassness.

The ambient mood-setting opening for Nightly Knights didn’t need to be complicated or shredder-heavy to win me over. The echo effects, again with the focus on rhythm and interesting tribal stuff set up a dungeony stage for ASAGI’s hoarse growl, rollicking drums and intense bass work. Again with easing off the guitars and actually thinking through emphasis in the instrumentation, a move that lead to general interest throughout the piece. The effects and ornamentation were also quite cool and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the vocal layering on the bridge, and the vocals were generally great throughout, breaking from some of the more standard D fare. The chorus was fine, but definitely not my favorite part, as seems to be the case with much of D‘s recent work. That’s probably just me, though. Generally satisfying, and creditably different, the chorus passes the b-grade at least, which is enough to keep D easily in my good books.
The instrumental break and downplayed solo really messed with my head in the best way possible, and again with the way they eased back into the verses with grumpy growls and ethereal layering. The chunky instrumentation behind the deep, focused, serious vocals was pretty hardcore. Contrast to the preceding track, which felt like flailing along on some wild rollercoaster, Nightly Knights felt very knightly and focused indeed.

Moving along at a decent canter, Grand Master follows Nightly Knights without pausing for breath. Another strong opening, with a funky, rockin’ rhythm and a racing tempo to match its predecessors. In contrast to everything I said about their choruses above, Grand Master has a striking, heavy, powerful chorus. The only reason it doesn’t stand out more is because the song has virtually zero, nada, not a single perceptible instrumental change. There are no bridges, no breaks; just hectic, powerful, raw racing forward with reckless abandon.

The PV

Wolf howls, thunder and lightning, candlelight and a swollen heartbeat…what more can possibly be said for the PV? Except that whoever choreographed it didn’t, I guess, realize that in chess you technically only have two players, and although we might accept him as our one true king and uphold King Asagi and the Knights of the Round Table, Ruiza will never be able to stomach wearing a pair of pants long enough to ever pass for a Lancelot. That being said, the ridiculously, almost parody-like lack in quality and dimension of their PVs has been my only real issue with D of late. It really has felt like their PVS are getting steadily worse and increasingly more ’90s (and that’s enough of that, needless to say). However, I am glad to see a complete turn-around with In the name of justice. The PV is excellent quality, properly produced, and is so blatantly and unabashedly melodramatically Visual Kei in all its gothicy, neo-historicalness that you can’t help but get psyched over the sheer wonder of the feeling of something utterly stereotypical of that which you worship.

Overall the single is extremely cohesive. It flies by, and feels like each song is about one minute long…The context of the pieces is congruous, which makes it seem almost like varying chapters to one story, rather than just three independent songs put together. The hecticness of the entire thing is raw, fresh, and very new. The message of this single is definitely live fast, die young, and claim the throne. Here’s a white charger, Visualists, now go.

Tadaima

It is with an intense sense of relief that I am sitting here typing this. The past three or four months have been, easily, the most hectic time of my life so far. I realize this is merely the problem of having a productive life on earth, and fully expect it to get busier as the days, months, years go by. I will accept that challenge when it arises, but for now, this time was intense enough to satisfy the morbid cravings of the last shredded remains of any over-achiever in me.

The reason that I’ve been away from blogging for so long is primarily thanks to my being committed pretty heavily to my job. Working 10+ hour days, 6 days a week while scavenging a life outside of work can start to add up fast, and during the past 5 or 6 weeks, I felt distinctly as though I was running on the final scrapings of the last reserves of my energy, and physically, all I wanted was sleep, all the time. The only thing that kept me going was the thought, I cannot lose to this.

I have a general interest in personal growth and, since my introduction to Japanese social philosophies, an avid obsession with “becoming stronger”. I feel as though this almost-academically-observational sense of perspective of my own experience, as well as that of others’, affords me a certain unsympathetic awareness of my innate human weaknesses and an ability to overcome them.

As most of my more melodramatically tragic habits are, I believe I picked this tendency up from GACKT. I thought often of the stories of him literally working until he collapsed, fell ill, etc. While these instances are examples of pushing extremes unhealthily far, the core value demonstrated within them has inspired me greatly, and I’ve carried the base sentiment in the not-so-back of my mind through this intense and hectic period.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
-T.S. Elliot

When natural energy became replaced by caffeine, pain-killers and pure willpower, I got to the point where every day my body was telling me no, while my mind continued to say yes. In the beginning, it was a struggle to make it through the craziness of each day, and in many ways, it only got harder as the weeks went by. But also, like moving through physical pain barriers and the struggles of physical improvement, after a while I could really begin to gauge the progress of my spirit, and how much my capacity to deal with the crazy experience had increased from Day One. Of course, it’s not enough to acknowledge that you’ve grown – from the place of flexing new muscles you didn’t really believe you were building, the desire to become stronger only increases.

I think there’s something really interesting in physically, knowing that you need to stop, and yet mentally, wanting to know how much farther you can take it. In my life, at least, that’s at the root of self-improvement.

Since we’re in the last week of the year, I’ve been considering the hurdles I’ve faced in 2010, and appraising the resolutions I made, and whether or not I was able to achieve them. At the beginning of the year, I wanted to change a lot of things, and part of that was a resounding desire to overcome the things I was afraid of, to be able to overcome the things within my mind that held me back. I wanted to live my life to the fullest that I possibly could — and not in that wishy-washy greeting-card canned response way; I wanted that sincerely. This is very un-zen, and I’ll own that, but I believe at least part of figuring out how to live life fully, is to increase the velocity of your experience as much as you can. Although this isn’t really “living life to the fullest” at all, filling each moment with something and never letting yourself stop, but constantly continuing to add more to your experience is one way of feeling like you’re living life fully, and as a result, discovering, hopefully, what that desire really means.

But as you’re racing along, charging through life, trying to make the most of it, live it to the fullest that you possibly can, at a certain point it seems like it’s entirely too possible to get too lost in the moment, to forget where you’re going, who you are, what you’re working toward and why. The velocity and intensity of experience, any experience, can just completely overwhelm a person’s being, their sense of self.

When you run out of energy, and you feel like you have no strength left to muster, I think everyone has to reach a place where they can acknowledge that there is something feeding their determination. That their “sense of self” is, in fact, rooted firmly somewhere. And the more you get stretched out, the more you drag yourself along independent of that origin, that source, the more you end up on the waning tide.

Drained, exhausted, those last fragments of energy completely sucked dry, feeling sorry for ourselves, the animal need for rest, sleep, rest sleep, overpowering our vision, making us forget who we are and why we do any of it. We forget how we were even able to do any of it.

This is when you realize what your source is. You find that thing that rejuvenates you, restores your strength, reminds you what you’re fighting for. None of it is empty challenge and reaction. For some people, I’m sure that thing that gives you back the will to continue is other people, material pleasures, whatever. For everyone, it’s different. The only thing that is the same is that we all have it, and inevitably, when we’re running on that last store of energy, we return to it. Sometimes we don’t even really know what it is until we’re at the point of total breakdown and suddenly it shows itself to us.

But I believe that whether you know it or not, when you’re there at the point of collapse, some instinct or inspirational nudge leads us back to that source place. Without interrupting the flow of what we’re doing, without taking any steps back, without requiring anything other than a sudden burst of awareness, we tune into that one thing that reminds us, blindingly, of who we are and what defines us, what gives us strength and the will to fight.

Finally, yesterday I had a detestable moment of weakness. Woke up with a pretty lousy cold, and although my now well-trained mind kept telling me to get up and go to work, to push through it, my body was screaming a pretty strong no. My ravaged immune system needs a break, so I’m giving in. Drained, exhausted, feeling sorry for myself, I instinctively turned to something that my being craved more than sleep: music.

Sitting around in the dark, WHAT’S MY NAME playing through at full volume, it was like I was hearing Jrock for the first time all over again. It was like I was hearing music for the first time all over again. All the wiring in my blasted zombie brain seemed to fuse back together again. I was able to remember something I knew all along, but somehow had completely lost track of: Visual Kei and Jrock are that source place I return to when I’m at the point of collapse. Visual Kei and Jrock are what define me, what give me strength and the will to fight. They are what give me the obsession with accepting challenges, and they are what lend me the strength needed to overcome the weaknesses that arise when I am teetering on the point of collapse. It’s this sense of unwavering courage that happens when I’m led to GACKT or MIYAVI‘s music at the right moment that is something I wish I could express in words when I am asked why I am a Visualist.

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I find that when I don’t write on Secret Garden for an extended time, when I log into my Dashboard, I always experience this strange paradox of both feeling like a complete stranger, and at the same time, like I’ve finally made it back home.

Tadaima.

Nyappy No More?

I find it pretty depressing, the fact that I can skim through my RSS menu and see a steady stream of “I’m sorry, I promise I still exist…I’m just locked in a closet siphoning off the leakage of my brain, which has been thoroughly nuked by the 9-5 and can no longer process basic functional commands such as eat/sleep/speak, let alone blog.”

As far as I’m concerned, blogging is a basic function. But as I have successfully sacrificed the precious luxury of more than 5 hours of sleep each night, I figure the lack of blog action is, thus, if not excused then at least explained. To my credit, October was an insane month. My personal life waged war on me like a bloody Spartan, and this week I am crawling out of the battlefield, nothing less than ravaged.

I admit there’s a certain sense of awkwardness in getting back into the flow of Visualism after being absent for a while. However, I’m interested by a lot of stuff I’ve seen show up on radar of late, which should inspire the onset of more frequent posting? Who can say.

Visual Kei is an industry – and like all industries, major shifts tend to occur at seasonal turn-overs. Each seasonal annex typically sees a new wave of trends, styles, and a great deluge of releases and tour announcements. Band looks change. Their sound alters, album covers begin to reflect the shimmery tinsel of winter, and so on and so forth.
After this arctic waste’s first snow flurry this week, it has hit home that, inevitably, the last tatters of autumn are fading into winter. We have reached another shift (so fast?), and with the snow, it would seem, already a new wave of noteworthy events and releases are surfacing in Visual Kei.

But before we get too carried away, I think I’ll take this opportunity to backtrack slightly to late September. I have been asked numerous times lately for my thoughts on a certain, somewhat controversial, turn of tides, and we should probably just get this on the table.

Lc5, the new artistic venture of Oshare-Kei AnCafe‘s vocalist miku (front center), is something of a touchy subject due to the fact that its advent followed closely on the heels of the much-respected AnCafe announcing their indefinite hiatus.

Not only that, but it’s not just miku starting a new un-needed oshare kei band following basically the same chord progressions with half the same members and a different name. I would put money on there being some fangirls who are having kittens right now because their favorite ryuusei rocket is actually branching out.

Now, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. I wouldn’t touch the oshare scene with a twenty-foot pole. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, I just totally can’t jive with it. Although I’m familiar with most of AnCafe‘s work (know your enemies), I have to say that it’s been years since I rejected yet another teary-eyed fangirl trying to cry on my shoulder over Bou leaving the band, or cared enough to do any follow-through on the remaining members’ activities. However, when it comes to well-known bands up and going on hiatus and their angsty frontmen starting up rebellious, aloof classical-Visual Kei groups on the side, I guess even I’m enough of a drama whore to get wise to that scene.

You all can get wise to it, too, by checking out Lc5‘s debut PV for their single Loveless.

For one, Lc5 answers the ever-irritating question as to whether or not they actually sing like they have a head-cold naturally, or whether it’s affected. I did always  find it hard to believe that 1 out of 3 Japanese men perpetually sing through a stuffy nose; it just seems like it would make scheduling a major bother. miku seems to have recovered from his cold, as he has shed some of the nasal overtones he used to excess in AnCafe, and his vocals, while somewhat less striking, are, in my personal opinion, so much better off for it. The vocals are, I think, slightly underplayed and a little too lightly produced to really catch my attention. The vocal melody in Loveless is pretty good, though, which makes up (somewhat) for this slight discrepancy. Under-produced vocals are a serious pet-peeve of mine, and honestly I assumed miku would be egotistical enough to play it up a bit. All whining aside, miku does have a pretty unique voice, and it’s one of the virtues Lc5 should be working.

Single cover

It’s a relief to see that miku has actually shifted to the dark side of Visual Kei, moving away from his gaudy oshare roots and imbibing in some class. His look has matured, he dyed his hair, borrowed a wardrobe from GACKT, the works. Initially I had some concerns that he would deliver yet another unnecessarily peppy pop troupe and blow us all away with a profound leap into reiteration of mediocrity.

Although the title is less than innovative, and the song isn’t exactly the next best thing since Death Point, Loveless is definitely worth listening to, and I would absolutely recommend the single to AnCafe fans and haters others alike. All in all, although it is not epilepsy-inducing in its amazingness, my expectations for Lc5 were definitely surpassed. I look forward to seeing how miku takes his solo career forward, and I think that the group has potential to bring a breath of fresh air into the realm of uppity new rockers. miku has been successful in the Visual Kei/Oshare industry for a few years now, so hopefully he’s bored enough with what he’s been doing to actually put some creativity into his work. I will be anticipating future releases…maybe an album? Nah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Come to the dark side....we have miku.