Adventures in audio: CDs worth experiencing
By Joshua Masayoshi Huff
Special to The Advertiser
By Joshua Masayoshi Huff
Five albums you need to hear right now (because they're being criminally underappreciated by everyone else):
'CITRUS' BY ASOBI SEKSU (FRIENDLY FIRE)
Japanese-bred, New York City-based Asobi Seksu's first release since its 2004 self-titled debut meshes otherworldly shoegaze guitars with pop sensibilities to make for an incredible experience. Led by keyboardist Yuki Chikudate, who sings in Japanese and English, Asobi Seksu (loosely translates to "sex for fun") comes off sounding sensual yet childlike, somber yet hopeful.
"Thursday" might just be my favorite song of the year so far. I wouldn't be surprised if it pops up as a film's teary end music in the very near future
'EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME' BY BAND OF HORSES (SUB POP)
Band of Horses, bearing a resemblance to Sub Pop labelmates the Shins have made an amazing debut. "Everything All the Time" is magnificent ("The First Song" — yes, it's really called that) and beautifully understated ("St. Augustine").
Fans of both My Morning Jacket and Neil Young ("Part One") will find something enjoyable, and "Everything All of the Time" is the perfect album for people who want to listen to "jangly rock" — but not country music.
'FRUITS CLIPPER' BY CAPSULE (PONY CANYON, IMPORT)
I stumbled upon Capsule during a Tokyo trip in 2002. While looking for interesting sounds for my friends back home, Capsule's "Phony Phonic" CD caught my eye. I was surprised when I put it in my CD player (did anyone have an iPod then?) and found it was quite good.
The duo's first album, "Highcolor Girl," was obviously enka-inspired, but the subsequent three albums mixed the Japanese love for bossa nova with marimbas, xylophones and pop music, resulting in a sound similar to minor indie pop sensations Pizzicato Five hailing from Shibuya. (Remember "Happy Sad"?)
Consisting of keyboard player Nakata Yasutaka and singer Koshijima Toshiko, Capsule wasn't particularly successful at first, mainly because they write their own music and lyrics and don't have ridiculous dance numbers (though they do sport beehive hairdos and orange outfits). Also, there are a million bands in Tokyo that sound like Pizzicato Five.
I was in Japan again in May and was delighted to find Capsule's just-released latest album, "Fruits Clipper." I again bought the CD without hearing a single note, but this time, the result was very different: Capsule had ditched its poppy bossa nova flavor and thrown the xylophones out the window.
"Fruits Clipper" would be the perfect music for a massive downtown Tokyo dance party if the city decided to let down its hair (Capsule is trying hard to get Tokyo to lighten up — it has a song called "Tokyo Smiling").
"Fruits Clipper" sees Capsule move from obscure band beloved by few to chart topper (iTunes Japan's electronica chart, to be exact). Not bad for a group that had a hard time distinguishing itself from its Shibuya peers.
How can you not love a singer like Toshiko who, on the track "dreamin dreamin," asks "Do you want to dance with me?" and states quite clearly that she "loves dreaming dreaming"? Not loving "Fruits Clipper" is like admitting you don't like to have fun — or that you don't have a heart.
'TEN SILVER DROPS' BY THE SECRET MACHINES (REPRISE/WEA)
It's hard to comprehend how The Secret Machines' newest record has gone under the radar. The band's first full-length album, "Now Here is Nowhere," was hyped to death by all the major music publications, but no one seems to be making much noise about this latest effort.
The band, from New York City by way of Dallas, was hailed by many as the next Pink Floyd (I realize Radiohead also gets this comparison) and gets high marks for its live show — though the band was playing small clubs, it toured with massive lighting rigs to give its audience an incredible audio and visual experience.
There are only three Secret Machines, but the trio manages to explore sonic spaces most wouldn't dare to venture into.
"I Hate Pretending" is the album's standout track, and "Lightning Blue Eyes" and "Faded Lines" aren't far behind. "Ten Silver Drops" works well as the soundtrack to late-night drives around the city — streetlights help the guitars glimmer and glow that much brighter.
'RAISED BY WOLVES' BY VOXTROT (CULT HERO)
Voxtrot is an example of the classic rock 'n' roll story — small band with no record label suddenly finds itself in the glaring media spotlight. Pitchforkmedia.com (the juggernaut of the indie music tastemaker set) and Spin magazine are very vocal supporters, and I'm proud to say I discovered the band before either of those outlets got to them. The band even requested to be my friend on MySpace — the only positive thing about the site.
The Voxtrot sound? A mash-up of New York hipsters the Strokes, sappy Glaswegian storytellers Belle and Sebastian and '80s mope heroes The Smiths.
"The Start of Something" is narrated by an underconfident young man wondering if a girl is interested in him or if he's just overanalyzing things. Sure, Voxtrot's bouncy guitars are pleasant enough, but it's Ramesh Srivastava's lyrics, speaking for the awkward, lovesick teenager in all of us, that really make the band endearing.