Monday, 28 January 2013

An ode to Japanese videogame/anime themes

Everyone has that ‘thing’ that means an awful lot to them. I’m not talking about treasured diaries or expensive jewellery handed down from parents – I mean the crazy, nuanced obsessions of your youth, the pieces of your formative years that end up becoming the glue that holds you together through the angst and fire of teenager-dom. The beautiful, messy dreams of geeky indulgencies or the sporting pursuits that take over every your every extracurricular minute – the things that become a release from homework pressures or the stress of sixth form cliques.

For me it was Final Fantasy, and before stuff like the return of Doctor Who in 2005 and my overall adoration of Girls Aloud in 2006 (still going strong six years later) came along, the games were that release. That place of fantastical solace where you could plough the four or so hours in-between finishing school and having dinner. Connections like that are bonds that never break – and like any all-consuming hobby or past-time, it’s never just about one aspect; just as with Final Fantasy, it was never just about the gameplay. For me, as I’m sure it is with countless thousands of others that love the games, it was about the storylines, the characters, the visuals, and – most importantly – the music.

Fastforward to 2011 and I’m going through my final year at Uni – looking back now, I probably didn’t realise it at the time, but it was one of the happiest times of my life. I was close to finishing my dissertation (which I ended up getting a first in) and I had the freedom of a positively luxurious halls complex to alternate between reading through my course’s set-texts, blogging about music and spending inordinate amounts of time on the Playstation. Enter Final Fantasy XIII-2 and its ten minute long Ending Theme – a neat compendium of the title’s central leitmotifs; each attached to a certain character, each seamlessly woven here into a sprawling, orchestral masterpiece.

Wait for the bit at 5:45. Doesn’t it just break your heart? But in a nice kind of way... the kind of way that reminds you of all those little hopes and moments of happiness you’ve carried with you all your life. There’s a drama to the track that’s positively operatic, and you wonder if any contemporary band could capture a little of that magic, do something on a scale like this, to deliver a record that could – maybe – go down as a The Power of Love or Unchained Melody of our generation?

There’s a reason why over twenty years on, the Final Fantasy games remain as successful as they do – they are the Bond franchise of their medium, the reliable old friend we turn to again and again in times of need. A collective of bloggers and internet hype pushes us ceaselessly toward a love of the ‘new’, but invariably, it’s the love of the established which delivers at the most fundamental level.

Secondly – something I’ve been indulging in a little more recently. The other week I made purchase of a certain Blu-Ray box set on Amazon – Code Geass: LeLouch of the Rebellion (ridiculous nomenclature is a given in Japanese anime – just ask fabled Studio Ghibli movie NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind).

That the series (in twenty-five glorious 25 minute long instalments) was brilliant is a given, and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in anime, but what surprised me more was the plethora of themes that the series switched through across its run. Frankly, not all of them are great, but the first – ‘Colours’, by the band FLOW – is magnificent; a characteristic tour de force of J Pop values that in a post-PSY world, makes me wish British radio tastes were more indulging in Eastern sounds.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

HavocNdeeD - Distoria EP

If you enjoyed the recent efforts from Enter Shikari and Korn, you might be rather partial to HavocNdeeD. A bit of a mouthful to say, but their music is pretty impressive, and their Distoria EP is out on the 10th July. Expect big, spacious soundscapes incorporating plenty of rock wobble and a surprising abundance of solid rock hooks. Think Chase & Status with more guitars, with just the right dose of ethereal mystique.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Bad Veins - Dancing On TV

Supporting We Are Scientists on tour feels like a fair fit for Cincinnati-based indie-poppers Bad Veins, as they take to the live circuit across the UK this July. There’s that same quirkiness underlying the guitar lines and cutesy hooks, a collegiate chic that runs through a gamut of tuneful American predecessors from the The Strokes to the Dandy Warhols. There’s knowing nods to the past in their video for single Dancing on TV too; a nostalgic penchant for outmoded games consoles and brash decor that suits the track well. UK radio may have moved on from the days when bands like Ban Veins were ten a penny, but it’s reassuring to know they still exist out there somewhere, still turning out unsuspecting gems like this.

The band play the following live dates through July and August:

23rd BRISTOL - Thekla
25th LONDON - The Garage
26th PORTSMOUTH - The Wedgewood Rooms
30th NORWICH - Arts Centre
31st MANCHESTER - Deaf Institute

1st GLASGOW - King Tuts

Friday, 15 June 2012

Calvin Harris feat. Example - We'll Be Coming Back

Calvin Harris must be rubbing his hands in glee right now. First Rihanna’s We Found Love – then Cheryl’s Call My Name... if things carry on at this rate he’ll be giving Mr Guetta a run for his money in terms of universal chart domination stakes.

But musically speaking, Example collab We’ll Be Coming Back feels a little like the sound of a man who’s already spent his load. Sure, all the trademark rave o’clock synth hooks and pill-popping drum fills are in place, but the song feels lifeless, a dry-run of a track that pales away into nothingness when stood alongside the artistic peaks both artists have previously shown themselves to be capable of.

Call My Name, We Found Love and Ne-Yo-featuring Let’s Go all worked because on top of all the standard dance trappings was an indelible sense of pop melody, the kind of thing to grip the mind not only into the early hours, but right on through to the next night. As both club smashes par-excellence and chart contenders, they were right on the money. We’ll Be Coming Back, why by no means a bad record, just doesn’t operate in the same league – we just hope this doesn’t mark the start of the Calvin formula entering a distinctly watered-down phase.

Released: 30th July

Cleo Sol - Never The Right Time (Who Do You Love)

Timeless soul diva or spritzy Spanish beverage? Cleo Sol could quite easily be both, but a perfunctory listen to her debut single affirms she is most definitely the former. Having already featured on tracks by some of the best in UK rap, the songstress goes it alone on the back of a grooved-up chunk of strutting R&B class. There’s something of a gloriously sunny mid 90s summer to the whole affair, quite the antidote to the rancid weather the UK has deigned to deliver us this June. Oh, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Sol spends much of the video working it out in a variety of figure-hugging outfits. There’s touches of old school Diana Ross there too, a passionate performance that goes far beyond early collabs with Tinie Tempah and Wretch 32, breaking free of her Ladbroke Grove roots and gearing up to take on the world.

Released: July 9th.

Hounds - Fan The Flames of Desire (Rob Jevons Remix)

‘I decided that this remix has to be a belter that people can go mental to’ says Rob Jevons of his remix of new Hounds track Fan The Flames of Desire – and belter it is, a throbbing slab of gristle and dub-laced power. Subtle, it is not – but then, you’d expect nothing less from a group fresh from an impressive slot at Download and gearing up to support The Prodigy at the Milton Keynes Bowl.

And it’s with The Prodigy that Hounds find their closest kin here – yelped, punky vocals clashing with a veritable battering ram of noise. With the likes of Enter Shikari and Korn already enjoying impressive returns from their delvings into the sub-sphere, Fan The Flames of Desire makes for a meaty appetiser for the group’s current EP release, The Wicked. 

[Official Video] Misha B - Home Run

Misha B IS attitude. A full-on force ten gale when so many of her fellow contestants from the X Factor school of 2011 were mere whimpers in the winds of popular music. And Home Run is everything that was great about her before disastrously poor song choice and tepid styling converted her into a caricature of herself.

The video makes for a neat fit to the track too, colourful and fun for the youth audience Misha is clearly gunning for, but with the accompanying slickness and production whizz to push her to the hipsters to. Dare we say it, Home Run could very well be the first tentative steps in the making of a British Minaj?

Released: 15th July.