Number Girl releases DVD box set in September


Number Girl will release a DVD box set on Sept. 28. The 4-disc set includes complete footage of the band’s previous live albums, Shibuya Rocktransformed Jootai and Sapporo Omoide In My Head Jootai (last live), plus other special programming. The box set continues the reissue campaign, Omoide In My Head Project, started to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the band’s formation. Number Girl disbanded in 2002.

Nomiya Maki, m-flo collaborate on new single


Ex-Pizzicato Five singer Nomiya Maki will release a new collaborative single with m-flo titled “Big Bang Romance”. The single hits stores on Sept 7. and will be billed under the name “Nomiya Maki love m-flo”. The new single also contains a remix from Nipopo from the pop group Tongari Kids, who recorded the single “B-Dash”. Nomiya and m-flo previously collaborated on the song “Cosmic Night Run”, different versions of which appeared on both their previous albums. The song was later remixed by Sunaga Tatsuo.

Pretty little picture

Kudos to PS Classics for including in the liner notes a quote that will be excerpted in every review of Sondheim Sings, Vol. 1, 1962-1972. So states Stephen Sondheim in 1971:

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of hearing my voice before, I tend to sing very loud, usually off pitch and always write in a keys that are just out of my range.

Sondheim’s estimation of his singing voice may be on target, but his gruff delivery sounds like he’d be great at karaoke. Not that he’d need a karaoke machine to back him up — he’s an incredible pianist, as this first volume of Sondheim’s personal demo tapes demonstrates.

In Meryle Secrest’s 1999 biography of Sondheim, the composer noted how he wasn’t an orchestrator, leaving that job mostly to Jonathan Tunick. But Tunick usually had his work cut out for him — Sondheim’s piano scores had enough material from which to draw.

The most telling track is a private performance of “The Glamorous Life” (from A Little Night Music) in front of guests. Sondheim explains the staging of the song to his audience while not missing a beat of his incredibly full accompaniment. It’s tough to imagine one person doing everything in this track.

The remaining tracks on Sondheim Sings, Vol. 1 were recorded by a friend with enough money to invest in home recording gear at the time. We’re not talking ProTools here — the use of reverb on some of recordings is a surprising embellishment.

Sondheim enthusiasts will no doubt find this album a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of his work. PS Classics annotates the material well, noting which songs were cut from which show and where lyrics have alternate versions.

Thing is, I’m only familiar with his latter-day work, so I have no real point of reference for most of this material. The notes are helpful in this regard.

It’s easy to see how A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum went through two different opening songs — “Invocation” and “Love Is in the Air” — before settling on “Comedy Tonight”.

“Multitudes of Amys” has some clever wordplay that teeters on annoying, but it’s interesting to see how bits of it worked its way into “Marry Me a Little”. Both were scrapped in favor of “Being Alive”.

Still, there’s something special about hearing a guy who would write music sung by hundreds of performers doing it himself.

And if the tongue-twisting aliterations of “Pretty Little Picture” are any gauge, that’s an amazing feat. (Amazing from my haphazard training, at least.)

There are about 74 demos in Sondheim’s library, which means more volumes in this series are forthcoming. So waiting will be the hard part.

Lisa makes guest appearance on next m-flo album


Among the many collaborators working with m-flo on its next album to be released on Aug. 24 is a familiar face — Lisa. The band announced its original singer will join Sowelu, Bennie K, Kahimi Karie, Emyli, Yoshika and Wada Akiko on its new album, titled Beat Space Nine. m-flo begins a nationwide tour in support of the album in October.

Dragon Ash releases new album in September


Dragon Ash releases its sixth album on Sept. 7. The still-untitled album is expected to contain 14 tracks, including the pre-release singles “crush the window” and “Yuunagi Nation”. The new album is anticipated to continue the band’s trademark combination of hip-hop, rock, drum ‘n’ bass and electronica. First edition pressings will include a secret password for Mobnet members. Dragon Ash performs at the Rock in Japan festival on Aug. 5 and at Rushball on Aug. 28.

True breadth

When previous editions of the Japan for Sale series were released, mainstream music was dominated by teen pop and nü metal. Underground tastes were splintered at the time, but if generalizations could be made, those tastes could lumped into the umbrellas of indie rock and electronica.

Sony Music hedged its bets on electronica as the “underground” music likely to crossover and stacked the track listings on the Japan for Sale compilations accordingly.

But in the recession of teen pop and nü metal from popular taste, indie rock emerged not as a driving cultural force but as a diffused common ground, where the likes of the White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand and the Flaming Lips can achieve the same amount of success and remain distinct from one another.

Electronica, on the other hand, has had a difficult time shaking its association with a club culture driven by the drug Ecstacy.

With Japan for Sale, Vol. 4, Sony Music plays catch-up and showcases the diversity of Japan’s underground rock scene. It’s about time.

There are only so many ways a four-on-the-floor dance beat can be repackaged, and I don’t have a subtle enough ear to distinguish Takkyu Ishino from Ken Ishii and Kyoto Jazz Massive. At least DJ Krush has enough sense to bring guest performers on his ambient hip-hop adventures.

The first three tracks of Vol. 4 alone jump among some drastic styles. Tommy heavenly6, the second alter ego of the brilliant green singer Kawase Tomoko, offers some pop-friendly grunge on “Swear”. Rhymester immediately follows with a rapid-fire rap on “The Great Amateurhythm”. Then Guitar Wolf blasts through with the garage rock fury of “Can-nana Fever”.

The rest of the disc doesn’t let up, either. Asian Kung-Fu Generation does a better Weezer than Weezer on “N.G.S.” Boom Boom Satellites demonstrate how rock guitars and electronica can drive each other on “Dive for you”, and Kokeshi Doll finishes things off with the wonderfully disturbing “Hasuike no Uta”.

Some choices on Vol. 4 are curious. “baby beautiful” is a tender selection from ex-Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her mastermind Higurashi Aiha, but it’s not the best track from her solo debut Born Beautiful.

Mean Machine’s “Johnny Back” is a terrific inclusion on the compilation, but the one-off project featuring singer-songwriter Chara and Judy and Mary’s Yuki has been on hiatus. Its one-off album, Cream, is currently out of print.

“lang” wonderfully demonstrates the adventurousness of ACO’s most recent work, but the single “Machi” from her album irony would have been a natural choice.

A few tracks show Japan’s off-kilter tastes. Orange Range’s “Shanghai Honey” sounds like a mutated version of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”. L’Arc~en~Ciel’s “Ready Steady Go” is a maniacally bouncy tune, and Polysics continues its quest as Most Annoying Band in the Universe with “Kaja Kaja Goo”.

Japan for Sale, Vol. 4 is so far the strongest installment of this series. The program stays interesting throughout by jumping among a number of different styles, and the true breadth of the world’s second largest music market is finally revealed.

There goes a Supernova

Rock music is fleeting.

When it was released in 1999, Supernova Vol. 1 “Uni” was a showcase for emerging Japanese rock bands. “Vol. 1” in the title implies there would be more editions of this compilation. There hasn’t.

Of the five bands featured on the disc, two of them didn’t produce much more after making their contributions. One band broke up. The other two have persisted, with a few line-up changes.

Still, the Hoppy Kamiyama-produced Supernova brings together artists similar only in their distinctiveness.

Number Girl starts the collection off with its live staple “Samurai”. The song doesn’t appear on any of the band’s studio albums — nor does the accompanying track “Wei?” — so Supernova is the only recording to contain studio versions of these songs.

Number Girl sounds positively fresh on these tracks, recorded around the time the band signed its major label deal. Mukai Shuutoku was just beginning to come into his own as a performer, his vocals a powerful force compared to his timid indie work.

The original incarnation of eX-Girl contributes “Gween-Kong-Gee”, which was re-recorded for its US debut, Back to the Mono Kero! The newer version of the song is punchier, but even here, the trio proudly struts its quirkiness.

“Hey-Ann-Kyo”, meanwhile, is classic eX-Girl, full of whimsical screams, bizarre flourishes and mangled lyrics in foreign languages.

Yo!Go’s, on the other hand, filter Deep Purple through a psychedelic lens on “Sunshine Yororei Love”, while “Elvis” imagines the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll come back from the grave.

Smile Like Dog, described as “Pizzicato Five meets Violent Onsen Geisha” by Sister/Benten Records, combines a manic techno beat with Polysics-like synthesizer effects and banjo on “Kung-Fu Shirts”, while on “Shoodon”, the band throws in a few profanities with its ukeleles and Hawaiian steel guitar.

King Brothers finishes the album off with its special brand of disintegrated garage rock. The band doesn’t so much write songs as much as they play loud as fucking possible. “Mach Club” and “Tama wo Uritobase!” make Guitar Wolf sound like Yanni in comparrison.

Supernova Vol. 1, “Uni” is a terrific snapshot of five bands asserting their creative identities, at a time when the future was all they had.

But the future eventually turns into the past, and the same disc which heralded the arrival of new talent now serves as a post of what was and what could have been.

Smile Like Dog and Yo!Go’s don’t seem to be anywhere anymore. King Brothers are still terrorizing live audiences with its manic music, while eX-Girl travels the world as ambassadors from the Planet Kero.

Number Girl split up in 2002, its members scattered among their own projects, but the band left such a bold legacy, its former label embarked on an ambitious reissue campaign in 2005.

Regardless of such changes, Supernova Vol. 1 “Uni” maintains its freshness. It’ll take another few years before this music sounds dated.

Buffalo Daughter, DMBQ solo project releases album


A solo project featuring members of Buffalo Daughter and DMBQ releases its self-titled debut album on July 27. Sugar Yoshinaga from Buffalo Daugther teamed up with DMBQ’s Yoshimura Yoshika in 2000 to form Metalchicks. The duo built a reputation for its energetic live shows and opened for Sonic Youth. Yoshinaga plays heavy metal-style guitar over Yoshimura’s multi-layered drum rhythms, resulting in a mix of metal and New Wave dance music.

Tommy heavenly6 releases debut album in August


Tommy heavenly6 will release her self-titled debut album on Aug. 24. In addition to a regular edition, a limited edition pressing with a DVD will also be released on the same day. the brilliant green singer’s second solo project has taken three years to complete, with one single released each year since the project began. Each of those singles are expected to appear on the full-length release. To precede the release of the album, Tommy heavenly6’s official web site is offering a trial listening of her newest single, “Ready?”

Utada Hikaru releases new single in September


Utada Hikaru will release a new single, “Be My Last”, on Sept. 28. The title track serves as the theme song for the movie, Haru no Yuki. Two editions of the single will be released simultaneously — a regular CD-only edition and a limited CD + DVD edition containing a promotional clip for the song. It’s been 17 months since the release of Utada’s previous Japanese-language single, “Dare ka Negai ga Kanau Koro”, which also served as the theme song for the movie Casshern.