Winery Dogs Unleashed in Japan (2013) [amazon - but $99]

Beauty-beauty-beautyfull concert recording. Graceful motions from the cameras and the band, cut and faded to magical effect, the tight depth of field maintained so elegantly that it may have been done in post, and everything steeped like teas in natural browns and greens.

Stills taken from the track “Regret”, my favorite by far on the disc. [youtube]

marty friedman | inferno (2014)

So I love (LOVE!) the Rust in Peace Megadeth lineup, of which Marty is a crucial crux, and I love Scenes (Marty’s ancient Kitaro-produced not-very-metal early 90’s solo album), and I love Danko Jones (who sings on two of Inferno’s songs) and Alexi Laiho (CoB) is awesome (and he’s both vocalizing AND guiterrorizing on a track  here… with Danko!) so… 

I like the track “Lycanthrope”, because it’s the only one with Alexi, who’s riffing manages to SLOW Marty THE FUCK down. And it’s got Alexi and Danko trading off vocal lines, not unlike Danko & Angela Gossow (ex-Arch Enemy) did to great success in “Couple Suicide” on that Annihilator album a few years back. 

But every other track on here is like Marty on meth. There’s a feeling he recorded the songs, then sped them up by 10%, just to give them more bang? Which wouldn’t be terrible except that everything feels very sterile and Pro-Tools’d to death — every beat and every note starts and ends EXACTLY where the math tells it too, robbing the songs of heart and soul and nuance and humanity.  So then you speed that up and it’s just like ROBOTS PLAYED THIS BEEP BOOP

I would love to hear a live recording of this album, and hear these songs rendered with the natural imperfections inherent in us all. Til then, I can only give it a…



immortalis | sukekiyo (2014)

[Limited Edition] / [Regular Edition]

Before I get to the actual review, I thought I’d take a moment to provide a context via some information about myself and my stance on Dir en grey. I started listening to VK/Dir en grey around age 16 (am now 27) and didn’t much mind their foray into heavier territories. That being said, Dir en grey to me is really about their pop sensibilities as displayed by the soaring chorus melodies they still reliably churn out.

For me, the release of Immortalis came at a time when the interest I showed in the band was probably at an all-time high, having bought several of their last releases and frequently reading translations of the band’s interviews over at the Dir en grey translation tumblr.

The first thing that struck me about Immortalis’ sound is that it’s very consistent with the desire for new means of expression Kyo has expressed in recent interviews (and made apparent by his forays into photography, drawing and whatnot). Listening to some of these songs, I feel like the band freed itself of the constraints of what listeners have come to expect not only from the band members themselves but music in general while still adhering to traditional song structures as seen fit. I won’t delude myself into thinking that there wasn’t a lot of thought put into this album but there is something free-flowing about these songs that makes me think the band members made just doing it a priority over any possible concerns for listening habits, composition rules or reproducibility in a live setting.

In terms of the actual songs, the album offers everything I could have hoped for given the members’ pedigree, and more. I was glad to discover that as a whole, this album is nowhere near as tame as the samples lead me to believe. Despite their often disjointed nature the songs mostly manage to retain a sense of cohesiveness and offer a muscular quality via the impeccable musicianship these guys bring to the table. There has been talk of the album being dense (with some unfavourable Gackt comparisons thrown in there as well) and while there certainly is a lot happening in some (not all) songs, I hardly ever found it distracting. If I had to criticise one thing, it would be some songs in the second half of the album lacking a sense of closure. Hemimetabolism, for instance, could have been awesome with a slightly more cathartic chorus (or coda, à la Rinkaku) but in the long run, I think I’ll like it more for that very reason.

To sum things up: in many ways, this is the Dir en grey album we never got (and likely never will), the most prominent being the fact that Dir en grey is a band with several strong egos vying for recognition, whereas sukekiyo is perhaps Kyo’s artistic vision in its purest, most unadulterated form. I could very well see this eventually becoming Kyo’s main band and having listened to Immortalis, the once-dreaded prospect of Dir en grey’s eventual dissolution suddenly isn’t that much of a scare anymore. For the moment, however, I consider myself blessed for having another band whose releases I’ll be looking forward to with the same fervour as Dir en grey.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite tracks: elisabeth addict, nine melted fiction (dat swagger!), zephyr, scars like velvet, hemimetabolism

iPhone 4S

My biggest peeve about the iPhone 4S is the small screen. It’s hard to type on, and it’s hard to read on.But has Apple effectively nullified these two objections?

The new Siri and speech-to-text functions have reduced the amount of typing I do by 90%. All I type now are passwords and the occasional japanese name. And Siri is SO HELPFUL for setting up reminders (“get milk tomorrow 7pm” / “okay.”)

Meanwhile, Safari Reader Instapaperizes/Reability-izes websites, making text large, contrasty, and serif’d. So text is, you know, READABLE on the too-tiny screen Apple still insists on using. 

I’m fond of the shape of the 4/4S too, compared to my 3rd gen Touch. 

Find My Friends works great. Haven’t tried Newstand (because the screen is too small!)

iBooks is faster but still too limited as far as the settings it allows. (No night mode is unforgiveable. I use BlueFire instead — at least until my Amazon Fire arrives. Got Colson Whitehead’s Zone One [zombies!] and Lionel Shrivener’s Game Control [mass depopulation!] queued up for when I finish Snowdrops. The Steve Jobs bio will probably cut that line.)


On the down side, in iOS5, podcasts and audiobooks are no longer transmitted to a monobluetooth earbud — you need stereo bluetooth equipment for those files to be transmitted (even with the “mono” setting under the Music tab activated, and even when said files are already in mono). Might as well just use wires and get tangled up in them twice a day every day. (Fun!)

Also, iPhone photos and videos are displayed UPSIDE DOWN in every Microsoft photo app I have (Picture Viewer, Media Center, etc.), but are okay in Quicktime and Photoshop. And the once-easy “rotate” function in Picture Viewer can’t rotate iPhone photos anymore!?! Seems like a Windows problem, except my Xacti and Fuji Finepix photos and videos still come out normal, everywhere. So that kind of majorly reduces the awesomeness of not needing to lug around a camera any more…

And regarding the aforementioned Safari Reader feature, the full webpage (ads and scripts and everything!) must load before the Reader option button appears. So it’s not saving you any time. And I still ain’t grokked haw to sync my Windows PC’s Safari Reading list to my iPhone (while Instapaper does it automagically).

Lastly, not having dedicated phone buttons is taking some getting used to. The screen goes dark while a recording is asking you to enter your 9-digit ID, the volume feels too low outdoors, it’s just a little awkward all around so far… but I make four calls a week, so I’ll live. 

EDIT: I forgot: I can’t download podcasts over Verizon, but I can stream them. Go figure.

[ Posted Mon, 24 Oct 2011 03:00:00 ]

review: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Coming off two years with an iPhone 4s, and I love this thing.

First, it’s big enough to really read on. Not just briefly read a tweet or listicle, but to actually READ, like, news and emails, of actual importance.

Second, SWYPE. So much better than pecking at individual keys, and it offers you ~choices~ among its predictions! Which is symbolic of the whole Apple vs Android thing.

Everyone calls these Note phone “gigantic” but they’re really not. They’re the right size for an adult’s hand and eyes. They fit in pants or jacket pockets, though I’ve taken to carrying mine in a Condor pouch [amazon] carabiner’d to a belt loop. 

The interface is speedy and smooth — I remember a couple years ago the Android phones were so jerky I eeeegh’d. No more! It’s Appley smooth.

Taking photos with this is great — the large screen makes it like you’re looking at the finished product. You can see if your subject is blinking!

Google Now kicks. siri’s. ass. In accuracy, speed, visual “yes, i’m listening” feedback… 

Getting your files s onto the device is drag-and-drop simplicity. NO iTUNES! :)

I like using the stylus at work, because you look like you’re entering important field data while all your iphone coworkers, tapping with sticky fingers, totally appear to be playing Candy Crush. 

All the apps I had on my iPhone are on my Note 3, except for Garageband, which I never used. Except, I’d like a decent offline Poker app (like Apple’s own 2008 Poker game that I bought and then they discontinued a year later so I had to install it from backups! Dicks!) and it took a while to find a really good podcast app (Pocketcasts, which I also used on my iPhone, was a bargain at $4, and the only app I had to buy outright.)

But there’s a couple imperfections.

I wish the power button wasn’t directly opposite the volume rocker, because when I squeeze the power button I inevitably squeeze the volume as well.

And in camera mode, I find I often brush my hand against the back “button” (it’s not a physical button but a touchpad sensitive thing), which closes the app when I’m trying to take a pic. But that’s happening less as I get used to that area being touch-sensitive and duly avoid it.

And I wish I could uninstall most of Samsung’s apps, but I’m not worried about space on this thing, so hiding them has been sufficient so far. 

Really glad I bought this thing. (Up front no less! $760 after tax, but on Ting, so monthly bills are ~$45/mo instead of $148/mo)


zigzo | shoudou(2013)

My recent rejuvenated obsession with Malice Mizer’s discography — particularly the short-lived Tetsu era — got me remembering that Tetsu didn’t fall off the planet. Never checked out any of his other bands until just now, so here we are with Zigzo which also features Sakura from L’Arc~en~Ciel / Creature Creature? Who knew?!

Not me!

This is no-frills rock along the lines of 9mm Parabellum Bullet, another band that I absolutely adore. There are definitely times where the drama queen tendencies of VK get to me, so I flip the coin for straight up hard driving rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a catchy poppiness to this song, but the best part is that while Tetsu has gained control of his voice over the years, there’s still that endearing wild abandon that shines through at the right moments. It provides just enough punk edge to keep it from being too cloying.

This song grabbed me pretty hard halfway through the first listen, and when I spun it again earlier today, my nearly-2-year old son rocked the fuck out for the entire thing! This is where I go back and check out the rest of these guys’ catalog.

12012 | the swan (2013)

Is there a greater anomaly in j-rock than 12012’s career right now? I don’t think I can recall any band that’s shifted stylistically this much and in such a short amount of time. When they went from heavy-but-distinctly-VK to sterile j-rock/pop it wasn’t too jarring, but when they came back last year PSEUDO ANGRY AS FUCK after a hiatus following a stint with choking women and losing a guitarist, it was seriously a shock. The band’s lone guitarist was struggling to produce the metal-est of riffs, but ultimately came up short, sounding like he had been digging through Kaoru’s trash can filled with scrapped ideas. Last year’s self-titled album and April’s Deicida of Silence mini were the sound of a band begging to be noticed by being… shocking, I guess? But then The Swan came out back in September, and I checked it out ready for another good laugh.

Man, this is actually okay!

I think the addition of the new second guitarist helped immensely here. It’s just a guess, but I think they sought out someone that had a better grasp of the metal scene than they possibly could. His thick, machine gun chugging in the chorus of the title track provide the much needed depth that was sorely missing in last two releases. Too bad it’s pushed all the way to the left channel and almost buried in the mix.

The second track “Karma”, opens with an acrobatic drum fill and then friggin’ blast beats! This is not what I was expecting! And then there’s “Deadly Circus”, which stomps in with as much American heavy metal swagger as it can muster, sounding like it could have come from a Lamb of God album. The remaining tracks, “Gekkou” and “Black Rain" didn’t grab me the same way as the others, but they didn’t have me rushing to hit stop, either.

Negatives? Of course – a big one: Wataru.

This guy is not cut out for harsh vocals, which is made evident by the fact that his voice gets shoved under filters and effects whenever he growls or screams. And, for whatever reason, the lyrics on this mini are like 95% English. Well written English, yes, but Wataru’s thick accent isn’t doing the words he’s singing any favors. When he repeats “I want to find the answers” in “The Swan”, it sounds more like “I wanna find the assholes.” Which, hey, I guess is just as good a lyric anyway.

12012 isn’t out of the woods yet, but what they do have going for them right now is that they’re no longer stealing from the Dir en grey wholesale like Sadie is, and they aren’t just being laughable like Nega was (though they were getting pretty close to that). I think they realize that if they’re going to stick with this style, then they need to take it seriously. I closed my review of Deicida of Silence by saying I didn’t think 12012 had much life left in them. I may have been wrong. This is the product of a band that’s sincerely trying.