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The Best Stuff of 2006, Hamster Style

The Two Best Things I Heard This Year

Will, incidentally, begin with a tribute album to Nirvana. All Apologies is a tribute album by 12 Japanese acts of a subject they clearly share a passion for. Tribute albums in general are funny things. It's always such a random mix of stuff you kind of hope, if you know the band in question, that someone reinterpreted something in ways that'll blow your mind. On the other end of things, if you've never heard of the band they're covering before, but followed bands you know and like to a tribute album, you start praying nothing you've never heard isn't going to make your ears explode.

In my case, and particularly because this is Nirvana we're talking about, finding this album was the proverbial pleasant surprise. The bands who contributed clearly knew the material they were covering. Reinterpretations were not, for the most part, revolutionary. But I didn't get the idea people were blindly copying an old sound, or trying to be Nirvana. I got the idea this was an album about people enjoying themselves, playing music they liked as much as I did, their way. It's rare that I run into a tribute album without finding at least one song (usually well over half the songs) a complete murder of someone's memory. This album was all good. It's rare.

The songs below are what I considered the best tracks on the album (by order of coolness). They're not an all-inclusive sample of the entire sound. Picking even this stuff was hard. I didn't include that cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit that sounded like Green Day. Or the Art-School's kumbayah-esque About a Girl. Or The Salinger's dramatic comedy with Lithium that made me laugh. Or even Semi Shigure's trippy, catchy, harmonica-inside a sunflower-festooned lunchbox of Molly's Lips.

Blew (Miyavi)- Miyavi has a voice that is all gravel and dirt. His acoustic guitar is always violent, always passionate, always masterful chaos. He knows how to make his voice work for his music, and I will never, ever hate anything he does on an acoustic guitar. With that violent, awesome acoustic guitar pounding his voice into your brain, Miyavi is channelling the Kurt Cobain. And he's got even more spittle stuck down his throat than Kurt, it's amazing. As the closing song of the entire album, it rocked.

Scentless Apprentice (Hige) - This is the creepiest cover ever. I first heard it quite late in the night. I spent the rest of the night looking over my shoulder. It starts off awesome heavy machinery clunking and tunelessly folksy acoustic guitars. About 10 seconds later, in comes the defintion of voiceless screaming. So awesome. It gives me chills.

Pennyroyal Tea (Dr. Strange Love) - A civil reenactment of the original, if there ever was one. Makes me think of tea parties in the middle of a rock concert, with pinky up toasts and white linen above crowds of bouncing strangers. I'm probably strange that way. But still, the disassociated voice, the tiredness of it, the ennui, against a controlled burn of guitars, like in All Apologies (see below) -- something about it wants to be heard.

Rape Me (detroit7) - This track says, "Find the band that did this, hunt them down and listen to their stuff." That vocalist is something else nasal-creepy. She makes the lyrics plead for your pity and your shame. Starts off deceptively gentle, and goes off the deep end from there into explosions of beautiful guitar noise.

Polly (Kazuya Yoshii) - I love Kazuya Yoshii. He has a rather nasal voice, but it has the magical ability to veer between the sexiest manly pleasantries and these stunning high registers. I've heard a lot of him since The Yellow Monkey, and I'm still surprised by what he can do with that voice, what new surprises he can pull. This version of Polly is somewhat similar to the acoustic live version from Unplugged in New York. That's not surprising, given how much Yoshii-san likes acoustic guitars. It's a very pleasant ride, slightly stronger than the original version, less of a whispered monologue, more of a conversation. The beat on this is pronounced, a sort of clappy campfire-along -- could get a bit off-putting by how loud it gets. The ghostly chorus that pops up near the end is a treat.

All Apologies (Lunkhead) - The title and opening track of this album. It's an impressive cover. The vocalist's shouts are that right amount of rasp and worn down. When he gets to "All in all is all we are," the frustration is palpable. So it's good.

The other thing I've been listening to all year is the Audreys' debut Between Last Night and Us. I first heard Taasha Coates on the RockWiz show over on SBS, singing Oh Honey, and I kept thinking, who are you woman, and why are you singing these scandalously sexy things into my ears? Such a smooth voice. I vowed to go hunt down this band the minute the song ended.

Each song on Between Last Night and Us is a story, a wonderful play of delightfully naughty lyrics and Coates' bittersweet chocolate voice, polite enough to go under the radar, but delicious enough to want a spanking. It's folksy bluesy acoustic rock -- wonderful acoustic guitars, twangy banjos, peacable pianos, playful violins -- the heavy dull thuds of a pumpjack or a hatchet. The sound is defined by the band itself in sage words from Banjo and Violin: " I've gone a bit country since I met you baby/ I used to be so rock-n'-roll..."

My favourite track off Between Last Night and Us is You & Steve McQueen, a come hither, Catholic schoolgirl in a pleated skirt number craving for some poor young chap -- or maybe it's an older woman seeking a bit of yearling meat -- hard to tell, and I'm not sure I really want to know that much.

Banjo and Violin is almost a tango in a dingy dance hall, quite easy to imagine the people in the conversation swirling around each other, getting awfully close.

Nothing Wrong With Me slides along, shimmies along, it's like a silver of fish: "There's nothing wrong with me/ Maybe there's something with you."

Long Ride gets under my skin and under my consciousness when I'm thinking. It defines this album for me -- a good long thinker. It's easy to listen to this when you're busy, but just as awesome to listen to this with nothing to do.

Oh Honey just exists to mess up your head.

And yes, I do recommend you go seek the rest!

The Two Coolest Anime Shows

Ergo Proxy - The awesome season starter. I haven't had this much difficulty watching a show since Gilgamesh. It's dark. It's dystopic. It's character driven, which always works for me. The plot can't be told. The entire narrative style blows the mind, surprises and beguiles. The animation evokes deep, desperate feelings. The opening sequence is the opening sequence to eat the heads of all other opening sequences.

Beck - I had this on my "To Watch" list for years and I finally grabbed it, ironically, because I was lured by the rock music. Which I might as well have done, since Beck (no relation to the singer) is all about the rock music. The animation is awesomeness. Like Evangelion, it's the soundtrack and backgrounds that really work the story out. I'm having no small amount of fun reading the signage on street corners, like the gigantic romantic movie poster shouting "Moroi" (Fragile) the moment a character finds love. It's that kind of horribly adolescent growing pains-type of show. The characters are great. Beck is the rise and fall of a rock band, charting the lives of its young band members from middle school to adulthood. There is awesome guitar music. There are covers and appearances and cheap shots. There is The Pillows. And there is Beat Crusaders, whose total emo cover of Sowelu's Moon on the Water was what led me here. (Apart from mokie saying I should've watched this yesteryear.) It is awesomeness personified.

The Two Coolest Movies

Stereo Future - It's warped. It's a corny samurai movie. It's the funniest use of Bruce Lee since Larvell Jones' weirdities from Police Academy. It's a love story. It's art. Most of all, it's funny.

Mononoke Hime - I finally watched it. Even I can't believe it took so long. This is Miyazaki Hayao's greatest work. It is also, I suspect, his moment of cynicism, a moment where, consumed by pure rage and loss, we are allowed to see the downward spiral of the peaceful, humanistic and environmentally harmonious philosophies that pervade his work. It is the most violent movie I have ever seen him make. Perhaps the only Ghibli film that openly shows blood as the result of war. More violent than that are the ravages of man against nature, but also of nature against man. Many of the themes Miyazaki-sensei is known for -- rational feminism, strong female characters, ideal children, environmental concern, universal harmony and world peace, are there, more intensely than they have appeared anywhere else. It is easy to sense the revulsion of the creator in human fallacies here. But it is just as easy to give in to Miyazaki's essential sense of hope -- the core of all his messages to everyone. Mononoke Hime's ending seems to suggest that death is inevitable, for the elderly, death is something that happens, and we renew from it. More than that, it tells us that there are many kinds of wins, and this includes the difficult ones where we all won't get what we want.

If nothing else, rattling forest dough boy spirit things are CREEPY.

The Coolest Manga

Bleach - I have to mention this, is awesome. Awesome swordfighting drama. I have spoken of its Fashion, its Characters and Sheer Style before. For it is nearly a thing beyond werds.

Many manga were read. Many were good. But not enough were awesome to make this a list of two.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
whoo-hoo! sampling fun!

I must admit - I think I'm a little afraid of the banjo so I only took a few of The Audreys to try. The vocalist has a very nice voice but she's reminding me of someone else whose name and face escapes me at the moment.
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:23 am (UTC)
Sampling fun! Did you try any of the Nirvana covers? Hige's cover of Scentless Apprentice reminds me of MUCC...that stuff you kids are listening to these days...which is kind of ironic, being that you're still older than me and I still can't understand why! ;P

Banjos usually freak me out too.
Jan. 3rd, 2007 02:17 pm (UTC)
I'm listening to the Nirvana covers now. I must admit that I never listened to Nirvana beyond the singles they had put out. I couldn't listen to Hige all the way through. It was... *lacks the words*

And hey! I don't listen to MUCC! :P
They're a little too hard for me. And I can't get past the sound of Tatsurou's voice... which is a weird thing to say considering that I really like Merry and not Gara's voice. (in my defense, I only listen to their more recent stuff) Maybe it's an issue of sound production, I don't know.

that stuff you kids are listening to these days...which is kind of ironic, being that you're still older than me and I still can't understand why!
Ooh, cheekiness! ;)
Jan. 9th, 2007 05:50 am (UTC)
I only started getting into Nirvana very late into my youth...what remained of it by the time I got to them. It happened that I really liked their MTV Unplugged CD. :)

MUCC and Merry are bands I just can't get into. It's the wrong cup of tea, I fear. Which makes me feel a bit old, since, like, all these young people on my flist are listening to stuff I don't understand! *ducks*
Jan. 9th, 2007 03:13 pm (UTC)
Nirvana was my junior high school years. Well, that's when "smells like teen spirit" came out anyway. I remember watching MTV and they were running subtitles on the video because no one could figure out what Kurt was moaning out. The Unplugged perfomance was great though. I think I developed a small crush on Dave Grohl after that. Not that it means anything seeing as I don't listen to the Foo Fighters. (aside - the Stone Temple Pilots Unplugged was very good too! but I suspect that was never released as an album)

I can't get into Merry's earlier stuff, but I love the last two albums (the only exception is "Japanese Modernist"). And I still don't listen to MUCC!
Meanwhile, I can't get into The Pillows. ;)
Jan. 13th, 2007 02:50 pm (UTC)
I've never heard the Stone Temple Pilots, which is a bizarre thing, but I haven't heard a lot of stuff I was supposed to for my age. I should go look 'em up. Nothing attracts me more to new stuff than acoustic versions!

The Pillows have awesome songs and one Truely Awesome Album amidst a lot of stuff that sounds peculiarly the same. They are also the only band I've ever heard who have not one, but TWO, TWO songs with hamsters in it. And one of those songs is actually *about* a hamster, pining at the moon from its miserable habitrail. And so I loves them. ;)
Jan. 15th, 2007 04:45 am (UTC)
STP's first single - Plush - was one that never paid much attention to until they did an Unplugged. I'd recommend downloading that one. There was another song that I always liked but the name totally escapes me at the moment.

They are also the only band I've ever heard who have not one, but TWO, TWO songs with hamsters in it.
That explains it! ;)
Jan. 15th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks! One of these days, I need to put up Lesser Hamster in Blue, which is nutly cheery, but actually depressing lyrically. That poor little hamster!
Jan. 2nd, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
what a minute... where did you get an acoustic version of 3 Libras? O_O
Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:24 am (UTC)
eMule. I usually wander around deliberately looking for acoustic versions of everything. :)
Jan. 3rd, 2007 02:10 pm (UTC)
I don't suppose you could send it to me? *puppy dog eyes*
Jan. 9th, 2007 05:36 am (UTC)
Hrm. Check yer mail. ;)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )