On Avex, Idols, "Dance and Vocal" Groups and Tokyo Girls' Style

Damn long post title is long.

Anyway, today I'm going to share my thoughts on what I think of as the "Avex Model" of idols. Recently they've sort of broken out of this model by launching Idol Street, a few groups who are more idol-like idols than Avex's normal, dance and vocal shtick. However, when I think of Avex I always think of groups like MAX, AAA, later SPEED, SweetS, and nowadays TGS, Dream5 and Fairies.

I'll admit, this type of music doesn't usually do much for me. Much of it is too urban, and I'm never too keen on that. Also, it used to seem to me that too much effort was wasted on ensuring the beat was danceable, and then they skimped like hell on the actual musical bits. However, of late, I've had to amend my thoughts a bit.

You might remember a while back I reviewed a bunch of idol albums I'd been neglecting. In amongst that was the debut album of Tokyo Girls' Style. I didn't give it a particularly good review, indeed, it was the lowest of those on that post. However, there were definite standout moments amongst the moments of mediocrity, such as the still amazingly beautiful Sayonara, Arigatou and the amazing funkiness and chorus of Himawari to Hoshikuzu.

Fast forward rather a bit more. A few months back my bandmate, who usually sticks to his comfort zone in idol music, namely oldschool H!P stuff and a smattering from elsewhere, actually recommended something to me that I'd never heard before, rather than the other way around. It was Dream5's frankly disturbingly amazing COME ON! It managed to do what I hadn't up until that point been entirely sure was actually possible. It had mixed a driving beat which lent itself to a dance even I paid attention to (and that's impressive, there are very few dances that can do that to me, because I have no fucking clue what to look for in a dance) yet also had a nice techno driven tune, and the greatest chord progression in the history of music in the chorus. Not bad going.

Even more recently, I randomly heard what can only be described as TGS' tribute to Sigh in the frankly astoundingly win Bad Flower.

Then I saw the DVD for Sasshi's Idol Event, Yubi Matsuri, which featured TGS. They actually seemed to be human, rather than the emotionless robots I expected. I decided to do some more research... And the rest, as they say, is history. I grabbed the latest two TGS albums I'd not heard yet and pressed play. Now I'll review them so I can see if my slightly revised view of Avex has had any effect.


FAKSM #22: When America Gets It Right

So, metal. America sucks at it.

Yes, I said it. Honestly, I've never been too keen on any American metal bands. They have had a lot of influence, and several of their "scenes" have been at the forefront of mainstream consciousness (hello Metallica, hello Limp Bizkit, hello Trivium), yet artistically I've honestly never found any American metal band who grabbed me by the balls and ran me through the rinser for more than one album.

I'll run through some. Thrash Metal, innovated by British legends Venom, found its niche in the Bay Area scene, boasting such "luminaries" as Metallica, Exodus, Possessed and Testament. Yet these, and the subsequent extra bands that make up the "big four", Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, never reached the heights of musical quality that their rather more interesting German counterparts managed. Granted, Slayer's Reign in Blood was good, as was Metallica's Ride The Lightning. But after that American thrash went downhill in a big way and yet Sodom and Kreator are still making thrash albums that are thrash and not shit. Hell, I even preferred Bathory's two thrash albums in the mid-90s to most American thrash.

Death Metal tells a similar tale. I cannot stand Obituary or Morbid Angel. Oddly, Death and Atheist actually turned out pretty good, but even so musically I find American death metal lags severely behind the superior Polish scene, as well as some of the less-sucky Swedish death metal (Opeth stand out) and most Finnish death metal.

The biggest offender though, is black metal. There has not been a single amazing American Black Metal band. People used to tell me to listen to a band they described as the "American Burzum", a one-man project called Xasthur. Would that I hadn't. It is quite honestly the least interesting metal I've ever heard. Here, try some. I also heard good things about Wolves in the Throne Room, but that just left me bewildered that anyone would release it. On the more melodic side you have Abigail Williams, who sound basically like Cradle of Filth meeting Dragonforce in a bar fight; Eyes of Noctum, the band of Nicolas Cage's son, which is a Dimmu Borgir clone but even worse; and Dragonlord, which is Testament moonlighting as a black metal band. To be fair, they do a better job at it than any other American black metal band I've heard except one, a band called Veneficum whose first album was actually interesting. Then there was a 7 year wait until their second album, which was rather less amazing.

However, the dearth of good metal from America now seems to be over, broken by none less than a progressive black metal band. Unfortunately they're not stylistically similar to Enslaved, but they most certainly rule. Their name is Xanthochroid.

Stylistically, they remind me mostly of a mashup between Emperor and Opeth. They have shades of Opeth's gloriously deep and luscious melodies, and Emperor's musical "chill" that manages to make even beautiful passages of music sound grim and frostbitten. Then they add folk and epic orchestral passages and end up with possibly the most glorious self-released album ever.

I present to you, Blessed He With Boils.

[audio:http://www.intlwota.com/metalhead/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Xanthochroid-Blessed-He-With-Boils-2012-02-Blessed-He-With-Boils.mp3|titles=Xanthochroid - Blessed He With Boils (2012) - 02 Blessed He With Boils]