Year in Review 2013: Life, the Universe, and Everything

So, at last we come to the end of the gloriously monotonous year that was 2013. In this post I'll strip away the pretty facade of idoldom and lay bare the ugly truth: 42.

Anyway, randomness aside. This year has seen some idol success, some idol failures, and lots of cracks in the veneer that makes up the whole wota/idol symbiosis. As I haven't the time, inclination or beer to do my usual "review fucking everything then give out awards" year in review, I'll just do the awards and then flame everyone in the meantime. So here we go again, remember to have your mouse handy to hover over the text so you can click on links.

Biggest Twat of 2013

I mean, seriously. Morning Musume '14? Get off your drugs, put some clothes on and get back in your study and work on some not shitty music. Okay, Momusu and C-ute had some decent stuff this year. Berryz and S/mileage sucked like usual. And Juice=Juice went all sexy saxman saxogram on us, but it can still be a shitload better. Now get to work.

Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing Award

Babymetal continued to ruin me this year. Megitsune was weird, heavy, and actually pretty damn win. It even inspired me to write a song about Moa tormenting Su-metal for all eternity, sacrificing Yui to Satan and becoming Empress of the Universe. Because she's fucking brutal. And so is this song.

Best Photobook of 2013

My first instinct for this award was to give it to Kojima Fujiko, one of my favourite actresses and seemingly an utterly indolent wastrel at heart. Her photobook FUJIKO was full of amazing shots and Fujiko herself doing some things a lot of young actresses wouldn't do. However, this plan was scotched when I realised the release date was the 15th of December. Last year. Well, bollocks, I thought. My second instinct was to jointly award it to two idols, who both had acceptable photobooks released this year, namely Shimazaki Haruka (whose tedious existence doesn't cause quite as much suffering in photographic form as it does in video) and Ishida Ayumi. However, Paruru, Komaru had a fair share of frankly cheap production, and Ayumi's eponymous release, whilst showing off her deliciousness quite well, suffered from the same lighting problems as most H!P photobooks and a disturbing bit of plagiarism. In which case the title falls to Tokyo Girls' Style's Eien. Shot with much the same subdued style as their music videos, it was well-lit, well-exposed, well-metered and in general pretty. Proving that one doesn't need to be in a bikini to make a good photobook. As for photospam, I have none. It's damn hard to find online (in fact impossible), so I'll leave it up to your wallet or imagination.

Biggest Letdown of 2013

I'm torn, as there were several. The Meads of Asphodel's 2010 album The Murder of Jesus the Jew was amazing. Their followup Sonderkommando, set in concentration camps, was not amazing. It was pretty dreary actually. It wasn't terrible but there weren't a great amount of standout moments of pure genius. Another letdown was Momoclo. Their second album wasn't terrible by any means, but considering the first album and the singles from the second album it should have been a lot better than it was. Thirdly, Ayreon's new album, whilst actually pretty good, still wasn't fucking out-of-this-world amazing, which, from Arjen, you sort of expect by default. So yes, musically not a terrible year, but my hopes ended up being higher than the material that eventually arrived.

Comeback of 2013

Nacchan! After getting fired for a scandal at the beginning of last year, they announced this year that the election would be open for graduates as well. She entered, became the only one of the former members to rank (at #62), and then has kept her G+ open since. She's also been a part of the WH7 get togethers of late (considering Komori retired) and now they've announced a WH7 final concert, which I imagine she'll be a part of. Not bad considering the cloud she graduated under.

Top Music Videos of 2013:

This one is a bitch to decide. Unlike the last two years, nothing really jumps out at me and punches me in the face. I've narrowed it down to two, neither from idols. I'll let you decide after explaining why each is in the frame.

This video is fucking beautiful, as I'd really expect as it's the same guy who directed last year's winner, Solstafir's Fjara. However, unlike the Solstafir video, where the video matched the pace and tone of the music, this really doesn't. With the theme of the video (a recreation of a Norse saga revolving around a brother and sister falling afoul of Loki's not-so-very-charming children [which include Fenrir, Hel and Jormungandr]) being very dark, the bouncy folkiness of the song on top is a little jarring. Still, the sexy cinematography is worth it. I swear if I ever want a video done for my band I'm going straight to Bowen Staines.

Ah, Chthonic. Who else would invade a KMT/Nazi party and assassinate everyone? Stylishly done, and the choreography makes a nicely weird change from the usual metal fare. The fight choreo is well done too, far more realistic-looking than in their Defenders of Bu-Tik Palace video from the same album (which looked more like a Zhang Yimou wuxia film than a music video). Perfectly sums up violence, which is their theme for the Bu-Tik album.

Which is better? You tell me.

Best "Holy Shit I Just Jizzed in My Pants" Four Chord Progression of 2013:

That opening... chills every time. (So, the album was from 2012 but the PV was uploaded in January so it counts.)

Best Metal Scream of 2013:

If you haven't figured it out yet, I fucking love Fuki's voice.

Best "When Did Herman Li Start Moonlighting for Japanese Producers?" Guitar Solo In An Idol Song of 2013:

As I sat on a cold train platform in Basingstoke in early November this year, I remembered thinking to myself, "I've had this Afilia Saga album for ages now but haven't actually listened to it yet. I guess I shall." What followed on the first track was pretty bogstandard, even the beginning of the solo. Then suddenly tapping and sweeping and wtf. Unfortunately the rest of the album wasn't amazing either, to the extent I didn't even bother to review it.

 Best Genre Crash of 2013:

Depagumi Inc. are always delightfully nuts, but never moreso than when they fuck around genres even more than Momoclo and come up with crazy shit like this that make me happy for some really peculiar reason.

Best "When Did Arjen Lucassen and Yasutaka Nakata Start Collaborating?" Song of 2013:

9nine, I love you and all, but this is really quite intriguing. That riff is more Ayreon than anything even from the new album (except maybe the title-subtrack), and it reminds me in places of Perfume-ish technopop, so I guess it's secretly a collaboration.

Best "I Think Spraying White Fluid From A Head Situated In Your Crotch May Require Medical Attention" PV of 2013:

Ah, BiS. Never change.

Best "I Thought Metal Idols Were Supposed To At Least Be Interesting" Fail of 2013:

Fruitpochette are a sister group of Himekyun Fruitscan. They're supposedly metal. They've got the heavy guitars, but this is less metal than Passpo, simply because this is metalcore. I suppose it had to happen eventually. Infiltrating even this far. Damn them.

 Best "Why Hello Vivaldi, Since When Did You Start Writing Idol Songs?" Song of 2013:

Cheeky Parade doing their take on Vivaldi's Winter. Really quite weird, but quite nice also. I quite like Cheeky Parade for some reason.

Best "So Byron Roberts Decided To Write An AKB Song Title?" Song Title of 2013:

"Suzukake no Ki no Michi de 'Kimi no Hohoemi o Yume ni Miru' to Itte Shimattara Bokutachi no Kankei wa Dō Kawatte Shimau no ka, Bokunari ni Nan-nichi ka Kangaeta Ue de no Yaya Kihazukashii Ketsuron no Yō na Mono" makes "The Dark Liege of Chaos is Unleashed at the Ensorcelled Shrine of A'Zura-Kai (The Splendour of a Thousand Swords Gleaming Beneath the Blazon of the Hyperborean Empire Part II)" look short. Still, The Meads of Asphodel's "The Mussulmans Wander Through The Infernal Whirling Fires Amongst Silent Shadows To Be Fed Into The Thirsting Jaws Of A Godless Death Machine To Cough Up Their Souls To The Nazi Moloch Who Sits Within A Ring Of Smoking Infant Skulls" still wins.

Best "So Passpo Aren't Even Trying To Hide Their Rock Ambitions Anymore?" Song of 2013:

It's just an extended guitar solo. Also a very good one. Fuck sake Passpo why you so win?

Best "If You're Going To Rip Off Yes, At Least Pick One Of Their Good Songs" Song of 2013:

Silly 9nine.

Commie Idol of 2013:

Uesaka Sumire, speaks Russian, loves Russian culture, and her PV is full of shit like that. After metal idols, commie idols? There's a non sequitur if I ever saw one.

Mindfuck PV of 2013:

Miyu's my TGS oshi, but this just breaks my mind. And somehow I like it. 

Top Albums of 2013 from 10-6:

Once again I've got something planned for Beat Laments the World, so I'm leaving my top 5 for now. It might not be out until after new year, but I'm sure people can wait. It's not like I blog frequently anyway.

10. Gloryhammer - Tales from the Kingdom of Fife

Song pick: The Epic Rage of Furious Thunder

What a ridiculous concept for an album. But hell, it's Chris Bowes, the guy who creates a new musical project for nearly every random idea he has. Sometimes they get popular (Alestorm), sometimes they toil in obscurity, producing amazing (though random) stuff but never obtaining recognition (Splen), and some just end up fusing together as asdfgfa. With Gloryhammer, they've set about creating a new fantasy counterpart to the real area of Fife, Perth and Angus in Scotland. With, you know, magic dragons, unicorn invasions and a hefty dose of utter ridiculousness. But hell, all power metal is cheesy, this just doesn't bother hiding it and just blows you away with better power metal than many more "serious" bands of the genre would love to have written. The riffs are cool, the melodies are catchy as hell, and it's all brought together by Bowes himself, a veritable keyboard wizard focusing far more on the orchestral elements here than he does in Alestorm. It does at points remind me (Magic Dragon) of an incredibly talented Japanese doujin band that I discovered by accident at Comiket in 2008. The guy had his stuff set up on a Cradle of Filth towel so I decided to buy his album. Good choice, their name was Dragon Guardian and they're awesome. Anyway, Gloryhammer make me remember Turisas, Rhapsody (of Fire) and pretty much every epic power metal band, mixed up with the silliest and most awesome lyrics ever. So you should like it too.

8= Tokyo Girls' Style - Yakusoku

Song pick: LolitA☆Strawberry in summer

Finally they managed to win me over. The fact that the songpick for this album is a cover of an old SweetS song is by no means saying that it's inferior. Actually the opposite, they've improved the song so vastly it's amazing. There are other amazing songs on this album, such as the glorious Sigh tribute Bad Flower, but those acoustic guitars get LolitA the win. The album is mostly funk, with enough nods to previous stuff to keep old fans happy, but the progression in it is phenomenal. The melody writer regained his groove, the mixer wasn't fucked off his head on drugs, and the arranger managed to get nearly everything to sound just right. For an idol album, this is brilliant. For a regular artist, this would be very, very good. As such it's up here.

8= Kvelertak - Meir

Song pick: Bruane Brenn

Ah, Kvelertak. Longtime darlings of the Norwegian underground scene, they bust out large with their self-titled debut album in 2010. Fast-forward three years and they released the follow-up, the aptly titled Meir ("More" in Norwegian). Growing out of Norway's mid-to-late 2000s recreation of black metal into NWOBHM and crust punk (see Scum, I, Chrome Division and Darkthrone for more examples), they mix the heavy party-rock anthemic choruses of Turbonegro, the black metal screams of Emperor, the triple-guitar craziness of Iron Maiden, the "Vikings are we shtick" of Bathory, and mix it all up with mead. Because mead is awesome. My main gripe with the first album was that there was an immense lack of Suck My Glock (the coolest song from their demo Westcoast Holocaust). My main gripe with Meir is exactly the same thing. Though at least this time they've included Snilepisk, probably the third best song on the demo after Suck My Glock and Mjød. It's still a fun, raucous crazy partytime.

7. Kawaguchi Senri - À La Mode

Song pick: Spanish Pirates

There's something amazingly compelling about young Japanese musicians. However, they rarely obtain the fame available to Senri at such a young age. Releasing her first album at the age of 16, featuring a mesmerising mix of talented jazz and rock musicians (Yamamoto Kyoji from Bow Wow being the most famous to readers of this blog, probably; but it also features Brian Bromberg and Suganuma Kozo), and performing so tightly that you'd think it was an experienced jazz drummer three times her age. Released back in January, it almost instantly commanded attention for a possible place on this list. It's amazingly complex (as is most jazz), and features songs like the one I picked that also give a damn good showing for prog fans. Senri also piqued my attention in the wider world of Japanese jazz, which led me to this blog that houses a huge variety of old jazz. Still, I'd advise checking out Senri. She has another new album out in January with the keyboardist Otaka Kiyomi under the name KIYO*SEN. I'm gonna be paying much attention.

6. Ayreon - The Theory of Everything

Song pick: As there's only four songs, each over 20 minutes, broken into 42 subsections, it's almost impossible to pick one.

So, Ayreon is back. The world of prog rejoiced, the world of metal rejoiced, and I decided to find problems with it. Granted, 01011001 was bloated, had too much filler, and could have been improved vastly by simply cutting out the "everyday on earth" bits, but the underlying themes and music were still amazing, as was the vocal talent on offer. However, 01011001 happened to end the story, leaving Arjen with rather too much time on his hands, as seen by Guilt Machine's moody atmospheres, Star One's amazing metal adventure through the stars, and Lost in the New Real. So, rather than start (another) new project, he went back to Ayreon with a new story. However, the story is rather rubbish. Plus, I can't see him making a multi-album opera cycle out of it like he did with his first storyline. The vocal talent on offer is good, but not at the level of 01011001 or even the Human Equation. I can understand him wanting to work with only new people, but Tommy Karevik is lacking, Sara Squadrani is weak, and John Wetton just sort of blends into the background after a while. On the other hand, Michael Mills and JB are phenomenal. The riffs and songs themselves sound like Ayreon. They're not at the level of Electric Castle or Human Equation, but just ahead of 01011001. If it was music alone, it'd get an amazing score, but the dreary vocalist choices and uninspired plot and lyrics just leave me dragging. Shame it wasn't a perfect comeback, still, hoping for something mindblowing next time.

So, keep an eye on Beats for the top 5, which will probably be a collab with wu in which we also review each other's top 5. Could get interesting. So, have an enjoyable new year, and I'll probably see you next month for my idol list.

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