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Monday, January 31, 2005

Reviews (3) Ongaku no Susume (Recommended Listening)

I kept postponing writing this review. It's impossible to dance around the subject of "why?", so lets get right to it. Its a poor follow-up to Halcali Bacon. It's not as tight, as stylish, as effortlessly cool and deep down in its heart its just not as much FUN. Time to reassess though, as is nearly always the case when you're exposed to a new take on what had been so familiar. Even the casual fan of their first release surely couldn't help themselves from tearing off the headphones at the listening post in HMV (they're only a casual fan remember) and shouting "OK so its slicker, but this doesn't sound like Halcali!". And they'd be right. It doesn't. The last track and singles apart (and we'll get to that later), what this really sounds like is the fat bassline of two girls trying to grow up too fast. The predictable attempts most bands make to "move on" with their second album inevitably involves some forced attempt to craft a more mature sound which says "hey! Look what we're capable of!". You should have seen it coming though really, the splendid first album had that impossible to recapture energy of two kids running, shouting out of seemingly nowhere, full of pop and colour and reinvigorating the Japanese pop charts in a quick blast of sound. So that couldn't be done again. So perhaps no one can be held responsible for Ongaku. Perhaps this is the inevitable comedown from such a brilliant, explosive start.

So, the real difficulty with this album probably lies in being able to divorcing it from Bacon and trying to assess it in its own right. After the initial shock/disappointment wears off you know, its not half bad. The sweet chiming pop of Brand New or Hare Doki Doki. Wait a bit longer and Rhymester's Utamaru joins in on the thumping Wakusa Dance. Stomping and addictive, its got a chorus that could kick down a house. And although its slightly disappointing to see the inclusion of a year old song on here (Strawberry Chips), the strength of the three singles does help to take the bad taste out of the couple of the limper tracks. And if even that is not enough then just you wait until the end, when 'Continued' manages to do what the rest of the album couldn't- moves Halcali on past Bacon while still retaining everything that you loved about them in the first place. Check out the production credits- its an O.T.F song. This really points out the best way for Halcali to progress onto album 3. While there is nothing actually wrong with having so many people working on the album, Halcali were left totally unable to pull the rope tight enough and ended up with something a bit clunky and awkward. O.T.F have got to take the time out to make it just them and the girls in the future. Like they sing in 'Continued', "we're not going solo...just yet". So we're left with that to look forward to at least.


2. Fuwa Fuwa Brand New
3. Marching March
4. Strawberry Chips
5. Hare Doki Doki
6. Oboroge Copy View
8. Shibafu
9. Wakusa Dance
11. Densetsu no futari
12. Continued

Something else that really needs commenting on is the design of the sleeve. I can't remember the last sleeve I saw that was so interesting and inventive. If you look at the front cover above, you'll see what looks like a map at the top of the picture, with a road that rolls down and becomes the white parted hair line of Haruka and Yukari. Open the sleeve out, and the map continues along to the left (again, like the Tandem video, a perfectly natural progression if you're Japanese), featuring the back of people's heads, again with their partings joining up with the roads in the map. The seasons on the map change as you look through it to the left. The front cover, with Halcali, is spring, and as you move through to winter the people get older, until we get to an old guy at the end, whose bald head joins up with a patch of barren land on the map! Obviously its much better if you take a look yourself, but folded out across several pages it looks really good.

It was designed by Nagi Noda. She is also behind Hanpanda, the disturbing creatures on the Baby Blue! PV and CD single cover.


watch a promo clip made for musicnet.

and here's a second opinion.

Monday, January 24, 2005


I feel bad for not updating this blog sooner. The new post is news of a new release though, if not new songs. Thats right, it's a remix album. It will be composed partially of new mixes and partially of older b-sides. Which means that it should include Yuka Honda's (Cibo Matto) excellent version of Tandem. According to the website, it'll be released "about the 16th of March". Less vague was the price, 2100 yen. No other information as of yet, but heres waiting (for another two months).

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Haruka and Yukari and...

Here are Halcali's i-pod playlists. These lists aren't entirely the predictable run-offs you might expect (Shampoo!) and shows that these two are equally, if not more hip than your average pop kid. Theres something inately satisfying about publishing playlists like this. Maybe it comes from the neat precision of 15 or so bulletpoints of My Life, putting your list up for anaysis for anyone who cares too. Which will naturally lead to them drawing up all kinds of conclusions about you ranging from your intelligence to your probable taste in clothes. The best bit of course being that your list really only offers the appearance of revealing something grand about you, at best really only offering tantalising hints. If you could skim blogger.com, for example, whose would you stop at first? The one who said:

"Currantly listening to- Will Oldham, 'Death to Everyone'?"

Of course you would.