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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cyborg on Oricon

Those of you who like numbers might be interested to know that Cyborg Oretachi made it to number 49 on the Oricon album chart.

Which, considering their recent performances in the singles chart, isn't too bad at all!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Halcali in What's In? (1)

Here's the first part of the interview that appeared in the August 2007 issue of What's In magazine. I'll try to get the rest of it up soon (including pictures). Here we go then...

*******************************

-This is the first album we’ve had in a while

HARUKA- I’m glad we could finally put the third album out at last. But unlike previous releases, trying to decide what order to put the songs in was incredibly difficult this time.

YUKARI- Because the putting together, and production of our old albums was all handled by O.T.F. We didn’t have them this time, and the songs were just written and recorded separately one by one by a lot of different people. So when we had to put it all together at the end it was like “There’s a lot of songs that fade out isn’t there?” or “These songs don’t really go together that well”. So we just sat down and talked about it, eventually deciding on a track list that made the album move along in ‘waves’, balancing slower songs with more up tempo ones.

-This is the first time you’ve been involved in the creation of an album in this way right?

Y- Yes, so it was a lot of fun. But at the same time, putting it together really gave us a true taste of the pains of life (laughs).

H- Compared to our other albums, this was by far the most difficult to make.

- Comedian Kendo Kobayashi makes an appearance on the first track Doo The Hammer. It’s funny that his (a male) voice is the first thing you hear when playing the album.

Y- Yes, it is (laughs). Speaking personally, this track, the first on the album, is one that I really pushed myself to try hard on. Kobayashi's voice should hopefully giving those people who try it out in record shops an interesting first impression.

-So, you press the start button, and…

Y- “What? Who's this guy?!” (laughs) But what he says really sums up the whole meaning of the album in a nutshell.*1

-Compared to your previous albums, was there any real changes or differences with this one?

Y- We wrote a lot more of the lyrics this time. On the last album it was just Utamaru’s Wakakusa Dance, but this time it was like “should we write some more?”, “well sure, why not?”.

H- We contributed to the lyrics of 4 songs this time.

Y- Even though a long time was spent in total on getting the whole album finished, we were hardly given any time at all to finish writing the lyrics. We nearly blew a fuse trying to meet the deadline. Haruka was even having dreams about it.

H- I was crying “I can’t write it! I can’t write it!” in my sleep.

-There seems to be more emphasis on singing (over rapping) on this album.

Y- That’s right. And a lot more of the singing was recorded live too, like on Doo The Hammer, Fessu and Tougenkyo for example. That’s probably because there were only a few producers from the 'hip hop village' working on this record. As a result, I think this one’s probably a bit easier to listen to, or maybe it has a more intimate sound than the others.

-The title track (Cyborg Oretachi) is really powerful.

Y- I think out of all the songs we’ve recorded up to now, this one has the fastest pace.

- And we can hear you two playing guitar for the first time too.

Y- Haruka goes first, I’m second. Hayashi-san said to us suddenly, “Just pick up a guitar and give it a go”, to which our response was “er…what?!”.

H- We said “but we can’t play!” but he just said “yes, I know” (laughs)

-So even though you just hit it at random you managed to fit in perfectly with the rhythm of the track. It sounds like a miracle (laughs).

H- Yeah, but I’m just happy that our very first attempt at playing the guitar got released to the public! I don’t think I’ll be doing it again though, I think I'll just keep it as this one, precious experience (laughs).

-The song Halcali Michi really shows your determination to be involved in the songwriting process. You wrote the lyrics for the rap part of this song.

Y- This is probably the song we wrote most seriously for. Ramrider said to us “You have some problems or worries in your life don’t you? Write about those,” and I thought “Well no, not really…”. I had a pretty hard time writing it.

H- The theme of the song we were given felt quite big. We were told to think along the kind of ‘Even if you hit a wall in life, you just have to keep on trying’ lines with the lyrics. But we’ve never really had any experience with anything like that. We’re the type of people who just wouldn’t notice the wall in the first place and would just sail right past it.

Y- Lyrically, in the end I suppose the content of the song is kind of an approximation of where Halcali is right now. I’ll turn 20 on the day the album is released, but the song was written on a night when we were both 19, and as well as being the actual last track, it was the last song to be finished for the album, so it also has the feeling of wrapping everything that we’ve done up until now up. It carries a ‘We’re going to continue to keep giving it our all, but at the same time we don’t know what’s coming up next’ kind of meaning.

*************************************************

As usual with these kinds of interviews, the content was quite light (good to see them unafraid to get some of their own complaints out there though), but I wonder if Yukari didn't inadvertently get to the core of the problems I have with this album; namely that it's missing an 'O.T.F' type figure to guide it. Now, this didn't need to have been O.T.F specifically (although that would have been great obviously), but it was crying out for someone to sit down and take the Total Produced By credit, to say to all these random producers who are floating in and out of the studio "OK, the song after yours sounds like this, and the overall mood of the album is going to be like this, so you might want to write your song a little bit more like this".

What happens when there is no one around, from the start, who has an idea for the album to guide everyone who will work on it is what happened on Cyborg Oretachi- a bunch of dislocated material with no real focus and almost no continuity between tracks. This is the heart of Yukari's problem- you simply cannot make an album in this random, aimless way and expect the results to be in any way decent or cohesive.

Personally, I thought they had the perfect post O.T.F candidate who could fill in those Total Produced By shoes already in i-dep's Hiroshi Nakamura. His recent b-side contributions to Halcali's back catalogue would make a great mini-album in themselves- 'forward thinking' while still retaining an idea of what made Halcali so great in the first place.

Like Yukari, I don't know what's coming up next for Halcali either, but I really think they need another 'O.T.F', badly.


*1 Here's what Kobayashi says:

これは「心の中のハンマー」についてのSTORY
つまり「想像力」についての大切なMESSAGE

This is a story about the hammer that is in our hearts
In other words, it’s a message about the importance of the power of imagination.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Reviews (9) Cyborg Oretachi

Speaking as a Halcali fan, the last year hasn't exactly been easy. I still remember waking up early one Sunday morning to catch a preview of their then new Sony single Tip Taps Tip on Eureka Seven. It was a shocking lesson in not getting your hopes up, as so much patient expectation was met with what at the time easily ranked as their most timid and mediocre releases (little did I know their was worse to come). Disappointing, you might say.

What has happened since then can probably be best described as frustrating; Tip Taps Tip, which I came down hard upon at the time, was followed by the block busting Twinkle Star, which despite it's abysmal chart showing was a marvellous single, containing almost everything I loved about Halcali in the first place. Again, my hopes went up.

Then straight back down again with the release of the criminally weak LOOK, and of course you know how the rest of the story goes. The reason why I mention this is that their third album seems to have taken this feeling of frustration, compressed it into sound and burnt it onto a CD. Whenever you start to feel like the album is going up, they find a way to bring it back down, and even after one listen it's hard to ignore the feeling of discontentment, and yes, disappointment.

I mean, just look at the track listing again. Frankly, having nearly half of a relatively short album be comprised of old material just isn't good enough. I know it's the industry standard to do such things, but there's just something irritatingly lazy about it- even worse when you try to mask the fact of what you've done by sticking the words SPECIAL EDITION next to one of those old singles, only to reveal that it is in fact little more than the radio edit! It makes an already short album feel even shorter, and puts the weight of it's success or failure almost entirely on the shoulders of the 6 tracks worth of new material that's on here.

Right then. The first 15 minutes of this album are fantastic. Opening track Doo The Hammer is actually a full, proper song, unlike the 'introduction' type skits that opened their previous two. It's a great start too- with the vocals pushed right to the front, it falls under that brilliant rapping/singing hybrid they do so well, with a sweet chorus that sneaks up on you and stays with you. It reminds me a bit of those great b-sides Hiroshi Nakamura was putting out- the perfect mix between older 'goofy' For Life Halcali and newer 'grown up' Sony Halcali.
Even better, it picks up and even improves the following track, their last single It's Party Time. I was never sure about that as a choice for a single, but it flows out of Hammer almost as if in one continuous beat; the two compliment each other perfectly.
Even better is the next track, Koi No Bunbunbun. I'm putting this down as not only my favourite song on the album, but also as one of my favourites full stop. They haven't made nearly enough songs like this recently- a pop song with a brilliant synthesised bass loop, a simple, maddeningly catchy chorus and that overall unusual sense of Halcali-ness that some producers can bring out and some just can't (and this album has both types).
This track is followed by Twinkle Star, and despite the two tracks clashing a little (another problem the album predictably has, but we'll come to that later), I still take my hat off to one of the best j-pop singles of the last year, and it wraps up a solid, 4 track opening for the album.

Then things start to come unstuck.

Again, I think the trouble ultimately comes down to the fact that this album has too many singles, and singles that weren't particularly strong to start with. So like I said, we look to the remaining 6 songs worth of new material to make or break it. I would say that three (possibly four) make the cut; the two mentioned above and the Polysics title track.
OK, so Cyborg Oretachi sounds exactly like a Polysics song, but it's still got that catchy electronic beep beep beep that seems to go together with Halcali so well, and a hardcore rap in the middle. After the double hum drum hit of endless lover's rain and LOOK Special Edition (rolls eyes) it sounds even better, with a surprisingly discordant "guitar battle" at the end between Haruka and Yukari.

It's not enough though. Remember when Halcali first signed to Sony and they came out with that awful press release shot where they looked just like harmless MTV R'n'B stalwarts The Heartdales? One thing I was grateful for was that, whatever happened to Halcali this year, they didn't go down that route. That is, at least, until track 8 on this album, Driver's Licence. It's the absolute worst kind of blandly inoffensive, production line R'n'B, and Halcali should never have been allowed to waste their time on it. I have no love for LOOK, but this is one of the worst songs they've ever released. It's utterly soulless. Skip.

I don't know what's going on with Fessu De Ouissu either, except that, even after listening to it 5 times, I still can't remember a single note of it. I have heard enough of producers Your Song Is Good though, to know that it just sounds like a weak YSIG song. What is it with these producers? Both these guys and Polysics have basically released, what, abandoned studio tracks from their last albums? I hope that isn't true. There really isn't much to say for this song in any case.

Just look back on the last few tracks though, LOOK, followed by a weird electronic dance track followed by a rank and file R'n'B number followed by some kind of cod reggae track. Even a novice producer must have looked at that tracklisting and thought "this won't work". And it doesn't. The album feels exactly like what it is- a lot of singles padded with filler. It's even less cohesive than Ongaku, which suffered from a similar problem (although I'm getting more and more tempted to go back and give that album a second, long look).

Despite coming up with a fairly decent closing number in Harukari Michi (which, like Driver's Licence, they had a hand in writing the lyrics for), after track 4 on this album the smile pretty much goes from my face, reappearing only sporadically. I'll sum it up like this, starting from track 5 through to track 12- not bad I suppose (a grower?), skip, good song, skip, skip, OK single, skip, good song.

So, again, frustration. Tracks like Koi No Bunbunbun show their potential for greatness, while at the same time, lazy rubbish like Driver's Licence brings it back down.

It Tip Taps Tip all over again- a long, long wait for something that, in the end, really struggles to deliver.

ONE DAY LATER...

I gave this album about four listens before writing the above. I realise that I deserve to give them much more than that. I'm going to stay with this new album for a week, then come back to it. Please, if you haven't listened to the album yet, or are new to Halcali and thinking of trying them out, don't let what I wrote above discourage you!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Halcali in What's In?

There's a great pull out Halcali booklet included in August's What's In? magazine, including everything from The History of Halcali through to track by track Cyborg comments by the girls.

I'll be able to get a full transcript up in a day or so, but here's something until then: apparently Halcali play guitar on the Polysics produced Cyborg Oretachi! Apparently, being unable to play the guitar wasn't a hindrance to Polysics' Hayashi, who just told them to hit it. Based on the preview and live clip I've seen, it sounds mental, and Yukari describes it as one of the most upbeat they've recorded.

As if you needed reminding, the album is out tomorrow!

Vaguely related update: I'm just going to buy my copy now, and checking the Tower.jp website, it looks like copies stocked in Tower come with a free sticker. Something to keep in mind if you're in Japan and haven't picked up a copy yet.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Official site cyborgs

The official site has been redone in a new Cyborg flavour to match next weeks (next week!) new album release. I have to admit that the plastic-y 1980's toy look is growing on me.

You can also listen to brief previews of each song over there too (Internet Explorer only, I think). Although to be honest, they're too short to give any decent impression of what the actual songs are like, so you might want to wait until your copy of the album arrives so you can properly appreciate each new song as it comes. Not long to wait now...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pictures of Halcali at the Japan Expo

Hasuko sent in these excellent pictures taken at Halcali's Japan Expo gig. メルシー!





This gig looked like being so much fun! The live guitar's a great touch. Fingers crossed for something happening over here sooner rather than later.

Thanks again to Hasuko!

  • And here's a great quality video of Tip Taps Tip from the gig (thanks to Ludovic!).
  • And another (Shibafu)!
  • Here's Twinkle Star (thanks to ica ross for this). What do you make of the added guitar on this track?
  • spikeur (the "guy in a hat" above) took some great pictures of his own. To anyone who went to the signing, did you have to buy something there first to get them to sign it?
  • Here's a review of the gig.

Halcali on new Kuchiroro album

Halcali will be making an appearance on Kuchiroro's (口ロロ) new album Golden Love, due out August 22nd. They'll be singing, or dancing, or doing something awesome on the track Cosmic Dance.

Here's Golden King off the album. I was probably going to get it just for the Halcali track anyway, but I really like this (there's even a spot on Nas sample at the end)! I can imagine them cooking up something special together.

Thanks to anne!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Halcali in France

As you were probably aware, Halcali played at the Japan Expo in Paris, France. Thankfully, an anonymous reader (please leave a name!) was able to go and share their thoughts. I'll just block quote their comment here. If anyone else went along, please share your impressions of the gig with us!

i just came from the concert. i was surprised because they performed with a guitar player. they rocked more than ever! they played a couple of new songs, 'cyborg ore-tachi' being the first one. it sounds very halcali, very polysics, very electro, very pop, very perfect. the other ones were stormers as well, i think one of them was the ram rider one (Harukarimichi-jariten). the next album will be miles better than 'ongaku no susume', i'm sure. i was already kind of hyped, but now i'm über-extra-hyped!
they also played 'twinkle star', 'shibafu', 'tip taps tip', 'girigiri surf rider' and 'densetsu no futari' as an encore, though not in that order, i have memory flaws, sorry.

it was kind of short, but intense, my only gripe was the venue. it sounded wonderful (and i mean it) BUT IT WAS SEATED! i mean, a halcali concert seated, it was a nonsense.


Sounds like it was an excellent gig, and a good mix in the set between lively and subdued. Shame about the seating though. Now, if only they would do such gigs in Japan.

Also, worth noting is Halcali's latest blog entry. How good does this sound?

5日から、おフランスのパリ~に来ております。HALCALIヨースケ@HOMEDJ GOTAN(DigiCut)
今日、ポンピドゥーセンターというところで初のストリートライブを決行しました。
上の写真はそのときの様子。
勝手にハーモニカを吹いて参加してくるおじさんや、勝手に踊りだすおじいさんとジャムリつつ・・・、アコースティックバージョンで、new album「サイボーグ俺達」の中から「endless lover's rain」や「look」などを披露しました。立ち止まって聴いてくれたお客さんがヨースケのギターケースにお金を投げ入れてくれました。

メルシー。

1時間弱の演奏で、26ユーロものお金が集まりました^^

We've been in Paris since the 5th with Yusuke@home and DJ Gotan. Today, we did our first ever street performance infront of the Pompidou Centre. The picture above shows us in action!
We ended up jamming with a couple of old guys, one who just jumped in playing the harmonica, and another who got up and started to dance.
From Cyborg Oretachi we played endless lover's rain and Look and so on on acoustic guitar. A few people who stopped to watch on their way past threw money into Yusuke's guitar case.

Merci...

We made 26 Euros in an hour!


I'd pay money to see that. I wonder if anyone caught it on camera?

UPDATE (S)-



  • Here's some blurb from Sony

HALCALIは8日にライブで登場しました。
そこでナント!5000人にも及ぶ総立ちの観客の前でアンコールを含め、熱狂の堂々のライブを披露しました。その後のサイン会には数百人に人々がつめかけ、会場終了時間の7時を大きくおして
7時45分すぎまで約2時間近くもCDを購入したファンのサインに応えました。

Halcali took to the stage on the 8th. They put on a show, including an encore, in front of a crowd of over 5000 wildly enthusiastic Halcali fans!
After that is was time to start signing autographs, and there were so many hundreds of people crowding round them that they had to push the closing time of the venue from 7 to 7:45pm, and in the end Halcali were putting signatures to their fans' CD's for close to 2 hours.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Cyborg Oretachi cover(s)



The one on the left is for the regular edition, the one on the right is for the limited DVD edition.

Although the size of these images from the Sony website means that it's difficult to get a good look at them, I have to say that my first impressions aren't that great. It's not that that pink mouse (?) robot thing looks just the wrong side of phallic, it's more that it's just kind of ugly.

I do like the idea that the limited edition CD gets a slightly different (and fairly funny) variation on the original though.

Also, from looking at that site, it seems like the very early pressings will come with a sticker which will give you a chance of winning a t-shirt. It doesn't specifically mention that you have to order the album through the site to get that sticker, but I'm assuming that's the case.

Anyway, thoughts on the cover (s)?

Thanks to sora kara!