March singles catch-up: Aira, DJ Shog, Madonna

March has proven both the most and least productive example of the ’08 (so far). Not to say a lot of stuff hasn’t been released, just that most of it has been hasn’t even been worth listening to. American released singles are harder for me to keep track of, never being able to tell what’s brand-new and what’s just album re-hash and foreign discs were just lackluster (see: MY LITTLE LOVER, Yuko Ando, alice nine., etc). Even so, I must admit the ratio of successful singles to duds is significantly higher than past months (February – 1:4, January – yeah right, like I’m done getting through all of those).

Mitsuki Aira has been a fascinating study in trend-spotting and I’ve been keeping my eye on her since well, August 2007, when she released her first single COLORFUL TOKYO SOUNDS No.9 because of producer Terukado Oonishi’s bid to become the next Yasutaka Nakata and cash in on the electro chip-tune that is currently making groups like Perfume and capsule some huge, unexplainably brilliant phenomenon that we can only hope isn’t a phenomenon at all, but a long-term investment in the music industry’s all too low-brow, jazzy, big band-saturated environment. COLORFUL TOKYO SOUNDS No.9 wasn’t anything to write overseas about, but with CHINA DISCOTICA, Aira is finally showing some signs of possible break-through. “CHINA DISCOTICA” tries a bit too hard (8-bit? 24-bit? #-bit overload), but “ROMANTIC ROPE” is just the type of song that can be advertised as Nakata inspired instead of Nakata rip-off. The incredible staccato speed of the chorus, the subtle base of synth enhancing rather than distracting, and the tweaked vocals work in the sort of cool distance the mysteriously aloof maintain without appearing anti-social.

I’m guessing Aira will release at least one more single before an album is in the works (and who knows when that will be – it’s been seven months since COLORFUL TOKYO SOUNDS No.9), but if you’re of the MEG/COLTEMONIKHA type, you’d be hard-pressed not to add Aira to your list.

I tried to do some quick research on DJ Shog, just to see if there was, in fact, some time in the past I’ve heard something of his and simply failed to attach the name – nothing came up except, shockingly, an Ayumi Hamasaki remix of “Depend on you” from the European vinyl. Fact is, I don’t actually remember this remix at all: Depend on you is probably one of my least favorite remix vinyls, and really, I don’t remember anything off of it and I won’t pretend like I do or that there is any significant connection between single “Feel Me (Through the Radio)” and the Hamasaki remix. There simply isn’t any relationship at all; “Feel Me” has a fantastic verse melody, a looping, nonsensical chorus, and an Inpetto Remix to change it up when things get boring, while the “Depend on you” remix is still just a filler track. The other remixes are barely worth a single spin apiece, but “Feel Me” still gets my vote for best trance single of the month (and hey, he lists both Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys as influences, that’s pretty friggin’ cool).

I’ve been playing the ass out of Madonna’s new single “4 Minutes,” not because it’s original or even remarkable (I can’t describe it any better than fourfour: “She’s so far past telling us what’s cool (back in the day, when she showed the world the Lower East Side and vouging) that she’s now telling us what we already like”), but because it’s amazing how such an ambitious song negates itself with its own ego – but does a successful Madonna/Timberlake/Timberland collab need to be ambitious or is it just a given? Wouldn’t want the song to rest on its celeb laurels but pointing out its lack of pop aesthetic and thin melody is moot – it’s all about the hook.

Time to play catch-up

Besides being busy for the past month or so, the reason I haven’t been writing full reviews is simply because there has been nothing word extolling upon for more than a few linked words to form meaningless paragraphs. What’s the point of writing a music review if the content is blasé? I don’t want to draw out a four paragraph review on HINOI TEAM’s latest August single when it’s worth less than four sentences. That would almost be as painful as listening to the single itself. Anyway, here’s the stuff I missed that you might have liked but that I made a point to forget:

HINOI TEAM / NOW AND FOREVER / August 09, 2006

I did a full length review on HINOI TEAM’s debut album which could basically be summed up like this: dude, super eurobeat is so 1998; drop that genre like a rock. Apparently, HINOI TEAM doesn’t read my album reviews. Pity.

Alexisonfire / Crisis / August 21, 2006
11. Rough Hands

I like Alexisonfire. A lot. Enough to get mad when people spell it AlexIsOnFire. Unfortunately, the boys haven’t returned the favor with a worthy third album. Yes, it’s decent, yes, it’s even good, but it’s lacking that maturity and growth I thought I would find around their third cycle. I wouldn’t mind so much if the songs didn’t all sound so…alike. Give me a brilliantly bipolar “Control” or conceptual “Get Fighted.” “You Burn First” is one such track that takes the casual Alexisonfire and morphs it into an A Perfect Circle or Metallica progression that rips it right out of post-hardcore oblivion and into worthy disc spins. It’s these “different” songs that keep me transfixed: if “Keep It On Wax” is its medium pace, “Rough Hands” is its slowest-paced and one of the boldest songs, sticking out further than clones “Mailbox Arson” or “Boiled Frogs.” Rather than detracting from that hardcore image Alexisonfire is hell-bent on portraying, they make sure that the screamo gets plenty of airtime in case the subtle piano had any intention of making you think they went soft on this bitterly sweet finish. However, these three or four worthy stand-outs aren’t enough for me to rank the album higher. Strong ending, but weak beginning so ultimately, they lose.

Audioslave / Revelations / September 05, 2006
08. Shape of Things to Come

I like the title song. The title song does a pretty good job of describing the rest of the album except not as exciting with less drawn-out accord. A lot of it sounds like the usual Audioslave, a country-ish rock n’ roll sound complete with heavy guitars, both electric and acoustic, which make for a sort of comfortable backdrop for the somewhat twangy vocals. “Shape of Things To Come” is a particularly good example of the semi-melodic, still waters run deep mentality of the verse/chorus pattern. Besides the two mentioned by name here, the rest of the album sort of bleeds together in what is best labeled “so-so.” This isn’t an album I would die without, but maybe it’s an album I would play more than once. Twice tops.

Justin Timberlake / FutureSex/LoveSounds / September 12, 2006
05. Love Stoned/I Think She Knows (Interlude)

A ridiculously shallow, yet shockingly well-received, attempt at hip-hop. Timberlake decided he had a lot more to say after the release of Justified, his 2002 go at being more than just an N’Sync dancing white boy. And to make sure we all understand that he is grown up now and won’t be treated as anything less than a drug-taking, sex maniac, he collaborated with Timbaland to pen such thought-provoking passages as “I’ll let you whip me if I misbehave/It’s just that no one makes me feel this way. Take it to the chorus!” It’s not enough that he made this album with less sexual understatement than Mardi Gras in New Orleans, he also had to drag it out across twelve tracks, some splitting into subsequent tracks, such as one of the only other commercially catchy songs beside “SexyBack,” “Love Stoned/I Think She Knows (Interlude)” where the latter rather than the former brings the track alive. Yes, we get it: you like sex and having lots of it. Next person with a “SexyBack” ringtone gets shot in the face.

Alexisonfire Official Site / Buy Crisis
Audioslave Official Site / Buy Revelations
Justin Timberlake Official Site / Buy FutureSex/LoveSounds