Five disappointing albums of 2009

We’ve managed to get through the first week of December with nary a leak of the new Namie Amuro album, so for the record, it still has the possibility to make a revised version of this list (though I do very much like WILD, I’m already iffy on the promo clips of “LOVE GAME” and “The Meaning Of Us” – plus I’m still pretty mad about BEST FICTION thwarting the 60s 70s 80s single a proper album release). But if the weakest musical months are that dreary space between Thanksgiving and New Year when readers and writers are left maneuvering the sinking ship that is year-end lists and retrospectives, then who am I to abandon it at such a critical junction? Here is the first of my own: the five albums that disappointed me the most this year.


MEG hit a low point in February when she ditched producer Yasutaka Nakata for Hadouken! on FREAK, a single so atrociously bad everyone pretended it never happened when BEAUTIFUL was released in May. But finally reunited with Nakata, the follow-up to 2008’s STEP was her first album to crack the Oricon Top Ten, a feat that would have been rendered impossible without the man behind the curtain. Magician to every female vocalist in his canon, Nakata’s precision and knack for finding just the right vocalist to suit each of his projects was already being taken for granted in 2009, a year which on one day alone (July 22) saw the release of four copycat albums (Mitsuka Aira’s PLASTIC, Ayaka Ikio’s Gossip, SAWA’s I Can Fly, and immi’s WONDER), rendering the entire genre expendable while exposing its redundancy. In 2008, MEG’s STEP was an appears top ten album with a B-side claiming the number one East Asian Pop/Rock spot: in 2009, MEG barely registered on the shibuya-kei radar. With mini-album Journey in August, she fell off entirely.

04. alan’s my life

alan’s first major stroke of popularity as vocalist for Red Cliff‘s theme song finally offered gravitas to a classically trained Tibetan; 2009 was turning out to be a flagship year when she scored her first crossover Top Ten Oricon hit with “Kuon no Kawa.” Without compromising her vocal talent or that monstrous Tibetan wail, so shrill it has the power to incinerate, alan proved that popular singers could be all things to all people: talented, intelligent, beautiful. Determined to stay in the comfortable ballad niche that was her hallmark, alan reworked most of her Chinese hits for her first Japanese-language album Voice of Earth. But by November, the record company was looking to expand the market on such a profitable young woman and stretched her repertoire to lite-pop as lifeless as a hangman’s corpses. alan could have been China’s answer to KOKIA or RURUTIA, but instead she became forgettable.

03. Perfume’s TRIANGLE

I’ve already discussed that icky, no good, very bad turn that shibuya-kei took in 2009, prostrating itself to the commercial gods in hopes of bandwagon success that eventually prompted Ian Martin of the Japan Times Online to predict that “the failure of any of these new electropop acts to reach anywhere near the success of Perfume suggests that it remains a niche genre and that supply may already be outstripping demand. In fact, with the appearance of an all-girl idol trio called Cosmetics, […] it looks like the whole genre has already descended into self-parody. Stereotyped and faintly sexist group names based on “things girls like” to look out for in the future include Accessories, Cooking and Rich Husband.” So let’s not revel in nostalgia. And anyway, TRIANGLE fans seem to be split down the middle, one half consisting of longtime listeners disappointed not so much with the sound, but with the lack of innovation, the inability to capture the spirit and elan that made GAME such a thrill, and newer fans unfamiliar with the group’s indie days, content to enjoy a pop record better than its mimicking peers. But I’m not complaining. It was great while it lasted: Yasutaka Nakata produced enough records in the past few years to solidify his reputation as a master of sound, one of those post-millenium everymen who oversaw a handful of wonderful projects and can ride the wave of dozens of hits without having to repeat too many during a DJ set. Perfume themselves worked incredibly hard to maintain their fan base this year: photo books, increasingly bigger live shows with precise choreography; they may yet resurrect from these ashes. Perfume is dead, long live Perfume.

02. AFI’s Crash Love

Rock music is in a sad place these days; toeing the line between electro and indie isn’t just tough to sell in a decade of music that’s so beyond hip it passed lame and went back to hip, it’s nearly impossible. And like Kill Hannah’s Wake Up the Sleepers, AFI’s Crash Love has yet to evolve past its major label debut to relevancy six years later. The problem really lies in the restrictions of guy-liner rock, a style which had its heyday when Panic at the Disco still used exclamation points. After the Blaqk Audio solo project by band mates Davey Havok and Jade Puget failed to produce more than one successful single that tapped into the decade’s electronic zeitgeist (follow-up pending), AFI reconvened to record Crash Love, essentially a duplicate of formulas that ditched punk aesthetics for upscale studio wizardry. The album is the mark of an entire genre on unsteady ground, stuck in the drippy anachronism of its past and afraid to pioneer a new, radical sound.

01. Koyote’s Jumpin’

Most of the albums on this list aren’t necessarily the worst albums of the year, just low points in particular artists’ careers, ones for which I either had a lot of hope for or which I expected better, but this one is an exception: the ridiculous and flashy cover should be enough to convince you. Koyote started out as a pop trio in 1999, going through several permutations where the only consistent member involved female vocalist Shin Ji. Despite Koyote’s strong beginning, the group quickly spiralled into a series of reprised sounds, sticking to their 90’s Eurodance schtick instead of embracing the rising dominance of hip hop and electro influences that would later provide an increasing level of interest of Korean pop groups hoping to break the Japanese music market. By their sixth album, Koyote was a joke but with their tenth, 2009’s Jumpin’, they’ve become the aural equivalent of pity, their work now a pointless, non-existent discussion on no one’s Korean pop forum.

Koyote’s “Koyote in London”

Koyote / Koyote in London / September 20, 2006
01. I’ll Love Rock & Roll / 02. Play / 09. Wall

It’s hard to believe that Koyote is still around after, count it, nine albums. This wouldn’t seem like such a huge deal if it wasn’t for that fact that none of their albums are very marketable, they have become progressively worse, and only one of the three original members is still around (they’ve cycled through four dropouts, one who was jailed for drug possession). And although you’d think they’ve been around for a long time because of this, they actually released their first album in 1999. They released two albums that year, and one album every consecutive year afterwards, except 2001.

I’d say the culmination of their career was the third through fifth albums, with the fourth being their most remarkable. Since then, only one or two songs per album has really caught my eye. Their first two albums were amateurish at best while their last few albums have been retro junk. The group, consisting of two males and one female member, follow a strict formula for their songs: girl trades off verses with boy, chorus is a stealthy combination of the two, and the beginning, middle solo, and end are bestowed upon the resident “street” rapper, who insists on getting the party started with shouts of his group’s name, English imperatives to jump up, jump up, and get down, and some indiscernibly quick Korean rap with interspliced English, just to show he’s a true rap guru, able to freestyle his bilingual prowess.

Since their sixth album, Koyote has made use of several retro techniques which has deviated strongly from their earlier albums, which transitioned from eurodance, to techno, to trance elements, to discotheque drivel. I’m not even sure their seventh album, Rainbow, should be called a piece of artistic merit, except for the raunchy “Ah Ja! Ah Ja!,” which is a cheesy fight song to make the fourth album’s Hangul tribute seem like a nursery rhyme. With the release of their eighth album last year, I pretty much gave up on them, as the only worthy song was the opening track and a spot-on retro romp of “The Boy Is Mine” (no affiliation to the American song). I am so glad I did not buy their ninth album.

The cheesy rap catcalls are busted out full force, layered choral vocals have been freely distributed across most, if not all, tracks. The surfer-friendly opening track has some appeal, with it’s early 80s production and catchy chorus, but the rest of the album hits a steep decline after that. “Play” harks back to their earlier days on the sixth album Line, but instead of being cutesy (which is what it seems they are going for) they fail to uphold the rest of the album with anything less than synthetic dance vibes. Coming from a group who say they didn’t mind sounding redundant, playing to a fanbase that enjoyed and expected consistancy, I wonder which group of fans said it was acceptable to continue the upbeat, europop element. What was so wrong with the fourth and fifth albums sound? Nothing. But I do have a big problem with this album.

This album is so worthless as to render Koyote’s entire career almost fruitless. Guys, it is over. It is pretty bad when you’ve gone from starting dance trends in Korea to creating your own dance version of the Beach Boys. In the most horrifying manner possible; by adding rap and hip hop to a dish best served in the trash. I wish it was still 2002.

Buy Koyote in London