The Birthday Massacre’s “Walking With Strangers”

The Birthday Massacre / Walking With Strangers / September 10, 2007
♫ 01. Kill the Lights / 04. Unfamiliar / 06. Looking Glass

While the members of the group the Birthday Massacre present a tough, take-no-prisoners appearance, their music is a lot more gentle than your eyes may suggest. Of course, your ears know better than to judge a CD by its cover (why are they all so purple and black and make me want to crawl in a corner and listen to the Cure?) and BM’s latest release Walking With Strangers is the perfect farewell to the bright days of summer and a pasty-white face welcome to autumn.

While sticking to the style of previous album art, their sound also has more a subtle evolution; in terms of style, it remains the tenderfooted blend of synth, rock, and alterna-goth with a hint of majestic ambience. All those keyboard synths in the opening track “Kill the Lights” is a great example of the typical track off any BM compilation, but while my first listen was rather unimpressed, continual listens of the CD is akin to unwrapping layers and layers of paper and finding that the core of the album doesn’t matter so much as the task of unraveling itself. Not only that, but unlike their last album, “Violet,” the album strives for an epic feel, each track ascending to the full heights of the chorus rather than bursting in unexpected. The rise and fall of the tracks is crafted with precision and clarity, rather than the haphazard feel of past albums inundated with choppy horror movie interludes: the uninvited guests to Birthday’s parties.

Chibi’s vocals are still thin and light which works alarming well in juxtaposition to the harsher sound of the music, a feat Amy Lee could only dream of achieving (Evanescence has never and will never do it for me). The songs pick up some with “Goodnight” and “Falling Down,” with harder, better, faster, stronger instrumentation (see how I just proved I’m hip and urban?), though standout track “Unfamiliar” abruptly interrupts for a short melancholic lament that only makes following tracks “Red Stars” and “Looking Glass” that much more abrasive (and yet, upbeat). After “Science,” and “Remember Me,” two more of the strongest examples of the subtle nuances of 80s synth pop and (dare I say?) italo disco, the album finishes with a somewhat lackluster slower paced song, “Movie,” probably the closest thing you’ll get to a ballad and the farthest you’ll get to a satisfying finish (the faster paced “Weekend” would fit more snugly).

Being one of the albums I looked forward to the most (and the only other one this month besides Ayumi’s new single), BM didn’t let any of my sensory taste buds down. From start to finish, it’s blessedly unpredictable yet comfortably conventional in a way most third albums can pull off but few can do with sincere passion; these are strangers I would definetly take candy from.

Official Site
Buy Walking With Strangers

Friday night shuffle XIV

I put the ol’ iRiver on shuffle and post the first five songs that come up.

a-ha – Celice: Despite the fact that a-ha is best known for their 80’s classic “Take on Me” and seemed to almost disappear after the insta-acclaim of the single, the group has continued to release albums well through the 90s and 00s. In 2005, their music took an abrupt turn with the release of Analogue, an album that consists almost entirely of piano, synth, and drums. While this may seem almost nauseatingly redundant, the album took me pleasantly by surprise as an innovative turn for the band, while retaining the classic 80s sound they were best remembered for. This is the opening track of that album. It is delicious and easily one of the catchiest singles released in 2005. That is all.

Eriko Imai – Set Me Free!: An old Japanese pop track from 2001, following the wake of Eriko’s off-hand comment that many in the industry persevered through popularity rather than hard work, a comment that damaged her career (although concerning the Japanese pop industry, so true). Not the best track I’ve posted up here, but fun enough.

Every Little Thing – Face the change: Classic Japanese pop/rock from one of Japan’s longest running and best loved acts. This is one of the first Japanese pop songs I really got into, so it brings back many, many horrendous memories of trying to achieve the cute Ayumi Hamasaki haircut that went horribly awry. The lead singer, Kaori Mochida, has an almost transcendently clear timbre and great range, and a now unmistakable voice in her genre, while the guitar solo is a brilliant example of middle to late 90s Japanese pop guitar (think B’z: anything they’ve done, ever).

Inoue Marina – Beautiful Story: Taking us back to the Japanese pop present, this is a recent 2007 release. To be honest, I’ve noticed that this is almost the anti-thesis to Japanese pop music today, which is mostly concerned with organic instruments à la big band, or American influenced hip hop. This sort of electronic/dance pop is more rare and mostly found in indie girl-group Perfume or the earlier work of bless4 (although it is worth noting that 2007 is turning out to be Yasutaka Nakata’s year and if it’s any indication – Japanese pop in 2008 is going to rock).

The Birthday Massacre – Under the Stairs: Although still a relatively unknown band that enjoys a steady cult following, I still believe the Birthday Massacre are one of the most innovative groups releasing music today, with their distinctive industrial/synth rock melodies and the trademark, almost bright and contradictory vocals of Chibi. This isn’t one of their best songs, not by far, but it’s a good idea of the direction the rest of their discography heads towards.

2005 in music

Ten really, really, ridiculously good albums released in 2005:

01. dredg – Catch Without Arms: It’s been way too long since I’ve come across an album as good as this one that just flowed together so well and restored my faith in American rock music. This is one of those albums where you can download each track separately and draw a unique aspect from each and then listen to the album in order and find a commonality that ties the whole album together.

02. Depeche Mode – Playing the Angel: Fantastic album. More than two decades later, they still manage to flawlessly blend an eerie rock edge with synth-pop that brings 80s new wave to the twenty first century. If there is one song I would urge you to download and listen to completely, it would be “Precious.” It is absolutely amazing. ‘Nough said.

03. Namie Amuro – Queen of Hip-Pop
04. Anggun – Luminescence
05. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
06. F.I.R. – Unlimited
07. The Birthday Massacre – Violet
08. The Receiving End of Sirens – Between the Heart and the Synapse
09. Kent – Du & jag doden
10. Tommy heavenly6 – Tommy heavenly6