Saturday, April 13, 2013

blind albums part 2: siam shade - iv zero

part 2: siam shade - iv zero

i think it's spoken "four zero". Aaaand welcome back to my series of album reviews that I didn't plan on continuing. For those of you who don't remember (because you probably didn't read it), a few months ago I bought a handful of albums without listening to them first, through either Amazon samples or YouTube. I just bought them, based on hearing maybe one song, which was really, really atypical of how I normally do. It was unexpectedly rewarding, and since I love sharing unexpected gems, I'm writing this series. Today's entry is the album IV Zero by Siam Shade.

Unlike almost all of the artists I've listened to since 2007, I didn't hear about this band from Pandora. It goes like this: In my high school days, I was very, very in to Utada Hikaru because I absolutely loved the theme song she did for Kingdom Hearts. I'd found my way to a J-Pop reviews site by searching her name, and thought I'd see if any of the other listed artists were any good. I searched, and searched. I had a little bit of luck with Ayumi Hamasaki and Do As Infinity, but found little else. Then I struck gold when I found this amazing song from Siam Shade, called Life. It's not on IV Zero, and the review site only had a 30 second clip, but it was my point of entry for the band. I won't embed it here because it's not technically a part of this review, but you can listen to it here

This was in 2002. I was about 16 and didn't have a credit card or eBay account, and YouTube wasn't the internet radio substitute (and cat video library) that it is today. There was no real way for me to sample any other songs; the review site had no other songs available and I was (am) opposed to the idea of using P2P. So I had to wait, and went through phases of forgetting about them and intermittently remembering, until one day I finally remembered and did have a credit card, eBay account, and YouTube. One of the first new songs I chanced to dig up on the YouTube was 1/3 no Junjou na Kanjou, which even today I just call 1/3 Something-or-other in my head. Anime fans might know it as one of the theme songs for Rurouni Kenshin, which translates to "Walker Texas Ranger, Except Asian". Something like that anyway. 

1/3 was catchy and fun, even though I had no idea what the lyrics were. But it's not like I take the time to process the lyrics of every song I listen to anyway. It made me want more, so I finally bought this album and crossed my fingers. And boyee, did this roll of the dice work out in my favor. It was worth every penny of the roughly 18 bucks spent. Regardless of what album I'm listening to, I will skip half the tracks on a CD almost every time in my car. With this album I skip about 2, and while that doesn't sound like much of a compliment, it's huge coming from a cynic like myself. The 2 that I do skip are an instrumental track, which has never really been my thing, and the other has a vocal intro in Engrish, which I have trouble getting through every time.

The first track is called Dear..., which sounds very much like it should be the title track for an anime. Matt and I were listening to it in the car once and confirmed that we both got the same visuals in our head: A guy standing at the edge of a grassy cliff with his back to the camera, his hair blowing dramatically in the wind while the credits rolled. It was so "Japanese" that Matt actually used it in his internet show, GameSock, when he needed a generic anime song. It's good, and I got to play a puppet shark (!), so you should check it out.

Not every song is like Dear..., though. The band is capable of rocking out with the more popular 90s and 00s American acts, though my assessment of what that means may vary wildly from yours, so keep that grain of salt at hand. If you could tolerate the likes of early Linkin Park, this would be one of the better Western analogues for them, but Siam Shade doesn't really seem to deal in misery. Other approximations that come to mind are Panic! at the Disco and Paramore, and if I didn't know any better, I'd also guess that they were channeling 80s hair metal; there seems to be influence of the likes of Van Halen in the lead guitarist and their use of synth.

Sequentially, my next standout favorite is Bloody Train. It starts with a (what I'm guessing is) keyboard introduction, which rolls nicely into some heavy guitar shredding until the lead vocals come in. The verses are nice and peppy with lots of heavy drums, and the chorus has a nice punch. I lack a proper music vocabulary that I would need to tell you more, so... here:

But my absolute favorite is probably Passion. No intro, I will only say that it freaking rocks.

They have this uncanny ability to have a really young sound, be aggressive and loud, but still somehow be relatively clean-cut. Each member of the band is gifted and talented at what they do, and they play off of each other and mix and meld like no act I've seen since The Birthday Massacre. In almost every attempt I've made to review music, that's usually what stands out to me more than anything else: Chemistry. The band's elements come together to make something uniquely exciting and satisfying. They don't meld to the point that many bands can, functioning as a single homogeneous entity; it's more like a basketball team that knows exactly when to pass and when to shoot. It's the right vocalist for the right guitarist, for the right drummer, for the right bassist. The sheer odds of the right people coming together, auditioning, or knowing the same people, and coming together to form a band were relatively small. But it happened anyway, and now I have these awesome-as-hell songs to listen to. Knowing that is a rare "happy" moment for me.

What's ... happening?
It's a bittersweet happy moment. I got this album in 2012, a full 10 years after the band broke up, so I'll probably never have a chance to see them perform, ever. If that wouldn't have been enough of a problem, there's also, you know .. The Pacific Ocean. The album was made in 1998, and just to give you an idea of what other musical acts were going on at the time, we were listening to Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls, Jumper by Third Eye Blind, and My Hero by The Foo Fighters. I think it holds up pretty well against the US offerings of the time. Also, congratulations: You're old.

I try to pass this band to people every chance I get, but have little success. What I hear people say most is that they have trouble getting over the fact that it "sounds Japanese". I get what they mean, but have also been listening to traces of J-Pop since high school, so that probably explains a bit. I mean, I know it's there but it doesn't set off my "weird" alarm and interrupt my listening experience. On a semi-related note, the band has a pretty decent following in Latin America. I think it has something to do with the fact that they sound pretty similar to Latin rock. I hate to generalize but I will say that there must a similarity on the level of it sounding like vaguely like American rock, but having a bit of a cultural "tweak" that takes some getting used to.

But good is good, right? If you liked the videos I embedded by the grace of YouTube, Siam Shade made about 6 "real" albums. Their albums are numbered I through VI, and go higher but are remakes and compilations after VI. If you think you may be a potential fan, IV Zero is a great place to start because it's one of the best, and has the least amount of cultural friction (I also recommend VI; it's just as good and is 2 CDs long). Getting your hands on a copy isn't that hard, but finding it without a large tax can be. I found mine on eBay, and that's where I recommend starting. 

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