Fun. – Aim and Ignite (2009)

No other band today other than Fun. fits the title as the modern-day Queen. Their quirky pop style of music is charming and infectious. Why it took so long for the media to recognize them is baffling. Fun. is indeed an enjoyable band. The catchiness of their music is irresistible, especially from their debut album Aim and Ignite.

The production, which can only be described as ‘bubbly’, is consistent throughout the course of the album. Nate Ruess’s clean, non-overbearing vocals blend perfectly with the music. The atmosphere is light and pleasing, which means that it’s ideal for both focused listening and background music without being distracting. The lyrics themselves are often adorable, but there are some select strange bits, such as “Light a roman candle with me/ Just a roman candle, you can wear your sandals/ And I’ll pour you just one cup of tea.” While there are a few other nonsensical lyrics such as this one, they hardly detract from the overall listening experience and it’s one of the band’s noticeable characteristics.

It is quite obvious that the band is largely influenced by Queen and other 60s bands such as the Beach Boys. The record opens with the standout track “Be Calm”, a song perfect as the introduction for the album. Skittish violins, flutes, and bells give way to triumphant brass and electric guitar, with Nate’s vocals going from soft and hurried to bold and inviting. The intention of the band is to have the listener be eager to hear more after the opening track, and this is just the case. “All the Pretty Girls” is a strings-laced, pop delight where Nate proclaims his troubles with a girl. Reggae-flecked “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used to Be)” is optimistic to say the least, with a steady drumline and prominent, bright-sounding guitar. By far the catchiest track on the album is ‘Walking the Dog’, where its odd consistent clapping pattern is one of its most prominent characteristics of the song. There’s no doubt you’ll have the chorus stuck in your head for a while (“Na-na-nanana-na-na/I’ll never let you go-o!”).

Overall, this is what a great pop record should sound like. If your inner music snob turns its nose up at any mention of the word ‘pop’, don’t fret. There’s something for everyone in this album. The album maintains its bright style, but it experiments as well. Its clever use of orchestral instruments paired with modern-day ones add to the band’s appeal. It tends to stray away from the formulaic structure of most pop music and instead takes the listener on its own strange musical path. Sound fun? Indeed, it is.


Dir En Grey – Six Ugly EP (2002)

There are very few bands I can think of that have changed their style and music as much as Dir En Grey have. Being one of the most well known bands to have emerged from Japan in recent times, they have been credited with gaining a worldwide audience, without having to use very much English in their songs. Originally starting as a Pop Rock band, they then remerged in Visual Kei (just think of it as the Japanese version of the Glam Metal look…except more creepy and better done), before the release of Six Ugly, which marked the start of their experimentation with Metal.

Like all of Dir En Grey’s releases, the EP can’t fully be compared to any of their other works, but can be described as sporting similarities to American metal bands. The guitars are heavy throughout, and the riffs are clear and repetitive, making it pretty easy to the ear. Lead singer Kyo has one of the most diverse vocal ranges you can find in a singer, which is one of reasons he is able to adapt so easily between genres. That voice is also instantly recognisable, but on this particular release, there aren’t many points where Kyo impresses us. Although, in fairness, there are only six songs on the EP. Bearing in mind that this was made around the time when Nu-Metal was all the rage, it’s quite clear that “Children” happens to be more or less, a Nu-Metal song, as Kyo raps (well, I wouldn’t call it rapping, it’s more like…speaking in rage) over the heavily layered riff. It also happens to be the catchiest song. For some reason, opening track “Mr. Newsman“, sounds as if it has been recorded at a lower quality than the other tracks, which makes it a rather off putting introduction. But once we hit “Ugly, the composition of the music seems more organised and suddenly, the appeal kicks in. If it hasn’t kicked in by this point, it probably isn’t going to kick in. The last song, “Byou Shin“, is actually a re-release of a track that featured on their previous EP, Missa; but a lot heavier, and the vocals turn into light roars. I can’t say it’s a great re-take, and runs the risk of becoming boring halfway through.

Now, I’m willing to bet most people reading this don’t speak Japanese, but that’s ok, because most people who listen to Dir En Grey probably don’t either – even the few times where he sings in English, he pronounces the words in a weird and distorted manner, so it sounds as if it’s Japanese anyway. You don’t need to know what he’s singing about, but their subject matter does raise some interest. Kyo sings at us: “Smiles bought for money, show on the fuzzy TV, screamed from within the flock of senseless pigs, Ladies and gentlemen, victims laughing at crime, crying at crime, Sneering pigs, always, you see, even now, you see”. They seem to be making a commentary on modern day life – the bombardment of useless products that surround us, the superficiality of it all. The album art supports this, with the various references to western Pop culture, and the band name written in the font of Coca-Cola. Though, once again, to some listeners, this can be considered entirely irrelevant.

One thing to understand about Six Ugly is that it’s all in the same style – if you don’t like hearing loud repetitive guitars, you’re probably not going to like this. There are a few fillers on it that pass you by (despite it being a quick listen). All in all, an enjoyable EP, as long as you can enjoy that particular style of music.

Best Tracks: Ugly, Children, Umbrella