Search Box

Links to Culture Cafe Episodes!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Music (So Far) Of 2014

     I'm a bit behind on my music listening. I'll just get that out of the way straight from the get-go. I'm also a bit late on this post, but this year has been unlike any other in my life - refer to episodes 01 to 03 of the podcast for that - so I think I get a bit of slack. In any case, I've put together a small list of what albums I've been into thus far. I've still got a whole bunch that I need to get through so it's not exactly an indication of what will be on my year end, "Best of" list but I imagine a good deal of them will make it. Without further ado, here's what I've been listening to so far:

This list is also in no particular order, so don't worry about that yet!

Perfect Pussy - Say Yes To Love
     I suppose we'll just get the elephant in the room out of the way. I wish I could talk about this album with my students, or recommend it, because I know they don't listen to stuff like this ever. The name alone is something I don't want to try and explain to anyone here. If I were able to recommend it, I'd tell them that "Interference Fits" is one of the best songs of the year.

Dum Dum Girls - Too True
      I remember seeing Dee Dee Penny when she still a part of Grand Ole Party at Coachella in 2008. This is quite different from that and every since she started Dum Dum Girls it would appear she's never looked back. Every release they do just gets better and better. A solid album through and through. You'll definitely want to listen to, "Trouble Is My Name".

Kishi Bashi - Lighght
     Kishi Bashi has been on many people's radar for a while, even if they weren't aware of it. He's toured as a backup performer with many big name artists. I've mentioned this before on a previous recommendation, which you can read about here. "Q&A" instantly became one of my favorite tunes to drive to. Give it a listen.

Cibo Matto - Hotel Valentine
      This isn't their best work. I'll admit that. But it's a lot of fun, and honestly if you were into Cibo Matto before, then you'll find something to latch into with this one as well. I was equally apprehensive and excited when I heard that the two of them would be getting back together. If quirky is what you're looking for, then they didn't disappoint!

Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else
      Cloud Nothings care not for sparing your ears. The whole album rocks from beginning to end. If crunchy, and distorted is your kind of thing, then look no further. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Cloud Nothings are an acquired taste, but you have to be very accepting of angrily shouted lyrics - which I am!

The Horrors - Luminous
     The Horrors and their brand of psychedelia are pretty welcome at any time for me. This one hasn't immediately latched on as quickly as "Skying" did, but it has plenty of memorable moments. It'll still take a few more rotations before I make up my mind entirely. "Chasing Shadows" is a killer opening track and the one I'd probably recommend as of right now.

Lykke Li - I Never Learn
      Lykke Li is never one to disappoint and this third effort follows up on her already impressive career thus far. Everything you need to know about this album can essentially be derived from the title and the cover. She's made no secret that these songs are about pain and suffering through a terrible breakup. Don't let that stop you though, because they're also quite beautiful. You can't go wrong, but try, "Silverline".

Mac DeMarco - Salad Days
      Mac is a character. There's no doubt about that. His devil-may-care attitude can oft be felt throughout the course of this album's consistently laid back tunes. His music has been described as a kind of "slacker" rock, but this is by no means a slam. Salad Days thrives in its twang and chilled aesthetic creating songs that are enjoyable and down to earth.

Manon meurt
     Manon meurt was kind of a strange find for me. I'd heard of it in passing and decided to check it out via their bandcamp. Though there's very little information on this band I can read - it appears they hail from the Czech Republic based on their profile - they've really caught my attention. If shoegaze means anything to you, then this is a band that you'll definitely want to check out. "Glowing Cityscape" has become one of my favorite songs of the year so far.

Jack White - Lazaretto
     You know who this guy is. You also knew this was going to be good. Jack White's follow up to his hugely successful solo debut is equally as sound. Jack sure seems like he's possesses a musical Hand of Midas because every project he comes into contact with is noteworthy.

Real Estate - Atlas
     Real Estate has been on my radar for a while, but they really jumped into the lead with this release. While it retains a sonic distinction that won't allow you to confuse this album for another group they tightened up the production delivering a truly great album. The whole thing is perfect for driving down an opening highway - at the speed limit of course, or not! Listen to, "The Bend".

The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream
     This one gets a recommendation for being like Bob Dylan with a pulse. Lost In The Dream has a free spirited nature to its rock formula. The album seems almost halfway divided between the reserved and the energetic. There are some slow jams to be sure, but there are a great many moments that come alive. It feels like the kind of stuff that just makes you want to get up and move when you're not letting it wash over you. My favorite is probably, "Red Eyes".

St. Vincent - St. Vincent
     Self-titled unoriginality aside, Annie Clark has almost completely reinvented herself (having seemingly created another identity to go with it) this time around with one of the most exciting releases of the year. There's not a track I would skip on this album lest one miss out on the wit in songs such as, "Birth In Reverse," and the raw energy with others such as, "Bring Me Your Loves". Check those out immediately.

Strand Of Oaks - Heal
     This was my first exposure to Strand Of Oaks, and I'm definitely a fan. I've always been a fan of folk-tinged music and there seems to be a rise in popularity of folk infused, lyrically inspired music. Timothy Showalter is fascinating for he seems to bounce with the utmost ease between the worlds of folk and rock. For an emotionally charged time check out, "Shut In".

tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack
     Whether or not Merrill Garbus still stylizes her stage name as I have done just above seems unknown at this point. The cover of this title suggests otherwise, and it might be indicative of the direction that I see her taking. What started off as a lo-fi side project quickly evolved into a more carefully constructed and produced career. While I do miss the lo-quality aesthetic of her first album, I don't think anyone can complain about what she's done with her new set of toys.

FKA twigs - LP1
     FKW twigs was another release out of left field for me. I was not aware of her until this year, but she's surprised me with an incredibly diverse and rich album. In the vein of other modern day electronic driven R&B artists such as Janelle Monáe, Frank Ocean, and The Weeknd, FKA twigs has created an emotionally charged debut that is at times haunting but not worth missing.

Wye Oak - Shriek
     Wye Oak are simply on a roll. 2011's Civilian was such a fantastic album that it felt hard to beat by improving on the formula. The solution then is to change up the formula, which is what Wye Oak seems to have done. Rather than the melancholic and at times listless tone that their last effort had, Shriek seems to have entered a kind of dream-sphere. The wandering and drifting elements remain in place, but with the context change, Wye Oak have a new weapon in their arsenal.

Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal

     Parquet Courts delivers a pretty solid rock album through and through on Sunbathing Animal. It seems like these guys know that if there's not going to be any twist then it better be solid. At times, jangly, noisy, and even quirky, this album never diverges from being a rock album with interspersed punk affectation. Definitely not a boring time. Check out, "What Color Is Blood".

Macross 82-99 - Sailorwave
      This an album that I've recommended on an episode of the podcast. Despite its December 31st 2013 release date, I'll be considering this one for 2014's best of. Vaporwave appears to have largely disappeared as a quick internet based sub-genre (or offshoot) of Chillwave and Lo-Fi, but the ones left standing might just be on the verge of something special.

That should be enough to carry you over for a while. I've got a pile of my own to get through still.

Until next time!


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Exclamation Marks!

Episode 08 - Natchan!

Summer is just about over and it's time to talk about the best part of it! Festivals! Festivals are the main attraction during summer in Japan. I imagine most people would leave or travel during this extremely hot and humid time of the year. This week Mitsuko and I try to define what it is to be a festival in Japan, and why that doesn't quite add up to our definition in America. Along the way we discuss some of our favorite moments from festivals we've attended!

Show Notes 
-The drink for this week:

It's excited about being Natchan!

Niku Maki Cheese (Translation: Deliciousness)

Beef stick (Delicious)

Karaage (Friend Chicken)

Yakisoba! It's soba, but yaki'd!

That's yakitori in the background.

Taiyaki! The fish pancakes.

-Gaina lantern balancing:

-Yamakasa Dontakasu:

This is the festival that I never actually saw because I left the day before it was set to happen! You can read Wikipedia's very short entry on it, or just check out the picture below to get an idea.

-Here's a link to Kotoura-cho's Hakuhousai laser/fireworks show:

Youtube blocked the sound. But you can still enjoy the video. Thank you Youtube.

-This week's musical recommendation:


This is the cover art.

You've probably noticed from the link about that we're not putting these up via Youtube anymore. I host them through Soundcloud and.... *drumroll* we're on iTunes now!

Make sure to subscribe!

As always if you have thoughts, comments, suggestions,
critiques, or maybe you want to find out how to be a guest on the show, send us an email at:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Winding Down Summer

Hey all,

     It's been a pretty busy week or so, which means that I haven't been able to put up a new episode of the show in quite some time. On the other hand it also means that there's been much to talk about. One of the festivals I was waiting for in order to do a "festivals" themed episode has since passed and I'd like to spoil the show only a bit (we'll talk about festivals in general, not just this one) by talking about it here.

Juushichiya (十七夜)

     This is the big one for us and ironically it's the smallest festival we attend. The history of Juuschiya changes up a bit depending on who we ask in the town but most people agree that at least 400 years ago there was a lord who lived in Kofu-cho's Ebi ward. He was a good man and the people of Ebi really loved him. Then one day, as is common amongst lords it would seem, he was killed by the people of a neighboring area called Muko (武庫), which still exists today. Muko, incidentally, means "armory," so it's probably not too hard to imagine they were a bit Spartan-like in their time, but that's just speculation on my part, plus the fact that they killed Ebi's lord. In any case, the former subjects decided that they would honor their felled lord by having a festival in which they would remember what a just and kind person he was. So that's the history of it. But what of the modern day? How do they actually celebrate it? Like so:

A view from our ryokan-turned house

A really bad shot of the townspeople carrying a palanquin of sorts to the sort where it will be danced around

Mitsuko in her yukata looking fabulous

Traditional Japanese clothing + greasy fried chicken = festival

I am a major supporter of the fried noodle cause

The width of the street becomes increasingly small when you have vendors on either side

This might not have any relation to the history, but it's still cool!

This kid might as well have just poked the boxes over.

Eventually it's a shoulder to shoulder affair

I don't really know what this is about but here you go!

 More pictures of these dudes.

This is the traditional dance done for the long gone lord


     Some of the things I didn't get a picture of though were the taiko, sumo, and burning of the hill. The taiko and sumo probably don't need much explanation. They're demonstrations of those events, but the hill fire is one that's particularly unique and very much a reason why one would want to go to Juushichiya. The Japanese kanji for the event is 十 七 夜 which quite literally says, "17th night". The more poetic way to interpret it might be something like, "The Night of the 17th". In any case, it's held on August 17th, and they take those kanji and spell it out with fire up on the hill behind Ebi station. It's a really spectacular thing to see and I wish they'd been able to do it this year, but the festival was mostly rained out. Many of the vendors appeared to have canceled, and though it cleared up during the middle of the day, it picked up around 8:30 or so, and really spoiled the evening. We asked Mitsuko's students about whether or not they were still going to do the fire and they told us that it was likely not going to happen because they couldn't do the preparations earlier in the day when it was simply down pouring.

Oh well. Still a pretty good time.

Stay tuned for a podcast all about festivals in Japan coming very soon!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Crash Course!

Episode 06 - Jersey Coffee
Today is about those dreaded license tests. Mitsuko and I start off by running through what it was like to get out licenses in America, then we flip gears and I get into what it was like for me to get my license in Japan. Along the way we have an anonymous tale of someone who had a critical error in their test and helpful hints from Amber Garrison, who passed her first time! This week closes out with another music recommendation so make sure to check that out while you're driving with your newly minted and hard earned license.

Show Notes:

-Here's the drink for today:

I love this bottle!
 -Here's some pictures from the driving course:

Gassed up and ready to fail!

The trouble of line interpretation starts here.

Twisting and turning, dashed and solid.

There are numbers at all the turns which helps with the instructions.

Some of the cars are retired taxis, I drove a taxi.

I'm pretty sure this is for the motorcycles

This is the motorcycle "S" turn.

Again, motorcycle version but it's the same idea.


There's your full sized "S" turn, which actually isn't all that bad.

Faux signal lights.

The crank. Also not bad.

Course B - It starts from the red dot.

Course A - Starts from the red dot

-And if that's not good enough, check out this video of me walking the course!

-Helpful driving links:

Driving Test

Passing The Test

One Try Tips

-Here's another helpful video courtesy of Amber Garrison:

Thanks Amber!

-This week's musical recommendation:

"The Bend" by Real Estate from their album "Atlas"

I could only find a live version of the song, but please do check out the album if you get a chance. It's gloriously chilled out music meant for summer.

As always if you have thoughts, comments, suggestions,
critiques, or even if you just want to pick a fight, send us an email at: