Mid-year Review: 2016 in Japanese Music

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We’re in the middle of June (actually heading towards the end of the month), and so I decided to make a recap of the most noticeable music the Japanese Music Industry offered to us in this first half of 2016.

I can’t deny it: these six months were pretty good in terms of new music. For several reasons, including being introduced to certain niches of the Japanese industry, there have been quite a few records that I enjoyed a lot, only framed by a few disappointments here and there. Let’s start with the good side.


The Good

There have been some very interesting surprises in the last six months, and some (predictably) great albums as well. First off, Seiko Oomori‘s relentless, and sometimes genial TOKYO BLACK HOLE, is a great collection of heartfelt and well crafted tracks, who gather an impressive number of influences and puts them under Seiko’s magnifying glass, with an enjoyable and various output as result. With this great piece of work, Seiko ultimately elevated herself as relevant and influential figure of today’s J-pop scene, a status that will become even clearer in the coming months. J-rock outfit Soutaiseiriron brought an equally brilliant record with Tensei Jingle, by far the album I enjoyed the most this year, thanks to a perfect flow and light-hearted vibe that make me come back on these colorful tracks on a daily basis; Definitely one of the most enjoyable and rewarding records of this year and, on a personal level, one of the best ones since I discovered the Japanese scene six years ago.

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Fully deserving a place in my personal ranking, Bokutachi no Iru Tokoro.‘s Gomi is yet another great piece of J-rock that’s worth all your time, with great accessibility and masterfully crafted compositions. Shifting to a completely different genre, Hiromi Uehara’s record SPARK, enriched by the contribute of bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips, is another gem not to miss, where the piano singer graces us with Jazz-y and pleasantly melodic tunes that could brighten the darkest of days.

From the Japanese Indie sphere, a niche I’m still very new to, the acts that surprised me the most are Indie-pop/Rock outfits Acidclank and CRUNCH: the first recently released an EP composed by two wonderful tracks that made my mind fly all the way to Tokyo (this is how you conquer me), while the latter released an interesting collaboration with American track-maker Alex Ruby, that led me to the group’s remarkable Blue Blue Blue EP (this one released in 2015).

Deserving a paragraph on its own, the biggest surprise of 2016 so far definitely came from FAMM’IN, a unit composed by Avex artists FEMM, Faky and Yup’in, three acts that I consider mediocre at the best. Still, the newly born unit released what is without a doubt one my most looped tracks right now: circle is a deep, fresh and unpredictable trip through electronic elements, traditional Japanese instruments, enigmatic build-ups, unexpected trap beats, and distant atmospheric vocals. Describing this track with words could never give a proper idea of its nature, so the best way is just to enjoy it on your own.

On the Alternative Idol side of things, there have been quite a few interesting releases as well. Probably the hottest unit of the niche at the moment, BiSH continues to walk the road opened by their predecessors and pioneers BiS, with relentless and pop-ish influences merged with Punk rock/Metal, all packed in Fake Metal Jacket, a solid record filled with enjoyable tracks and live anthems that are making the group more and more popular by the day. In the meantime, Maison Book Girl proved once again their value with summer continue, a festival of acoustic layers and electronic bits that, despite not really bringing anything new to the table, it still manages to stand out as a very enjoyable record. Ultradark Idol Unit Necronomidol didn’t miss the opportunity to shine either, as the EP from chaos born brings back the group on track with well crafted tracks and masterful application of several influences, a needed (and much appreciated) effort following a record that split the fandom into two at the beginning of the year.

The not-that-good

Sadly enough, the two records that partly disappointed me belong to two of my favorite mainstream acts. First off, Perfume, that with COSMIC EXPLORER delivered a wave of mixed feelings to their fandom: It’s a nice record, but at the same time not consistent enough, especially considering the standards they always managed to keep up with in the last ten years: this album features some very good tracks, but suffers from a bad tracklist and rushed (and unnecessary) album mixes, that split the album between new convincing tracks and old singles treated in a not-so-convincing way.

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Of course, BABYMETAL’s METAL RESISTANCE is the second album that didn’t meet my expectations. I gave this record a 6.5, and after almost three months, I hardly see how I could have given this record a higher rating. As a BABYMETAL fan since 2011, I am indeed convinced this album is extremely overrated: Is it bad? No. Is it great? Neither. It’s overall quite nice, very good in a few occasions, and bad in others. The real problem though, lies in the exaggerated will of making this project sound as aggressive as possible, killing part of its nature and desperately pressing the accelerator, until the whole thing unavoidably crashed (Tales of the Destinies). No, this is not evolution: this is losing sight of things and blindly head towards a single direction. I admit it makes me sad to say this, especially because I’d still see them live everyday, and because From Dusk Till Dawn is one of my favorite tracks this year, but seriously, this whole album is not what the world claims. And to those saying I am a “first album elitist” (still laughing), I just can say that I can hear the difference between a masterful record and a mediocre one.

The Bad

Ayami Muto, the best solo Idol in recent years, has retired. Kyary didn’t.

Also, stupid scandals getting in the way.


– Alex

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5 thoughts on “Mid-year Review: 2016 in Japanese Music

  1. I agree with you as far as Perfume goes. They need a fresh approach with multiple song writers . And as far as Babymetal goes. There is only one song I don’t care for on the Album, Metal Resistance, and that is Tales and Destinies. But, to me, that is the only weak spot. Yes. They did come out heavier in this album but I actually liked that. I predict that the next album will be even better and their show will only be more exciting.

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    • Detaching a bit from Nakata could be a refreshing change for them, but it’ll probably never happen I think. As for BABYMETAL, they have all the potential to do another amazing album, as they did back in 2014. I hope their third record will be better than MR, personally.

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  2. To be a bit off topic, I wonder if Si-Phi’s penchant for odd (yet highly technical) rhythm & beat has had any influence on Yasutaka Nakata’s “Polyrhythm”. It’d be very nice if it did…

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    • I thought it was nice, but they can definitely do better than that… especially considering that the main problems are the tracklist order and the album-mixes, not even the song themselves.

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