The Best Japanese Records of 2017

This year has been a curious one in Japanese music: during the first half we’ve seen some great albums getting released, many of them from artists that have been growing more and more in the last years. The second half has been much slower, except for a vibrant and relentless underground Idol scene that has delivered many surprises just as J-pop, including some interesting debuts. It’s safe to say that I liked many more releases this year than in 2016.

Below is a list of 15 Japanese records that stood out the most to me in 2017. It is not a Top 15, meaning that I put all these records on the same level of quality, except for one, which firmly stood above anything else released in Japan this year. So there is a Japanese Album of the Year in this list. There is also a Best Music Video, Best Live Performer, and Best Collaboration.

Please note that this list features both Albums and EPs, as my aim is to recommend the best Japanese music regardless of the release format. Hope you enjoy it!


Hirone Chan – Yume no Yume
(J-pop)

2017 is the year Hirone Chan reached her maturity as artist. The singer/songwriter never really had a bad record in her young career, yet the way-too-recurrent comparisons to J-pop phenomenon Seiko Oomori somehow slightly overshadowed her previous releases in some way. This comparison ultimately came to an end this year with the release of Hirone Chan’s second studio album Yume no Yume, a pleasant journey where several influences merge together and take the form of rhythms and melodies that tell of fragile and delicate feelings. This is a very personal album, yet it’s not afraid to delicately borrow elements from several genres: wether it’s a jazz-y rhythm section, an electric guitar riff, a piano solo, or a delicate electronic beat, every element in Yume no Yume merges delicately to create a very focused and classy soundscape. This is a greatly crafted record, that flows seamlessly while successfully delivering highlights that keep the listener engaged throughout this very intimate and personal journey. Surely one of this year’s most surprising albums.

Listen: Omoidasenai Yume Mitai ni


Natsume Mito – Natsumelo
(J-pop / Electronic)

With the beginning of a solo career, a myriad of projects between old and new artists, commercial tie-ins, and even his own music festival to organize and manage, Yasutaka Nakata is a producer that’s probably too busy to even sleep… let alone think about the past. Yet, there’s been one moment this year where the famed producer went full flashback mode, releasing a record that can be seen as a sort of testament to what he did so far in his twenty-years career, a recap that takes the form of Natsumelo, Natsume Mito‘s debut record entirely produced by the Tokyo-based producer. The nature of the project itself immediately reminds of the glorious days of COLTEMONIKHA and Nagisa Cosmetic, and quite surprisingly, it reaches similar levels of quality: in Natsumelo, Nakata finds himself exploring all of his past influences, spacing from his early-days Lounge sound and Chiptune bits to the classic “soothing bass” that permeated the Techno-pop wave in the second half of the 2000s. All of this is delivered through a formula that’s super catchy and fast, sounding fresh and contemporary instead of a mere throwback. Natsume Mito provides fitting vocals for Nakata to play with, and the chemistry between the two delivers a result that’s ultimately amazing. Surely one of the most fun records of the year.

Listen: Eight Bit Boy
Read my review on Electric Bloom Webzine


Yurumerumo! (You’ll Melt More!) – YUOTOPIA
(New wave / Pop Rock / Idol)

2017 has been an incredibly busy year for Yurumerumo. These girls literally didn’t stop for a second, with two albums, two EPs, several live performances, and I don’t even know how many Music Videos and singles anymore released throughout the year, working at a pace that would make Tentenko doubt of her productivity. While I’ll take quality over quantity every day, these girls have been surprisingly constant with their music delivery, and the recently released YOUTOPIA is their most remarkable work this year. Few units can sound this crazy yet incredibly careful in every detail, and this album is yet another showcase of the absolutely insane songwriting representing Yurumerumo, a relentless and colorful journey between Dance, Rock, New Wave, Chiptune, Metal, Pop, and pretty much whatever their production team felt like doing, all framed in a catchy and welcoming structure. To make it simple, just look at the record’s cover: that’s probably the most accurate representation of how YUOTOPIA sounds.

Listen: Nigenai!!


・・・・・・・・・ – Tokyo
(Shoegaze / Idol)

Symbolism, mysteries, metaphors, cryptic live performance, daily YouTube videos…・・・・・・・・・ (better known as Dots)  is no doubt the most mysterious and interesting project in the Alt Idol scene at the moment. I have talked about the five (or nine?) girls quite a few times during this year, not only for their unique and engaging concept that leaves free space to interpretation, but first and foremost for their music (obviously).

Dots’ main release this year took the form of a CD featuring a 72 minutes-long track titled Tokyo, which is basically a set of three tracks put together, all of them exposing several vibes and moods while keeping Shoegaze and delicate Electronics layers the main core of their sound. What makes these songs even more enjoyable is the way they are structured, with ambient and atmospheric interludes between each number that create a cohesive flow despite being sonically different. It’s an homogeneous experience that progresses seamlessly while exploring different soundscapes, and it’s very enjoyable to listen to. This part of the track, which again is made of the three tracks just described, ends at the 22 minutes mark. The ending kind of took off guard quite a few fans (while someone definitely noticed that something was wrong), as the remaining fifty minutes on the CD are nothing but pure noise. It may sound like a joke at first, and while this approach is surely open to interpretation, I think it hides a clear metaphor which is… intriguing.

Listen: Slide
Read my review on ARAMA! JAPAN, and also my in-depth article.


MIGMA SHELTER – Amazing Glow
(Psychedelic Trance / Idol)

A new addition to the AqbiRec family, MIGMA SHELTER is easily one of the best debuts in the Alternative Idol scene this year. Detaching themselves from the usual formula of their colleagues, these five girls have a clear and strong influence as their core: Psychedelic Trance. The genre itself is prone to welcome vocals, and this unit clearly takes advantage of this to deliver a fun and entertaining experience, alternating glitchy vocal sections to hard-hitting instrumental outbursts, occasionally merging them together in a surprisingly fitting way. Everything is wrapped up by a remarkable songwriting that’s not afraid to borrow elements from Metal and Rock, and the result is quite unique. While their debut single is nothing to scoff at, Amazing Glow is a more refined and adventurous release, featuring a streak of valid tracks that will undoubtedly entertain both Idol and Electronic music fans.

Listen: Amazing Glow


Youthmemory – Neo Tokyo
(Indie-Pop)

Melancholy and nostalgia are feelings that have been kind of trending in the last few years in music, but only few can convey them as good as Youthmemory does. With Neo Tokyo, the Tokyo-based Indie-pop outfit indeed delivers a two-tracks release that explores these feelings with delicacy: the title track conveys uncertainty towards the future and nostalgia for the past with sharp melodies revolving around distant guitar riffs, while the following “City” (possibly the best track in here) features melancholic riffs and airy layers of synths that brings the listener back to the innocence of adolescence and its beautiful carefreeness. Neo Tokyo may only be a two-tracks EP, but in ten minutes it successfully conveys more feelings and quality than a lot of full length records out there.

Listen: Neo Tokyo


Satellite Young – Satellite Young
(Synth-pop)

If the previous act is a representation of melancholy and nostalgia towards the past, Satellite Young are the guys that want you to cherish it and have fun in remembering the good old times. Confining the 80’s Synth-Pop outfit in the Vaporwave category would make no justice to their music: while emulating 80’s pop music is surely far from something original, they do it so well that’s just impossible not to enjoy it. Satellite Young‘s main accomplishment lies not only in the perfect representation of 80’s music between bright synth melodies and flashy guitar solos, but also in the ability of taking the sound of an era and frame it in a modern pattern that makes it perfectly enjoyable today. This record is pure fun, and a well-crafted tribute to a period where Pop music was a bit more heartfelt than it is today. Not to miss.

Listen: Dividual Heart


There There Theres – There’s Something Behind
(Symphonic Rock / Idol)

Previously known as Bellring Girls Heart, the crow-themed Alt Idol unit has been delivering greatly-written Rock music in different forms since its foundation in 2012. This year’s change of name and formation has been an unexpected turn, but nonetheless, great music kept flowing from this project of the AqbiRec family. The now-called There There Theres project released two singles this year, and while Upstairs Down is a trip worth taking only for the beautiful “Pelican”, the latest There’s Something Behind uncovered a side of this unit that’s new and unexpectedly dark, delivering one of the strongest compositions these girls ever released. The dramatic title track highlights nervous rhythm patterns and piano melodies that work as a base for unexpected – but very fitting – symphonic elements, with a structure that slowly progresses in a crescendo of anxiety, leading to a final outburst of desperation highlighted by a remarkable performance from the girls; it’s a pretty dark song, and its particular progression makes it all but instant, but once it clicks it’s hard to stop listening to it. The coupling tracks “IKENIE” and “Metalics” follow the same mood with different patterns, and they all deliver thanks to the trademark songwriting from mastermind Koji Tanaka. There’s Something Behind may not be an easy listen at first, and definitely strays away from the catchiness of past works from this unit, but it shows an emotional value that’s worth exploring. Surely one of the best releases from the world of underground Idols this year.

Listen: There’s Something Behind


Zombie-Chang – GANG!
(Electro-pop)

As proven last year with her remarkable self-titled record, Zombie-Chang‘s main skill lies in her incredible sense for rhythm and melodies. While she rarely strays away too much from her comfort zone, she can deliver so much with so little that’s honestly stunning what she’s achieving with just a keyboard and a DAW. Her second album GANG! generally follows her usual pattern, but also ventures into more Pop-ish fields, with the beautiful leading single “I CAN’T GET TO SLEEP” as prime example (also showing a great improvement in the singing department). Despite being a reasonably short ride, Zombie-Chang’s new record successfully showcases several vibes and combination of sounds, a playground where Meirin feels free to experiment and shyly expand her sound, while also keeping close to the roughness and the vague oppression of her previous record. GANG! is a great example of Zombie-Chang’s skills in music composition, as well as one of the most enjoyable Electro-pop records of the year.

Listen: I CAN’T GET TO SLEEP 
Read my review on ARAMA! JAPAN


NECRONOMIDOL – DEATHLESS
(Metal / Idol)

All the sacrifice, hard work, and effort NECRONOMIDOL put in their project since their formation have finally paid off in 2017. A well-deserved gift after the struggles they went through in the past, constantly looking for the right formation, but most of all, for the right sound and balance. And they made it. DEATHLESS, Necroma’s second full-length album, is hands-down the best and most mature release from the self-proclaimed Ultradark Idol unit, striking a remarkable balance between extreme Metal influences – mainly Black, Power and Heavy – and ethereal vocals often enriched by synths and catchy hooks, a formula that seamlessly merges distant influences and conveys them through a sound that’s homogenous and crystal clear. DEATHLESS is a strong collection of songs, a various yet cohesive journey through dark vibes and beautiful vocals delivered though a familiar structure: NECRONOMIDOL couldn’t have made a better album than this, and it’s a remarkable achievement worth admiring.

Listen: ABHOTH
Read my review here


Sora tob sakana – Cocoon EP
(Math Rock / Electronic / Idol)

It’s no secret that sora tob sakana is one of the best Alt Idol units out there, and this year’s Cocoon EP once again delivered amazing music, brought by the ever-growing talent of these girls and the outstanding musicianship of Math Rock maestro and producer Yoshimasa Terui. The link between last year’s outstanding record and Cocoon EP mostly lies in the adaptation of the unit’s trademark Math Rock technique to dreamy Electronic elements, while merging delicate guitar melodies and occasional aggressive riffs in the process. “Ribbon” is easily one of the best (if not the best) compositions sora tob sakana ever released, and the rest of the record masterfully keeps the pace up despite leaning towards a more Electronic direction. Sora tob sakana once again proves to be one of Alt Idol’s best units, and the future for these girls and their talented team is bright. Unmissable.

Listen: ribbon
Read my review here


Seiko Oomori – kitixxxgaia / MUTEKI
(J-pop / Acoustic)

 

It may sound unfair to feature two albums in a spot, but I really can’t consider Oomori Seiko‘s 2017 without taking both of these great records in consideration, as they’re pretty much two sides of the same coin. Kitixxxgaia is exactly the album everyone was expecting to be, a majestic journey through myriads of influences, from whispers and yells, to full Metal outburst and delicate Electronic beats, all of them wrapped-up by a masterful songwriting; while it may sound a bit less adventurous than last year’s excellent TOKYO BLACK HOLE, kitixxxgaia nonetheless delivers an outstanding experience and once again shows how Seiko puts into music not only what’s in her mind, but most of all what’s in her heart. MUTEKI, a compilation of acoustic self-covers exploring the songwriter’s back catalogue, fully brings out Seiko’s former artistic identity, with only her voice, her acoustic guitar, and some occasional piano layers to grace the listener’s ears; surely a release more aimed at her long-time fans, but nonetheless an heartfelt and tender journey worth taking. Both these records complement each other greatly, and successfully showcase the artistry one of J-pop’s most talented singers/songwriters of the last decade.

Listen: DOGMA MAGMA


Yanakoto Sotto Mute – BUBBLE
(J-Rock / Idol)

I’ve been listening to music and writing about it for most of my life, and if there’s one thing I can tell you for sure, is that “pure” and straight-to-the-point Rock albums bore me to death: if there isn’t something sneaking in, some sort of external influence of whatever nature enriching the sound, I rarely come back to it. Yanakoto Sotto Mute‘s latest record is one of the very rare exceptions to this: BUBBLE is an all-around outstanding album, with variousness, melodies, and masterful songwriting as main highlights, keeping the listener constantly engaged throughout its thirteen tracks. It’s aggressive yet greatly executed, adventurous but cohesive, and ultimately, one of the best records of this year. As if that wasn’t enough, Yanakoto Sotto Mute‘s members are easily the best vocalist of the entire Idol scene, and along a beautiful artistic direction, this record is an all-around must have for those who are looking for both a great Rock album and a very talented Idol unit to follow.

Listen: Lily


Suiyoubi no Campanella – SUPERMAN
(J-pop / Electronic)

It’s no secret that Suiyoubi no Campanella is currently one of the most beloved groups of the Japanese music scene, and the talent and fresh compositions of this project are starting to reach the western side of the planet as well. After last year’s UMA, a rushed EP that marked Campanella’s uncertain entry to the mainstream world, the trio greatly recovered this year with their new studio album SUPERMAN, which is exactly what everyone needed to hear from this team of talented artists. Various, unpredictable, fun, often aggressively Electronic, SUPERMAN is a festival of melodies, hard-beats, and all sorts of influences, from Funk and 80’s Disco to African music and Pop. This record is yet another testament to Suiyoubi no Campanella‘s outstanding songwriting and dynamic sound, and a genuinely fun and addictive experience. One of J-pop’s absolute best in 2017.

Listen: Aladdin 


ALBUM OF THE YEAR 2017

For Tracy Hyde – he(r)art
(Showgaze)

I can write this without hesitation: For Tracy Hyde’s record he(r)art is the Best Japanese album of 2017.

This is exactly what I describe as a masterpiece album, a complete opera all-around, where it’s not about picking up and dissecting each track, but enjoying the album as a unique cohesive experience. Like staring at a painting and admire how each part of it contributes to the overall image, instead of focusing on single elements. It’s a rare gift we don’t get that often in music.

From the beginning to the end, he(r)art delicately tells the tale of a girl and of her feelings, while setting the magic of Tokyo’s vibrant life as background, casting clear images and life experiences in the mind of the listener: the first sight of Shinjuku’s festival of night lights, a walk in Inokashira park during fall, a lonely winter day in Kamakura’s beach, the blinding beauty of Ginza during Christmas time… all these images come to mind while listening to this album, along with millions of feelings that intertwine within Tokyo’s frantic yet silent web of lives, where love, betrayal, insecurity, happiness and sadness all merge together. This is music made by people who lived these melodies and sounds before even writing them, and it’s the reason why it resonates so much with the listener. I could tell you about the complex yet accessible songwriting, the excellent influences that pop up unexpectedly and enrich each track with surprise, the comfortable melancholy and joy of each guitar riff… yet a mere technical description just wouldn’t make justice to this album. The best thing is just to listen to it, and absorb every note of it.

I recommend this record to everyone. While all the great albums listed above deliver amazing experiences and are made by outstanding musicians and artists, there is quite nothing that reaches the depth, the attention to details, and the emotions that For Tracy Hyde conveys with this record. He(r)art is an absolute masterpiece, and the reason why I love music.

Read my review on ARAMA! JAPAN


Best Music Video

Sora Tob Sakana – ribbon

This is the perfect representation of music combining with visuals to create a great artistic experience: the hand-drawn style, the story of a rabbit and a turtle dreaming of different places, the power of music in transporting people to different worlds with the only use of imagination… all of this is represented through this video in such a tender and human way that’s hard not to get moved by it. “Ribbon” is one of the best Japanese songs released this year, but it’s only half of the experience without its music video.


Best Live Performer

Perfume – Fusion (NTT Docomo Future Experiment vol.01)

Techno-pop trio Perfume have always been ahead of… pretty much the entire world when it comes to live performances and cutting edge technology. And this year, they proved once again how they can still deliver jaw-dropping live performances backed by innovative concepts.

For the first time ever, the three girls performed separately, each one on a different side of the planet: A-chan in Tokyo, Kashiyuka in London, Nocchi in New York. They performed the same song and choreography simultaneously while live streaming each location live, with the incredible work of the Rhizomatiks team putting each member together, and adding computer graphic elements and insane camera work on top. Words can’t make justice to this performance, so just put your headphones on and see what happens when some of the best performers in the world meet a team of incredible artists.


Best Collaboration

Towa Tei with Ano (You’ll Melt More!) – REM

I really wasn’t expecting this, but I guess legendary Electronic artist Towa Tei has an eye for unique personalities, as one of the leading singles from his EMO album features none other than Ano from Idol unit You’ll Melt More! . She’s no outstanding singer, but if you’ve been following her for some time, it’s clear that she definitely has a certain connection to music, and Towa Tei built a perfect song for her whispering voice. The video too is a clear representation of both Towa Tei’s music and Ano’s unique personality, and it’s something not to miss.


Honorable Mentions

They didn’t make it into the list, but these releases are totally worth your time as well.

HAMIDASYSTEM – Semi no Koe, Kogarete Planet (Electronic / Atmospheric / Idol)
Cornelius – Mellow Waves (Electronic / Rock / J-pop )
Maron Hamada – Lady Monochrome (Rock / Jazz)
MINAKEKKE – TINGLES (J-rock / Indie Rock)
Boris – Dear (Metal / Drone)
amiinA – Valkyrie EP (Idol)
CHAI – PINK (J-rock)
CRUNCH – Tenkiame (Indie-Pop)
Task Have Fun – 3WD (Idol)
Keyakizaka46 – Masshiro na Mono wa Yogoshitaku naru (Idol)


I hope you will check out and enjoy these records. Be sure to let me know what you think about it in the comments. Have fun!

– Alex

TOP 5 | My favorite Japanese records of 2016

Yes, I know this should have been a Top 10 list. But in the end, I just wanted to make a list of the albums that I personally enjoyed A LOT, the ones I still listen to this day on a regular basis. And while there are several records that I enjoyed in this rich year for Japanese music, here are the ones that I feel like you shouldn’t absolutely miss.

Let’s get started!


Soutaiseiriron – Tensei Jingle

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One of the most enjoyable J-pop records of the year, Soutaiseriron‘s Tensei Jingle is a pleasant experience that’s deep yet incredibly catchy. The band sounds fresher than ever, with dreamy guitar melodies floating on top of strong rhythmic patterns and electronic bits adding all the necessary atmosphere to make this record incredibly charismatic. This formula mutates throughout the entire tracklist, granting variousness and exposing the myriad of details composing this record, that just gets better listen after listen. Truly a rewarding experience, and a record not to miss.

[READ MY REVIEW]


Seiko Oomori – TOKYO BLACK HOLE

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If 2015 was mostly a transition period for Seiko Oomori in the mainstream scene, 2016 is the year she conquered it. TOKYO BLACK HOLE is a collection of solid J-pop numbers, contaminated by different influences at the service of Seiko’s relentless will of expressing herself in so many different ways. This grants a various array of vibes and sounds, spacing from Electronic and Rock to Idol pop and Symphonic elements, who enrich her trademark sound without overshadowing it. And in its complex, sometimes intrigued textures, TOKYO BLACK HOLE manages to be incredibly catchy and enjoyable, forming a collection of masterful J-pop numbers, where you never know what’s gonna happen next. Seiko Oomori always puts her heart and soul in music, and this time she overdid herself, and this is why this album is so good and enjoyable. Definitely one of the highlights of this year.

[READ MY REVIEW]


Mono – Requiem For Hell

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Post-rock masters MONO come back in the scene with one of the most heartfelt records of the year, conveying strong emotions through their unique sound developed in almost two decades of honorable career.

Requiem for Hell is a journey through powerful vibes and vivid emotions, that leak from each of the five tracks composing this dark and beautiful piece of work. Looking back at the group’s catalogue, this record definitely stands out for its darker personality, occasionally flirting with Post-metal influences, yet it manages to be somehow calm and soothing in a unique way. And that’s really what this album is all about: the balance of emotions, the portrait of life and death, of pain and relief, of happiness and sadness. A beautiful and haunting experience not to miss.

[READ MY REVIEW]


Sora Tob Sakana – Sora Tob Sakana

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2016 was a strong year for the Alterative Idol niche, with groups of the likes of BiSH rising in the mainstream scene, and others surfacing with convincing concepts and strong personality. In the midst of a niche that gets more and more crowded, though, sora tob sakana shine the most for their unique approach to Idol music, showcasing a fresh and bright concept (contrary to most groups) made of extremely technical Math Rock numbers. Their self-titled debut record made this year’s spring even brighter, featuring a collection of numbers where melodic Math Rock gets permeated by masterfully placed Electronic moments and great vocal lines, showcasing a solid personality. This is a great record not only for the Idol aficionados, but for anyone who’s looking for accessible yet deeply technical music that’s easy to enjoy in any context. Definitely one of the greatest surprises of 2016.

[READ MY REVIEW, coming soon, listen in the meantime]


Zombie-chang – Zombie-change

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One of the uprising acts in the Indie scene, Meirin Yung (aka Zombie Chang) is surely an artist that grabbed the attention for her charismatic, self-produced music. Started off as a rapper, the young artist took an Electronic turn this year with her record Zombie-Change… and boy was it surprising. Meirin’s take on Electronic music has kind of a retro taste to it, but it manages to sound fresh at the same time, with redundant melodies and beats filled with unexpected twists and turns that create a various and enjoyable experience. Hands-down my favorite Electronic album of the year, that I feel like suggesting to anyone looking for a raw and very spontaneous record.

[LISTEN]


Honorable Mentions:

Shiggy JR. – All About Pop (J-pop)
Bokutachi no iru tokoru. – Gomi (J-rock)
Oyasumi Hologram – 2 (Alternative Idol) [REVIEW]
Necronomidol – from chaos born (Alternative Idol) [REVIEW] 
Jun Togawa w/ Vampillia – Watashi ga Nakou Hototogisu

Best MV | lyrical school, run and run
Greatest surprise | FAMM’IN – circle [REVIEW AND ARTICLE]
Personal favorite song | Sakanaction – Tabun, kaze [IMPRESSIONS]


Hope you will enjoy these records! Be sure to leave your impressions in the comments!

Happy Holidays and… I’ll see you guys in 2017 😉

– Alex

VLOG | Best Japanese Albums of November 2016, and future releases!

Can you believe this? I made a new video! After more than a year!

I woke up this morning, and realized there are way too many great albums that got released in November, and many more promising ones in this last month of 2016. It’d take a 10,000 words article to talk about all this, so… I just made a VLOG 😛

Be sure to check out the video above to get a grasp of all the best and most interesting records of the last month, plus new exciting releases that will hit the shelves of Japanese stores in the next weeks.

I’m terribly sorry for my broken english, my mumbling, and my terrible Italian accent, but as you know, I haven’t been recording a video for quite a long time, so please bear with me!

Please let me know if you would like me to do more videos like this one 🙂

Love ya

– Alex

[BLOG] Summer is over. Finally.

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Hey guys, it’s Alex!

As you may have noticed, I’ve been pretty much inactive for the last three months. Living in a tourist costal area translates into super busy and chaotic summers, which means working 12 hours a day, with little to no time to concentrate on pretty much any other thing. Well, except for nocturnal Pokémon GO adventures with my friends. Getting closer to our 30’s, yo.

Anyway, that doesn’t mean I haven’t wrote anything at all (keeping it for later) or completely ignored music: I have observed everything with a vigilant eye, just like Oliver Sykes stalks MOA-METAL around festivals.

To make it short, here are my thoughts on the last three months in Japanese Music.


Short and superficial recap of Summer 2016 in Japanese Music.

Hikki‘s new songs are nice. I think Fantôme is gonna be a good album, something that we’ll eventually verify in just three days. It’s gonna be a big event, and you will find a review of the record here on the blog. Oh, and of course it’ll top the Oricon chart… with some pretty big numbers.

– One of my favorite ex-indie acts, DAOKO, a girl that’s getting way too hot by the way, has been pulling out very shallow and uninspired music lately. Her latest track with TeddyLoid (the one who probably granted her the entry to the mainstream world) is particularly bad. Not surprised there, to be honest. Not even Skrillex cares about *woobz* anymore. C’mon bro…

Perfume killed it in the U.S. with their COSMIC EXPLORER Tour. And Team Perfume crafted an incredible performance for the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics. Forever proud.

SMAP disbanded. ’bout time.

Sakanaction‘s new single release has been delayed to October 19th. That’s ok, I just need the new album. No problem Yamaguchi-san. No problem at all. *loops Rookie*

BiS are back with new members and leader Pour Lui. They performed live twice, and it was so embarrassing I almost cried: imagine if me (drunk) and KOHH (on acids) were together on stage trying to sing nerve: yes, it’s that bad. I still hope this is some kind of bad joke.

– BiS’ sister/rival group SiS has been created, too. And… yeah. That’s it for now.

BiSH recruited a new member, Ayuni D, and she’s adorable. They also dropped a new album, KiLLER BiSH, that I just finished reviewing right now. The article will be online next Wednesday on an English website. You’ll find a link here in my blog, so stay tuned!

– The Perfume x OK Go track I Don’t Understand You was… meh. And barely featured any Perfume vocals. Whatever.

Spotify is finally coming to Japan next week… things are starting to change for Japan too. As expected. I’ll talk about this later.

– There was a Bikini Night at ageHa just tonight… and I’m here posting Idol pics on Facebook.


That’s it for this short recap! There are some interesting releases for this last part of 2016 that I will review, and more arguments to talk about, which means more articles. Long story short: summer is finally over, and I will be back writing again as usual. When I’m not out playing Pokémon GO, of course.

Joke. Love ya.

– Alex

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

Scandals in Japanese music are nothing but pathetic marketing moves

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Since I started writing about Japanese music, I always avoided to talk about the scandals that pop up from time to time in the world’s second biggest music industry. The reason is simple: I don’t care about celebrities’ personal matters, nor it’s any of my business.

I could start covering news, scandals, gossips, and act like a lonely housewife in her mid 30’s, trying to get more views as possible with a clickbait website. And in all honesty, it would probably bring me farther than what I’m achieving now by exclusively writing about music. Most importantly, though, I’d totally benefit from the comfortable purpose these news are created for: popularity. To me, scandals are indeed nothing but planned and organized news, created by labels and management agencies to increase the popularity (and, potentially, sales) of artists going through particular stages of their careers.

The most infamous example right now is obviously the “scandal” between Enon Kawatani, the mastermind behind J-rock outfits indigo le End and Gesu no Kiwami Otome. , and Becky, “tarento” and now part-time lonely girl tasting food on TV. You all know the story, so I’ll just briefly recap it as: Dude was secretly married and used to flirt with Becky, shit hit the fan, she made one of those pathetic public flagellations, dude’s album Ryouseibai peaked the Oricon chart, she disappeared, and people started to worry about her health, with a few “you sexist assholes!” outbursts in the middle. Now, a few days ago, these two announced that Enon divorced and that Becky’s public flagellation was totally fake: Kindergarten level of behavior. Not even Haruki Murakami would care about such a weak cheating story.

Now, if you’ve noticed, in all the maze of this pathetic “scandal”, Gesu no Kiwami Otome.’s album Ryouseibai peaked the Oricon Chart, despite all the fuss for the love affair involving the band’s frontman.

I swear, I don’t wanna sound like those stupid conspiracy theorists polluting social networks, but I really see all of this just as a pathetic promotional move. Think about it: what’s the thing that, no matter what, causes more stir and makes everyone talk? Scandals. People will always point the finger and talk about someone else’s shameful actions, just for the sake of chatting about something and to feel better with themselves. It’s just natural, it happens everywhere: More talk means more popularity, leading to people getting to know about who’s involved, and, consequentially, to discover the group(s) the “culprits” are part of, that ultimately translates into more sales.

Don’t get me wrong: Gesu no Kiwami Otome. is actually one of the most valid J-rock bands out there, and Kawatani is undoubtedly a talented songwriter. Maybe the album would have topped the Oricon chart anyway. But at the same time, we’re not talking about a group you can find promoted on billboards in Shinjuku, in trains, or in any other crowded place: Gesu is in that transition phase between well known niche act and mainstream celebrity, where a trending topic (a scandal, in this case) right before the release of a record can do nothing but boost popularity. And who better than a celebrity like Becky to trigger all the mess? The ridiculous behavior of these two (apparently) adult people is just hard to take seriously, especially after the recent unveiling of Becky’s fake behavior in public. And there’s no doubt that, at the end of the story, there’s a heavy sense of falsity in the air, and that all of this was just used (or planned) to boost the sales of Kawatani’s band new record, and to make Becky relevant again in the business, after her fake retirement.

Enon and Becky’s “scandal” is not the only one to take in consideration, obviously. Another clear example is the infamous case of AKB48’s Minami Minegishi, who shaved her hair right after she was apparently caught sleeping at a guy’s apartment. Oh Lord… a twenty years old girl spending the night with a man! What has this world come to! And don’t get me started on the famous “no dating” rule, cause that’s pure falseness and an excuse for hardcore fans to keep supporting the girls.

Anyway, the terrible video of Minami apologizing in tears with her head shaved grabbed the attention of the world, and it’s honestly sad considering its visual brutality: It was beyond atrocious, and had a disturbing psychological violence behind it that made me sick. Right after the case, her fellow group members and supposedly friends, said that “they tried to stop her, but with no success”. Give me a break. Anyone could stop a girl from grabbing a hair clipper and shave her head bald. The thing was another excuse to make marketing by taking advantage of something the girl did in total innocence, and to “fix” the sales drop AKB48 had at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013, later followed by an impressive boost in copies sold for the singles following the incident.

Differently from the Enon and Becky “scandal”, though, that was nothing to laugh at: that girl was visibly traumatized, and that for me is enough to call it the cruelest and most inhuman commercial move ever. Cause no matter what, I will never be able to picture a young Japanese girl voluntarily shaving her head, no matter what she did or what her culture is. And even if she truly did it intentionally, there was no need to make a video and upload it on the web. That’s just plain senseless and cruel.

That said, I could go on and make several other examples, like the “scandal” that involved Techno-pop trio Perfume, where members Nocchi and Kashiyuka were spotted dating and spending the night with what probably were their boyfriends… right before the release of their successful Triangle album. But that’s enough.

The perfect timing these scandals always pop up, and the doubtful way they are exposed to the public, makes me think that this is nothing but a childish and honestly annoying way of gaining more popularity and increase sales. It’s a behavior based on the total disrespect for the artist’s private life, when the artist itself isn’t consciously involved in the move. Either way, the best thing I can do as a fan, is to judge these people for their artistic value, and not for their personal matters.

– Alex

Indie-pop band CRUNCH and producer Alex Ruby team up in “Murasaki”

 

I usually ignore emails and tweets from people that want me to publish news about their musical projects. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being harsh or snobbish here. I do it because ninety percent of the groups contacting me are not japanese, which is kinda curious considering how my blog covers only music coming from the land of the rising sun. The rest is people who pretends I copy/paste their emails into my blog to promote their mainstream groups, something that a worrying amount of websites out there do.

When I received a promotional email yesterday, I was expecting another Swedish or Italian punk rock group promoting their new demo. I was instead contacted to take a listen to an interesting collaboration between Nagoya-based Indie-pop outfit CRUNCH and american trackmaker Alex Ruby.

I had already heard of CRUNCH before, but never really had the chance to analyze their music properly, so I was glad to finally get into the works of the all-female trio hailing from Nagoya. The melancholic Indie-pop sonorities proposed by the group, enriched by mellow and addictive melodies, create immersive soundscapes and make them stand out despite the adoption of a commonly used formula in the genre, an interesting approach particularly enjoyable in the recently released blue blue blue EP. The group also provided upbeat numbers in the past, like Simple Mind, a fresh Indie-pop rock tune that doesn’t sacrifice the reflective mood that identifies the project. Definitely a band I feel like suggesting to fans of thoughtful yet enjoyable Indie-pop/rock.

At this point, I was curious to see how american producer/rapper Alex Ruby merged his influences with the sound of CRUNCH, and I was pleasantly surprised by this collaborative track titled Murasaki: With deep beats and delicate melodies composing a soothing instrumental, this atmospheric piece follows a linear structure that nicely fit the voice of Noriyo Hotta, and the concept of the trio as well. It’s a short and refreshing listen that’s perfect if you’re in the right mood for soothing vibes, and also a valid introduction to the sounds offered by both artists.

I’m glad to see japanese acts collaborating with overseas producers, especially when there’s knowledge and care from both parts, and this collaboration is a good example of that. You can listen to Murasaki above, and start your week with a nice and relaxing tune.

CRUNCH Bandcamp
Alex Ruby Soundcloud

– Alex

Charisma.com – Aidoro C | ALBUM REVIEW

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Release Date: March 2nd
Format: CD
Number of Editions (2): Regular Edition, Tower Records Edition w/alternative cover


Charisma.com’s new record boasts heavy beats, but forgets about consistence and balance.

As the trend of creating new hybrids of music genres shows no sign of slowing down in Japan’s “rebellious” side of the industry, the effective life span of these projects is another matter: Many have born as much as many have died, while only few have shown concrete signs of a well calibrated career. As one of the most acclaimed and relevant emerging acts of the last years, Electronic Rap duo Charisma.com represented one of these exceptions, and have delivered nice records during their period of formation thanks to a blend of pleasant and occasionally retro Electronic beats and venomous rapping. After their entrance in the mainstream industry with a contract under Warner Music Japan, though, the duo’s solid formula apparently started to weaken, a prediction hinted in their major debut mini album OLest (released just eight months ago) that sadly finds a solid confirmation in the group’s new mini album Aidoro C.

Despite some issues here and there, their previous release somehow managed to deliver a more or less consistence experience and some very nice tracks. Instead, Aidoro C spaces from mediocre to disappointing levels with only a few peaks to claim, as DJ/producer Gonchi and MC Itsuka seem to have lost the balance that made their sound so successful and well crafted in the last few years. In the midst of several influences, the duo tries to satisfy the standards of several sonorities, but fails in fully delivering any consistence performance in the attempt: The opener Sapuriminal Diet makes the catchy and contagious vocal lines in the chorus its strong point, but also drowns them in a messy EDM bombardment that unavoidably shifts the attention away from Itsuka’s rapping, that also suffers from an overall inconsistent structure, resulting in what is a mess of track with an overly cheesy chorus. Sadly, inconsistency is the key word in Aidoro C, something noticeable as the short tracklist flows by, with Koshikake Rap (that features little to no rap, ironically) offering build ups and nasty distorted synths taken straight from dubstep and watered down in an overly repetitive execution, while Toshindai Gray shifts the focus back on Itsuka’s bars to only fail on the instrumental side with repetitiveness and uninspired sonorities. Leaving aside a few exceptions, the entirety of this record either sacrifices Itsuka’s rapping for huge and messy EDM wall of sounds, or exposes the first to minimize the latter, showing no sign of the balance that once raised interest in the japanese Electronic scene.

Luckily enough, there are some exceptions and throwbacks to the duo’s pre-Major period, as PH4, GODcostumer and Bell Sassa deliver light and well done compositions that temporarily revive the formula and set the bar back to a decent level, despite hardly reaching the quality of their earlier works. It’d be wrong to deny that these tracks are nice and refreshing, but at the same time they represent the only good thing to pick out, while uncovering the sad reality behind this record: It’s mostly an inconsistent mess that’s all over the place.

It’s hard to imagine why Charisma.com lost their touch in composing exciting and well balanced music, and wether it’s a loss of inspiration or the pressure coming from their Major status, you don’t get away with a few good numbers in an eight-tracks record. The hope is that the duo will take more time to build their next effort with more consistence and balance.

Vote: 5.5 / 10

– Alex

JAPANESE CHRONICLES | How music connects people in Japan

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It was December 25th 2013 in Shinjuku. After the final epic date of Perfume’s LEVEL3 Dome Tour, I decided to go alone for dinner and then chill at the hotel for a while, to relax a moment and decide what to do later. But time passed, and right before I was going to sleep, I received a message from a friend of mine that asked to join him in a Perfume party in Shinjuku, just near my hotel. Of course I accepted immediately, and in a minute I was out in the cold of the wonderful Tokyo night. Once I met with him, we reached the place where the party already started: It was an underground place in one of the main streets near Studio Alta, and after we entered and walked down the stairs, we reached a room with a bar, a small dance floor, and about fifteen people: There was a DJ playing Perfume’s songs and also videos on all the walls, for a pretty calm but cool atmosphere. In just half an hour, though, the situation got way hotter as more DJs joined the party and the volume started to rise, and so I ended up half drunk dancing with people I had never met before, laughing and singing like there was no tomorrow, and as grand finale, everyone took positions and started dancing to Akihabalove all together in perfect synchronization; It was an incredible sight, and seeing them having so much fun and sharing the same passion and love for this group has been exciting and wonderful. It was pure and genuine fun, and yes, everything was full of love.

Another funny episode happened with some friends in a rock bar in Shibuya called Rockaholic, where you can sit down, have a drink, and request songs to the DJ while rock and metal music blasts your ears. It was a Saturday night, so around 11pm all the people inside the bar was so drunk that madness took over the place and everyone started to jump, scream and hug (?) each other to tracks of groups like Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit. It was kinda sudden, really, but so beautiful that I didn’t even wondered why: I just enjoyed it. I went back there alone once and still had a blast, chatted with a girl for a while and failed in getting her contact, literally drank and screamed like a mad man with the guys at the bar (that broke three bottles in ten minutes) and met an US army dude outside the bar, where we talked about life and our futures.

I’ll never see all those people again, but instead of being sad about it, I believe that’s what makes these experiences so special. Because while I’m here miles away from them writing alone in this room and aware they all probably forgot about me, they’re still part of the reason why I travel to Japan and love its music and people so much. Little experiences make great memories, and music is the bond that creates and keeps them together, and music is everywhere in Japan: Like a world inside a world, a secret place where to share our passion and have fun, while the entire city outside keeps its eyes on everyone and takes care of us at the same time.

You don’t only listen to music in Japan. You live it.

– Alex

Five songs to listen to while walking in the Tokyo night

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As a huge lover of Tokyo and Japan since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by the variousness and unique environment of Japan’s capital: From the contrast between tradition and technology to the magic atmosphere surrounding the streets, this beautiful city is a place where anyone can find something to love whatever your passion is, and more than anyone, passion is something Japanese people care to cultivate and keep close in their lives. This means there are many ways to enjoy Tokyo, and while today Music is the main engine behind my passion towards this city and country, it is also the art form that keeps me closer to the city I had the luck to visit twice. Music is the most powerful art form there is, its sound can create images and visions in our minds, and when this power is combined with the magic and particular aspect of Tokyo, the result is unique and magical. When I wasn’t strolling around or attending concerts with my friends, I loved to walk alone by night in Shinjuku, because there’s nothing more hypnotizing than Tokyo by night, and during my neon-bathed long walks in one of the biggest districts of Tokyo I always had my headphones on, emphasizing what I was experiencing one second after another with Music.

And so, these are the five tracks I listened to the most while I was walking surrounded by lights, skyscrapers and thousands of people. When I listen to them today I can visualize and feel the magic of that place inside me, and I hope you’ll feel the same wether you’ve been to the Japanese capital or not. Pur your headphones on and enjoy these tunes.


5. Ayumi Hamasaki – Monochrome (Remo-con Classic Trance Remix)

Sadly, only the instrumental version is available online. Try to get the normal ver. though, it’s awesome!

Even though I appreciate some of her earlier works, I can’t really say I’m a fan of Ayu. Still, the Trance remixes of many of her songs are a total blast, and the fact that I’ve always had a soft spot for this atmospheric genre (even in my metalhead days) helps a lot, and the compilations composed by DJs and producers that gave a different perspective on Ayu’s tracks are absolutely worth listening if you’re a fan of the genre. And what other than Trance can represent the neon-lights, Blade Runner-like streets of the Tokyo night the best? This revisitation of Ayumi Hamasaki‘s classic Monochrome is atmospheric trance at its best and a track that summons lots of images in my mind, particularly of Odaiba and the ride on the Yurikamome Line to reach it through the stunning Rainbow Bridge. That hook halfway the track kills me everytime.

4. Sakanaction – Eureka

While Trance is a genre that suits the Tokyo night atmosphere perfectly, that doesn’t mean other genres can’t reach the same level of emotionality, and Sakanaction‘s beautiful Eureka is a great example. This track and its wonderful video (the band’s artistic peak in visuals) is itself a tribute to Tokyo, and it fits the atmosphere of the city in a more emotional and moving way, but not any less powerful. The hook at the end makes my cry a little bit every time: I see it as an hymn to this city, a declaration of love to its streets and majestic buildings and to all the people walking and giving life to it. The lovely Nippori and its little side streets full of shops are what comes to my mind the most when listening to this wonderful track.

3. Ayami Muto – Symphony N. 1 in B flat Major

This track from nostalgic Idol singer Ayami Muto is a masterpiece of synth-pop and one of my favorites of this year. Flawless composition with every single element at the right place, Symphony N.1 in B Flat Major‘s revolutionary and magic vibe makes this upbeat and exciting track a must when walking around in the Tokyo night, especially in the shining streets of Shibuya and Shinjuku. Pure excitement and energy, you need this pop masterpiece in your life.

2. Oomori Seiko – Midnight Seijun Isei Kouyuu

We all know this girl is as crazy as talented, and this track from her amazing second album Zettai Shoujo is the best showcase of her rebel yet lovely attitude. Midnight Seijun Isei Kouyuu is one of her best – if not the best – track of her vast musical portfolio: Its got a revolutionary vibe to it,  and the dreamy melodies and Seiko’s heartfelt interpretation make this piece one of the best things you could ever hear when walking around Tokyo, especially if you’re in a “I’m looking for a relationship” mood.

1. capsule – Never Let Me Go

This track is probably the least complex from a mere technical and annoying-music-journalist point of view, yet it’s the one that hits me right in the feels the most for a reason I can barely describe. It’s a song that summons images of Shinjuku’s Studio Alta, of Kabuki-cho, of water reflecting the neon lights, of a girl that will never come back. It’s probably due to a strong emotional bond that capsule’s Never Let Me Go is the track that almost brings me to tears and makes me feel the distance between me and Tokyo the most. It’s sad, but also good in a way, because it holds the power of memories that makes us go forward in life. Nakata’s fresh synths and the hypnotizing voice of Toshiko here represent the Tokyo night at its best to me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.


What do you think about these tracks? Do they make you travel with your mind to the shiny lights of Tokyo, or reminisce your time in Japan? Let me know down here in the comments!

– Alex