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

sora tob sakana – Cocoon EP | Review

Release Date: April 11th
Format: CD, Digital
Label: Flying Penguin Records


Sora tob sakana explores deeper emotions and atmospheric soundscapes in this record, and it works wonders


Following the highly praised debut record that made 2016 considerably better for the Idol scene, Idol unit Sora tob sakana is back with a new release that takes the form of a six-tracks extended play titled “Cocoon EP“.

Well known and beloved in the underground niche for their talented production team and classy concept, sora tob sakana shown a rock-solid structure in every aspect so far; their self-titled debut record showcased impressive technical prowess, with compositions that made the classic patterns of Math Rock the core of the unit’s sound, while framing it with the flashiness of Synth-pop.

Cocoon EP” doesn’t get too far from the original formula, yet it ventures towards a melancholic and overall more atmospheric direction, an artistic choice that well fits the sound of the unit. The record sets the bar high immediately with “ribbon“, one of the most emotional and genuinely beautiful tracks the unit ever had, a perfect fusion of sounds enriched with atmospheric soundscapes, that gains even more pathos if coupled with the beautiful Music Video. The following “Time machine ni Sayonara” lifts the mood up (maybe a little too much), but it’s more of an isolated case when put in the context of the record, as the unit keeps on experimenting with different vibes without sacrificing cohesiveness. The common thread in “Cocoon EP” mostly lies in the adaptation of the unit’s trademark technique applied to Electronic influences – something that’s especially noticeable in the rhythmic department – and merges it with delicate guitar melodies and occasional aggressive riffs, kinda reverting the roles of the two sides composing Sakana’s sound. It’s a different and smart take on the same formula, featuring a slightly different mood that works wonders when coupled with the girls’ vocals, that bring good interpretation and more relevant vocal lines.

Cocoon EP” is a strong successor to sora tob sakana’s outstanding debut record, that delivers the same valid formula in a more refined and slightly different way. Another solid and well-crafted release not to miss.

– Alex

CHARAN PO RANTAN – Rose Balkan | Vinyl Overview and Artist profile

If you follow the Japanese music scene, you know there’s a pretty impressive amount of artists who mix up different (and, sometimes, apparently unrelated) genres together. It’s a refreshing approach that can lead to interesting results, and while it doesn’t necessarily always work, when it does, it’s a sign of great talent. It’s the case of CHARAN PO RANTAN, a duo composed by sisters Momo and Koharu, but this time it’s something you can’t find anywhere else in the Japanese scenes… it’s actually something pretty unique. And it’s clear since the beginning, when you press the Play button and their compilation album Rose Balkan: these girls are pretty unique.

CHARAN PO RANTAN is indeed a duo that takes typical east-European folk music, mostly Klezmer and gipsy tunes, and perfectly mixes them up with Japanese vocals that would sound totally at home in J-pop’s mainstream scene. The result, in all honesty, is totally amazing, a perfectly working engine fueled by the chemistry between Koharu’s accordion and Momo’s voice. While on paper the sound is certainly aimed to an audience with precise tastes, the reality is that the duo’s music can be easily enjoyed by pretty much anyone, thanks to catchy and well-built melodies framed in a friendly structure, that highlights each section with great emphasis.

After all, the talent of the two sisters is no news: Koharu’s skills with the accordion have even been noticed by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, and Momo’s remarkable versatility in singing is a fundamental element of the group’s sound. This sonic (and cultural) balance has granted the duo an overseas fanbase as well, with performances in England, Canada, U.S. and a few gigs at Austin’s SXSW festival, that exposed Koharu and Momo’s talent to a global scale.

CHARAN PO RANTAN is surely one of the most unique Japanese outfits out there, and their talent in merging such different cultures together is something truly remarkable, showcasing not only the talent, but also the respect the two sisters have towards the culture imprinted in their music.

I recently got my hands on CHARAN PO RANTAN’s vinyl Rose Balkan, a compilation album with some of the best and most acclaimed tunes from the duo, thanks to the guys at Specific recordings, who kindly sent me a press copy of the record. Gotta be honest: this thing looks beautiful, from the cover, to the color of the vinyl that genuinely made me happy, because I didn’t know I needed a pink vinyl in my life until now. This new vinyl will be available on the Specific Recordings shop starting April 22nd, and as you can see from the pics, it also features a CD and a Digital download code.

That’s it guys. As you know, I’m always up to support overseas labels trying to spread Japanese music in the world, and I think it’s important to recognize their great work. So if you love Japanese music… support the artists and the labels bringing these records to us!

– Alex

Suiyoubi no Campanella gets back on track with new single “SUPERKID”

Earlier this year, Suiyoubi no Campanella‘s Electro-pop made its long-awaited entrance into the mainstream scene, with several strong records under the belt as guarantee for a major label contract. Far from being a bad record, though, the debut mini album UMA didn’t fully convince the outfit’s ever growing audience, delivering good songs as well as numbers who felt uninspired and kinda rushed, a worrying signal considering the project’s well known meticulous attention for details.

From an artistic standpoint, transitions to major labels can be kind of problematic, and some artists need some time before adapting to what is undoubtedly a new reality: this is one of those cases.

Campanella’s new single, titled SUPERKID, indeed brings the project back on the high standards that spoiled us for the last four years. Featuring three new songs, this release is a short but pleasant showcase of the trio’s outstanding compositional skills, punctually framed by KOM_I’s unique charisma. Aladdin kicks in with a 80’s pop beat, following a linear structure that emphasizes vocals to boost the chorus’ entrance, while the bridge leaves space to an instrumental section, creating a good balance with KOM_I’s lyrical nonsense. Kamehameha Daiou tricks the listener with soothing vocals, while subtly implementing noisy effects and synths in the meanwhile, to then completely shift into Electronic madness towards the end, leading to an unexpected EDM drop that kicks in flawlessly: Connecting several influences and tempo changes between different sections has always been one of the project’s highlights, and it’s well represented in this track. Matsuo Bashou goes back to the classic Campanella formula, with the instrumental taking a step back to leave space to KOM_I’s remarkable interpretation, delivering the catchiest chorus of the single and a pleasant soothing vibe.

With SUPERKID, Suiyoubi no Campanella gets back on track, and sets the bar high once again for future releases. Everything that makes this project so unique is present throughout this single, and only high hopes are left for everything they have in store for us.

– Alex

Suiyoubi no Campanella – UMA | ALBUM REVIEW

aramajapan_suiyoubi-no-campanella-uma-cover-art

Release Date: June 22nd
Format: CD
Number of Editions (1): Regular Edition


Suiyoubi no Campanella make their Major Debut with a Mini Album featuring highs and lows

When you’re one of the most acclaimed uprising acts in music, the passage to a Major Label is a very delicate moment: many are expecting more from you, someone pretends that you’ll stay the same, while others will be ready to bash you, no matter what.

It’s the case of Suiyoubi no Campanella, one of the most interesting J-pop/Electronic outfits of the last years, that’s entering in the mainstream scene with a brand new contract signed with Warner Music Japan, while taking swift looks at a possible worldwide expansion in the meantime. With several valuable works under the belt, including last year’s highly acclaimed record Zipang, it’s clear that the weight this valid team of artists carries on the shoulders is everything but a joke.

With the Major Debut record UMA, Suiyoubi no Campanella brings to the table a short journey that plays with previously mastered formulas, adopts different sonorities, and experiments with new patterns, exactly as you would expect from such a creative outfit. But with so little time at their disposal, and high expectations to meet after setting the bar so high, it’s legit to wonder if this release is as solid as the group’s  previous works.

The answer is no. There are some clear flaws in this seven-tracks mini album, and some new experimentations don’t always work. On the bright side, though, it also features several enjoyable moments, and they’re mostly exposed right at the beginning, after pushing the “Play” button.

Campanella indeed kicks off this new record with Chupacabra, a number that brings back the highly acclaimed mix of Electronic music and Rap, with deep beats coupled by KOM_I’s vocals, enriched by edgy synths in a pleasant drop well placed in this masterfully structured track, which promises to be a new classic of their catalogue. The group keeps it up with the following Tsuchinoko, adopting the same classic formula in a softer way, alternating soothing and high-pitched vocals and fusing them with playful melodies, that keep the mood up in an effective way. These two tracks alone confirm how the group still got what it takes to make deep and detailed music genuinely fun, and it’s great to hear Campanella’s signature sound pleasing our ears once again.

Still, things start to change from this moment on, and it’s where the album starts to become a kind of hit and miss experience. Yeti brings interesting sonorities, but its structure feels recycled, and KOM_I’s vocals aren’t biting as usual, as if the singer doesn’t feel comfortable with this particular singing style. The following Unico is an uninspired ballad with no particular merit, and it’s kind of a let down considering how the group always managed to pull off great songs following this style. Phoenix luckily takes the mood back where it was, relying on catchy vocal melodies and a convincing chorus, and despite feeling a bit simplistic, it still manages to deliver a fun and enjoyable experience. Sadly, the last two tracks are the most disappointing part of UMA: They’re the longest numbers in here, and the will of experimenting sounds more like an excuse to deliver a rushed piece of work, with a result that’s honestly boring and unconvincing, despite a few nice passages here and there. It’s a real shame that this album had to be closed like this.

Ultimately, the main problem with this record, is that everything new tried here sounds like a rushed attempt at meeting the deadline, with some clear tricks here and there to make most of these numbers catchy and less detailed, translating in a faster line of work. The result is fine, but not as deep as you would expect from Suiyoubi no Campanella, and the fact the few tracks bringing their classic style represent the highlights of this release, is something to think about.

UMA is a record that undoubtedly feels disjointed and not polished as the group’s previous releases. In the end, though, most of its tracks are enjoyable, but not as convincing and memorable as you would expect. A real shame, considering how creative and fresh this group actually is.

Vote: 6.5 / 10


Tracklist:

01. Chupacabra
02. Tsuchinoko
03. Yeti
04. Unico
05. Phoenix
06. Tapir
07. Kraken

– Alex

NECRONOMIDOL – from chaos born | EP Review

fromchaosbornJACKET

Release Date: June 15
Formats: CD (Japan only); Digital (International)
Number of Editions (1): Regular Edition


NECRONOMIDOL delivers a solid and various record that shows the unit’s potential. 

Since the beginning of the Alternative Idol revolution, started with BABYMETAL’s fusion of Metal with Idol pop, and BiS’ provocative concepts, the Japanese scene has been literally invaded by groups bringing formulas influenced by these two acts. It’s a natural flow, and something needed in a scene where the pure image of Idols is unavoidably becoming old, and, in practical terms, isn’t selling as it used to.

Still, only few acts took these influences to create something really unique and striking, both sonically and visually: NECRONOMIDOL is one of them.

The “Ultradark Japanese Idol Unit” is well known in the scene for its impressive art direction and on-stage presence. Still, the winning element of the project lies in the adoption of extreme Metal sonorities to create haunting atmospheres instead of a forced contrast with Idol pop, a trend that became unavoidably abused in the last few years.

After the release of their first album at the beginning of the year, the girls from NECRONOMIDOL are coming back on the scene with a new EP titled from chaos born, that brings six new tracks and a beautiful cover from artist Toshio Maeda; not surprisingly, the quality of these compositions is up to the always impressive artistic direction. From chaos born is indeed a record that doesn’t directly aim at cohesiveness, but instead focuses in showcasing the potential of the unit’s sound and of its variations, with a result that proves a remarkable improvement and fixes the few issues that didn’t work in the past.

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The EP kicks off with psychopomp, a haunting, five-minutes-long Death/Black Metal piece featuring an intriguing contrast between distorted guitars and sinister vocals, serving as a strong opener that will sound particularly familiar to the fans. Similarly, but with a different approach, the shortest (and possibly best) track on the EP, Nyx, adopts Alternative Rock sonorities coupled by layers of profane-sounding synths, delivering dark vibes in a very effective way, and representing the identity of the group the best in this record. Shimin Kaihougun opts for 80’s European Power Metal influences, featuring a remarkable work in arrangement and an intriguing chord progression, while the structure takes the time to properly focus on vocals; It’s a genuinely well done Power Metal track, and the girls sound confident on its myriad solos and shiny melodies.

The second half of the EP slightly leans on the Pop side, and while the synth fest of Tamam Shud does the job right with its catchy singing, Midnight Dominator does it better by taking classic Heavy Metal influences merged with pop-ish vocals, with an output that sounds natural and never forced. Heading towards the end, the group surprisingly brings acoustic layers and electronic bits in Idols Elegy: showing a different (and welcome) side of the group’s sound, the track borrows a lot from Idol Pop in the vocals, which makes for a catchy (and sometimes bizarre) number that shows once again how these girls can adapt to different styles, and still sound genuinely good.

From chaos born is a strong showcase of NECRONOMIDOL’s potential, that exposes the best elements of the group in an effective way: The right balance between Metal and Idol Pop follows the personality of the group, the vocals give relevant contribute to each track, and the attention for each section shows a clear knowledge of the influences adopted. All of this makes for a very enjoyable and various record that will be loved by all Necroma’s fans, and that will undoubtedly conquer newcomers from any part of the world.

Vote: / 10

Shout out to Necroma’s team for providing me with a copy of this EP!


Tracklist:

01. psychopomp
02. Shimin Kaihougun
03. Nyx
04. Tamam Shud
05. Midnight Dominator
06. Idols Elegy

– Alex

BLOG | Afterthoughts on newly released albums

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Hey guys, it’s Alex!

The last two weeks have been pretty crazy in terms of big releases, and luckily (almost surprisingly, to be honest) I’ve been able to review all of them prior to the release date. Thank you all for the comments and feedback on these articles, I appreciate it!

Let’s take a look at all the releases we had the pleasure to listen to these days: First, we had the long awaited Seiko Oomori album TOKYO BLACK HOLE, that ultimately elevated the singer/songwriter as icon and relevant figure of today’s J-pop scene. This album is her most consistent and various piece of work yet, and the crazy/adorable charisma of this girl flows through each of these great tracks. The chorus in SHINPIN is still stuck in my head. Definitely the most valid release of the wave of long awaited works that hit the Japanese market in the last couple of weeks, that I awarded with a score of 9.

Sadly (in a way) Seiko Oomori’s outstanding record was the only one that fully met my expectations. Maison Book Girl‘s new EP played it well despite not really bringing anything new to the table, something that the group’s new record will hopefully achieve: I gave summer continue a 7.5, as I enjoyed this short but fresh-sounding record. A few days later, BABYMETAL‘s long awaited (and highly acclaimed) album METAL RESISTANCE hit the shelves of music stores in all the world: I really didn’t feel this record as a whole, despite having some nice tracks here and there and lots of talent showcased by the three lovely girls and their band. I gave this record a 6.5, and as expectable, many fans took it as a negative vote: It always seems like that any score under 8 means the album is crap, which is obviously not true: METAL RESISTANCE is an album with several valid moments, some of them even great, but sadly the tracks that sound like plain standard metal are what take most space in this record, and as a fan of this group since their debut on the Japanese market, it’s a factor that left me disappointed. I approached this album expecting a fully BABYMETAL work, that unique blend of Metal and Idol pop that conquered the hearts of thousands of people: instead, I got an album that’s mostly filled with standard Heavy/Power/Speed/Progressive metal tracks. As a result, I barely listen to this album in its entirety anymore and just pick those four tracks that I really enjoy (for the record: YAVA!, Amore, From Dusk Till Dawn, Syncopation). On the other hand, I was glad to read constructive critics towards my point of view instead of insults from hardcore fans like I was expecting: It was nice discussing with you all, and I really appreciated it. Also took some time to exchange opinions with Maniac from Homicidols about it, a debate you can check out here.

Last but not least, another eagerly awaited release: Perfume‘s new album COSMIC EXPLORER. As a huge fan of the Techno-pop trio from Hiroshima, I had mixed feelings about this record, as it’s been shamelessly split into two between new and old tracks: I enjoyed the new compositions the most, in particular the title track and Miracle Worker, while the already-released tracks definitely deserved a better treatment and placement. All in all, it’s still an album with several valid moments that I’m still playing and enjoying, but at the same time it’s clear that this is also Perfume’s most inconsistent studio album so far, which is really a shame considering how it could have been much better if treated with more care. As in the case of METAL RESISTANCE, I think the tracks in this record as well will be much more enjoyable live.

All in all, I’m glad to say that none of these releases were bad, but instead delivered enjoyable moments. Despite the mixed results of a few records, it was interesting to analyze these important and long awaited releases, as well as discussing about it with all of you.

Thanks a lot for your support, and be sure to stay tuned on my blog for more reviews and articles on Japanese Music. See ya!

– Alex

 

Gesu no Kiwami Otome – Muka na Kisetsu | TRACK REVIEW

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J-rock band Gesu no Kiwami Otome released today their new digital single Muka na Kisetsu, a sudden release that pleases everyone eager to listen to more music from this ever growing and appreciated band.

It’s hard to guess how Enon Kawatani can manage and compose all the music for both Gesu no Kiwami Otome and indigo la End at the same time, but one thing is for sure: his talent and inventive don’t suffer from it at all. And this new track is another proof of it, delivering a fast execution in an easy-listening key without compromising the well layered wall of sound and personality of each musician that made this band so popular: from the sound of the first piano notes that kick off the track leading to the almost frantic drumming, to the amazing bass riff breaking the structure and opening the way to the synth-influenced bridge, the execution is precise, classy and delicate, framed by the unique singing and vocal interpretation of Enon Kawatani. In its barely three minutes length, Musa na Kisetsu comes to the hear of the listener delicately and leaves with the same class, pleasing and surprising in each one if its sections and showcasing once again the great technique and delicacy that composes the personality of these guys: There’s no useless filler here, and each second enriches the experience gradually, which is the main factor that makes this song an enjoyable and rewarding experience that I recommend to anyone that’s looking to get into this band’s music.

Muka na Kisetsu drops today on iTunes Japan, in the hope to see it digitally released worldwide as well. While waiting for the next release from Gesu no Kiwami Otome, be sure to leave your impressions down below in the comments and stay tuned on my blog for more reviews and articles on Japanese Music!

– Alex