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

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

Soutaiseiriron – Tensei Jingle | ALBUM REVIEW

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Release Date: April 27th, 2016
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Cassette Tape
Number of Editions (1): Regular Edition


Soutaiseiriron’s new record is an enjoyable and rewarding experience not to miss.

One of the things that generally make an artist stand out in the maze of the J-pop scene, is the ability to make detailed compositions accessible to anyone. It is a sign of great maturity and compositional mastery, that makes music not only immediately enjoyable, but also genuinely satisfying when properly examined in depth, rewarding any kind of listening approach.

J-pop/rock outfit Soutaiseiriron, who just entered in its tenth year of activity, is one of the most influential acts adopting this approach in music. The band’s new record Tensei Jingle is indeed a great example of this philosophy, and while it takes a departure from certain sonorities adopted in the past, it’s a new approach the four mysterious members are totally confident with. The result is an exceptional record.

Tensei Jingle is indeed a pleasant experience that flows through its eleven tracks with delicacy and a light-hearted vibe, where catchy melodies and the almost whispering singing of Etsuko Yakushimaru help these compositions get stuck in the mind of the listener instantly: Numbers like Kerberos and 13 ban no Kanojo showcase a great duality between guitar melodies and electronic layers, a constant of this album and a formula that makes each track immediately recognizable, and the group carefully plays with this pattern with great balance, giving personality to each track and to the overall work. Simply put, It’s a record that could be played in the background while doing something else, and it still would reach and surprise the listener with its constant highlights.

Still, Tensei Jingle is a record that shows its true potential when proper attention is payed to each detail composing it. It’s a work where every piece properly falls into place perfectly, enhancing each single element, instrument and note. The closing track FLASHBACK is a prime example of this, catching the attention with its redundant melody, opening itself listen after listen and unveiling a non-linear and intriguing structure, that also welcomes an unexpected electronic break that takes its spot with absolute delicacy and balance. Nothing tries to steal the spotlight or break the vibe here: everything just flows naturally, and the record balances rock, pop and electronic influences with absolute mastery.

With Tensei Jingle, Soutaiseiriron crafted a record that’s constantly surprising, and it grows bigger with each listen: the more you focus on it, the more details emerge from its apparent simplicity, making it a genuinely rewarding and enjoyable experience. Definitely one of the highlights of this year, and one of the most fascinating albums that graced the Japanese scene in recent times.

Verdict: 9 / 10


Tracklist:

1. Tenchi Souzou SOS
2. Kerberos
3. Ultra Soda
4. Watashi ga Watashi
5. 13ban no Kanojo
6. Benten-sama wa Spiritual
7. GeSHi
8. Berlin Tenshi
9. Toaru Around
10. Oyasumi Chikyuu
11 . FLASHBACK

– Alex