Guys, Guys! It’s already July. The year is moving really fast, and so is music. I do write mostly about music, Japanese music to be exact, here on nandake; so since it is already the halfway point of 2012, I would like to run down some of my favorite Jpop releases so far this year.
Japanese music started off really slow this year. There weren’t many exceptional releases in the first quarter. However towards the second quarter we saw goooood stuff, some of which I featured in a previous article. Since then there has been a steady stream of good Jpop releases and I’m very glad it’s progressing this way. Here are my top releases so far this year.
Perfume – Spring of Life
Mmmm yes. I’ll say it now; Perfume is by far my favorite girl group. The AKBs and Momoclos are great, yes, but Perfume carries this air of elegance and class that captures me with almost every release. Nakata Yasutaka and Perfume have found and solidified their sound now. Spring of Life is that distinct technopop that Perfume has been branded with since they went major, but this time Nakata fiddled around a bit with techno elements. It’s quite subtle to not mess with their now mainstream and mature sound. But at the break it comes out, with the bouncy synth bass line that really hammers in the groove. You can’t help but to dance to this song.
Chatmonchy – Hatena
My connection with chatmonchy really fell off the past year and I completely stopped listening to them. The sudden departure of their drummer Takahashi Kumiko was quite a shock and I felt really bad because they used to be one of my mainstay favorite acts. Instead of replacing their drummer though, Chatmonchy is sticking to the duo format and has gone through a complete refresh, and they’re pulling me back in. Hatena has all the simple and cute charm that I took notice of when I first listened to Chatmonchy. But since they’re a duo, it’s completely stripped down and lo-fi with a drum kit, guitar, and a harmonica to accent everything. Hatena is a very solid, heartfelt release. It’s admirable they are continuing this way. Chatmonchy will definitely rise back up with this release.
80kidz – Turbo Town
Electronic band 80kidz turned a different musical direction with their album Turbo Town. It was pretty surprising to hear them go away from the hard-hitting progressive electronic style that most people were familiar with, like in 2009’s THIS IS MY SHIT and various remixes. Turbo Town incorporates a complete set of practical instruments and turns 80kidz into a straight rock band. It seems like 80kidz have found the perfect balance of rock and electronic. Turbo Town brilliantly moves through rock to electronic and back, with touches of post-rock inspired pieces in between. The overall tempo of the album has been taken down compared to their previous full albums, but overall Turbo Town is a solid album.
FLiP – Wonderland
FLiP is one of the most solid rock bands in Japan right now. Their third major single took a more mainstream approach, as it was used as a theme song for the anime Gintama. The Okinawan quartet’s usual hard rock approach was taken down a notch and the melodramatic melodies were replaced by a bit more of a positive and pop personality. Wonderland was different and sounded a little anisong, but I loved it. The song chugs along like your typical rock song but as it hits the chorus an explosion of awesome happens, and it’s what really carries this song. Hearing Sachiko powerfully belting out lyrics at the chorus with a positive vibe seals this release as a favorite.
Momoiro Clover Z – Moretsu Uchuu Kokyokyoku Dai 7 Gakusho “Mugen no Ai”
Momoiro Clover Z is rapidly rising to the top. They put on the best shows and have the best music; and as it is the “Idol Sengoku Jidai” right now, that’s frickin’ huge. Everyone knows Momoclo dabbles in all kinds of music styles, but with “Mugen no Ai” they’ve gone a step above all the idol groups. As Marty Friedman said, “Mugen no Ai” is the Bohemian Rhapsody of the idol world. Yeah, it’s that epic. Maeyamada Kenichi, or Hyadain, pulled all the stops when producing this piece. Momoiro Clover Z’s seventh major single is an amazing heavy metal rock opera, on a flying pirate ship, in space. There are metal breakdowns, twinkling electronic sequences, intense guitar wankery by Friedman himself, and a damn choir singing. The arrangement brilliantly captures the grand scale of this song. It’s a huge adventure. This is why Momoiro Clover Z is on their way to the top.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Pamyu Pamyu Revolution
Join the revolution. Kyary’s debut album is a total LOLfest. I don’t know how else to put it. Pamyu Pamyu Revolution is so silly, quirky, funny, cute, and whatever else that go with those words. You just can’t help but laugh and dance along with it. This album is perfectly Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and Nakata Yasutaka is a genius for taking Kyary’s outrageous image and turning it into music. Pamyu Pamyu Revolution is inspired by and themed like an amusement park. It could be pretty much the soundtrack to one. For this, Nakata pulled sounds from his old capsule works and more recent productions like Perfume and Coltemonikha; with a sprinkle of shibuya-kei plus random stuff that he probably thought would be funny to throw in. Somehow it all works and while baffling at first, Pamyu Pamyu Revolution quickly buries itself into the brain. This stuff is catchy, man. By the way, check out tenkei’s full review of it.
Ken Arai – “Kagi no Kakatta Heya” Original Soundtrack
That’s right I’m including a soundtrack. Ken Arai recently produced the soundtrack to one of the best dramas of the Spring 2012 season, “Kagi no Kakatta Heya”. It’s a drama about locked room cases, so one would expect mysterious sounding songs with a creepy atmosphere. No. Ken Arai made an amazing electronic album and he forced the drama to go with it. There is a whole range of styles in this soundtrack. You got sick floor shaking complex electro tracks, cool fusion of acoustic and electronic pieces, rock-based electronic stuff, funk, breakbeat, and really cool pop that could easily be an instrumental to Nishino Kana song. Soundtracks are usually not very solid. There could be a few good songs here and there, but not the whole album. Ken Arai’s “Kagi no Kakatta Heya” soundtrack is definitely one of the few wholly solid ones.
Tricot – Shougakusei to Uchuu (School children and the cosmo)
Girls playing rock music are already cool, what could be cooler? Girls playing math rock influenced indie rock. Aww yeah. With all this idol madness saturating the Jpop scene, I have neglected the really good stuff in the Japanese indie and underground. Tricot’s School children and the cosmo mini album reminded me there are still tons of amazing stuff to be discovered, and this is one of them. Math rock may sound weird, but the appeal is its complex stop-and-go time signatures and super tight rhythm sections. And while this is a big part of Tricot’s repertoire, the band still focuses a good bit on a driving melody, which trades back and forth with really fast spoken word style of delivering the lyrics. This album is damn cool.
Avengers in sci-fi – Yang 2 and Disc 4 The Seasons
Avengers in sci-fi has a very distinct sound. They play rock music, but it’s infused with a lot of electronic and dance elements. To put it simply, their sound is like a spaceship. When I first discovered them, I thought their sound was very unique, but I always wondered if they were able to keep up such a unique sound and not become stale, as if it was novelty. However with every release since then, they have impressed me with how they adjusted their music. These releases just continue that trend. Yang 2 was a digital single that almost got by undetected. It’s a fast moving electronic-rock piece that has a lot of good hooks and dance rhythms. Avengers in sci-fi put in some interesting harp use to reel you in, and then rocks you with some really catchy chant-like call and response motif. This is all layered with the band’s signature space-esque synthesizers and laser gun blasts; and supported by a pretty insane drum groove. Yang 2 is the lead track to the album that followed, Disc 4 The Seasons. Disc 4 The Seasons is Avengers in sci-fi’s best album yet. It displays how much the band has grown from just cool rock with space-themed synths, to a very well-balanced rock-electronic band of awesomeness with very catchy vocal melodies. Their sound has expanded to fit a larger scope. It feels really vast, like outer space, like futuristic technology stuff, like sci-fi. If Avengers in sci-fi aimed to fit their music to their name, this release nails it. And there are only three of them; that’s crazy!
There you have it, my top picks for the first half of 2012; some albums and some singles. By the way it’s picking up now, this year looks to be a pretty good for music. There are already a few great ones from this month alone. The second half of the year should be even better. Just how many of these will make it to the end of the year? If none make it, then damn, 2012 music is awesome. We’ll find out at the year’s end.