Hi everyone, this is Tatsurou / Syrup16g who has been posting here since Go was reviewing Deg’s kisou! I’ve been mostly out of the visual scene but have kept up with Japanese rock and have lived on/off in Japan since 2008. Hope you enjoy my article! [Reblogged from my empty tumblr]
I’ll be honest, I haven’t been the best at keeping up with new music recently. I spent most of 2012 catching up with some great albums from 2010 and 2011, along with music that was released before I was born. That said, I did manage to find some awesome albums this year. As far as I can tell 2012 was not the best year ever for music, at least of the Japanese variety. Here are 10 Japanese indie albums from 2012 that are worth a listen, which is a lot to say given the suffocating amount of awful music that comes out of Japan on a weekly basis. Genres listed are arbitrary and my “best” approximations, and the albums are in no particular order. No visual-kei on here because I really haven’t listened to much of that in many years! Hope you all like shoegaze and post-rock or you’ll be disappointed. Sorry about that.
1. 死んだ僕の彼女 (My Dead Girlfriend)| underdrawing for three forms of unhappiness at the state of existence | 2012.3.14 | Saitama/Kanagawa/Tokyo
[shoegaze/noise pop/dream wave]
My absolute favorite Japanese band active today. Criminally underrated and have only released quality material since their first official EP in 2007. Slightly more pop and upbeat than their 2010 release Ixtab (where you should start if you haven’t heard them before) with male/female twin-vocals steadily chanting sunny suicidal lyrics smothered in distorted guitars and piercing synths. The about page on the website lists the band as “depression, corpse, despair, UFO, girlfriend, isolation, Katejina, floating, pig, jumping off, murder, rice paddy, girl hell, dream, wandering, Rampo, disillusionment, countryside supermarket.” This might be a better description than “shoegaze” or “nu-gaze” as you can feel the wandering and supermarket in their sound. The band condenses the drone and mess of shoegaze and compresses it into infectiously beautiful 3-5 minute jams. Excellent drums and guitar from start to finish. My album of the year.
DL link in image because everyone should listen. And a link to a great blog with their first album.
Best track | skyscraper kills my ghost in your memory.
Best track available on Youtube | ヴァンデミエールの頭 (Vendémiaire no atama)
2. LITE | Past, Present, Future | 2012.03.21 | Tokyo
LITE is one of, if not the, premier technical instrumental bands in the Japanese scene. Not only are they just epic in general, they have consistently released great material as they have evolved as musicians and incorporated electronic elements in some of their later work. The four-piece is one of the tightest and most complex bands you will likely ever hear. Their latest album continues their tradition of funky domino-like musical progression that transforms a track from start to finish, but features guest vocalist Caroline Lufkin (sister to none other than the wonderfully talented Olivia Lufkin) on the last two tracks to hauntingly impressive results. Arch (posted below) is the perfect winter post-rock anthem. It starts quiet with Caroline’s affected, icy voice, followed by the sound of footsteps and LITE’s electronic whirr. Towards the end the quiet ends as the drums and bass start to slam over the vocals, culminating in an electronic guitar bliss that is too godlike to be described here. Like nothing I’ve heard before and my track of the year.
Best track | Arch
3. té | ゆえに、密度の幻想は綻び、蹌踉めく世界は明日を『忘却』す。(Therefore, the illusion of density breach, the tottering world “forget” tomorrow) | 2012.10.03 | Tokyo
Every time a new té album comes out, I almost hope that they disappoint me. Thankfully, this has never happened. While their 2010 album 敢えて、理解を望み縺れ尽く音声や文字の枠外での『約束』を。(Intending “promises” outside of entangled voices and texts through hopes of apprehension) was not the best in their discography, it was by no means bad and still a worthy addition to their repertoire. This year’s Therefore, however, might possibly be their finest crafted record to date. This is té at their most explosive, ferocious, and majestic ever. You will listen to one track four or five times in a row thinking it can’t get any better, then move onto the next track, be blown away and repeat the process. It amazes me how a band can consistently put out such stellar records at a near yearly pace. Required listening for anyone who wants to experience the bleeding edge of emotional post-rock.
Best track | 弦』の揺らぎは多様の文様を紡ぎ、泡沫夢幻の重奏をかなでる。(With the fluctuation of a “string”, is spun a pattern of diversity, so the transient ensemble plays)
Best track available on Youtube | 音の中の『痙攣的』な美は、観念を超え肉体に訪れる野生の戦慄。 (“Convulsive” beauty in sound is the horror of the body beyond the idea to visit the wild)
Full album streamable on their bandcamp (thanks Eric)
4. PLASTIC GIRL IN CLOSET | ekubo | 2012.4.25 | Iwate
The cover of this album basically shows you how it sounds. PGIC is warm, twinkling, saccharine dream pop. Glitter pours from the guitars as small woodland animals are hypnotized by husky vocal reverberation. While I admit this is not their best album (2010’s TOY is) and has some bad tracks (Bye Bye) there are still plenty of exceptional tracks on this album. Songs are usually song by either the male or female vocalist with the other backing up. I prefer the male vocalist whose soft yet hoarse voice blends effortlessly with the guitar melodies in true gaze fashion. A feel-good shoegaze romp.
Samples of all the tracks on their website.
Best track | Pale Blue Candies
Best track available on YouTube | ekubo
5. ハイスイノナサ (Haisuinonasa) | 動物の身体 (Animal Body) | 2012.5.23 | Tokyo
I saw this band without ever hearing them before at a Zankyo Record event (you might have guessed I quite like Zankyo from this post) and was pleasantly surprised. They played tracks from this album before the release, so I was waiting for this for months. HAISUINONASA has their own unique sound that isn’t limited to one genre. To say they are just minimal/ambient would discount about half of the album. Definitely not for everyone, but worth a listen to see if you like their sound. Their first full album, it is at times calming and tranquil with ethereal vocals that melt into a gentle rain of digital breaks and piano, and agitated yet organized, with guitar and drums that could find their place on a LITE record. The calm before the storm, and the storm itself. Definitely a band to look out for as they develop their style and collaborate with the other fantastic Zankyo bands.
Best track | logos
Best track available on Youtube | 地下鉄の動態 (Dynamics of the Subway)
6. ZAZEN BOYS | すとーりーず (Stories) | 2012.9.05 | Tokyo
ZAZEN BOOOOOYS. It’s been four years since any new music from Zazen Boys, and the album is… mostly good. Since Zazen Boys 4, vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist Mukai Shutoku has worked with Leo Imai on the excellent KIMONOS debut album, wrote a book, got married, produced a play and film soundtrack that won a Japan Academy Award, and toured relentlessly. Knowing how meticulous Mukai is, I can imagine there are hundreds upon hundreds of demos for this latest album. It’s more of the synth infused math rock we’ve come to expect from the BOYS, with Mukai crooning about drinking, being old, and hating Tokyo. I couldn’t stop listening to POTATO SALAD when it was first put up on sound cloud, and it’s still one of the best on the album, but I expect a lot of Mukai and the gang. Listening to this after a while a lot of the tracks shine through, and the album can grow on you. Hopefully it won’t be another four years before another album (ideally go back to the 2004 pace where Zazen Boys I, II, and Hantomei mini-album were released in the same year), but their back catalog is still going strong almost a decade later.
Best track | 電球 (Light bulb)
Best track available on
Youtube SoundCloud | ポテトサラダ (Potato Salad)
7. 八十八ヶ所巡礼 (Hachijuuhakkasho junrei) (88kasyo junrei) | ○△□ | 2012.8.08 | Tokyo
[progressive/psychedelic/hard math rock]
Let’s just get it out of the way that this album has the best cover art of 2012. Somebody please prove me wrong on this. Another band that has consistently produced great albums that warrant repeat and focused listens. They band and album are both insane, and insanely good. 88 will take you to all sorts of places, whether you want to be taken there or not. 88 does not leave that choice up to you. The album is almost entirely a nonstop force of progressive energy that can be difficult to stomach for weaker listeners. Some of the tracks may seem similar or even formulaic at first but their individual complexities and traits emerge with repeat listens. Definitely the one album you want to listen you when you are destroying Tokyo with a guitar that shoots laser beams. Check out the video below too. A psychedelic math extravaganza.
Best track | 惑う惑星 (Puzzled Planet)
Best track available on youtube | 霊界ヌ〜ボ〜♨ (Spiritual World Nou~veau~♨)
8. TK from 凛として時雨 (TK from Rin toshite Shigure) | flowering | 2012.6.27 | Saitama
Solo debut of vocalist and guitarist Tooru Kitajima from the always amazing 凛として時雨 (Rin toshite shigure/Ling tosite sigure, take your pick). I’ll be honest and say that if this was labelled as a Rin album, for the most part I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It has typical high-energy/ridiculous guitar Rin jams, and some more mellow heavily acoustic tracks. All the “what the hell just happened” arpeggios of Rin are here, but most of the tracks lack the sonic destruction we’ve grown accustomed to. If Rin were commissioned to do anime themes and endings (oh wait) they would probably take from the more radio-friendly TK jams. Regardless, this is a very good album that compliments Rin’s discography with a softer acoustic sound. Beautiful flute, violin, cello, piano guests on here as well. You either love or hate TK’s voice though, and you will hear it without 345’s choruses or heavy distortion on this album. Can we get a Pierre Nakano solo album now?
Best track | Abnormal trick
Best track available on Youtube - None! Sorry, Sony Music Entertainment Japan hates you.
I also add that this is the only truly non-independent record on this list.
While these albums are not really from 2012, they were re-released this year domestically or international which gives me the right to count them from 2012, I guess.
9. 沢瀉 (Omodaka) | Plum Song | 2012.2.20 (Re-release) | Original 2009 | Tokyo
Stop what you’re doing and watch the Plum Song video right now. Do you want to know what just happened, or would you prefer to just be astounded? The sung part of the track is an Edo-period hauta folk song about the plum blossoms that bloom in early spring, before the cherry blossoms, and is metaphorical of an illicit relationship between two men and a courtesan. The video takes you through a tripped-out version of Yoshiwara which is the setting of the song. Omodaka is a collaborative art and music project that often combines traditional Japanese themes with contemporary Japanese chiptune. Think YMCK or Ram Rider with Enka. The result is awesome and if you are interested in the sound check out their 2011 album Sanosa and other videos on the YouTube. One of my favorite videos and tracks.
Just watch the videos
10. Heaven in Her Arms | 幻月 (Parasalene) | 2012.1.01 (Re-release) | Original 2010 | Tokyo
When someone says that the Japanese hardcore scene as we know it essentially started and ended with envy, I show them Heaven in Her Arms and they are stunned. While friends and tour mates with envy, they have their own defining sound that separates them from envy and the others like Killie or Nervous Light of Sunday . They are darker and gloomier than envy with black metal aspects that Converge (no pun intended) into a progressive drone. While envy is a is a dark fury with traces of light, HIHA is the brutality that closes off that light from the outside world. The three song suite of 5. Echoic cold wrist, 6. Halcyon, 7. Butterfly in right helicoid is a 24-minute masterpiece that needs to be experienced by those who want to take the steep plunge. Their split EP with Yumi from Singapore which came out this year is fantastic, but one track can’t compare to the magnitude of Parasalene’s greatness.
Best track | Halcyon
Probably left off a few good things!
Biggest disappointment of 2012: THE NOVEMBERS | GIFT
Questions/Comments tatsurou at gmail com