Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (January 2020)

Oof, Good to be back 😀

I had this feeling last year too where the lull between the end of of December leading up to this here end of January, with regard to the Monthy Roundups at least, feels like such a long stretch of time. It might be because my focus during the end of the year laid mostly towards building the Roundup Awards which subsequently took me out of what I guess would be my more routinary approach towards Japanese music of just listening to anything and everything I find interesting whenever I can (by the by, if you haven’t yet, do check out last year’s Awards post here).

What I’m really trying to say is welcome back (!!!). We are now in our third year of Monthly Recommendation Roundups. Glad to have you guys here as always 🙂

If, however, this is your first time being here —

Basically I put together a post featuring Japanese music that I’ve listened to and subsequently recommend to you guys at the end of every month. Keep in mind that these songs don’t all have to have been released within that timeframe, as they might also be just songs that I only just discovered myself, or songs that I just want to feature and recommend on a whim (xD)

The songs that I’ll end up featuring will all come from YouTube links of their respective PVs so there is a fair bit of restriction on what I’ll be able to put on here, but I find that keeping it all to one platform ensures the most universality (with remedies easily available in the case of region restrictions). This also allows me to put together a playlist for every song that gets put on the Roundup that I’ll update and share at the end of each post.

As a direct consequence of not having done a Roundup last month, we do have some spillover from December releases along with songs I picked up and listen to in that span of time. So yeah, FULL lineup of songs today (or tonight, or what have you) to start out our year of Japanese Music Recommendations.

Most of y’all know the drill at this point but all the same; grab your favorite pair of earphones (unless you wanna rock out with your speakers which is totally fine too), set your audio levels to your preference, and go play those tracks!

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DOGMA
by やまもとひかる (yamamoto hikaru)
Someone to definitely look out for here

Back in February of last year I went ahead and said that 2019 was gonna be a good year for AcoGui singer/songwriter stylists and for the most part that ended up being true with the advent of talented individuals like Kumagawa Miyu and Takeuchi Anna, both of whom became hard staples of the roundup as evidenced by their multiple appearances on here in the months that followed. This time, I have a feeling that this year could very well be the year that cover artists begin to take center stage. Yamamoto Hikaru for a while was (and still is) a fairly popular cover artist that before only primarily did bass covers and has only recently began to dabble in vocal work. Massive potential here, undoubtedly. I mean, it’s not often that bassists are the main attraction generally for one, and for “DOGMA” in particular I’m actually very much a fan of the doujin-like progression of the track (especially the tempo shifts around the chorus parts). This is only her first official track too so that’s all the more reason to be excited I would think.

人間だった/ningen datta
by 羊文学 (hitsujibungaku)
Hitsuji Bungaku has arrived and I can’t be happier :3

Of course, I say that, not to imply that Hitsuji Bungaku wasn’t already good before, just that the’ve never been this good (at least in my opinion) up until their last couple of releases. I honestly believe that the Tokyo-based three piece just killed it with their release of “1999” back in December, and riding off of the momentum from that we now have this stellar track in “Ningen Datta”, of which I really can’t say enough good things about. I think the key might lie in vocalist Shiotsuka Moeka having now found a happy medium in her deep and airy singing style; this sort of vocal qualities in particular being one of the true hallmarks of any good Shoegaze band. Granted, Hitsuji Bungaku bill themselves more as an Alternative Rock band, but with a sound like theirs we’d just be splitting hairs. The band has slowly but surely grown over the past couple of years and I’m certain this track will turn some heads their way if it hasn’t already. Hitsuji Bungaku is set to drop their latest EP a little less than a week from now so definitely look forward to that too.

夜に溺れて/yoru ni oborete
by クレナズメ (culenasm)
Is this a Shoegaze renaissance or what??

It’s not everyday I get to feature Japanese Shoegaze bands over here on the Roundup let alone two of ’em back to back like this so do indulge me for doing exactly that (xD). I also want to take this opportunity to mention that Culenasm had been brought to my attention via Spotify JP with its user-catered recommendations (a blessed feature if I do say so myself). I mentioned in my Awards post that I was looking to broaden my scope a bit in terms of where I find stuff to listen to and so far Spotify really is doing work (I wish I can say the same for Apple Mus-). “Yoru ni Oborete” checks a lot of boxes in what would be the prototypical Shoegaze song: the dreamy ambience produced by distortion and grainy guitar work, fleeting vocals, and an overall ethereal sound that really just makes you want to gaze at your shoes for a a bit (as is the namesake of the genre). Culenasm is a fairly young group, having started activities only as early as 2018, but it does appear that they know full well what they want to sound as — which is a really good sign.

レイライン/layline
by やなことそっとミュト (yanakotosottomute)
These references are so goooood

There’s soooo much going on in this PV it’s crazy — from the use of set pieces from older PVs (most notably; the grassy hills in “Any”, the coast in “Lily”, the church in “Louvre no Sora”, the streets in “HOLY GRAiL”, the theater in “AWAKE”), to recreations of the group’s album arts in video form (the shot at >03:46 is just insane, I mean, here’s the actual album art for “Bubble” for reference). “Layline” for the most part does feel very much like a love letter to the fans of YanaMute for their continued support in that regard, and I for one appreciate it greatly (:3). That said, seeing all these callbacks to familiar scenes does remind me of the fact that one of the members of the four-girl unit have since graduated since we last them here. Back in August 2019 it was announced that Rena was to leave YanaMute so she can pursue and focus on her studies. While Rena’s more laid-back and and cool vocal stylings will be sorely missed, I’m sure everyone (including myself) wishes her all the best in all her future endeavors.

バニラ/vanilla
by 青山幸子 (aoyama sachiko)
When one door closes —

Another one opens, or so the saying goes. At least, that much appears to be true enough for Negoto’s former frontwoman Aoyama Sachiko who has now ventured into solo work. Interestingly, but I suppose unsuprisingly enough, “Vanilla” here really does sound like a Negoto song. Specifically, I find that it hearkens quite a bit to the style that the band incorporated back when they came out with “Destiny” (the album) in around 2016-ish, with its more agressive band presence (in stark contrast to their later work that can be characterized more by heavy Electro/Synth). I can imagine that, because of the more electronic nature of their most recent tracks leading up to their disbandment just last year, some might I assume that that’s how they’ve always sounded. We’d do well to remember that Negoto started out as a more mellow Japanese Pop/Rock band with Synth elements owing to Aoyama’s keyboard work. I do wonder now whether she preferred this sort of sound all along during her tenure with Negoto. Nonetheless, glad to see her back <3

A.M.D.K.J./amidakuji
by SCANDAL
Yeah, no, the girls still got it (!!!)

Though I guess it would be fairer to say that they never really lost what it was that made them who they are now. I should know, having seen them perform live and all, but it’s a question that never fails to rear it’s head whenever SCANDAL goes and releases a new song. Are they as good now as they had been before? While last year’s “Saishuheiki, Kimi” did raise a bit of an alarm for fans (with its overly Synth-y and Pop sound), “A.M.D.K.J.” quells any lingering doubts we continue to have about one of the generation’s most accomplished Girls Rock band. The track, used as the latest ending theme for the long-running anime Gegege no Kitaro, notably sports crisp drum work by RINA and tremendously clean bass lines by TOMOMI. It’s crazy to think that at one point these girls were mere hobbyists; with RINA having only picked up drumming because no one else knew how to play drums in their group, and TOMOMI chosing to play bass because she thought it’d be easier with four strings as opposed to the standard six (lol).

あの夢をぞって/ano yume wo nazotte
by YOASOBI
Doujin Boom this 2020? Sure, I’m down!

I don’t think it’d be too much of a stetch to say that thanks to the massively good year that doujin standouts Yorushika and ZUTOMAYO had in the past year, more and more Doujin artists will continue to make themselves known, as what appears to be the case here with YOASOBI. In what seems to be a commonality for these sorts of projects, Ayase cut his teeth as a Vocaloid composer over on NicoNicoDouga not too long ago before now embarking in a collaborative effort with singer/song-writer Ikuta Rira (whom some of ou might recognize as one of the contributing vocalists for the cover group Plusonica). Interestingly enough, Ikuta does share quite a bit of similarity with Yorushika’s suis in terms of vocal quality, but unlike Yorushika’s more guitar-oriented Pop/Rock sound (and ZUTOMAYO’s powerful song structures) YOASOBI is more so a bit of a cross between other notable names of the genre in E ve and Sangatsu no Phantasia with their more Pop-centered approach. Ahh, the fact that I can name five doujin artists like this is just :3

ストリート・ストーリー/street story
by 名古屋ギター少女部 (nagoya guitar shoujo-bu)
I love this band composition so much

If you’ve been following the Roundup last year you might’ve seen my appreciation for AcoGui stylists slowly unravel over the course of twelve or so months (which did culminate in me giving them special recognition in the Roundup Awards). So, if you take that artist quality and multiply it by four, it really can’t be helped that my hype for this group ends up being four-fold right? (xD) I jest, but I really do like what Nagoya Guitar Girls Club have going here (though I do find it amusing that there’s actually a keyboardist in this supposed guitar club). While the group primarily does song covers, “Street Story” here marked the group’s first original song release, and is now the title track of their debut EP. You’ll notice that on the video title it does say “acoustic version” and true enough they did put out a proper studio version of the song (which has more complete music production), but feel like the real charm of Nagoya Guitar Girls Club is in their acoustic sound more than anything. I’m also obviously very biased so.

天気/tenki
by adieu
Does not disappoint :3

We crowned adieu as our Best Prospect of 2019 in the last Roundup Awards, and as you can see, that’s not without good reason. Starting out the year strong, Kamishiraishi Moka’s stock as a singer continues to rise (if view counts are anything to go by) with the release of “Tenki” where she now gets to show off her handling of high notes. We actually got a bit of a sneak preview of this back in early December when she sang it for THE FIRST TAKE (awesome channel by the way, definitely recommend subbing). Granted, I’m more so a fan of when she goes a bit lower with her singing, but that’s just me. Personal preferences aside, I really do like how she’s seemingly experimenting a bit when you think about how quirky the instrumentations are for the songs she has released so far. I wanna say the base is still J-Pop more than anything, with some influences of Folk Pop here and there and at times even a dash of Dream Pop. Under the guidance of the right composer, I really do think she can pull off something magical.

Grand Escape feat. 三浦透子 (miura toko)
by RADWIMPS
This song still gives me chills

It used to be that one of the more underappreciated elements of Makoto Shinkai’s movies were their surprisingly good soundtracks. Not to say that those songs went unheard nor that people didn’t like ’em, but more so the fact that when talking about Makoto Shinkai and his work it was immediately about the sort of visuals he could create. My theory (lol) is that the songs featured in previous movies (such as, say, 5 centimeters per second or Garden of Words) doesn’t really appeal to the anison crowd. Songs like “One more time, One more chance” or “Rain”, albeit both very heartful, feel very… old-timey, and detached from the medium at least from an anison perspective. What RADWIMPS’ Noda Yojiro managed to capture in this odd pairing with Makoto Shinkai bridges that disconnect by contextualizing emotions to a more relatable sound. The end result being Your Name’s absolute hit of an OST for one, and now here with Weathering With You’s “Grand Escape”. The decision to bring Miura Toko to do vocals was genius.

MUST LISTEN:
“Ningen Datta” by Hitsuji Bungaku
I fall in love with this song the more times I listen to it. The Post-Rock-like song structure with the spoken verse leading to the bridge halfway through the song just threw me for a loop the first time I heard it. So good.

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We have a new YouTube playlist set up for this year’s Roundups so make sure to save it on your respective Dashboards 😀

This is my first post of the new year so I do want to talk about the state of the blog moving forward if only for just a little bit. Though I say that, other than keeping up the Monthly Roundups I don’t really have any sort of roadmap put in place in terms of content. I’ll still definitely write about anime here when I can (lol) but it really just depends on whether I get that feeling to put pen to paper on potential topics of interest. I’m currently entertaining the idea of a more short-form commentary format in relation to that so expect something along those lines if ever I do come out with with an anime-related post in the coming months. I’ll for sure continue to talk about Japanese Music though, and to that end I really am looking to grow the Roundup this year as something a little more far-reaching than it is now. Through what means, I’m not entirely sure yet, but I’m working on it (xD)

I will be in your guys’ care once again this year, and I hope I can provide y’all with quality picks and recommendations each time you make your way out here. To that end, lemme know down in the comments below whether I did just that with this month’s Roundup (:p) I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lastly, if you have your own recommendations with you feel free to drop those links too!

Happy Listening, and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (January 2020)

  1. I had actually passed up on “DOGMA” when it was my subscriptions but I’m glad you recommended it here. I would have never guessed that she was on bass verses guitar in this one! Having bass be the main factor is very appealing to me and seeing it’s only her first official track… I am with you on seeing what she brings this year.

    So glad you introduced me to Hitsugi Bungaku last year. I’ve been a major fan of them since then!

    • I only happened to come across Yamamoto Hikaru thanks to Spotify recommendations really. I only learned she did bass covers initially after the fact (xD)

      You’re welcome~!
      Glad you’re enjoying their work Rise!

  2. I haven’t listened to Negoto in a while but glad to see Sachiko again! I think the hints of electro/synth in their earlier music like ex Negoto definitely resonated with me, and just to hear it again in her solo stuff is great.

    I was wondering what all the fuss was about w/ YOASOBI so appreciate you including it in your roundup lol. I feel like whenever I hear a new doujin artist, I’m always impressed with many different aspects of it such as how much emotion the vocalist and composer put in a single song, and YOASOBI is definitely one of them! And I would definitely love to see a doujin music boom this year as well, not only with the pop/rock side of it but also other genres like EDM. I’ve listened to some independent electro/dance artists that have been in the scene for a while now (like Moe Shop and Yunomi) but I hope newer ones come along!

    Not sure if this was intentional or not but “Street Story” definitely reminded me of a song I’d hear from a pop idol group (lol). But regardless, it was a nice little track and just to hear an idol-like song being played in the acoustic-style was interesting.

    Nice roundup this month my dude! And I guess I’ll suggest a couple songs since I haven’t been bothered to write a roundup post of my own 😛

    This track by Cidergirl was a pretty good find (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G72ZSi951i4) and while I just realized the vocalist reminded me a lot of Eve, I think I was too focused on the dance sequence they did in the MV (…would’ve thought with a fun dance like that, it’d go viral lol).

    And amongst the seiyuu music I listened to in the past month or so, I think this recent Yuuki Aoi song was the one that stood out to me the most (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_PAa9zmB3o). I have a good feeling this song is similar to her performances in stuff like Symphogear but it was interesting to hear a track like this from Aochan (as I’m more used to her fun/comedic personality :P)

    • Same really. Hearing her solo work here actually made revisit some older Negoto albums too alongside ex Negoto and they definitely hold up. Excited to hear more from Sachiko after now having heard all tracks from her debut EP (which I highly recommend as well).

      It’s funny because my first encounter with YOASOBI was from someone crossing one of their songs with ZUTOMAYO’s “Byoushin wo Kamu” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtK6ubmUndI) and it was such a perfect mix that I thought YOASOBI might be worth checking out, and, well, glad I did (xD) More EDM would be most certainly welcome yep.

      “Street Story” is definitely a very warm and Pop-py offering from Nagoya Guitar Girls Club, and hey, I mean, if they do decide to go that route I think they’d do fairly well as an idol-like group (lol). That said, while I do like the idea of them singing idol-like songs (either as covers or their own), the girls can definitely shred too given the opportunity (like, here’s their cover of Polkadot Stingray’s “Himitsu” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Atz8hjPDDI)

      Ayy, thanks man, appreciate it! lol Likewise, thanks for dropping by :p

      One of the things that really hurt CiderGirl for the longest time was that for a good while their content was region-locked in the West, which in turn could explain why this little dance routine they do here for “Weekly Shounen Zombie” (lol this song title) didn’t take off on the level of, say, Hoshino Gen’s “Koi”. Shame ’cause they’re reeeaally good.

      I wanna say this is the grittiest song I’ve heard Aochan sing, and I’m glad she’s starting to branch out with her anison with “Unbreakable” here.. As you said, most fans (or at least I myself) really know her as being more bubbly and charismatic generally. Very different, more natural tonal quality to her voice too than what I’m used to hearing from her too which is nice.

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