Welcome, one and all, once again to the Monthly Recommendation Roundup, for now the month of August 2020! I hope everyone is doing well (if not even a bit better now), all things considered, as we start drawing that much closer to the last quarter of the year. If nothing else, this year has been a… tumultuous one to say the least for all of us collectively, and I’m sure given everything that has transpired over its course, there are some who just want the year to just end already.
While I do share the sentiment, I do believe that a brief pause from the day-to-day is also good, if at least to help keep things into perspective. Of course, should you choose to spend said pause here listening to some Japanse Music, then I got just the thing 🙂
If this is your first time seeing the Monthly Recommendation Roundup —
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 Round-Up that I’ll update and share at the end of each post.
Last time around we ended having sort of a theme as to what ended up getting featured on the Roundup, where it more or less becamse something of a doujin artist showcase. This month’s Roundup, as you will see/hear fairly soon, we instead have ourselves a bit of a band showcase, featuring quite a handful of my favorite Japanese bands on the come up and continuously hope to hear more of everytime they drop something new. There’s a fair mix of indie bands here, along with some already-established names and, hopefully some new favorites for you guys 😀
Grab your best pair of headphones. I’ll leave you to it.
by 赤い公園 (akai ko-en)
Grows on you quick really, especially that bass line
I’ve been dying to talk about Akai Ko-en more ever since I got done listening to their debut album “THE PARK” that dropped a couple of months ago. It does feel weird calling it as such since “Akai Ko-en” has been a relatively prominent name in the Japanese Girls Rock scene over the past decade, in respect of course to the band’s history with its former frontwoman Chiaki Sato who was for all intents and purposes the face of Akai Ko-en at that time. That being said, the more I listen to Akai Ko-en with Ishino Riko now at the helm, the more I feel that the band’s remaining members truly do want their sound to continue to flourish. “Junkie” is a perfect example of the sort of guidance in maturation that the band has been providing Ishino in her time with them, with its very sure-handed instrumentation, that at times feels as though they’re letting Ishino find her own way through it; and boy has she.
ひとり残らず睨みつけて/hitori nokorazu niramitsukete
by クレナズム (culenasm)
Now, this is just hilarious (but, like, in the best way possible xD)
It wasn’t that long ago that I heralded culenasm as the band that was to soldier on in Kinoko Teikoku’s stead as the new Japanese Shoegaze band on the come up, but then here they are now dropping a freakin’ doujin track of all things (lol). Not gonna lie, “Hitori Nokorazu Niramitsukete” in particular does sound very much inspired by this fast-rising genre of Japanese music, most notably with the song progression that’s otherwise reminiscent of something you’d hear from n-buna’s compositions for Yorushika with his patented false chorus start and emphasized instrumental breaks (as we discussed in last month’s Roundup). To be fair, the band does try to make the composition their own by still sticking to their Shoegazey instrumentation, but more than anything this does support the idea I had before that bands are actively trying their hand at making doujin style songs seeing how popular these have become as of late.
胎の蟲/hara no mushi
by 黒子首 (hockrockb)
Hockrockb got shafted hard I feel like
One of the more underlying tells of how much the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Japanese music industry is in how their releases have looked in the past few months. Granted, it’s not really as noticeable for bands and artists who have the means to make it work despite the restrictions they otherwise face as a result of social distancing measures and the like, but bands like Hockrockb here for example I feel weren’t as lucky in that regard. At least as far as PVs are concerned, where some bands were still able to do recordings of themselves, Hockrockb have since resorted to other means of visual representation in their last two releases (I believe this is also the case for culenasm who we just listened to). It’s a real shame because “Hara no Mushi” is without a doubt the best song off of Hockrockb’s latest EP “Senkai”, with the band continuing to win me over with Horii Ageha’s vocals and acoustic guitar work.
Before I knew it, they started reminding me of NEGOTO
I thought as much when I listened to their first mini-album (which I do recommend that you listen to if you can), but AOAZA kinda reminds me of NEGOTO, primarily for both bands’ use of synth to accentuate the strengths in their instrumentation (specifically keys and bass for AOAZA, and bass and drums for NEGOTO). Whereas NEGOTO had mastered their craft by the time they called it quits, AOAZA’s take on this particular sound for “Wintry” still sounds very raw, but the potential is most certainly there. I suppose you can also chalk up AOAZA as one of the bands who aren’t yet at a hundred percent with their production in lieu of the pandemic going by their recent PVs. It might just be me, but I also think their mastering also took a hit, at least with regard to the synth used here which sounds a bit thin. Nonetheless, a minor gripe to an otherwise promising showing from a band I personally am looking out for.
On the subject of bands that I’m looking out for
Earlier this year I was almost certain that arne was going to be my pick as the best prospective band to come out of 2020, but then bands like hockrockb and culenasm crept up on me out of nowhere, and even AOAZA had been waiting in the wings since last year, so it’s really a toss up for me now. That being said, it didn’t take much for “chronicle” to remind me of just how good arne is and why I felt they were something special when I first heard them. More than that, I think they actually got better since that time, with the band continuing to build on their Progressive/Math Rock style; with the finger style guitar work seems tighter than it was just a couple of months ago, the drums are more agressive with its off time signatures, and hey, they added a keyboardist! arne is actually starting to remind me a lot of JYOCHO now too with how dual vocalists Hirame and Waoshun are singing through beautifully controlled chaos.
Lament Moment/lament moment
by そこに鳴る (sokoninaru)
This mad lad (and lass :3)
Now, if you thought arne was controlled chaos, I really can’t not describe sokoninaru’s “Lament Moment” in turn as nothing short of harmonius dischord. The band has always had a penchant for crazy progression ever since they first made themselves known, but this song just hits levels upon levels with with its melodies and rhythm shifts, that I can’t help but feel that this is their most emotionally charged song that they have put put to date. At the very least, I feel as though there’s a lot of pent-up feelings being released as the song goes on. Whether those feelings are at all related to the global pandemic or something else entirely (possible their standing in the mainstream) is beyond me. I’m sure the band also faced its fair share of troubles over the course of this pandemic, but I do want to give a passing mention to sokoninaru’s activity in spite of everything going on with their absolutely amazing cover songs (which I do implore you to check out).
砂漠のきみへ/sabaku no kimi e
by 羊文学 (hitsujibungaku)
This is why I keep calling them a Shoegaze band
I think Hitsuji Bungaku just can’t help but go back to their roots and make a song like “Sabaku no Kimi e” every now and again. Their past couple of releases since the past year have shown the band’s trajectory to be steering towards being a more radio-friendly sort of Alternative Rock band, but those of you who have followed Hitsuji Bungaku back during the early days of their inception would note that the Tokyo-based three-piece cut their teeth in the Japanese indie music circuit as more of an Emo/Shoegaze band. Many hopefuls (myself included) pegged Hitsuji Bungaku to be among the ones who would carry the banner of Japanese Shoegaze moving forward, but instead the band has since settled on just incorporating Shoegaze elements to their songs from time to time (I dare you not to stare at your sneakers once the guitars kick in past the three minute mark), to which I’m totally fine with <3
by the peggies
Crazy to think that this is the same band that sang *this* a couple of years back
It’s not often that you are able to track and chronicle a band’s growth and development, in terms of both their sound and them as people in general, just through their PVs (lol). I would surmise that a lot of that is because it requires a sustained cosistent level of activity on the part of the band, which then translates to their overall longevity. It does help tremendously in that regard that the peggies had formed VERY early in their teens during junior high (putting them at an average of sixteen at the time), so their maturation is that much more tonally and visually apparent. Of course, in as much as vocalist Kitazawa Yuuho’s voice has slowly but surely changed over the years, there are still some spots where you can just tell it’s her here for “centimeter”. It actually makes me think for a bit whether she’s intentionally trying to sound older, whether by her own volition or at the behest of her management.
Halcion Days・goodbye, halcyon days./halcion days・goodbye, halcyon days.
Damn, where do I start?
At the very least, I would be remiss not to first address the interesting play-on-words used for the song title/s and how they relate to the song proper with Halcion and halcyon days; where the former is a brand of prescription medication used as a sedative to treat insomnia, and the latter is a phrase of Greek origin connotating times of calm and peace. When coupled with the images and words used for “Halcion Days”, with depictions of a boy wrestling with his memories of being out and about with a girl whilst he lies bedridden and taking medication in tandem with lines such as “I should’ve grabbed hold of that escaping cloud (nigeru nyuudougumo tsukanda hazu datta)”, create a bit of a depressing tale of longing. Ratrium is slowly but surely finding their footing as an emotional Synth-Pop duo with every release they make, and I can’t help but be a fair bit excited for them and what they can do.
“Hara no Mushi” by Hockrockb
I’ve decided to do everything in my power to let more people know about this band. As I said, I have shortlist of up-and-coming bands and artists whom I can all honestly say are my favorite discoveries of the year, but everything about Hockrockb is just so endearing to me; from the fairly minimalist instrumentation centered on the acoustic guitar to Horii Ageha’s VERY addictive vocal stylings — both of which are in full display here in “Hara no Mushi”
Not to say that I don’t always feel that I do, but I had a load of fun putting together this month’s Roundup. Much like how it was last month when some of my own personal favorite doujin artists went and released new songs within the same span of time, it was really nice seeing these bands that I’ve been on the lookout for all being active with their own releases despite circumstances that may lead them to not do so otherwise.
On the subject of activity (lol), don’t forget to also check out this month’s J-Music Exchange/Rate between myself and my good buddy Al (from Omunibasu) where we both listened to and wrote up reviews for the albums “Chime” by sumika and “girls like girls” by yonige, respectively.