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

This month felt like that last spurt once you see the finish line.

By that I mean, this month flew by in a blink of an eye I feel like. I know I say that a lot here (XD), but I do think for this past month in particular that mainly it’s because December is just around the corner and people the world over are just raring to see this year end already. That and of course, I’m sure people are just really pumped for the holidays too, but I digress.

Welcome back to the Monthly Recommendation Roundup for November 2020!

If this is your first time coming across this series on the blog —

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.

Some interesting talking points come up for this month, particularly regarding trends in Doujin music and how much it has continued to shape not just the Monthly Recommendation Roundup but (in my opinion) the entire landscape of Japanese music as a whole over this past year. That said, and as always, I do hope it turns out to be just as intesting read for you guys as it was for me writing it 🙂

Speaking of the past year however, we do also have the Roundup Awards (!!!!) coming next month, which I’ll also talk about more down below after we’re done with the songs SO on that note; let’s start playing some music shall we? 😀

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Nobody’s fault
by 櫻坂46 (sakurazaka46)
Let’s talk about the idol industry real quick

I’m sure a lot of you guys would remember Keyakizaka46, who largely stood as the rival group to the widely successful AKB48 and whose explosive debut in 2016 garnered the attention of fans the world over for their edgier image. One of the more unconventional approaches that the group took on was having a permanent center in Hirate Yurina, a position that is otherwise traditionally rotated out. Headstrong and highly talented, Hirate famously suffered injuries to her arms mid-performance, which fans saw as proof of her dedication to the craft. By that same token, fans would also see a gradual shift in Hirate’s demeanor, and early this year we would come to fine out that longtime center had quit the group. Speculation arose that it might be due to Hirate’s deteriorating health, but fans privy to the demands of the idol industry think otherwise. In lieu of Hirate’s departure, the group has since been rebranded as Sakurazaka46, with their debut song Nobody’s fault. A bit too on the nose if you ask me, lol

再会/saikai (reunion)
by LiSA x Uru (produced by Ayase)
It’s crazy how big THE FIRST TAKE has become this past year

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was asking you guys to subscribe to this channel whenever I featured one of their videos as part of the Roundup, the earliest being in the 2019 Roundup Awards where we crowned Kamishiraishi Moka aka adieu as our Best Prospect of 2019 for her song Tenki which she sang as one of the first handful of the songs recorded on THE FIRST TAKE. The channel has since played host to a veritable who’s who of talent, most notable of whom being the multimedia superstar LiSA whose performance of the widely popular Gurenge catching the attention of fans worldwide, subsequently taking TFT to new heights. LiSA graces TFT once more as she shares the recording booth with burgeoning songstress Uru (you might recall this feature I made before about my favorite cover artists) for the song Saikai, which was produced by Ayase of YOASOBI fame. Now, as you listen to this song, I want you to pay attention to LiSA and Uru’s perfect harmonizations. Take note; this was done in one take.

Who I Am
by milet
Ironic, seeing as she needs no introduction I would imagine

On the subject of talents that have since appeared on THE FIRST TAKE, milet is looking to follow up her absolutely incredible debut album eyes which came out in June of this year (which I highly recommend; check out Al’s review of it for the J-Music Exchange/Rate if you need any more convincing), with a sixth EP to close out the succesful year that she’s had. Who I Am is the title track for the upcoming EP (set to release on December 2), and it sees milet go back to the well so to speak as she again implores the aid of ONE OK ROCK’s lead vocalist Yamashita Toru to act as both her main lyricist and composer like he did for nearly all of her releases thus far. This connection between milet and Yamashita has always been fascinating to me but I’ve yet to identify how exactly it came about. Nevertheless I myself, and I’m sure a lot of her fans as well, are thankful that the two found each other and are out there creating some of the most beautiful J-Pop you’ll hear today.

灰々/haibai (ashes to ashes)
by Dannie May
I dunno man, these guys are so fun to listen to (XD)

Dannie May makes it back to the Monthly Recommendation Roundup in quick turnaround following their feature last month with the release of Haibai. The band claims that their unique Pop sound as being rooted in Rock-esque riffs to an Acid Jazz rhythm (a genre we touched upon during my review of Suchmos’ album THE KIDS) with a touch of Electro/Synth, and for the most part that does seem to hold true as we do hear all these different elements being present in Haibai here. In line with that, I do think a fair bit of attention should also go towards the three-man chorus setup that Dannie May have, which I think plays into how enjoyable of a listen their songs are. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t tend to go for bands that have a multi-vocal lineup all that often, but it really does work for these guys. I’m sure part of that is because their voices all sound alike (lol), but I think a lot of it is in how much they genuinely seem to be having fun themselves as they sing their songs.

化身/keshin (incarnation)
by ポルカドットステイングレイ (polkadot stingray)
Congrats, you have now reached the Doujin portion of the Roundup! /jk

I’m not entirely joking though, as I really will be talking about Doujin Music for the rest of this Roundup, starting with POLKADOT STINGRAY’s latest offering Keshin. Now, of course, PDSR is by all means not a Doujin band in the slightest nor do I think this song employs a Doujin-like song structure. If anything Keshin is still very much textbook PDSR post-ICHIDAIJI with its lively guitar licks and overall high energy Japanese Rock. What I do think purposely evokes a bit of a Doujin feel here would be the incorporation of animation for the PV. The song is part of a collaboration between the band and Kamikaze Douga, a production company primarily known for their CG work in games and anime opening/ending sequences, most notably those of the widely popular JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Whether or not it was the band’s intention to do a more Doujin style of PV is beyond me, but I think it’s a fair assumption to make considering the current landscape of Japanese music.

君のいない世界/kimi no inai sekai (a world without you)
by クレナズム (culenasm)
There’s something to be said about how familiar-sounding the intro to this is

See, this is more so what I’m getting at whenever I talk about the impact that Doujin music has on the Japanese music industry. Here you have Culenasm, a Shoegaze/Post Rock band coming out with Kimi no Inai Sekai; a song that (at the start at least) really harkens to that of Yorushika’s Dakara Boku wa Ongaku wo Yameta. I mean, the resemblance to the opening verse is uncanny, but when coupled with the decision of having the song be accompanied by an animated PV in the same vein as that of Doujin artists like Yorushika, one might start making the same connections as I have. This is not the first time Culenasm has done something like this so whether or not the band is purposely trying to net some new listeners with a more Pop-friendly genre as opposed to their natural Shoegaze sound is of course beyond me. Something to think about however is that the two Doujin-like songs that Culenasm has released now currently enjoys having the most views on their channel at present by a large margin.

廻廻奇譚/kaikai kitan (looping mystery)
by Eve
I love it when I can tell who the artist is before I see the opening credits

If one were to chronicle the roots of Doujin artists have when it comes to their involvement with Anison, one might point to supercell (and Egoist by extension) as the first real Doujin band to ever cross that market with their now-iconic song Kimo no Shiranai Monogatari back in 2009, which was used as the ending theme for Bakemonogatari. Important to note that at the time, the Doujin music scene was mostly populated by Utaite (NicoNicoDouga-based cover artists), thus making supercell/Egoist althemore prominent. It wouldn’t be until the arrival of the likes of CHiCO with HoneyWorks and Sangatsu no Phantasia that we’d begin to see more Doujin bands enter the scene, followed by Doujin artists like Sayuri and Minami who in my opinion are the two that ushered in and really opened the doors to this current era of Doujin music in Anison that we all know today. Eve now joins this distinction (long overdue in my opinion), and Kaikai Kitan is an absolute knockout of an Anison debut.

暗く黒く/kuraku kuroku (darken)
by ずっと真夜中でいいのに。(zutto mayonaka de ii no ni/ZUTOMAYO)
Speaking of debuts…

Doujin standout Zutto Mayonaka de Ii no ni (ZUTOMAYO for short) are all but set to come out with their first official theme song next month in December with the premiere of the live action adaptation of The Promised Neverland, which I do believe speaks to the ever-growing popularity of ZUTOMAYO in the mainstream now more than ever following the band’s most recent releases. In line with that the band also headlined a one-man online live event not too long ago that featured the members in the flesh (as opposed to their usual animated offerings), along with the notable inclusion of vocalist and main lyricist and composer ACAね (albeit obfuscated and from a distance) in what appears to be the this new trend of Doujin artists breaching the 3D space. It’s actually quite interesting when you think about how Culenasm from just a while ago was basically doing the inverse, but I digress. Kuraku Kuroku was also debuted as the last song for the online live, and yeah no, this song absolutely snaps @ 01:48

Babyblue Lip feat. アラン from memex
by [ahi:]
Virtual Youtubers enter the Japanese music scene

Here’s something interesting that I came across this month which might actually end up being a glimpse of what’s to come in the following year. Now, I know that Virtual Youtubers dabbling in singing isn’t anything new, whether its Kizuna Ai (who had already headlined a concert herself) or the seemingly never-ending crop of Virtual Youtubers that have in their own ways come to prominence due to their ubiquity in the current digital space. That being said, with the exception of Kizuna Ai the vast majority of what they choose to perform are covers. It’s only recently that other Virtual Youtubers like [ahi:] have come and released their own original songs, so it begs the question: is this just the beginning of what could potentially be a new wave of talent coming our way, perhaps even as a subset to Doujin artists as we know them today? I personally wouldn’t discount the possibility at least. More so if the songs end up sounding as good as Babyblue Lip.

MUST LISTEN:
Kuraku Kuroku by ZUTOMAYO
When I finished listening to Kuraku Kuroku when I first saw the PV, one of my immediate takeaways was in how much different the song ended up sounding towards the end compared to how it started. I think that speaks to just how comfortable ACAね and her crew have now become at putting forth such a layered level of musicality to their tracks, which I do attribute largely to the band’s continued growth. I mention it as much as I can but ACAね truly is rarified as a talent, and the fact that she more than likely cooked up everything down to the aesthetics of ZUTOMAYO is just remarkable.

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The YouTube playlist is and has been updated for the last time this year!

As I mentioned earlier, we have Roundup Awards 2020 (woot! woot!) coming up next month. We’ve done two awards posts ever since the Roundup’s inception two years ago (check those out if in the Japanese Music page if you missed ’em), but basically what that entails is me giving special recognition to some standout features over the entire run of Roundup posts for this past year. We handed out a total of ten awards last year divided into two categories, namely; Song Awards and Band/Artist Awards, and for the most part we are going with that format for this year as well, so if you’re planning on placing any bets, you know what awards are up for grabs XD

If you’ve ended up with a favorite or two from any and all the Roundups we’ve done these past couple of months, by all means root for them and see whether they win! 😀

Of course, the Roundup Awards have since become my own personal year ender posts as well, as its where I end up talking about the blog in retrospect, so do stay tuned to hear about my “plans” (lol) for the following year.

Before I let you all go, don’t forget to check out the most recent J-Music Exchange/Rate if you haven’t yet. Our theme for this month was “albums that introduced us to or made us appreciate a certain genre“. Al’s pick was THE KIDS by Suchmos, whereas I picked out Uchu Conbini’s Tsuki no Hansha de Miteta for him to talk about and review.

Let me know what you guys thought of this month’s Roundup down in the comments! Likewise, if you have any recommendations of your own, please feel free to share those down there as well!

Happy Listening~!

1 thought on “Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (November 2020)

  1. Pingback: Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (February 2021) | Leap250's Blog

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