Back of course to yet another year of the Monthly Recommendation Roundup! This is now the start fifth (!!!) year of the Roundup as a series here on the blog and, if I’m being perfectly honest, I didn’t really know how long I’d be doing this for when I first started doing the Roundup, so y’know, looking back it’s kinda neat that we’re still going in that sense now that we’ve reached a bit of a landmark year.
So again, I’ll be in your guys’ care this year once more 😀
IF, however, this happens to be your first time here ー
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. 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.
The January Roundup traditionally tends to be a bit all over the place (lol) because it ends up covering releases both December and January (as we didn’t have a December Roundup in lieu of the end-of-the-year Roundup Awards), so it was actually a bit hard keeping it to just ten features. I had to cull a bunch of songs as a result, but I did my best, and I do like what I ended up with (wouldn’t be recommending them otherwise :P) You’ll notice too that I implemented the format that was introduced towards the latter half of Roundups last year, with me dedicating half of the features to *new* bands/artists each time, so that also helped in picking out what songs to include.
I’ll talk to you guys a bit more later, so let’s get to it for now (XD)
知りたくなかった、失うのなら/shiritakunakatta, ushinau nonara
by あたらよ (atarayo)
Can’t start the month of the new year any other way
It only feels right that I feature the “overall winner” of the previous year’s Roundup Awards in Atarayo with their latest single Shiritakunakatta, ushinau nonara, which is a song that continues to build on this sort of brand that the band has chosen for themselves. That of course being the marquee name and face of emotionally charged Japanese Alternative Rock. Of note (and something you wanna see from such a young band) are the little touches of imporovement and experimentation from when we last heard from them just a couple of months ago. Specifically the song’s vocal harmonies which, in my opinion, see much better use compared to their previous work. The electronic distortion going on in the track might take some getting used to for some however, but once you do get used to it, it does add a nice texture to the overall sound.
Kumagawa Miyu is such an interesting case
Singer-songwriter Kumagawa Miyu, who has since adopted the moniker “Myuk”, appears to be in a bit of a transitional phase as an artist. Longtime followers of the Roundup would come to know of her as an AcoGui stylist primarily but if her offerings following the name change might lead you to believe otherwise. Snow here for instance, with its more produced Chill Pop sound, is pretty much bereft of the style we’re used to hearing from her. Not that that’s inherently a bad thing (and some might even prefer this genre even), but even so the one key element between the two styles does remain, and that’s kumamiyu’s wonderful vocals. We’ve always known her to have power, but the way she sits down on the high notes in spots is a treat to the ears and is actually quite telling of how much her singing style has matured over the years.
On the subject of maturation
I gave eill the Runner-Up for Most Improved Band/Artist award in the 2021 Recommendation Roundup Awards, and I briefly mentioned how she reinvented herself in the past year to great effect, most notably with the release of her single hikari which I would argue is the best song she has ever come out with to date. Ikenai Baby follows a similar trend in musicality, as a slow J-Pop Ballad that is able to emphasize eill’s sultry vocal work, whilst being able to keep true to her Electro/Downbeat roots. It’s only the end of January, and already one of my most anticipated releases for this year is eill’s “Palette” (set to come out on February 2), and I attribute that to the leaps she has made and her development as an artist, and I can’t wait to hear more of the improvements she has since made. I can almost guarantee her upcoming album is a banger.
悪魔の子/akuma no ko
by ヒグチアイ (higuchi ai)
I am genuinely impressed
The start of the new year also came with it the start of a new season of anime and interestingly enough Winter 2022 plays host to some choice bands and artists performing opening and ending themes. One such artist is Higuchi Ai whom we only ever got to feature briefly back in 2019, wherein we talked about her strong vocal presence which at the time I ended up likening to Roundup favorite Kuroki Nagisa. Akuma no Ko is Higuchi’s re-entry here on the Roundup so to speak, and I’m reminded of what made her so captivating to me. Perhaps even more so this time around in that, the way this song escalates and crescendos with its Orchestral Rock ensemble really fleshes out Higuchi’s already dynamic delivery in her singing, and the end result is nothing short of brilliant. Again, very impressed with what she was able to do here.
by 羊文学 (hitsuji bungaku)
Can’t help but feel proud of these guys
If you told me a couple of years ago that Hitsuji Bungaku would be out here raking in close to a million views on YouTube almost every time they come out with a new song, well… I would have wanted to believe you (XD). The reality though is that at the time I honestly wouldn’t have thought they would’ve broken into the mainstream in the manner that they have done, and I think a huge part in how they were able to do so was their foray into performing anime theme songs. Hikaru Toki is the band’s most recent anison offering and for the most part it feels as though Hitsuji Bungaku has it down pat with how sure-handed they’ve been sounding as of late with their patented Shoegaze-y Alternative Rock. I’m happy that the band is now getting the recognition they so rightfully deserve, and if you’re not yet, now’s a good time to be a fan.
by TEAM SHACHI
Well this was a pleasant surprise
To wrap up this impromptu anison portion of the January 2022 Roundup, here we have TEAM SHACHI (sister group to the widely popular Momoiro Clover Z and the equally reknowned Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku) with their song HORIZON. Now, I don’t know much about these idol groups apart from what I just shared with you, and maybe some songs by them here and there, but do know that I am also a simple man (lol), and any time a song has clapping and blaring brass instruments. Throw in the occasional rap and the Alternative Idol aesthetic and you have me hook, line, and sinker. Very much a guilty pleasure addition to the Roundup on my part, but I can’t help it. This song just does its thing and I’m just all for it. That being said, if they continue with this EDM/Dubstep direction and this isn’t just a one off thing, then they have my attention.
by 久保あおい (kubo aoi)
Speaking of EDM
This is something I talked about in the most recent installment of the J-Music Exchange/Rate (check it out here if you haven’t yet) wherein I mentioned that Japan saw an uptick in DTM/Computer Music as of late. Perhaps this was brought about by the current state of the world, leaving people to their own creative devices, willingly or otherwise. Whether or not that was the case for Kubo Aoi who started releasing music just this past year is beyond me, but it does appear she’s been making the most of what she’s able to do with arguably limited means of production as you’ll hear here in Uso Darake, which in turn becomes althemore impressive when you take into account that she’s apparently only sixteen years old. Not to say that people her age should be incapable of something like this of course, but still impressive nonetheless.
by 小林私 (kobayashi watashi)
We’ll do better this year (XD)
The theme for this month’s Exchange/Rate album reviews, as you may or may not know by now, is New Year’s Resolutions with regard to Japanese Music. This was something that I picked out myself and, perhaps unsurprisingly for those of you who have a feel for what kind of music I end up featuring as part of the Roundup, I decided that this year I should aim to listen to more male artists/vocalists (XD) I mean, it’s not that I *actively* avoid listening to them, but it’s definitely an “if I were to choose” kind of situation in most cases. That being said, we’ll do better this year, starting out with Kobayashi Watashi’s Dounattatteize here. Kobayashi is a nice shout for those who looking for a bit of grit in singing style but to an otherwise Funk-y and Jazz-y sort of Pop/Rock which makes for a neat contrast that just makes you want to keep listening.
by 小玉ひかり (kodama hikari)
Someone to keep an eye out for, without a doubt
I’ve brought up this particular group on more than one occasion as part of the Roundup, but PLUSONICA yet again proves that they’ve been housing some serious talent with Kodama Hikari being another notable prospect to come out of their stable. As a reminder, YOASOBI’s Ikuta Lilas and Nishina (both of whom we’ve also featured here on the Roundup) are also products of this vocalist initiative, to paint you a picture of the kind of company that she has around her. Not only that, but Kodama also participated in THE FIRST TAKE STAGE where she made it to the semi-finals, with the eventual contest winner Reina also getting a feature here (also our Runner-Up for Best Prospect of 2021). Suffice it to say, Kodama has been in the company of some very promising artists, and if Iris is any indication, it looks like she’s ready for her time in the limelight.
by 憧憬と傘 (shoukei to kasa)
What’s with Japanese Alt. Rock bands and the beach? JK
Congratulations, you have made it to the indie band feature track of the Monthly Recommendation Roundup! (XD) Kidding aside, these lesser-known Alt. Rock discoveries tend to be the real highlight of the Roundup (as what it has always been about) both for myself and I’m sure a lot of you guys now too who have been following the Roundup for some time. Shoukei to Kasa is admittedly a bit rough around the edges, especially in the vocal deparment, but everything else shows great promise I would think. The guitars specifically are very much on point, and Zutto‘s song structure overall is right up my alley. I can definitely see the potential in this VERY young band, and if they’re already sounding like this in what’s technically just their second song that’s out right now, then it’s probably safe to expect great things.
“Akuma no Ko” by Higuchi Ai
I might have undersold a bit just how much I ended up really liking this song and I do hope none of you guys were deterred from listening to it from its association with the polarizing Attack On Titan (lol). The way Higuchi Ai’s voice rises and falls with the instrumentation, and hearing the use of such a versatile vocal range in general is always a treat to the ears. At the very least, it has since made me want to go and check out more of Higuchi’s work after the fact, and in my opinion, if a song is able to do that to you then that says something. Expect for me to keep an eye out on her future releases moving forward and depending on how soon that ends up being, we might see her again here.
The YouTube playlist for the Monthly Roundups 2022 is now live, and the Spotify playlist where we house all the recommendations from the Roundup (including the ones from previous years) has been updated. Also, I’m pleased to inform you guys that we now also have a Japanese Music Roundup playlist on Apple Music! So if you’re on or have been on Apple/iOS, I got your back now too 😀
The JP Apple Music integration has been great for me personally, as it has made my scope for finding new bands/artists to listen to even broader than before I feel. In fact, some of the features here (Shoukei to Kasa in particular) came from there! Definitely something I’ll continue to utilize moving forward.
Speaking of this month’s features, lemme know what you guys think of ’em down in the comments. I’ll be doing this new feature format for the Monthly Roundups as I mentioned where half of it will be me showcasing new bands/artists. I’ll see how long I can keep that up (lol) before I bump the number on that down, but it’s been alright so far so we’ll see how this continues to fare in succeeding months.
On the subject of new things, I also want to give a quick shoutout to the artist who made our new banner picture for the Roundup; JellyBeam (@JellyBeam_Ji). They’re awesome, and it was a great experience working with them for this Lo-Fi Hip-Hop Girl inspired piece, so do check them out if you’re looking to get some commissioning work done. I can personally vouch for the care they put into their art.
Lastly, again don’t forget to check out this month’s J-Music Exchange/Rate album reviews if you haven’t yet. This month’s theme was on New Year’s Resolutions as I mentioned. You can find my review of HoneyComeBear’s HappyEND right over here, and you can catch Al’s review of Takayan’s Zutto Ikitene down at Omunibasu.Blog.
That’s gonna do it for me.
Thanks for dropping by, especially if you made it all the way down here (lol)
I’ll see you guys later. Take care. Stay healthy. Stay safe.
And Happy Listening~!
Really vibing with the mellow songs this roundup! Yup, “snow” and “ikenai baby” are where we’re at tonight. Also, shoukei to kasa reminds me of a less shrill version of nano.RIPE (which I like).
Sweet, Glad you liked it Moya!
Also yeah, I can totally see the nano.RIPE comparison (also reminds me to go and dig through their discography, Haha!)
Been a while since I checked out one of your roundups (🙇♂️) but as always, this was a really nice one!
TBH I don’t think I ever got the chance to listen to the ‘chill pop’ genre prior to becoming a Japanese music fan, but because the J-music scene is blessed with so many talented artists that convey that specific genre, I’ve come to really really really appreciate it. And that Myuk track is definitely another fantastic example! I do remember seeing some of her other, more acoustic-style songs on your roundups so yeah, hearing her do a much different genre is interesting. It seems like it fits her pretty well and like you said, her vocals sound great.
“Ikenai Baby” was an intriguing song, especially as someone who has been listening to Palette for the past couple weeks. At first, the sudden change between a slower ballad to the more upbeat/lively “Koko de Iki wo Shite” threw me off a bit but as time went on, I definitely learned to appreciate “Ikenai Baby” (by itself, if that makes sense) for its calmer atmosphere and eill’s sick vocals. I also really enjoyed “Hikari” and some of the other songs on that album, especially “Honey-Cage” but I guess I’ll save my thoughts for the review lol
Going back to what I said earlier, like the Chill-Pop genre, being able to learn more about and listen to more EDM/electro music through Japanese artists (especially the indie ones) has also been a treat. “Uso Darake” is super super good, I really enjoyed that one. And that TEAM SHACHI song; I feel like I’m still so used to the usual/anison pop idol stuff but “HORIZON” was a nice change of pace.
Overall, great roundup! As for suggestions; funny enough, I recently got into the Bandori franchise after, like, four years of not being too interested in it (mainly cause of me being too deep in the Love Live fandom lol). But I think getting into Idoly Pride and Selection Project (among other things) definitely helped me become more open-minded towards checking out these other popular franchises. That said, and relating to the EDM stuff, I started listening to one of the newer Bandori bands, RAISE A SUILEN, and they are pretty fire. TIMO they definitely mix electro and rock extremely well and I figured that you might enjoy their music as well. “HELL or HELL” is probably my favorite (https://youtu.be/FP-lGq8BwtI) and “Takin’ My Heart” is also sick (https://youtu.be/cG01OGVGilI).
Happy to have you here all the same (XD)
Same, really. When I first started listening to Japanese music I was only ever inclined to listen to Rock bands, and I was never really interested in following soloists for the longest time (which is kinda funny to say now considering more than half of the features on this month’s Roundup *are* by solo artists). It wasn’t until I got exposed to the artist scene more that I got to experience genres outside of bands (like Chill Pop) that I also came to like a whole lot.
“Ikenai Baby”, I find, is a song that you kinda have to let grow on you before you start to really like it. I love the subtle shifts that it does when it starts to incorporate synth throughtout the song, and eill’s vocals play so well with the autotune, making it (and really most of the tracks off of ‘PALETTE’) feel so layered whenever you listen to it. “Koko de Iki wo Shite” is definitely the outlier of the album being an anison track, but the brass section more than makes up for it imo. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the album then, Haha!
Kubo Aoi’s “Uso Darake” actually reminded me a lot of HoneyComeBear, funnily enough, especially since both are DTM, which I thought was kinda neat. And yeah, that TEAM SHACHI song is a low key banger that I’m surprised isn’t popping off more than I initially thought when I first heard it.
Ooooh, they come up every now and again on my feed so I’ve heard some RAS songs before in passing (mostly their covers though), but I’ve never really gone and listened to Bandori’s original songs a whole lot either. They really do do Electro/Rock well, and the lead vocals in the songs you shared really gives it that “band” sounds (if that makes sense) which ends up being my *issue* with most of Bandori’s offerings. Definitely feels like a group you can just follow without being privy to the franchise, LOL
I definitely agree that a lot of the songs from Palette are ‘layered’, that’s a great way of describing it xD
I also haven’t listened to a lot of the original Bandori discography but if I’m being honest, I think Raychell (RAS frontwoman) is probably my favorite vocalist out of all the groups. Not to knock the others (I think Ayaneru is mainly known for her voice acting but her stuff with Afterglow definitely showcases how well of a singer she is, same with Aiai in Roselia) but Raychell’s voice is just unreal. Especially when you hear her live (here’s another great song from them: https://youtu.be/SON5ScFjqZg?t=132), she just sounds natural as a rock band leader.
And going off your last point, they do have an image that can interest non-anime/Bandori music fans, and I guess I was one of those people! Obviously the songs and their overall style is pretty ‘approachable’, for a lack of a better term. And I think it helps that a couple of the RAS members have past musical experience; Raychell has had a music career of her own and I heard that Natsume (the group’s drummer) mainly joined RAS for the drumming rather than the voice acting/character work.
On a related note, there was a really nice Poppin Party song I happened to stumble upon and the live acoustic version of it was pretty amazing to watch/listen to. Figured you’d enjoy it as well! (https://youtu.be/VIfgBrlK3yU)
…. getting here late in the month, having let these tunes settle in. My favorites? The middle four. I’m certainly impressed by kubo aoi — subtle touches with limited resources, and a lovely musicality. It leaves you wanting more.
But the one that I’ve played most, by far, is TEAM SHACHI. That really brings back the Momoclo ‘5th Dimension’ album from 2013, when it looked as though they were going to be that strangest of things, an idol group to take seriously. Unfortunately, a downhill backslide started almost immediately and was stamped & sealed by the brainless KISS collaboration. Sigh.
Ian Martin wrote a better review of it than I could ever do, it’s worth a read:
…. as he points out, there’s filler, but several of the cuts are excellent, as I hear them after years away. BTW the person he poetically refers to as a “drug-addled British indie-dance producer cum 70s blaxploitation soundtrack enthusiast” was The Go! Team’s Ian Parton – I can’t judge the description, but he did do a nice job on ‘Rodou Sanko’. And their meeting with Hotei was inspired.
Thanks as usual, hope this short month is providing good stuff, too.
Appreciate you listening as intently as did Jim!
Kubo Aoi’s creativity is definitely making up for what would otherwise be limitations to her sound in having to rely solely (seemingly) on software-generated tracks. Can’t help but wonder what she can do with a proper ensemble.
I’m glad this TEAM SHACHI is getting the praise it deserves really (XD). But that’s a nice shout yeah, I can definitely see wht it would be reminiscent of that. It’s these one off lightning-in-a-bottle tracks that make you feel for these idol groups sometimes where the sliver of potential is there, but management eschews it in favor of pandering.
I like what he says about polish though, and ‘Rodou Sanko’ is a good example of how an idol group, especially one as well-structured as MomoClo, are more capable than people probably give them credit for. That said it does take the right musical mind to make it work, and continue to make it work… regardless of their blaxploitetitiveness, JK XD
Likewise, thanks for dropping by! And yeah, I think this month had some particularly solid offerings so do look forward to that 🙂
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