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~!