Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (February 2023)

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Lots to love this month for sure <3

Literally, like, it was hard (the hardest it’s been for a good while now if I’m being perfectly honest) to keep the number of features down to the usual ten that I give you guys (lol) but as always, I’m getting ahead of myself 😛

Welcome back to the Monthly Recommendation Roundup! Or, if this is actually your first time here and are not sure what to expect 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 time frame, 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.

I mentioned last month that the January Roundup tends to be a little weird as I’m also having to account for December releases when collating the list for it. February in some ways kinda poses a similar problem in that I feel like a lot of songs end up coming out during this month generally for some reason or another but because the month’s short a couple of days I had to kill my darlings so to speak.

Let’s do ’em proud by enjoying the ones that made the cut 😀

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ピンクの髪/pink no kami
by Furui Riho
New year, new look

Starting things off for us this month is someone who I would consider to have been a bit of a standout from last year’s Roundups in Furui Riho here, now sporting an image change of sorts represented in her song Pink no Kami (lit. pink hair). That being said, although the hair color might be different, her approach to R&B continues to be fun and for the most part interesting. Her rhythm sense aside, I think the real binding agent in her artistry and something that has proven to be a massive boon for her so far in my opinion is without a doubt her ability to seemlessly switch between riding a beat to then singing melodically. Being able to do both in tandem makes for a very layered delivery that you don’t see too often, and with a clear and resounding vocal quality like Furui Riho’s, it really does leave you wanting more each time.

rose feat. Vaundy
by Chilli Beans.
That’s the stuff

I believe Al said it best in his review of Chilli Beans. self-titled debut album as part of the J-Music Exchange/Rate (catch it here if you haven’t yet!) when he mentioned that one of the band’s main strengths is the catchiness with which their songs are made. I would like to expound on this idea further by saying that Chilli Beans. knows how to deliver a chorus in particular extremely well. That is to say, a song’s chorus is generally the catchiest part of a song and the trio have shown a deep understanding of how to make the most of it. Something to note with regard to that is in how this might actually be the result of being under the tutelage of composer-on-the-rise Vaundy as both the featured artist here as well as being a long-time acquaintance of the band dating back to their university days. Amazing track all around.

WILD & FREE
by 竹内アンナ (takeuchi anna)
Welcome back

Something I’ve been a proponent for for the longest time is for Takeuchi Anna to go back to her roots. I’ve said as much in previous Roundups and, although she’s adapted a more Pop-oriented style to great effect in recent years, Takeuchi Anna’s at her stylistic best when she’s shredding with her guitar and spitting fire whilst doing so. WILD & FREE isn’t only exactly just that, but you see a bit of evolution as well to her approach as she incorporates a lot of those Pop-y sensibilities that she’s since applied to her own music. “Freedom” appears to be a central theme in her song-writing. Part of me wants to believe that, more than anything, it’s her “creative” freedom that she values the most and if this return to form is the result of that then I’m all for it. Regardless of the reason, I really am just happy seeing her holding a guitar again. It just feels right.

タイムマシーン/time machine
by 佐藤千亜妃 (sato chiaki)
If you know you know

What’s there *to* know, you ask? The astute Utada Hikaru fan would be able to identify that Sato Chiaki’s Time Machine here is actually sampling one of the former’s hit singles Automatic. Now, I don’t come across sampling of any form in Japanese music all that much outside of DJ mixes so that alone is notable enough, but add to that the fact that Sato Chiaki’s the one doing it too it so… of course I have to talk about it (XD) Granted my being a Kinoko Teikoku fan hasn’t really shown itself in here as much as I would’ve wanted to given the band’s activity or lack thereof when I first started the Roundup, but something that I’ve always believed about the band back when they were going through an experimental phase is that Sato Chiaki is its main creative driving force. I do think this song here more than reinforces this belief of mine.

夢でも/yume demo
by みゆな (miyuna)
Somewhat of a homecoming

Back during the first week of the Spotify J-Music Playlist Draft, one of the songs that got featured was a song by Miyuna. Those of you who have been following the Roundup since its inception might remember that Miyuna was actually one of the first couple of artists that I featured for it and… I dunno, I guess at some point she just started slipping out of my radar. I mentioned it in the Draft too but that one’s on me and I’m here to make good on that by slowly but surely integrating her songs into the Roundup once more starting with Yume Demo here. Something that I found interesting is that she’s actually under the A.S.A.B record label alongside the above Sato Chiaki, Chilli Beans. who we also just talked about earlier, and Atarayo (and you guys know how much I love Atarayo). Talk about having an artist lineup catered towards me (lol)

熱愛フローズン/netsuai frozen
by VALIS
On the subject of artist lineups

Although not necessarily boasting in name value, the folks behind KAMITSUBAKI/SINSEKAI STUDIO seem to have amassed quite a bit of vocal talent under their wing in what feels like a short amount of time, some of whom I’ve been wanting to feature on the Roundup. One such is the creative label’s attempt at an Idol-type vocal group in VALIS here, sporting their particular brand of Electro Dance Pop that often borders Hip-Hop and R&B. Netsuai Frozen I think is a good representation of the kind of music that the label offers, and while they have had individual artists release these type of songs already, the prospect of a group doing it is thought-provoking in my opinion, more so a purely virtual one like VALIS. I mentioned in the past that Virtual Artists might be the next big thing and we are now truly in the midst of that I feel.

ダダ/dada
by NOMELON NOLEMON
That hook is unexpectedly catchy ngl

NOMELON NOLEMON is a band that I talked about in passing just last month when I featured one of frontwoman Miki Maria’s songs as part of the Roundup. As I mentioned, the band’s high energy Pop/Rock is a bit different from what you might expect from Miki Maria if you mostly knew her from her more Chill Pop offerings as a solo artist. Not to say that that makes her singing here in a band setting any less enjoyable. Rather, because the styles are so vastly different we get to hear a completely different side to her performance compared to last time. The delivery is snappier more aggressive here, and her voice plays off very well with the other half of the performing duo in Tsumiki as the male vocal counterpart. I find it a bit funny that it feels like I’m doing this reverse order featuring the spinoff solo venture first in that regard (XD)

Alice in 冷凍庫/alice in reitouko
by ウォルピスカーター (wolpis carter)
O.O (also I just realized ‘wolpis carter’ is an anagram for calpis water)

Back in September of last year I briefly got to talk about Wolpis Carter when they featured for a song with FantasticYouth (absolute banger of a track btw) and you can clearly see I thought they were female just based on the vocals… Now, I should probably edit that post at some point, but do know that in between then up to now after listening to Alice in Reitoko and subsequently reading a bit more about Wolpis Carter, I had zero clue he was a guy singing in a high pitch this whole time. I mean, even knowing that, my brain doesn’t really catch up when I listen to him sing and I think that’s just a testament to how well they’re able to sing in that manner (and/or my inability to pick out high-pitched male vocals, lol). I don’t usually put song covers as part of the Roundup but I felt like the exception is warranted here. 03:51~ C’moooon what.

太陽が昇るまで/taiyou ga noboru made
by さらさ (salasa)
Yoooooooooo

I played Salasa’s album Inner Ocean so much last December that it could’ve been a decent contender for my Most Played Album Award for that year if I was counting that month (I have the receipt to prove it). Let that sink in… (XD) I don’t think it’s that hard to imagine how that came about once you listen to Taiyou ga Noboru made here or really any of her other songs. Salasa’s R&B is 100% a vibe. It’s crazy to think she was close to completely stepping away from the music scene at one point in time as it would’ve been absolute shame to have lost her otherwise. Thankfully we didn’t, and we all get another chance to appreciate her work. Japanese fans are throwing out Utada Hikaru comparisons with regard to her singing and I think that’s spot on what we’re getting here; just this irresistably rich and velvety tonality to her voice that’s hard to not like.

故のLOVE/yue no love
by チョーキューメイ (ChoQMay)
It grows on you real fast, I swear

One of the things that I feel like I missed out on by not being a Japanese music fan much earlier in life was that I never got to really experience Soutaiseiriron‘s music first hand during the band’s heyday. As someone who belatedly got to their discography, I’ve since always thought that the quirky and zany nature of their songs really stood out where it felt that the band was a bit ahead of their time with the things they were trying to do. With that said, I would like to think that the feeling of listening to ChoQMay is as close as I’ll probably get to that. At the very least, songs like Yue no Love here really do remind of Soutaiseiriron in a lot of ways which is something that I never thought I’d be able to say about any other band given how unique the latter has been throughout the years. For what its worth, they have a more than decent successor now.

MUST LISTEN:
“rose feat. Vaundy” by Chilli Beans. and “Taiyou ga Noboru Made” by salasa
Chilli Beans. continue to be on the the upswing (as they rightfully should) carried by noth only the momentum of their self-titled debut album but now also a new EP which dropped right at the start of this month. If them being my clear-cut overall winner from last year’s Roundup Awards wasn’t enough to convince you, then this song should very well do the trick. I also can’t stress enough how much Salasa must be heard. I promise you won’t regret it and, in the event that you actually did listen to her thanks to my prodding, you’re welcome (lol). All jokes aside, I honestly do think her music should get more than a fair shake as I really feel she and her music have the makings of something great. Again, I highly recommend listening to her album Inner Ocean if/when you can. Very underappreciated release in my opinion.

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The YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music playlists have all been updated with this month’s featured tracks for your guys’ listening pleasure 😉

What did you guys think of this month’s Roundup? Lemme know down in the comments section below! Likewise, if you have songs you want to recommend yourselves, feel free to drop a link to ’em as well 😀

Speaking of recommendations going towards my way in particular, the Spotify J-Music Playlist Draft had its Week 3 and Week 4 this month so if you haven’t been keeping up now’s the time to catch up 😛 We have Week 5 waiting in the wings just a couple of days from now so if you’ve been liking the series thus far you can be sure there’s more where that came from.

New J-Music Exchange/Rate also dropped this month! If you happened to miss it, Al and I went and talked about albums by artists who went and started a solo project after previously being part of a band or group. I got to review JONAGOLD’s WEEKEND this time around which is an album that I’ve personally been very fond off these past couple of months (check out my review here). Al on the other hand talked about my pick for the month, Sato Chiaki’s PLANET. You can read Al’s review over at Omunibasu.Blog

The last thing I wanted to bring to your guys’ attention before I let you all go is that I did out another tribute piece of sorts this month. This one goes out to Kusunoki Tomori and the particular circumstances surrounding her and her activities. If you’ve been following the Roundup you’d know that I’m a fan of hers (albeit maybe not as much as some of you might have thought), and writing that was also my way of sorting out my own feelings on the matter. It’s a bit on the lenghtier side than the ones you’re used to seeing from me, but I tried my best to make it as engaging as I can with the the way I framed the overall discussion so do give that a read if you’re interested.

That’ll do it for me. Thank you guys so much for tuning in whenever you do 🙂

Happy Listening!

5 thoughts on “Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (February 2023)

  1. Definitely agree that the chorus in “rose” goes crazy. I was never certain whether or not Maika/Lily’s voices are included in said chorus but even then, and like I said before, I really loved the Moto/Vaundy duet. They sound super good together and it’s pretty cool to find out that Chilli Beans have had a relationship with him for a while now. I think the fact that these are two rising artists in the J-music scene, it’s very cool to see two indie acts doing a song together (other than the ones they’ve done before). And I’m pretty sure listening to “rose” was, like, the second time I’ve heard Vaundy sing lol. Obviously “odoriko” was my first encounter with him, just like everyone else, but he’s for sure an enjoyable artist to listen to. And I’m sure you feel the same but I’m hoping CB can eventually get the same opportunities/exposure, since I think they’d make a sick song for an anime opening or something. (ty for the mention btw lol)

    I’m very much a fan of “melt into YOU” from that recent Sato Chiaki EP, but “Time Machine” is a solid song as well. Especially after finding out about the Utada sample, I think it was a really nice use of a classic and memorable song! And I’m glad I got some reassurance about Sato/Kinoko’s evolution with creativity; it’s pretty amazing what she’s doing with her solo career and I think she’s just going all out with her ideas.

    That wolpis carter cover is pretty insane lmao. If you didn’t point it out, I also probably wouldn’t have known that that was a guy singing 😛 But he replicated female vocals extremely well (if that was his intention) and like you said, that in itself is a pretty incredible talent to have.

    And yeah, that Salasa song is 100% a vibe. Utada didn’t really come to mind when I first listened to that (interestingly enough, I was immediately reminded of iri’s vocals, maybe cause of her deeper tone/inflections lol), but regardless, that was a really nice track. I’ve been trying to listen to more Japanese R&B lately, and this one’s another great example of that.

    Really nice roundup this month, I think every single song here was super enjoyable!

    As for suggestions: I know you’ve been kinda getting into K-pop, and to relate to what we talked about before with NiziU, this new song from MISAMO is pretty interesting (https://youtu.be/lD-GY7WiTd4). The trio involved are actually the Japanese-born members of the group TWICE, and it’s honestly really cool to see those three form a subunit. I don’t think anyone really knows what to expect from MISAMO yet when it comes to their overall music style, but I’m hoping they’ll take on a more ‘J-pop’ approach. While those three members were born and raised in Japan, I think we’ve only really heard them in a Korean pop setting, so I’d be interested to see them express one that caters more to the Japanese audience.

    And I’m sure you’ve heard this one already, but haruno’s “Venus Flytrap” with the Sato Chiaki feature was pretty tight. (https://youtu.be/-6Wx3fZy6MI) haruno’s been another cool artist/vocalist to listen to ever since I heard his collab with yama, and to see him get Sato on a song was great! And this is definitely another good showing of how Sato Chiaki’s voice can really fit with any type of music.

    • Yep, I thought it was kinda cute that they now have an ‘official’ collaboration with one another now that Chilli Beans. and Vaundy are both names in the industry (unlike before where naming Vaundy as a feature probably wouldn’t have had as much name value attached to it given how he was also himself just starting to be on the rise). I only ended up hearing Vaundy sing fairly recently myself when I came across a cover of “Tokyo Flash” (https://youtu.be/pPmoHOwdriM), after which I searched for the original song by him, lol. Oh yeah, if not an anime tie-up then definitely a drama for sure.

      That new Sato EP was nice wans’t it? (XD) But yeah no she’s definitely about as dedicated to the craft as can be, and her career trajectory going from being a live action actress, to a band’s lead singer, to now a solo artist; she’s in a lot of ways a renaissance woman and I too am excited to see where her creativity leads her.

      Would fool me ten times out of ten really. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a falsetto like his before where it really does sound like a natural voice, like, usually you can kinda tell if someone’s just purposely thinning out they’re voice to try and sound higher pitched but he does such an amazing job at sustaining that I can’t even imagine what his real voice would sound like (LOL)

      Expect that Inner Ocean album by Salasa to come your way at some point 😛 iri’s a really good comparison here too though yeah.

      Thanks! 😀
      A bit belated coming from me though, lol, I could’ve sworn I already replied but alas (XD)

      Oh wow, that’s actually pretty neat that they made them their own unit like that. Like you, I’d be really curious to see how a primarily K-Pop artist/idol would perform something more along the lines of Japanese Idol Pop. I guess that would depend on who would be handling the compositions of their songs for the most part, but I’d be curious to see whether or not there’s be an apparent difference in the approach yeah.

      I think after I saw Fullkawa Honpo’s feature with Sato, I’ve since been convinced that any song she features in would just be a banger regardless of the genre, but it’s interesting to hear how it feels like she does her best work in Electronic R&B like in “Venus Flytrap” here especially when we’ve heard her sing in a band setting for the longest time, lol

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