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

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Q1 2023 in the books!

And what a first couple of months it has been thus far huh? Well, I guess experiences can be a bit across the board generally speaking, but in terms of Japanese Music specifically (lol), I’d argue we’ve been having it good!

But enough about that though, and welcome back once more to the one and only Monthly Recommendation Roundup! Glad to see you guys again if you’ve already been here before, but if not and this is your first time coming across this series 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.

Had a bit of leeway so to speak to talk about stuff that didn’t necessarily occur this month, which is a window of opportunity that’s become scarcer over the years the more entrenched I become keeping up to date with new releases.

Suffice for it to say I was more than happy to oblige in that regard 😛

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451
by ヨルシカ (yorushika)
I thought this was pretty neat ngl

Of course, I’m referring to the fact that suis, the singer half of the immensely popular singer/composer pair Yorushika, is noticeably absent in 451 here. Granted, we’ve been hearing n-buna sing in certain spots increasingly over the years since the duo first took off, to the point where he almost aways does backing vocals nowadays. This also technically isn’t the first time n-buna went and sang a song that he composed, so some fans might know that it’s not something that hasn’t been done before. That said, I would argue that it happens sparingly enough that it warrants being called attention to. I mean, just the surprise factor of it alone is pretty hype, and hey, the man’s got a voice (XD) My head canon for how this came to be is that n-buna was left to his own devices this while suis was out collaborating with Sawano Hiroyuki.

border line
by Chilli Beans.
I’m just saying, if I drove, I’d drive to this too

We’ll be giving a couple of bands their flowers this month, starting with Chilli Beans. coming back to us in relatively quick turnaround after an appearance just last month on the Roundup, now with another PV from their mixtape EP border line. What’s interesting here is that last time I talked about how one of the band’s unique strengths was their ability to make the most out of a chorus by utilizing their collective singing to great effect, but in some ways  you could argue that this song actually does quite the opposite. There are no peaks or big moments here, and while the gang vocals are still there, it’s more hushed and tame relative to the otherwise explosive deliveries from vocalist Moto that we’re so used to. Instead you have a nice, calm and soothing track from beginning to end, carried mainly by Lily’s subtle yet sublime guitar work.

永遠のブルー/eien no blue
by 羊文学 (hitsujibungaku)
Continuing to enjoy what has been quite the glow up

I think it’s fair to say Hitsujibungaku had their best year yet last year, with them having landed a well-received anime tie-up as well as the band being featured in THE FIRST TAKE (with vocalist Moeka being able to showcase her singing prowess further in a separate appearance). If anything else, 2022 was definitely when they got put on the map for people, especially fans outside of Japan, as perhaps evidenced by the now multitude of comments written in English showing up in the comments section for Eien no Blue here. Speaking of the comments, a Japanese commenter pointed something out that I thought was kinda interesting that I never thought about until now is that in as much as I’ve lauded the band as being a Shoegaze standout, Hitsujibungaku might actually be better served performing upbeat and positive tracks like this.

桜のころ/sakura no koro
by Conton Candy
Conton Candy might be it

The Roundup has championed quite a fair number of bands in the years since its inception. Some, like Hump Back and Hitsujibungaku who we just listened to have gone on to enjoy a good amount of success, while others like Split end and Lucie,Too have yet to have their time in the sun (…I’ll elect to *not* mention bands that have since stopped making music altogether, for my sak-). While Sakura no Koro might not be *the* breakout hit for Conton Candy, it’s more than a decent step towards one in my opinion should the band continue on this path they’re on in my opinion. At the very least, they now join the likes of Rinne and Kaneyorimasaru as this new generation of bands that I am very hopeful for. Last time out I was still a little unsure, but my gut tells me they’re in it for the long haul and I will most certainly be there for it.

一日一日夜/haru haru ya
by BURNABLE/UNBURNABLE
On the subject of acts I’ll forever be in support of

Last year I talked about how BURNABLE/UNBURNABLE treated me well when I got in touch with them and their team regarding my wanting to procure live concert audio of one of their shows. They were awesome for even entertaining my request (I mean, I’d still think they were even if they didn’t but, lol), and I swore to myself that I’d do my best in supporting them and their music through the Roundups. That being said, even if I wasn’t purposely doing that, I trust I would still feature Haru Haru Ya regardless which, in my opinion, might just be one of the best representations of atmospheric Dark Pop that BURNABLE/UNBURNABLE has offered yet. A suggestion with regard to that though, I find that you might need to break out your best resolving pair of ear/headphones for this one. Definitely worth doing so.

ライトイヤーズ/lightyears
by 明透 (asu)
Takes a while to grow on you, but once it does, you’ll know

A couple of months ago I talked a little bit about my growing fascination with KAMITSUBAKI/SINSEKAI STUDIO’s roster of vocal talent when I featured KOKO who, in my book, is the best pure singer from the KAMITSUBAKI stable. In line with that, if we’re talking about the SINSEKAI crop of singers, Asu far and away outshines all of them in my opinion. If anything else, her she’s most certainly my favorite. While her singing style might not be as versatile as KOKO’s, it’s her vocal quality that makes her standout paired with her unique intonations and inflections. I dunno, something about how she sings is just so… addictive (lol) I can’t really describe it any other way. I will say though that it took some time for Light Years to get its hooks in me despite all that, but it did eventually and its now my favorite of hers so take that as you will.

周回軌道上/shuukai kidoujou
by 明くる夜の羊 (akuruyo no hitsuji)
… Yes, another sheep-themed band (XD)

Though unlike the mild-mannered Hitsujibungaku (lit. “sheep literature”) from earlier, ‘Akuruyo Sheep’, as they’ve taken to calling themselves (akuruyo meaning dawn) is really anything but. It took me a while to nail down whose energy vocalist Kawano Yui reminded me of until after a couple more listens of Shuukai Kidoujou, and after doing so I’ve narrowed it down to being somewhere in between Roundup favorite Kuroki Nagisa and Ryokuoushoku Shakai‘s Nagaya Haruko. That is to say, these three frontwomen have very commandeering presences both in how they carry themselves as well the manner in which they sing, which their powerful deliveries. Honestly a feature that has been a long time coming (I’d planned to talk about them back when they dropped their juvenile album; rad release fwiw) so I’m happy I got to do so now.

TRUMAN
by 礼賛/raisan
This band is flying way too under the radar considering who’s involved…

And by that I mean, you’d think a Kawatani Enon project today would be an immediate head-turner, but as it stands Raisan might be his least known creative outlet alongside Biteki Keikaku. Granted, the man has like, what, four (?) other concurrent projects so some falling by the wayside isn’t that crazy in retrospect, but at the same time, the band is relatively new and I might just be jumping the gun a little too so we’ll just have to see. What’s fascinating to me about this venture compared to all his other creations is that radio host/podcaster-turned-frontwoman (…man’s got an ear for talent what can I say), Saaya might actually be the one who has adapted the best to Kawatani’s particular cadence and singing style out of all of the vocalists he has since collaborated with as you’ll hear in the funky Hip-Hop-y Truman Show-inspired TRUMAN.

CHRONIC
by NAQT VANE
Speaking of lesser known side projects

One of my favorite things to do on Spotify now (and I recommend that you guys try it out as well) is checking out ‘composer’ playlists. I wanna say Japan is the only one really utilizing these, at least from what I can see, but the idea is there are actually a good handful of playlists generated by Spotify themselves that contain songs composed by a specific person. It’s actually through the Kawatani Enon Works playlist that I found out about Biteki Keikaku and Raisan for instance. Similarly, I found out about NAQT VANE after sifting through the Sawano Hiroyuki Works playlist. NAQT VANE seems to be Sawano’s attempt at sort of branching out outside the Anime/Anison space into something more ‘3D’ and… while I’m not too sure Dorama fans are ready for his music just yet, CHRONIC, in trademark Sawano fashion, absolutely slaps.

ちはる/chiharu
by キタニタツヤ (kitani tatsuya)
We started with n-buna, we’ll end it with n-buna (kinda)

N-buna only really contributes the guitars here (which are pretty slick for the most part tbh) as the main star for this one is of course Kitani Tatsuya who’s been on the come up for a good while now. What’s interesting is that the first time he performed Chiharu was when he appeared on THE FIRST TAKE despite it being a song that he had yet to release at the time. I remember lamenting that after the fact as I ended up really liking the song only to find out it’s not available to be listened to elsewhere other than that TFT appearance. Fittingly enough though, now that the cherry blossoms are in first bloom this year (if not already in full bloom by the time this post comes out) he formally releases it as its own single, and it’s as beautiful of a song as I remember it being if not even more so now with a fuller and more complete arrangement.

MUST LISTEN:
“border line” by Chilli Beans. and “Shuukai Kidoujou”  by Akuruyo no Hitsuji
It’s honestly impressive how it feels as though Chilli Beans. have yet to really lose steam after dropping their first album last year. In that time the band has since toured, released an EP, and is now currently set to release their first concert Blu-Ray. I think more than anything else whoever’s managing them is doing a fantastic job at making sure their fans always have something to hold their interest. While not yet enjoying the same level of success, I do think Akuruyo no Hitsuji have a path to get there going by how they’ve been sounding. I’m liking the Ryokuoshoku Shakai angle in particular the more I think about it. Granted, it feels like a steep comparison when you start comparing view counts between the two but I wanna say it wasn’t always like that for Ryokushaka as far as I can remember too so yeah, curious what the future holds for ’em.

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The YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music playlists have all now been updated with this month’s featured tracks, so you can always go back and listen to them on your preferred listening platforms 😉

What are your guys’ thoughts on this month’s Roundup? Let me know in the comments! Likewise, if you have recommendations of your own, feel free to drop me a link down there as well. I’ll be sure to give them a listen 🙂

Speaking of songs that I’ve given a listen, we had Week 5 and Week 6 of the Spotify J-Music Playlist Draft this month. If you missed out on some of the earlier weeks, I have them all in the dedicated Draft page for you guys to go through at your leisure. We had a really good few couple of weeks for March so do check them out if you haven’t yet. Here’s hoping the trend continues come April.

A fresh pair of J-Music Exchange/Rate album reviews dropped this month as well, this time with me and Al doing reviews of albums by singer/composer pairings. I got the chance to listen to voice actress Natsuyoshi Yuuko’s joint project alongside composer Yamato, Arika, through their debut EP 1440. You can catch my review here. Al in turn went and taled about my recommendation, FantasticYouth’s BlueGuns which is a personal favorite of mine. You can go read Al’s review of it over at Omunibasu.Blog 😀

Lastly, by the time this post goes up, Kusunoki Tomori will have made her formal exit from her involvement as one of the talents for the Love Live! franchise. If you’ve been following my activity here on the blog for some time, you might already have an idea as to how much I’ve become a fan of her and her work over the years, and it’s for that very reason that I went and wrote a bit of a tribute to her in light of everything that happened regarding her departure from the beloved series. It was originally published right after she made her final live appearance, but I figured it’s only fitting that invite you guys to go check it out if you haven’t yet already <3

And with that, I won’t hold you any longer. Thank you guys for tuning in whenever you do, I appreciate you all, and I’ll see you guys in the next one.

Happy Listening!

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