Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Round-Up (March 2019)

Springing back with another Round-Up am I right?! (get it? …wait, don’t lea-)

What’s good everyone (!!) and welcome back to the Monthly Recommendation Round-Up. Winter is winding down to a close, with the spring season almost but not quite in full-bloom just yet (shout out to y’all who’re having their spring breaks at the moment), and yeah no, it’s been a hot minute in that span of time since I was last here… which would be last month’s Round-Up (xD) I mean, that’s just the way it is, but more on that later.

Before anything else, if you’re new to this blog or this segment —

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 Round-Up that I’ll update and share at the end of each post.

Not gonna lie though, while I do a bit of culling to fit the 7~9 song limit that I set for this series, I ended up picking off way more from this month than in previous months. This is a good thing really because that means there were just that many good songs that have come out this month. HOWEVER, this would be a good time to point out that for this second year of the Round-Up I wanted us all to “expand our horizons” a bit more, so some notable mainstays will be sitting out this time around (but, I mean, do still check out Maison book girl‘s and Yorushika‘s new songs too, lol)

With that out of the way, grab your most trusted pair of earphones (or IEMs if you’re about that life /if you’re a speakers kinda guy/gal that’s cool too), set your audio levels to a comfortable volume, and let’s listen to some music shall we~?

ーー

ソルジャーガールズ/soldier girls
by FERN PLANET
Wait wait, what???

Quick little history lesson for y’all — back in 2014, Kansai-based three-piece Girls Rock band Rick Rack burst at the seams as one of if not the most promising prospective acts for the genre at the time. This of course was in large part due to the involvement of Gt./Vo. SERINA, who’s prodigious guitar skill and deep vocal register won the hearts of many, and whom fans consider the real driving force and creative mind behind the band (seeing as she also served as their main composer). Five years, and a bit of soul-searching later, SERINA has since now found herself in a two-man outfit FERN PLANET (with one Yamaguchi Meiko on Bass) — and now singing one of her old songs from back then (check it out here!). This new iteration of Soldier Girls boasts stronger bass and backing vocal presence, more aggressive drum work, and most notably a more… mature overall SERINA (who used to rely heavily on her guitar work, but is now very much capable of a more balanced performance)

カード/card
by にしな (nishina)
We’ve got another one!

I said in last month’s Round-Up that this year is looking to be a fantastic year for AcoGui song stylists with artists like Takeuchi Anna, minami, and Kumagawa Miyu coming out of the wood work (check them all out if you haven’t yet!). Whether or not that statement continues to hold true is something we’ll have to see in the coming months, but at the very least for this month of March, it appears that this is a wave that we can continue riding thanks to nishina’s card. The main thing to take note of here is the quaint dynamism of nishina’s vocal runs which shows A LOT of promise with regard to what she’s capable of. There’s not a whole lot of power to her delivery, and her range isn’t really something anyone would consider remarkable, but what nishina does boast is a very honest timbre that’s just so perfect for this kind of music. You can tell that she knows to play around with her otherwise lackadaisical (lol) singing style, so it’s gonna be interesting to see how much she can actually do with it.

夜の舞踏会/yoru no butoukai
by 熊川みゆ (Kumagawa Miyu/”kumamiyu”)
Three straight with no signs of stopping (!!!)

Speaking of Kumagawa Miyu, she makes yet another appearance on the Monthly Recommendation Round-Up (already tying with last year’s Most Prolific Artist) with already her third release for the year with this here song and boy does she continue to amaze. I’ve been lauding her beautiful AcoGui style for the better part of three months now (lol) but “kumamiyu” mixes it up a bit in Yoru no Butoukai by giving us a bit of a Pop-ier track that to me honestly sounds very Latin/Flamenco-inspired in both rhythm and feel, which does make sense considering that the title translates (loosely) to “[A] Dance in the Night” and the Flamenco style of music is very much dance-oriented. Now, I don’t know about y’all (and I might just be fanboying here) but I see this is an impressive look from kumamiyu as it shows off her versatility, that in hindsight she might have always had but never got the chance to bring it out until now. This so far has been an insane release schedule for her (dropping, like, a song a month), but I can’t really complain now can I? (xD)

マスターピース/masterpiece
by SCANDAL
This vid should stay up… (lol)

Y’know, as opposed to their previous run of PVs, which have mostly been gated by region restrictions far too many times to count. This we can wholly attribute to the band being a long-time talent under Sony Music Entertainment Japan (via the Epic Records record label). SME has had a reputation of being very stingy with overseas distribution, much to the ire of many international fans of Japanese music in general. Whether or not this was the impetus for SCANDAL setting up *their own* record label is beyond me, but I would think that the band that wished to be “the best rock band in the world” would want their content to be accessible by everyone. At any rate, Masterpiece marks their first single release under their new label (called ‘Her’, under Victor Entertainment this time), and this song is just classic SCANDAL right here. That is to say, this is very much a genre-defining display of textbook “Girls Rock”, and in my opinion is a perfect way to launch their new brand to the world.

業に燃ゆ/gou ni moyu
by そこに鳴る (Soko ni naru)
Such a dirty, dirty track that you guys made (xD)

I don’t really know how else to describe Soko ni naru’s naaaaasty Prog. Rock. I mean, Suzuki’s (Vo./Gt.) gritty guitar work notwithstanding, mi-chan’s (Ba./Vo.) bass lines are just equally as sick, and kudos to the drummer that they got (Soko ni naru is a two-man band for the most part) who actually managed to level with the diabolical offerings of the two. Seriously, what do these guys need to do to get an anison gig??? Jokes aside, Gou ni Moyu really is just a technical pastiche of everything good about Japanese Progressive Rock: non-linear song structure with alternating male/female vocals (both of which range from straight singing to straight up rousing the dead in their sleep), complex melodies and rhythm shifts, and just a tiny dash of Math for good measure. I’m sure a lot of people would agree that Soko ni naru have long since rid themselves of being just a “Ling tosite knock-off” and it shows here. If anything, they’ve really come into their own with these past couple of releases, and I can’t be happier because of it.

red
by Spangle call Lilli line
Twenty years and they’re still doing the darn thing

And by that I mean that Spangle call Lilli line have been making awesome music since 1998, and here’s them dropping a new track in 2019 (!!!). Tell me that isn’t hype, c’mon now. Of course, it helps that they never lost a step within that span of time, and dare I say they might’ve even gotten better (tough to say when they started out being as good). What we have here in red is something special (and in most cases rare) in my opinion in that we get to witness a band’s style that has been refined for the better part of two decades (I say “better” as chunks of those twenty years also went to the members’ RL affairs). You see this video of them performing an ensemble and it all looks… effortless. Yet at the same time you’re hearing it, and it’s just a masterful display of instrumentation, or in the case Otsubo Kana’s airy vocals; just a beautiful sound in general. SCLL is a testament to what a love for music can do to people, as the now-40 year-old members simply can’t help but make more of it despite being too busy with their work and their families, and I in turn can’t help but appreciate that about them.

Fall
by Orbit
So is going 540p the new retro feel? jk

Seriously though, Fall does have that grain-y, bass-heavy J-Rock sound to it, which (along with the visuals of the PV) really does complete a sort-of old school aesthetic. That said, it’s kinda hard to tell just yet whether or not Orbit is looking to establish themselves as a straight up “throwback” kind of band seeing as Fall is just their first single (though I’m 100% there for it if they do decide to go that route). From what I can gather from their band description, Orbit doesn’t really want to tie themselves up to just one particular genre, as they claim to be able to create both upbeat kinds of songs to more Blues-y ones. I for one have found that their sound actually reminds me quite a bit of one of my all-time favorite J-Rock bands in ecosystem. Vo./Ba.’s Yuka’s vocals and singing style in particular sounds fairly similar to Megumi’s from ecosystem (with the former just having less emphasis on power compared the the latter). Orbit is a young, prospective band just fresh out of college, and I sincerely hope to see them around some more in the coming years.

大発明/dai hatsumei
by tricot
tricot definitely thrives on actually having a drummer

That might sound like a given for most rock bands generally, but ever since their inception as a group, the Kyoto-based trio have found themselves already in a peculiar conundrum. Ikkyu (Vo./Gt.), Motifour (Gt./Vo.), and HiroHiro (Ba./Vo.) were such a tight-knit core that being the fourth man in a trio of very close women must have felt very alienating. At the very least it must’ve been hard for previous fixed drummer Kazutaka Komaki to gel with the three, prompting him to leave the group (citing musical differences), subsequently leaving tricot without a permanent drummer for three years (the band’s second full-length album “AND” had them rotating six different drummers at a time). Come 2016 though, the band nets Yoshida Yuuseke after having held auditions for a touring drummer, and at the end of that tour becomes a full-time tricot member. Math Rock needs good drummers to really bring out those rhythm shifts and off-time signatures, and Yoshida’s Math sense just blends perfectly with tricot’s, as you’ll hear here in Dai Hatsumei.

Melody of life
by Shiki
Speaking of not having drummers though

Kumamoto-based three-piece “Shiki” are marketing themselves as a “drumless band” that (in place of a traditional drum set) have synth/DTM (“desktop music”, software-aided beats) at its core, accompanied still by live guitars, along with some dual male/femle vocal action. What we end up getting from this peculiar setup is suprisingly nice House/Chill Pop with some very melodic downbeats in Melody of life. Long-time followers/listeners of the Round-Up should know by now that I’m a huge sucker for mellower tracks despite my more apparent favoring of Indie J-Rock Bands and Alt. Idols (lol), but yeah no Shiki got me hook, line, and sinker (xD). I’m also curious to know just how far a drumless band can go with their music, or if they’ll ever switch up their genre to something more Electro/Synth or Techno down the line, but I guess that’s neither here nor there just yet (the band only started their activities in 2017). If anything, Shiki is a breath of fresh air for a lot of us I would assume, and it’s pretty safe to say too I would that the genre is always going to be open to all newcomers like ’em.

MUST LISTEN
Yoru no Butoukai
by Kumagawa Miyu
Yes, I am now officially hyping her up for you guys (xD). I love her voice, I love her style, and mark my words AcoGui is gonna completely take over 2019 I swear. Definitely give this song (as well as her other stuff) a listen. You won’t regret it.

ーー

Our YouTube playlist is updated so if you opted to not listen to some of the tracks above feel free to just open this here link on a separate tab and (if you have a YouTube account) save the playlist if you haven’t yet, all so you can backtrack on the all the songs that have been featured thus far on the Round-Up. If you do that though, do come back on over here to share your thoughts on the songs. I’d love to hear ’em 🙂

Prep for this month’s Round-Up was actually cut a bit short because (/spoilers) I was actually getting ready to go on a trip at the same time towards the end of this month (I might actually be airborne once this post goes up). Not that that severely impacts (or will impact) this blog’s activity as I’ll only be gone for two-ish weeks anyways, but I figured I should at least tell you guys this much (and also that this post was scheduled to go up in advance so I might have missed out on some releases). Either way, I’ll still be able to go online where I’m headed so do expect me to respond to you guys in kind.

I’ll stop teasing any sort of future content until I actually start working on stuff (which, *fingers crossed* might become a reality again in lieu of a scheduling change that’s set to occur at my workplace) but we’ll see how it goes. It mainly does come down to me and my time management skills at the end of the day (lol) but eyyy I do my best 😀

So what did you guys think of this month’s Round-Up? I for one thought it was an amazing month of new releases from both well and lesser known artists, but I’d love to hear your guys’ take on ’em. Also, if you have something that you yourself would like to recommend, feel free to do so in the comments down below!

I know people have started succumbing to hay fever now that the spring season has started to roll over so take care everyone, happy listening, and I’ll catch you next post~!!

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4 thoughts on “Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Round-Up (March 2019)

  1. Fern Planet, Tricot, and SCANDAL are some solid choices for this month. Although I was a bigger fan of “Mabataki” by SCANDAL, but Masterpiece, is well, a Masterpiece as well.

    Orbit and Shiki have me curious so I subscribed and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go in the future. As always, thanks for the new recommendations for this month!

    • “Mabataki” is a very interesting release for sure as I think it’s the furthest from the prototypical SCANDAL song in a while

      Definitely gonna be on the lookout for them moving forward. Likewise, thanks for dropping by Rise (even if I’m like a month late in saying so xD)

    • I know what you mean /SME still frustrates me with a lot of bands/artists that I want to listen to but can’t >_<

      Ooh, you're very welcome, and fhanks for dropping by!

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