Listening to Japanese Music — 2019 Recommendation Round-Up Awards

HERE. WE. GO.

Welcome one and all to the now second annual Japanese Music Recommendation Round-Up Awards, this time for the year 2019!

This serves as a culmination (and really a celebration) of sorts for this absolutely awesome year of Japanese music we had where we give due recognition to what I believe to be some stand out releases (all 85 of ’em) in the form of, well, awards (xD). The eight awards from the previous year will be making a comeback and are up for grabs once again, and in addition we will be introducing two new awards, making for a total of ten all in all to be given out. We’re also doing a little something different this year compared to how we ended up doing it last time in that we will have two Award Categories; namely Song Awards and Artist Awards, with each category consisting of five awards. Of course, all the winners were decided by yours truly, so, y’know :p

At this moment I would like to once again thank all of you who have tuned in and have been tuning in to this now two-year venture of mine. I know say this almost all the time, but I honestly have a lot of fun doing the monthly roundups, and I sincerely hope that you guys have had as much (if not even more) fun with these whenever I do ’em 🙂

I’ll talk to you guys a but more after the ceremonies (lol)


<ーーSONG AWARDSーー>

BEST PV
“Nautilus” by Yorushika (August 2019)

The first award that we will be presenting is, at quick glance, fairly straight-forward in that it goes to what is (in my opinion) the best music video across all the songs featured in this year of Round-Up posts. Now, there were a lot of ways I could’ve gone with this but after a certain revelation I had with the PV for Yorushika’s “Nautilus”, it was all but a lock from there. I realized fairly recently that the narrative present in the aforementioned music video actually ties into another Yorushika song which was released months prior in “Dakara Boku wa Ongaku wo Yameta”. The two songs can be seen as a story respectively told in two parts that when put together form a tragic narrative of two musicians parting ways in lieu of concerns for their respective futures (Dakara Boku) culminating in their ultimate separation (Nautilus), with the latter depicted in gorgeous cel shaded visuals that really just adds to this overall heartful feature.

Runner-Up “Dakara Boku wa Ongaku wo Yameta” by Yorushika (April 2019)
See above, lol

ーー

BEST LYRIC
Fushicho ~Le papillon immortel~” by Mili (July 2019)

This award again continues to be the most challenging for me to give (xD), mostly because despite my largely pedestrian but still for the most part serviceable understanding of the Japanese language, the words really do come secondary for me a lot of the times I listen to a song. That being said, I still do appreciate good song writing if I happen upon it, and as a result Mili nabs the BEST LYRIC award this year with “Fushicho ~Le papillon immortel~”. Whilst being known more so for creating songs rife with underlying subtext and symbolism, Mili is notorious for infusing multiple languages in their song writing (of which include Japanese, English, Chinese, and French) largely in part to Mili’s frontwoman, the immensely talented polyglot momocashew; who freely jumps between Japanese and French at will over the course of this song and, as a fan of language in general, it’s honestly quite the treat to the ears.

Runner-Up “Kuuhaku” by Miyake Haruka (June 2019)
Just a gorgeous, heartful song

ーー

BEST INSTRUMENTATION
“Esp feat. GOODMOODGOKU” by TAMTAM (July 2019)

I’m not even gonna pretend that this was close because, as far as I was concerned, it was already game over when Kuro reached down for her trumpet (xD). In a way “Esper” did enter the Round-Up with a bit of an upper hand owing to this particular version of the song being a live studio recording, but I mean, when was the last time you saw a band vocalist pull out any sort of brass instrument mid-song and just absolutely nail it? …I rest my case. Kuro’s trumpet-playing is a TAMTAM staple that I do wish was utilized more in this new Jazz-y laid-back sound that the band seems to have settled in in recent years. Granted, “Esper” does not have an overly technical composition nor is it the product of a grand ensemble like, say, JYOCHO (who were our 2018 Round-Up Awards winner for BEST INSTRUMENTATION), but TAMTAM’s “Esper” in particular has that sort of musical quality to it where the sound just gets stuck in your head for days on end.

Runner-Up “Gion-cho” by BAND-MAID/MAIKO (April 2019)
Wagakki always gets a nod. Plus there’s a bass slide here that’s pretty sick.

ーー

BEST VOCALS
“Nijikan-dake no Vacance feat. Shiina Ringo” by Utada Hikaru (September 2019)

The awards, self-explanatory as it is, goes to the song that I believe showcased the best display of vocal work out of the ones I featured in the Round-Up. It’s not often that I get to showcase J-Pop royalty around these parts (not that I actively do so but rather that’s just how it is), more so ones as credentialed and highly acclaimed as both Ringo Shiina and Utada Hikaru, so it stands to reason that this award withtout a doubt goes to them for their collaboration work “Nijikan Dake no Vacance”. The song is simply amazing; the way the instrumentation builds on top of one another is stellar, but even on top of that you have the beautiful interplay of singing styles between two premier artists. The combination of Ringo Shiina’s dynamic range and Utada Hikaru’s velvety vocalization is one that I’m still very much thankful that it’s allowed to even happen (late to the party as I may be xD)

Runner-Up “Kawaki wo Ameku” by minami (February 2019)
How can I not acknowledge this girl.

ーー

MOST PLAYED SONG OF 2019
“Bubble” by BAND-MAID (January 2019)

This, admittedly, is a weird award to give (lol). I primarily listen to albums as a whole than I do just listen to a song at a time, so it might actually be a bit inaccurate to say that this was the song I listended to the most as opposed to say any of the two Yorushika songs featured this year (wherein “Elma” and “Dakara Boku wa Ongaku wo Yameta” have become my go-to albums to listen to while on a comute to work). That said, BAND-MAID’s “Bubble” gets the nod for me because it’s a singular song that I know for a fact I actively and purposefully searched for multiple times over the year. It’s an absolute banger (even by BAND-MAID standards) and is really just a solid track overall, particularly with its very crisp drum work and raging bass lines. I’ve actually used the song quite a lot as a sort of reference whenever I try out new headphone setups for that very reason so that might also be a contributing factor.

Runner-Up “PORTLAND” by KURO (October 2019)
One of those songs I just have to listen to fully once I hear it.


<ーーARTIST AWARDSーー>

BEST PROSPECT OF 2019
adieu

This is the first of our two new awards that we will be giving out today, and it goes to bands/artists who have shown great promise this year, whether they’re up-and-coming or are just now starting to find their groove. In a way, both of these apply to burgeoning young artist Kamishiraishi Moka and her solo project “adieu” (whom you may know of as the younger sister of breakout star Kamishiraishi Mone). Having started activities prior by providing the theme to the movie “Narratage” back in 2017 (followed by a single release of the same name), it wouldn’t be until this year that Moka and her band would make their proper media debut. I was completely blown away when I first heard them back in September, mostly because of how much their sound reminded me of one of my all-time favorite bands in Kinoko Teikoku (a band which Moka herself claims to be a fan of as well). While I’m surely not looking to completely replace Kinoko Teikoku in any way, I do believe wholeheartedly that adieu can easily pick up where they left off.

Runner-Up 文藝天国/Bungei Tengoku
I just have a gut feeling that these girls are on to something.

ーー

MOST IMPROVED BAND/ARTIST OF 2019
Lucie,Too

The last of our newly introduced awards goes to bands/artists who (in my opinion) showed great improvement since we saw them last, and I’m hardpressed to name any other personae here than the Utsunomiya-based all-girl three-piece “Lucie,Too”. Theirs was a band that grew so much, both in terms of their sound and how they carried themselves, over the course of only a single year. When you compare how they are know to their first appearance here back on the very first Monthly Round-Up in February 2018, you can definitely hear a distinct maturation in their song structure; which now sports a more pronounced emphasis on instrumentation with notably tamer and more controlled drum work, less-forward but clearer vocal delivery, and beautifully refined bass lines (this in particular is something that I will continue to rave about whenever I talk about Lucie,Too from now on, lol). When you start to consider that they’re only really two years in to their run, it does make you think how much better can these girls even get.

Runner-Up BAND-MAID
Just when I thought they can’t get any better.

ーー

MOST PROLIFIC ARTIST OF 2019
Kumagawa Miyu

This award goes to the band/artist who had the most number of appearances on the Round-Up. To be honest, I actually thought it’d be closely contested between a handful of artists like how it was last year, but that was only until I reviewed all the entires for this year. Without a shred of doubt however, this award goes solely to Kumagawa Miyu, who ended up being just a massive frontrunner ever since the start of 2019; amassing a total of four (!!!) separate appearances in near-consecutive months. Granted, the way her release schedule worked really did play into the structure of the Monthly Round-Ups, but by that same token I wasn’t gonna let a KumaMiyu release go by without me featuring it. So here we are (xD) I have to thank Carriage here from aCarriageReturns for her awesome recommendation again this year of yet another Round-Up staple (reminder that Carriage was the one that brought Yorushika to my attention last year, lol). Well-deserved, and I look forward to what KumaMiyu has in store for us this coming year.

Runner-Up NakamuraEmi and 竹内アンナ/Takeuchi Anna
With three appearances a piece.

ーー

FAVORITE DISCOVERY OF 2019
eill

Out of all the awards that we have given out thus far, and the one that we have yet to get to, I think this one encapsulates the true essence of the Round-Up the most. I’d even go so far to say that this is my own personal favorite award to give out for that very reason. We’ve come across a lot of new names this year (either just new to me or new to everyone else as well), but I don’t think anyone comes close to eill in terms of much fun I had going through their discography. Which does feel weird for me to say, considering how J-Pop averse the Round-Up seemingly is (at least from my perspective), but really that’s just me prioritizing lesser-known talent. If anything I was actually just lucky enough to catch eill on my radar while she was still on the come up. Her debut album “MAKUAKE” is an absolute trip, and her media debut release “SPOTLIGHT” now holds a near-permament spot in my heavy rotation. eill is only now starting to breakthrough to the mainstream, and I’m excited to see what she can once she makes her way on there.

Runner-Up ヤなことそっとミュート/Yanakotosottomute
Because Idols and Alternative Rock is a blessed mix.

ーー

BAND/ARTIST TO LOOK OUT FOR IN 2020
Takeuchi Anna

Last, but certainly not the least, we are giving an award to a band/artist who I believe is set to take over the year to follow. We differentiate this from our Best Prospect award, which is more so geared towards showing appreciation to those who I deem to have massive potential (for what that might be worth, lol) as this one one looks towards the more immediate future. I give this award in blind optimism for what I foresee as a band/artist’s successes in the coming year in whatever shape it may come in (though ideally it’d be more mainstream media exposure and/or a signing to a major record label). Right at the start of the year I made a claim that Takeuchi Anna would make some serious waves throughout 2019 and lo and behold she really laid out some serious groundwork with some stellar releases like “Free! Free! Free!” and “SUNKISSed GIRL”. Takeuchi Anna is slated to release her first full-length album in Spring 2020 and I wholeheartedly believe that it’ll turn some heads, and even potentially catapault her to new heights.

Runner-Up 楠木ともり/Kusunoki Tomori
Sure to be succesful next year because of her affiiliation with LL! (lol)


There you have it! I mentioned at the start of the year that Singer-Song Writers and AcoGui stylists were gonna have a good year and they most certainly did. What I didn’t expect however was BAND-MAID actually dominating quite a bit by netting two runner-up spots on top of getting our MOST PLAYED SONG award (xD) What are your take aways from the 2019 awards? What are some of your “Best Ofs” this year? Let me know in the comments section down below!

The Monthly Round-Up will be back again next year (!!!) for its third season, so I will be in your guys’ care once more, and I hope to see y’all again here. I’m constantly thinking of new ways to better and grow this project, and to that end I’ve actually gone and worked on getting myself Japanese accounts on some music streaming services (namely Spotify and Apple Music), to broaden my radar on new releases and up-and-coming talent further so as to (ideally) bring in more variety and discovery to the Round-Up. We’ll see how that goes, but I will say though that I’m already finding out about so many artists that I haven’t heard of before in the short amount of time that I’ve been using these apps. Suffice it to say, exciting times are ahead of us in that regard.

With that, I wish you all a Happy New Year, and I’ll see you in 2020 😀

 

3 thoughts on “Listening to Japanese Music — 2019 Recommendation Round-Up Awards

  1. Yorushika definitely makes me realize how much I regretfully don’t pay attention to the music video part of J-music, because I can tell that they really do care about conveying their emotions/stories through the PVs. Not only narrative-wise but man, the effort they put to make their PVs look incredible visually is insane (also interesting to see them go towards more of a 3D route recently). It’s probably just a me thing but I haven’t seen many artists connect multiple songs and music videos to create a single storyline and given your explanation, Yorushika seems to do it really well with the two songs you mentioned.

    Yeah, there’s no way I’d be able to argue with your choice Best Vocals (lol). I’ve only heard, like, a couple songs from Utada Hikaru (one of them I discovered from a cover of “Stay Gold” by Ohashi Trio, who also has a super nice voice) but her voice is just hella smooth and very unique from a lot of the female artists I regularly listen to. And speaking of vocals, I don’t know if I’d consider this one of the best vocal performances I’ve heard, but recently I got hooked on Genie High’s music and was kinda intrigued with how Kawatani manages to maintain that distinctive vocal styling of his, even if he’s not the one doing lead vocals. Hearing Ikkyu and comparing her GH performances with her stuff from tricot, it seems like she adapted well to the Kawatani style, if you get my drift lol. (“Shaminami”, “Primadonna”, “Fuben na Kawaige” among others have been on repeat for the last week or so, that’s pretty much why I’m mentioning this haha)

    It’ll be interesting when following the Kamishirashi sisters and their respective musical careers since, in my eyes, they’re pretty different from each other; one example being that even though Moka is younger, her voice sounds a lot more deep and mature compared to Mone’s. But yeah, adieu is off to a great start and I can’t wait to hear more from them. Same goes for Takeuchi Anna! All of her songs so far have been significantly different from each other and her not having one specific genre/style throughout her music… it’ll be interesting to hear what else she has in store for us.

    Great roundup as always and I appreciate all of your suggestions from last year! And on another note, hopefully we can find another opportunity to collab again 😀

    • I’m the same too really, more so since a lot of the times I just put songs on the background while I do something else (xD). I only happened to make the connection between the two Yorushika PVs after just countless times of me watching them. I never did expect them to pull off something like an overarching narrative that we apparently have here, so it was definitely a nice surprise to come across. Other than maybe some of Polkadot Stingray’s PVs for songs off of the Uchouten album (with the whole recurring red string), I actually can’t think of anything similar off the top of my head with regard to PV storylines.

      Ikr, I’d feel bad (and probably even lose some cred, jk) if I named someone else for “Best Vocals”, but yeah no, Utada Hikaru is just something else. I’ve always pegged Kawatani Enon as someone with a good ear for vocals given how he handpicked the members of Gesu himself, but it truly does show in his choice of Ikkyu of all people to be frontwoman of Genie High (where Ikkyu isn’t really known for her singing as opposed to her work as part of tricot’s Math Rock sound). Interesting that you bring up “Fuben na Kawaige” here because I was actually impressed by Aina The End’s parts on the song, lol

      Kamishiraishi Moka’d decision to not follow in the footsteps of her sister is interesting to say the least, but she already gets a nod from me for going with a band setting :p Takeuchi Anna is on a roll no doubt, and I can only hope she makes her out here in the US again, Haha!

      Thanks Al! And likewise, thanks for always dropping by when you do. Oh, for sure, just hit me up if you have something in mind 😀

  2. Pingback: Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (March 2020) | Leap250's Blog

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