Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (March 2020)

How’s everyone doing~?

Before we start I sincerely do hope that you all are doing okay particularly during these trying times. The situation we as a whole are currently facing is definitely worth pause considering all that has happened already in different parts of the world, and I can only hope that the worst has already passed, and that better days are ahead.

That being said, in the meantime let me welcome you all once again to the Monthly Recommendation Roundup for the month of March 2020! This month has certainly had its ups and downs, and I’m sure a lot of you (including myself even) are excited to bring this… eventful Winter to a close as we start to usher in the Spring, the season of new beginnings as it were.

If you are new to the blog and this is your first time being on the Monthly Roundup,

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 Roundup that I’ll update and share at the end of each post.

I know the vast majority of us have been and are at home for the better part of this past month up to now. To those of you feeling a bit down, I hope I can alleviate that somewhat now that you have lent me your time 🙂

ーー

夜行/yakou
by ヨルシカ (yorushika)
Perhaps the first chapter to yet another potential epic

Towards the tail end of 2019 we all became witness to the culmination of the tragic and heartful tale of Elma and Amy as told to us by Yorushika with the release of “Nautilus”, the build up to which spanned two EPs and two full albums, in what is still (to me at least) just one of the most beautiful displays of tangential storytelling that I’ve experienced in a long while. The sense of catharsis you get after listening through this gripping narrative of admiration and music in the form of song is truly a one of a kind feeling. That being said, it did raise a question of where exactly does Yorushika go from here, or whether they’d even be quick to come back after such a terminus of a track.  Of course, and as you can see, it didn’t really take n-buna and suis all that long to drop what may be the start of something magical once more with “Yakou”. Interesting to note here is the subtle departure to n-buna’s preferred song structure, which is honestly a litte refreshing to hear for a Yorushika song. We don’t really know for sure if there even is going to be an overarching narrative like last time, but at the very least, “Yakou” on its own is already quite a treat in itself. Really just glad to see them back 🙂

RIDE ON WEEKEND
by 竹内アンナ (takeuchi anna)
I’m telling you guys, it’s her year~!

Takeuchi Anna is my ‘Artist to Look Out for in 2020′ who rode quite the momentum at the end of last year, coming off of her third EP release (aptly named ‘at THREE‘) followed by the heavy hitting “B.M.B.” to tease what would be her first full-length album ‘MATOUSIC‘ that dropped just this month. Now, as highly anticipated as this album was for me personally, I do have my reservations with it; namely the fact that a good number of its tracks can be found in her prior EPs. I mean, I’m not mad as some of my favorites from the older EPs like “TOKYO NITE” made it on, and it does help that all the brand new songs are nothing short of excellent (with “Midnight Step” in particular being an instant fave of mine as well). On the whole I still think it’s a solid debut album that does lead off with “RIDE ON WEEKEND” here as its first track. The song is one of her more laid-back offerings, featuring a more Funk/Jazz ensemble which you do hear in short bursts every now and again from her (in contrast to the AcoGui/Club/R&B fusion that we’ve come to associate Takeuchi Anna with). To be fair, this style does appear to suit her well, or even better depending on who you ask.

セラミックナイト/ceramic night
by なきごと (nakigoto)
Still can’t get over how much this song reminds me of Polkadot Stingray

Much to the ire of Japanese commenters who I presume are devoted fans of up-and-coming Nakigoto and/or are just tired of having bands that they like getting compared with other bands with a similar song structure, etc. Now, with my stance on the practice of comparison as being elitist is very much publicized in a post I made a while back, I do wholeheartedly understand where they’re coming from here. That being said, I would like to point out that even Polkadot Stingray was in this very same position not too long ago, being compared then to Tokyo Jihen. I’m sure at the time a lot of that same sentiment came instead from long-time fans of Tokyo Jihen than they were early followers of Polkadot Stingray, but I digress. As you can see, this isn’t anything new, and it really just come with the territory when talking about media in general. So really, it can’t be helped that my first thought after hearing “Ceramic Night” here is that it genuinely does sound like a Polkadot Stingray song (xD). It’s actually a little funny when you go back and see which bands I compared Nakigoto to initially, but I attribute it more so them being a young band still finding their sound. I like this one though.

ハイウェイ/highway
by 羊文学 (hitsujibungaku)
They ain’t messing around

At the very least Hitsuji Bungaku are definitely on quite a roll right now. I talked about it a little bit back in January when I had them on, but I really do attribute this to vocalist Shiotsuka Moeka’s maturation with regard to her singing style. You can hear in “Highway” here a nice sort-of accentuating push and pull to Shiotsuka’s respective low and high notes which gives the song overall a gentle ebb and flow — in contrast to when they first started where she’d kinda get caught in the middle. In as much as this Tokyo-based three-piece has been compared to their shoegaze predecessor in Kinoko Teikoku, I’d instead make a parallel to how they are now with another three-piece equally on the rise in Lucie,Too. Lucie,Too’s Kokubo Chisa, albeit possesing a tonally different vocal quality altogether, ended up being (to me at least) what seemed like the final piece of the puzzle for them and their respective bands once they started settling in to their own sound. As some of you may now, Lucie,Too did end up being out Most Improved Artist of 2019 because of that, so not for nothing but Hitsuji Bungaku is looking to be a strong contender for it this year.

ないものねだり/naimononedari
by KANA-BOON feat. もっさ (Mossa from ネクライトーキー/NecryTalkie)
…Well this was quite unexpected

In that I never would have expected FIRST TAKE to do performance collaborations, more so ones that aren’t officially recorded, as is the case here with KANA-BOON’s “naimononedari” being sung in a fun little duet by the band’s vocalist Taniguchi Maguro featuring NecryTalkie‘s Mossa While the channel does preface the video somewhat (over on the detail section) that the two are in fact friends, these are the kinds of connections between bands that we don’t really get to know outside of  following their work beyond just the music. This is again a bit of a departure from what I would consider a usual Roundup selection in that this is a studio recording of a song with an official release. With me doing this however I do want to once again bring to attention the awesome work that FIRST TAKE has been doing thus far, as they now have opened up to the imagination the possibility of so-and-so performing with so-and-so, and it really just makes me all the more excited for the future of this channel. A  cool takeaway from this particular “first take” is that this is the first instance where the performer flubs so for all intents and purposes, they really are given just one single take

FLASH
by PERFUME
I… can’t stop listening to Perfume (lol)

A friend of mine posited over on social media not too long ago on whether it was mid-to-late twenties thing to suddenly want to listen to more Electronica and Synth Pop, and well, I think he might be on to something (xD). While I can say that the genre is at the very least not that foreign to me in terms of what I listen to (and even in terms of what songs I feature here on the Roundup), I can definitely attest to the fact that I have started to warm up to it more so now than ever. I have a feeling a lot of it comes from my growing fascination with sound quality, which in turn has made me start to appreciate the many intricacies of different kinds of instrumentation and the composition behind it; in particular, Electronica. I figuerd Perfume would be as good a starting point for this as any being that Nakata Yasutaka, the group’s main producer and composer, is one of the pioneers of the genre over in Japan and has for the most part been the one responsible for the making Perfume sound how they do. Though I say that, I realize it’s actually kinda hard to pin down just how this peculiar trio sounds from what I heard so far, but admittedly, I have a loooooong way to go.

Æter
by arne
Keep an eye out for these guys, seriously

The Roundup will always play host to new and up-and-coming bands and artists. I’m constantly on the lookout for talent that have yet to gain traction in the hopes of maybe doing my part in promoting them somewhat if only to boost their popularity more (for as far as my recommendations would reach), or at the very least bring in some more eyes and ears for them. In line with all of this, I really do just love finding out about and discovering bands like this one right here whenever I happen upon them. Though I say that, it’s not often that I get this gut feeling of massive potential like I have now after hearing “Æter” by arne.  Without mincing words, this Nagoya-based twin-vocal four-piece is legit. The Progressive Rock guitar ensemble is just insanely good (I absolutely love the fingerstyle section that starts at around 01:32 leading into a beautiful bridge). If this isn’t your first time here on the Roundup you’d know that I’m terribly biased towards bands and artists that use odd-timed signatures in their songs, and yeah no arne definitely has me hook, line, and sinker here. They’ve made an instant fan out of me, and I hope to see them more this year.

カレンダー/calendar
by BabySitter
I’m really liking the direction they’re headed

When it comes to Girls Rock, there are certain bands among others that I’d classify as being “image bands”. Not to be taken as a slight by any means, these are bands who, as some of you might have already surmised, promote their look alongside their sound. Not in the sense that these performers are being marketed as eye-candy, but it’s the idea that their appearance is marketable (if that makes sense). They’re fashionable, trendy, and just plain attractive to put it bluntly. You’d think this as a commonality, given the nature of Girls Rock bands being composed of all girls, but when you have say Silent Siren, one of the most prominent image bands of contemporary Girls Rock, and you put them beside a band like yonige for example you’ll be quick to identify the distinction. BabySitter is one such band. Interesting to note is that “Calendar” here is markedly different from how their usual offerings, boasting a heavy-hitting and noticeably more agressive song structure, in large part to the absolute killer drum work by Miku (who is, and has been in my opinion at least, a true standout for the Nagoya-based four-piece).

品川条約/shinagawa jouyaku
by レトロな少女 (retro na shoujo)
A veritable throwback to low blood pressure J-Pop

Granted, that in itself is a very niche genre, and is really one of a few that was popularized single-handedly by Soutaiseiriron. I don’t think it’d be too much of a stretch to say that it was because of Yakushimaru Etsuko that laid-back and airy vocalizations came into vogue at a certain point; with acts like DAOKO, Lovely Summer-chan and Izumi Macra to some extent soon following after. Interestingly enough however, this particular style of singing has since found its home in the Japanese Rap/R&B scene with the aforementioned being artists of that genre primarily. That is to say, I can’t really recall off the top of my head the last time I head this kind of vocalization like in “Shinagawa Jouyaku” from a band setting other than from Soutaiseiriron. In that regard, the name ‘Retro Girl’ fits perfectly enough. Whether or not this was really the band’s intention is beyond me, but given Soutaiseriron’s influence to the overall landscape of J-Pop, I’d think it’s a fair enough assumption 😛 Retro na Shoujo actually double down on the retro gimmick by making the PV into the old square 480p video resolution which I thought was a nice touch.

MUST LISTEN:
“Æter” by arne
This band just blew me away with this song. Fell in love right away when they started plucking away fingerstyle towards that sick bridge. Ughhhh. So good. …I realize this almost always happens whenever I hype up a Japanese Prog Rock or a Math Rock band, but hey, I’m obviously very biased here (xD).

ーー

The YouTube playlist is now updated with this month’s tracks.

Truth be told I actually had to cull quite a bit here with just the sheer amount of good music that came in this month but, what’d you guys think? Did you find a song that you ended up liking? Lemme know down in the comments if you did!

To talk about future plans for a bit before I let you all go, I’m in the middle of reading something now that just might end up being its own post in the near future (hint: it involves idols) so stay tuned for that. Feature Lists for Japanse music and the like are always in the works so be on the lookout for those, but if you feel like you missed any these past couple of months feel free to check the Japanese Music tab up top. I also got nominated for another blog award so if you’re interested in learning a little more about little old me then do give that a read as well. Lastly, if you have your own recommendations for the month, feel free to share them too!

Stay safe, everyone (!!!), and ’till next post ❤

6 thoughts on “Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (March 2020)

  1. For me personally, I feel like comparing the similarities of one thing to another allows me to appreciate that specific area of (blank) even more, if that makes sense lol. With my case of being somewhat of a J-music amateur still, I find it pretty cool that a band has a similar sound to Polkadot Stingray, as I absolutely adore that group. It just adds another great artist that appeals to my taste. There have been some times where my bias got the best of me and made me believe one thing was stealing concepts from something that I loved but generally, yeah, I don’t really think comparison should be looked upon as ‘bad’ or even ‘annoying’.

    I’m pretty much in the same boat as you when it came to liking Perfume; ever since their best album came out, I thought that was the perfect opportunity to really listen to their stuff. And it was difficult to move on from their music for a while, I have to say (lol). Now I definitely won’t call myself a Perfume expert but their musical evolution from their earlier years to now was interesting to look at, going from old-school techno to modern electronica. If you want some suggestions of their older songs, a few of my favorites are “Perfect Star Perfect Style”, “Fake it” and “1mm” 🙂

    Nice roundup as always! And on the topic of addictive female pop groups, i☆Ris released a new album last month and I thought you’d enjoy this one song from them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sH9ujCkij4).

    • I can see that. Like, becoming aware of the similarities across different artists and their styles in turn helps build and develop your own feel for how things sound, which is really just a good way too of finding music that you yourself or even others would like (xD). The practice in itself is a slippery slope, but I think so long as we don’t censure each other in saying things like ‘don’t listen to them ’cause x did it first and they’re better at it’, comparison isn’t inherently bad, and (in the context of Japanese music specifically) it’s a good way to introduce new artists.

      I’ve recently finished my PV run (lol) of Perfume and have since begun to dive into their discography starting with the “Cosmic Explorer” album which was pretty rad. I was thinking whether or not to go older or more recent from here, but I see the right move here is to skew towards their earlier stuff. I already liked “1mm” too when I first came across it, but I’m listening to “Perfect Star Perfect Style” and “Fake it” as I”m writing this reply and damn it it’s so good!

      Well, on the subject of getting a sense for what others might like, yeah no, “One Kiss” is definitely right up my alley :p

  2. Pingback: Sunshine Blogger Award: Finally, an Award Post – The Moyatorium

  3. Wow, just found this blog on a random google rabbit hole dive and it’s helped my find a bunch of new awesome bands! I’m especially blown away by arne here. They’re seriously great. I really appreciate that this blog exists and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this blog in the future!

    • Glad you found your way here 😀
      arne is definitely on my shortlist of favorite band discoveries for this year, so I’m also really glad I was able to find them a new fan, lol. And yeah, do feel free to stick around. I’ll be doing another roundup for this month in a couple of days from now 🙂

  4. Pingback: Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (August 2021) | Leap250's Blog

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