Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (January 2021)

Well now, would you look at that 😀

Welcome back! This is now season four (!!!!) of the Monthly Recommendation Roundup, coming back to you with somewhat of a new look if you happened to notice our nifty new banner image for this series. The Roundup has become very dear to my heart in these past few years that I’ve been doing it, and I figured this much in the way of personalizating this project to reflect that sentiment is the least I could do XD

I’ll talk more about it (as well as some other stuff) later 😛

Before anything else, if you’re new to the blog and are not sure what this is 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 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’m gonna let you be for now, as we do have a full (and stacked!) playlist this month 😀

ーー

pray
by 赤い公園 (akai ko-en)
“May your journey be ever pleasant.”

I got a surreal sort of catharsis when I first listened and subsequently saw the PV for Akai Ko-en’s pray here. This song is part of a double A-side single alongside Orange that the band released posthumously in behalf of Tsuno Maisa who has since recently passed. We do see her present in the PV, so this song has been in the pipeline for them at least before that unfortunate event, but at the same time it couldn’t have come out any more timely. I want this to be the last time I lament Tsuno’s loss on the Roundup, where instead I’d rather celebrate the life that she lived through her and Akai Ko-en’s music. In that regard, there’s an uplifting melancholy to pray that paints an almost uncanny narrative of departure followed by wishes of save travels, which vocalist Ishino Riko just sings ever so beautifully.

ダ・カーポ/da capo
by 黒木渚 (kuroki nagisa)
I can’t not enjoy hearing Kuroki Nagisa sing

There’s something about Kuroki Nagisa’s whole theory and approach towards song structure that’s just so fascinating to me, and I do believe I have yet to really talk about why that is, if at least on the Monthly Roundup (on that note, do check out Al’s review of Kuroki Nagisa’s album “Remon no Toge” as part of the J-Music Exchange/Rate). See, one of, if not the most peculiar thing with regard to Kuroki Nagisa’s singing is in how much emphasis she puts on her syllabication. “Da Capo” in particular is a perfect example of this as if you listen for it you’ll notice that the syllables in the words she sings are nearly all equally timed. It gives her songs such an academic feel to them in how measured they sound, in almost a stark contrast to her preferred instrumentation, which usually lends itself to more controlled chaos.

Manners
by BAND-MAID
Welcome home !!!

BAND-MAID is traditionally a band that likes to stay active. If you were to go take a quick look at the band’s discography, you’d notice that BAND-MAID released an album every year ever since they debuted back in 2014. I thus found it a bit curious how the band was largely absent for most of 2020, with no album release, and with their last real appearance being a live concert they held before the pandemic hit. It’s fair to assume that BAND-MAID took the opportunity to get some much deserved rest in lieu of everything going on in the world, and as if to make up for lost time, the band is back with a vengeance with the release of “Unseen World” just this month, which has Manners as one of its tracks. BAND-MAID has always been the real deal with their instrumentation, and it’s nice to see them put a stamp to that here.

Afterglow
by ヤなことそっとミュート (yanakoto sotto mute)
Severely underrated

The January Roundup is typically where you’ll see me do a whole lot of backtracking of stuff I ended up missing in the past month, as I do tend to forego doing a December Roundup in favor of making the Roundup Awards for the year (check it out if you haven’t yet!). One of the things I let pass me by was Yanakoto Sotte Mute’s latest album “Beyond The Blue” which dropped two days before Christmas Day last year, and after now having listened to it, I’m reminded again of how much I love this group. Yanakoto Sotto Mute was the runner-up for my Favority Discovery Of 2019 for the unique blend of Alternative Rock and Idol Music that their sound offers, and it appears that ever since then the group had just become even more polished. Their harmonies and vocalizations in particular are quite the treat here in Afterglow.

アカトキ/akatoki
by 楠木ともり (kusunoki tomori)
I thought I’d never get the chance to talk about my favorite Tomoriru song

I had the utmost pleasure of being able to catch Kusunoki Tomori’s birthday live concert stream “Meltwist” back in December, and watching her sing only just reinforced beliefs that I’ve always had for the burgeoning young talent ever since I came across her work outside her involvement in various multimedia projoects. After she officially released her first original song Nagame no Sora back in 2019, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by her latent artistry, which in turn made me seek out her independent CD releases; chief among them would be her “STROKE” EP that included the initial rendition of the song featured here, Akatoki. It was when I first listened to this song that I truly began to appreciate how special ‘Tomoriru’ is in what she does, and I count myself fortunate that I get to hear her come into her own as an artist every time she sings.

春泥棒/haru dorobou
by ヨルシカ (yorushika)
I don’t think I can put into words how beautiful this song is

On the subject of live concert streams, I also had quite the blessed opportunity of also being able to watch Yorushika’s “ZENSE” acoustic live at the start of this month. Prior to the concert I had thought it would be impossible for me to love n-buna and suis’ music more than I already do, but seeing them perform in a live setting for the first time otherwise proved me wrong. Haru Dorobou made its first ever debut as one of the songs they ended up performing (with the PV being released on the same day), and the song really just highlights the duo’s maturity into a more grounded sort of sound as I’ve continually alluded to in the past. We also now get a glimpse of what we can consider as the new narrative behind this current phase of Yorushika’s work, which appears to be about a struggling composer and his partner.

運命開花/unmei kaika
by 空白ごっこ (kuuhaku gokko)
Letting everyone know what’s up

Last year was a big year for Doujin Music which saw to both Yorushika and ZUTOMAYO finally break through to the mainstream, the rise of the absolute standout that is YOASOBI, and the birth of the uber promising yama. Kuuhaku Gokko might be a name that falls in between the cracks as a direct consequence of that, so here I am telling you guys to check them out by listening to Unmei Kaika. Something unique that I can point to with regard to this group is that they’re not as front-loaded as all the other Doujin acts that I just mentioned (where Yorushika has n-buna and suis, ZUTOMAYO has ACAね, etc). Kuuhaku Gokko really just seem to function as a normal Japanese Rock band in that respect, and it shows in their otherwise very traditional instrumentation, which surprisingly enough is quite the rarity in Doujin Music.

アンコール/encore
by YOASOBI
You love to see it

If last year was a big year for Doujin Music, YOASOBI (arguably) had the biggest year out of all the prominent Doujin acts today. Yoru ni Kakeru was a phenomenon on the same level, if not even greater, than ZUTOMAYO’s Byoushin wo Kamu or Yorushika’s Tada Kimi ni Hare (both of which still remains as the group’s respective most popular releases to date). Ayase and Ikuta Lilas all but tookover not just the Doujin Music scene, but even made their way into the mainstream Japanese Music market with just this one song, and as a direct result have propped themselves up as one of Japan’s most promising music acts across all genres. I mentioned in the Roundup Awards that we might see YOASOBI drop an album this year, to which they responded in kind (lol) with their first ever EP, which features Encore as its last track.

麻痺/mahi
by yama
Let’s goooo !!!

If you asked me to hedge my bets on who I think is gonna make huge waves in the Doujin Music scene this year, I have to go with yama. It couldn’t be helped that YOASOBI’s fast and ostentatious rise to prominence all but overshadowed the likes of yama who slowly by surely were climbing the ranks, and they made sure to reap the rewards of that towards the end of 2020 by closing out the year with a bookends performance of Haru wo Tsugeru (a song they *started* 2020 with) on what has now become the stage of the stars in THE FIRST TAKE. One of such rewards is yama landing an anison gig, as they have been tapped to perform the opening theme for Winter 2021’s “2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team” titled Mahi, which is this very song right here. I’m telling you right now, this is just the start for these guys.

ルーザーガール/loser girl
by ツユ (tuyu)
What do you mean a Doujin song about idols isn’t the best thing ever?

Where I foresee yama to take over this year, if you had me pick a dark horse in the Doujin Music race, I’d be hard-pressed not to say that without a shred of doubt it’s TUYU. It’s interesting how TUYU have largely remained in somewhat of a closely knit following compared to their Doujin contemporaries in what has now been a full year of activity for them. Though I guess in that regard, one can point to an act like Yorushika, whom also took some time before they became as popular as they are now, and the fast-risers like yama and YOASOBI would be the exception than they are the rule. At any rate, Loser Girl really just showcases a lot of what makes TUYU such a fun listen alongside these more prominent names in the genre, with their now-trademark rhythm shifts and vocalist Rei’s strong and crystal clear vocal work.

MUST LISTEN:
Haru Dorobou by Yorushika
What can I say really? This song is just so… beautiful; the heartful narrative of two people who have since parted in death, the imagery of cherry blossoms in the spring to signify the afterlife – even taking all of that aside, n-buna’s musicality just continues to impress. This was something that already apparent in Tousaku, but it does seem as though he’s gone back to the well for a bit with his emphasis on acoustic guitar, which I can’t be mad at in the slightest. Some choices that I really liked too were the use of Kagura suzu (chime bells) and traditional Japanese woodwind to really give that otherworldly feel to the song. Not to be outdone, suis is also sporting some new tricks that she has since added to her repertoire here, specifically the vocal runs she does during the chorus, which I thought was pretty neat. 

ーー

The new YouTube playlist for the year is up and running! Feel free to save it or bookmark it if in case you wanted to go back and listen to the songs I featured here. Starting this month, I will also now provide a Spotify Recommendation Roundup playlist (speaking of new things), so if you’re actually on Spotify more than you are on YouTube when you listen to music, then I got you covered 😀

I did mention at the start that I’d talk about the new banner for the Roundup for those curious. In as much as Tari Tari’s Miyamoto Konatsu has since grown on me as being the Roundup “image girl”, I will now be effectively retiring her in favor of one of my originally conceptualized chracters. The artwork is courtesy of Alichii over at Alichii Art. If you have any ideas for a commission that you’ve always wanted, hit the man up. He’s super nice and very accomodating (especially for those who would be asking commissions for the first time, like how I was, lol). He never asked for me to give him credit for his work once I put it to use, and I’m mostly doing so of my own accord XD

I’m looking to grow the Roundup any way I can at the start of every year, so as always, I’ll be in your guys’ care 🙂 I do hope that at the very least I can continue to provide an enjoyable listening experience, so that end, do let me know your thoughts on this month’s Roundup down in the comments section below. Likewise, if you have any recommendations of your own, by all means feel free to share 😀

Lastly, if you haven’t yet, check out this month’s J-Music Exchange/Rate! Me and Al are back at it again as we start out this years run of album reviews by picking out some of Girls Rock albums; namely Akai Ko-en’s THE PARK and TEMPTATION BOX by SCANDAL (link to Al’s review over on Omunibasu.Blog).

That’s it for now! See you guys later, and as always, Happy Listening!

4 thoughts on “Listening to Japanese Music: Monthly Recommendation Roundup (January 2021)

  1. Pingback: Around the Network | MoeGamer

  2. Pingback: Under Pressure: Peer Pressure Tag – Phoenix Talks Pop Culture Japan

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

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

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