Picks of the Week #4

Space imagery and cosmic sound worlds meet classic bossa nova in London-based Japanese/German singer-songwriter ケンコバヤシ Ken Kobayashi’s new track ‘Like The Stars’. Kobayashi continues to kindle Japan’s obsession for ‘city pop’ and ‘Shibuya-kei’, terms used to revive feelings of nostalgia and illustrate Japan’s fascination for Western musical styles. Its lush harmonies and syncopated rhythms stir up a quintessential bossa nova vibe, while a sparkling array of synth colours resonate an otherworldly experience.

  • とけた電球 Toketa Denkyu – いらない ‘Iranai

J-rock can be dynamic and voltage-driven, but it can also be melodious and even romantic. Four-piece band とけた電球 Toketa Denkyu (‘Melted Light Bulb’) tugs at the listener’s heartstrings with their track いらない ‘Iranai’ (‘I Don’t Want It’). Swaying in its mid-tempo beat, the quartet belts out a passionate rock ambience driven by harmonies banged out by the bright piano and guitar, clamorous drums, an electrifying solo before the final chorus and Iwase’s vivid and full-bodied vocals and poignant melodies.

  • DATS – ‘Some boy’

Representing Tokyo’s youth culture is four-piece indie-rock band DATS. Since their debut in 2013, the foursome has made waves in the Japanese music scene with tracks like ‘Some boy’. Perhaps reminiscent of The 1975, the track resonates with the British band’s alt-rock vibe with its haunting synths, jangling guitar colours, pulsating drum rhythms and anthemic vocals enriched in octaves.

Catchy J-pop doesn’t get better than Frederic, who unveiled their latest single ‘ONLY WONDER’. Infused with pentatonic flavours in the melodies, the current three-piece band from Kobe prefecture dances away on the musical motorway with infectious guitars, snappy melodies, and Mihara Kenji’s breezy vocals.

© Isaku Takahashi

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New Japanese Vibes (62) – ハクブンゴウ Hakubungou 寝台列車 ‘Shindai Ressha’

Nostalgia seems to be a recurring theme in this blog recently, and today is no different. ハクブンゴウ Hakubungou is the latest artist to emerge out of his undiscovered shell. Apart from the fact that he is based in Okinawa prefecture, little is known about the singer-songwriter. However, his latest track寝台列車 ‘Shindai Ressha’ (‘Sleeper Train’) vividly showcases his enchanting songwriting talent. Featuring in his debut EP 彼がいうには Kare Ga Iu Niwa, this slow-brewing track treats listeners with a mélange of evocative guitar strums, wistful harmonies, gentle drums and a solo that evokes images of the beach and surf, all swirling around Hakubungou’s charming singer-songwriter vocal tones.

Other Info/Context

  • Hakubungou’s debut EP Kare Ga Iu Niwa will be released on June 2nd.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (61) – Ivory Past ‘Searching For Your Love’

The evocative sound world of country folk persuades listeners to groove along in Ivory Past’s new track ‘Searching For Your Love’. Born from a solo project by Oka Hitoshi (a member of Japanese indie-pop band sloppy joe), the track gallops away with vintage-laden guitars, twanging riffs and hotfooting drums while Oka’s yearning vocals resonate an expressive tone and enriches the nostalgic American country vibe.

Other Info/Context

  • Searching For Your Love’ was released on cassette tape limited edition on May 21st.

© Isaku Takahashi

Picks of the Week #3

  • AL – 花束 ‘Hanataba’

A nostalgic folk-rock ambience resonates from花束 ‘Hanataba’ (‘Bouquet’), written by AL. Originally a duo project involving 小山田壮平 Oyamada Souhei and 長澤知之 Nagasawa Tomoyuki, the group expanded to a four-piece band, and one can feel a warm chemistry kindling between the quartet in this track. Beginning in a sedate acoustic guitar vibe enriched with endearing vocal harmonies, the track gradually builds up to a rhapsody of folk-rock wonder.

  • コブクロ Kobukuro – 何故、旅をするのだろう ‘Naze, Tabi wo Suru no darou’

To celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Kyushu Shinkansen, the duo of 小渕健太郎 Kobuchi Kentaro and 黒田俊介 Kuroda Shunsuke released the song何故、旅をするのだろう ‘Naze, Tabi wo Suru no darou’ (‘Why do we travel?’). The song follows the classic celebratory J-pop formula with rich vocal harmonies, sumptuous strings, enchanting melodies and an electrifying guitar solo. With glimpses of Kumamoto prefecture appearing in the video, one feels a greater sense of poignancy after the earthquakes that shook the area and the people affected.

  • Gateballers – 東京 ‘Tokyo’

From one nostalgic tune to another. 東京 ‘Tokyo’ by three-piece band Gateballers meanders through a gentle rock ambience filled with vintage-laden guitars and organ harmonies, a laid-back beat and beautifully melancholic vocal melodies swirling around the listener’s senses, and hints of country and very subtle vocoder colours deepen the dreamy sound world.

  • LEGO BIG MORL – ‘end-end’

A cosmopolitan rock vibe exudes from Osaka-based four-piece band LEGO BIG MORL’s latest track ‘end-end’. With a rich mix of energizing guitars, foot-tapping drums, colourful synths, enchanting vocals and a fine hint of meditative shoegaze, the band submerges the listener in a sumptuous sonic universe that stimulates a familiar pop-rock feel but also transports the senses to new heights.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (60) – ayU tokiO 九月の雨 ‘Kugatsu no Ame’

Developed from the creative mind of 猪爪東風 Inotsume Ayu, ayU tokiO is one to make waves in the Japanese music scene. His new track 九月の雨 ‘Kugatsu no Ame’ (‘September Rain’) dives into a vibrant jazz world with a colourful array of instruments from flute, strings and a classic band rhythm section. Infused with samba rhythms, vintage Rhodes piano harmonies and jangling guitars, the music has the spirit to dispel any rainy weather in any season.

Other Info/Context

  • ayU tokiO’s new album 新たなる解 Aratanaru Kai was released on May 11th.

© Isaku Takahashi

Picks of the Week #2

The groovy and soulful ensemble Special Favorite Music prepared for the release of their new album World’s Magic with another preview of one of their tracks, ‘Magic Hour’. A few months ago, this band first came to my attention with their song ‘Dribble’, a gentle yet up-tempo disco/jazz jam. ‘Magic Hour’ meanwhile, is a much more indulgent, tranquil affair with lush soul sonorities, jazzy melodic riffs, vintage electric piano and sax colours against a contemporary drum beat and a silky texture of feathery vocals. The album is out now from P-Vine Records.

  • Suchmos – ‘STAY TUNE’

Suchmos offer their slightly unusual take on hip-hop and acid jazz with ‘STAY TUNE’. Taking their name from ‘Satchmo’, the nickname of jazz legend Louis Armstrong, the six-piece band from Kanagawa prefecture coax a seductive sound world livened up by jangling guitar chords, iridescent electric piano riffs and harmonies, groovy propulsion, and alluring vocals that stretch from full-bodied to falsetto tones. If your Friday night is looking dull, then this may be the one to jam along to.

  • phonon – ゼロと白 ‘Zero to Shiro’

The Japanese rock scene is in good hands with youthful bands like phonon, who churn out appealing yet unique tunes like ゼロと白 ‘Zero to Shiro’ (‘Zero and White’). This track is exuberant rock at its finest, led by the husky yet strong vocals of イマイズミヒカル Imaizumi Hikaru. Then all of a sudden, the band plunges into filled out with celestial synths, glistening guitars and reverb-laden vocals before gradually climbing back to their trademark high-energy rock.

Beautifully lugubrious is how one may describe Taiko Super Kicks’ style of psychedelic rock. 低い午後 ‘Hikui Gogo’ (‘Flat Afternoon’) embodies their musical personality, plodding through a laidback beat, shimmering nostalgic guitar colours and melodies, and murmuring wistful vocals to immerse listeners in six minutes of sonic bliss.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (59) – Kita Kouhei 水の扉 ‘Mizu no Tobira’

北航平 Kita Kouhei’s new track 水の扉 ‘Mizu no Tobira’ (‘The Gate of Water’) is a beautiful confluence of nature and technology. The Kyoto-based percussionist and producer crafts a work of gentle poignancy, yet it is full of sonic life, intertwining the rich soundscapes of water with glitch-influenced effects and rhythms, ambient harmonies that evoke the rippling motion of water, and angelic piano melodies that give the impression of reincarnation.

Other Info/Context

  • Kita Kouhei’s new album akashic records will be released on May 25th.

© Isaku Takahashi