This Side of Japan: January 2019

So where to begin this month? There’s of course my eternal faves Perfume scoring a spot on the Coachella line-up, but really, you couldn’t escape January without a mention of the assault of NGT48 member Maho Yamaguchi. It’s the most harrowing idol news, revealing disgusting behavior from all over the place. There are other responses more worth your time than what I could try to say about it. Though people involved seem to be acting somewhat accordingly, it goes to show it’s still a cruel industry that needs a lot more change.

To change-up this monthly feature, I decided to rank the songs video countdown style. As usual, there are extras at the end. Here are 10 video uploads of Japanese music I liked from January.

10) Potari: “Togireta Kokyuu”

If you’re ready to start 2019 anew, you’re not alone. Potari is also ready to leave it all behind for a better tomorrow in its lead single for its upcoming new album, Potari No 3. The four-piece band’s gutsy garage-rock provides a suiting sound to break away from the past, and that chorus — “the new me is just beginning” — drives the point home.

9) FNCY: “Konya Wa Medicine”

A Bubble-era TV drama parody is not a new concept for a music video, but seeing the members of FNCY — ZEN-LA, G.Rina and Chinza Dopeness — actually act as part of the goofy cast is quite a sight. That playfulness can also be found in the music from the rapper’s desperate playboy personas with ZEN-LA’s exaggerated voice especially putting some character.

8) Flower: “Kurenai No Dress”

The E.G. family has been pushing a weekly singles campaign this month, and, well, let’s forget they did some form of trap-pop for one of them. Flower’s contribution, though, follows the more stylistically interesting route of last year’s melodramatic “Pain, Pain” that E-girls have yet to really pursue. At the very least, it’s nice to see another side to the family not at all concerned about establishing coolness.

7) Gang Parade: “Last”

I get that Kenta Matsukuma is following his trusted “more strings!” method to inspire streams of tears as he did in other WACK songs like BiSH’s “Orchestra” or BiS’s “Against the Pain.” But do I still far for this trick? Definitely, especially when it’s paired with a fan bait of a video. “Making a new chaos” reads the final scene, and the single, too, follows a theme of forging a new path — a spiritual sequel to last year’s singles inspired by the group’s line-up changes.

6) Kaho Nakamura: “Kittone!”

Back when the singer/songwriter dropped her second album, AINOU, last November, the only media available on her YouTube page I could find was her performing two songs from that new record at a live event. A week into the new year, Nakamura uploaded a proper clip for a personal favorite that also provides a nice preview to her latest album — a laid-back record with a neo-soul-ish backing that the sunny sounds of “Kittone!” should make clear.

5) M!LK: “My Treasure”

Here’s a fine example of one of my biggest guilty pleasures: a pop-punk banger dressed up as a soft boy-band hit. The Stardust group’s single is typical post-One Direction stuff in the grand scheme of things. But that combo of power chords and a sugary “you are the only one” chorus is still a winning pop formula for me.

4) Snail’s House: “Planet Girl”

A week before the release of his new project, Alien Pop II, the producer teased tracks one by one on his YouTube page. Out of the featured four, I enjoyed “Planet Girl” most. Each song showcases his signature techniques one way or another, from the sample chops of “Cosmo Funk” to the big-beat fireworks of “Starry Pop.” “Planet Girl,” meanwhile, incorporates all of those tropes to a balanced mix.

3) JYOCHO: “Sugoi Kawaii JYOCHO”

The title immediately strikes an impression after a quick scan of the track list of rock band’s latest album, Utsukushii Shuumatsu Cycle. It might feel more like a breezy interlude within the album, though I prefer to serve it as a preview for what to expect in their solid record than the other YouTube upload “Tsuzuku Inochi.” The energy sparked by knotty math-rock guitars feels better compacted in a quick, intense burst, and there are more explosions to witness in the rest of the full-length.

2) Burst Girl: “Nancy”

Sid and Nancy, and the titular couple documented in the biopic, continues to inspire pop media 30 years since its release. Burst Girl is another one paying tribute with new single “Nancy,” the idol group’s rotten punk-pop love letter to Spungen. Middle fingers get thrown amid the greasy punk riffs, yet the song bleeds with soft sincerity, going far as turning the infamous knife wound into a sweet metaphor.

1) Lyrical School: “Tokyo Burning”

The rapping idol group’s releases in 2018 had some fun silliness to them. Last month saw a single literally about throwing a pajama party, and the playful cheesiness behind their telling of summer crushes made The World’s End a charming full-length. “Tokyo Burning,” meanwhile, sounds a lot more serious in tone, but it only makes Lyrical School’s sincerity hit that much stronger. The romantic story comes together even more set to the sleepy yet fluttering electronic production as well as the music video with the idols hailing a cab to meet the one they feel for.

More Japanese music on YouTube…

  • Asaka’s new mini album, 19BOX, may be short but she fills the thing with all that she got, hamming her vocals like a lot of media tie-in theme songs do. (Four out of seven tracks from it are game tie-ins.) That sort of pushiness works best on lead single “KILL ME One More Time?” with her as a bar singer in the video setting the mood nicely.
  • Co Shu Nie continues to do the most with such a short span of time in “Zettai Zetsumei.” The restless music made up of crashing pianos and knotty guitars already packs a lot, but the verses resemble more like strings of choruses that never lets down.
  • New year, new idols: Debut singles by idol groups Gunjo No Sekai and SOL, “Unknown Planet” and “Rainbow Traveller,” respectively, both hit the sweetly earnest lane with a soaring chorus driven by starry strings and guitars. I got a soft spot for the former and its wide-eyed gaze that matches the title.
  • The title of Nulbarich’s new one, “Sweet and Sour,” perhaps writes itself: a moody boy sighs and quietly weeps about unrequited love over smooth, blue funk.
  • Q’ulle’s new album, Gamushura, was better than I expected. Instead of the cool-chasing “90s rock revival” that “Emotion” suggested, the record was a looser affair with more than a few fun pop-rock songs, such as “One Way Dream,” a cheery alt-rock single that recently got a video treatment.
  • Ringo Musume’s “Jet Girl” is objectively a promotional jingle for the airport of Aomori, the country-side prefecture that the local idol group has called home since 2000. But hell, I wish my local airport had a sweet synth-pop anthem like it as a jingle.
  • I took Sajou No Hana for another anonymous internet band type with its lyric video for “Ame Ni Nagasu” displaying a maudlin animation that fit its tangled emo-rock sound washed with vivid melancholy. But then its newer video for “Memosepia” revealed more of a lightness, unwinding its music to present a bigger, more sincere chorus.
  • While Kayoko Yoshizawa-penned Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku singles of the past sounded like the idol group performing the singer/songwriter’s songs on karaoke, “Donten” tries out a new direction for both of them as they tackle a stripped-down alt-rock sound with a melancholy undercurrent.
  • Speaking of Ebi Chu, they’re doing a set of shows with Negicco again, and their promotional collaboration song, “Baby Ebinegi Pop,” is a piece of heart-warming pop borrowed from the books of the Niigata retro-pop trio. And oh my, the video!
  • The “let me re-introduce myself” vibe of Taiiku Okazaki’s electro-rap single “Karada” makes more sense seeing its place as the opening song on his new album, SAITAMA, released this month. It’s part self-referential, part self-deprecating, which sounds like a Taiiku Okazaki song.
  • Vivid Undress turns in a lighter single, “Scramble,” compared to the maudlin sound of the past, but the band still aims big, playing that shiny emo-rock guitar tuning that always reminded me of, like, Paramore’s “Decode.”
  • Zekkei Kujira released the last of its videos, “Sumile,” from the band’s impressive new Seasick EP. If you slept on the record last summer, like me, the vibrant, unwinding rock sound of “Sumile” should give a good preview of what you missed.
  • Zenbu Kimi No Seida offers a little more room to breathe in “Kakumei Zenya,” compared to their zany (and good) previous single anyway. It’s a more straight-up rock number that matches the seriousness suggested in the song title.

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