This Side of Japan: July 2018

This month’s Japanese music finds on YouTube, from Hitsuji Bungaku, Rock A Japonica, Tatsuro Yamashita and more

Two popular things on Japanese music YouTube during this season: 1) summer-geared idol singles with music videos set at the beach and/or the members in swimsuits; and 2) laid-back rock bands playing chill, funky, vaguely retro-sounding jams. You can argue the second one has been abundant for a while now, though it especially sticks during this time. (I tend to not click on the first.) Hopefully, these chosen videos for July provide some alternatives from that trend — not that summer songs are a bad thing!

This is the month of July in Japanese music as seen through YouTube.

Bearwear: “e.g.”

single | Space Shower Music

Indie-rock duo Bearwear trades bashful verses over one dreamy guitar line. The sun-kissed, C86-inspired pop-rock sound as well as the girl-boy kinship remind me of the softest ends of now-gone band Joanna Gruesome, or really any other act on the Slumberland roster.

Chelmico: “OK, Cheers!”

Power | Warner Music Japan

Chelmico still sounds fun as hell in its new single after getting bumped up to the majors for its upcoming new album, Power. Rachel and Mamiko nail a solid pop rap track, supported by one enthusiastic horn riff. After a series of love songs — some fun, a lot of them moody — it’s nice to hear them take a break and celebrate.

CRCK/LCKS: “No Goodbye”

Double Rifts EP | Apollo Sounds

Out of all the tracks from the band’s new Double Rifts EP, “No Goodbye” strikes the strongest especially in the chorus where Tomomi Oda pours out her all out of her vocals. After the music hits its emotional peak, the sighing guitars and synths give a last go before cooling down to one bittersweet denouement.

Hitsuji Bungaku: “Drama”

Wakamonotachie | Felicity

“Drama” plays deceivingly calm with its stillness drawing upon the teenage listlessness echoed the chorus. I can’t tell if that faint, noisy growling underneath the guitars is a product of effect pedals or actual screaming. It’s overall a curious track that masks the emotional panic that comes in transition to adulthood, fitting perhaps for a single of a mini album titled Wakamonotachie.

Keyakizaka46: “Ambivalent”

single | Sony

The moody, adolescent Sakamichi siblings hang up their punk-rock leather jackets for a breezier pop-funk get-up closer in spirit and look to their foundational single, “Silent Majority.” The giddy brass and an overall brighter backing band, meanwhile, takes the group out of its usual darkness.

Monari Wakita: “Gozigen Lover-Joi”

Ahead | Vivid Sound/High Contrast

Monari Wakita’s promising sophomore record, Head, comes almost exactly a year since her great solo debut LP, I Am Only. From the sound of “Gozigen Lover-Joi,” her new set of retro funk-pop music should be glamorous as her previous record. This one in particular works as the nighttime companion to her other single, “Take It Lucky!!,” from a few months back.

Rock A Japonica: “Sai The Kou”

single | Evil Line

Save for w-inds, I haven’t heard many artists borrow New Jack Swing in J-pop. A Stardust idol tackling the ’90s R&B style seemed unexpected enough, but Rock A Japonica actually nails it pretty well. Granted, the group sticks to a more conservative take, with its rap section being the biggest gamble, but it’s a nice outfitting of idol pop in flashy retro-pop clothing.

She Is Summer: “Call Me in Your Summer”

Hair Salon | Being, Inc.

The usually-bright and bubbly pop of She Is Summer dims into a more melancholy track in “Call Me in Your Summer.” It’s made more for sleepless nights during the season, when you’re up way too late thinking about god knows what. It opens her upcoming Hair Salon EP, so I’m curious as to how the whole record will unfold with this setting its mood.

Silva Double Sugarsoul: “Upload”

Upload EP | King

I am told Silva, Double and Sugarsoul forming this pop-diva trio are R&B icons who made a break during the late ’90s, though this form is the first time I am ever hearing about these names. But no matter: their muscular voices get a second life riding this expensive disco track built to celebrate an epic night.

Sumire Uesaka: “No Future Vacance”

No Future Vacance | Starchild

Sumire Uesaka chills out from the electro madness of her Pop Team Epic theme in a new city-pop jam. The glossy single serves as the title track of the seiyuu’s upcoming new album, and knowing how her previous full-length panned out, it’s probably going to splinter into more wild directions from here.

Sweet Robots Against the Machine: “Dakitime”

3 | Columbia

Towa Tei brought back his Sweet Robots Against the Machine project for the first time in 16 years on a whim, this time with comedian Bakarhythm (as well as frequent collaborator for SRATM, Yoshinori Sunahara). The first taste of the upcoming record, 3, is some shooting-the-shit nonsense with Bakarhythm and actress Kaho talking about meals and leisure time over some ready-for-the-runway dance-pop beat.

Tatsuro Yamashita: “Mirai No Theme”

single | Warner Music Japan

Confession: This is the first Tatsuro Yamashita song that I’ve ever listened to. I knew about him, but I just never made the time to listen to his music before. Since I heard this theme song for the upcoming movie Mirai No Mirai, I finally listened to his city-pop classic (and a well-known piece of YouTube music canon) For You. This traditional guitar-pop sounds rich and timeless as his music did back then.

Tsubaki Factory: “Date No Hi Wa Nido Kurai Shower Shite Dekaketai”

single | Zetima

Closer in spirit to Morning Musume ’18 than its previous single, “Teion Yakedo,” Tsubaki Factory mutes its dramatic sound a little for this new one that takes some time to unfurl its EDM sparks. The draw, though, remains similar to the song that came before, with the group revealing a girl’s internal monologue of her trying to woo her crush. It’s humorous, maybe a bit of secondhand embarrassment, but that’s Hello Project for you.

More Japanese music on YouTube… (Recommendations welcome!)

  • Kinoko Teikoku’s Chiaki Sato goes solo with her debut SickSickSickSick EP, the project teaser highlights some styles that I didn’t expect. The actual record in full goes back and forth between fuzzy rock and crystal-clear pop to bring one moody EP.
  • G.Rina teams up with Zen-La-Rock and Chinza Dopeness to cut new track “AOI Yoru” as FNCY. As expected, she brings a glistening retro-funk beat for the newly assembled hip-hop trio. If you want more rap, pinoko’s “Tabako” is a good one.
  • I’m gonna list a few more similarly feel-good songs without commentary so I don’t tire you out saying a song is “chill,” “funky” and any other feel-good adjectives: Friends’s “Tokonatsu Vacance”; SIRUP’s “Do Well”; Three1989’s “Mint Vacation”; Yogee New Wave’s “Can You Feel It.”
  • Haruka Tominaga, another former Especia member, debuts her solo project HALLCA with “Milky Way,” and yes, it is also a throwback funk number just as her former band mate’s new stuff covered above.
  • Iri went to France to film a video for her new single, “Only One,” that follows the strength off of the material in her great debut, Juice, a wonderful showcase of the R&B singer’s stylistic range.
  • Though it’s not as odd as Tsubaki’s, Kobushi Factory’s “Kitto Watashiwa” is also an interesting single off of Hello Project’s second tier. It suddenly goes from lonely dance-pop to super-optimistic stadium-rock jam with booming drums built for cheery call-and-response.
  • I still can’t get over how Leo Ieiri’s new song “Moshi Kimi Wo Yurusetara” reminds me of Sting’s “Shape of My Heart.” The heavy emotional pulling that she does so well, though, is the right fit for a drama theme.
  • Though only a 30-seconds-long teaser is currently available as a preview, that’s good enough to get a taste of ORESAMA’s exciting contribution “Hotohashiru” for a new anime.
  • Aside from Rock A Japonica, fellow Stardust idol Sakura Ebis also got a nice single with its dance-pop tune, “Lindberg.” The subtle yet sticky synth lines play key to the song as the group nails a rather serious performance.
  • After several digital singles, SHACHI’s bedroom pop-rap gets its first music-video treatment with “Turn Up the Music,” a new single that finds the soloist tackling a rather contemporary, post-Kygo synth-R&B beat.
  • Sora Tob Sakana shared the B-side, “Hakken,” to its latest “New Stranger” single, and the song’s electronic whimsy continues the idol group’s impressive productivity in 2018 so far.
  • Zenbu Kimi No Seida finally gives me a nice entry point to get into the group’s other work with its new single, “Mesu Genome Phenomenon.” The song won me over with its more guitar-driven, hard-rock sound compared to its previous synth-charged “Tonari Kore Arata.”

Phew! Do you need something to take all this with you? Here’s a YouTube playlist of all of the songs featured in this column. Enjoy!

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