Japanese Music Review: Favorite New Songs from January 2020

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Usually, January’s a bit of a quagmire for decent new music. Who on earth would want to release an album in January, so early that it’ll be most likely forgotten by the end of the year? Yet, this month has still seen some fantastic Japanese music releases, including these new singles from Japan’s top artists.

Ichiko Aoba, ‘Amuletum’

(Hermine)

Of Ichiko Aoba’s two new tracks released this month, “Amuletum” and “Bouquet,” both are excellent folk songs. It is the former, however, that is most exciting. Our first real glimpse of Aoba with a full band of flute, strings and more, it adds an entirely new dimension to her sound and songwriting. There’s almost something orchestral about the interplay of the various instruments, while Aoba’s guitar and voice are as clear as ever. “Amuletum” is understated and boundary-pushing for Aoba; an unexpected but welcome progression for her style of folk.

Haru Nemuri, ‘Fanfare’

(TO3S)

Measured against almost every formula for a successful pop tune, “Fanfare” shouldn’t work. Haru Nemuri’s latest single attempts to work with the huge scale of brass and percussion, as well as what sounds like a whole church of choir singers, using fanfare, the ceremonial public style of music used in marching bands. Fitted in alongside Nemuri’s usual cross between noise pop, pop rock and hip hop, one would think that such a colossal style would dominate. “Fanfare”, however, contains that scale remarkably well. The tune itself is, of course, enormous, but it is enjoyably so. If this is the scale that Nemuri is attempting to conquer throughout her next release then I, for one, cannot wait.

Rina Sawayama, ‘Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys)’

(Dirty Hit)

Every square millimeter of “Comme des Garçons” is built to be danced to. Its thumping nu-disco bass groove, spacey futuristic synths, pre-chorus woops, sultry post-chorus musings and anthemic hook are all ridiculously infectious. London-based but hailing from Tokyo, Rina Sawayama has all the marks of a confident, exciting and ambitious pop star, and her upcoming debut album is due to be an extravagant, pulsating and futuristic affair.

Sunny Day Service, ‘Ame ga Furiso’

(Rose)

Folk pop veterans Sunny Day Service craft tunes in a league of their own. “Ame ga Furiso” is more evidence of that, a peerlessly serene, guitar-led pop track lain on a bed of subtle electronica. Given that this is their first proper track release since the tragic loss of drummer Harushige Maruyama in 2018, it seems appropriate that there’s a mournful, contemplative edge to the track. Nevertheless, there’s a wonderful surprise in the gear-shift midway through, and the tactile bits of folktronica are undeniably enchanting. “Ame ga Furiso” is a firm folk pop song, tranquil and understated but ambitiously modern too.

Mega Shinnosuke, ‘Japan’

(Self-released)

Sometimes all you need is one irresistible groove to carry a track, and that’s pretty much all Mega Shinnosuke does on his most recent cut, “Japan.” Dashed with the influences of R&B, hip hop and neo-soul, “Japan” reveals more of itself on every listen. Layers and detail galore, it’s both short and carefree but also notably mobile in its instrumental changes. In just over two minutes, Shinnosuke moves from plinking, starry melodies into something more subterranean, distorted and droning. All the while, samples are chopped into the mix, making for an attention-grabbing tune but also, crucially, a fabulous vibe.

Feature image by Barandash Karandashich / Shutterstock.com

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