One might expect the best Japanese music releases from February to be rather love-obsessed but, in truth, music’s always pretty romance-themed. I’ve never been the cheesy kind but, not wishing to be a spoilsport, thankfully this month’s roundup contains a couple of tracks that, if you squint hard enough (sometimes really hard), might even resemble love songs.
An R&B ballad with a dreamy, psychedelic edge, it’s no exaggeration to say that “Run” is Joji’s most impressive track so far. The instrumental alone is weighty and impactful, slow guitars and subtle synthetic elements building to a soloing, multi-tracked peak. Even as Joji’s least lo-fi and most full-bodied instrumental thus far, however, “Run” is overshadowed by his vocals. His superbly broad range and consistent falsetto amounts to a steady build of intense emotion. It’s a track full of longing and regret, powerfully delivered.
As Joji gradually distances himself from his surreal-shock-comedy past (indeed, one would never have guessed that something so beautiful could come from the same human being that produced all that content as Pink Guy and Filthy Frank), he reveals himself to be an ever more talented songwriter and performer. “Run” is the peak of that growth so far, and hopefully a signifier of greater things to come.
Otoboke Beaver, ‘I am Not Maternal’ & ‘Jjjī Is Waiting For My Reaction’
Otoboke Beaver’s two most recent singles continue in the take-no-prisoners vein of their 2019 debut Itekoma Hits. With a combined length of about three minutes, “I am Not Maternal” and “Jijī Is Waiting For My Reaction” are swift, effective, potent pieces of social commentary laced with their typical sardonic wit and, as we’ve come to expect from the quartet, both are performed expertly.
The first, as implied by the title, attacks those that perceive women as purposed purely bearers of children. Scornful, mocking and ridden with biting humor, lines such as “I love dogs, I love dogs, I love dogs / I deliver a puppy, not a baby” and “Having let my parents meet their grandkid / Their grandkid, their grandkid / I immediately put it back in my belly,” show that Otoboke Beaver haven’t lost their appetite for the vitriolic and absurd.
Even more direct is their second single, “Jijī Is Waiting For My Reaction.” Setting their sights on perverse older men (or, as they put them, “dirty old farts”), the quartet hurl a tirade of abuse at sexists and fetishists who attend their gigs. Combined with an accompanying video, they expose the idiocy of older men who lecture them on music and attempt to intellectually lord over them purely because of their gender.
And yet, despite their necessarily stern politics, both tracks are undeniably entertaining. Otoboke Beaver’s cut-throat takedowns are executed with a certain absurdist liveliness and in a finessed and high-octane punk style that brims with talent. They’re riding their own cross-continental wave of popularity, but also happen to be releasing some of the most compelling punk music in the modern scene.
Downy, ‘Dune, Scatter. Persistence of Vision’
An immediate punch of rich industrial atmospheres and piercing scrawls announces Downy’s first track of new material in four years. In many ways, “Dune, Scatter. Persistence of Vision” shows Downy at their most recognizable; their usual math rock drumming and twinkling guitars underlaying most of the track, and Robin Aoki’s unmistakable vocals persisting over swooning, haunted atmospheres.
It also, however, certainly isn’t a return to the same jazz-infused, post rock-influenced math rock of their four Mudai albums from the early 2000s. It’s got a murkier, more industrial edge manufactured out of a sound that is difficult to trace the origins of. ‘Dune…’ is recognisably Downy, but it also hints at a new path, beyond what we’ve come to expect from them but just as skillful and technically astounding.
Creepy Nuts, ‘Otona’
Television-theme tunes are supposed to be catchy, but they’re rarely as successfully so as Creepy Nuts’ “Otona” (or, “Adult”). A minute-long version of the new, bombastic and insanely catchy track from R-Shitei and DJ Matsunaga acts as the intro to Kotaki kyōdai to shikuhakku, and the full-length number is even more addictive. The opening hook of “tell me why?” (no, not like the Backstreet Boys) alone is impossible to get out of your head, never mind the instrumental.
R-Shitei’s raps seem intended more to boost the mood than to communicate anything specific, while Matsunaga chops up an especially funky bassline, a disco-infused piano lead, twanging guitars and high-pitched synths into a romping hit.
Cero continue to forge their own esoteric brand of academic art pop with “Fdf,” another densely-arranged, polyrhythmic jumble of a track. A dance-centric exercise in fusion, the Tokyo-based trio layer glitch pop with the horns of jazz pop, the bass of funk and the playful retro throwbacks of electric jazz and space age pop.
“Fdf” is futuristic, technical and dizzying, often feeling like many different pieces all playing over each other, but never ceases to be completely enticing in just how well it manages to make a coherent dance tune out of such a vast array of influences.
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