June has been another month of pitches for summer blockbusters and teasers towards oncoming albums. Beating another lush hint at Tendre’s upcoming record, two anarchic tracks from Mom and a new tune from Satoko Shibata are these below; five of my favorite Japanese singles of the month.
Mass of the Fermenting Dregs, ‘You’ & ‘Sing the Song’
Mass of the Fermenting Dregs have, rather famously, managed to become a bastion of Japanese rock without much recorded material to show for it. They date back until at least the early 2000s but only have two full-length records (their most well-known works are technically EPs – 2008’s Mass of the Fermenting Dregs and 2009’s World Is Yours). At their best, they’ve been a tour de force of punky, raucous, feedback-heavy alternative rock.
“You” and “Sing the Song” are bites of their first music since 2018, from a band with a different sound to their most celebrated material and, for that matter, mostly a different lineup. Lead singer Natsuko Miyamoto leads a style that is thicker but cleaner, noisy but less wild. The Dregs have always been tamer than their name suggests but here they almost verge on pop (noise pop, to be fair), less focused on individual performance and more melodic as a whole.
Most importantly, however, they’ve clung on to the feverish energy that has always been their calling-card: “You” and “Sing the Song” may be tidier and less harsh, but they still absolutely soar.
South Penguin, ‘Bubbles’
South Penguin’s psychedelic pop is perfect summer music and “Bubbles,” their latest single, has a few tasteful twists. The funky, heavy bassline that slaps throughout adds urgency to South Penguin’s mellow neo-psychedelia, which otherwise blossoms out into the background. Carefully engineered by Takuro Okada and Toshihiko Kasai, distant echoes of guitar and steady cogs of percussion and saxophone jam out in South Penguin’s usual fashion.
It is, however, the feature from alternative R&B singer NTsKi that really tops “Bubbles” off. Whispering over the intro and outro with a more substantive verse in-between, she brings the whole track to heights of dreamy cool that it might not otherwise reach. Even more higher-calibre than South Penguin’s usual, ‘Bubbles’ is a well-made, openly enjoyable and quietly exciting track.
Passepied, ‘Mahiru no Yoru’
There’s something about the latest Passepied single that feels like a descent into madness sound-tracked like a fairground ride – in a good way, of course. And it’s not just the music that is bewildering. The song’s context, too, seems strange. “Mahiru no Yoru” is the product of a brand campaign for a pharmaceutical company, loosely inspired by the feeling of taking eye drops.
Does that make a lot of sense? Me neither. It’s just a good song, a spiral of moving parts that shift constantly and unpredictably. “Mahiru no Yoru” doesn’t settle on a chord progression or time signature for any significant amount of time, neither does it allow its listener to rest on when those might changes occur. Passepied have a reputation for making pop music that has a hell of a lot going on, and this is no different – if only all brand partnerships were so scattered and delirious.
Minyo Crusaders & Frente Cumbiero, ‘Cumbia del Monte Fuji’
(P-Vine / Mais Um)
A respectful, endearing take on cross-cultural fusion, Minyo Crusaders’ debut Echoes of Japan combined Japanese traditional minyo with styles from across the globe. It made for a fascinating listen but that record, in which every track was played in a different style, looks set to contrast with the Crusaders’ upcoming project, a collaborative EP with cumbia radicals Frente Cumbiero. This EP focuses on fusing minyo with traditional Colombian music, and its lead single couldn’t be more enticing.
“Cumbia del Monte Fuji” is a reworking of a classic cumbia tune, playfully adapting “Cumbia del Monte” to some Japanese lyrics with a combined crew of Japanese and Colombian musicians. The blend of the smooth cumbia bassline, jubilant horns and proclamatory vocals seeps positivity and rhythm but, most of all, the track blares with the musicians’ enjoyment. “Cumbia del Monte Fuji” is a rich, playful collaboration and another Crusaders project showcasing the celebratory potential of unlikely cultural fusion.
Shurkn Pap, ‘Suho’s White Horse’
(Island State Music)
The 1980s was an iconic era for pop culture, a decade affectionately looked-back upon for, among other things, its futuristic synthesisers and fondness for opulent dramatics. The ‘80s have also proved fruitful for many, many current contemporary musicians panning for pop gold. With “Suho’s White Horse,” Shurkn Pap emerges from the aesthetics of that era with a 12-carat nugget of a pop rap tune.
With synths rocketing, plodding and sparkling along to a blistering drum machine, “Suho’s White Horse” intends to appeal to the ‘80s nostalgia that persists as a constant fix of most contemporary pop culture. Pap’s autotune glides throughout and his lyrics are somewhat personal but also well within his own bubble (pulling together some loose themes, he may be vaguely comparing the Mongolian legend of Suho’s White Horse to his relationship with his car).
But lyrical poignance isn’t the aim of “Suho’s White Horse.” Entering a world of ‘80s nostalgia, it’s synth-heaven, one of the most addictive pop rap tunes this year and, for that matter, possibly Shurkn Pap’s finest track yet.