Ed’s Picks: Top 5 Japanese Singles of July 2020

TW music writer Ed Cunningham reviews the best Japanese songs released this month

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Aside from my favorite Japanese songs of July listed below, worth mentioning are Awich’s furious hardcore hip hop banger “Shook Shook,” Seiko Oomori’s typically fast-moving, genre-juggling “Singer-Songwriter” and Tricot, whose “Omae” shows off a transformed pop punk sound only six months after their last record.

1. Shinichiro Yokota, ‘Detectors’ & ‘Accelerators’

(Far East Recording)

Shinichiro Yokota top Japanese singles

Shinichiro Yokota’s class of deep house is never aggressive nor lifeless. Instead, it sort of cruises, mobile in its guiding beats and numerous phases and scenic in its contrasts. Both of his two new tracks, “Detectors” and “Accelerators,” pinpoint his brilliance to a T, unsurprisingly stellar tunes from an undisputed veteran of the Japanese scene.

Yokota’s music often seems guided by visions of a stylish lifestyle of nocturnal urban drives in slick, pumped-up sports cars. Unlike so much vibe-heavy music, however, there’s a lot beneath the surface. “Detectors” and “Accelerators” are both craftily layered, the former’s radiant melody lines and occasional staggered vocal samples and the latter’s slow piano and acid beats amounting to some slick and slinky deep house.

While the quality of these tracks is unsurprising, after last year’s I Know You Like It and career compilation Ultimate Yokota 1991-2019, it’s great to see Yokota making up for decades of underappreciation. “Detectors” and “Accelerators” prove that not only is Yokota as good as he’s ever been, but that he might be getting even better.

2. Chai, ‘Keep On Rocking’

(Sony)

Chai’s “Keep On Rocking” starts off as a somewhat ordinary rock song. Classic two guitars, bass ‘n’ drums set-up, common chord progression, pop rock croon. The only real difference is the noisier mix and, of course, Chai’s signature vocals.

Then the birds come in. Literally, a sampled flock surrounded by delicate bits of tingling percussion and ramped-up static. Another verse or two go by and, before you know it, “Keep On Rocking” is a DIY rock anthem with joyous strings, a lot of noise and a great big singalong outro, complete with “lalala”s and a feeling of boundless uplift.

Chai take even the most supposedly simple sort of tune and transform it into something far greater than it would be in the hands of anyone else. “Keep On Rocking” shows Chai’s fresh approach to a weary scene and proves further that they can apparently do no wrong.

3. Videotapemusic, ‘Spring Fever’

(Kakubarhythm)

Spring itself may have come and gone but Videotapemusic’s “Spring Fever” brings a late ode to sprightlier, somewhat less rainy times. Renowned for his samples of, as his name suggests, old VHS tapes, Videotapemusic takes audio and visual clips from across the globe and, with a full band, fashions them into lounging indie tunes.

“Spring Fever” meticulously succeeds within the Videotapemusic formula. Soft instrumentation of keyboards, horns and synthesizers subdues listeners into contentment also induced by overtones of jazz pop and lounge. Meanwhile, the flickering samples of cars driving by and birds tweeting only add to the atmosphere.

The streaming edition includes a livelier, more dub-influenced and beat-driven remix but it’s the original that excels most. “Spring Fever” revels in the fresh sunshine, a nuanced and peaceful work of lounge pop.

4. Ohzora Kimishima “Rain on Burns”

(Apollo)

Contrasting Videotapemusic’s clear-skied escapism is Ohzora Kimishima’s “Rain on Burns,” a song about rain and the perfect accompaniment to sheltering from it. Kimishima, up to last year a session musician and Soundcloud solo artist, continues to gain a following for his skillfully made, stylistically broad solo work.

A huge draw for Kimishima’s music is its variety and unpredictability. His 2019 EP Afternoon Reflections was part-folk, part-glitch, part-alternative rock. Of those three, “Rain on Burns” clearly slots nicely into the latter, but it’s actually most notable because it sticks to a single style. Its thrills – screeching guitar lines, thick distortion, tight drumming and Kimishima’s contrasting vocals – are standard but exceptionally well-arranged and performed.

The only hints of anything out of the ordinary are the post-production vocal shakes added to Kishima’s voice near the end (an effect that, I imagine, is intended to sound like he’s singing in the rain). Supported by a stylish, cinematic music video, “Rain on Burns” is sure to add fuel to an already-burgeoning fanbase.

5. Frederic, ‘Saredo BGM’

(A-Sketch)

Loyally pinned to decades-old blueprints for a blistering summer blockbuster, Kobe-based quartet Frederic’s “Saredo BGM” is a heedlessly repetitive, unrelentingly chirpy and outlandishly grand pop hit.

While that may sound overblown, even potentially irritating, “Saredo BGM” is pure fun. Frederic’s ‘80s-style guitar stabs, funky basslines and shamelessly heavy bass beats, with some of the most manufactured synthesizer phases I’ve ever heard, amount, in the grander scheme of things, to a well-arranged track that is less conventional than many of its uberpop peers.

I haven’t quite managed to find out exactly what BGM stands for (it’s most likely “background music,” and thus potentially wittier and more self-aware than I’m giving them credit) but, more importantly, that doesn’t really matter. Cheesy? Yes. Original? Not particularly. Fun? Absolutely.

 

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