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

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

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Between Ryohu’s feelgood, late-summer piano rap hit “The Moment” and Nishina’s pretty pop smash “Rendezvous”, summer hasn’t really left the J-pop charts. If you’re disappointed by the lack of appropriate tunes for the time of year, fear not. As well as Pandagolff’s menacing tune below, Kazumichi Komatsu’s “Emory” is a particularly ghostly pop track and, while lacking in scary themes, Ichiko Aoba’s “Porcelain” is scarily good.

1. Pandagolff, ‘WADA’

(Galapagos Studio)

Set over a rattling drum machine with steady, rumbling bass and rippled synths, post-punkers Pandagolff throw down a heavy and haunting tune with “WADA.” Building the track up to mostly managed chaos, Pandagolff spin between the classic post-punk, guitar-drums-bass combo and misshapen digital play. It’s light on its feet, too – like so much great post-punk, “WADA” is unrefined but driven and danceable.

The star of the song, however (or for me, at least), is the guitar tone. Pandagolff employ a raw but simple sound that looms and threatens like a horror score. Although “WADA” might not be purposed as Halloween music, the contrast between that nightmarish, glorious guitar tone and the lighter vocals can’t help but be appropriate – great, digital post-punk for a spooky time of year.

2. Satoshi Fumi, ‘Forester’ & ‘Jambeats’

(Unknown Season)

Satoshi Fumi is known for his versatile takes on dance music. House, techno, tech-house, deep house – he does them all, sometimes mixing elements together in subtle, tasteful ways.

“Forester” and “Jambeats” are Fumi’s two most recent deep house tunes, and they similarly cut across genre lines. Both start from the sunken, distant lumbers of deep house only to venture into other house styles with higher melodies and more immediate gear-shifts.

“Forester” takes listeners back to house’s ‘80s roots with glamourous synths and a strict focus on fun over moodiness. I love the manner in which it succinctly takes you up to a peak and back down again – a journey unto itself. “Jambeats,” by comparison, builds quicker, thumps harder and lasts longer. At times it’s very loose, Fumi’s pace making you feel like you’re either helplessly along for the ride or breathlessly playing catch-up.

Both are stellar works from a prolific artist. So prolific, in fact, that once you’re done with this stuff, Fumi’s got a new techno EP out this month, too.

3. Boris with Merzbow, ‘Away From You’

(Relapse Records)

Boris and Merzbow are frequent collaborators – their upcoming record 2R0I2P0 (translated into real words as R.I.P. 2020) will be their fifth full-length joint project. It will mostly consist of reworkings of Boris’ 2019 album LφVE & EVφL, one of the band’s many stellar but unspectacular albums of recent years.

Upon first listen, “Away From You” had me on edge. Waiting for either NO era Boris to ring sludge through my ears or for one of Merzbow’s wracking bolts of noise, neither came. Boris’ role in the track is, for one, mostly unchanged; Merzbow (Masami Akita) instead remixes the track with rustling background clutters, eventually building towards unforceful noise pieces that lightly fill out the track’s near focus.

Here, Merzbow isn’t harsh. He doesn’t shock. He builds tension whilst showing just how pretty noise can be. “Away From You” was originally a slow-building, slightly sleepy post-rock number, but this new version feels notably more whole.

4. Shuntaro Okino, ‘Tide Away’

(Indian Summer)

Shuntaro Okino acknowledges Tame Impala’s influence over “Tide Away,” and the Australian neo-psychedelic band are a clear starting point from which to enjoy the rest of the track. Okino’s synths similarly beam out in chunks of cosmic light, given prominence by a fixation on studio-produced drama. Okino also doesn’t not sound like Impala’s Kevin Parker, while I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the pre-chorus drum breaks of “Tide Away” somewhere on Innerspeaker or Lonerism.

From then on, however, “Tide Away” is about how Okino carves his own identity out of this popular strain of modern psych. It’s notably a bit more rootsy. The drumming is light, folky and decidedly un-psychedelic. He makes great use of bells and tambourines, adding even more prettiness to what is already a complete bliss-out.

“Tide Away” is a contemporary sort of psychedelic tune, but its quality no doubt stems from Okino’s peerless back catalogue. As the frontman of Venus Peter, he was one of the most important Japanese shoegaze and psychedelic musicians of the ‘90s. It’s great to see him taking up a newer version of his same genre, and still blowing everyone away.

5. Half Mile Beach Club, ‘Surf Away’

(P-VINE)

The sun, sea and sand of Zushi, Kanagawa (Half Mile Beach Club’s hometown) might be quite a long way off from me – but “Surf Away” seems to bring it all just that bit closer.

At any sort of depth, it’s pretty clear that “Surf Away” isn’t particularly complex or nuanced pop music. It is, however, very satisfying in an exceedingly uncomplicated, shameless way.

Tacky “whey oh” refrains meet undecipherable autotune. An indistinct dance beat is washed by cut sounds of mellow crowds and the odd bit of synthesized steel pan. Half Mile Beach Club obviously went for unnamed-song-at-the-beach vibes, and that’s exactly what they’ve got.

While surfing might not be quite on my mind right now, I’d sure like it to be. Every so often you need a mood that takes you as far from your urban reality as possible, and that’s “Surf Away.”

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