TOPCultureEd’s Picks: Top 5 Japanese Albums of January 2021

Ed’s Picks: Top 5 Japanese Albums of January 2021

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

By Ed Cunningham

Kicking off 2021 in great form, January was a particularly strong month for new Japanese music. As well as the tracks below, the very end of December saw the release of Keiichi Sokabe’s Loveless Love, as lengthy as its singles had hinted (but not as much of a slog as you might assume); and DJ Chari and DJ Tatsuki’s Golden Route, a star-studded pop rap project primed for similar viral success to their TikTok hit “Goku Vibes”.

1. Miho Hatori, Between Isekai and Slice of Life 

(Caroline)

 

Whether as the vocalist of Cibo Matto, fashion and music icons of Shibuya-kei, the voice of Noodle in the earlier worlds of Gorillaz or just resting in her own uber-fashionable image, Miho Hatori always seems to be on-trend. Now, she’s tuned in to hyperpop – the maximalist, genre-less electronic genre currently shattering the barriers of modern pop – and she’s still at the forefront of musical fashion. 

Hatori’s new record Between Isekai and Slice of Life is her first under her own name since 2005’s Ecdysis, and her first solo work since the 2017 Miss Information record Sequence. It’s a concept album exploring the disparities between slice-of-life mundanity and the isekai (otherworldly), inspired by both anime and American political turmoil. 

And Hatori moves seamlessly with the times. Isekai is a sprawl of disconnected, wonky basslines, bits of battering post-industrial and soulful dance music. Cold, mechanical, rhythmic, technically astounding pop. 

2. Kid Fresino, 20,Stop It.

(Dogear) 

 

Often, pop albums that try and offer something for everyone can struggle to really achieve anything substantial at all. Rapper Kid Fresino’s early year release 20,Stop It., however, manages its many styles and appeals rather well. Its bangers are bouncy, catchy, effective; its sentimental cuts potent and sincere; its odd pieces of experimental hip hop are full-hearted and genuinely explorative. 

Even the record’s crossover tunes with pop folk songwriter Ayano Kaneko, nu-jazzist Hakushi Hasegawa and math rockers Toe go down pretty well. A couple of slightly puzzling lyrics aside, 20,Stop It. is both diverse and substantial, and easily the most compelling Kid Fresino album to date.  

3. Yuri Miyauchi, Yachimata 2

(Self-released)

 

Yuri Miyauchi’s Yachimata series collects tracks from his deep archives of ambient pieces, all named after his current hometown of Yachimata, Chiba. They’re presented as a more casual set of releases – indeed, many currently on streaming are remasters of older recordings – from Miyauchi, a producer and musician otherwise known for his work on Rallye Label, and amongst the likes of Yukihiro Takahashi, Keigo Oyamada and Gen Hoshino. 

I can’t find out much more about Yachimata 2 than that, but it’s certainly worth a listen. A contemplative collection of electroacoustics and field samples, underlain by the sound of Miyauchi’s own steps,  it’s marvelously peaceful. The ten tracks here might be casual or archival (and, indeed, not the kind of things intended for review) but they’re pristine: a series worth keeping an eye on – or delving into on Miyauchi’s Soundcloud

4. Ryogo Yamamori, Slinky

(Kagerou)

 

Ryogo Yamamori’s techno is so minimal and spacious that its listener can’t help but notice each new micro-turn and texture as it comes. His tracks thrive on textures, transforming slowly and without need for clumsy, heavy edits or chintzy melody drops. 

Slinky spans and drones between your ears – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dancefloor-ready. Even “3am”, a track that opens and ends with a few minutes of beatless hum, is centered around a tasty and transfixing peak. Yamamori balances a distinctive spotlight on audio landscapes with techno’s usual metallic beats, Slinky shows he’s an ambient techno artist who really focuses on his ambiance – the grains behind the high hats and bass beats on Slinky are just compelling as the beats themselves, if not more so.

5. Coaltar of the Deepers, Revenge of the Visitors

(U-DESPER)

 

Revenge of the Visitors updates a classic work of Japanese shoegaze, a “complete re-envisioning” of Coaltar of the Deepers’ 1994 debut The Visitors From Deepspace. Not just remastered or remixed: a fully re-recorded version with modern production and a reunited original Deepers line-up. 

For those afraid that any of the grit of Deepers’ original sound might be lost in such a project, fear not. All the noise rock, sludge, thrash and death metal of their old days is retained – it isn’t too polished, but its dreamier, more melodic elements are still emphasized. Even if Revenge of the Visitors is unlikely to ever achieve the status of its ancestor, it shows that, three decades later, the Deepers are still capable of mind-mending shoegaze. 

(P.S. The attached video is from the original The Visitors From Deepspace. At time of writing, the band hasn’t uploaded any new versions of these tracks to YouTube.)