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

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

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

By Ed Cunningham

Starting off the year with a bang (for Haru Nemuri, quite literally) there were some terrific new Japanese singles released in January. Beyond those below, there were other great tracks from Chai, whose electropop single “Action” announced their debut album on Sub Pop; Ling Tosite Sigure, whose “Perfake Perfect” was as noisy and dramatic as long-time fans have come to expect; and a new number from Ken Ishii – whose “Bionic Jellyfish” isn’t just great techno, but great techno with a really, really cool name. 

1. Uami, ‘Spill Out’

(Self-released)

 

Jazzy vocal riffing opens Uami’s “Spill Out”, a track that pushes the art pop musician’s most rhythmic influences to the fore. Less wistful and soundscaped than much of her 2020 material but full of strange tempos and overlapping harmonies, most obvious of “Spill Out” is its serious rhythm. 

Twanged bass leads the steady punches of a drum machine, while Uami’s piano and vocal harmonies overlap and drift throughout. Her little buzzes of synth, with extra flickering details, ensure that these 155 seconds of music are remarkably detailed. Skeletal, playful, hypermodern – “Spilling Out” is R&B as I’ve never heard it before. 

2. JP the Wavy, ‘I Want One (feat Kid Milli and Psy.P)’ 

(BPM Tokyo)

 

JP the Wavy makes jump-up pop rap better than almost anyone else in the current Japanese hip hop scene, and “I Want One” continues his streak. With bass so heavy it borders on ridiculous, JP’s high hats rattle along, while guest features from the Korean Kid Milli and Chinese Psy.P make “I Want One” a trilingual rap banger. 

All three verses contain little more than typical rap braggadocio, but sincerity and profundity aren’t really the point. Even if the weight of the bass on of “I Want One” is a bit unnecessary, it’s deliciously energetic and cathartically thunderous hip hop. 

3. Yasei Collective, ‘Brilliants (feat. Shun Ishikawa, Akita Goldman and Yusuke Sase)’ 

(Thursday Club)

 

Imagine a cross between spiritual jazz, acid jazz and progressive electronica, and you’re likely still nowhere near the sound of Yasei Collective’s “Brilliants”. Squelching synthesizers are offset by Yusuke Sase’s soothing trumpet, background electronics swirl in a similar manner to Shun Ishikawa’s polyrhythmic jazz drumming (which you can get hold of on its own here) – all transforming numerous times within just a couple of minutes

The sixth in a series of single releases celebrating Yasei Collective’s 10th anniversary, on first listen, “Brilliants” is a bit of a racket, almost like several songs in one. Go deeper, it’s a collection of remarkable performances – one of the jazz/fusion outfit’s most ambitious and experimental collaborations. 

4. Honjitsu Kyuen, ‘Allergie’ 

(Mastard Records)

 

Honjitsu Kyuen’s own description of “Allergie” as a “strange cold funk” sums it up perfectly. It’s like they took a classic ‘70s funk rock track and stripped it of glamour, leaving just the bones of a raw guitar line, a hooky bass and some clattering drums. “Allergie”, in particular its first half, is hollow, slightly unsettling and particularly intriguing funk. 

However, among those bareboned initial minutes, “Allergie” teases something richer. Fully realised in its final third, it lifts itself out of raw production with flourishes of guitar luxury and rising synths. Honjitsu Kyuen may have lost a member since their last studio album in 2018, but they haven’t lost any of their psych rock flair. 

5. Noriko Miyamoto, ‘Arrows & Eyes’ 

(Light in the Attic)

 

Noriko Miyamoto’s “Arrows & Eyes” is one of Japanese techno-pop’s strangest and most brilliant highlights. Originally on Miyamoto’s 1981 record New Romance, it’s now been released on streaming to mark a new Light in the Attic compilation, Somewhere Between: Mutant Pop, Electronic Minimalism & Shadow Sounds of Japan 1980-1988

While the original “Arrows & Eyes” can, for avid city pop fans, be hard to source (and even harder to find with decent sound quality), this new reissue makes the track sound better than ever. Modern mastering clarifies Miyamoto’s whispery delivery, emphasizes the spectral programming of Hideki Matsutake, makes clearer the spoken word rumblings of British poet Chris Mosdell, and allows Tohru Okada’s keyboards to wind their way around the track. Wonderfully weird space-age pop, “Arrows & Eyes” is well worth checking out on streaming, along with just under half of the rest of the compilation.  


Feature image courtesy of Uami