November has welcomed beautiful fall colors in Japan and a slew of excellent music, as artists try to pack their best releases into the end of the year. As a result, it’s a difficult month to select only a few albums.
Included this time, we have some fantastic electronica from Sakura Tsuruta, genre-bashing rap from kZm, sound art from Yolabmi and acoustic sweetness from Buoy.
Sakura Tsuruta — C / O
Ableton mainstay Sakura Tsuruta released a shimmering debut album this month, following on from her 2020 EP Made of Air.
Mastered by Kuniyuki Takahashi, a renowned musician in his own right, each tiny sound is painstakingly drawn into Tsuruta’s musical tapestry. Tsuruta’s claim to be “crystallizing sound” rings true throughout. From the title track to the 9 minute “Feels Like…,” each element from the biggest synths to the smallest clicks are teased into lines on the map.
The opener, “C / O” creates a musical cave with echoing sticks of percussion that build into a rhythmic crescendo. “Human Energy” is accentuated by the snapshot breaths, placed as percussion before the track enters full body-moving beat territory.
“Hide & Seek” sounds like a metallic version of an oriental symphony as more traditional sounding, taiko-like drum effects are padded out with 21st century sci-fi whirs and clicks. “Kaleidoscope” does what it says on the tin: a kaleidoscopic pattern of swirling sounds and textures. “Yin Yang” is a god talking hollowly from beyond. This forms the backbone of the track as it glides and beats its way to the finish, skipping over murmurs and whispers on the way.
The album peaks with “Double Standard” as big, reaching beats are overlaid with glittering vocal chops. “Feels Like…” is a luxuriously slow-builder, gently spinning out each element as the track changes from big ambiance to hands-up beats.
It is easy to see why the album took so long to arrive as each aspect of it is meticulously weaved together to create a beautiful musical image, crystallizing its sound.
kZm — Pure 1000%
Since beginning his rap career in the 2010s, kZm has gone from strength to strength and has since been welcomed into the Yentown fold. He’s one of the first Japanese rappers of the new scene to draw heavy influence from Western songs and culture. In 2018, kZm rose to prominence with his hit “Dream Chaser,” an addictive number which notably sampled The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.”
Pure 1000% continues in the same vein as his other releases, undefinable in terms of one genre. The intro track starts off slowly. Water samples trickle over washy synth, heading into screaming Linkin Park territory towards the end. In contrast, the next song “Real Life Suger” is a jolly, head-bobbing hit with squelchy beats.
Head into “Summer of Love” and we’re into full-on dad rock, face-screwing electric guitar, echoing chords and a satisfying rock breakdown. It speaks to the teenage angst that still lives within us all.
“Jordan 11” is the hyper-pop number with a Eurobeat style hook and a lot of vocal distortion. “Death Disco” is more death than disco. Its driving beats hint at a dystopian dance alongside collaborator on the track, fellow rapper Loota. “Dead Inside,” with up-and-coming producer Ry0n4, is a full-body dance-inducer with no holding back. Then we reach “Black Benz” which has one of the most intense jump up drops of 2022.
“Tie Die Sky,” the only solo-credited track on the album, is as acoustic as electric guitar gets, featuring plaintive words over solo strings. The closing track closes out with kZm’s voice over a jumble of garage sounds, his voice the only constant. Which, coincidentally, nicely summarizes the album itself.
Yolabmi — For Wind Poetry
Yolabmi returns for the final release of his three-album series for German label Vaagner. From his debut Life in a Shell as an up-and-coming producer back in 2019 to For Wind Poetry, it’s easy to track the artist’s growth and progress over the years. Perhaps the most obvious indicator is the average length of the tracks. While his debut saw mammoth 24-minute songs, in For Wind Poetry they tend to be a succinct 3-4 minutes.
The opener, “Reborn (+Felt),” is a subtle exploration into the undergrowth of sound. Crackles and scratches traverse the track, interceding with tranquil pads and waves of ambience. Onto “Mistpouffer” and we head into the deep sea for an underwater journey, accompanied by a glowing beacon of synth.
Both “Circulation” and “For Long Tomorrow” can be described as floaty, ambient pads accentuated by characteristic noises of miscellaneous nature. Yolabmi’s music is often described as “sonic territory.” This makes a lot of sense, as we imagine heading into the sea or possibly space with each miniature soundscape. There are two versions of the title track. The first is a calming wash of ambiance, melodic synth panning poetically before washing down into quietness. If the first is walking with intent, the second is a pensive ramble.
“Nowhere,” the penultimate offering on the record, is a swathe of shimmering pads. The closing track then ushers the album to a close, drawing out the final strand of wind poetry.
Buoy — Akarui Kurai
Buoy (Misa Yoneyama) released Akarui Kurai, her third album with 12 soft songs to soothe the soul. It is unabashedly sweet and fittingly released on Tokyo based label Sweet Dreams Press.
Each song sounds like something you’d put on before going to bed. Maybe you’re not sleepy but you have to get up early or perhaps you have children who aren’t sleeping. The set works beautifully as a lullaby series.
The melodies are soothingly sung by Yoneyama. There’s also contrabass from Masanori Hattori while Tetsuro Fujimaki in on the drums. Each song, from the opening lift of “Tweezers” to the closing track “Blessing,” floats away on cloud-light harmony.
Stripped-back, raw and heartfelt, this is an album you’ll want on repeat.
Special bonus mention to Fake Creators (De De Mouse and Lite), for their fantastically dynamic debut, which had us bouncing in our seats.
If you’re a Japan-based musician and are interested in featuring here, please send any forthcoming releases over to editor[at]tokyoweekender[dot]com and include the subject line: “FAO Music Editor.”