We are starting off 2023 with a new look compared with our previous round-ups. From now, the best music from Japan will be amalgamated into one article. We begin with a look back at December, a month that saw the release of some fantastic albums and singles.
Top New Albums
Hitomi Moriwaki — Subtropic Cosmos
This record was so good it made the top 10 in our Best Albums of 2022. Fukuoka-based Hitomi Moriwaki released her first album in nearly 10 years on Guruguru Brain label, home to the likes of minimal wave outfit Minami Deutsch. Recorded between 2020 and 2022, Subtropic Cosmos is a Covid-inspired composition, floating with fever dreams and wandering consciousness. It’s a fantastically varied album that gets better with each listen.
Ryoji Ikeda — Ultratronics
A confession: one of the reasons I came to Japan was because of Ryoji Ikeda so this review is likely to be somewhat biased.
After working predominantly in installation form, the master of the sine wave made a welcome return to album format. Ikeda’s Ultratronics, a masterclass in bleeps, buzzes and sine, is an orchestrated cacophony of sounds. For fans of the likes of Autechre and the late Mika Vainio, Ikeda places each sound in each track with the utmost precision.
“Ultratronics 4” is counting from left to right, an earworm of digitized sound. From the fifth track we head into semi-beat territory, a dance floor weapon in the right hands and a sit-at-home-deep-in-thought piece in another.
Ultratronics is a fantastic album, with a good mix of old (the first five tracks) alongside some previously unseen Ikeda. It explores current trends with track numbers 11 and 12 and has some playful ones thrown in there too.
Sara Wakui — Time Won’t Stop
Session musician turned solo artist Sara Wakui released her debut solo album Time Won’t Stop featuring a range of guests from Ermhoi to Mimiko and Odd Foot Works.
First off, a shout out to the mastering. Each hit of a drum and tinkle of a key sounds as if it’s in the same room. “Mile in the Green” is especially good for this, one of only three non-collaborations.
There’s also “Escape,” one of our favorites from September last year. Wakui’s output is joyful, feel-good music. It’s the kind of record you put on to feel good while relaxing, particularly on a sunny day. Time Won’t Stop is a wonderfully bubbly, musically complex ode to jazz in its most enjoyable form. It should put a smile on anyone’s face.
Top New Songs
Niko Niko Tan Tan — “Hananoyou”
“Hananoyou” by prolific giggers Niko Niko Tan Tan, is a fun frolic through the J-pop park. Squelchy synth from Ochan and fizzing percussion from Anabebe, this is a song that doesn’t take itself too seriously. As the press release states, it is a song for “heading into winter with warmth,” and it does just that.
Cwondo — “Baby Kasutera”
No Buses frontman Cwondo serves up a fantastically bizarre audio collage of blues guitar amid wails and barely discernible vocal vomit. It sounds as if the multi-instrumentalist is doing that thing of holding one note and hitting his mouth to make a wobbling noise. Which is why we aren’t sure exactly why this song is so good.
The arranged chaos is addictive, held up by the Texan guitar melody which persists throughout this endlessly repeatable track.
NTsKi — “If”
Songstress NTsKi released a flower-filled video to accompany her new single, “If.” A dreamy float through flower fields, “If” sounds like it would be just as good sped up. With drawn-out, vaporwave type synths, it takes us from the fields down into the sea in a mix of English and Japanese.
Guchon & Carpainter — Tokyo Funk (EP)
Trekkie Trax member Carpainter joins forces with local DJ and producer Guchon for this gung-ho dance EP. The title song “Tokyo Funk” sees funky house beats over catchy vocal samples. “Ramen Track” is cleaner than to be expected with minimal bass and lots of disco flourishes. “Party Non Stop” is a percussion-heavy track, with cowbells. “More Cowbell” as the saying goes.
If you’re a Japan-based musician and are interested in featuring in this series, please send any forthcoming releases over to editor[at]tokyoweekender[dot]com and include the subject line: “FAO Music Editor.”