January was a cold month, but not for music. We saw hip-hop from the Flat Line Classics crew, an emotional monologue from Ryuichi Sakamoto, a hyper-lullaby from NTsKi and soothing jazz from LioLan.


Flat Line Classics — Throw Back

It is hard to believe that Throw Back from Shinagawa crew Flat Line Classics is their debut album. A hot tip, it features accomplished hiphop beats over doo-wop

The second track, “Cortez” is a word-doobie pass through the members of the group. The album takes a turn for the dark side on “Back Front Door,” with sluggy beats and dark throw-down lyrics. “Mellow Down Market” shocks into soft rock, electric strums, while “Hot Magic” (released as a single in December), hosts an addictive refrain: “my life, my style, my food,” hinting that 2023 is going to be the year of the rapper food show.

Ryuichi Sakamoto — 12

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s much-hyped, potentially final album 12 was released in January and you already get the feeling it’s going to be a strong contender for the “best of” list for 2023.

Nearly a decade has passed since the legendary pianist’s cancer discovery, and this is his first album release since Async in 2017. Last year he announced that he is now battling stage 4 cancer. With this in mind, it is hard not to listen to 12 while thinking about Sakamoto coming face-to-face with his own mortality.

Minimal, with heavy feeling, the Yellow Magic Orchestra pioneer strips it back from the maximalist approach from which he made his name back in the 1970s and ’80s. Dark ambient, droning undertones and tinkles of lonesome keys, each track, named after the date of its creation, reaches deep into the abyss of emotion. It is an album which finalizes the scope of Sakamoto’s long career, a new metamorphosis for the final stages of what has been a truly epic journey.

PAL.sounds — PAL.sounds 2

Kyoto-based party starters PAL.sounds released their sophomore compilation, featuring tracks from all five members plus some friends. The compilation reads like a who’s who of the new Kansai dance music scene, with T5UMUT5UMU and Abentis among the contributors.

As the title suggests, “Silicon Punch” (Vis) has a bassy, rubbery punch, designed for making weird, jerky shapes on the floor. “Unyo” (Chanaz) features four-to-the-floor beats sounding like a secondary Berghain track. “Mafu Hall” (Rilla) is a jangling, clattering hit, which simmers along, never quite reaching an apex. The album then closes out with Keiju’s hands-in-the-air song “Paramisty.”


Kota Matsukawa, Sakepnk and w.a.u — “Introduction”

One of the strongest “welcome to our project” songs of the year so far,“Introduction” is a mellow hip-hop track awash with synthetic notes, skittering drums and snippets of vocal samples. Perfect for a work day, especially on repeat.

Pachipachi Cosmic Computer — “Pachi Pachi Mix Juice!”

A hotly-tipped duo from Osaka, Pachipachi Computer encompass the new hyper-pop movement perfectly. The pair stand out because of their high-quality production skills and restraint, as they pause for breath before jumping into gabber-fast beats.

NTsKi, Princess Ketamine, CVN — “Hikari”

Artist and songstress NTsKi collaborated with AVYSS magazine founder and producer CVN and Italy-based Princess Ketamine for an eerie, danceable lullaby. Bubbling with energy, the part-rap, part dance progression of “Hikari” certainly leaves an impression.

LioLan — “Model”

Some delicate soul jazz from LioLan, a duo including Sara Wakui, one of our favorite artists of last year, and mononymous singer Catherine. “Model” is a song with tinkling piano, fizzing drums and calming guitar before emotional vocals build to a crescendo to close the track out with a bang.

DJ Chari, DJ Shintaro ft. Yurufuwa Gang, Ozworld and Masayoshi Iimori — “Uzumaki”

“Uzumaki” sees hitmaker DJ Chari take on underworld dance with the help of an A-list crew. Known for creating instant dance floor-filling guilty pleasures, DJ Chari is charai (flashy and loud). Teaming up with semi-underground rapper Yurufuwa Gang et al. is a perfect bridge between the hyper-pop scene and the mainstream.

“Uzumaki” is somewhat more refined than previous releases, with echoey basslines and post-dubstep beats. Will we be seeing a new direction for DJ Chari in 2023?

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.”