Some Japanese artists spent the month of June chasing summer hit titles while others were in full rainy season mode. There was new music from the likes of Lausbub, Vlot and Never Young Beach. We also have some forthcoming releases to look forward to as well. Let’s get stuck in.
Vlot — Who is Vlot
At the start of June, Vlot (pronounced vee-low) released his new album, with a list of collaborators reading like a who’s who of Japanese contemporary rap. Who is Vlot showcases just how influential he is in the rap world. With Kzm, Miyachi and Lex, Vlot is a chameleon when it comes to adapting his style to fit each collaborator.
The opener is his typically heavy sound, with Young Coco’s “Vlot in this Bihhh” taking his voice with minimal effects applied. Skip to “Dirty Diana” with Lex, though, and it’s a different story. Auto-tune to the max makes the song feel like a real collaboration between the two rappers. The penultimate track “Yorunotobari” featuring Bleecker Chrome oozes with a slow, R’n’B groove before the album closes out with the rather dramatic instrumental track, “Outro.” We hope more rap albums take note of this. It’s a varied record that doesn’t pay lip service to any singular style, deserving of a place on the repeat list.
Akhira Sano — Phase Contrast From Recollection
The latest release from Tokyo minimal experimental artist Akhira Sano is an album that gives listeners the chance to calm down and reflect. Phase Contrast from Recollection is a spacious work consisting of subtle fluctuations from sine waves and sparse keys on a pinboard.
Every small note on the album is meticulously considered. There is never a moment that leaves you wanting. This is an album that doesn’t seek out listeners but rather draws them in by doing its own thing and providing a space for a quiet response against the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Never Young Beach — Arigato
Never Young Beach, the band sometimes referred to as the resurgence of Haruomi Hosono’s legendary Japanese folk rock group Happy End, released Arigato, their first album in four years. since Story in 2019, the band’s sound has mellowed out considerably, veering more to the folk side of ‘folk rock.’ The sound of “Mainichi Shiawasesa,” for example, has a grand total of 2% rock and 98% folk and country. It is easy to imagine that song and “Rariraran” being played in a barn with everyone wearing red checked boots, saying “yeehaw” and chewing straw.
There are several songs which sway to the side of Never Young Beach’s rockier roots, including last year’s repeatable single “Hey Hey My My” which is a fun jaunt down the slack guitar road. Each song sits under five minutes (bar “Kaze wo Fukasete” at 5:09). It’s a great summer album to listen to while driving.
Cornelius — Dream in a Dream
Veteran pop singer and producer Cornelius first made waves on the Japanese scene over 30 years ago and in June showed us he’s still going strong with his latest multi-genre album. The track listing of Dream in Dream is a careful journey, starting with the slow-moving electro-pop on “Change and Vanish,” which sees him taking over Mei Ehara’s vocals from last year’s version of the song. It then heads through ambient beats before finishing with a phone-in-the-air moment.
“Sparks” stands out for the wrong reasons — it sounds a little dated — but the album is saved by tracks such as “Too Pure,” an electronic amble with the right amount of guitar sliding sounds for a nice acoustic-electronic balance. “Out of Time” makes the most of minimal space, twinkling over spaceship soundscapes, before the album takes an upturn. “Environmental” has discernible beats and is probably the most poppy track on the LP. The songs move through beat territory before a definite slow-down as the album tempers off into the equivalent of a triple-song fadeout. Starting from “Drifts,” we feel our eyes start to close.
Friday Night Plans — Visitors
It’s hard when an artist blows up because of one single. Japanese vocalist Masumi, known as Friday Night Plans, became known thanks to her 2018 cover of Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love,” by all intents and purposes a hazy disco track. Her debut album visitors, created with electronic producer Ena, is a long way from the sound that won her fame and has, unsurprisingly, divided her fans. The album is more focused on vocals as an instrument than in the conventional sense, bringing in a host of different instruments and sounds along for the ride. At under 30 minutes in total, visitors is a watercolor of fragmented musical realities and brushes of sound. For fans of Burial and the more experimental side of pop music, this new direction will, no doubt, get a big thumbs up.
R’n’B vocals mix with soul, acoustic guitar and swashes of ambience, creating an album that is as much art as it is pop. Tracks such as the swelling “What if We” and “Sit on a Sofa, We Talk” speak to our inner thoughts about life and various situations. “I’m a Bee, You’re a Flower” is full of beautiful vocal snippets, dotted with piano notes.
visitors is a delightful album. It sounds like a deeply personal debut — a project the musician wanted to make for himself. Sure, it may alienate some fans along the way, but we hope she’ll gain more in return.
Singles and EPs
Dayzero, Wrack — Hybrid Seeds
Tokyo-based producer Dayzero, known for his releases on the UK label Livity Sound, joined forces with Wrack for his latest EP. Hybrid Seeds is out on leading Tokyo independent label, Trekkie Trax. After the British grime-influenced opener “Dhalia,” the EP bounces through to festival bongos and whistles on “Camellia.”
With “Agave,” the pace slows down to more of a chug, sounding like it’s composed to accompany a donkey trekking through the jungle in a Nintendo game. “Rafflesia” closes out the original track selection with subtle shakes and a whiff of amapiano. Remixes come on the heavy side, including one from Trekkie Trax member Seimei.
Sunny Only 1 feat. Mori — Dance Like a Monkey
This summer anthem comes courtesy of Sunny Matsushita, also known as Sunny Only 1, along with Mori. Written in both English and Japanese, it is a song for the masses. It features bouncy basslines and a fashionably fast beats. We can already imagine dancing to this in a field come festival season.
UKa Death Audio feat. Miyauchi and Henny K — Mawaru
Does anyone else remember that viral song about *ahem* coco? It even spawned a Japanese anti-drug copycat song. Well, UKa Death Audio and pals have taken the best parts of that and spun it quite literally as “Mawaru,” which means “to spin.” It’s the rap song and collaboration we didn’t know we needed.
Lausbub — Michi-tono-Sogu
Uber cool Japanese new wave duo, Lausbub, returns with “Michi-tono-Sogu,” an electropop journey, which gets more psychedelic with each listen. Lead singer Mei Takahashi’s whispery vocals remind us of Bjork as we head down into the Lausbub modular rabbit hole. Criminally underrated synth-pop. We recommend you check it out immediately.
Beds — 130
One of Tokyo’s most exciting bands released an addictively intense track in June. Bed’s approach of mixing hardcore drums and relentless electric guitar fuzz into the track “130” should appeal to techno, hardcore and punk masses alike. It’s ingenious. The song harnesses Bed’s bottomless energy source and throws it at the wall, bouncing off again and again. Set this as a wake-up alarm tone, we dare you.
Ryuichi Sakamoto — Ongaku Zukan International Release
Beloved musician, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s back catalog is, unsurprisingly, being exhausted slowly but surely. September sees the first international release of the maestro’s 1984 album, Ongaku Zukan, which remains a pioneering piece of electronic music. Some albums fit the analog format well, and Sakamoto’s Ongaku Zukan is one of them. The perfect accompaniment evening evening or Sunday soundtrack, it is an album that will make your record collection inherently better.
Sic(boy) — Hollow
Punk rapper Sic(boy)’s major label debut album Hollows is due out at the start of July. Slated for release on Universal Music, the album will include collaborations with Rave Racers’ members Jubee and Vernon from K-pop group Seventeen.
Maika Loubté Mini Album
Previous TW interviewee, Maika Loubté announced a new mini-album that’s due out in October. It’s set to feature the already-released “Ice Age” and this month’s “Rainbow Light Eyes,” which features samples of her newborn baby crying. We wonder what other samples she’ll include in the new album.
If you’re a Japan-based musician and are interested in featuring in this series, please send any forthcoming releases over to the editor[at]tokyoweekender[dot]com and include the subject line: “FAO Music Editor.”