Top New Music Releases From Japan: May 2023

As our monthly music column officially enters the rainy season and as our time indoors increases, it’s more important than ever to have a good selection of music. Get comfortable with these new albums, singles and EPs. They give listeners the opportunity to feel like they’ve been transported to far away lands. There are new releases by Maya Ongaku, Cyber ​​Rui and more. Plus, Maika Loubte and Cornelius return.

Albums

Maya Ongaku — Approach to Anima

Out on Guruguru Brain, our new favorite label, is the debut album by Enoshima trio Maya Ongaku. In some parts, it sounds like a stroll down the beach and in others, it feels like being hypnotized by a snake charmer. Approach to Anima is certainly an album that makes everything sunnier.

The band’s lack of a formal drummer smooths out any hard edges, gently guiding the listener via woodwind, guitar and bass. Ironically, considering the title, “Melting” has perhaps the most defining percussion. A gentle head-bobber, it even has a sensual breakdown courtesy of Shoei Ikeda.

Experimental folk on the 42-second song “Rakusui” turns into an 11 minute semi-ambient track titled “Water Dreams,” which is then followed by the more pensive “Pillow Song.”

Heading into Maya Ongaku’s hazy world is a soothing balm for stressful days. It’s highly recommended.

Ayami Suzuki — Passages

Kanto-based musician, Ayami Suzuki, released the easy-listening album Passages on the Italian label Lontano Series. The opener is an industrial ambient soundscape, pushing us over the glimmering surface of black ice. “Mugenkaidan” is a more typical Suzuki sound, with its choral voice reaching over the invisible rafters she makes in the listener’s mind. Moving onto the shapes of light glinting through darkness for the meditative, barely-there “Silhouette,” before the album closes out with “Denkmal.” Stretching deep into the distance, it’s a soothing way to finish the record.

Passages is an album to listen to before sleeping, during times of stress, or periods of deep work.

Meta Flower — The Priest

Since his first solo EP Chest in 2020, the rapper and sculptor, Meta Flower, has collaborated and created sporadically, heading through funky hip-hop and darker beats. The Priests saw him reaching new heights and — dare we say — finding his voice. Enlisting the help of producer and member of Protest Rave, Miru Shinoda, was an inspired move. Previous releases have brought his husky voice down to be over-pronounced at times, but Shinoda’s bass-influenced beats fit Meta Flower’s vibe.

It opens with a heavy, amen-break filled instrumental, before dropping into an epic jungle floor-wobbler. Pianist Tsukasa Shirase joins for three songs: “Home Sweet Home,” “Extreme Love from Northern Tokyo” and “Rest Haven for Hoes.”

Singles and EPs

Maika Loubte—Ice Age

Maika Loubte returns with perhaps her dankiest track to date. The singer-songwriter’s first solo release since 2021’s Lucid Dreaming saw her voice float across roving basslines and hidden EDM chords to a Lorenzo Senni track. Always moving, never settling, this is a welcome return.

Awich, Tsubaki, OZworld, Chico Carlito — Rasen in Okinawa

The song actually came out in March, as part of the Red Bull Rasen project, but it’s only with the release of the highly anticipated video that all the components were able to come together. Watching it reminded me of something an Okinawan (Ryukyuan) friend said to me last year about Awich being so loved in Okinawa that she’s queen of the scene.

The mic-relay song features a sanshin, a traditional three-stringed Okinawan instrument. OZworld raps in Ryukyu dialect, while the video itself features spaces and faces that are part of the Okinawan scene. Hopefully the use of the sanshin in the rap song will introduce the instrument to a whole new generation of players. We might all learn a bit of Ryukyu language as well.

Temba ft. Miyachi — Dimension X

Bilingual rapper Miyachi teams up with masked artist and musician Temba for a track to show off the pair’s incredible flow over Ryosuke “Dr.R” Sakai’s Tokyo-drill beats. The track combines both oriental style chords with the dark, heavier drill variety, encompassing the sound of Tokyo drill, over freight-train-fast Japanese and English wordplay. It’s an impressive collaboration we’d love to see more of.

Mono no Aware — Oyoge! Taiyakikun

J-pop band Mono No Aware decided to cover the famous theme tune to a 1970s Japanese kids show. Translated into English, the lyrics describe the journey around the sea of ​​an anko-filled taiyaki fish that escapes the kitchen. The original version is a semi-ballad. The latest version has been updated into a poppy folk sound for a new generation, with just the right amount of picking and strumming.

ONO — AUG516 / SU76F

ONO, from the influential hip hop group Tha Blue Herb, released a rare solo EP. It’s a blindingly cool, dark, beat-heavy instrumental rumble in the swamp. Fans of Burial and Zombies will be satisfied. ONO also provides the goods for a neat drill crossover, with deep, rumbling bass and an ominous feel throughout. Just like that person in high school who was always leaning against the smoking wall, never friendly but always cool, this EP embodies that person.

Yayoi Daimon — Minna Urusai-STFU

Rapper Yayoi Daimon flexes her R’n’B mettle with “Minna Urusai-STFU,” a song for all the people commenting on her appearance. Ridiculously catchy, it reminds me of “Crank That(Soulja Boy)” from the 2000s, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s nice to hear a rap song from the scene which has a poppy hook. Sometimes we need a break from deep meaning and philosophical lyrics. Yayoi Daimon does just that. Pop it on when you want a mid-afternoon pick me up.

upcoming

Album: Cornelius — Dream in Dream

The multi-instrumentalist announced a long-awaited release of his first album in six years, titled Dream in Dream. Slated for release on June 28, 2023, the album comes after some troubled years for the singer, which saw him pull out of the Olympics due to bullying claims from when he was a student. He later issued an apology.


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.”

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