Top 20 releases of 2015: Intro

As is custom with the start of a new year, this blog is going to kick off 2016 with a month-long look back at the past year’s musical highlights. As usual, this task is complicated by a number of factors and naturally limited by my own prejudices and interests as a music fan. For longtime readers, this will perhaps be unnecessary, but I’ll ask you to bear with me as I go over the background against which this rundown will operate.

Firstly, it’s all Japanese music, which I’m defining here as music made either by Japan-based musicians or Japanese musicians based overseas but with some significant connection to the music scene here in Japan.

In theory, there’s no particular rule dictating major or underground music, but in practice that means it’s all indie and underground music, for at least as long as all J-Pop and idol music remains utter garbage. If you think that’s unfair, feel free to complain to your heart’s content in the comments but I’ve tried really hard to like Suiyobi no Campanella and they’re just not that good.

The kinds of releases I’m covering range from EPs to full albums, which generally means three tracks or more and upwards of ten minutes in total – naturally with some wiggle room to take into account things like psychedelic albums where one track can last an hour or hardcore albums where ten songs can go by in eight minutes.

I don’t include any releases from my own Call And Response label, which was doubly hard this year, because the compilation/tribute album Small Lights – A Tribute to Mir which came out on Call And Response’s December 27th ten-year anniversary is a release I’m more proud of than anything I’ve ever worked on and is in my honest (and naturally unbiased) opinion easily the best album released anywhere in the world in 2015 and making a mockery of the actual list.

With that in mind, I’ll beg your indulgence for a moment as I run down the various releases on Call And Response this year in which I had varying degrees of involvement:

Sharkk: Sharkk EP – Buy cassette HERE

sharkk-smallA distinctly poppy collection of alt-rock/emo/punk tunes, recorded by Tokyo-based American musician Sean McGee and a menagerie of collaborators. Self-released via Bandcamp and distributed in physical form via Call And Response as a limited edition cassette.

Hakuchi: Chindon DING DONG! ~ Minokurui March ~ – Buy CD HERE

hakuchi_chindondingdongThis frenetic collision of postpunk, grunge, 1970s Japanese pop and children’s songs, by a band from Saga in Kyushu that I have been keeping tabs on for a while, was an album I proudly shepherded through from early stages to release. Hakuchi are a rare band who embody the carefree attitude of much of what’s popular in the alternative scene at the moment, while retaining the breakneck energy, arty contrarianism and strong musical core that I demand of my favourite bands.

Lo-shi: Baku – Buy LP HERE

lo-shi_bakuCall And Response took a minor role in distributing this limited edition vinyl release of an album the band had self-released in 2014. A mixture of dark, nightmarish psychedelic soundscapes and skittering electronic beats, kept from falling into the abyss of ambient goo by a krautrock-ish sense of momentum that constantly drives it forward and gives it structure and shape.

Looprider: My Electric Fantasy – Buy CD HERE

looprider_myelectricfantasyThis mini-album that sometimes fuses and sometimes juxtaposes elements of metal, shoegaze, psychedelia and pop is just part one in an ambitious cycle of releases from this new band that will cover even more eclectic ground as it works its way over the next couple of years towards the completion of its first phase. The Tokyo indie scene was utterly baffled by Looprider’s failure to conform to any of its usual scene/genre boundaries. People from outside seemed to find it far less confusing.

V/A: Small Lights – A Tribute to Mir – Buy CD HERE

car69As I mentioned before, this compilation stands as the work I’m most proud of in my whole ten years of releasing music, and while — as an 80-minute tribute/concept album dedicated to an utterly unknown Tokyo indie band — its commercial potential even/especially in Japan is next to zero, it still to my mind stands alone as a coherent, singularly powerful and emotionally moving album. I know it’s ludicrous to say this about an album I helped produce myself, and I can’t possibly know whether I would love it quite so much if delivered from another’s hand, but I can at least say that this is as clear and coherent a statement of What I Like as has ever existed.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Top 20 releases of 2015: Intro

  1. I’m surprised by the production value of that Suiyobi no Campanella video which I hadn’t seen. It must have been a lot more expensive than their past videos. Have they risen in poluarity recently? I mean, I love their sound, but I never considered them pop, as in popular enough to warrant such a video budget. Haven’t really seen them talked about much either, but I’m probably just not paying enough attention.

    • I don’t know much about Bermuda Entertainment and what keiretsu affiliations they might have (like, if it’s acting as a front for someone like Sony Music) but I think their release grid was carefully stacked over the first couple of years with limited editions and store exclusives with an eye to building towards a nationwide release (I think the most recent album is their first proper release in that regard). Meanwhile they just made friends with all the right people, played all the right hip subculture events, bombed the festival circuit and just generally handled everything smartly and strategically from a marketing perspective. The key behind all of it though is that it was decided somewhere along the line that Komuai is “a charisma”, so her face got in commercials and on TV and stuff. The video for Ra is just as much about promoting her celebrity persona as it is about promoting the music.

    • As for whether they’re pop or not, you can certainly say they’ve taken a subcultural route to get there, although there’s nothing really new in that anymore. They’re not as popular as, say, One OK Rock or Sekai no Owari, but they’re on TV and they have expensive promotional videos, which puts at least one foot in a different world from most of the stuff I write about. I singled them out in this post because they’re one of a handful of what I consider more-or-less-mainstream acts who still retain an indie-ish aura, and so by planting the flag for what constitutes mainstream there, it helps define what I mean when I talk about indie (i.e. stuff much further to the left than Suiyobi no Campanella, Charisma.com or Passepied or whatever).

      • Wow, thanks for your very elaborate answer. It’s always great to hear about this kind of stuff.
        Anyways, even though we disagree on SnC, I’m still looking forward to your proper top 20 list. I’ve always discovered at least one or two bands that I really liked amongst those in the past.

      • I tend to return to the same bands pretty often, so these lists will probably start looking kind of familiar as the years go by!

  2. Pingback: Top 20 Releases of 2015: Afterword | Clear And Refreshing

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