20. Coet Cocoeh – Anthology
Coet Cocoeh (the Coet usually seems to be silent) is the name under which Masami Takashima of avant-pop trio Miu Mau released her solo work prior to 2016’s Fake Night, and while she put out a string of luxuriously smooth singles under her own name over the course of 2020, this collection of her earlier lo-fi work was a particularly striking release. Most of the releases these tracks are drawn from are only available on difficult-to-find CDs or CD-Rs, so this collection, while by no means complete, is a gorgeous collection of sweetly transparent hypnagogic pop.
19. Various Artists – We Need Some DISCIPLINE Here.
This compilation blurs and screams through several genres, but is unified by its curators’ dedication to manic, elegantly scruffy darkness, all of which adds up to a mood that’s harsh, chaotic, sometimes experimental, sometimes brutally on the nose. Taking its name from a Throbbing Gristle reference, it channels metal, grindcore, noise, drone, EBM, no wave and scuzzed-out electronic influences into the raw (although at the same time assiduously style-conscious) disaffected hedonism of an abandoned factory rave in a 1980s B-movie dystopia.
More about this release here.
18. NOISECONCRETE x 3CHI5 – Chiisana Moment
This Nagoya/Aichi duo comprising noise/hardcore sonic terrorist Noiseconcrete and witchy vocalist 3chi5 (also of the excellent Ghilom) established themselves on their first two albums with an atmospheric sound that mixed industrial beats with the spectral vibes of trip-hop. 2020 seems to have seen the sound branch off in different directions, firstly with a ferocious COVID-themed Noiseconcrete solo album, followed by a very interesting Bandcamp release of some of the duo’s more experimental side. This album, released in December in collaboration with the new OOV label, takes the band’s beat-led sonic sorcery down a route that sees their earlier echoes of the Bristol sound flower into a sort of sparse drum’n’bass combined the shimmering synth tones reminiscent of European 1980s minimal wave (hints of Bene Gesserit on the track Bokura Kurage perhaps). A 15-minute live extract closes the album out, but rather than simply appearing as a bonus to flesh out the album length, also serves to link the album back to the duo’s earlier material and flesh out the spaces between the skipping beats, minimal wave synths and sequencers, and lingering industrial throb.
17. Riki Hidaka + Tatsuhisa Yamamoto – decalcomania
Until now rarely the name above the title in the Tokyo experimental music scene, Tatsuhisa Yamamoto chose the locked-down environment of 2020 as his time to take the limelight, releasing eleven or so albums (or album-length releases at least) this year under his own name. With that in mind, it feels a little like missing the bigger story to focus on this collaborative release with guitarist Riki Hidaka here. Nevertheless, the two artists are well matched on Decalcomania, with Hidaka’s sometimes harsh guitar tones subdued in Yamamoto’s mix, brought out to provide raw texture to the submersing synthesiser waves.
16. Gezan – Klue
I’ve always had mixed feelings about Gezan. Starting out bringing a fun, raucous sort of Kansai Zero Sedai sort of theatrical junk with occasional nudity, they gradually became one of the great hopes of Japanese underground music, achieving borderline mainstream popularity with some decidedly pop-leaning efforts, while continuing to use their newfound influence to promote the underground scene around them in a way that so few other bands manage. I was settling into seeing them as something like an underground Asian Kung Fu Generation — audience-friendly but middle-of-the-road (and often frankly inane) pop-rock tunes combined with a genuinely admirable attitude towards the independent music scene — but Klue surprised me by turning out to be a genuinely exciting record on pretty much any level you look at it.
The deep turn into dub and psychedelia brings a richer, multilayered sound from which some truly explosive moments emerge, as well as being (a couple of grating exceptions aside) a far more comfortable background territory for Mahito The People’s anarcho-chipmunk vocals. It’s also a sound that suits on a quite fundamental level the mood and atmosphere of the album’s main muse: the city of Tokyo. And despite their origins in Osaka, it’s the band’s current home of the capital that really feeds this album, running through the veins of its grinding, pulsing rhythms and layers of noise and effects. It’s the primary lyrical focus as well, pulling political concerns from the world scale all the way down to everyday existence in the shadow of the machinery of the status quo, which also by the same nature represents a focus and crucible for the possibility of revolutionary change. Klue is an ambitious and timely album, as well as a striking expression of musical maturity from one of Japan’s most important current bands.
2 responses to “Top 30 Releases of 2020: No. 20-16”
Thanks for the annual highlight package. Barbican Estate, I agree with, and it really was a great year for Eiko Ishibashi, wasn’t it? She’s always miles ahead of the others working in her mode. I’ve shared your doubts about Gezan, but hearing this album does kinda change my mind, I’ll listen to it again soon. The one that I’ve actually gone out (virtually) and bought after one go-through is the MITOHOS anthology. It’s quite something, and I never would’ve found that on my own. Nessie and Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 (who I haven’t been convinced by before) are going to get another hearing, too. On the whole ….. not a vintage year, I think, but some gems scattered along the way. Bandcamp for MVP!
The thing I felt most this year was that there was a lot of stuff I found interesting in one very specific way, but very little that really felt comprehensively great in a way that transcended the niche it had carved itself. I think that’s partly just a feature of how music seems to evolve in the Japanese indie scene, with lots of people plugging away at their idiosyncratic obsessions but no real independent space where it all comes together to infect a wider audience.
Bandcamp’s been great, but I get the feeling Japanese audiences are now skipping over it and going straight to Spotify (you can see that even the most popular Japanese artists attract far less interest on Bandcamp than broadly equivalent western acts). “Subscription services” are where the buzz seems to be, which seems like a very problematic train for indie music to be riding so enthusiastically. Maybe they see it as a good way to spread their music without undercutting physical media sales, and maybe audiences prefer the anonymity of streaming to the more community-like structure of Bandcamp. It saddens me to see the scene evolving in this way though and I hope it changes now so many acts have been forced by circumstances onto Bandcamp anyway.