15. Various Artists – MITOHOS
This compilation, put together by Shigeru Akakura of the band Loolowningen & The Far East Idiots, is subtitled “A Guide to Japanese Galapagaized Music, Volume 1” in reference to the theory that Japan’s relative introversion, culturally and technologically, has led it to develop ecosystems independent from global trends. Arguably, the way the mainstream is so cut off and inaccessible to independent musicians means that indie music here is its own “Galapagoized” ecosystem, and this album seeks to navigate the listener through some of the rhythmically deranged and melodically unpredictable undercurrents of contemporary Japanese underground music. The Loolowningen boys kick off the compilation and, as you might expect, they make for a pretty reliable indicator of the sort of barebones, Beefheart-via-math rock experimentation at the album’s heart. It really is a very comprehensive portrait of this rarely articulated thread of underground music in Japan. In that sense, Mitohos is as much a work of music journalism as it is a piece of art, linkling together artists throughout Japan (from Nessie in Hokkaido to Doit Science in Kumamoto) and presenting them in a way that lets their similarities resonate just as their diversity shines. Essential.
14. Boris – No
Boris are such a well established part of the music landscape of Japan that it’s hard to offer any really new thoughts about them. They always cover an impressive range of territory, from shoegaze-inflected dreamscapes and drone to metal and stoner-influenced heavy sonic menhirs, with a tremendous amount of confidence and ease, and they do so here in a way that is both powerful and concise.
13. Mikado Koko – The Japanese Rimbaud
An album of early Showa-era poetry readings interwoven with electronic music that draws on the atmosphere of 1990s Warp Records, this album occupies, as James Hadfield points out astutely in his own review, a very similar eerie psychocosmos to Chris Morris’ Blue Jam radio broadcasts. Mikado Koko delivers the poems of Chuya Nakahara (the “Japanese Rimbaud” of the title) in the retro-modern melodramatic flair of Showa-era theatre amid a sparkle and rattle of beats, blips and glitches that are both unpredictable and captivating. She finished the year with another release in the Nekomata EP, so check that out as well.
12. Kiyoaki Iwamoto – Sougi+
The core of this release is a resurrected 1980s EP by an enigmatic 1980s punk-era artist, recorded with minimal drum machine and guitar arrangements and encompassing five quietly intense tunes that teeter infectiously on the border between post-punk and folk. Most striking is the cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart that closes out the Iwamoto solo portion of the album, the original’s glistening pop sheen and raw power wrung back to something harsh, fragile and constantly on the brink of falling apart. The first of the additions is a reworking of Iwamoto’s Love Will Tear Us Apart by Escalator Records-ish Osaka duo Chisako & Junta that provides an interesting expansion on the track that thankfully doesn’t overwhelm Iwamoto’s recording with the duo’s accustomed smooth coffee table vibes. It closes, meanwhile, with an untitled live recording of Iwamoto’s old duo Birei, the synths wavering through the analogue tape like a multiply overdubbed Italian horror VHS, and quite lovely it is.
11. neccc – Yabatopia
Neccc are more an occurrence than a band. The members and guest musicians who populate this EP are an interesting non-alignment pact of post-punk and noise-rock figures, familiar from artists like The Neso, Yokoscum, Manchurian Candidate, Jailbird Y, P-iple and more, and they make for a playful and entertainingly unhinged mental breakdown of a record. Echoes of Pere Ubu, Tuxedomoon, Der Plan and other barebones iconoclasts of the 80s, with a mischievous willingness to push repetition into irritation when it suits them (the 13-minute track that fills side B of the tape but which may not be available on the online edition is an especially wild ride), Yabatopia is an irrepressibly good humoured but utterly uncompromising dadaist art accident pretending to be a punk band.