Over the course of the last few posts, I’ve reviewed nearly every new release that came across my radar last year, which adds up to just a few shy of a hundred albums and EPs. While I tried to look at each release in terms of its virtues (rather than grabbing something unknown only to slag it off), I didn’t apply any particular critical filter in the selection process beyond the inherent filter built into the information bubble I inhabit. With that in mind, for those who trust my biases enough to find such a list useful I’ve created a short meta-roundup of my personal highlights from the releases covered in the earlier posts. Or if you’re a new arrival, you can use this as a jumping off point to explore a bit deeper into the themed deep dives.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE YEAR
(alphabetical by artist)
Aya Gloomy – Tokyo Hakai
Fun pop music with a dystopian tilt.
BD1982 – Distance Vision
Beautiful and often eerie techno-organic sonic landscapes.
Dead Bitch – self-vandalism
Scary and cool.
Greg Snazz – Wrong Answers Only
Rock’n’roll with the guts ripped out and strewn around on the floor of a bombed out garage.
Her Braids – EP01
Simple, smart and beautiful DIY indiepop.
Jesus Weekend – Rudra no Namida
This just landed right with me for reasons I can’t put my finger on.
Kuunatic – Gate of Klüna
A bit silly but a lot of fun.
LeakLeek – Leak
I’m going to stop pretending that the stuff my label puts out isn’t the best stuff in Japan.
M.A.Z.E. – II
Cheap, scratchy sounding punk rock done right.
Merry Ghosts – Pink Bloom
Really well put-together alt-rock songwriting with some cool, sharp edges.
Mikado Koko – Alice in Cryptoland
There’s usually something I find insufferable about crypto or anyone who cares or even knows about it, but this is so deliriously fun and righteously anarchist that I can’t help but get swept up in it here.
Ms.Machine – Ms. Machine
Hot Tokyo band lands their debut with panache.
Otagiri – The Radiant
Ridiculously good, kaleidoscopically fun hip-hop album.
pervenche – quite small happiness
I’ve been waiting for this album practically since I started writing about music in Japan back in 2003, and it didn’t disappoint.
Phew – New Decade
A new Phew album is always going to be one of the year’s highlights.
re:lapse – re:lapse.ep
Subtly textured, dreamy shoegaze.
Softsurf – Returning Wave
Heart-surging, indie-rocking shoegaze.
Various Artists – Mitohos II / III
Two new parts in this increasingly detailed map of Japanese indie’s experimental and math rock back alleys.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Barbican Estate – Way Down East
I knew this was going to be good, but what delighted me about it so especially was that they found an extra gear that I didn’t know they had. This is an immense album and a fantastic debut.