Tag Archives: Merpeoples

Top 20 releases of 2013: Intro

I’ve put off doing this for plenty long enough, so before January ends, I’d like to get started on counting down my top releases by Japanese or Japan-based artists of 2013. As with previous years, I’m basically sticking to releases with three or more tracks, I’m not imposing any particular genre restrictions although given this blog’s focus, it’s obviously going to be more or less entirely indie-biased. In addition, it’s obviously limited to albums that I’ve had a good listen to, and finally, this list and ranking is entirely subject to my own whims and on a different day might look totally different.

This means that singles like Merpeoples’ excellent Silent Sleep and Miu Mau’s (last year’s top placed band) magnificent Monochrome/Spring 7-inch aren’t included. It also means that Hikashu, who released two albums this year if we include the one they did with Charan Po Rantan, don’t feature simply because I haven’t had a chance to listen to any of their new material yet. Likewise I can’t assess Fukuoka indie quartet the Hearsays who I’ve been very excited about for a long time, Yokohama postpunk weirdniks Sayuu, and Tokyo indiepopsters Boyish (who featured last year) because I haven’t copies of their albums.Sugardrop: Breeze Flower

Because I decided to keep this list as a strict Top 20, there were a few albums by bands I very much like that I didn’t have space to include. On another day they might have been in there, and they remain highly recommended, so Pop-Office’s Portraits in Sea is one well worth checking out, as is Ykiki Beat’s Tired of Dreams. Hotel Mexico’s Her Decorated Post Love was another fine album that didn’t make the cut but on another day likely would have and if you haven’t heard it, you should go out and do that right now, as you should Sugardrop’s superb, shoegazetastic Yeah Right. As I said earlier, there’s a strong indie bias to this list, and while Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Momoiro Clover Z both put out genuinely good and highly recommended albums, neither album really stuck with me enough to warrant a place among my top 20 of the year. Sakanaction also put out another very good album and remain consistently the best “mainstream” Japanese rock band, but somehow their stuff still doesn’t quite jive with me the way I feel it should. It’s a top notch album, brimming with creativity and thoroughly deserving of its massive sales and huge popularity, but I don’t know. It’s a model example of an album that does everything right and shows signs of maybe even being a classic, but doesn’t make my heart sing the way my real favourites did. It’s good so listen to it and a lot of you will feel it in a way I just can’t quite. It’s not you, Sakanaction, it’s me.Sakanaction: Yoru no Odoriko

Last of all, and again as with previous years, I’m obviously not including albums I released myself through my Call And Response label, which means the brilliant Я не могу без тебя (“Ya ne mogu bez tebya”, or “I can’t live without you”) by Mir and Hysteric Picnic’s fantastic Cult Pops are out of contention, although of course both would be right up near the top if I were honest about my feelings for them.

Anyway, now that you’re primed, I’ll be starting the countdown from tomorrow, so get ready.

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Merpeoples: Silent Sleep

Merpeoples have been humming around the edge of being almost sorta kinda popular for a long time now, ever since they received the curse of being tipped by me in one of those “artists to look out for in the forthcoming year” articles I no longer get asked to write back at the end of 2009. Anyway, one mini album and one full length release down the line, they’re still much where they were, with a fanbase divided between those who seem to treat them like a sort of idol band and those indie/new wave types in the alternative scene who are always on the lookout for fun bands with a grasp of melody to counteract some of their own scene’s occasionally oppressive self-seriousness. Sadly, that role in the alternative scene has increasingly been outsourced to straight-up pre-fab idol confections, leaving Merpeoples not quite an idol band themselves but without really enough muso prog-pop seriousness to work as a kind of Negoto-esque Rockin’ On magazine type girl group.

Rather Merpeoples are a peppy, new wave-influenced guitar pop group who make music of the sort that journalists used to call “foot-tapping” before that term became damning with faint praise. That’s not to say their music is simplistic though, and Silent Sleep plays a couple of neat games with the rhythm, introducing a half-hiccup in the beat (which is always a super cool thing to do in dance pop — make the bastard audience work for it!) and slowing it down for the bridge, and bringing in a funkier, more propulsive bassline in the second verse. It’s an elegantly constructed pop song with melodic elements that hop between spiky, yearning and sweeping, each instrument stepping to the fore in successive sections and each element doing its pop job of being catchy but at the same time intelligent pop music.Merpeoples: Silent Sleep

The B-side, Tinkle, is a similarly accomplished new wave-influenced pop tune, with the keyboard-let arrangement, meandering guitar and overlapping vocals recalling Fukuoka art-wave supergroup Miu Mau. On the chorus though, the band seem to go for broke and aim for something epic and anthemic, in the process losing an important aspect of the tension that their music has between the more oddball and the J-pop elements when it’s at its very best and most distinctive. Taken as a whole, however, it’s hard to fault the two sides of this single, and one has to hope that there are people outside the group’s small coterie of dedicated fans still willing to give them a listen.

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