No.20 – Half Kill – Half Kill
This Shizuoka-based punk band produced one of the best punk albums I heard this year with this ferociously lo-fi album. The yobbish/snotty male-female vocal interplay gives a lot of songs a call-and-response dynamic, with the spindly guitar lines and occasional intrusions of synth edging many of these one-and-a-half-minute songs into postpunk territory. It all sounds like it was recorded in a bathtub, but that’s part of the charm.
No.19 – Struggle For Pride – We Struggle For All Our Pride
One of the most unusual albums of the year, We Struggle For All Our Pride ricochets between the band’s familiar blasts of heavy, noise-drenched hardcore and breezy hip-hop instrumentals courtesy of DJ Highschool and Bushmind, interspersed with vocal interludes and covers featuring (among others) Kahimi Karie, Yoshie Nakano of jazz-pop ensemble Ego-Wrappin’, and folk-punk act Ohayo Mountain Road. I have no idea what the guiding creative impulse of this album was or what the band hoped to achieve with it beyond hanging out with their eclectic array of mates, but the result is wild and deeply entertaining.
No.18 – Klan Aileen – Milk
Noise-rock is a kind of music that Japanese bands have traditionally been great at but which has rarely made much of an impact on audiences. However, one of the interesting things in recent years has been the emergence of a small knot of young bands who have managed to make noise-rock a bit more fashionable. Of this new generation of noise-rockers, Klan Aileen are probably the post popular and on their new album, Milk, they stake their position with eight dark, sparse tracks that bring together motorik rhythms and reverb-drenched guitars, charting a course between mantric psychedelia and the oblique mysteries of Chairs Missing-era Wire.Klan Aileen – Datsugoku
No.17 – Minami Deutsch – With Dim Light
In the past, Minami Deutsch have often come across as little more than a Neu! 2 tribute act, albeit a devastatingly effective one with a keen sense of structural dynamics that connects krautrock to its successors in postpunk and techno. That aspect of their music is still on display in parts of With Dim Light, but it’s a far more expansive album than that, with the band exploring dreamy psych-pop in Tangled Yarn and diverting their krautrophilia towards the likes of Ash Ra Tempel on the folk-tinged Bitter Moon. The looping rhythms and mantric repetition are still defining features of their music, and their influences are still firmly rooted in the 1970s, but now the band’s sound is far more rounded and the songwriting on display is becoming ever more sophisticated.
No.16 – Ann Murasato – Wan!
Hailing from a small town in the rural expanses between Fukuoka and Kumamoto, Ann Murasato has been active in the Kyushu underground scene since she was in her early-mid teens, having played with spazzcore trio Hakuchi, White Stripes-esque garage duo Kawaitesoro and her own chaotic avant-pop trio Tokotokotonntoko’s, among others. This debut album under her own name opens with a blast of cutesy bubblegum synthpop like a rawer, more lo-fi Chai, but this is defiantly Murasato’s sound, that she has been plugging away at here and there for years by drawing together dizzy fragments of punk, disco, retro children’s songs and pieces of the Japanese underground scene around her like collages in a teenager’s scrapbook.Ann Murasato – Go Turn!