With the year just passed its halfway point, here’s a mix sampling of some of the Japanese releases that have caught my attention thus far in 2022. Rock still feels like it’s in a slump here, which might partly be down to the ongoing impact of the pandemic but which is probably part of a broader trend in which no one under 40 really listens to rock music anymore. It means there are a lot of familiar faces in this playlist, although that’s also a simple feature of my attempts to keep up with the output of artists who’ve impressed me over the years (as long as former_airline keeps putting out good music, I’m going to keep including him in these things). Tracklist and brief descriptions are below. I’ve tried to add Bandcamp links where they exist, but where they don’t, you might be able to find them on one of the streaming services — otherwise, they may only exist on a CD-R sold to you by the band directly.
in the sun – Nostalgia
Compared to the noise-rock leanings of their first album, 2016’s El Energy, the Metaphor cassette album from the label arm of Tokyo’s Discipline event team takes some similarly kraut-adjacent progressive soundscapery further away from rock and into more industrial territory. Some of the results are caustic and others, like this track, point a direction towards the epic.
A.P.O.S. – 人糞 / Zinpun
The band name stands for “a piece of shit” and this Hiroshima duo’s self-titled EP strips away explicitly musical sounds and luxuriates in the textures of the remaining sonic effluence. The results are more subtle than the band name evokes though, as the quiet, ambient hum of this track demonstrates.
BD1982 – Chapter Zero
Swiftly following up his 2021 CD album Distance Vision with the new Initiation Insight, a cassette of gnostic electronic hybrid industrial/dreampop, BD1982 is on a creative run at the moment.
re:lapse – Hello
This second EP by Tokyo shoegazers re:lapse follows up their debut with similarly slight J-Pop melodies drenched in washes of gentle distortion.
Forbear – Numb
They might explain the mismatch between the title of this EP (4songs) and the number of songs on it (5) as being because one of them is a cover, but I have a suspicion the real reason is that they’ve already released an EP called 5songs and didn’t want to change the tracklist. Either way, it’s another strong release, covering distorted 1990s indie rock territory loosely around bands like Hüsker Dü, Dinosaur Jr., proto-emo and, in the case of Numb, maybe even some of the scuzzier forgotten ends of Britpop like The Longpigs.
Boris – Beyond Good and Evil
Perhaps the most completely representative track from the fantastic album W, which in some ways functions as a gentler counterpoint to the heavier No from 2020, leaning a bit more on the shoegaze end of the same general toolbox of sounds.
The Earth Earth – Just Like You
This self-titled album by Aomori shoegazers The Earth Earth has been a long time coming, and its release from KiliKiliVilla, one of the hotter labels in the Japanese alternative scene at the moment (who also released the Boris album) means it will probably send some much deserved attention up to the often forgotten expanses of northern Japan.
jailbird Y – PIX-ME
The first of two tracks from releases this site’s partner label Call And Response has put out so far this year, this noise-punk band from Hiroshima (vocalist Anndoe is also part of A.P.O.S.) released Duality, their first album in over ten years and their first ever with what’s more or less the current lineup in March and, with all caveats for bias, it’s a riot.
おとぼけビ～バ～ / Otoboke Beaver – 携帯みてしまいました / I checked your cellphone
At a time when rock is increasingly dead as a genre and words like indie and alternative are meaningless, Otoboke Beaver are the Japanese band who, maybe more than anyone outside the major label circus, seem to come up in conversations with people overseas. Part of that must surely come down to what a good job UK label Damnably have done giving a platform for them to impress with their raucous punk nonsense (the band describe themselves as genreless but they’re absolutely a punk band in its broad sense), and it’s interesting seeing overseas labels hooking noisy Japanese bands up with audiences that are in sparse supply in the insipid citypop-medicated Japanese music scene, but their new album Super Champon shows that fundamentally the band are just devastatingly effective at wringing something weird and memorable out of something as simple and minimal as punk rock.
oops – ヌートリア / Nutria
These Osaka punks kicked off the new year with a new release, titled simply Demo, with a new singer, Minami Yokota formerly of o’summer vacation and LLRR, and her distinctive voice does a good job of highlighting the band’s existing quirkiness and invention, moving that off-kilter aspect of their sound a little more to centre stage.
worst taste – お願いシンパシー / Onegai Sympathy
The second of Call And Response’s releases from the year, Akumu ni Warae! is another comeback of sorts (although like Jailbird Y, the band have continued to be a very active live proposition), marking what’s essentially Tokyo punk/alternative trio Worst Taste’s first album in ten years. As I say, it’s one we released ourselves, so we’re biased, but it’s a delightfully demented, carnivalesque whirl through the goofy-smart fringes of punk, garage and new wave, shot through with a structural intelligence in the arrangements.
Nicfit – Human Inane
Another band who made a bit of a bang overseas thanks to their release from UK label Upset the Rhythm, Nicfit have been a longstanding feature of the Nagoya underground scene with their distorted, twisted art-punk. With their previous releases coming out piecemeal on a series of singles, split releases and compilations, Fuse is their first time tackling the challenge of a full album from scratch and it’s top notch.
WBSBFK – Haircut
Also from Nagoya, WBSBFK (pronounced “wabi-sabi fuu-kay”) took their time following up their 2017 album Open Your Eyes, but the results on Grotesk seem to pick up their sparse, precise post-punk more or less where they left off, finding new ways of expressing as few emotions as possible using as limited a range of sounds as they can. This dedication to minimalism, however, means that even the smallest diversion or distortion has even greater impact when it sneaks through.
The Noup – Geodesic
Hailing from Okayama, The Noup made a minor but noticeable impact in the Japanese underground scene with their tightly wound 2018 kraut-noise debut Flaming Psychic Heads, but with this follow-up, Nexpansion, they’ve dialled it back to stripped down beats and finely honed repetition, like Nisennenmondai’s entire career trajectory condensed into the step from one album to the next. There’s more than four years of silence in that leap from 2018 to now though, and you can also hear elements of drummer/vocalist Takafumi Okada’s side gig as a member of rhythmical ensemble Goat, as well as his own solo work as Manisdron here.
former_airline – Phenomena
One of Tokyo’s most reliably prolific artists, former_airline continues to explore the fruitful, faintly melancholic 1980s landscape bordering krautrock, post-punk, shoegaze, dub, minimal wave and ambient music in his very nice new Control Factor EP.
Jin Cromanyon – Stone henji
Taken from the Synth in Japan split album with Tokyo’s always excellent Soloist Anti Pop Totalization from the Berlin-based Objet Trouvé label (released as an LP in a series of increasingly expensive and limited edition boutique packaging designs), Jin Cromanyon provided the bouncy and unashamedly pop counterpoint to the dark sonics of the Soloist Anti Pop Totalization side.
Masami Takashima – Stairs-01
Takamatsu-based Masami Takashima is known primarily as a singer-songwriter and as part of the new wave trio Miu Mau, but on her latest solo album she takes a more experimental, instrumental route, weaving piano and keyboard through intriguing electronic soundscapes (or sometimes simple silence).