Tag Archives: Sapphire Slows

Best of 2017 – More great sounds (3) – What does the rest of the internet say?

This site isn’t the only place on the internet that attempts to rank the best Japanese music of the year, and depending on where you look, you can get a very different picture of the music scene. This is of course very right and proper, because the Japanese music scene is broad and diverse, covering every genre you know and dozens you don’t. I’m not going to include any J-Pop-focused sites here, since I don’t really follow any of them, or even know if any of them made year-end rankings, but here are what a few other writers have come up with.

Beehype (top 20)
Beehype gathers new music releases from all over the globe, but it has a discrete Japanese ranking covering the top 20 Japanese music releases of the year. Beehype is probably the best place to go to get a general sense of the kinds of Japanese music the Japanese music consensus is gathering around, with artists like Satoko Shibata, Oomori Seiko and Tricot all making an appearance, although it deviates into a few interesting oddities of its own, like the recent album by Osaka jazz-skronk trio Oshiripenpenz.

Make Believe Melodies (top 50)
part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5
Make Believe Melodies, written by Japan Times writer Patrick St. Michel, tends towards soft-edged dance music and the gentler strains of indiepop and singer-songwriter music, but as the most extensive list among all the Japanese music countdowns here, there’s a fair variety on display around that theme. This list touches on indie-branded idols Maison Book Girl, rapper Zombie-Chang, the manic synth-pop funk of Chai and the pachinko machine noise of Pachinko Machine Music, along with MBM regulars like Taquwami and LLLL.

Muso Japan (best shoegaze and dreampop)
This does exactly what it says on the tin, focusing on shoegaze and dreampop, and while these genres in Japan can encompass slightly different material to what they do in the West, Muso Japan doesn’t stray far from its remit. Having such a narrow focus means that they can dig a little deeper than another site might, singling out material by lo-fi acts like FogPark, and Nurse alongside shoegaze scene veterans like Cruyff in the Bedroom, Shelling and Caucus.

Tokyo Dross (unranked list of 16)
Another list by a Japan Times contributor, this time James Hadfield, whose preferences lean towards more experimental rock and electronic music. There are more crossovers with my list creeping in here, partly because as the Listing Season drew in, we spent some time frantically sharing and picking over each other’s recommendations in private. His decision to include Phew’s Voice Hardcore despite it not being officially released until 2018 is legitimised perhaps by The Wire’s earlier decision to do the same.

Zach Reinhardt
Top 10 EPs & mini-albums

Top 20 albums (20-11)

Top 20 albums (10-1)

Zach’s lists also tend to have a lot of crossover with mine, as I think we both have very similar biases towards skronky art-punk and oddball avant-pop. One key difference is in the appearance of a lot of Call And Response stuff in Zach’s list (P-iPLE, Tropical Death, Looprider and the Throw Away Your CDs… compilation, all of which were disqualified from mine), and perhaps a little more washed-out indiepop/dreampop. Basically, though, if I missed something, it’s highly likely Zach caught it, and vice-versa.

Summary:
For anyone looking for areas of consensus, the crossovers between these various lists throw up a few recurring names. Cornelius’ Mellow Waves appears several times, topping the  Beehype list and getting honourable mentions in a few others, while Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Async, Phew’s Light Sleep, Endon’s Through The Mirror and For Tracy Hyde’s He(r)art were all rated very highly in more than one list. Miu Mau’s Drawing made appearances in most of the lists, while the Throw Away Your CDs Go Out To A Show compilation that I produced made an appearance in every list except my own (disqualified because I made it) and the Muso Japan list (wrong genre), so I feel validated in saying that’s a great record. Elsewhere, She Talks Silence, Crunch, BLONDnewHALF, Hikashu, Tofubeats, Oshiripenpenz, Sapphire Slows, Suiyobi no Campanella, Mondo Grosso, Tricot, Oomori Seiko and Satellite Young all made multiple appearances.

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Top 20 Releases of 2017: No.5 – Sapphire Slows – Time


This sort of gauzy, ethereal electronic pop doesn’t get much play on this site, and one of the main reasons for that is that despite the vast amounts of it being made, it so rarely amounts to anything more than eminently tasteful elevator music – triumphs of atmosphere over imagination. For a long time, I held the deep suspicion that Sapphire Slows was one of those artists and could therefore be safely ignored, but Time tells a different story.

Time is richly textured but never excessively-layered, with the distorted pulses and wispy vocals of Reach Out Your Hand To Me demonstrating Sapphire Slows’ ability to create powerful effects from just a few well chosen elements. On The Edge of My Land the atmospheric effects go hand in hand with disarmingly chirpy, almost technopop synth loops, and this lightness of touch gives the music a lively internal dynamic.

It also help a lot that songs like Piece of You work on a very basic level simply as dance music – although it definitely helps if your idea of dancing is that writhing silhouette thing people do outside on the balconies of rich people’s parties in movies when a disaffected main character is having an existential crisis. What makes it such a lovely record, though, is the way you can concentrate on each simple-yet-intricately-arranged moving part and see it has a role to play, with nothing extraneous. The sum of those parts is atmospheric, melodic, dreamlike and affecting, but there’s a different and equal pleasure to be taken from dissecting them and luxuriating in the machinery.

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Japan Times albums of the year

I’ll be posting a definitive list of my personal choices in the new year, but as a taster, last week Clear And Refreshing contributor Ryotaro Aoki and I joined James Hadfield, Mike Sunda and Patrick St. Michel in The Japan Times to talk about our favourite Japanese albums of 2013.

First up, my choices will perhaps not be much of a surprise to any regular readers of this blog, with Melt Banana’s Fetch taking top place among my recommendations. I suspect that under other circumstances, Ryotaro might have made the same pick, but instead he went with heavy riffsters Church of Misery’s Thy Kingdom Scum, which given that Ryotaro and I review all albums in our Quit Your Band! zine on something called the “Sabbath Scale” is a choice I am more than happy to endorse.Church of Misery: Brother Bishop

Patrick’s beat is pop, so he went with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s Nanda Collection. Kyary has always been my least favourite of Yasutaka Nakata’s musical projects, and I found Nanda Collection a difficult and pretty intense listen despite not actually disliking anything on it in particular. I don’t like to shy away from challenging music though, and it’s an album rich in musical ideas that pushes them further than Kyary’s earlier releases, so it may yet make my Top 20 of the year (although probably somewhere behind the top notch 2013 releases from Perfume and Capsule). Mike’s choice of Sappire Slows’ Allegoria ensured that the JT bests represented the woozy cut & paste bedroom electronic pop that seems to be everywhere these days. She’s certainly very good at it, although whether she’s one of the best is hard to tell since there really is so much of it. I might have gone with Jesse Ruins over this, but that may be more down to my 80s synth bias and not having spent enough time with the album I can’t really say. Definitely a worthy addition to the selection though. James Hadfield, who I do the monthly Fashion Crisis party with in Koenji, went with Yosi Hosikawa’s Vapor, which I must admit not having heard but James has impeccable taste and what I have heard from the album is marvellous.Yosi Horikawa: Stars

Note: If you’re running up against The Japan Times’ new paywall by clicking all these links, just register for free (they won’t spam you) and you get access to 20 articles a month, which will likely be more than you’ll ever need from this blog.

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