2018 was a good year for new music releases in Japan, although as usual very little of it received much attention beyond the usual underground word-of-mouth circles. There were a handful of releases that I was anticipating intensely, like the Falsettos’ full length debut, and some nice surprises like the Doodless EP, but the story that ended up colouring this list most strongly was a number of strong releases in that loose category at the intersection of postpunk, post-hardcore, psychedelia, krautrock, industrial and experimental rock that for the sake of convenience I’m increasingly just bracketing all together as noise-rock. There were a lot of releases I enjoyed this year, though, and no doubt past visitors to this site will recognise personal favourites who keep cropping up in my year-end reviews.
In past years, I’ve posted these reviews individually, but this time round I’m doing them in batches of five. Partly this is because a fair few of these are very short as I wrote longer reviews over the course of last year, partly this is to accommodate a slightly longer than usual list, and partly it’s because a busy calendar with my own musical activities and those with Call And Response Records means I don’t want to still be posting these updates a month from now.
No.25 – The Neso – New Me
Tokyo-based trio The Neso finished the year out by shedding two thirds of their members, but not before finishing this top-notch new cassette EP featuring four new jittery postpunk tunes in a Delta 5/Au Pairs/Kleenex mould. The songs Fasting and Dawn also serve as powerful reminders of what an effective instrument the xylophone can be in a postpunk or new wave song (see also Electricity by OMD, Gone Daddy Gone by Violent Femmes).The Neso – Dawn (live)
No.24 – Milk – All About Milk
Tight yet raucous punk rock is Milk’s stock in trade, dashing through a dozen songs in seventeen and a half minutes characterised by shouty, fist-pumping choruses and knocked off kilter by some delightfully wonky guitar solos and unexpected mid-song rhythm changes. It’s performed with the frantic energy of hardcore, but Milk never quite cross the line into the sort of sonic claustrophobia hardcore can often produce. Instead, their guitars twang with a reassuring cheapness and and there’s a bouncy energy to the drumming. A seriously fun punk record with a touch of weirdness.
No.23 – Subarashika – Nimaime
Taking its musical cues from 1970s American folk-rock, and in particular The Band, Tokyo folk rockers Subarashika are a young, infectiously enjoyable band who revel in their retro influences and are all the better for it. There are a lot of young Japanese indie bands drawing on folk-rock influences, but they rarely explore beyond Happy End, so a band like Subarashika are a welcome expansion of the scene’s sonic palette with the deep infusion of Americana they offer.Subarashika – Kakusou to Shiteru dake! (live)
No.22 – Manon – Teenage Diary
Teenage Diary is an unexpectedly charming oddball pop album from sixteen year-old model Manon and producer Yuppa (a.k.a. HNC/Hazel Nuts Chocolate). Sonically it takes a lot of cues from the lo-fi beats, playful sampling and post-Shibuya-kei mix of scattershot rapping and whisper-voiced melody of HNC’s 2009 album Cult, albeit with a touch more electro polish, the occasional glaze of autotune and more self-conscious lyrical nods to teenage life in the Instagram age.Manon – Beat the Bad Luck
No.21 – Falsettos – Falsettos
When this album came out, towards the beginning of the year, it was a shoe-in for one of the year’s best, with its combination of slightly deranged postpunk or off-kilter new wave and baroque J-pop melodies. Read my original review here.Falsettos – Six