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New Haruno: Filia

It’s startling how sweet the singing on Haruno’s first full-length album Filia can sound. Last year’s lovely Flower’s Laugh had similarly pretty vocals, but those came courtesy of a real human — this time around, Haruno uses Vocaloid technology for all ten songs here. Yet despite (or, maybe because of) a visible electric hum surrounding every syllable, the voice on Filia flows just right with the dreamy and often understated music around it, doing enough to blend in while also disrupting my own theory that synthesized singing works best in busy electro-pop. Filia is delicate but never brittle, opener “In Between” skipping off and offering one of the most upbeat moments here. Usually, Haruno constructs spacier songs, like the heartbeat-paced “Room” or piano-meets-vinyl-crackle daydream of “Deep Coma.” They are thoughtful, melancholy songs with a slight tension thanks to those digi voices. And Filia builds up to a dizzying climax, highlighted by the closing double punch of “Paradise In Lost” and “Shien.” Get it here, or listen below.

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New Frasco: “Dramatic”

Duo Frasco keep up their prolific pace in 2018 with “Dramatic,” their latest digital single. And like the numbers before it, “Dramatic” finds them shifting things up ever so slightly, highlighting the pair’s ability to bring in various elements under a funk-pop umbrella. “Dramatic” features a pronounced electronic bounce, which gives it extra force than other Frasco songs from the last two months. Yet it also comes with a vocal delivery not far removed from what Etsuko Yakushimaru does, extending even to a word selection seemingly focused on sound over meaning. It all builds to a gooey hook giving way to some looser sections. Listen above.

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New Animal Hack: Gift

There is a blurriness to electronic duo Animal Hack’s new album Gift that helps it stand out a bit from other artists in the same zone as them. Their latest release features plenty of hallmarks of contemporary electronic music in Japan — see the big release of opener “Body,” the breezy portions of “Plastic Night” — but the edge feature something a bit more disorienting, a bit more deep-into-the-night-with-no-sleep. Animal Hack’s approach to playing around with vocal samples drives this feeling the most, as numbers such as “Letter” find voices smeared into one another, giving the song a disorienting atmosphere. Same goes for “Inside,” which sounds vaguely familiar (the sample is dancing on my mind, what is it!?) but gets tweaked enough to turn woozy. Best of all is “WIMM?,” a soft number interrupted by these jarring crashes and screams — it’s less about tension and more about just letting sound rip a song apart. Listen above.

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New Bighead Featuring Hatsune Miku: World Is Wide

Sapporo’s Bighead is one of the better producers in Japan going right now when it comes to creating flat-out electro-pop jams featuring Vocaloid singing. World Is Wide finds them in their comfort zone, utilizing the familiar digi-sing of Hatsune Miku to create energetic pop numbers. The music across these 11 songs features plenty of contemporary twists — see the bass squeals on the otherwise shimmering “Gold Coast” or the drops in “I’ll See You” — but Bighead’s greatest skill is an ability to craft really catchy music out of an instrument that often feels unnatural (and World Is Wide certainly has that musical uncanny valley, but Bighead makes the non-human English singing work in these songs well, everything working well in the busy musical backdrop). Just check the title track, a zippy affair among the year’s best dance-pop so far. Get it here, or listen below.

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Omoide Label And Bytedoll Records Present Shibuya-Kei Chiptune Cover Compilation

Video game-derived sounds appeared in the swirl that would eventually be called Shibuya-kei — while lots of attention (rightfully) goes to the style’s focus on the dustier corners of the record store, not-so-faded 8-bit sounds also popped up frequently, giving the style a nice splash of computer-age energy. Shibuya-Kei Chiptune Cover Compilation, then, isn’t a totally out of nowhere proposition — I mean, for something far more unexpected, try the Vocaloid cover set — but still offers a nice new angle on the scene. The chip-centric nature of this comp results in the emphasis falling on the melodies, both of how the artists here (Japanese and from abroad) approach it and reminding that, for all the textbook-ready analysis, Shibuya-kei’s biggest artists could write a damn good song. Due to some sort of copyright kerfluffle, you can’t buy this one, but you can stream it below.

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