The FOGPAK series of compilations always offer a great intro to rising electronic producers in Japan (and recently, abroad). They also tend to be overwhelming, packed with songs and producers, often breezing past two dozen in total. Yet the size of the latest FOGPAK, the 13th in the series, sees a nice drop to 11 songs total, without a drop in quality. It starts off with a nice summer number via Loopcoda’s “Jellyfish Drop,” which uses (Vocaloid I’m pretty sure, but I’ve been off before) vocal samples and big bubbly synths to create a warm number that sets this one off on a bright note. DJ Obake follows it up with one of the hardest-hitting numbers he’s ever done (complete with Mactalk), while from there we get a woozy bouncer from Chanbe and an appearance from poemcore artist owtn. It even ends with a rap number via NO.A, a nice reminder of how all-over-the-place FOGPAK can be. Get it here, or listen below.
Starting today, we are starting a new monthly feature, where we highlight some of the music that somehow didn’t get attention during the prior month. A lot catches our attention, but for various reasons (mainly, me being sleepy) doesn’t get the attention it deserves. This new feature will hopefully at least put a tiny light on things worthy of far brighter spotlights.
– The best act I saw at this year’s Fuji Rock Festival was group_inou, a duo who incorporate elements of rap music into their sound even though they don’t consider themselves rappers. It makes sense — this article I wrote for the Japan Times about a new wave of women rappers is missing one thing, which is how group_inou are every bit as influential on this group as Halcali, a fact driven into my skull while Suiyoubi No Campanella was tweeting about the pair’s Fuji set. Without diving into histrionics, few groups in Japan…and honestly, beyond…sounds as urgent as group_inou, who seem like they need to gesticulate and create woozy electro beats or they would just die.
They released a new album this month, and “Eye” serves as a wonderful first insight into it. It’s an emotional number highlighted by the moments where group_inou just let it rip (rapper cp screams only once…but he makes it count). Few artists are doing what these two are, and this (above) is a reminder of just how special they are.
– Ykiki Beat are getting a pretty big push into the mainstream sphere following the release of their debut album When The World Is Wide. I’ve found the music the Ykiki Beat project makes (at least in light of an opportunity to jump up the ladder) to be hit or miss, a bit too polished especially when compared to the far more intriguing rock the lead singer makes with his other band DYGLW. But “The Running” finds a lane the band does well in — slow-burning numbers seemingly built for a festival audience to sway back and forth to before kind of hopping along. If you are going to shoot big, sound big. Listen above.
– Virgin Babylon Records is celebrating five years of life in a big way — they’ve released a 50-song compilation titled One Minute Older, loaded up with great Japanese acts. There’s a lot of songs to take in — a few familiar names include World’s End Girlfriend, mus.hiba, Smany, De De Mouse and many more. Right now, you can hear samples of each song here, though we encourage you to shell out the $11 to hear it all.
– Some artists stumble across one amazing idea, milk it for an album and leave enough of a legacy from that. Others are incredibly consistent, spending decades releasing solid — but never show-stealing — music. Towa Tei falls into the latter category, to the point where writing about him in a non-introductory context (so uhhhhh remember Deeee-Lite) feels boring. Yet dude keeps pumping out wonderful electro-pop like “Luv Pandemic,” a track featuring the likes of Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi (those last two guys are 2/3rd of Yellow Magic Orchestra), Keigo Oyamada (aka Cornelius), Leo Imai and Yuka Mizuhara (sister to another Tei go-to). So yeah…hell of a guest list, but the song delivers with a simplistic (so many repeated syllables) but catchy structure. Listen above.
One of the characteristics that has made Zushi project Half Mile Beach Group stand out in 2015 has been their approach to singing. On windswept numbers “Yankee” and “Twilight,” the voices at the center of the songs have been glazed with electronics, giving them an unearthly edge. New number “Baobab” takes it even further — the singing doesn’t even result in any (clear) words, but rather a buzzing that functions more as a layer. It works, though the guitar playing and tropical touches lurking in the background ultimately carry the song furthest, even when they get unsettling. Listen above.
Six-piece Lucky Kilimanjaro seem like a group poised to breakthrough to a weird level of mainstream notability, where an outfit can get decent placement at Tower Records and have concerts promoted above a convenience store ticket machine, but still be virtually unknown. Spurred by Japan’s massive gulf between top-level acts and legit indie artists, a weird middle level where bands that sit on major labels and make ostensibly pop-sounding music while still being far from recognizable by most. Lucky Kilimanjaro create electro-pop in a similar style to eventual Yuki collaborators Give Me Wallets, with a little pep bringing to mind contemporaries Shiggy Jr. (who exist at the point I imagine Lucky Kilimanjaro can conceivably reach…but not surpass). They are on their way, having released an indie album and actually catching the eye of Rockin’ On (with a pretty boring song), though it’s with recent number “SuperStar” that they really make the case they deserve it.
“SuperStar” finds the group’s lead singer doing his best Thomas Mars impersonation and the band going all in on hookiness. It’s a whirring number, one that knows the verses should be good but ultimately be building towards something big. The singing does all the build-up, hinting at a little drama before taking off come the chorus, repeating the title like if he says it enough it might come true. They make space for a dizzying synth solo (and a guitar bit too, though the prior always beats the latter) before doing it all over again. The rest of their recent Full Color mini-album actually sounds a touch better (only samples though!) but “SuperStar” stands out as the big direct stab at winning over a crowd, and it does its job well. Listen above.
Not long ago, the duo of AZUpubschool and singer (Update: and producer! She’s every bit as prodigious a producer as a vocalist, having made songs for Yun*Chi and surely having input into this. Five seconds of research would have shown me this, and now my ass is out, sorry about that!) Coris were getting goofily cute and slicing up kiwi ghosts in the charming “Kiwi no Uta.” It was silly (and catchy) fun, but the new two song collection Kagerou Matsuri shows the duo hitting on all the potential the Kiwi project has been hinting at this year. The songs make good on the title (“matsuri” referring to summer festivals held in Japan), managing to be both sweltering and celebratory. “Iki Michi” starts as a piano number before a synth that sounds like cicadas chirping off enters, and the song picks up the pace. It’s meant to capture the rush of walking to a street festival, the song’s heart practically bursting as melodies inspired by matsuri dances emerge.
The stunner, though, is “Hanabi.” It’s a dizzying electronic number that never really slows down as much as finds a way to get Coris into the mix seamlessly. It takes cues from Jersey Club and the sugar pop of artists such as Tomggg (while also adding some character by working in samples of countryside staples such as frogs and summer fireworks, the latter serving almost as the song’s climax), but Kiwi merge all of these ideas together into something all their own. It’s the most heart-racing moment from a group who specializes in capturing anticipation. Listen above.