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And Now For Something Completely Different: Sumire Uesaka’s “Pop Team Epic”

If I have one huge glaring weakness when it comes to covering Japanese music and pop culture, it’s the fact I don’t watch much anime. I’d like to blame this on a lack of time, but that would be a lie — I managed to watch Paddington for the second time ever last night. I don’t know why! I always catch bits and pieces of new shows, and mostly put everything together via the internet. Anyway, I’m always behind on that (highly vital) section of pop culture, and it’s something I’m constantly trying to fix.

I did start watching Pop Team Epic when it landed on streaming services a couple weeks back, and it’s great. Some people call it “the dankmemes anime,” but really it’s a flurry of pop-culture references gone wild, with an element of trolling worked in. It’s a blast, and just as good is “Pop Team Epic,” the opening theme by Sumire Uesaka. It’s a slice of electro-pop throwback, channeling the buzzy days of 2008 when it looked like this whole digi-saturated style would take over. It didn’t, but leave it to the theme song of a referential anime to do a damn good interpretation for folks who like the sound of a human voice imagined by a computer more than actual human voices. It even comes complete with a harsher passage that would make the people who put Beautiful Techno together smile. Listen above.

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Outside Beats: Flux’s Rafflesia

Rap from Asia feels like one of those constantly percolating trends in Western media, frequently written about but never going that next step…always stuck in “four artists ready to break!” lists territory. Japanese artists have been in the same cycle too (although probably less than other artists across the continent, which is a different conversation), and any focus they get tends to be on singles, some very deserving in their goofy fun. Yet most of the interesting developments in Japan are happening on an album level, or at least from artists who use full-lengths as a way to explore myriad ideas. Something something people still buy CDs here, but also rappers such as Punpee (with Modern Times, the Japanese album I’ve seen top the most domestic best-of lists) and Yurufuwa Gang scored critically celebrated releases last year which were all over the place musically. It extends to gleeful acts like Sushiboys and Sleet Mage. It’s resulting in a lot of interesting ideas all over the place.

Flux’s Rafflesia does something on the netlabel level. Put out by the ever-omnivorous Omoide Label, it finds rapper and trackmaker Flux bouncing off a variety of sounds, resulting in a release that almost feels like a survey of popular sounds in Japanese rap today. Flux’s decision to recruit a wide variety of beatmakers goes a long way here — it’s why you can get something like the plinky-plonky “Swim” leading into a trap rumbler mimicking American hip-hop in “You Can’t Kill Me.” Flux glides over all these backdrops, though some better than others — his voice works better on the softer numbers, such as the piano-guided “Call Me Baby” or the more abstract “Yumeyumeyume,” than the Atlanta-inspired material. But it’s the inclusion of those moments that makes Rafflesia work as an album, offering a snapshot of many different styles, and underlining the experimentation and ambition guiding a lot of this music forward. Get it here, or listen below.

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New DJ Wildparty: Drive EP

Ahhhh, and here I was thinking everything from 2017 had been wrapped up.

DJ Wildparty routinely releases new music at Comiket events, and at the 2017 winter edition he offered up Drive, an EP finding the producer crafting some bright-day house music inspired by…well, it’s right there in the title. Wildparty’s own music tends to always be on the upbeat side, but sometimes more crushing than anything else. Not so with Drive, which is downright bright for most of its run, the only downcast moments coming from flashes of melancholy that creep in (and, hey, maybe that’s just my problem). Like the RGL release covered earlier today, Drive ties together nicely on one play, from the woozy stepping of “Wakeup” to the giddiness of “On The Way” and “Highway.” The climax, though, is “Sunshine,” a cathartic number that merges Wildparty’s usual love of maximalism with house music, everything swirling together to create a cathartic number between happiness and nostalgia (my mind drifts to M83’s “Run Into Flowers,” and if you told me Wildparty sampled part of it, I wouldn’t be shocked). Listen above.

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New RGL: Machine Love

This one’s billed as a single, but RGL’s Machine Love plays out like one large journey. The total playtime of these three tracks certainly helps with that feeling, as the latest from the Tokyo producer comes in at around 18 minutes. Just as crucial, though, is how this trio of tracks plays off of one another, each built from the same sonic material. “T2” gets assistance from Yebisu 303, and pairs drum machine clacks against funk splatters and a layer of acid squelches. These are the building blocks of Machine Love, turned into loose-limbed cosmic funk on centerpiece “LinnQ” and framed a touch more sinister on the late-night robo-mover “WQ456.” RGL has long made great tracks, but here’s a situation where he makes a set that flows together just right. Get it here, or listen below.

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New LLLL Featuring U-Pistol: “Falling”

Words have often drifted out of the dreamy electronic compositions of LLLL. Although their are plenty of songs from the Tokyo producer featuring singing obscured by an array of synths (or no words at all), a fair amount also have vocalists coming through clearly to up the emotional ante. “Falling,” though, features what might very well be the most emotionally naked the lyrics on an LLLL song have gotten. They come courtesy of U-Pistol (formerly Ulzzang Pistol), who offers some urgent and immediate words inspired by a rough 2017. Coupled with LLLL’s driving rhythms and, at one point, a guitar solo, this reckoning with depression becomes heightened, and gives “Falling” an extra rush, albeit an emotionally heavy one. Listen above.

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