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Category Archives: J-Pop

FAKY, Yup’in And FEMM Come Together To Form FAMM’IN, Release “Circle,” Break My Mind

Let’s just lay this one out in text first — combining Avex artists FAKY, Yup’in and FEMM into one special unit should result in something totally average given the pedigree of the individual acts involved. FAKY and Yup’in have had their moments, but overall neither artist is the sort you get worked up about in any capacity. FEMM…well, FEMM are a bit more divisive, as plenty of people love the mannequin-themed duo’s jarring electro-pop. I’m not one of them though, and feel like most of their approach works better as cynical .GIF files than music. So put the three together and…I don’t know, a try-hard number about being young and having a good time and bleating EDM synths?

So what the fuck is this??? The group going by FAMM’IN shared their song “Circle” yesterday, and it is a nearly seven-minute-long meditation full of Auto-tune gurgles and traditional Japanese instrumentation. It has something resembling a drop, if a drop was imagined after hours of misogi. The lyrics zoom away from usual topics in favor of koan-like pondering about the circular nature of life. This from a group featuring a duo who once compared themselves to Shane Victorino.

Part of me feels drawn in by the simple existence of this — the sprawling nature of a mega-label like Avex allows for all sorts of acts who disrupt the notion that J-pop is a sterile, unchanging thing (see you Oomori Seiko, what’s up BiS). But this…look, using words like “weird” in relation to J-pop always smells suspicious, but a label taking three acts who primarily exist to make high-energy pop and letting them create a slow-motion cut slamming trap up against gagaku samples is…unexpected. The press release calls this “Japanese trap,” and that is underselling it fiercely.

I initially was worried this seems so cool because of how unexpected it is — do I like this because of the music, or because Avex found the least expected way to utilize these three? Well, this has been on loop all morning, and I’m just floored by everything going on here — how this manages to link traditional sounds with modern styles without sounding like a total cheese pit, and how it does that while still sound like mist in the air. This is as great a shock as you can ask for. Listen above.

New Perfume: “Flash”

Sharing a “short version” of anything feels like cheating…why not just wait a week until the full video hits YouTube…but we’ve bent the rules for Perfume before so why deviate from that path. “Flash” is the first non-single to emerge in the run-up to Cosmic Explorer, out worldwide in about two weeks, and finds the group bridging the gap between the electro-pop they’ve long been associated with and global EDM tendencies (this has something resembling a build-drop). It isn’t the festival-sized drama of “Pick Me Up,” but rather a more elegant mid point between electronic styles, one that Yasutaka Nakata has been trying to bridge…with various levels of success…since 2012. Listen above.

Future Shock: Daichi Miura’s “Cry & Fight”

Now, I’m not a brave enough soul to say the mainstream J-pop scene has undergone a paradigm shift over the last two years — save for the ongoing band boom, the Johnny’s projects and middle-of-the-road idol groups of the country continue to soak up way too much space for music that is an afterthought — but it has gotten a lot more interesting. Thanks fragmentation of audiences! A lot of wonky artists who would be indie-sideshows just a few years ago — seriously, 2010/2011/2012 was just all idols all the time — are starting to make inroads onto national TV and major labels. Again, plenty of garbage still gets way too much attention, but a lot of risks are also starting to get in the limelight (and let’s raise the stakes…J-pop is now at least as interesting as Western pop…I mean, come on).

Part of the intrigue is playing out at the production level. This isn’t entirely new — during the idol-boom days, the best thing to come about was more left-field producers getting a chance to make music for groups (because they were a cheap option for labels) and sort of Trojan Horse their way in to mainstream consciousness. Plenty of great artists got shine because of this…but the flaw in the system was the idol-boom relied on hardcore pockets of fans. They were reaching new ears…but weren’t expanding beyond the die hard types. Tofubeats made plenty of great songs for Lyrical School, but he’s only taken off…on his own. But now producers with ideas you wouldn’t expect from a J-pop major label are starting to get more visible work — Broken Haze helped service Sky-Hi’s “Limo,” and now Seiho is handling production for Daichi Miura’s “Cry & Fight.”

I know only the most basic info about Daichi Miura…he’s from Okinawa, he’s an artist on the rise and his previous singles run from pretty solid to fake-ass Hoshino Gen YouTube-core. I’m writing about “Cry & Fight” because Seiho handles the production. And overall, I like what’s happening here. The opening piano bits are straight out of the David Guetta playbook and not so sure about the trap breakdowns, but I also am not naive enough to know Miura is a pop star on the rise, and he can’t be singing over “Wet Asphalt.” And plenty of Seiho comes through — the nervy tempo changes, the way the hook bends in to itself, the song’s inability to sit still at any point, THAT WATER DROP SOUND. And those tight bass contortions in the final leg, I would not have imagined an Avex song sounding like the inside of Ochiai Soup in 2013.

J-pop in 2016 is…interesting, in every sense of the word. Listen above.

Twisted Sun: Toyomu Rearranges Hoshino Gen’s Yellow Dancer


Hoshino Gen had a breakout year in 2015, his single “Sun” racking up millions of YouTube views and exposing the singer (and leader of the band Sakerock) to a huge audience, culminating in him earning a spot on NHK’s Kohaku music show (Hoshino, don’t look at the ratings!). I’ve always thought his music touches on some great sonic ideas…but he always finds a way to immediately bury the goodwill. Take “Sun,” which features a nice enough disco bop and a great swooning section. It also features a chorus he got from a J-pop capsule machine, all momentum-killing and generally lame. I think there is a lot of good to work with…but somebody else should take a scalpel to it.

Kyoto electronic artists and co-founder of the label/party Quantizer Kyoto Toyomu did just that, as he sliced up Gen’s latest album Yellow Dancer and produced an album-worth of new sounds using the sunny J-pop singer’s original material. It doesn’t come off as a mean operation, but rather Toyomu dives in to the album to create something new from it. Some of his experiments yield what amount to (nice!) hip-hop beats, but this stands out for the surprises, such as how his take on “Sun” focuses solely on the second-long electro-distortion opening Gen’s. Elsewhere, he pulls out strobing dance songs and absorbing ambient passages, with a healthy dose of vaporwave touches worked in for good measure. The idea behind it is interesting, but what makes Toyomu’s work shine is how it works as its own thing, able to impress whether you care about Hoshino Gen or not. Listen below, or get it here.

New E-Girls: “Dance With Me Now!”

E-girls don’t make particularly daring music. They are a double-digit unit hanging off the EXILE family tree who make high-energy pop songs. The group resembles a traditional idol outfit such as Morning Musume — lots of members capable of being put into smaller groups (or, uh, coming from pre-existing outfits) and of being ushered onto a solo path if it looks possible — but one taking cues from the precision of the contemporary K-pop juggernaut, another place where originality hasn’t played a big part, but rather the ability to pick up established or steam-building sounds and engineer them into something different and (most importantly) catchy as hell.

“Dance With Me Now!” is factory-tight pop that burbles and booms, a song forcing a moment (the title isn’t a question or request, but a demand) which they then transform into a heart-racing bit of dance pop. Every inch of it is pieced together just right to underline the jittery excitement of a night at a club, all this fine tuning resulting in something that somehow sounds deeply human (see also: K-pop, Perfume, pretty much all top-notch pop songs). These sentences could be applied to pretty much any E-girls song at this point, but “Dance With Me Now!” manages one of the group’s most massive hooks yet — the titular phrase milked for all its worth, before they add some vocal fireworks to the fray (with some J-pop specific additions, such as being one minute too long). It isn’t particularly daring, but it’s a finely tuned and irresistible pop number, which is every bit as impressive. Listen above.