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Haruka Tominaga, Formerly Of Especia, Is Now HALLCA, Shares “Milky Way”

It would be a little silly to give Especia unearned influencer points for the state of Japanese pop music today…but the now-defunct group were way out ahead on the current city-pop-revival that has carved out space in the mainstream. And unlike a lot of the Tumblr-esque recycled moods of bands now scoring theme songs and nationwide tours — not to mention non-Japanese interpretations of the same thing — Especia approached it all from an actually creative angle by way of a pretty unique interpretation of vaporwave filtered by actual Bubble-Era signifiers.

But those days are over, and the members of Especia have all gone off to do other things. Haruka Tominaga recently returned as HALLCA, a new project that sees her reunite with sometimes-Espeica producer PellyColo for a lot of the songs shared thus far. Ahead of her first EP out this Wednesday, she shared “Milky Way,” a PellyColo number that leans a little bit on Especia nostalgia (aided by the producers interpretation of ’80s sounds…that guitar solo!). This is easy-going stuff, offering space for Tominaga to show off her voice, which drifts nicely through the space conjured up on this sparse number. Better numbers can be found on the EP — “Diamond” is the real push forward for her — but this is a solid number to soak in, and one that fulfills some longing for a time now gone. Listen above.

New Miii: “Vacillate”

Following up on this year’s tense, rollercoaster of an album Plateau, “Vacillate” finds Miii letting off a little more steam. There isn’t really a build or slow creep towards release — it bursts out with skippy percussion, accented by, uhhhh, some very British sounding vocal samples, which eventually skip over themselves en route to a bass freakout placed right in the middle of the proceedings. No rise and fall, no warning — “Vacillate” is Miii harnessing these disruptive sound and making one coherent piece from them, without any familiar drama. Get it here, or listen below.

New Mitsume: “Sedan”

For a band capable of such laid-back numbers, Mitsume’s music relies heavily on movement. Many of their songs chug along like a car doing the speed limit on the highway. “Sedan” almost takes this literally, with the title for one and references to just wanting to go…somewhere in the lyrics. But the best Mitsume numbers work in all sorts of longing and excitement into the cruise, capturing what it actually feels like to sit back and really roll thoughts around in your head. “Sedan”doesn’t reach “Esper” heights, but ends up a serviceable Mitsume number thanks to the backing vocals and the moment when everything rips open near the end. Listen above.

New Anna: Tonite

Big Love Records’ artist Anna hasn’t filled out her music anymore since last year’s sparse debut, but she’s gotten better at making all that room count on Tonite. The title track rattles forward, turning into something outright joyful when the drum hits gallop alongside the guitar just right, but all made a bit chillier by her singing, which give it some Chromatics-esque unease. Same goes for centerpiece “Cloud Dancer,” marked by skittery drum machine hits and a touch more melodic vocal. While it treads the same territory as Anna’s previous releases, it shows her feeling more at home in this space, and approaches something closer to what She Talks Silence did at the start of the decade. Get it here, or listen below.

Nostalgia Ultra: FNCY And Pan Pacific Playa

Whether because current tastes veer towards long-gone times that were significantly better than the current state of the world or because we are stuck in a algorithmic-dictated dystopia of “remember the ’80s?” sales pitches, nostalgia pretty much dominates large chunks of music communities around the world — including (especially?) in Japan. The past week has seen two of the more interesting takes on the past, one playing for mainstream listeners and the other gunning for weirder corners…but both at least doing it better. Let’s go with the prior first. The trio of G.Rina, Zen-La-Rock and Chinza Dopeness found success last year with “Seventh Heaven,” a bit of late ’80s pop-rap strut. They’ve gone and formed a new group called FNCY, and debut number “Aoiyoru” pretty much doubles down on what they established last year — down to a video set in another Asian country, tapping into a larger trend of Japanese artists kinda exoticizing countries nearby. All sorts of landmines can present themselves when digging into the past — but if you can pull it off well, it usually doesn’t matter. And they do! It is propelled by a good beat, and they tag-team in and out just right, building up to a sweet hook provided by G.Rina. Maybe a touch too aware, but hits all the right marks. Listen above.

For those seeking a more warped take on nostalgia, long-running collective Pan Pacific Playa delivers with the wonky Fuku To Tomi https​:​/​/​pushap​.​theshop​.​jp/ compilation. They get tagged with the throwback term mostly because of artists like BTB (here, BTB Tookou), who lean in on the talk box for easy remember-the-past points. But they also incorporate far weirder and more interesting artists, here highlighted by the neon bounce of Nou’s “Japan Splash,” or the easy-going tropical vibe of Palmstreet’s contribution. And then you get some real curveballs, like a manic bit of juke from Paisley Parks, or the malfunctioning electronic of KES’ number. Splashes of yesteryear come up — but they get offset by something far stranger. Get it here, or listen below.