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Gone Too Far: Yurufuwa Gang’s “Gra-Thef”

In general, the critical move away from “guilty pleasures” has probably been a good thing. People who are generally not obsessed with decimal-point scores and the inner workings of music content still use it but, as they always have, ultimately don’t care. Yet for writers, it has probably lead to more free writing and less posturing, all good things. But sometimes, I think clinging to the idea of guilt in liking something had some positives, like forcing you to think about just why you felt some sort of connection to the music.

Yurufuwa Gang set off all sorts of inner alarm bells, starting with the fact that their song “Gra-Thef” is a song inspired by Grand Theft Auto, as the video above hints at. The duo of Ryugo Ishida and Sophiee — with the bulk of their music produced by beatmaker Automactic — are joined by Lunv Loyal, and “Gra-Thef” is a joyfully goofy song, every voice just dunked in Auto-tune, from the first utterance of “bitch” onward. Automatic conjures up a gleeful woodwind-guided beat that adds to the vibe, and the whole thing teeters pretty close to that dangerous “too close to rap stereotypes” zone…but kinda skips above it, because they embrace it so much (gun shot sounds, beating up stuffed cops in the video) and make it sound so fun. It helps that the whole thing reminds me of Sicko Mobb.

This whole atmosphere extends to all of their music, from the automobile-centric jam “Fuckin Car” to the slow-mo come-on of “Dippin’ Shake,” anchored by a clever-enough metaphor that Yurufuwa Gang instantly turns to simile by just stating what they are on to. They put out one album earlier this year — coming out properly via Space Shower Music later this Spring — and it opens with a song sampling Cults, which had me on board from the get go. I have been listening to this a lot lately.

And here’s where the guilt comes in…am I an idiot for liking something that can get really stupid, but sounds so great? I’ve wrestled with this for the last few days, and have come away convinced that, yeah, it is sorta goofy, but that goofiness is part of what makes it so great…because a lot of the sillier details really just enhance the sense of fun Yurufuwa Gang embrace. And, despite whatever Hypebeast writer types up between Yeezy Boost cleaning sessions, most contemporary Japanese rap that gets any sort of media attention is joyless stuff, guys who found out about Future and became so focused on sounding like him that they forgot to import over any of the really joyful parts of his music (or, worse still, the guys who refuse to let 1992 be). Yurufuwa Gang don’t care, and just take the best elements of U.S. hip-hop and play around with it, creating something charming from it. Listen above.

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Sad Moves In The Dark: ELLEH’s “American Lover”

ELLEH is the new project from Bob (of Ice Cream Shout, Cloudy Busey and many more) and Satoru Teshima (fellow Japan-based blogger over at Lights And Music), and the unifying concept here is “sad boy disco.” The thrust of this thematic glue is the duo make music apt for those early morning hours (or late night ones, depending on perspective), when you are sleepy and maybe a bit wasted and probably dwelling on one too many romantic screw ups. But…you still want to try to dance it away, and the club is as inviting regardless of how much heartbreak is swimming around your head.

“American Lover” serves as a good intro to ELLEH’s driving creative force, a mid-tempo bouncer that finds Teshima ruminating over an old connection gone south, driving home the geographic edge of the song with a lot of references to “dollars” and “gold” (nothing says love in America like sweet, sweet capitalism), all delivered in a style that brings to mind Hotel Mexico. Pushing this forward is a persistent beat that keeps the song tethered to the dance floor…though, the little ripples and disruptions in the song hint at the heavy-eyelids of the protagonist. Listen above.

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New Ojaco: Head In The Clouds

We’ve been on a bit of a textural kick recently, tickled by music that aims for a sense of feel. Producer Ojaco has long been doing this sort of sound well, and his recently released Head In The Clouds album is one of his strongest collections yet. The trick lies in Ojaco’s ability to mix the dreamy with the tactile, clear from the start on “Vaguely,” which matches fuzzy piano notes and synths up against skittery drum patterns. This pattern repeats later on with “Phantom-Rom,” albeit with more video game tones, but which gets pushed in new directions on harsher cuts such as “Crime And Punishment.” And then there is highlight “communication.zip,” a flat out fun dance number with tropical hints, but is just a joyful little number full of twists and turns. Get it here, or listen below.

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New Mukuchi: “Kiekake No Gaitou”

There’s a lot of good stuff piled up in the Make Believe Melodies drafts folder (it is very disorganized), but the best place to start is with some pleasant seagazer music from Mukuchi. “Kiekake No Gaitou” is a light but charming number that is barely there, skittery beats and keyboard out of an old-timey, sort of faded ball game pushing it all forward. Mukuchi herself sings over it, in a calm voice that is less like a whisper and more like it is coming from the other side of the shore. Listen above.

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New Maho Littlebear: MLB

Been a while since Maho Littlebear shared new music, but she’s back with MLB, a four song rumbler of electro-pop. MLB finds the Kyoto creator laying down mid-tempo dance-pop music, sometimes unfolding at a jittery, almost creeping pace (opener “Want”) to moving at a more pop friendly pace (“Skippy” tells you what you need to know right in the title). Over any form goes her singing, delivered in monotone and across MLB offering an uneasy longing to every song. She works best when the sounds mesh perfectly with her delivery, as they do on standout “Lovely,” which pairs her vocals up with synths that just wooze out. Listen above.

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