By now, it isn’t news that Osaka’s 99Letters has expanded beyond the initial chiptune-fury of his early years towards something heading off in other directions too — he’s released whole albums of slightly uneasy house music, and has shown a stylistic hopping. Still, “Mind A” is the most relaxed I think I’ve heard the producer, at least in quite some time. It is an easy going number, one that sounds almost crystalline, save for some pecking going on in the back that adds the necessary strokes of tension. Yet even at its most fierce, it is simply a bounce to soak up. Listen above.
Calling it a “trend” might be a stretch, but something that has definitely appeared more in Japanese electronic music over the past year is an embrace of traditional sounds. This probably goes in cycles — it wasn’t long ago Omodaka was doing this merger incredibly well, and it has popped up at times since (Seiho, for example, has played around with it) — but it feels a bit more prevalent lately. Artists such as KiWi, Foodman and FAMM’IN have played around with older Japanese instrumentation, combining it with contemporary electronic sounds. Yunomi has toyed around with it a bit recently too — the Hokkaido project’s recent work with Happy Kuru Kuru featured traditional touches, and now comes “Oedo Controller,” which makes them even more prominent. Featuring artist Toriena, “Oedo Controller” also brings in 8-bit sounds, an EDM-festival-ready drop and Technicolor syth, but it’s the traditional touches — from specific instruments to the festival-style rhythm of the chorus — that really sticks out. Listen above.
Today, Seiho’s new album Collapse comes out globally via LA label Leaving Records. It’s a big moment for an artist who, five years ago, was playing sets in small underground clubs in Osaka and launching his own record imprint. Yet Collapse isn’t a stab at crowd pleasing dance, but rather an album jumping from energetic numbers to more abstract passages. All credit to Seiho — this will be his biggest release to date, with the potential to reach the most people, and he’s making something challenging and not willing to settle. (Though, hey, he has popoutlets too, which helps)
“The Vase” highlights Collapse’s less immediate side. It is a jazz-accented passage featuring very little percussion — a few stray beats and clangs pop up, but it never settles into anything — featuring some garbled voices underneath and plenty of space. It works well with the video (above), but as just music, it finds Seiho actually turning towards his past a bit — in recent years he’s gotten attention for anthemic cuts, but here he takes cues from his really early work, displayed most prominently on his 2012 album Mercury. That full-length, his first, had clear jazz influences, which pop up frequently on Collapse — albeit in far more fractured ways, as “The Vase” shows. Listen above.
The past year has seen so many of the vaunted indie bands of the last few years call it a day, I’m not on a perpetual watch for the next group who used to play 2:30 a.m. sets in Shibuya in 2013 to call it quits (and continue to confirm I’m getting old). Well, thank goodness Mitsume are still going strong. They have a new album out in early June titled A Long Day and have shared the video for opener “Akogare,” a breezy but yearning number where every element clicks together just right, and the bed of singing backing up the main vocals make it all the more sweet. Listen above.
Cemetery is the project of Kota Watanabe, who plays with (or is associated with, at least) the Ariel-Pink-worshipping project Batman Winks. Yet, as demonstrated on “Vit,” Cemetery takes its time to establish an unsettling vibe. The song wisps forward, a persistent beat and vocal samples of a conversation lurking just underneath. It isn’t quite there in making the tension stick — “Vit” is uneasy, but its sonic steadfastness makes it more of an atmospheric creep than one going further — but is an enveloping number all the same. Listen above