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A Sweeter Escape: Nakanojojo And Toccoyaki’s “Kagami”

Nakanojojo and Toccoyaki exist in the same world as cotton-candy-bright dance-pop from the likes of Snail’s House, Yunomi, YUC’e and more. It extends beyond the fizzy, maximalist electronic pop both make, as they both share an interest in anime-as-cover-art and a general positivity flowing through their music. “Kagami” brings the two artists together, and the end result is a song highlighting all of the above (kinda), but standing out because of the small details. It’s a chipper number, all Mushroom-Kingdom keyboard and persistent beat, an upbeat backdrop for Nakanojojo’s singing (untouched by digital tools — which, in a song I want to call “post-Nakata,” is the key element that stops me). Lyrically, it’s a mix of fantasy and split emotion. This latter bit creates “Kagami’s” best moments of tension — although the words sometimes wade into overly positive territory, “Kagami” ultimately fixates on more downtrodden emotions, revealing something more conflicted then the music might lead on. And it’s small musical touches — that grinding sound that pops up here and there, the aforementioned non-filtered singing — that make the unease come through. Listen above.

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Something Off Trend: TAWINGS “Invisible” And “UTM”

Early on in 2018, Japanese bands have been having a good go of it internationally. This mainly comes via festivals and festivals that are part of gatherings that are really giant tech gabfests. The biggest name would be X Japan, set to appear at Coachella (same font size Django Django, congrats Yoshiki), yet the real movement is happening with younger groups. Kyoto’s Otoboke Beaver head to the desert too, while group’s like CHAI head to SXSW. One of the group’s also heading to Austin? Tokyo trio (formerly quartet) TAWINGS, who play scuzz-adjacent rock (but not too much) tipping into new wave. Their latest single came out earlier this month, and it establishes the group’s own sound within the group of bands heading to the States later this year. Which isn’t to say they are shifting the paradigm — plenty of bands in Tokyo have melded unsettling surf-rock guitar with monotone lyrics, they just couldn’t afford a flight to Texas — but they do it well, creating an unnerving atmosphere on “Invisible” (above) building up to a muted release that clashes well with the shambling around it. Better still is the basement lurch of “UTM,” which balances creepiness via its playing and something more poppy with the hook. Listen below.

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Trekkie Trax Teams Up With HAKAisDead Featuring Carpainter, Amps And More

Two Tokyo-based netlabels come together to start 2018 off with a bang — Trekkie Trax and HAKAisDEAD released Trekkie Trax x HAKAisDEAD, which loads up on songs from…well, artists associated with both digi-imprints. Like many compilation albums put out by either netlabel (or by the bulk of dance labels globally), it highlights a diverse array of electronic sounds showing the breadth of Tokyo’s current community. Unlike many, it features a charming intro that actually states this, with a Mac-talk-like voice telling you what you’ll hear, ending with “and whatever your favorite sounds.” From there, it’s a dive into a whole lot, from one of the swifter songs Carpainter has released in recent memory (the chipmunk-vocalled slide of “Rapid Jam”) to Amps offering up a smooth-and-fidgety number via “From The Bop.” The start of 2018 has been heavy on comps, so I’ve been writing something like this regularly, but it’s true…just dive in and find the track and artist that fits you. Get it here, or listen below.

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New Skip Club Orchestra: Vita Activa

Leave it to Japan’s juke scene to deliver an album inspired by Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition. Skip Club Orchestra’s latest — released on New Year’s Eve, making this (I think) the last 2017 collection I needed to catch up on — features 20 songs, all of them hovering right around the three minute mark. Although every song here is titled after the album itself — “an active life” — a sense of unease runs throughout most of SCO’s minimalist dance tracks. Some of these inclusions skitter and sound like electrical sockets sparking off. Of course, it’s this tension between physical and foreboding that defines a lot of our favorite juke producers in Japan, so if SCO wants to spend his leisure time making an album like this, go for it. Get it here, or listen below.

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Mixjam Teams With LANCHR For W – Western Japan Compilation Featuring Native Rapper, Black Lolita And More

Kansai’s music scene has witnessed all sorts of significant changes over the last decade, from the re-implementation of the fueiho laws to their subsequent phasing out a couple years ago, to the migration of many artists from Osaka to Tokyo because…well, trends in living. Yet the W – Western Japan Compilation made between rave-born label Mixjam and LANCHR reminds that for all the changes, a strong electronic scene supported by youth remains. The set collects songs from producers hailing from the region, playing out kind of like a Kansai-focused FOGPAK. Familiar names pop up — Kyoto’s Native Rapper delivers a nervy, 8-bit-tinged pop number with “Passion Fruit,” which also shines by sounding nothing like the Drake song, while Blacklolita and Batsu flex their harder-hitting side on the tracks they contribute. Still, the best part of this is the new artists you (well, me within the context of this paragraph) find. ENEMY’s “Digital Trip” sits somewhere between rumbling club fare and something fluffier, with these cotton-candy vocal flourishes hanging around, while Tomoyu approaches funkot on the giddy “Albion,” somehow fitting 2NE1 in there too. But as usual — just jump in and see what sticks with you. Listen above.

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