40. The Telephones “Kiss Me, Love Me, Kiss Me”
The video tries to trick you into thinking The Telephones remain the same attention-rattled guys as before, the type of band who would make finger puppets the big draw of their clip. “Kiss Me, Love Me, Kiss Me” the song, though, finds the group getting a bit more serious as they get their Hot Fuss on. The driving melody gets showered in synths before hitting an anthemic chorus like a certain band of guys from Las Vegas used to do it, though The Telephones handles themselves far less stiffly than The Killers ever did.
39. The Brixton Academy “In My Arms”
“In My Arms” starts simply enough, The Brixton Academy doing the 80s retro pop they’ve mastered by this point to a tee. The first chorus hints at something a little deeper though – the vocals become a little more hurried and desperate, the cries of “it’s true” eventually being stretched out just a little too hysterically. The song returns to shuffling it’s feet until just after the second chorus…a glowing bridge gives way to that voice again, but this time he’s completely lost it. “All I want is your touch!” he intones, as synths prop him front and center like a spotlight. “Words don’t come, words don’t come,” and now he’s completely elevated above “In My Arms'” original New Wave trappings, thrown into a personal frenzy. The voice cracks, and fittingly enough the song ends with some lonely ooohing. A guitar plays us out.
38. Wednesday “Why You Love Me”
The Bawdies moved up national music charts using melodies jacked from the 1950s and a lead singer who barks like Wolfman Jack after a cigarette break. For my jukebox money, though, Wednesday should have been the band crash-landing the Oricon and nabbing television spots. This Osaka trio make retro-ish music that doesn’t need the novelty of a gravel-throated singer to sell (errrrr, maybe not sell). “Why You Love Me” sounds like one big chorus. More impressively, Wednesday know how to write some solid lyrics. Despite the prom melody, “Why You Love Me” isn’t explaining as much as it’s asking, the central character questioning why his significant other actually sticks around with them. It’s moonlit rock hiding serious self-doubt. Way better than vague “c’mon, rock!” slogans.t t
37. Metrotune “Casio Beach”
Chillwave finally made land in Japan this year, the still-vague sub-genre gaining in popularity as more and more “chilled out” groups using faded family photos for press shots came out of the woodwork. Metrotune ironically owes chillwave for helping the song “Casio Beach” go semi-viral despite the tune in the blog-spotlight almost seeming like a gentle poke at the genre. The title alone sums up the aesthetic of 60 percent of chillwave songs and Metrotune deliver on it literally – there are outdated keyboards and the sound of waves rolling into the shore can be clearly heard. This isn’t some cheap Hipster Runoff wannabe though…”Casio Beach” belongs in the same category of pre-chill stuff put out by Nite Jewel and Dam-Funk, artists who took the sounds of the 80s and didn’t rely on the same nostalgia-shield keeping Hot Topic in business to present their music. This might sound retro, but it’s distinctly now.
36. Cubismo Grafico Five “Life Is Like A Season”
In which Cubismo Grafico stumbles across what might be his catchiest melody every by simply embracing surf rock and refusing to relent when he realizes just how good it sounds.
35. Quarta 330 & LV “Hylo”
The HyperDub seal of approval might tip you off, but I’ll back this blippy little track as Japan’s top dubstep tune of the year. Quarta 330’s use of fuzzy 8-bit synth hits lend “Hylo” a sense of color most people wouldn’t associate with dubstep…unless graffiti sprayed across a bleak slab of concrete counts as “color.” George Bass of Coke Machine Glow nails it in his review of the song (link below) when he says it’s great at helping “convert newcomers to the label.” “Hylo” carries all the essential traits of the genre but in a candy-coated package bound to guide you into slightly grimier places.
34. √thumm “Harukami”
√thumm’s second album featured many better songs, but “Harukami” stands out for being such a radical departure for a band who up to this point made hyperactive, Perfume-inspired dance-pop unafraid to splash vocal manipulation over their songs. You see, “Harukami” is a legitimate ballad. Like, I’m pretty sure it actually does soundtrack a Japanese drama somewhere and if it doesn’t some guy at NHK should be seeking out a copy of Yamatopia right now if they want a nice Christmas bonus. √thumm just nail this…the pace moves just right and they never give in to the classic J-ballad screw-up of overloading the song. Critically, the trio also don’t forget where they came from, allowing the vocals to remain swamped in the vocal effect they deploy oh so well. And when “Harukami” reaches it’s perfect climax, well, I can picture the end credits already.
33. Miila And The Geeks “Cigarette And Water”
Strangely enough one of the artist’s I first really thought about during the infancy of this here blog was twee-crunk duo Love And Hates. That adjective alone paints them as a bad joke…and they sort of are except much better than “bad.” Much to my thrill during those early days…when I hunted down interesting Japanese bands with the same ferocity of a hipster stockpiling 4Loko…I learned Love And Hates served as a fun side group for two artists. One of them, HNC, looked like the powerhouse of the two, as she had a solid back catalog of music plus a new LP in 2009 that sounded solid and featured some absolutely attention-demanding moments. I felt pretty confident in my opinion when I saw HNC live at Flake Records in Osaka…during that show the other half of Love And Hates Miila mostly played the role of backing musician.
This year saw HNC take a well-earned break…and Miila metaphorically rip my larynx out as she released jawdropping stuff. The Valentine’s Day gift “Give Me A Chocolate,” with it’s Pixies’ shuffle, wowed early in the year, but it’s later cut “Cigarette And Water” that solidifies Miila as independently amazing and me as a total jackass. Joined by The Geeks, she shreds through a pulverizing garage-rock tune in just under three minutes while working in a bonkers saxophone freak-out. It’s deceptively sweet given Miila’s straight-faced vocals, but the deeper you trudge into “Cigarette” the more grim the environment becomes…in the best way possible. Last year, HNC proved herself to be the person who knew how to demolish an old building. In 2010 Miila showed she’s the bulldozer.
32. Shintaro Katagiri “Nutcracker”
Screw objectivity here for a second and let me just say…I love Earthbound. I stopped playing video games save for an occasional dip into old NBA Jam via a friend’s Wii…yet at some point in the past calendar year I found time to download the entire Earthbound soundtrack. Dare I say, it might be one of the best video game soundtracks ever composed, quirky but surprisingly catchy. Shintaro Katagiri seems like a similar Super-Nintendo-addled young man, who not only got his hands on the Earthbound soundtrack but decided to base his musical style around that RPG. That’s a little unfair…Katagiri’s “Nutcracker” and most of the other tracks he has featured online bare a resemblance to the frenzied music of Cornelius…but the main reason “Nutcracker” lands on this list is because he went and made a perfect Earthbound song and I’m completely enamored by it. Sure, this might not be far removed from naming a Harry Potter fanfic one of the best short stories of the year…but allow me this one instance of nostalgia trumping mind.
31. Kaela Kimura “Ring A Ding Dong”
Crazy Frog can finally be rubbed out…and Kaela Kimura killed him.
The realm of mobile phone answering noises has long been a dead zone of artistic merit. “Ringtone rap” still stands as one of the biggest insults in the hip-hop game, while nobody thinks hearing ten seconds of a hook constitutes a solid listening experience. A lot of this evil should be credited to Crazy Frog, the ringtone turned pop sensation that haunted the world at various points last decade. He managed to land on the top of the charts in England with “music” more grating than a thousand motorcycles blaring at once that came to be as a ringtone so annoying I like to think most people downloaded it to force themselves to answer the damn phone as quickly as possible. As an American youth my experience with Crazy Frog wasn’t nearly as severe…he mostly popped up in commercials shilling ringtones between episodes of South Park, his penis cleverly hidden from sight in the middle of the Bush years…but even I recognized as a pimply, anti-social 17-year-old kid how fucking terrible he was.
“Ring A Ding Dong” stepped into the world via a similar situation…the song debuted as part of a Kimura-featuring promotion by a Japanese cell phone provider. The opening lines and chorus are, in fact, the titular phrase, repeated in such a way as to…gasp!…sound exactly like a ringtone. Yet Kimura flips the script on Crazy Frog…whereas that started out as a phone noise that somehow mutated into a chart topper, Kimura embraces the onomatopoeia of the device and builds a song around it. “Ring A Ding Dong” easily ends the year as the most annoying J-Pop song of the year…that chorus…but also as a marvelously annoying one. Check the shuffling beat or the way Kimura handles her business on the verses or how this single doesn’t take it’s self too seriously, embracing both what most people imagine J-Pop to sound like (cheesy dance music) and goofy musicals. Oh and…that chorus. I couldn’t think it would happen since I first saw that penis-less amphibian, but Kaela Kimura’s turned the ringtone into something catchy as hell.
Also, “Ring A Ding Dong” led to one of the cutest cover videos I saw all year. Set phazers to “dawwwwww.”