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New blackglassG: “Common Story” EP

The best releases on NC4K have a kind of out-of-body vibe going for them, with the sounds making up their dance tracks feeling just a little hazy and untethered. That’s present on blackglassG’s Common Story EP, where the wooziness comes across subtly and in a way where the fun never gets cancelled out. The title track does this best of all, with all kinds of sounds crossing paths — bass, guitar, glassy percussion being just some of what comes through — but everything working just right although it all sounds a step off, too. Get it here, or listen below.

New Xinlisupreme: “J-Pop”

So far in 2019, there have been two prominent J-pop songs about J-pop itself, at least to some degrees. Teenager SASUKE practically gives the industry an entire pep talk with a song going to great lengths to tell you J-pop will never end (raising the stakes significantly with a line about how “Japanese people will also never end.” Long-running pop group Arashi, meanwhile, finally were allowed access to the internet to push “Turning Up,” a surprisingly bouncy bit of afternoon dance pop. The most memorable line, though, comes at the hook, with Arashi singing “turning up with the J-pop.” It’s weird seeing this industry now trumpet itself so loudly, trying to channel some enthusiasm out of mid air.

Xinlisupreme’s “J-Pop” comes at an interesting moment. It isn’t about J-pop proper, but really about celebrating the “feeling when I first plugged a distortion effects unit into a guitar and the music played from an amplifier,” according to an email sent to me ahead of the song’s release. Rather than embrace the noisy style of last year’s I Am Not Shinzo Abe, Xinlisupreme opts for a more disorienting mish-mash of sound, featuring Mac-speak-like English discussing the grim economic realities of Japan to life as a hikikomori, with Japanese speaking brushing by too. The music is sparse, barely there, more like a mist letting all these combating thoughts float around, with only a few harsher moments popping up for a few seconds to pull people out. It isn’t a direct celebration of music or even a critique, but rather the experience of wrestling with multiple thoughts at once and trying to piece something together from it. It’s complicated, and that’s way more real than any trumpeting. Get it here, or listen below.

Higher Than The Stars: Belinda May’s “Everyday In Love”

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are calling it a day! Whatever SoundCloud rapper playing around with J-pop ideas or weirdo electronic texture lover captures my attention, indie-pop is always going to be foundational for me (can’t shake those teenage years!) and this was a group hitting on that feeling even as adolescence zoomed out of view. They also are up there with The Drums and Mac DeMarco as having this huge impact on the Japanese indie community. Indie-pop has never been lacking in the country — like shoegaze, it will never vanish from the musical DNA here — but The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart offered an entry point for a new generation of kids looking to make rock with a tender side.

Nagoya group Belinda May cite them as a major influence, and “Everyday In Love” makes that reference point all the more clear. It’s a jaunty number skipping ahead and peppered by melancholy lyrics that never tip into pure sadness but hide something complicated. That’s not exclusive to The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, but “Everyday In Love” does feature plenty of connecting tissue to that group, and serves as a reminder that their influence will carry on going forward. Listen above.

New Yunovation: “Hogaraka Ni”

On the one hand — it remains incredible how much Yunovation can pull off with a melodica. The Osaka artist’s calling card is her proficiency with the instrument, and first album Hogaraka Ni shows just how deft she can be with something most people view as a toy foisted on easily distracted pre-schoolers. “Roki Store” remains a sunny-day charmer featuring a skippy melody refusing to settle down, while “Town Fair” pairs her melodica notes up with a stroll-ready beat and some guitar splashes to create something a touch more reflective in its emotions. Best of all is “Nanba Night Out,” where the instrument manages to capture all the ups and downs of an all nighter when matched up against some swift electronics.

On the other hand though — Yunovation is so much more. Last year she revealed loftier ambitions via one of the year’s stronger outright pop offerings, with her singing pushed right to the center. Hogaraka Ni builds on this, with one of the first sounds coming through on the album being her own voice talking about the sky. She even strips down “Aruteido Aru” so that her words play a more prominent role, replacing the hop-scotch rhythm of the original with an airy electronic backdrop unfolding at a slower speed. It’s a risk — especially considering how fantastic the original recording was — but she makes it work, revealing a new perspective on the song while also showing she can hold her own.

Both sides, though, are connected by Yunovation’s love for music. Hogaraka Ni is an album focused mostly on celebrating sound itself, with the words appearing on “Constant T” and “Wannasing” offering odes to the feeling having music as personal safety blanket or vessel for expression brings on. Though even the ones focused on just her melodica carry the same vibe, with her entire approach here being so upbeat as to cut through any of the cynicism the modern music landscape can bring on. Get it here, or listen below.

New TEMPLIME And Hoshimiya Toto: “pureness”

I’m not sure how many more words I can pull out of my brain to praise “Take Me Out,” the nervous centerpiece of the pureness EP and a huge breakthrough for everyone involved in this song. It’s tough to capture this fizzy moment playing out inside somebody before anything happens in music, especially when a certain sense of melancholy underlines the whole thing. TEMPLIME and Hoshimiya Toto nail it though, creating something with plenty of energy but constantly turning thoughts over in its head. Song of the year contender!

The rest of the EP doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Take Me Out,” but features an uptempo opening track that is more in line with the colorful garage TEMPLIME were making prior to this. Then you have one very lovely swerve in “Eraser” which finds all three players…creating an indie-pop song? It does reveal that their galloping Technicolor dance music features plenty of elements of the twee-er side of life, though it still comes as a welcome curve. Get it here, or listen below.