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New Paellas: “Horizon”

First off, let’s acknowledge how strange it is to see Paellas prepping for an album on Universal Music. Perhaps I’m just getting weepy with this blog’s tenth anniversary coming in the near future, but seeing them go from playing 4 a.m. at a tiny Shibuya venue to this is pretty cool!

Paellas have locked on to a very specific groove at this point in their existence, and “Horizon” polishes it up ever so slightly as the spotlight widens around them. This one slinks ahead on sparse guitar and bass, letting a little keyboard fanfare sneak in to tease brighter vibes. The band though are still inverting the whole Suchmos-inspired “new city pop” sound, switching out chill Kanagawa vibes in favor of after-Midnight Shibuya bummers. It continues to work well, and leaning in as they prep for new ears is a smart move. Listen above.

Choppy Waters: Akitoshi Ito’s “Waves”

Maybe one day I’ll indulge myself and make a hierarchy of things in music that just get me going, but pretty high up on that list would be “singing run through electronic/digital filters and/or other technology to make it sound less human (or, at least, more interesting). New Sheena Ringo…great the moment she starts singing and it comes out like a glitching text-to-talk program! Singer/songwriter Akitoshi Ito manages something similar with new song “Waves,” which also doubles as another example of how far genre walls have fallen for Japanese artists for better and for worse. This one moves from acoustic guitar melodies to a wordless stretch of beats and distorted voices, a move that could have been a misfire if it sounded more polished, but here has a roughness that gives a nice edge to the song (and works with the…wait for it…electric guitar solo that serves as a bridge). On top of all that, Ito works with a sing-talk-rap style run through a thick layer of Auto-tune. That’s a lot for one song, but leaning into all of it (especially that sweet, sweet Auto-tune) makes it work. Listen above.

No Time To Chill: Yuri’s “Nijuuichi Seiki No Rinri”

While I respect how so much music in the digital-and-streaming age can help people focus or get various chores done, I’m also a little hesitant of how frequently songs simply become background music. Besides often being boring, it just feels like a cheap approach to art, to reduce it to room filler. Yuri’s Nijuuichi Seiki No Rinri doesn’t allow listeners to drift off, because every track here moves in way demanding attention. This comes close to being a beat tape, underlined by the two guests here being rappers (including Tamana Ramen on . But these aren’t songs to do homework too. Opener “Kyou Mimei” matches bell chimes with pleasant electronic notes…before letting clanging percussion rattle off in the back, disrupting the dream-like state Yuri initially creates. This ever-present disconnect between the relaxing and ruptured proves to be the album’s strength, with numbers like “Access” not even settling into a beat structure, but shooting off all over from rhythmic to uneasy. Get it here, or listen below.

Into The Move: Yukio Nohara Featuring Pee. J Anderson “Floresta”

Yukio Nohara teams up with Pee. J Anderson for an understated disco cut. Nothing too complex with this one — the pair start simple with a beat and a bass line, slowly adding a few other elements. Yet they never go overboard with it, as the bulk of “Floresta” revolves around the same two pieces that start the song off, just explored in different ways. From that, the pair construct a bouncy dance track. Listen below, or get it here.

New Okinawa Electric Girl Saya X AX: “Chastity”

Noise can be escape, but it can also be confining. Early on, it feels like the latest from Okinawa Electric Girl Saya and AX might go too hard on the intense stuff. “Red Noise” and “Vacuum” lean into feedback, creating these blasts that would fit at home in any “Japanoise” show going down at an underground club. But it also feels like a lot, and a whole album of this onslaught might be better as an idea than a listen. Saya, however, mixes in plenty of other ideas alongside the harshness. She creates steely beats bordering on the industrial on the physical “Saya Goes To The City” while she conjures up mirage EDM for the sweltering “Heat Haze.”

The biggest revelation here is how well Saya works with others. CRZKNY stops by to add some ominous beats to the noise on the apocalyptic “Love Machine,” while Foodman lays down an on-brand off-kilter beat for her to sing over on “O.K.N.W.” The highlight comes in collaboration with Soejima Takuma, the team creating a glassy and breathy electronic number late that is a total departure from the noise around it. Yet all this variety only makes those passages of aggression feel so much more liberating. Get it here, or listen below.