I’m not a designer of any sort, so please enjoy this clip art.
Something that tends to happen with end-of-the-year lists is writers and publications end up creating narratives for the year that just unfolded. The dominant one for 2014 so far has been “what a horrible year,” which…fair enough, if you followed the news coming out of nearly any country. Yet a smaller, more musically relevant angle has creeped up a bit, though not really explored to deeply because, well, why would said publications carry through with lists if they really thought about it? The album as a format is losing steam.
In most places around the country, long-playing CDs and clusters of MP3s felt more and more irrelevant with the rise of streaming platforms, an emphasis on music videos and even Vine reminding us that most people just want to hear the hook of a song. Japan hasn’t embraced all of those things (though the Vines are great!), but CD sales continue to dip, propped up only by rabid fans buying plastic in order to get tickets to meet-and-greets or to simply support their favorites on the forever-frustrating Oricon Charts. “Let It Go” was the most omnipresent hit of the year in Japan, and you could see that in a theater.
So why continue to write “best album” lists? Well, partially out of laziness…there are way more great songs out there, beyond the obvious singles. But also because, as at-times-doomed the format felt in 2014, more than enough stellar examples of the album working…both as a conceptual framework OR just a way for artists to explore their sound…popped up across all corners of Japan to warrant it. The market was changing (very very slowly), but artists are still happy to explore what they can do within the confines of an album.
Let’s get on with it, starting with 20-11, with MBM’s ten favorite tomorrow (hopefully). And let’s take a moment to emphasize the “favorite” part of this (because people freak the fuck out when you write “best”), and note that this list doesn’t include recent releases from Sayoko Daisy and a forthcoming one from Homecomings (which, geez, talk about something that could disrupt)…and considering how much music we still discover daily, who knows what this would look like next March.