A Very GLORIO 2015: Aqua’s Top 15 Tracks of 2015

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Oh hey, it’s Christmas! Seems like only yesterday when 2014 was coming to an end and I figured 2015 couldn’t possibly be worse. Yeah, that, err, sure backfired spectacularly, didn’t it? Anyhow, we’re in the middle of our annual retrospective blowout and just like last year, I get to blissfully ignore what this blog is actually about and yell at you to go like the music I like. There’s more than enough people writing about anime already anyways, so in the spirit of our semi-regular yearly feature Jukebox, where I ramble about the Japanese music industry beyond the boundaries of anime and other geekery, I’ll be using my spot under today’s floodlights to recommend you my fifteen favourite Japanese tracks of the past year, and then some. Well, I sure hope you like shoegaze!

“Magic Mirror” by Seiko Oomori

Spending most of it heavily pregnant didn’t stop Seiko Oomori from being all over the place in 2015 as well, following up on her still quite brilliant breakthrough album Sennou with several new releases of varying quality. While her glam-rock infused outing with backing band The Pink Tokarev comprised mostly of full-band covers of her earlier acoustic repertoire and will be essential only to the most dedicated of fans, the one-off single she dropped prior to departing on a well deserved maternity leave once again proved that Seiko Oomori operates in a tier all of her own. If the twisted energy of virulent Sennou cuts such as “Zettai Zetsubou Zekkouchou” or “Kyuru Kyuru” didn’t give it away, Oomori has always been fascinated by cutting saccharine idol tropes with sonic experimentation and accounts of unabashed violence and obsessive lust. Yet on “Magic Mirror”, she turns the perversion, the irony inward, bringing back the madly melancholic songstress of her indie days alongside the megalomaniac maximalist we met on Sennou. If that album sounded like Oomori living the dream, “Magic Mirror” sounds like said dream crumbling to bits.

Stumbling through the Tokyo streets with her trusty guitar on her back, Oomori sets herself up as the queen of the city’s outcasts, manically screaming out her frustrations and existential horror, and worrying why she can’t be cute and cool at the same time without compromising on either of them. “Magic Mirror” is Seiko Oomori’s interpretation of the rousing “love thyself” anthem any self-respecting pop queen has to put out once in their career, but its composition is just as delightfully off-beat as everything else she’s set her fingerprints on. It’s equal parts catchy and corrupt, carnivalesque and heart-rending, littered with jarring genre shifts, cacaphonic breakdowns and Oomori’s signature sesquipedalian ramblings coming together in a bubblegum ballad given the full Hollywood treatment. If this is the last Seiko Oomori song we will ever hear, she will have gone out with a bang. The idea that she’d quit before standing all alone at the top of the Japanese pop scene, however, is even more unfathomable than the fact that this kook just became a mother.

Europeans can grab the Magic Mirror/Sacchan no Sexy Curry double single off iTunes. For everyone else, there’s OTOTOY

“Psychic Haze” by The Teenage Kissers

Nana Kitade’s career is one for the history books. Throughout the noughties, she was known as an icon of the gothic lolita scene and provider of theme songs for tons of popular anime, ranging from Fullmetal Alchemist to Hell Girl, until she was floored by illness and promptly reinvented herself as the Courtney Lovesque frontwoman of her self-produced grunge outfit The Teenage Kissers. This makes her one of the few singers to somewhat successfully break away from the pop mainstream to do something that allows her to have more control over her own artistic output. Yet on “Psychic Haze”, Kitade makes no efforts to feign shame about her musical roots. In spite of the ripping, downtuned guitars and brooding goth bassline, it is still a pop song, with an infectious riff, rattling drive and rousing chorus. Kitade effortlessly shifts back and forth between her sultry standard voice and an intense nasal snarl, all the while managing to make yoga look badass in the song’s simplistic, yet appropriate music video. The Teenage Kissers will probably never know the success Kitade enjoyed as an anime songstress, but her magnetism remains strong even when stripped of its frilly wrappings.

The Teenage Kissers’ second EP, Lightning Machine, is available internationally from iTunes and Amazon.

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“Blue Moonlight” by Envy

Based my still quite virulent hatred for Parasyte‘s still quite abysmal opening theme and other songs of its ilk, you might think that I just hate music with screaming in it. Well, not really, as with everything, screaming in itself doesn’t make music bad. Case in point, this phenomenal track by progressive screamo outfit Envy. Japan has a long history of lousy metalcore and other bullshit genres thoughtlessly slapped onto the putrid cacophonies shat out by a bunch of heavily-tattood louts in cargo shorts setting entries from their 3rd grade diary to a maelstrom of warbling guitars without any sense of melody, rhythm, structure or direction, but for every rag-tag bunch of Enter Shikari wannabes, there’s a band like Envy. Let’s just say that it’s no wonder that a lot of the Japanese artists or bands who make any kind of waves abroad are active in the more heavier genres.

Earlier this year I caught a music blog using the phrase “in this post-Sunbather world”. The album in question they were referring to is the gorgeous 2013 breakthrough by a San Francisco metal band named Deafheaven, and while I wouldn’t exactly call it a trailblazing milestone in rock history, it did create a far bigger interest amongst music reviewers and fans for music that is both brutal and beautiful. Even though they have been experimenting with the formula that made Sunbather such a hit for over fifteen years now, Envy was able to ride on the coattails of their American blood brothers’ success, exactly what the band needed to welcome a whole new generation of fans after an extended hiatus with their comeback album, Atheist’s Cornea.

Lead single “Blue Moonlight” is a contradiction of atmospheric riffs and machine-gun blast beats, of silent repose and Tetsuya Fukagawa’s strangled screams, repetitively meandering into a trancelike cadence. It’s the kind of song that could get away with repeating the same four measures for minutes on end, but “Blue Moonlight” refuses to take the easy way out and fluidly transforms from one memorable riff into another. Nobukata Kawai and Masahiro Tobita channel their trash metal roots, conjuring up fast and aggressive riffs that merge into a single steamroller of beauty and destruction. In this post-Sunbather world, it’s an aesthetic I simply can’t get enough of.

Listen also: “Footsteps in the Distance”, “Two Isolated Souls”

Get Envy’s latest album, Atheist’s Cornea, from iTunes or the band’s Bandcamp.

“I Am Not Shinzo Abe” by Xinlisupreme

You might wanna turn your volume down for this one. It’s not a Glorio Blog top tracks of the year list without some delicious weirdness from Virgin Babylon Records, prime suppliers of all things harsh and harrowing. While the label usually specializes in atmospheric, haunting electronica like Matryoshka, it is now one decidedly more bullshit-free band richer with the signing of Kumamoto’s Xinlisupreme. Following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s controversial changes to the country’s constitution, which would allow Japan’s military forces to participate in overseas combat after 80 years of enforced pacifism, Xinlisupreme awoke from its slumber to drop this two-and-a-half-minute power bomb. “I Am Not Shinzo Abe” is at its very core a skeletal surf-rock tune, with three chords and a catchy, leisurely beat. Yet while the music that inspired Xinlisupreme was almost unanimously pleasant and superficial, “I Am Not Shinzo Abe” sounds like the Beach Boys remixed by Nine Inch Nails: loud, brutal and meticulously on point, its title appearing as the sole lyric in the most straightforward protest songs since Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name”. Set to a backdrop of cheesy chiptunes and ear-splitting bitcrushers, Xinlisupreme chant their disapproval of Abe’s hawkish politics in a single simplistic mantra: They are not Shinzo Abe, and Shinzo Abe is definitely not them, because there are very little ways in which Shinzo Abe could rightfully be dubbed ‘awesome’.

Xinlisupreme’s album The First Train is available digitally from Bandcamp. You can grab a physical copy at the Virgin Babylon Records store.

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“Futo Subete Yume to Shiita” by LLLL ft. Ano

It’s a real bummer that LLLL, alias Kazuto Okawa, leads such an elusive online life. As of last year the prime provider or groundbreaking bleeps and bloops from the land of the rising sun, the man has proven his tremendous insight in a few excellent English-language interviews with The Japan Times and It Came From Japan, yet otherwise has let his mysterious, otherworldly music speak for him. On last year’s Paradice, LLLL attempted to break the music industry’s rigid gender binary by projecting his own weaknesses and romantic melancholy through various anonymous female voices and personas. The more intimate follow-up Faithful, however, is the first LLLL album to credit the plethora of guest vocalists, and intentionally so. In order to be honest with himself, Okawa had to step out of the shadows and exist alongside his collaborators, highlighting the frail facets of his own personality without appropriating the female body for his own gain.

The EP Cruel, a free release containing five Faithful holdovers, marks the conclusion of this evolution. Every track features a credited guest vocalist who adds their own flavour, while the overall product’s vulnerable melancholy is still decidedly LLLL’s. “Futo Subete Yume to Shiita” is a collaboration with Ano of the admirably progressive yet still quite shite idol outfit You’ll Melt More!!, which is reflected in its excellence in compromise. Under LLLL’s dreamy beats and restrained songwriting Ano’s breathy voice comes into its own, while the usually far more hyperactive music she puts out with her band has undoubtedly influenced the chaotic drum breaks pushing the chorus to unseen heights. The most interesting thing about “Futo Subete Yume to Shiita”, and of the Cruel EP as a whole, is that it sounds like LLLL producing songs that aren’t LLLL songs, retaining his excellent eye for detail and ambience without the risk of getting stuck in the same repetitive rut that plagues many an electronic producer. Blessed with a healthy work ethic and an even healthier mindset, LLLL shows no sign of slowing down in the year to come.

Listen also: “Only to Silence”, “Transcribe”

LLLL’s Cruel is available as a free download from Maltine Records. Grab the album Faithful from iTunes or Ototoy.

“Ra” by Suiyoubi no Campanella

Entire encyclopedias can be written about Suiyoubi no Campanella’s career, where they came from all of a sudden and how the hell they came to be so all over the place so quickly. Despite having started out as an indie project a mere three years ago, the question how the quirky rap duo consisting of singer/rapper/adorable poster child KOM_I and producers Hidefumi Kenmochi and Dir. F, could afford to launch over half a dozen music videos, each of which with a budget likely bigger than that of five run-off-the-mill idol units combined remains one of the biggest mysteries of the J-pop blogosphere. The answer is likely very simple: blatant and shameless advertising. Suiyoubi no Campanella will shill anything, ranging from department stores over tourism in Hokkaido and Casio samplers to Adobe products, but it’s a price I am more than willing to pay for more of KOM_I’s shenanigans. In an industry where charisma is basically everything, her infectious energy, sing-song intonation and incredible talent at mugging the heck out of every camera make her a force to be reckoned with, and the fact that she sounds quite unlike anyone else out there only helps.

On Zipang, their first ‘proper’ full-length album, Suiyoubi no Campanella have fine-tuned their signature cocktail of hip-hop, house, lounge and traditional folk to an enjoyable, welcoming whole. From the mostly a capella “Shakushain”, an ode to the Ainu chieftain who rebelled against Japanese authority on Hokkaido, to the disco-influenced “Medusa”, Zipang is full of surprises. Yet the biggest surprise of them all is the divisive “Ra”, which aside from a particularly bizarre curry commercial, is also probably the closest thing to a mainstream four-to-the-floor banger Suiyoubi no Campanella will ever make. There’s a shameless whopper of a drop where the chorus should be, but the start-and-stop catchiness, tropical beats, random sound effects and dreamy breaks are still vintage Campanella, while the big-budget music video doesn’t shy away from some supreme silliness. If it’s still not up your alley, try the wonderfully nonsensical “Diablo” or the more haunting “Nishi Tamao” as your entry into KOM_I’s eccentric world. Like its frontwoman, Suiyoubi no Campanella is a band of a thousand faces.

Listen also: “Shakushain”, “Medusa”, “Nishi Tamao”, “Match Uri no Shoujo”, “Utah”, “Diablo”

Grab Suiyoubi no Campanella’s phenomenal Zipang! off OTOTOY.

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“Satellite” by Looprider

Ryotaro Aoki is one of the most prominent Japanese music reporters in the English blogosphere, so it’s no mystery the debut album by his brand-new band Looprider has made so many waves. That’s hardly anything worth complaining about, however. My Electric Fantasy is a memorable, accessible juggernaut of a record that mixes scorching riffs and booming guitars with pitch-perfect melodies and some surprising collaborations with other Tokyo indie acts. Like his idols Boris did on last year’s excellent Noise, Aoki delivers a sort of retrospective on heavy music of the last few decades, ranging from the no-holds-barred hard rock of “Kill La” to the title track’s ambient drones. Yet the best tracks on My Dark Twisted Electric Fantasy are the ones on which Looprider taps into Japan’s proud history of excellent shoegaze, with the almost leisurely “Satellite” as a clear standout. Like many Looprider tracks, it draws upon an established foundation of shifting dynamics — soft verse, loud chorus — and hazy dual vocals, yet like several other of my favourite Japanese songs, prefers a crispy production style that highlights its anthemic appeal in stead of the often deliberately clattering, murky ‘four people playing sub-par instruments in a garage’ sound of the usual suspects in the genre. Throw in an unexpected, squealing mammoth of a guitar solo, and you’ve got yourself a classic in the making.

Listen also: “Dronelove (All You Need)”, “Farewell”

Ignore the cheesy anime girl cover and download My Electric Fantasy from Looprider’s Bandcamp page. If you prefer your music riddled with DRM, there is still iTunes.

“Pick Me Up” by Perfume

To be completely honest, I didn’t think Yasutaka Nakata still had it in him. The songwriter and producer behind Perfume, Capsule and the inescapable Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has had a tough couple of months trying to distinguish his projects from one another, with the mature, sophisticated Perfume suddenly churning out cutesy tracks more befitting of Kyary, who was at her turn all but reduced to a recurring character in derivative commercial jingles. His absolute nadir came in the form of Capsule’s 2014 outing Wave Runner, a stinking abortion of a record filled with coarse dubstep and paint-by-numbers techno on which Nakata profiled himself as a blind follower of superstar DJs like Skrillex or Calvin Harris, rather than the leader who mixed and matched conventions from all over the world into the distinctive, eclectic style that won him little left to prove. But then 2015 happened.

While Nakata wisely decided to let Capsule simmer for a while after the Wave Runner debacle, and Kyary’s musical output still sucks on toast, he did end up producing two of J-pop’s most memorable tracks of the year: Natsume Mito’s delightfully quirky “Maegami Kiri Sugita” and Perfume’s staggering “Pick Me Up”. While the song is still comfortably nestled in Perfume’s signature techno-pop style, its more aggressive style juxtaposed with the calming acoustic guitar during the verses, memorable call-and-response chorus and memetic choreography — you will be doing that “3-2-1” countdown as soon as you know it is coming — make it into the first Perfume song worth coming back to since 2013’s “Spring of Life”. Perfume’s career has always been about striking that perfect balance between acceptable and accessible, with ever so slight tweaks to their formula in the hope of one day making the perfect pop song. “Pick Me Up” edges disturbingly close, while retaining everything that made them so massive in the first place.

Listen also: “Relax in the City”

As Perfume appear in Apple’s latest iPhone commercial, it’s no wonder the Relax in the City/Pick Me Up double single is available internationally from iTunes.

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“Niwa” by Tricot

Samba! For a band that will happily change entire songs around at the drop of a hat, it’s a bit of a mystery why it took Tricot so long to infuse their polyphonic math rock with some worldbeat influences à la Talking Heads, and a bit of a bummer they have only really done it once. On their second album, A N D, the trio promoted their harmonic vocals to a full-blown instrument alongside their ever-dueling guitars and experimented with just how much shifting time signatures and tangoing polyrhythms you can fit into a single song before the average listener’s brains start pouring out of their ears, but regarded as a whole, A N D isn’t exactly a revolution compared to their 2013 debut. Except for one track. “Niwa” (trans. “Garden”) serves, or at least should serve, as the blueprint of Tricot’s future, combining everything that makes them so beloved — surprising complexity, impressive skill and relentless energy — with a healthy injection of Brazilian party times.

“Niwa” starts off with a small preview of the party to come, then kicks in like a sputtering motorcycle before settling into its blazing ska-punk self. Ikkyu Nakajima barely manages to keep up with herself delivering rapid-fire ramblings that would make Seiko Oomori blush, but no matter how weird things get, all the different clashing tempos and rhythms always manage to organically figure themselves out once the chorus hits. In a matter of seconds, “Niwa”‘s breakneck speed transforms into the simplistic staccato of a samba, giving listeners exactly one measure to catch their breaths before once again exploding into a carnival of percussion, bells, whistles and enthusiastic yelps. Its infectious charm and irresistible sense of fun are a big fat middle finger to a scene that is often so concerned with complexity and showmanship that it forgets to write songs people will actually enjoy listening to, making “Niwa” the perfect song to show off what Tricot are all about. Honestly, it’s a disgrace it was never released as a single.

Listen also: “E”, “Pork Ginger”, the amazing live version with five drummers and an extended samba section

Acquire Tricot’s newest album, A N D, from iTunes. The band will be touring Europe in March of 2016, check their Facebook page for more details.

“Ima Sugu Kietai” by Kamin Shirahata

Kamin Shirahata rose to prominence portraying Hatsune Miku during live performances of Hatsune Kaidan, a ‘collaboration’ between the twin-tailed Vocaloid and Hijokaidan, an infamous experimental free jazz slash noise ensemble who previously collaborated with BiS, amongst others. Luckily, her solo material is a lot easier on both the eardrums and the nerves, usually featuring little more than Shirahata’s chirpy voice and guitar. “Ima Sugu Kietai” (trans. “I Want to Disappear Completely”) is a summery folk rock song, clocking in at a little over two minutes, yet excelling in its simplicity. Backed by some funky handclaps and a clean electric guitar, Shirahata sighs out a universal desire in no uncertain terms, yet it’s the catchy riff that really steals the show here. I’m a bit of a sucker for no-nonsense acoustic firecrackers like this one, so here’s hoping Kamin Shirahata pulls a Seiko Oomori and retains her vibrant energy when she inevitably starts expanding her sounds.

Grab Kamin Shirahata’s self-titled debut album from Ototoy.

“Jibun Rashiku” by Shinsei Kamattechan

Contrary to many other Japanese bands, often even those they share a fanbase with, Shinsei Kamattechan don’t care about sounding crisp. Their freaky punk is characterized by rattling guitars and an intentionally abysmal recording quality, often juxtaposed with cheesy synths and singer Noko’s childlike, androgynous voice. Kamattechan didn’t actually release any albums this year, but they did provide a retrospective of their decidedly eccentric career, which included this re-recorded version of their 2010 song “Jibun Rashiku” (trans. “As Myself”), a song that even on a greatest hits compilation stands out in its honest simplicity. Okay, I know that’s kind of cheating but boo to you if you’ll hold that against me.

Noko has always been unconventionally frank in their lyricism. On Kamattechan’s 2010 debut, they straight-up called out a childhood bully by name and told him to go die, and on “Jibun Rashiku”, they openly address a theme that is rarely ever addressed with any degree of seriousness: Noko can’t be a boy nor a girl, embraces both ‘boku’ and ‘atashi’ — for the not hopelessly nerdy, those are the first person singular pronouns for men and women respectively —  and feels hated by both men and women as a result. It’s a bold move in a society where even artists are expected to keep their proverbial dirty laundry for themselves, but for Noko, it’s obviously an essential element of their life, as well as their art.

The new version of “Jibun Rashiku” is a catchy dance-rock song that retains the original’s metallic punk drive. Drummer Misako adds funky tribal percussion and some adorably retro backing vocals to the mix — likely a holdover from her other job, as a professional doorknob licker member of idol group Band Ja Naimon! — yet it’s a clever use of violin to which “Jibun Rashiku” owes its brilliance. What starts out as a sole whimpering violin providing some melancholic accents to the band’s only-barely-in-tune clatter soon turns into a full-blown cinematic ensemble. It’s experimentation at its best, weaving unconventional details into recognizable fundamentals and using catchy memories to spread a meaningful message. Shinsei Kamattechan may have already released their best of, but their best is yet to come.

Shinsei Kamattechan’s greatest hits compilation, as well as their older albums, are available from iTunes. Unfortunately, it does not contain their most infamous song of all. You might know it, even if you’ve never heard of this band before…

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“Hi no Tori” by Haruka & Miyuki

Haruka and Miyuki started out as a folk duo, released an excellent debut album filled with eclectic alternative rock in 2013 and are now bringing an end to a very productive year filled with songs I can only really define as ‘adult contemporary’. The Sekai EP they released earlier this year is a clear attempt to break Haruka (co-conspirator Miyuki seems conspicuously absent from both the cover arts and the writing credits) into the mainstream, featuring the kind of inoffensive, arena-ready piano pop Coldplay have been making since around the point people stopped caring about them. The following EP, the freshly-released Life, unfortunately keeps up this trend, with songs that though mature, well-made and enjoyably brought, are all but one completely unmemorable in their pristine mediocrity. That one song is “Hi no Tori” (trans. “Phoenix”), a song that could end Haruka and Miyuki’s career-long search for a sound of their own at last.

More than because it is featured on an otherwise entirely forgettable album, I’m surprised by “Hi no Tori” because it honestly doesn’t really sound like anything I’ve ever heard before. For a band that is at its best when it homages its inspirations — Murk up “Mannequin” a bit, and it’s a My Bloody Valentine song, “Hate You” is The Beatles’s “Hey Jude” by way of The Smiths and “All I Want” might as well have been on The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me — Haruka and Miyuki have created a unique combination of drop-tuned guitars, trance synthesizers and pounding drums that nicely reconciles Haruka’s classic pop diva vocals with something bold and fresh. Nevertheless, “Hi no Tori” is likely to remain a faits divers, a track that will forever be doomed to be no more than a deep cut from a transitional EP. I’d love for Haruka and Miyuki to make a full record based on the same desire for adventure that inspired this track. Sadly, this firebird seems to be more of a blazing flash in the pan than a rise from the ashes.

Listen also: “Copy”, “Sekai”, at least if these videos aren’t blocked wherever you live.

“Animation” by Young Juvenile Youth

Japanese producers generally don’t do minimalism. Listen to LLLL, Capsule or even to influential ‘Shibuya style‘ musicians such as Cornelius and Fantastic Plastic Machine, and you’ll be quick to notice that Young Juvenile Youth are tapping into a market that isn’t exactly oversaturated. While a lot of contemporary Japanese electro is steeped in deconstructing the lavish joy of doujinshi music and other Vocaloids, Young Juvenile Youth’s producer Jemapur thins out his arrangements to the bare essentials. “Animation” is little more than a three-note bassline, a handful of crackling beats and the occasional hi-hat against singer Yuki’s phlegmatic vocals, creating a collected, loungy sizzle of a track, reminiscent of deep house acts like Disclosure. More so than the song, the video is a masterclass in eccentric austerity. Director Kosai Sekine’s camera swings around Yuki’s stoic face as it is disrupted by some impressive post-processing effects, carefully dissecting and twisting the bare essentials of a performance like Jemapur does to the music. Compare it to other CGI-heavy videos on this list like “Pick Me Up” or “Ra”, and the unicity of Young Juvenile Youth amongst its peers once again becomes clear.

Listen also: “Farenheit”

Young Juvenile Youth’s EP Animation is available worldwide from iTunes.

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“Never Catch the Sun” by Acidclank

Did somebody say The Chemical Brothers? With its anthemic beats and psychedelic revert, the closing track to Inner, Yota Mori’s debut as Acidclank sounds a lot like the Brothers’ collaborations with Noel Gallagher, though upon closer inspection, it’s rather obvious that “Never Catch the Sun” edges closer to the britpop of the latter’s band Oasis than to the mostly synth-driven big beat of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simmons. Inner is a bold and broad-based retrospective of British music from the late eighties up to now, climbing from the jangly shoegaze of “Candy” and the trippy folk of “I’m Caustic” and “Cloudman” all the way up to the festival-proof breakbeats of “Never Catch the Sun”. This cherry-picking approach is what sets Acidclank apart from the abundance of anglophile indie bands the Japanese scene is rich with.

It helps that Mori’s English is virtually perfect. On “Never Catch the Sun” he puts his nasal voice front and center against an ever repeating bass line that stubbornly persists over the rest of the song breaking down into echoing acoustic guitars, digitally crushed beats and high-pitched vocal samples. After a wailing solo by an as of yet unidentified string instrument straight out of a way-too-much-LSD-era Beatles track halfway through, the song suddenly stops, only to pick up again with the bare basics of drum and bass, and swirl off into the sunset once more, in a haze of beauty and confusion. Closing off a grand fuzzy rock album on an ambitious dance track is another idea Acidclank borrowed from a legendary anglophone band. Let’s just hope he won’t copy their twenty-year-long hiatus as well.

Listen also: “Clever”, “Cloudman”

Grab Acidclank’s dark horse debut Inner off his Bandcamp page for absolutely free. Great deal!

“a debt” by for example you sell the sea

Emo is right up there with ‘action-adventure’ as one of the most commonly misattributed genres in the world — everyone gets called it, but no one wants to be it. There are a billion definitions for the genre that range from pinpointing only a very specific scene (ha ha ha) of theatrical, eyeliner-wearing punk bands, to encompassing basically all rock music made between 1996 and 2001. But even if a comprehensive description for the genre remains hidden to us lesser mortals, it wouldn’t exactly be a stretch to call for example you sell the sea — in all lowercase because of course — an emo band, what with their ridiculous (and ridiculously long) band name, angsty lyrics, clear-cut loud-quiet dynamics and Yoshiaki Kumano’s half-assed delivery. With its skeletal guitars, buildup and soaring climax, “a debt” also borrows heavily from post-rock, particularly from the minimalist kind of it espoused on influential albums such as Slint’s Spiderland. Like the best tracks on that record, “a debt” suddenly turns from hushed and crisp to coarse and euphoric after a muted, repetitive buildup. With guitars out of a documentary soundtrack, it’s a bit of a flighty affair at the beginning, but the climax is so rapturous you’ll be begging for a bit of calm. Maybe it is time for emo to make its glorious comeback to Jap– Oh dear God not that emo why.

Listen also: “Hamabe”

For Example You Sell The Sea’s self-titled debut album (EP?) is available internationally from iTunes.

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That’s another list down for you the count, though in my extensive year-long search for the best tracks 2015 had to offer, I found some more personal favourites I’d be loath not to mention. If your tastes in music somewhat align with mine, here are some more songs you’ll be sure to enjoy.

“Hurts” by Homecomings

“Hurts” is one of these songs I associate specifically with summer nights: laid back, but melancholy all the same. Homecomings weave a warm blanket of sound over Ayaka Tatamino’s tomboyish vocals, leading to a track that eschews shoegaze’s usual emotional assault in favour of a more relaxing vibe.

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“ShibuyaK” by daoko

Out of the same ‘whisper rap’ trend as Bonjour Suzuki, the artist formerly known as ‘the girl from Me! Me! Me!‘ combines her trademark flow with disco rhythms and synths that sound like they belong on a Street Fighter soundtrack. The result is a funky track with one foot in the past and one in the future.

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“All the Time” by DYGL

When did it become 2004 again? “All the Time” is a deliciously dirty garage rock kick in the shins to the all-encompassing wave of slickly produced indie shlock. With their slacker sleaze and perfect English, DYGL turn Tokyo’s underground into New York City.

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“Neko to Allergy” by Kinoko Teikoku

While the title track to Kinoku Teikoku’s third album further tears down their beloved wall of sound, everything else that makes Teikoku tick, whether its their triumphant song progressions, Satou’s gorgeous vocals or A-chan’s wailing guitar, is still as amazing as ever. Only now with added strings!

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“DanSin'” by koeda

All Supercell singers grow up, yet koeda doesn’t mind working together with Ryo for a while longer. Though arranged by him, her first self-penned song bears little of his baroque trademark, in stead opting for unpretentious pop punk with a funky bassline that puts her strong voice front and center.

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“Girls & Boys” by Saku

In spite of her cuddly voice, Saku has a strong ear for riffs. With “Girls & Boys”, her characteristic high-pitched effect-laden rhythm guitar and a singalong chorus make for a song that will put its hooks into your head and never let go. You have been warned.

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“Otanachikku” by Gesu No Kiwami Otome

Gesu No Kiwami Otome’s unique blend of jazz-inspired licks, live breakbeats, staccated keys and poppy melodies are a big hit with the cool kids, and with the meticulous interplay of its four members flaunted on “Otanachikku”, it’s hard not to see why. Also, they just look so darn cool in those suits.

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“Memories of You” by Anoice

If you, for some ridiculous reason, would like to spend the rest of your Christmas lying on the floor in fetal position and hysterically sobbing like an emotional wreck, then by all means go on ahead and click that link above. You can thank me later.

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Still here? Congratulations! You have officially survived my pretentious ramblings and may now safely return to whatever it was you were doing before you made the horrible mistake of coming here. Was my selection to your liking, or were there any particular favourites that got woefully robbed? My knowledge of the Japanese music scene remains lacking and I’m always open for new stuff, so make sure to let me know which songs you enjoyed the most this year! Now go forth and have a fantastic day, whether it’s Christmas or just another regular day to you. If you’re alone or forced to spend the day with unsupportive or insensitive family members, I hope this list can cheer you up at least a little. Everyone deserves to have the time of their lives today. Stay awesome, folks, and see you all next year.

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One thought on “A Very GLORIO 2015: Aqua’s Top 15 Tracks of 2015

  1. Dude this post is so extensive! I love it!!! I pretty much only get exposed to Jpop (or Japanese music in general) via anime so this post was an orgasm for my ear drums. I really enjoyed the techo, housey, electronic track like LLLL, and Ra.

    I reaaaalllly like Suiyoubi no Campanella. Those videos are outta this world. They can shill anything they want as long as they keep releasing these amazing tracks/beats. But kon_I is at her best when she is rapping. Mint.

    I’ve also bookmarked a few of those sites you mention like ICFJ, and Clear and Refreshing!

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