ARTICLE Music Recommendations: Jpop January-April 2020


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Written by: Yuki

Hello everyone! I'm back with another Japanese music recommendations, let's sit down and look at some of the best Japanese releases (songs, EPs and albums) from the first four months of 2020. Again, I will try to make it as diverse as I can.

#1- Ken Hirai feat. Aimyon - 'Kaibutsu-san'

Read the lyrics here (translated by Lurkette for Hallyu+)

Ken Hirai
and Aimyon joined forces for their latest digital single, "Kaibutsu-san", which they released on March 27th -- a little over a week before dropping it's companion music video, a sort of surreal visual piece, on the 7th of April. First things first, l am greatly appreciative of the fact that they've finally made their work internationally available, and thus easily accessible for people like me. As for the song itself -- I hadn't expected anything more than a slightly dull ballad (seeing as both the artists are primarily ballad singers), but was caught off guard by what turned out to be a surprisingly upbeat number. Dynamic and rhythm-heavy, it deals with the subject of conflict and unrequited love with the lightness of a slinky, fast-paced melody. One specific portion of the song stood out to me in particular: Aimyon's deep voice paired with ultra-clean, understated bass -- truly, a thing of beauty! Really, both the singers' performances are commendable, especially in the way their voices blended together while still maintaining perfect contrast.

#2- Gesu no Kiwami Otome. - 'Jinsei no Hari'

Gesu no Kiwami Otome made major a comeback with their 5th full album on the 1st of May -- Jinsei no Hari, one of the tracks on this album, was pre-released as a digital single the month prior. The song, which I'd describe as funky prog pop, tells a story in its lyrics and music video, of the struggles and dilemmas of a failing, toxic relationship. Though Enon, himself, is a mess of person, his talent as a musician is undeniable. His songs are almost invariably interesting and satisfying to listen to -- like this song, for instance. Likeable in every way: from the groovy bass, to the percussion, to the string and piano.

#3- King Gnu - 'Doron'

Read the lyrics here

a song from King Gnu's latest full album Ceremony, was released in early this year, and soon followed by a dark, chaotic music video. While I don't have much to say in regards to the 'deeper meaning' the music video may have, I can say that on a purely visual level, it's well-matched with the song. My interpretation of Doron is as a commentary on the ruthlessness of society, and the forced obedience of those who try and fail to withdraw from it. Musically speaking, this song is a masterclass in the effective build and release of tension, as one can clearly see in the bridge leading into the final chorus. King Gnu is known for having a very distinctive sound, and this song is illustrative of that fact -- though it is a little more heavy on the rock influence than a lot of their discography, it is representative of the group's individuality

#4- CY8ER - 'Tokyo Rat City'

Read the lyrics here (translated by Lurkette for Hallyu+)

It's time to pay our respects to the world of Japanese idols. Tokyo Rat City, released early this year, is a track on CY8ER's latest album, "Tokyo". This was actually my first encounter with the group, and I've got to say, I was fairly impressed. Though the opening and first verse may lead you to expect something hard and intense, the song as a whole is actually quite laid back and bright, with surprisingly well-done vocals. The backing track, too, is very well done. A synth-heavy electronic sound, juxtaposed with the use traditional instrument -- all wrapped up in a perfectly "kawaii" package. And while neither the shamisen nor the Taiko is, by any means, hard to come by in Japanese EDM, I'm still a total sucker for the effect it creates.

#5- Chanmina - 'Picky'

Picky was unveiled in the form of a digital release on February 7th, and was included in her EP, 'note-book-u.-', that was released shortly after.
The song falls somewhere within the trap-pop-hiphop spectrum, and is a punchy statement of self-confidence, ambition, and independence. The companion music video fits right into the concept -- aesthetically pleasing, with a focus on Chanmina's style and swagger. However, I'll give a fair warning: this track is definitely very rap-centric, so those who are not of that particular musical inclination might want to just avoid it completely

#6- Aimer - 'marie'

Read the lyrics here

is a song from Aimer's Haru wa Yuku/Marie single release, which was officially dropped on the 25th of March. Dedicated to queen Marie Antoinette, the track is used as an auditory component of the "Exhibition of House of Habsburg" in the National Museum of Western Art, Japan, in commemoration of 150 years of friendly relations between Japan and Austria. It is a wonderful listen -- the combination of Aimer's husky-yet-ethereal voice, and the stately string arrangement, makes for an impassioned, proud song. Even though ballads are not really my cup of tea, Aimer's work is the exception, characterised by the unusual timbre of her voice, a strangely addictive sound.

#7- SIRUP - 'CIY'(EP)

On the 25th of March, SIRUP released their latest EP, CIY, a downtempo R&B and synth album. This is, to me, a sign of great musical and artistic progress on the group's part. Before this, I had found their sound and style to be quite unremarkable, despite the popularity of their earlier work. This EP is definitely pleasant on the ears -- an easy listen -- and some might even consider it be too predictable or typical. However, the music is of an obviously high quality, well thought-out and beautifully execution, and so I don't care all that much. My favorites are MAIGO, Need You Bad and Why Can't, while my least favorite one is probably the Pool remix track (I don't understand why they felt the need to turn a nice citypop track into an experimental mess!). Overall, the EP is nice and fun and smooth and groovy -- all good.

#8- Ryokuoushoku Shakai - 'Shout Baby'

Read the lyrics here (translated by Lurkette for Hallyu+)

Shout Baby
, an ending theme to My Hero Academia, was released as a single in late February. This song was brought to my attention courtesy of the Youtube algorithm. While I have, for the most part, retired my interest in anime music (having been disillusioned by excessive volumes of bland, generic rock), I do still find a few strays left over in my Youtube feed -- and this was one of them. Now, I don't know whether I've just lost touch with what 'current' anime music sounds like, but when compared to the stuff I used to listen to in the past, this song is surprisingly good and genuinely fun, and features a talented main vocalist, with a very pleasant manner of singing.

#9- DAOKO - 'Otogi no Machi'

Read the lyrics here (translated by Lurkette for Hallyu+)

Otogi no machi
(Fairy Tale City), released by DAOKO in January, is a fusion of a vast range of genres -- from Electropop, to Hip Hop, to Pop Rap and Hip House, all the way to Synth pop and Dance Pop. The music video is a extremely visually pleasing -- a lesson in aesthetics, each frame a painting. It is a piece that is very reminiscent of DAOKO's earlier a work, which is a quality that I'm always looking for, and so it goes without saying: I am in love with this song. I'm perfectly alright with her carrying on her pop pursuits, as long as she still releases this sort of stuff now and again. Gorgeous and slinky and laid back, but softer and groovier, with her lovely lower register vocals.

#10- iri - 'Sparkle'(Album)

Read the lyrics here (translated by Lurkette for Hallyu+)

, released by iri on the 25th of March, is a contemporary R&B, Japanese Hip Hop, synth funk and citypop album. The lead track of the album, also titled Sparkle, serves as the CM song for Sony’s WF-H800 wireless headphones, as you can see in the music video above. To be frank, this isn't a perfect album -- it has some definite flaws, and isn't nearly as good as her previous album, Shade. However, as a whole, it works well as a cohesive unit, has a nice R&B vibe, and of course, is a display of her beautiful, unique vocals. My biggest gripe with the album would probably be with the track Freaking, simply because it is so different in its tone than the rest of the album, that it just disrupts the continuity of the listening experience (despite being a decent song). On the other hand, my favorites are probably are Sparkle, 24-25 and Coaster.

Well, that's all for today, folks! I aim to make this a quarterly series (i.e. one installment every four months), because I struggle to choose between favourites when there's only allowance for ten per year (through year-end recommendations). What do you think of this selection? Thanks for reading, and I hope that I was able to introduce you to something enjoyable!


Special thanks to Lurkette from H+ translations!


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Fantastic! thank you so much for this. I like Picky, but I will check out the others~
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