Lots of good music came out of Japan in April, but keeping track of it all can be a challenge, especially for those living outside of the island. Don’t sweat it, in this monthly column, we highlight a few Japanese releases well worth hunting down...
Satellite Young: "Satellite Young"
The ‘80s are always going to be in style for someone. As long as the sun burns in space you can bet somebody will be recreating the synth-pop that has become a stand-in for the decade. Satellite Young certainly fit that description. They just do it better than most. Their eponymous debut album goes all in on the neon-soaked vibe, every song full of bright keyboards, big drum fills and vocals smothered in Vocoder. In lesser hands, this would be the stuff of cheap irony, but Satellite Young simply assemble the best pop music they can from these pieces, resulting in urgent synth-pop cuts such as “Dividual Heart” and teen-movie-climax slow dancers like “Sanfransokyo Girl.” It might remind you of yesteryear, but it sounds every bit as vibrant in 2017.
Maison book girl: "[image]"
One of the most influential J-Pop groups of this decade was BiS, an idol group whose - at-times - subversive approach to idol culture and abrasive, metal-influenced music made them stand out mighty fiercely. After they called it quits in 2014, their legacy became clear in the number of fledgling units trying to capture the same sound and style as them. Maison book girl are thankfully not like that. As so many BiS-lite groups have emerged, that guitar-anchored squall has become over represented and mostly meek in most hands. This quartet’s debut album image instead opts for something lighter but still quite dizzying, their songs made up of violin strings, xylophone notes and wood-block knocks. Rather than sound like BiS — and they have a former member of BiS, they have an excuse! — Maison book girl head down a different, far more fulfilling path here.
De De Mouse: "Dream You Up"
Ten years ago, J-Pop featured a bevy of futuristic sounds. That was the year Perfume broke out, and the year singing-synthesizer-slash-digi-pop-star Hatsune Miku debuted. Producer De De Mouse also emerged in 2007, catching attention with a bouncy take on electro-pop highlighted by his approach to vocals, utilising samples that had been sliced and diced into new forms. A decade on, his new album Dream You Up at times feels like a throwback, but his flurry of synthesizer and cut-up singing still charms, from zig-zagging opener “Get You Back” to the EDM-tinged colour run of “Flesh! + Blood.” It still feels ahead of the curve.
Pasocom Music Club: "Park City"
Let’s wrap this back to the beginning; like Satellite Young, electronic-pop makers Pasocom Music Club take elements from older music (again, the ‘80s, although they pick more from the glistening sounds of Japan’s city pop than new wave) and refurbish it into a new form apt for now. Park City at times resembles the shiny, scrubbed down sounds of in-mall speaker music, but the group apply a style best fitting a supermarket and turns it into ear-wormy pop (or, as in the above “Mobile Dog House ¥,” pup-leaning house).
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