OTAQUEST contributor Patrick St. Michel runs an email newsletter called Make Believe Mailer, an offshoot of his decade-long blog Make Believe Melodies. Every week, he shares essays and round-ups of new Japanese music, from J-pop to independent releases. For the final time, he offers a sort of best-of from the month, highlighting Japanese songs worth your time and other developments in the world of Japanese music.
Soichi Terada — Asakusa Light
There’s an out-of-time quality to Soichi Terada’s Asakusa Light, the electronic artist’s first album of all new material in 25 years. That final bit goes a long way to explaining the daze these 11 tracks conjure. As Terada told Crack last year, Asakusa Light took shape in the initial, gloopy months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the time spent cooped up coupled with no live club shows to escape into prompted the house master to reflect on his early days of creation. He turned to synthesizers and drum-programming techniques from his youth, lending this collection a familiar feel that never comes off as dated. Rather, it reminds of how strong these tools can still be decades on.
Yet you don’t need press-release details to be swept up inside the revelry of Terada’s latest. The songs strut and glow — melodies emerging from synth fog on “Double Spire” to turn the uneasy into the joyous, while transforming the cerebral into the cathartic on the shuffling “Diving Into Minds.” As is often the case with reflecting, there’s moments of melancholy — conveyed by the chimes on “Runners” or the pitch-shifted notes stumbling around “From Dusk” — but it’s the surrendering to a good feeling, even if just for a few minutes. Get it here, or listen above.
PAS TASTA — “turtle thief”
A sort of Netlabel All-Stars To The Rescue situation, PAS TASTA consists of hirihiri, Kabanagu, Phritz, Quoree, Amane Uyama and Yuigot. They are here to…make some “HyperPop,” or at least a sort of buzzy, busy electronic song featuring mutated vocals and a lot of constant mutation. It’s really good, and then it becomes great in the last stretch thanks to a guitar bit that isn’t shy about shredding. Listen above.
Oyubi — Earnin It
Japan’s juke community remains as vibrant as ever, continuing to draw from and properly honor the Chicago born sound while finding their own touches to add to it. Oyubi is one of the strongest young voices to emerge from this scene in recent memory, and flexes all sorts of variety here on latest full-length release for Trekkie Trax. At times effervescent (“Atencion 3”) and other times disorienting (“Acid Hat,” “Cling Roll”), Oyubi finds a way to always keep the beat going strong. Get it here, or listen above.
iri — “Matenrou”
Who needs fake nostalgia when you can live in the moment? Bucking the boom in domestic city pop which usually means laid-back tempos and easy-breezy views of life, iri plunges into the hustle and bustle of Tokyo on “Matenrou,” gliding over an urgent pace made all the more immediate by string sections and synth blurs courtesy of producer Yaffle. This head-first dive into the city has more in common with Sheena Ringo’s early wanderings through the capital than any Bubble-era act, observing and getting lost in the whirlwind. Listen above.
Ako — ANTI BLUE
It’s the little moments of unease that stick with you. ANTI BLUE isn’t far removed from the laid-back sounds intersecting with the J-pop overground, but Ako always makes sure to smudge those good vibes up enough to make her music dizzying rather than dull. She mutates her voice by overlapping her vocals on the otherwise funky “bye,” or lets horn blasts disrupt the otherwise locked-in “As I Landed On Mars.” Let’s not undersell Ako’s songwriting chops, as she’s still providing a catchy base even when adding offbeat streaks to songs like the melancholy “Jocho” (below) or the more uptempo closer “Somewhere.” Yet the details elevate it, and add some welcome disruption. Listen above.
Thanks so much for reading this feature over the last few months. If you want to continue getting music highlights, interviews, and analyzes of Japanese music right in your inbox, sign up for Make Believe Mailer here.