Lots of great Japanese music comes out every week, but keeping track of it all is a tough task. The folks at OTAQUEST want to help. In this series, we’ll cover new Japanese music highlights from various areas of the industry over the past seven days worth your time. This week: chameleon J-pop, sadsack consistency, and a long-running rock band exploring their electronic side.
Emi Okamoto — gappy
Emi Okamoto tries on a lot of sounds across new album gappy. The singer-songwriter worked with a nice mish-mash of producers and artists to craft this chameleon set, featuring assists from PARKGOLF (on the surprisingly sparse “himitsu,” a far cry from the more playful collab they did for the producer’s own full-length) to Evisbeats (on the laid-back “(you’re)my crush”). She never really bursts into a faster tempo, with the closest thing to a sprint coming on the hop-skip synth-pop of “planet,” but each of the slower tempo songs here feature different character, making for a diverse set of songs still glued together by shared sonic traits. In the center of each is Okamoto herself, adding human sweetness via her singing. Listen above.
Indigo la End — Nureyuku Shishosetsu
Should Enon Kawatani sound this miserable all the time, given his whole checkered past? Probably not, but dude thrives on tapping into his own sadsackness, better than anybody else in Japan and on the same level as anyone in the world, complete with either a total lack of self-awareness or a god-level version of it (watch the newest video in the rollout!). The latest from his band Indigo la End continues in this whoa-is-me tradition, returning to the familiar rock-grounded sound that has long defined the group’s work. Nothing new, but the dirty secret is Kawatani does miserable really well, and Indigo la End’s latest offers a set that is both catchy and fun to dig into the lyric sheet and see what he’s wallowing about now. Listen above.
The Vocoders — 1st V
Nervy rockers Polysics have always been fond of synthesizers and devices that electronically warp their voices. As The Vocoders, they get to indulge wholly in these sounds, both as a chance to revisit Polysics numbers and run them through the titular instrument, and as a way to create new numbers using a different palette of sounds. Debut album 1st V shows that this exercise in alter ego is more than just recreation, as the quartet find a new perspective on Polysics staples such as “Part of me” and “Catch On Everywhere” that retain the giddy energy of the original recordings. Better still are the originals, which find the group navigating new terrain and coming up with results that challenge the members in a way that their main outfit hasn’t in quite some time. Listen above.
machìna — Willow
Tokyo-based electronic artist machìna excels at turning patterns into unsettling numbers constantly in a state of mutation. Earlier this year, she released the hypnotic full-length
archipelago, which used synths and her own rat-a-tat singing to draw listeners in before slowly warping the sound. Willow builds on this approach, and really levels up when it comes to trying to unsettle. Opener “Walls” features spoken-word observations on society set over humming electronics, and she goes for a similar delivery over a hiccuping beat on “mid-tale.” Elsewhere, though, she goes for a more sing-song delivery on the gurgly “floating still” and then gets more abstract on “Namu Amitabul.” Whatever mode she takes, the end result is something that disorients but offers just enough to hang on to. Listen above.