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: pop mutations, cheery chiptune to boost a bad day, and a reminder of how varied city pop-inspired stuff can get.
Dove — irrational
R&B artist Dove’s second EP irrational offers a mutated take on pop that doesn’t lose immediacy for the sake of experimentation. Here, she works closely with Osaka producer Le Makeup — a talented artist in his own right turning the ups and downs of the everyday into reflective guitar-topped dance numbers — to create numbers with a catchy core but bordered by more daring sonic touches. The title track uses a palette of pounding machine beats and fluttery synth notes to create a jog ideal for Dove’s longing lyrics, while “Touching” utilizes space and some acoustic guitar melodies to underline the melancholy at its heart. Dove herself also tackled two songs here on her own — the disorienting “Clone” and the bleary-eyed “Tome” — with results every bit as enticing. Get it here, or listen above.
Sawa Angstrom — Level EP
Electronic trio Sawa Angstrom make music optimal for zoning out too, yet they’ve been pretty focused in 2019. They put out the Of Food EP back in June, and just a few months later they’ve followed it up with another short set of hypnotic numbers to get lost in. Level hypnotizes more than previous releases, with the group laying down shimmering near-glitch beats on “Flame Structure” and using a short loop as a jumping off point for a bunch of subtle experimentation on “Cross Lamina.” Listen above.
scythe — Mirage Diary
Ever just feel burned or bummed out, and wish something could offer nice boost of joy to help you get past the annoyances of everyday life? Chiptune creator scythe offers just the right pick-me-up via Mirage Diary, a set of criss-crossing 8-bit melodies usually offering a hoppy bounce. Part of this chip-born joy comes from the attention to detail scythe puts into their tracks — bad chiptune tends to coast on some lazy nostalgia for “video games when I was a kid,” sounding rad in the moment but vanishing like so many save files shortly after. On this album, scythe adds all kinds of details and melodies hop-scotching around one another that something new reveals itself almost every listen through. Get it here, or listen above.
HALLCA — Villa
Maybe you are coming to the whole city pop renaissance thing recently, which means you possibly missed out on Especia. I truly feel sorry for you. They were an idol group playing around with the concept of vaporwve, but with music which celebrated ‘80s Japanese pop with some clever perspectives on this nostalgia for yesteryear. That group disbanded a few years back, but the members carry on with solo projects. One, now recording as HALLCA, has delivered a set ideal for those longing for Especia with her debut full-length Villa. This is a shimmering set of city-pop-inspired cuts, running from big hooky blowouts like “Complex City” to slow burners like album ender “Moisture Milk.” Lot of people are exploring city pop in 2019, but HALLCA reminds that the style offers way more interpretation. Listen above.