Best Albums of 2015
selected by Toyokazu Mori

30
never young beach<br />“Yashinoki House”

never young beach
“Yashinoki House”

Last summer, I went to a concert in a local club to watch my favourite female trio CRUNCH, who played their own sensitive songs as well as a cover of legendary Japanese rock band Happy End.

There, I also had a chance to see a quintet called never young beach who play folk and country rock, which also has something borrowed from Happy End. While their new LP, “Yashinoki House”, is kept in a gentle mood, their live performances are more of hard-core punk. Kids were very excited, and even call and response happened when they played the song “Dodemo iikedo”, or “It Doesn’t Matter”.

In an interview with Belong Magazine, the band’s singer Yuma Abe said: “We are not handsome guys, but we have been playing with confidence. You should do what you want!”

♪♫ Listen: “Doudemo Iikedo

never young beach on Soundcloud, Twitter – and beehype.

29
Yomei Hyakunen<br />“22 Seiki karano Tegami”

Yomei Hyakunen
“22 Seiki karano Tegami”

Yomei Hyakunen (余命百年) are a Tokyo-based young four-piece. Although they have broad influences from Japanese 70’s folk to 90’s post-rock like with Tortoise as a prime example, they offer their own version of alternative rock.

Their name means “Rest of our life is one hundred”, and their first album is called, “22 Seiki karano Tegami” (二十二世紀からの手紙) , which means “A Letter from the 22th Century”.

Quite appropriately to their name and their debut’s title, this record seems to come from the world where mankind has been ruined.

♪♫ Listen: “Temptation Dance

Yomei Hyakunen on Twitter, www.

28
Hatis Noit<br />“Illogical Dance”

Hatis Noit
“Illogical Dance”

Hatis Noit (ハチスノイト) comes from Shiretoko, Hokkaido, but nowadays she lives in Tokyo. She has studied ballet, theater, koto, gagaku, folk songs, and is a member of groups Mutyumu (夢中夢) and Magdala.

After releasing an album called “Universal Quiet”, that contained her voice only, in 2015 year she released her second solo album “Illogical Dance” with the help of Björk’s collaborator Matmos. And it’s another inspiring record from this unique artists who treats her voice just like an instruments, and instruments like her voice.

♪♫ Listen: “Illogical Lullaby” (Matmos edit)

Hatis Noit on Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype interview.

27
The Natsuyasumi Band<br />“Parade”

The Natsuyasumi Band
“Parade”

This Tokyo based quartet’s singer and pianist Risa Nakagawa says that her songs are not only hers. They belong to all listeners. Their purpose is to be a safe shelter from the real world. Even if it is a temporary place.

And this is actually the reason why they called themselves The Natsuyasumi Band (ザ・なつやすみバンド) , or The Summer Holiday Band. With MC.sirafu’s trumpet, Jun Takagi’s bass and the drumming of Mizuki Murano, they try to change our personal winters into a few moments of summer.

And if you ask us – they’re quite good at it.

♪♫ Listen: “Parade

The Natsuyasumi Band on Facebook, Twitter, www – and beehype.

26
Sonobe Nobukazu<br />“Seikatsu”

Sonobe Nobukazu
“Seikatsu”

Kochi-based singer-songwriter Sonobe Nobukazu writes about the warmness of the sun and the atmosphere of quiet nights. The title of his latest effort, “Seikatsu” (生活), means “Life”. Our everyday life. Sometimes hard, but sometimes filled with happiness – even if only because we have friends in our hometown.

On this album, he is accompanied by several musicians including LLama’s drummer, Senoo Ricky, Chiaki Miura from Shuta Hasunuma Philharmonic Orchestra and Quruli’s ex-drummer Yuji Tanaka, while the whole record was co-produced by Gen Tanabe from Water Water Camel.

♪♫ Listen: “Seikatsu“ 

Sonobe Nobukazu on Facebook, Twitter, www – and beehype.

25
Ide Kensuke to Bosen <br />“Ide Kensuke to Bosen”

Ide Kensuke to Bosen
“Ide Kensuke to Bosen”

Born in Miyazaki, but now living in Tokyo, Kensuke Ide started recording his music while he was working in a theater.

After making two demo CD-Rs, he finally released his first album as Ide Kensuke to Bosen (井手健介と母船) in the company of excellent musicians.

For example, the single “Aoi Sanzoku” (青い山賊), or “Blue Bandit”, features sorrowful flute, keyboard, and percussion by Eiko Ishibashi (who appeared in our Best of 2014 feature). And the beautiful chorus is co-sung by the singer-songwriter Satoko Shibata.

♪♫ Listen: “Aoi Sanzoku

Ide Kensuke to Bosen on Twitter, www – and beehype.

24
The Novembers<br />“Elegance”

The Novembers
“Elegance”

“This record is influenced by The Cure, The Smith and Japanese female singe-songwriter Yuming,” the vocalist and guitarist of The Novembers, Yusuke Kobayashi, said in an interview with Belong Magazine.

For their latest record, the post-punk/shoegaze quintet from Tokyo teamed up with producer Masami Tsuchiya, who’s been known as the support guitarist of JAPAN. Together, they have made an EP with “Elegance” and simple beauty.

♪♫ Listen: “Kireina Umie

The Novembers on Facebook, Twitter, www.

23
Analogfish<br />“Almost A Rainbow”

Analogfish
“Almost A Rainbow”

As this trio from Nagano includes two singers, it should especially appeal to fans of bands like the Beach Boys and XTC.

For years now, Analogfish have been playing alternative rock that’s musically rich, but often minimal in it sound.

However, on their 11th full-length album their music gets a new taste. Starting with the lead single, “Baby Soda Pop”, which is an example of Japanese chill-wave with strong funky rhythms.

♪♫ Listen: “Baby Soda Pop

Analogfish on Facebook, Twitter, www.

22
Kim Wooyong<br />“Ling Lom”

Kim Wooyong
“Ling Lom”

Kim Wooyong (金 佑龍) was born in South Korea, but he soon moved to Osaka in Japan. His parents had many tapes of Korean traditional music though, and he made a good use of them.

As a result, he was simultanously influenced by Western music, Japanese music, and the music of his birthplace.

After his blues/folk band cutman-booche broke up in 2012, he started a solo project and recorded two albums. “Ling Lom” is his latest one, and it includes a beautiful prayer for people who left us, “Toki ga Tomareba”, or “I wish we could just freeze the moment”.

♪♫ Listen: “Toki ga Tomareba

Kim Wooyong on Facebook, Twitter, www – and beehype.

21
Kicell<br />”Akarui Maboroshi”

Kicell
”Akarui Maboroshi”

Kicell (キセル) is a Kyoto duo formed in 1999 by Tujimura brothers. The elder brother, Takefumi (豪文) , plays guitar and drums. The younger, Tomoharu (友晴), plays bass.

Influenced by soul, funk, and Brazilian music, together they make their family blood groove.

Although their latest album, “Akarui Maboroshi” (明るい幻), has been somehow marked by the difficult events of the most recent Japanese history, the brothers’ maintained the energy and the atmosphere of their own version acid folk.

♪♫ Listen: “Toki wo Hanarete

Kicell on Twitter, www – and beehype.

20
Spangle call Lilli line<br />”Ghost Is Dead”

Spangle call Lilli line
”Ghost Is Dead”

Spangle call Lilli line is a Japanese post-rock trio as romantic as the math-rock act Toe, who happen to be their friends. But contrary to Toe’s calculated and complicated sound, SCLL sound rather soft and fresh.

One of the main reasons is the band’s appealing singer, Kana Otsubo. Her voice, somehow droning, maybe even husky, gracefully glides over twin guitars in their 9th album, “Ghost Is Dead”, just like in the superb single “Azure”.

And in the second video off the album, “Feel Uneasy“, they’re joined by Moto Kawabe, the singer of alternative rock band Mitsume.

♪♫ Listen: “azure

Spangle call Lilli line on Facebook, www – and beehype.

19
tofubeats<br />”Positive”

tofubeats
”Positive”

Tofubeats is a beatmaker based in Kobe. He started making tracks using samples from CDs he found in a second-hand store, and later released them as digital EPs on the net label Maltine records.

Last year, he released his third album, “Positive”, which features guest musicians like KREVA, Skylar Spence, Shigeru Kishida from Quruli.

Above all, he collaborated with Tetsuya “TK” Komuro, a legendary producer known for his million-dollar singles. Tofubeats gave his songs a new energy.

♪♫ Listen: “Throw Your Laptop On The Fire” Feat. Tetsuya Komuro

tofubeats on Facebook, Twitter, www.

18
Sakanaction<br />”Natsukashii Tuki wa Atarashii Tuki”

Sakanaction
”Natsukashii Tuki wa Atarashii Tuki”

Electro-rock quintet from Sapporo, Sakanaction belong to the best-known Japanese alternative groups of the recent decade. One of their distinctive features is the way the singer and composer Ichiro Yamaguchi expresses emotions in his singing – inspired by folk, but in a very Japanese way.

Last year, Sakanaction (サカナクション) released a double compilation album called “Natsukashii Tuki wa Atarashii Tuki” (懐かしい月は新しい月), meaning “A Nostalgic Moon Is a New Moon”. It contains B-sides of their singles, unreleased songs and remixes. Among the featured guests are Takkyu Ishino, Yoshinori Sunahara, AOKI Takamasa and Cornelius.

♪♫ Listen: “Slow Motion

Sakanaction on Facebook, Twitter, www + special website.

17
Towa Tei<br />”CUTE”

Towa Tei
”CUTE”

In an interview with “Real Sound”, the prominent eclectic house / electronica producer Towa Tei said: “I don’t like EDM, they all sound the same. I can’t feel any emotions in them.”

For this reason, instead of playing as a DJ, he’d rather use his time for hot springs.

And he actually come up with an idea for one of his new songs while soaking in a bath. A hymn to love that should become a pandemic all around the globe, “LUV PANDEMIC” is one of the highlights of the 50-year old 10th studio album, “CUTE”.

♪♫ Listen: “LUV PANDEMIC

Towa Tei on Facebook, Twitter, www – and beehype.

16
Seiichi Yamamoto <br />”Wazauta”

Seiichi Yamamoto
”Wazauta”

Seiichi Yamamoto (山本精一) is a great singer-songwriter and a guitarist of ROVO. Earlier, he was also a member of Rashinban and the internationally acclaimed noise group Boredoms.

The other day, I went to his concert at a dining venue. Yamamoto was singing a song about the time he was away from his sweetheart. When he sung that it might be waste of time to live in this world, a woman in the venue who was drinking alone took a knife and cut cheese on her plate.

It probably didn’t have any meaning, but I remembered it clearly.

Seiichi Yamamoto on www.

15
tigerMos<br />”TIGERMOS”

tigerMos
”TIGERMOS”

Imagine that Flying Lotus meets Simon & Garfunkel. They decide to have a trip together, and organize recording sessions all around the globe.

The result would be a lot like the music of Japanese electro-folk sextet tigerMos. Their music is sophisticated, but sometimes shows a certain wildness, and it conveys mournful emotions.

Paradoxical music like this – that’s something I personally appreciate.

♪♫ Listen: “HolyRover

tigerMos on Facebook, Twitter, www – and beehype.

14
Saho Terao<br />”Daen no Yume“

Saho Terao
”Daen no Yume“

“Oval has two focuses, and it results in its various shapes. A perfect circle is beautiful with only one center. But it can’t spread. In the case of ovals, we can have a different answer for each one,” Saho Terao (寺尾紗穂) explained the meaning of her new album at her live performances.

The title of the record, “Daen no Yume” (楕円の夢), means “Oval Dreams”. She has also written a book about laborers at nuclear power plant, from a fair point of view. And just like in this book, she plays quiet but intense folk songs on her album, and her music soaks into our minds.

♪♫ Listen: “Daen no Yume

Saho Terao on Facebook, Twitter, www.

13
Open Reel Ensemble<br />”Vocal Code”

Open Reel Ensemble
”Vocal Code”

“I have remodeled open reel to work by itself, and to be able to control it by iPhone. Because I had found that open reel’s sound and having the ability to move while operating it brings great results,” Ei Wada, the leader of Tokyo-based quintet Open Reel Ensemble, explained in an interview with OTOTOY.

They actually play five open reels, adding a violin, bass guitar and percussion. Their music is a perfect fusion of analog instruments and digital technology.

In 2015, they released their second album called “Vocal Code”. And according to its title, it’s their collaboration with various guest musicians and their individual vocal codes.

♪♫ Listen: album trailer

Open Reel Ensemble on Facebook, Twitter, www.

12
OGRE YOU ASSHOLE<br />”Workshop”

OGRE YOU ASSHOLE
”Workshop”

After releasing a trilogy of albums influenced by anything from krautrock to reggae to soul to world music, the Nagano based alternative rock quartet – the winner of our 2014 best albums list – released their first live recording to celebrate 10 years of activity.

“We wanted to make a live album which would differ from original material,” singer and guitarist Manabu Deto told us.

“Probably it can be enjoyed by people who don’t know us yet,” said Manabu. “This album will show you the dynamics and joy of our live performances. And I hope that you will come to our show afterwards.”

I also hope that someone invites them to play outside Japan.

♪♫ Listen: album trailer

OGRE YOU ASSHOLE on Facebook, Twitter, www.

11
VIDEOTAPEMUSIC<br />”Sekaikakkoku no Yoru”

VIDEOTAPEMUSIC
”Sekaikakkoku no Yoru”

Videotapemusic is the monicker of a Tokyo-based solo musician who plays pianica while sampling movies from old video tapes.

He started his career when he was an art university student. He didn’t have much money, so he used video recorder to make music. His unique style has gradually formed.

Last year he released his second album titled “Sekaikakkoku no Yoru” (世界各国の夜), which means “The Night of All Countries”, on the label kakubarhythm.

As the name of his project suggests, he has also been known as a movie director – and of course the album trailer was directed by himself.

♪♫ Listen: “Hong Kong Night View

VIDEOTAPEMUSIC on Twitter, www – and beehype.

10
Kinoko Teikoku<br />”Neko to Allergy”

Kinoko Teikoku
”Neko to Allergy”

The composer, singer and guitar player of the Tokyo-based group Kinoko Teikoku (きのこ帝国) is a boyish, beautiful woman from Iwate in the northern part of Japan. First as an actress, now as a musician, Chiaki Sato has been consistently telling stories about things from her daily life.

“I like cats, but I am allergic to them. I like to have cats close but I can’t hold them,” she said in an interview with Anan. This painful feeling is the main theme of Kinoko Teikoku’s new album, “Neko to Allergy” (猫とアレルギー), which means “Cats and Allergy.”

For this album, they created pop songs with only occasional noises. After years of playing shoegaze, I think they finally faced reality.

♪♫ Listen: “Neko to Allergy

Kinoko Teikoku on Twitter, www – and beehype.

9
Tricot<br />””A N D”

Tricot
””A N D”

Intricate and utterly unpredictable, Tricot’s music combines rock’n’roll’s spontaneity with higher-dimensional geometry, making the Kyoto/Shiga trio one of the most fascinating rock groups in Japan.

“We enjoy accidents that occur when Tricot’s personality collides or intersects with other people’s personalities, sometimes violently, always excitingly. It is stimulating, and it’s fun,” they said in our interview about their new album, “A N D”, which features five different drummers.

While they are influenced by acclaimed Japanese musician Shiina Ringo as well as post-punk group Number Girl, they have a thoroughly unique style, exciting audiences around the world. This year they will tour Europe, from Ireland to Poland.

♪♫ Listen: “E

Tricot on Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype interview.

8
LILI LIMIT<br />”Etudes”

LILI LIMIT
”Etudes”

LILI LIMIT are a rising Japanese math rock and alternative pop act founded in Yamaguchi, but now based in Tokyo. Their first album,“Etudes”, is a mixture of their broad tastes.

For example, LILI LIMIT’s keyboard player admires Phoenix and MEW. The guitarist likes Cornelius and Shugo Tokumaru. The singer’s first love was Led Zeppelin, then came Metalica, Nirvana, and finally he discovered Sigur Rós and Björk.

“I think that in Japan we are often caught by categories or genres – even more than other nations. So when we are making songs, we try to build a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world by absorbing foreign music into J-Pop,” the singer Jumpei Makino told us in an interview.

While we are still enjoying “Etudes”, their second album is coming out this February.

♪♫ Listen: “at good mountain

LILI LIMIT on Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype interview.

7
Unison Square Garden<br />”Dugout Accitent”

Unison Square Garden
”Dugout Accitent”

Alternative three-piece Unison Square Garden have never cared about success in the music industry. Nevertheless, or maybe because of this, they’ve became one of the biggest rock bands in Japan, while keeping the same spirit they played with in their early days.

Their guitar-centered songs combine contemporary influences with 80’s new wave and 90’s alternative rock. The main composer, Tomoya Tabuchi, has no prejudices about music genres. He loves indie rock, but also songs for Japanese animations.

This CD&DVD release, a follow up to “Catcher in the Spy” that appeared in our Best of 2014, reminds me of Spitz, THE BACK HORN, Mr. Children and many other Japanese artists.

But it also filtered J-POP’s best elements, like sharp drum attacks, groovy base lines, and bittersweet vocals. Finally, they make the listener smile from ear to ear.

♪♫ Listen: “Sugar Song & Bitter Step

Unison Square Garden on Twitter, www.

6
Cornelius<br />”Constellations Of Music”

Cornelius
”Constellations Of Music”

These days, everyone and everything is online. One of the most acclaimed electro musicians and the author of such acclaimed albums as “Fantasma” and “Point”, Cornelius suddenly dropped a new LP which expresses the atmosphere of the music scene in 2015.

As its name suggests, the record contains his collaborations with other musicians on new materials as well as remixes. Among Cornelius’ guest are Salyu×Salyu, Shintaro Sakamoto, Yumiko Ohno from Buffalo Daughter and more.

It’s also worth mentioning that in recent years Cornelius composed music for the “Ghost in the Shell: Arise” anime series and for the 2015 theatre movie “Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie”.

♪♫ Listen: album trailer

Cornelius on Facebook, Twitter, www + special website.

5
goat<br />”Rhythm & Sound”

goat
”Rhythm & Sound”

Osaka-based quartet goat consists of a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, and a sax player. But they tend to mute their instruments, and instead of playing melodies or chords, they repeat same phrases.

And just like in the case of classical minimal music, slight fluctuations in their compositions bring pleasant feelings, yet of a completely new kind.

The main person behind goat is Koshiro Hino, who also runs an electronic label called birdFriend. He also has a solo project, YPY, whose recent EP album has been released by Nous, a label based in Berlin.

Currently he seems to be starting a new project, possibly seeking another way of discovering a yet-unknown, but certainly fantastic music.

♪♫ Listen: “On Fire

goat on Facebook, Twitter, www.

4
Roth Bart Baron<br />”Atom”

Roth Bart Baron
”Atom”

Just one year after Tokyo-based folk rock duo ROTH BART BARON gave us a great album called “The Ice Age” (氷河期), which appeared in our Best of 2014, they released a second LP called “ATOM”.

Singer and guitarist Masaya Mifune plays various guitars, and Tetsuya Nakahara mainly plays drums, but they are supported by three other musicians who add keyboard, horns and various other instruments.

Their new LP reminds me of fragile moments of understanding between myself and someone I loved when I was young. There’s a sense of loneliness in Mifune’s voice, close to Perfume Genius’ solemn atmosphere. The two musicians draw their songs from their personal places of solitude.

They’ve recorded “ATOM” at the studio of Mauro Pezzente, where Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Arcade Fire have also recorded. Their music feels like it was played in a cathedral, but deep down in our hearts.

♪♫ Listen: “big HOPe

Roth Bart Baron on Facebook, Twitter, www.

3
Yoshida Yohei Group<br />”Paradise Lost, It Begins”

Yoshida Yohei Group
”Paradise Lost, It Begins”

With ubiquitous keyboards, alto saxophone, flute, and trumpet, the chamber pop group Yoshida Yohei Group (吉田ヨウヘイgroup) are among the most acclaimed bands in Japanese alternative scene.

Last year they released their third album, “Paradise Lost, It Begins”. It sounds clearer than the group’s previous records. We can recognize shapes of sounds more precisely, as if they were more focused.

If their earlier album “Smart Citizen” – also one of our favourite records of 2014 – expressed memories of adolescence, the new one is clearly about early adulthood.

Linking personal memories of each listener, the music should purify them and lead to a kind of catharsis. “I intended to be understood universally even though the things I describe are so personal,” the leader Yohei Yoshida told us in an interview.

His band’s music seems to be an ideal of pop. While the song structures are full of ideas and immense music knowledge, you can enjoy them easily because of their melodies and never get bored ever after many listens. Hopefully, new generations will keep rediscovering them in future world.

♪♫ Listen: “Machigatte Hosikunai

Yoshida Yohei Group on Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype interview.

2
group_inou<br />”MAP”

group_inou
”MAP”

Critically acclaimed electro hip-hop duo from Tokyo, group_inou reveal the desires and irritations of ordinary life through their danceable tracks and rapped lyrics culled from unconsciousness. And their live performances are more like rituals than standard shows.

“Our lyrics don’t have one particular explanation, at least not a conscious one. They come out naturally,” they told us in an interview. They titled their latest album with just one word – “MAP” – because it suggests a wider image. “It actually doesn’t need more explanation. We often rely on our intuition and record our music on the go,” they explained.

group_inou consists of (a beatmaker) imai and (an MC) cp. They also run an independent label called GAL, in order to maintain their creative freedom.

Recently, I saw them perform at a venue in my city and they put on a really exciting show. It would be fantastic if someone invited them to play all around the world, really. They would get there in the blink of an “Eye.”

♪♫ Listen: “Eye

group_inou on Twitter, Facebook, www + beehype interview.

1
Remigai <br />”F E N E S T I C A”

Remigai
”F E N E S T I C A”

Deep beat and coquettish female vocal cuts through the darkness like a flash of lightning. The melody climbs up like on a staircase, and then makes a few unexpected twists. But as Remigai (レミ街) told us in an interview, unpredictable results is what they always pursue. Their song are alive and grow up by themselves.

Last summer, the Nagoya-based chamber pop group released their third album – and a masterpiece – titled “F E N E S T I C A“ (フ ェ ネ ス テ ィ カ), via the local label Thanks Giving. In the studio, they were accompanied by sax, flute, fiddle, and cello players.

I would compare their music to the soundtrack of Hayao Miyazaki’s “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” if it was to be reconstructed by Flying Lotus or Thom Yorke. In fact, the band’s singer Aya Fukaya has been influenced by Joe Hisaishi’s music for Studio Ghibli films. And the composer, keyboard player Masahiro Araki, often refers to the WARP catalogue.

Every spring, they hold a special concert called “The Dance We Do” in a theater venue. Supported by the city of Nagoya, last year they played with a junior high school chorus group. This spring they will be accompanied by a high school brass band.

Araki is also a producer making music for a major company’s films. He said once that he would love to make a track for Björk. I really hope Remigai have a chance to meet her one day. Let it be beehype’s wish for this great group for the new year.

♪♫ Listen: “CATCH

Remigai on Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype interview.