Best Albums of 2014
selected by Toyokazu Mori and Satoru Matsuura

Kelly Muff (ケリーマフ) <BR>“The Band Name Is”

Kelly Muff (ケリーマフ)
“The Band Name Is”

Whatever you call it – garage punk, scream rock, or crash beat as Kelly Muff describe their own music – it’s hard not to be impressed by the trio’s inexhaustible energy and their ability to condense it into 3-minute songs. It seems quite inappropriate to call their new release a mini-album.

♪♫ Listen: “蜘蛛がペット

Kelly Muff on www, Twitter, Facebook.

Sunny Day Service <BR>(サニーデイ・サービス) <BR> “Sunny”

Sunny Day Service

Legendary 90’s guitar/city pop trio broke up in 2000 to return to the scene a few years ago. Their 9th studio album, “Sunny”, took almost half a decade to complete, but it paid back in meticulous production and eleven well-rounded songs not far away, but not too close to the band’s origins.

♪♫ Listen: “愛し合い 感じ合い 眠り合う

Sunny Day Service on www, Twitter profiles of Tanaka Takashi & Keiichi Sokabe, Rose Records on Facebook.

Uoza (魚座) <BR>“I”

Uoza (魚座)

Kitakyushu city pop outfit Uoza started in early 2000s as a solo project of Fujii Kunihiro (藤井邦博), and later evolved into a proper alternative rock quartet. Their first full-length release, “I”, sums up those long formative years, ranging from dreamy indie ballads to sweeping orchestral hymns.

♪♫ Listen: album mix

Uoza on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook.

Megurineko (廻猫) <BR>“Neko no Sara” (猫ノ皿)

Megurineko (廻猫)
“Neko no Sara” (猫ノ皿)

Megurineko are a three piece guitar-bass-drums band formed in Tokyo in 2010, and presenting the sound that brought so many fans to J-rock over the years. “Neko no Sara” (A Cat Dish) is their 2nd mini-album, and it heralds a debut full-length we shouldn’t have to wait for too long.

♪♫ Listen: “症候群

Megurineko on Tumblr, Soundcloud, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter.

Homecomings <BR>“Somehow, Somewhere”

“Somehow, Somewhere”

After releasing a couple of mini-albums, Homecomings presented their first LP “Somehow, Somewhere” just before Christmas. Although they sing in English, the mostly female Kyoto quartet processes local inspirations which you will hear in their melodies and rhythms. Jungly guitar pop with a Japanese touch.

♪♫ Listen: ““Great Escape”

Homecomings on www, Twitter.

Kinoko Teikoku (きのこ帝国) <BR>“Fake World Wonderland” <BR>(フェイクワールドワンダーランド)

Kinoko Teikoku (きのこ帝国)
“Fake World Wonderland”

All four members of Kinoko Teikoku(Mushroom Empire) attended the same university in Tokyo and that’s where the band was formed. Considering her teenage years somehow lost, the band’s singer and guitarist, Chiaki Sato, admitted that it was music that brought her back to life. Now the band’s unique mixture of shoegaze and pop – perfectly executed on their second LP, “Fake World Wonderland” – continues to fuel a deservedly growing audience.

♪♫ Listen: “Tokyo

Kinoko Teikoku on www, Twitter .

Photodisco (フォトディスコ) <BR>“Skylove”

Photodisco (フォトディスコ)

One-man Tokyo project Photodisco (フォトディスコ) blends filtered guitars with synthesizers into a sound that could be called Japan’s answer to chillwave – and he indeed played with Baths on stage. Thanks to Photodisco’s wide inspirations, ranging form indie rock to techno, his new album released on P-Vine Records escapes easy pigeonholing.

♪♫ Listen: “album trailer

Photodisco on www, YouTube.

The Novembers <BR>“Rhapsody in Beauty”

The Novembers
“Rhapsody in Beauty”

On their 5th full-length record, the Tokyo outfit The Novembers perfect their atmospheric sound with slowed-down rhythms, mellow vocals and strongly reverbed guitars. For fans of The Cure, The Smiths – and murky November days.

♪♫ Listen: “Romancé

The Novembers on www, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp.

Hi, How Are You <BR>“Summer Gift” (さまぁ〜ぎふと)

Hi, How Are You
“Summer Gift” (さまぁ〜ぎふと)

Hi, How Are You are a man-woman duo named after Daniel Johnston’s unfinished 1983 album. Released on Rose Records, the label of Keiichi Sokabe for Sunny Day Service, “Summer Gift” is their second album and indeed, it’s filled with acoustic tunes pefect for summer trips.

♪♫ Listen: “お盆” (Lantern Festival)

Hi, How Are You on Blogspot.

CRUNCH <BR> “Futoshita Nichijyo no Koto” <BR>(ふとした日常のこと)

“Futoshita Nichijyo no Koto”

Female rock trio CRUNCH are influenced by a variety of alternative bands from Japanese legends Happy End to New Order to Radiohead. “Our music is like a diary, a landscape I’ve seen, a landscape I want to see,” says Noriyo Hotta, the guitarist and singer of the Nagoya-based group. “Futoshita Nichijyo no Koto”, meaning “A Chance, Everyday Thing”, is their first mini-album

♪♫ Listen: “Mori no Naka” (森の中)

CRUNCH on Blogspot, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.

The fin. <BR>“Days with Uncertainty”

The fin.
“Days with Uncertainty”

Released just at the end of 2014, “Days With Uncertainty” is the first full-length album from Kobe-based quartet of Yuto Uchino, Ryosuke Odagaki, Takayasu Taguchi and Kaoru Nakazawa. The Fin.’s sound is still evolving, but it’s already something every fan of chillwave and synth pop sould consider for their playlist.

♪♫ Listen: “Night Time

The fin. on www, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Bandcamp, Soundcloud.

Based on Kyoto <BR>“New Born From My Roots”

Based on Kyoto
“New Born From My Roots”

As their name suggests, Based on Kyoto are a duo from Kyoto making tropical eclectic/electronic sounds. Formed in mid-2000s by guitarist Marron and producer Daichi, they aimed at re-interpreting western dance music as filtered through Japanese ears. It took several years to complete their new album, “New Born From My Roots”, but the wait was worth it.

♪♫ Listen: Live @5Bit

Based on Kyoto on Myspace, Beatport.

Sayoko-daisy <BR>“Normal Position” <BR>(ノーマル・ポジション)

“Normal Position”

Born in Osaka, raised in Nara, electro-pop princess Sayoko-daisy has been performing since her teenage years but only now released her full-length debut, “Normal Position”. “Technology is digital, the heart is analog.”

♪♫ Listen: “Normal Position

Sayoko-daisy on www, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud.

Juvenile Juvenile <BR>“Our Great Escape”

Juvenile Juvenile
“Our Great Escape”

Two years after their debut EP, “Don’t Tell Your Friends”, the Osaka dream pop outfit finally released their proper full-length entitled “Our Great Escape”. With a simple 4-piece rock line-up (voice, guitars, bass, drums) Juvenile Juvenile decorate their austere sound with rich melodies.

♪♫ Listen: “Our Great Escape

Juvenile Juvenile on www, Soundcloud, Twitter, Blogspot, Facebook.

Four O’clocks <BR> “Kouwan Toshi” (港湾都市)

Four O’clocks
“Kouwan Toshi” (港湾都市)

Since the trio Four O’Clocks formed in 2013, they urge listeners to slow down against the haste of the present age – and the dominant overabundance of the Japanese music scene. Affected mainly by soft rock, new soul and city pop, they sketch moments of everyday affairs between lovers and other serene scenes on their 1st mini-album, “Kouwan Toshi” (港湾都市), or “Harbor City”.

♪♫ Listen: “Asa No Koibito” (朝の恋人)

Four O’clocks on Soundcloud, MySpace, Twitter, Facebook.

My Letter <BR>“My Letter”

My Letter
“My Letter”

“I would like you to be free to interpret our songs by yourself, just like our name which has no specific meaning. I want to make unexpected music by mixing various ideas”, Chikara Kinugasa, the front man of My Letter, told us. You will hear some influence of US alternative groups like Velvet Underground on their self-titled album, but it’s complemented by high-pitched voice, two distinctive guitars and women-led rhythm section. “I like so-called classic rock, but each member grew up listening to other kinds of music,” Kinugasa said. “When we make songs, I try to keep in mind that those things can be brought out”.

♪♫ Listen: “Amerika” (アメリカ)

My Letter on Tumblr.

Yuki Hirasedo (ヒラセドユウキ) <BR>“Monochrome”

Yuki Hirasedo (ヒラセドユウキ)

Born in 1988, Tokyo composer and pianist Yuki Hirasedo (ヒラセドユウキ) believes that music draws its strength from subtracting rather than adding elements. His first full-length album, “Monochrome”, is a manifestation of this idea, a fine mixture of chamber classical music’s sound and post-rock’s philosophy.

♪♫ Listen: “Behind the Scenes

Yuki Hirasedo on Soundcloud, Tumblr, Twitter.

Neco Nemuru <BR>“BOY”

Neco Nemuru

Formed in Osaka in 2003, Neco Nemuru (Neco眠る) are a bizarre instrumental disco unit unlike anything in the Japanese music scene. Currently a sextet, “BOY” is their comeback full-length after several years of hiatus and some line-up changes. It was worth waiting: the albums contains 17 tracks as colourful as the album’s cover.

♪♫ Listen: album sampler

Neco Nemuru on www, Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.

Manners <BR>“Facies”


“I am interested in blank spaces. I don’t like things too concrete. It chokes me up,” says singer, guitarist and composer Mai Mishio (見汐 麻衣) from Fukuoka. It probably explains the sound of her new project, Manners, characterized by Mai’s cool vocals and experimental psychedelic vibe, co-created by bassist Chiyo Kamekawa – previously in Yura Yura Teikoku, now in Keiji Haino’s group Fushitsusha – drummer Reisaburo Adachi who also plays sax, and Mitsuhisa Sakaguchi on keyboards.

♪♫ Listen: “暗号 Ango

Manners on www, Facebook, Twitter.

Piana <BR>“Muse”


You might have heard her voice before, either during a live show or on one of her solo albums. “Muse” comes after seven years of absence, but Piana is her usual self, invoking a dreamy but desolate feeling with her music. It’s a distinct “blue” mood reminiscent of Vashti Bunyan, Laura Nylo, or the legendary singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

♪♫ Listen: “Silence

Piana on www, SoundcloudFacebook, Twitter.

Lillies and Remains <BR>“Romanticism”

Lillies and Remains

Born in a Kyoto college in 2006, Lillies and Remains were initially deeply inspired by such artists as Gang of Four, The Fall, or Bauhaus, but gradually developed their own sound. Their new album, “Romanticism”, combines the inhuman with the emotional creating intense but not overwhelming atmosphere throughout the record.

♪♫ Listen: “Body

Lillies and Remains on www, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook.

Little Phrase <BR>“Find Your Sense”

Little Phrase
“Find Your Sense”

The post-rock quintet from Yamaguchi took five long years to release a follow up of their debut album, “Landscape”. Completing the guitar/bass/drums arrangments with string instruments and electronics, the’ve managed to put even more depth and sentiment into their music. Being inspired by “colors, seasons and feelings”, they hope their new album will help you “Find Your Sense”.

♪♫ Listen: “Snow in the City Sky

Little Phrase on www, Soundcloud, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube.

Luminous Orange <BR> “Soar, Kiss the Moon”

Luminous Orange
“Soar, Kiss the Moon”

Formed in the early 1990s in Yokohana as an all-female alternative band, Luminous Orange is currently a solo project of multi-instrumentalist Rie Takeuchi. Although she sings as well as plays guitars, keyboards, percussions, and takes care of programming, for her new album she also invited a range of acclaimed Japanese musicians, including several members of Yoshida Yohei Group.

♪♫ Listen: “Das Experiment

Luminous Orange on www, Twitter, Bandcamp.

Unison Square Garden <BR>“Catcher in the Spy”

Unison Square Garden
“Catcher in the Spy”

“I flipped the bird at success in the music industry,” said Unison Square Garden’s composer and bassist, Tomoya Tabuchi. Twisted and universal at the same time, their songs are the perfect form of pop music. Occasionally using piano or horns, the trio basically play guitar pop rock filtered through post-punk and alternative rock sensitivity. They tend to create complicated songs with frequent changes of rhythm, but the melodies remain simple. Note by note, they carefully carve their sound leaving enough blank space for listeners to imagine the rest.

♪♫ Listen: “Harmonized Finale

Unison Square Garden on www, Twitter, YouTube.

Akihiro Ueda (植田 章敬) <BR>“Pink”

Akihiro Ueda (植田 章敬)

Inspirations of Akihiro Ueda (植田 章敬), a new soul and city-pop oriented singer-songwriter from Okayama, are not new at all. He loves Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. With these inspirations he started his proper music career in Spring 2014 releasing his debut full-length album “Pink”. Personal and spacious, it promises a lasting career for this young performer.

♪♫ Listen: “Pink

Akihiro Ueda on www, Facebook, Twitter.

ayU tokiO <BR>“Koi suru Danchi” (恋する団地)

ayU tokiO
“Koi suru Danchi” (恋する団地)

It is a refreshing experience to listen to ayU tokiO a.k.a. Ayu Inozume (猪爪東風), ex member of MAHOΩ and Chef Cooks Me. Unpredicteble, full of extremes and simple joy this young Tokyo artist’s music has finally found its way to a proper CD release as the mini-album “Koi suru Danchi”, or a “Love Complex”, in the more architectural meaning of the latter word.

♪♫ Listen: “恋する団地

ayU tokiO on www, Twitter, YouTube.

Wakusei no Kazoekata <BR>(惑星のかぞえかた) <br>“Asa wo Matsu” (朝を待つ)

Wakusei no Kazoekata
“Asa wo Matsu” (朝を待つ)

Wakusei no Kazoekata (How to Count Planets) are not afraid to walk the thin line between minimalistic psychedelia and experimental song structure in the context of folk music. Fronted by a classically-trained singer/guitarist Tomoko Ishizaka, the Tokyo-based duo has recently released their official debut album “Asa wo Matsu”, or “Waiting for the Morning”.

♪♫ Listen: “Gozentyu no jikanwari

Wakusei no Kazoekata on Tumblr, Bandcamp.

Mitsume (ミツメ) <BR>“Sasayaki” (ささやき)

Mitsume (ミツメ)
“Sasayaki” (ささやき)

Like a letter from another world, the Tokyo-based rock outfit Mitsume play nostalgic music with precise guitar cuts and warm keyboard sounds. In spite of the fact that their third album, “Sasayaki” (ささやき), is edgier and more ambiguous than group’s previous efforts, it turned out to be their most successful to date, and it fully deserved it.

♪♫ Listen: “Sasayaki

Mitsume on www, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot.

Mori wa Ikiteiru <BR>(森は生きている)<BR> “Good Night” (グッド・ナイト)

Mori wa Ikiteiru
“Good Night” (グッド・ナイト)

Electric and bass guitars, vocals, synths, percussion, mandolin, banjo, piano, organ, accordion, toy piano, alto sax, flute, trumpet – Mori wa Ikiteiru’s instrumental versatility translates brilliantly into a thick and opaque sound. It sets the 6-piece band from Fussa somewhere in the middle between progressive, jazz-rock and chamber pop, accurately articulated on their new album, “Good Night”.

♪♫ Listen: “煙夜の夢

Mori wa Ikiteiru on www, Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook.

Oh Shu (王舟) <BR>“Wang”

Oh Shu (王舟)

Oh Shu (王舟) was born in Shanghai in China, but his family migrated to Japan. He grew up listening to New Orleans jazz, and in his high school days he was into Oasis, X Japan and Spitz while playing Bossa Nova in a band. Finally, he started solo career with the help of Shugo Tokumaru who found him and advised how to make a good record. “Wang” is the title of his debut album, and also the original pronunciation of his first name 王 (Oh).

♪♫ Listen: “Thailand

Oh Shu on www, Twitter.

Akiko Hotaka (穂高 亜希子) <BR>“Mizuiro” (みずいろ)

Akiko Hotaka (穂高 亜希子)
“Mizuiro” (みずいろ)

Tokyo singer-songwriter Akiko Hotaka’s aim is simple: affirmation of our existence in this world. “I’d like to show you the blue sky after we went through a dark tunnel,” she said in an interview for “Indies Issue.”

You could have heard her already on Maher Shalal Hash Baz 2004 album, “Faux Depart”, where she played the bass guitar. Later she met Jojo Hiroshige (JOJO広重) from Hijōkaidan (非常階段), who loved her songs and invited Akiko to a join a compilation he was working on. On her second solo LP, “Mizuiro” (みずいろ), she sings and plays guitar and piano, with other muscians supporting her on tuba, accordion and contrabass.

As Kotaro Kondo described in “AERA”, her natural voice reminds us about water, wind, night, colours – anything that only exists as it is. She admits she’s been having a hard time living in a big city like Tokyo. But still there she is, playing and singing with her songs setting both her and us free.

♪♫ Listen: “Mizuiro

Akiko Hotaka on Facebook, Twitter.

Nabowa (ナボワ) <BR>“4”

Nabowa (ナボワ)

Nabowa is an instrumental group formed in Kyoto in 2004. Violin, guitar, bass and drums – their clear music brings a faint feeling of watching an Indian drawing. Like ink soaks into paper, their sound draws subtle patterns, sketching an idyllic and pleasant scenery. For an example of their multicolored soundscape try the single “Yuragu Sakana”, meaning “A Swaying Fish”.

♪♫ Listen: “Yuragu Sakana” (揺らぐ魚)

Nabowa on www, Facebook, Twitter.

Masaki Hanakata <BR>(ハナカタ マサキ) <BR>“Lentment”

Masaki Hanakata
(ハナカタ マサキ)

You could guess it from the cover. With such instruments as toy piano, banjo and “objects”, fans of Shugo Tokumaru will be delighted by the sound Masaki Hanakata developed on his new album, “Lentment” – available to stream in its entirety on Bandcamp. We owe those rich arrangments both Hanakata’s composing skills and the musical imagination of his supporting band – Ryusaku Ikezawa, Keigo Iwami, Yousuke Adachi, Mariko and Tica.

♪♫ Listen: “Panama

Masaki Hanakata on www, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Bandcamp, Soundcloud.

Jiro Miwa (三輪 二郎) <BR>“Ⅲ”

Jiro Miwa (三輪 二郎)

“This is the most bluesy song-oriented rock album in Japan. As if great musicians from various generations played together for a youth like me”, singer-songwriter Jiro Miwa told us about his new record, “Ⅲ”. With producer Jyoji Sawada on bass guitar, Marcos Fernandes behind drums and female singer-songwriter Seiko Omori supporting him, the recording session was more like an intense chemical reaction than a typical studio marathon.

While Jiro’s style seems to balance between pop and queer, his lyrics would liken longing for a girl to a monorail train running through a vacant land reclaimed from the sea in the bay city of Yokohama, his hometown. As if great poets from various generations wrote together for a youth like him.

♪♫ Listen: Jiro Miwa’s duet with Seiko Omori

Jiro Miwa on www, Twitter.

Chiina (チーナ) <BR>“Docci”

Chiina (チーナ)

Japanese quintet Chiina (チーナ) formed in 2007 to quickly become famous of treating each instrument very individually – whether it’s violin and contrabass, guitars or microKorg, drums or airy vocals of the singer Kyoko Shiina. Their new mini album, “Docci”, combines delicate chamber pop with classical influences and the effect is both attractive and elegant.

♪♫ Listen: “Syllabus

Chiina on www, Facebook, Twitter profiles of the band’s members: Kyoko Shiina, Leader, Yukako Shiba, Eri Hayashi, Happy.

Yogee New Waves <BR>“Paraiso”

Yogee New Waves

Tokyo quartet Yogee New Waves are a city pop unit clearly influenced by the famous Japanese group Happy End. But they update the legacy of local rock with reggae and dub inspirations, which results in a unique sound brilliantly articulated on their new album, “Paraiso”.

♪♫ Listen: “Hello Ethiopia

Yogee New Waves on www, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.

nhhmbase <BR>“Mizube no Tudumi” (水辺の鼓)

“Mizube no Tudumi” (水辺の鼓)

Singer and guitar/keyboard player Mamoru (マモル) started the rock band nhhmbase when he heard the Ramones. After listening to The Beatles and George Martin, he studied George’s horn and strings arrangements, and that influenced how he makes his own songs. He majored in architecture, but eventually gave it up. Instead of it, he builds geometric structures of post rock songs with shapely phrases and somehow friendly and dreamy sound.

♪♫ Listen: “Ichirin no hana

nhhmbase on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.

Kirinji (キリンジ) <BR>“11”

Kirinji (キリンジ)

This might be the strongest answer to the trend of new Japanese city-pop. Brothers Takaki Horigome (堀込高樹) and Yasuyuki Horigome (堀込泰行) started to perform as Kirinji in 1996. But their latest album, entitled simply “11”, was a turning point for the band because the brother-duo broke up eventually. After Yasuyuki left the group to pursue solo career, Takaki reformed the band with several musicians joining him in studio and on stage. That change gave Kirinji a new sound – rich and colourful.

♪♫ Listen: “Shinsuisiki” (進水式)

Kirinji on www, Facebook.

Mononkuru (ものんくる) <BR>“Minami-e” (南へ)

Mononkuru (ものんくる)
“Minami-e” (南へ)

Formed in 2011 by Ryuta Tsunoda and Yoshida Sara, the duo Mononkuru (ものんくる) play jazzy pop songs unpredictable and accessible at the same. Their new album was released on the label run by Naruyoshi Kikuchi (菊地成孔), and its title “Minami-e” means “Towards South” or “Due South” – and might or might not have been inspired by the famous Canadian TV series.

♪♫ Listen: live sampler

Mononkuru on www, YouTube.

Hajime Sekiguchi (関口 萌) <BR>“The Phantom Sea”

Hajime Sekiguchi (関口 萌)
“The Phantom Sea”

Hajime Sekiguchi (関口 萌) is a talented singer-songwriter from Tokyo indie scene. Although he was initilly inspired by Mr. Children (Japanese pop-rock band) or Talking Heads, his interests and his music continue to evolve. As he is based in Setagaya, an area of Japan’s capital close to the sea, no wonder he’s devoted his new album to “The Phantom Sea”.

♪♫ Listen: “I & Control

Hajime Sekiguchi on Tumblr, Twitter, Soundcloud.

Shuta Hasunuma Philharmonic Orchestra <BR>(蓮沼執太フィル) <BR>“Toki ga Kanaderu” <BR>(時が奏でる)

Shuta Hasunuma Philharmonic Orchestra
“Toki ga Kanaderu”

After releasing three records as a solo electronic artist, Shuta Hasunuma (蓮沼執太) revealed the debut album of his new project, a large ensemble featuring all kinds of instruments, from piano and guitars to violin, saxophone, euphonium and marimba. Even the notorious rapper 環ROY (Tamaki Roy) makes an appearance.

Yet despite orchestral arrangements, these are still above all songs – full of beautiful melodies and joyful energy.

♪♫ Listen: “Zero Concerto

Shuta Hasunuma Philharmonic Orchestra on www, YouTube, Twitter.

Roth Bart Baron <BR>“The Ice Age” (氷河期)

Roth Bart Baron
“The Ice Age” (氷河期)

Duo Roth Bart Baron (ロットバルトバロン) consists of singer/guitarist Masaya Mifune (三船雅也) and drummer/pianist Tetsuya Nakahara (中原鉄也) with supporting members on keyboards and wind instruments. Masaya’s singing style has been influenced by Japanese children songs as well as Beach Boys’ majestic choruses and Neil Young’s highest notes, but they generally draw from traditional American folk/blues artists and reinterpret songs by Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver in their own way.

“Sometimes I feel we’re losing consciousness of a ‘native land’ or ‘national music’, as ‘westernization’ and ‘fake Japaneseness’ are prevalent throughout Tokyo where we live,” Masaya Mifune told us. He mentioned innovative composers of the past such as Rentaro Taki and Akira Ifukube who have managed to blend Japanese sound with foreign music. “We love their encouraging spirits and are influenced by them to the same extent as by rock/folk music,” Mifune said.

Roth Bart Baron’s recent album, “The Ice Age”, contains Japanese lyrics but was recorded in Philadelphia with American engineers Jonathan Low and Brian Mctear. “Encounters with people from different cultures always give us thrills and bring new ideas. The recording process was an experience we would never go through in our usual life”, Mifune said. “Although we used western methods, we actually might have been searching for visions embedded deep inside Japan.”

(interview: Toyokazu Mori, translation: Kiwa Mastui)

♪♫ Listen: “Monster

Roth Bart Baron on www, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud.

YanKaNoi <BR>“Neuma”


YanKaNoi (ヤンカノイ) is a project of singer and multi-instrumentalist Yumiko who usually plays in Shugo Tokumaru’s band. But here, the members of Shugo’s group backs her up – with Shugo on guitar and piano, Kei Tanaka on doublebass, and Yoshinari Kishida on drums.

“I am interested in places I don’t know yet,” Yumiko said in the interview for “I like to see how people use colours in various countries around the globe, as it somehow shows the character of each nation.”

Yumiko has learned a lot while she traveled across the continents with Shugo Tokumaru’s band. And it all merged with traditional folk into the sound of YanakaNoi.

♪♫ Listen: “Chigireta Umi

YanKaNoi on Twitter, Tumblr, Soundcloud, YouTube, www.

Eiko Ishibashi (石橋 英子) <BR>“Car and Freezer”

Eiko Ishibashi (石橋 英子)
“Car and Freezer”

Pianist, drummer and composer Eiko Ishibashi’s latest record was produced by Jim O’Rourke. Earlier, they made an album called “Kafka Ibiki” with improvisations by Jim, Eiko and Tatsuhisa Yamamoto. With Jim’s synthesizers sounding like Shinto flute, Tatsuhisa’s minimal play resembling Japanese drum and Eiko’s repetitive piano it offered a catharsis-like feeling of an old ritual.

“Car and Freezer” is a thoroughly song-oriented record. It consists of two CDs, one sung in English with Eiko’s own lyrics, and the other in Japanese with her interpretations of words by Kenta Maeno. Influenced by Kenta’s poetry, Eigo seems freer than ever before. Sometimes muttering, sometimes reaching the heights of her voice, she reminds us there’s meaning not only in the lyrics, but in the entire performance.

♪♫ Listen: “塩を舐める

Eiko Ishibashi on www, Twitter.

Machinone <BR>“Tokyo”


Delicate sounds of somehow slowed-down, sometimes prepared acoustic guitar are certainly the favourite choice of Daizo Kato, the composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer behind the project Machinone.

But on his records, including the latest called “Tokyo”, you will also hear a dozen other instruments from banjo to clarinet to kids toys. Based in Atsugi near Tokyo, Machinone he continues to develop his music that is as hard to categorize as bitter-sweet mood it creates.

♪♫ Listen: “Tokyo

Machinone on Blogspot, Soundcloud, www.

Yoshida Yohei Group <BR>“Smart Citizen”

Yoshida Yohei Group
“Smart Citizen”

Yoshida Yohei Group (吉田ヨウヘイgroup) are sometimes called Japanese Dirty Projectors, though you’ll also hear a bit of Sufjan Stevens in their music. The band’s leader Yohei Yoshida started to play sax after he heard Otomo Yoshihide New Jazz Quintet – and he plays his instrument as if it was a guitar.

“In this group, I am sticking to song-oriented rock or guitar-centered pop. Vocals, catchy melodies, good choruses, and appropriate length – I am aiming to win maximum freedom in such a usual form,” Yohei told us. “Progressive rock is not evolution really, it’s a totally different thing. In this ordinary format, I search for a new approach to various sounds. I prefer to update our music constantly than start from nothing. We are happy if somebody finds something new in our sounds.”

♪♫ Listen: “Boulevard

Yoshida Yohei Group on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook.

Gotch <BR>“Can’t Be Forever Young”

“Can’t Be Forever Young”

Gotch is the nickname of singer and guitar player Masafumi Goto(後藤正文), a member of Japanese rock band Asian Kung-Fu Generation. “Can’t Be Forever Young” is his first solo album and his homage to Beck, Wilco, Bright Eyes, Neil Young – and generally American indie from the 90’s when alternative music combined attitude with moody sound and warm atmosphere. Lyrically, Gotch strikes a balance between resignation and hope, teaching us to see present events from perspective.

“Wilco has been one of my favorite bands since I was a teenager. Their music is an elaborate mixture of traditional American sound and contemporary music, and I think it’s an ideal for pop music,” Masafumi Goto said recently in an interview for He mixed his album in Chicago. Playing it live, he also included covers of Wilco and Neil Young thinking that would match the line-up of his band, featuring Ye Ye, Ryosuke Shimomura (the chef cooks me), Yousuke Inoue (Turntable Films) and more.

On the other hand, the single “Lost” was inspired by “Everything is Borrowed” by The Streets. “It’s not a direct influence, but I absorbed it and later embodied it in my work,” Goto said. Besides music, the novel “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro had an impact on the lyrics. “Both works are about getting lost”, he explained, adding Haruki Murakami to the list of his influences.

If it all sounds too solemn, take a look at the cover of “Can’t Be Forever Young”. “In this scene, I’m heading to a funeral – my funeral. It’s a kind of requiem for my adolescence,” Goto explained. But he added: “Shootings often take place in front of a barber shop, let’s not be too serious.”

(Interview: Yuki Inagaki, translation: Kiwa Mastui)

♪♫ Listen: “Lost

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Shintaro Sakamoto <BR>“Let’s Dance Raw” (ナマで踊ろう)

Shintaro Sakamoto
“Let’s Dance Raw” (ナマで踊ろう)

“Everybody cares about his or her own business, but we still have to live together. It is the very concept of my second LP,” said Shintaro Sakamoto (坂本 慎太郎) in an interview for “Music Magazine”. He added, “I don’t like the pressure of being with other people.”

After his original band Yura Yura Teikoku broke up in 2010, Sakamoto started a solo career to win international acclaim with his new album, “Let’s Dance Raw”. Yet he continues to stay away from the music industry. He doesn’t like to play in front of large audiences, and even selling more CDs doesn’t impress him – he prefers vinyl. “If I have no record player,” he says, “I can listen to vinyl with a pin, can’t I?”

Sakamoto is happy to stay away from the mess of modern society, as if he lived on a desert island. But his recent video “You Can Be A Robot, Too” demonstrates a profound concern about current situation in Japan and the future of the next generations. The world will gradually decline unless we think on our own, but take care of each other.

♪♫ Listen: “Birth of the Super Cult

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Quruli (くるり) <BR>“The Pier”

Quruli (くるり)
“The Pier”

Quruli means “to turn” or “to transform” and indeed, Quruli (くるり) continue to be one of the most innovative rock outfits in Japan. Formed in 1996 in Kyōto they keep developing their sound which combines pop with almost all existing genres in music – and not only music, as everything from food to visual arts to architecture can become their inspiration.

“I use to think I’m a part of counterculture, it is my motivation to make songs. It seems natural that each one should be different”, says Quruli’s singer and guitarist Shigeru Kishida (岸田 繁) in an interview about “The Pier”.

Speaking about their internationally acclaimed single “Liberty & Gravity” and the whole album, the band’s trumpeter and keyboard player Fanfan (ファンファン) described it as a tree:

“The lyrics are the trunk. From there, many branches grow very rapidly and finally beautiful flowers bloom at their ends.”

♪♫ Listen: “Liberty & Gravity

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Ogre You Asshole <BR>“Paper Craft” (ペーパークラフト)

Ogre You Asshole
“Paper Craft” (ペーパークラフト)

Formed in 2001, Ogre You Asshole (オウガ・ユー・アスホール) are in the very core of the Japanese alternative music scene. Influenced by Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Yo La Tengo or Can, they’ve always managed to find their own way, becoming one of the most excellent indie rock bands in Japan.

On their latest LP, “Paper Craft”, they got minimal, evoking the feeling of emptiness or something missing. Singer and guitarist Manabu Deto said in the “Guitar Magazine”: “We tried to integrate two conflicting components, repetitive inorganic phrase with mellow, lyrical attitude.” As he explained, during the recording sessions everything served the final effect – from trying out various instruments to omiting even the basic parts in the final mix.

Drummer Takashi Katsuura emphasized the near-absence of electric guitars. “Guitarists usually want to play guitar solos. But we don’t. We only play necessary sounds”, he said in an interview for “Indies Issue”. Guitarist Kei Mabuchi added in the “Guitar Magazine”, “There are various sounds on the album, but each one has a meaning, each one makes sense.”

For their single “Muda ga Naitte Subarashii”, the band decided to bring the rhythm to the front, combining frenetic bongo beat with fragile vocals. “Every song on this record is like that,” Deto said. “We didn’t strengthen what we wanted to express, but rather added opposite elements. It’s like not landing in the right place.”

In their lyrics, Ogre You Asshole simply speak about the world as they see it. There’s some criticism, but according to the bass player Takashi Shimizu – no cynicism. “We don’t shout that something is wrong, because we are also a part of it,” Shimizu said. If you indeed feel emptiness or something missing from the album, it comes from Ogre’s musicians’ own nature. But don’t you think a despaired man can have as much energy as a man with hope?

♪♫ Listen: “Muda ga Naitte Subarashii

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