Best Albums of 2016
selected by Toyokazu Mori

tricot <BR>“Kabuku” EP

“Kabuku” EP

An all-female trio from Kyoto, tricot (トリコ) perform complicated yet enjoyable rock’n’roll only Japanese band could invent.

In 2016, they toured around Europe, but managed to release some new material as well: a five-track EP called “Kabuku” and a live performance DVD. We remain excited.

♪♫ Listen: “Setsuyakuka” + album stream (iTunes)

tricot on www, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter + beehype.

Jyocho <BR>“A Prayer in Vain”

“A Prayer in Vain”

Two years after Uchu Conbini broke up, the composer and guitarist Daijiro Nakagawa started this new project called JYOCHO with two friends from Kyoto and Tokyo-based singer Daijiro he had found… on Twitter.

Influenced by math rock bands like Battles and Tera Melos, this imaginative four-piece offer shiny progressive version of J-Pop on their inspiring first album, “A Prayer in Vain”.

♪♫ Listen: “A Life with the Sun” + album stream (Spotify)

JYOCHO on Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype.

Sōtaisei Riron <BR>“Tensei Jingle”

Sōtaisei Riron
“Tensei Jingle”

Led by the whispering voice of singer and composer Etsuko Yakushimaru, Tokyo-based pop project Sōtaisei Riron (相対性理論) is one of the most acclaimed contemporary indie band in Japan.

Right now a quintet, on their 5th album “Tensei Jingle” (天声ジングル) Sōtaisei Riron sing about things that lead both our world and each person’s life into ruin.

♪♫ Listen: “Flashback” + album stream (iTunes)

Sōtaisei Riron on Twitter, www + beehype.

Crunch <BR>“Blue Blue Blue”

“Blue Blue Blue”

Three-piece all-female outfit from Nagoya, CRUNCH absorbed 90’s alternative rock and J-POP’s essences, as Sōtaisei Riron does, but at same time, they love timeless melodies from everywhere

As a result, they played with, and were praised by acclaimed dream pop act Yumi Zouma. Furthermore CRUNCH played at local festival where Shugo Tokumaru appeared in last October.

♪♫ Listen: “Blue” + album stream (Bandcamp)

Crunch on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype.

Kedama <BR>“Shiawaseno Maho”

“Shiawaseno Maho”

If Sufjan Stevens played the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds”, he might sound just like the new album from Japanese quartet Kedama (毛玉).

The Tokyo based post-rock group invited a flute player and sax players for their 2nd album, “Shiawaseno Maho” (しあわせの魔法). Tricky but dreamy, it’s radical but at the same time includes plenty of good melodies.

The band’s music is so friendly, it makes you feel good with its texture like a fur ball – in Japanese: Kedama.

♪♫ Listen: “Dance Dance Dance

Kedama on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype.

downy <BR>“No Title 6”

“No Title 6”

Based in Tokyo, downy are a psychedelic post-rock quintet consisting of two guitarist, bassist, drummer and VJ. Founded in 2000, downy restarted in 2013 releasing their first album in nine years.

In 2016, they presented their 6th album called “No Title 6”, which combines math rock with electronica and some hip-hop influences.

This year, they will hold an event named After Hours’17 with envy and MONO to keep pursuing their own original music.

♪♫ Listen: “Frozen Flower” + album stream (Spotify)

downy on Facebook, Twitter, www.

The Natsuyasumi Band <BR>“Phantasia”

The Natsuyasumi Band

Chamber pop quartet The Natsuyasumi Band (ザ・なつやすみバンド) started in the Tokyo indie scene, but these days they’re visiting Japan’s major live scenes, making miracle music which throws kids into world of love and hope with phantasic keyboard and steelpan sounds.

As their name suggests – “nasuyasumi” means “summer holidays” – they promise us eternal vacation while we listen to their colourful music.

♪♫ Listen: “Odyssey” + album stream (iTunes)

The Natsuyasumi Band on Facebook, Twitterwww + beehype.

Remigai x Nakamura High School Brass Band <BR>“Giant”

Remigai x Nakamura High School Brass Band

Organic mix of electronica and orchestral music turned into New pop. This is short explanation of Remigai’s new effort “GIANT”.

The winners of our Japanese Best of 2015 list collaborated here with the Nakamura High School Brass Band. You can see their live performance in city hall on music video “Ru kyoku“.

After this concert, Remigai’s composer and keyboard player Masahiro Araki re-started solo project fredricson to make new eclectic music we’ve never heard.

♪♫ Listen: “Ru kyoku” + album stream (Spotify)

Remigai on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype.

Kinoko Teikoku <BR>“Aino Yukue”

Kinoko Teikoku
“Aino Yukue”

Fourth album from the rock quartet Kinoko Teikoku (きのこ帝国) contains not only shoegaze explosions but also classical R&B flavor and reggae rhythms, co-produced by zAk, who is famous as recording engineer of Fishmans – no. 7 in our best Japanese albums list.

The title of the new full-length effort, “Aino Yukue” (愛のゆくえ), is a loose translation of Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On”. As the name suggests, they sing about love and loss throughout the album in a simple but emotional way.

♪♫ Listen: “Aino Yukue” + album stream (Spotify)

Kinoko Teikoku on Twitter, Instagramwww + beehype.

Oomori Seiko <BR>“Tokyo Black Hole”

Oomori Seiko
“Tokyo Black Hole”

Oomori Seiko (大森靖子) is a female singer-songwriter who mixes J-pop idol style like Morning Musume and emotional alternative J-rock like Ginnan Boyz or Number Girl.

In her past life, she went through a period of darkness. But after becoming a mother she wrote a number of positive songs that make her 4th LP, “Tokyo Black Hole“.

On this record, Oomori tells us that “life is beautiful, and everyone has the right to live”.

♪♫ Listen: “Tokyo Black Hole” + album stream (Spotify)

Oomori Seiko on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, www + beehype.

Kataomoi <BR>“QUIERO V.I.P.”


Stemming from the Tokyo indie scene, the chamber pop octet Kataomoi (片想い) seems to be well-suited band for a wedding party or New Year’s Eve with their funky groove and theatrical performance.

In fact, Kataomoi (One-Way Love) attempt to express various, sometimes contradictory feelings, a bit like jazz funerals or brass band parades in New Orleans.

Kataomoi is made of different personalities. As they said in the interview with Music Magazine, “Our band is interesting because we are like a miniature of society, where different people have different ideas”. Quite like beehype.

♪♫ Listen: “Party Kills Me

Kataomoi on Twitter, www + beehype.

Asa-Chang & Junray <BR>“Maho”

Asa-Chang & Junray

This awkward poem reading/singing seems to express how hard it is to live in this world. And still, we can live and create music and other arts.

What Asa-Chang & Junray sing in their new album “Maho” (“Magic”) is about someone’s life so far, someone who has disability or is handicapped, or find it difficult to live for some other reason.

Founded in 1998, Asa-Chang & Junray consists of percussionist Asa-Chang from Fukushima and two other members who play sax, flute, violin, and guitar.

♪♫ Listen: “Kokuhaku” + album stream (iTunes)

Asa-Chang & Junray on Twitter, Facebook, www + beehype.

Sunny Day Service <BR>“Dance To You”

Sunny Day Service
“Dance To You”

With their breezy folky rock sound, the Tokyo-based trio Sunny Day Service has been a special soundtrack for such young guys in Japan. Formed in 1992, they’ve had an eight-year break, and then came back in 2008.

This year’s 10th album is about love between friends and family. On this album, bassist Takashi Tanaka of course played all of the bass guitar, but singer and guitarist Keiichi Sokabe also played drums except two songs – because drummer Harusige Maruyama has been ill and temporarily left the band in February.

It makes Keiichi sing, “You are here because you are not here,” in the song called “Sakura Super Love”. He said in the Natalie magazine, “I feel that Harusige makes us run even if he didn’t play drums”.

♪♫ Listen: “Setsuna

Sunny Day Service on Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype.

Saho Terao <BR>“Watashi no Sukina Warabeuta”

Saho Terao
“Watashi no Sukina Warabeuta”

In addition to her original songs, Tokyo based singer-songwriter Saho Tetao (寺尾紗穂) has been singing modern version of Japanese nursery songs from various places she once visited. This year she released a compilation of them.

“Children’s songs have been changing because someone add following melody and lyrics at each era. These songs have no rule,” Saho said in an interview with Mikiki. Therefore, she arranged them freely according to atmosphere of our age. It might be natural way of succession of songs.

♪♫ Listen: “Nanakusa Natsuna” + album stream (iTunes)

Saho Terao on Facebook, Twitter, www.

Yuta Orisaka <BR> “Tamuke”

Yuta Orisaka

Based in Chiba prefecture, Yuta Orisaka (折坂悠太) sings with Japanese heart mixed with inspirations he draws from other nations’ music.

Last year, he released his first LP “Tamuke” (たむけ), which means “An Offering”, on the label Noroshi Record, which focuses on Japanese folk music.

Among his influences, Yuta mentions bands like Radiohead, Queen, Spoon or Bon Iver in his profile on the label site. Yet he sings in a very Japanese style.

♪♫ Listen: “Asama” + album stream (iTunes)

Yuta Orisaka on Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype.

YeYe <BR>“Hito”


Kyoto-based singer-songwriter YeYe makes eclectic pop music. In quite the same way as Sufjan Stevens: she can play almost all instruments by herself. But she called band members to record her third album, “Hito”, or “Human”.

In an interview with beehype, she said: “Attractive music is, if anything, dangerous and makes your heart beating. I’m not good in hiding my emotions. So I better give listeners all my emotions as they are, and that’s my way. This is one of the reason why I named my new album ‘Hito'”.

♪♫ Listen: “Close Your Eyes” + album stream (iTunes)

YeYe on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www + beehype.

Ogre You Asshole <BR>“Everythingsomethingnothing”

Ogre You Asshole

Influenced by psychedelic rock and AOR like Ariel Pink or Timmy Thomas, Nagano based indie rock quartet Ogre You Asshole recently released their 7th LP, which has a mellow but suppressed mood throughout the album.

They seem to play popular old songs or jazz standards. Sometimes, they prefer krautrock rhythms or blue-eyed soul. As if they tried to add every music element they can find across the world. But at the same time, something has been getting lost in their songs.

Eventually, no emotions seem to be left. But the music still moves us deeply.

♪♫ Listen: “Lost, Sigh, Days” + album stream (iTunes)

Ogre You Asshole on Facebook, Twitter, www.

Shintaro Sakamoto <BR>“Love If Possible”

Shintaro Sakamoto
“Love If Possible”

After the release of his band Yura Yura Teikoku’s last album on DFA label, Shintaro Sakamoto (坂本慎太郎) started a solo project and released two LPs on Other Music. After two years waiting, his third album arrived.

On the title song “Love If Possible”, where he plays the steel guitar, Shintaro sings: “I have massive scars. Give me love if possible.” I think he just describes what state the world is these days.

Meanwhile, on “Disco Is” he sings: “Disco doesn’t discriminate you, doesn’t insult you, doesn’t refuse you. Disco does nothing, doesn’t expect you, doesn’t demand anything”. You know, this is also what music is.

♪♫ Listen: “Love If Possible

Shintaro Sakamoto on Facebook, Twitter, www.

Shuta Hasunuma <BR>“Melodies”

Shuta Hasunuma

First, Shuta Hasunuma (蓮沼執太) practiced rhythms, and released a couple of electronica albums on Western Vinyl label.

Second, he studied harmony on his orchestral project. Gradually, his music has been becoming more friendly and organic.

Finally he tried to make an album which emphasizes melody named simply “Melodies” and featuring collaborations with his friends-musicians.

Inspired by J-Pop as represented by Gen Hoshino, Shuta Hasunuma might be the next indie rock star like Shugo Tokumaru.

♪♫ Listen: “Raw Town” + album stream (Spotify)

Shuta Hasunuma on Twitter, Instagram, www + beehype.

Shugo Tokumaru <BR>“TOSS”

Shugo Tokumaru

You might think that Van Dyke Parks helped Shugo Tokumaru (トクマルシューゴ). But actually, he has made this masterpiece for post-rock and post-social media era by himself and with his local friends.

This Japanese singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Tokyo has been famous for his love for rhythm, beautiful themes and playing any device he can bring to the studio. But on his new effort, he invited his friends to join him during the recording.

Later on, he assembled sounds from different sessions into completely new songs. He even asked his fans to send along pieces of sound, and he combined all of them to a song named “Bricolage Music“.

It is surprising that the results are the most natural and organic songs Shugo Tokumaru has ever made.

♪♫ Listen: “Lift” + album stream (iTunes)

Shugo Tokumaru on Facebook, Twitter, www + beehype.