With the recent resurgence in the J-pop scene of old genres like city pop, along with a growing interest abroad in ‘80s new age albums and classic anime soundtracks, it can be easy to forget about the exciting new acts happening right now in Japan. Leading the movement are a group of female artists who embody the spirit of the ’80s scene, when the boundary between pop and art first became blurred by the likes of Jun Togawa and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Here are some of the acts you should be looking out for, who together represent just the tip of a very exciting iceberg.
The one all your cool friends are into
Merging ’80s new-wave cool with a ’90s DIY aesthetic is Zombie-Chang, a name that’s hard to forget. There’s nothing brainless or half-alive about her indie-dance style, though, and with two albums to date there’s clearly plenty more life left in her groove. Her EPs are good too, with Summer Time from Koi no Vacance being a particular standout.
From the Disney Resort dance floor
KiWi are a duo who blend a love for hard beats and childish music box melodies. This is what makes March, their debut album from this year, such an enjoyable listen, especially when they ditch the Perfume sound-alike pop. Listen to Sugar Panic and tell me if the opening words aren’t “Calculating jelly boys” as I’d misheard for a long time (she’s actually singing “Candy rainy cherry-pie,” oops.).
One label, two great artists
For some of the most exciting new music in Japan today, you can’t go wrong with any of the acts on label Purre Goohn. AOR is one highlight, whose new release Two from late last year perfectly exemplifies their very abstract take on trip hop. Cryptic track titles such as Rabbits in Cartoon and At Huis Ten Bosch should give you an idea that this act isn’t one for messing around.
Meanwhile, coming back soon with a new release on Purre Goohn is Utae, who released the excellent EP Toi Toi Toi for the label in 2016. The lead track Dystopia stands out with its stirring take on a digital kind of art pop.
Something for the hip hop heads
Earlier this year saw the release of a great debut single by Faela, real name Kazuha Komiya. Entitled Em, the song was put out by Tapestok Records, a label known more for its hyperactive hybrids of rap and J-pop. Faela forges a less showy path, though, with Em having one hell of a subtle groove, bumping and riding on the slinky shuffle of a hip hop beat and piano. Keep an eye on this one.
Taking it Slow…
It’s time for this artist to put out a new release, and having headlined a show in London earlier this year, perhaps the signs are good. Sapphire Slows put out her debut album Allegoria way back in 2013, a much slept-on release that fused the best parts of the ’90s i.e. techno keyboards with ambient dream pop vocals. It’s a fascinating mix of the slow with the upbeat; now if we could have a bit more of the latter and get a follow-up soon, just to prove those signs right…
Not for the faint-hearted
These two acts both represent a move away from the mainstream to make music of a more esoteric variety. Before starting Yakushimaru Experiment, Etsuko Yakushimaru was more well-known for being a vocalist in the rock band Sōtaisei Riron and for her work in anime soundtracks. Flying Tentacles, the album released under her Experiment moniker in 2016, is as far away from that as you can get, being a collection of wild work-outs that represent the halfway point between established math rockers Tricot and Nisennenmondai.
Tentenko meanwhile started out as a singer for the idol group BiS, before running wild with the more experimental undercurrent of that group to release a shedload of bedroom-made noise CDs. As of late she’s honed her art in the mini-album Industrial Products, which featured the startling single Kuruma, produced by EYE from legendary art rock group Boredoms.