A lot is said about Japan’s continued use of CDs, a format that in most of the world has become a “do you remember this thing” punchline akin to VHS tapes or Pogs. It’s a go-to story for non-Japanese media looking to showcase some trans-Pacific differences. Although streaming and YouTube have grown in stature over the last few years, the archipelago still produces a lot of plastic discs. And often costing about ¥3000 for just one, keeping up on what’s new in 2017 can be tough, or at least costly.
Thankfully, the first six months have seen plenty of great Japanese releases put up online, whether for a small fee or for free. With the mid-point of 2017 not far away, here is a list of some of the better albums put out by Japanese artists online so far this year — and where to get them.
Necronomidol – Deathless
Maybe, you think, the whole idol-pop-meets-heavy-metal thing has already been perfected. Babymetal are still selling out stadiums and touring with superstars such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers in North America — where else can sugary singing mixed with headbanging riffs go from there? Necronomidol has an answer on this year’s Deathless. The pop five-piece sings over heavy riffs and pounding drums but they sing against the music, creating an uneasy imbalance between sound and voice. It’s an intriguing approach, and one that works over dark synth-pop (“Chungking Redline”) or darkwave chaos (“Skulls In The Stars”).This formula still has life, and Necronomidol show how with this release.
Phew — Light Sleep
Experimental musician Phew is known for keeping fans waiting. Since releasing her self-titled debut album in 1981, she hasn’t been shy about receding into the shadows for years at a time, including going nearly two decades without a full-length of original material. Light Sleep is her second new album in two years and is one of the finest sets of head-scrambling songs from an artist with plenty to go around. It’s a set of off-kilter electronic music, full of sounds that seem like they are closing in on the listener, which are punctuated by Phew’s singing, prone to going off in whatever direction she wants. It’s a confrontational and, at times, intense listen but one that holds attention the whole way through.
tricot – 3
Kyoto three-piece tricot has attracted lots of attention all around the world over the last few years. Their take on twisty math-rock — highlighted by a wild and unpredictable vocal delivery that adds some emo-era energy to the proceedings — has earned them tours in Europe and North America, not to mention plenty of shine at home. Their third album, 3, is their biggest release yet, put out by Topshelf Records to their largest potential audience to date. What hasn’t changed — tight guitar playing on songs such as “DeDeDe,” topped off by quick tempo changes that keep the energy up.
Pasocom Music Club – Park City
Smooth sounds that could be sourced fromPA speakers at mall food courts might not be your immediate image of good dance music material, but Pasocom Music Club hears pure pop magic in them. On their new album, Park City, they craft bouncy and upbeat tunes using sleek synthesizer, drum machine beats and vocals run through digital filters. The end results are sticky pop songs such as “Until Morning,” or minimalist floor-fillers such as “Mobile Dog House ¥,” topped off by MacSpeak barking. It can be funny at times and seriously catchy
Smany – Kotoba
A more meditative entry compared to the others on this list, electronic artist/singer Smany crafts sparse and delicate numbers on her latest release, Kotoba. Released via Bunkai-Kei Records, Kotoba boasts a thin layer of fuzz on songs such as “9:00 a.m.” and acoustic guitar strums on the bouncy “Utakata.” All this space also helps make the moments of pure release all the more stunning, highlighted by “( ),” a number growing from nearly a whisper to a shout.