In what can only be described as another weird year in the world, there have been some upsides to 2021. The Tokyo Olympics gave us something to all rally behind, Squid Game took the internet by storm, the #FreeBritney movement succeeded in its quest, plus we were treated to a slew of great releases from some of our favorite Japanese artists. Let’s take a look back at some of our favorite tracks from our Spotify playlists this year, plus some fresh discoveries we’ve recently fallen in love with.

Yuragi – That Blue, I’ll be coming

Yuragi have been steadily rising through the ranks of the Japanese rock scene since releasing their first single in 2015. Earning a spot on Fuji Rock’s “Rookie A Go-Go” stage in 2019, as well as support slots with numerous international artists such as Turnover, Japanese Breakfast and Tigers Jaw. They’d earned a name for themselves even before the release of their debut LP in June of this year. Yuragi (which means fluctuation in Japanese) stay true to their name on their nine-track LP For you, Adroit it but soft, blending heavy shoegaze and minimalist, ethereal electronica. Lead vocalist Miraco’s delicate vocals soar on “That Blue, I’ll be coming,” from the stripped-back intro to the blistering, fuzzed out, wall of sound crescendo. Keep an eye out for a “Remixes and Rarities” version of their album in the coming months, featuring collabs with domestic and international artists.

Gato – xx(check,check)

Self-described as a band that “suddenly appeared in 2018,” Gato seem to have materialized, fully-formed, as a band unlike any other in the Tokyo scene. In the last three years the five-piece band has developed a reputation for insane live shows and a sound that somehow blends elements of indie, EDM, hip-hop, rap and traditional Japanese music. For the uninitiated, “xx(check,check)” which comes from their second album, U+H, perfectly represents the sound they’ve become known for, featuring heavy bass and samples alongside arpeggiated koto (traditional Japanese string instrument). Gato will perform at Liquidroom’s New Years Eve party later this month.

D.A.N. – The Encounters 

D.A.N. is a name you’ve probably seen popping up a lot over the past few years. Formed in 2014, they grew to prominence locally and overseas after performing at Fuji Rock Festival in 2016 and 2018, earning them opportunities to perform with established local and international artists such as The xx and Floating Points. “The Encounters” comes from their third album NO MOON and features guest vocals from rapper Takumi (from hip-hop duo MIRROR) and Hikam (from audiovisual duo tamanaramen). What begins as a markedly mellow alt-R&B track to begin with, slowly evolves into a heavy, Caribou’esque dance floor banger. D.A.N. wrapped up their year with a sold out performance at Usen Studio Coast on December 9.

YurufuwaGang – Madras Night Part 2 feat. Chinza DOPENESS

Yurufuwa gang is the hip-hop project of rappers Ryugo Ishida and NENE. Previously active as solo artists, since forming the duo after meeting in Tokyo in 2016, the two have gone on to reach recognition from prominent figures internationally for their effortlessly brash and catchy tracks. “Madras Night Part 2”, their second single of 2021, is a remix of a track previously recorded on SHINKAN1000’s concept album THA GREAT ESCAPE, released earlier this year. The new track, featuring guest vocals from Chinza Dopeness, is a decidedly heavier version of the original which draws from modern Gaana, a style of Tamil music from Chennai, India. Check out Yurufuwa Gang’s Instagram for a list of live performances coming up at the end of December.

xiangyu – MANHOLE

Having only started her music career in 2018, after making a sudden transition from fashion design, xiangyu has earnt a name for herself in the local scene with her wholesome and minimalist approach to making music. In these three short years she’s experimented with a variety of styles and “MANHOLE” proves she’s coming into her own musically. Backed by layers of heavy bass, flute and traditional percussion, “MANHOLE” showcases xiangyu’s quick-fire rapping chops and further cements her distinct originality as an artist. xiangyu is finishing up her year with her big screen debut in the film “Spaghetti Code Love,” released in theaters late November. Catch xiangyu performing live at Ebisu Batica on January 9. 

ASA Wu – dozen of die (feat KM)

Taiwan-born ASA Wu has come a long way since the release of her third single “dozen of die” in early July. The track’s raw content and confident execution made it hard to believe that it was only the artist’s third release at the time but, with the release of her debut EP omen in August, it’s clear that the artist has a knack for creating consistently good “Emotional RnB” bangers.

Wednesday Campanella – Alice

Wednesday Campanella came back strong this year after the departure of their lead vocalist in September. When it was announced that lead vocalist of eight years, KOM_I, would depart the band, producer Kenmochi and band director Fukunaga were joined by the project’s third lead vocalist, Utaha, followed by the release of the double single Alice/Buckingham in late October. All eyes were on Utaha to meet the high standard set by KOM_I and, to the relief of many fans, Utaha and the new track, “Alice,” lived up to expectations, bringing new energy and life to a familiar-sounding Wednesday Campanella track featuring their classic blend of J-Pop, EDM and hip-hop sounds. 

Wez Atlas – Overthink

Born in Japan and raised in Colorado, 23 year old Wez Atlas had a big year in 2021, releasing his debut mini-album Chicken Soup for One in July. “Overthink,” one of the lead singles from the album, is a contemplative hip hop track blending technical lyricism with smooth and melodic vocals. Wez Atlas often switches between Japanese and English in his lyrics and uses both in this track to create a lyrical manifesto about achieving mental clarity.