Most music blogs give you their year end lists days before Christmas. Not here at J-rock Explosion. We give it to you at Christmas in July. There’s really no excuse for me this time. I had the list mostly finished by the end of January, I was just too lazy to put pictures and words. But I think it gave me enough time to fine tune the list, kick off the albums I never listened to since, etc. Have fun!
Top 3 EPs
3. perfect piano lesson- Terra incognita
With Terra incognita, perfect piano lesson has successfully fused indie and post-rock. From the quiet and reflective “stew,” to the slow building “untitled,” this is perfect piano lesson’s finest offering to date. But we still have a couple of their upbeat rock songs, including the excellent closer “Electric City.”
2. winnie- The Darkest Eternal Lights
With duel male/female vocals, winnie’s first release is a memorable one. Their English vocals and pop rock tendencies are similar to bands like Jimmy Eat World. It can be sweet (but tonally dark), as in “lost your sky” and “only time will tell,” or aggressive as in “suck my brain.” I’m not impressed with the single “Starlike Radio” and it’s all male vocals but the rest of the EP makes up for it.
1. Thursday/Envy- Split (US Release)
Temporary Residence really knocked themselves out on this release. Not only did they bring over one of the best hardcore bands from Japan, but also one of the best from America (New Jersey to be exact). As a fan of Thursday previously, I was impressed with their post-rock offerings and “As He Climbed the Dark Mountain,” which made it to their newest album. Envy’s side started off slowly with a nice post-rock intro and then burst into full on post-hardcore for the rest of their material. I was surprised, there wasn’t much screaming on Insomniac Doze and then they start resembling the band I loved on All the footprints. It will also be memorable to me for two reasons, 1) It’s the first album I bought on vinyl and 2) I made a music video for envy’s “an umbrella fallen into fiction” for my television production class (more on that in another post!).
Top 10 Albums
10. the telephones- Japan
The Telephones took us to the urban disco on their debut mini-album and now they bring us back to their home country on their debut album. I was surprised how chill some of the songs on this album were, in particular the single “Free Throw.” However, there’s plenty of crazy songs like “DaDaDa” and “sick rocks.” 1, 2, 3, 4, can’t you understand?
9. sgt.- Stylus Fantasticus
Ever since post-rock became scene a couple of years ago, bands have constantly tried to infuse different genres into it, jazz being prevalent. Well, most of these bands just ended up sounding like…jazz. To this day, sgt. has been the only band that has successfully incorporated jazz and post-rock. “Saisei to Misshitsu” is a prime example of how to combine horns into a perfectly good post-rock song.
8. noughts and exes- Act One, Scene One (US Release)
Why are you including a Chinese band in your top 10 Japanese albums? Because I love Joshua Wong. Not to mention, their song “A Minor To A Major” made it’s way to MTV’s Real World (it’s true, I sat through a full hour of this show. It was horrible.). Can you say that about any other Japanese band I posted on this blog? Nope. Noughts and exes isn’t as good as Wong’s previous band, Whence He Came, but it serves up some nice indie rock. And I already decided “Everything In You” will be my wedding song, in like 20 years.
7. Beat Crusaders- popdod
It’s been ten years since the band (or just Toru Hidaka) have been together, time to put out a new album! I’m actually surprised how quickly this album came out, since “Winterlong” was the only single (EPopMaking had soooo many more). Despite the rush job, there’s plenty of classics on here, like “Time Flies, Everything Goes,” “Chinese Jet Set” and “Work It Out.”
6. Spangle call Lilli line- Isolation
Kana Otsubo has a truly beautiful voice and ISOLATION proves it. During the fall semester, I went through 2 or 3 straight weeks of listening to this in the morning on the way to school. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise up with ISOLATION as the soundtrack. It’s impossible to listen to this and not be put in a good mood.
5. Polysics- We ate the machine (US Release)
Grower. Not a word I thought I would associate with a Polysics album. I was disappointed with the J-pop direction they seemed to be heading with in “Rocket” and “Pretty Good,” not to mention “You You You” and “Catch on Everywhere” from Karate House, but this album is just as crazy as any of their others. We ate the machine includes the band’s first endeavor in disco (“irotokage”), breakcore (“arigatou”), shoegaze (“Blue Noise”), and their biggest breakdown yet at the end of “Dry or Wet.” Yeah, the Polysics are just as spastic as ever.
4. Zazen Boys- Zazen Boys 4
If you’re looking for another Japanese hipster band ala Cornelius, Zazen Boys is up your alley. Zazen Boys 4 is the Zazen Boys’ fourth self-titled album and my favorite to date. They hooked me right away with the electronic “Asobi.” The rest of the album is full of eccentricities, the funky “Weekend,” the speak easy vibe in “Taratine,” and the 10 minute dance track “I don’t want to be with you.”
3. kacica- Mosaic (US Release)
The first name that pops up when I think Japanese shoegaze is kacica. Mosaic is simply beautiful. Misato yamanaka has a way of sounding like an angel through peaceful musical landscapes or chaos. Just hearing her voice amidst the hardcore tribal drumming in the title track “mosaic” gives me shivers. And I don’t even care if the only way I can understand her English is if I’m reading the booklet alongside it. I highly recommend buying all of their CDs off CD Baby.
2. capsule- More! More! More!
Capsule only had time to record one album in 2009, but it’s one of their best. I knew I was in for something special when I watched the 7 minute “JUMPER” music video. They have successfully transitioned from shibuya-kei to techno/dance and I’m surprised they haven’t attracted Daft Punk fame yet.
1. mutyumu (夢中夢)- イリヤ ~ il y a ~
Opera. Death Metal. Post-rock. Just some of the genres mutyumu clashes together on their sophomore album. Throw in guest appearances from midori and World’s end girlfriend and you know you’re in for one hell of an album. Il y a has garnered some praise in the west via the post-rock blogosphere. In a few years, I think they may even have a large cult following like Mono or Envy.
Akeboshi- Roundabout- If I had to pick a top artist of the year, it would be Akeboshi. Like many others, my first introduction to him was Naruto years ago. Despite loving “Wind,” I have largely ignored him until now. Akeboshi puts most folk musicians to shame. Meet Along The Way is one of the best albums of the past five years. Unfortunately, Roundabout is the only material he put out in 2008. Even though it’s just b-sides, it includes two of my favorite songs of his, “One Step Behind the Door” and “Along the Line.”
avengers in sci-fi- Science Rock- Dance to the sci-fi music!
Comeback My Daughters- EXPerience- An excellent mix of folk and indie rock from the Pizza of Death veterans.
Cornelius- Gum EP- The best song off of 2006′s Sensuous was not on the album. Thankfully, “Cue” made it to this little EP. Not to mention the “Eat White Paint” remix of “Fit Song.”
enie meenie- Fantasy of Life- Enie meenie has been known for synth crazy powerpop, but they take it down a notch on their latest album, substituting some synth with saloon style piano. One of my favorite punk-pop bands.
GALLOW- Too Virgin!!- It’s no secret, I love the Beat Crusaders. GALLOW is Toru Hidaka’s and Yukio Iwahara’s “neo-acoustic” side project. If you’re familiar with the Beat Crusader’s synthesized horns, imagine them over acoustic guitar and you have GALLOW. In the short month between the release of this and popdod, Toru Hidaka’s English improved ten times. Peculiar.
Mass of the Fermenting Dregs- Mass of the Fermenting Dregs- A powerful debut mini-album from the female duo. The girls can rock.
midori- Aratame mashite, Hajime mashite, Midori desu- Okay, I admit, one of the reasons this didn’t make my top 10 is because the album cover is a naked anime character. But midori is still as crazy as ever. Who doesn’t love girls screaming over jazz music?
Muon- The New Mutants- This deserves a mention just for “This Is Not the End.” Not to say that’s the only good track on the album. Did I mention it’s free?
Saw Loser- Hits Hit the Fan- 2008 may have seen the last of Saw Loser, but not before releasing cover album genius. From old school hits “Karma Chameleon” and “Fly Me To the Moon,” to James Blunt’s recent pop sensation “You’re Beautiful,” Hits Hit the Fan is a blast. They even made the Friends theme song tolerable.
For more close calls, check out my RYM list!
Now I hate to leave you without a look at 2009, so here are my top 5 albums at the moment:
5. Ogre You Asshole- Pinhole- A single, but my favorite release of theirs so far.
4. FACT-FACT- Uneven at times, but I’m glad there’s another band that managed to crack into the American market.
3. Utada- This Is the One- I didn’t like this one as much as Exodus, but it’s still pretty catchy. I think she even managed to crack the Billboard 100 with this one.
2. 80kidz- This Is My Shit- If you like Daft Punk or Justice, you’ll love this band. A lot of fun techno songs.
1. buddhistson- SLOWDANCE ~wisely and slow they stumble that dance fast~- The second I heard buddhistson was recording a new album, I knew it would shoot up to the top of my list. Two perfect records in a row, congrats.
Well, that’s it for this year. Hopefully next year’s will come earlier. If you want a leg up, here’s my 2009 list on rate your music. Or come back for the return of This Month In J-Rock (next week?). Here’s some great 2008 music videos to tide you over: Read the rest of this entry ?