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This month, we’ll be going old school. From artists that have been the game for years, to an artist’s discography that was brought back from the dead due to wonky YouTube algorithms, to arguably one of the greatest Japanese rock albums ever made. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
Shuta Hasunuma (蓮沼執太) & U-Zhaan — 2 Tone
Genre: Alternative, Pop, Lo-fi
Released: 22 / 02 / 17
After a decade of experience within the landscapes of movies, theatres, dance and music, Shuta Hasunuma isn’t a household name within the realms of experimental pop. His discography is eccentric in the broadest sense of the term, where unconventional instruments in the name of his game. Whereas U-Zhaan (real name Hironori Yuzawa) takes on a more meticulous approach to his craft, choosing to perfect his skill on the drums.
So when both worlds collided on 2 Tone, the result is an album that is equal parts harmonious and eerie. With only three guest vocals on the record (and one from Shuta himself), 2 Tone‘s strengths lie in the contrasting styles of the two musicians. With U-Zhaan taking on bass and drum duties, Shuta is free to experiment with sounds in order to create his ideal ambient landscape.
Mariya Takeuchi (竹内まりや) – Variety
Genre: City Pop, J-Pop, Soul
Released: 25 / 04 / 1984
As one of the iconic pop stars of a reinvigorated Japan in the 1980s, Mariya Takeuchi is one of the pioneers of the genre known as ‘City Pop’. It’s a style that reflected the booming resurgence of the country’s economy, revelling in the glitz and glamour that came with the bustling nightlife of the era. Variety then channels this aesthetic to a tee. After her marriage with singer-songwriter Tatsuro Yamashita (another pioneer of City Pop), Mariya’s music became the perfect soundtrack for Japanese excess.
If a comparison had to be made between her music and today’s contemporary landscape, it would be Dream Pop. Breezy while at the same time heavily melancholic, it’s a genre that was designed to spark joy. So it’s little wonder that her biggest hit song in Japan — “Plastic Love” became a worldwide sensation, thanks to YouTube recommendation algorithms. The song gave City Pop new life, and Variety is a record that will sustain it.
*The album is not found on Spotify, but it is purchasable on iTunes*
Happy End (はっぴいえんど) — Kazemachi Roman (風街ろまん)
Genre: Folk Rock, Psych Rock
Released: 20 / 11 / 1971
A quick Google of ‘The best Japanese albums of all time’ and you’ll be bound to see Happy End’s Kazemachi Roman pop up somewhere. Though perhaps not as revolutionary as when it was first released, the album still represents a significant milestone in Japanese music as a whole. Fully embracing their country’s identity and language, Happy End was the first ever band to perform rock in Japanese. It buried any doubt that rock couldn’t be performed in anything but English.
Their 2nd studio album Kazemachi Roman, also performed completely in Japanese, is clearly inspired by their Western counterparts like The Beatles. Through sparsely used instrumentals and an overall melancholic tone, it gives the record an overbearing similarity to many indie folk-rock bands today. It probably won’t blow your mind, but do give this essential piece of Japanese history a listen.
*This album isn’t found on Spotify either, so go get it on iTunes*