After leaving the series dormant for multiple months (again), I’m back to round off the year with my favourite and best Japanese albums of 2019.
These are listed in no particular order, because placing arbitrary numbers besides records that most of us are unfamiliar with just seems counterintuitive.
So do treat all these albums with the same amount of importance, and hopefully you’ll be able to find a new favourite Japanese artist to ring in the next decade with.
Rei — SEVEN
My favourite Japanese album of the year, Rei’s brand of intricate guitar-centric production paired with her bubbly vocal deliveries is a winning combination that both excites and pleases. SEVEN is a radiant album, the entirety of the record excuses Rei’s personality and everything else accompanying her is made all the more engaging. If SEVEN can be summarised into a single word, it would be ‘fun’.
Ogre You Asshole — 新しい人 (New Kind of Man)
New Kind of Man is a significant stylistic change from the band’s previous offerings. Much more toned down from their usual pop-rock sound, Ogre You Asshole dabble in lo-fi indie rock to unexpectedly addictive results. Finding a balance between soft vocals and intricate instrumental playing, their latest record is their least captivating, but that doesn’t make it any less pleasurable to listen to.
Ayano Kaneko — 燦々 (Sansan)
Genre: Folk, Pop
Joy, it’s the feeling that bursts throughout Sansan for the entirety of the record. Paired with a guitar and ukulele based instrumentals, Ayano Kaneko’s propensity to employ unconventional vocal performances helps the album seperate itself from the ￼saturated market of soft folk records. Muted crooning to instantaneous falsettos at a drop of a hat, Sansan can be described as an acquired taste, but once you do get used to it, it’s an experience that’s every bit as delightful and adorable as the cover art suggests.
Indigo la End — 濡れゆく私小説 (Teary I-Novel)
Genre: Rock, Pop
If there’s one thing Indigo la End absolutely nails, it’s their penchant at crafting absolutely irresistible melodies and hooks. On their 6th studio album, the band focuses their sound to deliver a record that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but instead improving upon the formulas that made their past music effective. Their most cohesive effort yet, Teary I-Novel is the best album of Indigo la End’s career.
Masaki Suda — LOVE
Where Indigo la End have nearly perfected mainstream J-Rock, actor and singer-songwriter Masaki Suda has seemingly done the same with J-Pop. Of course, the two genres tend to go hand-in-hand and LOVE manages to strike a delightful balance of both. Proving that he can excel at heartfelt crooning on songs such as “Clover” and also radiate energy on “7.1oz” and “Dras”, Suda’s versatility is his biggest strength which is front-and-centre on this powerhouse of an album.
I Don’t Like Mondays. — FUTURE
Genre: Pop, Dance
I Don’t Like Mondays is a band that knows it’s strengths and plays to them extremely well. On Future, they dazzle listeners with glitzy production that’s reminiscent to 80s dance pop, while still maintaining an edge of modernity that keeps the album in-line with current J-pop trends. It may be the least sonically diverse record on this list, but it doesn’t mean that Future doesn’t deserve your time as much as the rest of the offerings here.
iri — Shade
Genre: Electronic, Hip-Hop, R&B
Simply compartmentalising iri’s music as androgynous is doing her a massive disservice. Looking past her one-of-a-kind voice, Shade also features some of the best electronic-based pop music of 2019. Still, the album isn’t dictated by genre boundaries as it shifts between R&B to hip-hop to dance at a moment’s notice. Variety is the spice of life, and also Shade‘s biggest strength.