it’s the language barrier, perhaps it’s misguided preconceptions, but I suspect
my own limited exposure to and familiarity with Japanese music reflects the
experience of a lot of us. Not content with this state of affairs, I used some
of our recent free time to conduct a deep dive into the music scene here, past
and present, mainstream and beyond. With deference to Spotify, YouTube and
various blogs, what follows is a non-exhaustive, multi-genre introduction to a
selection of contemporary Japanese acts deserving of your ears.
Chelmico’s peppy tunes flaunt a glossy
sheen and plenty of effervescent commercial appeal. The Tokyo duo’s catchy
pop/rap hybrid has substance to complement the style, though, with a latest
single that’s a certified bop. A recent placement in an anime opening will do
their stock no harm at all.
Best for: toe-tapping on the train with
your headphones on
Start with: ‘Easy Breezy’
This female four-piece from Kyoto have been
a going concern for a decade, but thanks to slots at Coachella and Primavera,
they find themselves making waves as the current export du jour. Otoboke Beaver
specialise in abrasive noise-rock, though with a dose of humour and some
twisted pop hooks not far below the surface. Named after a love hotel, in case
you were wondering.
Best for: tinnitus
Start with: ‘Don’t Light My Fire’
From beginnings in vaporwave that recalled
the smooth digitised grooves of Japan’s 1980s city pop aesthetic, the duo that
make up Pasocom Music Club branched out on their latest release to embrace
house, accessible techno and on-trend dance pop, and accordingly find
themselves at the forefront of popular electronic music in Japan.
Best for: pre-drinks on your scenester
night out in Tokyo
Start with: ‘Reiji no machi’
While Japan has no shortage of melodic rock
that favours a poppy sensibility, what sets Yabai T-Shirts Yasanapart is the interplay between the two
vocalists. Infectious and irresistible, and with a giddy excitement driving the
momentum, this Osaka indie trio offer unapologetically feel-good vibes.
Best for: dancing like a toddler on
Start with: ‘Happy
Wedding Mae Song’
MONO are a four-piece instrumental rock act
entering their third decade, but whose slow-burning, sprawling epics are a
soundtrack as fitting as ever to our uncertain times. The band’s unhurried
soundscapes tend towards delicate and transcendent, yet frequently make time to
descend into a shoegazey squall. Just the ticket for imbuing even the most
mundane chore with some cosmic significance.
Best for: watching the world go up in
Start with: ‘Where We Begin’
Polysics can be easily identified by the
distinctive orange boilersuits, straight-bar shades, and their air of detached
nonchalance. Keen observers will note clear parallels with new wave pioneers Devo.
So while the quirk factor is high, Polysics back it up with a brand of frenetic
post-punk sufficiently tightly wound to be the musical equivalent of an anxious
Best for: showing your friends one of those
‘eccentric’ Japanese bands
Start with: ‘I My Me Mine’
Part of the dream pop movement that’s been
central to Tokyo’s indie scene for a few years now, Luby Sparks is the sound of
wistful nostalgia for a lost youth. The band’s musical output evokes the
languid glow of a hazy California sunset transplanted to central Honshu, with
Erika Murphy’s airy vocals the cherry on top.
Best for: the closing credits of a John Hughes
Start with: ‘Somewhere’
If metalcore is your jam, Osaka’s Crossfaith
fly the flag for the genre. With plenty of nods to an angsty nu-metal that’s
retained a foothold in this country, the band’s English lyrics make them more
accessible to a small but ardent international fanbase, but what makes Crossfaith
particularly interesting is the use of electronic touches to flesh out their
Best for: a kyushoku that won’t be
forgotten any time soon
Start with: ‘Endorphin’
With smooth guitar grooves that represent
the broader neo city pop trend of recent years, here’s a group riding the crest
of a wave. Reliably funky, always soulful and melodic, Nulbarich straddle that
line between indie and commercially viable, topping the list of a rake of
contenders fit to soundtrack H&M’s summer collection.
Best for: shopping at Uniqlo
Start with: ‘New Era’
I’d be neglecting my patriotic duty as an
Irishman if I failed to draw attention to this curiosity. Though far from the
first Japanese band to ape 2000s punk acts from English-speaking territories,
the Cherry Cokes are still an anomaly. It’s a boisterous Celtic knees-up
indebted to the spirit of Flogging
Molly, rowdy Japanese punk set to a backdrop of tin whistles and banjo,
a Guinness glass full of shochu.
Best for: spilling your pint
Start with: ‘Rise Again’
Killian is a first-year ALT based in Uchiko. He reviews for publications back in Dublin, Ireland, and is an avid music fan still coming to terms with the dearth of live shows in Ehime.