Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Filmi Girl's 2016 Year in Music (which is mostly J-POP lets be honest)

At some point in the last few years, I pretty much completely checked out of mainstream American music. I don't know when the complete tune out happened but I do know why: it's not fun for me to listen to. Maybe I'm just showing my age now or maybe it's a "tell" of my music education but I like a nice melody, a good strong chorus, and I like quality production and real instruments played by professional studio musicians. I also like a voice with character. Odd voices and off kilter phrasing really get me going. I don't care what the genre is, give me these things. Also, if you are a musical act and going to be on TV, give me something fun to look at: crazy outfits, dance moves, handsome men, handsome women. I don't think it's too much to ask in exchange for my hard earned cash. (Because, yes, I still buy CDs and albums. Lots of them actually.)

That said, here are some albums and songs I really enjoyed this year in no particular order except the order I remember them in.

Album: ABC STAR LINE 
Artist: A.B.C-Z
Release Date: 2016.07.20


The second album from my number one favorite idol group was a huge step up in quality from their previous offering, in both production and song choice. It contained all the requirements of a concert album: solo songs full of character for each member, rev up the crowd numbers (the majestic "DREAMIN'!!"), sentimental songs (the mushy, string-soaked "雨上がりに手をつないだら"), and--importantly for A.B.C-Z who are primarily a live performance-oriented group--a fast-paced dance song (the hypnotic "FLY A FLAG"). I have a lot more to say about this album tied to the concert tour I attended over the summer so I'll save it for another time but the bottom line is this: ABC STAR LINE is a incredibly solid entry in the idol pop music genre.

Album: Are You Happy?
Artist: 嵐 (Arashi)
Release Date: 2016.10.26


I've been following Arashi for years and their sound took a definite turn towards the discotheque a few years ago, which I'm not complaining about. I love it, in fact. While some of their more recent albums have been mixed bags--and that's not counting last year's Japonism which totally blew, except for Aiba-chan's solo song--Are You Happy? is the real deal. A top to bottom disco party culminating in the eazy-breezy "Don't You Get It", the highlight of all their end-of-the year music show performances. The entire album is worth checking out if you have any interest in bouncy, fun pop music and a special shout out for one of my most played tracks of the year, Arashi's February single, the please-come-back-girl "復活LOVE", which is also ridiculously fun to sing in the shower.

Album: Welcome to Sexy Zone
Artist: Sexy Zone
Release Date: 2016.02.04


The third of three Johnny's albums I'll recommend you this year is Welcome to Sexy Zone, the fourth album from the young idol group and their strongest so far. Don't let the name fool you, "sexy" doesn't mean in Japan what it does in English. Sexy Zone stick to G-rated romance and the album explores this with up-tempo pop, low-tempo pop, solo songs, group songs, and a ridiculous little ditty titled "Sweety Girl" sung by the youngest two members, which never fails to put a smile on my face. This one is definitely only for the true bubblegum pop connoisseurs but since that category includes me, I've had this in rotation all year.

Album: 愛泥C (Aidoro C)
Artist: Charisma.com
Release Date: 2016.03.02



This office lady electropop duo specializes in mixing the mundane and the trippy. Maybe it's not as much fun if you don't understand the lyrics but it's worth a try for the loopy "自撮ーる" ("Selfie", accompanied by a bunch of different videos of the ladies selfie-sticking around different cities. I linked to the Sapporo version.) And the ultra-peppy "Subliminal Diet".

Single: SUPERKID
Artist: 水曜日のカンパネラ (Wednesday Campenella)
Release Date: 2016.11.01


Another electropop group makes my list, 水曜日のカンパネラ, fronted by a pretty, charismatic singer KOM_I. They have a full album coming next year which I look forward to pre-ordering... um, right when I finish this. (Released the same day as the BAWDIES new album!) They make fun, shiny electropop and KOM_I is a delight. What more is there to say? Just watch "アラジン" (Aladdin) and be happy for once, god damn it!

EP: Surf Ride Monster
Artist: Grasam Animal
Release Date: 2016.04.10


Grasam Animal is a young, scrappy rock band out of hip neighborhood Shimakitazawa in Tokyo and listening to this EP is a quick and dirty way to re-live my own garage rock roots. Take a listen to 俺たちに夏はない and hear for yourself (that bizarre rasta breakdown!!). They fall on the "Nuggets" side of things, which is exactly where I like my rock music. I hope these kids keep on making music.

EP: Sleep
Artist: Yule
Release Date: August 2015 but I caught it in a special July 2016 re-printing for Tower Records



Yule is another band out of Shimakitazawa. They specialize in the pretty, folky music of the sort they once called "Twee pop". They have two singers Anna, a lovely soprano, and Rei, a reedy tenor, and their voices flow in and out and in and out. The arrangements are interesting, the melodies nice, the musicians capable... it's a good album. They're a good band. Their first major label album comes out in February. Hmm... I should add that to my pre-order list too. Take a listen yourself to the tracks on their SoundCloud page and then check the trailer for the new album!

Album: 笑うハシグチカナデリヤ (Warau Hashiguchikanaderiya)
Arist: ハシグチカナデリヤ (Hashiguchikanaderiya)
Release Date: 2016.08.03


Look, sometimes I just like a nice, solid, indie singer-songwriter and that's exactly what Hashiguchikanaderiya is. Something about the tone of his voice is really satisfying to my ears. I heard this playing at Tower Records in Shibuya and without realizing it I found myself humming along to the songs. I was disappointed when the album was over, which I took as a sign and asked a clerk what it was and where I could find it. Then I bought it and took it home. Listen for yourself to the track "せつなさライセンス".

Album: Press It
Artist: Taemin
Release Date: 2016.02.23


I actually didn't like this one as much as 2014's Ace but it's still pretty darn good. Taemin, the pretty boy of SHINee, has a husky, soulful voice and I like listening to him sing. K-Pop is a lot closer to American pop in both composition and production but there's always an overly emotional ballad or two to cut through the gloss. Take a listen to the single off the album, "Drip Drop."

Album: Gentlemen's Game
Artist: 2PM
Release Date: 2016.09.13


I love 2PM. I. Love. 2PM. They never disappoint and the sixth studio album from the K-Pop hiphop idol group continues the good times. The standout track for me is "Can't Stop Feeling", which sounds like a lost Michael Jackson track and I CAN'T STOP LISTENING TO IT. But you can also check out the featured track, "Promise (I'll be)", for the more intense 2PM. The bridge into the chorus is so good.

Album: MADE
Artist: BigBang
Release Date: 2016.12.12



Most of the songs on MADE came out in 2015 but the album itself--and the final 3 tracks--just made it into 2016. I adored all the singles when they came out last year and love the whole album even more. It's a real mix of everything BigBang: to include a party anthem ("Bang Bang Bang"), a weird love song ("Bae Bae"), and a loopy G-Dragon-TOP collaboration ("Zutter"). But right now I'm digging the no-fucks-left-to-give "FXXK IT". G-Dragon's almost supernaturally nasal voice might be an acquired taste for some but I acquired it and then some years ago. Gimme all that GD.

Album: K2.0
Artist: Kula Shaker
Release Date: 2016.02.12


Look, I know Kula Shaker are a hippy-dippy band of old guys and I'm probably extremely biased to liking anything they do because I was obsessed (OBSESSED) with them as a teen. But. That said. This album is really good. (REALLY GOOD) It's the type of well-made rock album you'd expect from a band overly influenced by late 60's-early 70s George Harrison. Plus, you guys, the production and mixing are really good, which is something that seems like nitpicking but I find is a deal-breaker more often than not on stuff coming out the US and the UK these days. Take a listen to "Let Love Be (With U)" and enjoy!

Some odds and ends (Various)

A handful of single tracks I listened to on repeat at some point this year:

* "If Love Was A Crime" (Poli Genoa), Bulgaria's entry to Eurovision this year. That suit. That hair. Yes.
* "二人セゾン" (欅坂46), a pretty number from mega-girl group Keyakizaka46. The choreography is supposed to look like a tree or something. IDK but I like it.
* "泡沫サタデーナイト" (モーニング娘。), lolita-disco dancing into my heart. Watch at least as far as the chorus. You won't regret it. It's a blast of sunshine from Morning Musume.
* "ハイテンション" (AKB48), classier than Morning Musume but just as catchy. Paruru's graduation song and, damn, am I going to miss her face. I love that stupid pointing choreography too.
* "Vaa Machaney" (Sean Roldan), from the soundtrack to Irudhi Suttru. A fun Tamil number from Sean, who very rarely disappoints. If you've never seen or heard Tamil film songs before, definitely take a look. It's not going to be what you expect.
* "Sorry" (Justin Bieber), which came out last year, yes, but THE ALBUM it's on came out this year and that is where I have it. Also, I love me some Biebs. Sorry (not sorry).
* "History Maker" (Dean Fujioka), the theme to Yuri!!! On Ice and just so cheesy and wonderful.

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