Our look back at the best Japanese music from March includes some operatic rap from Ms. Machine’s Sai, bass-heavy rock and grime from Volojza and a display of unity from the Japanese community with an album in support of a hospitalized comrade.
Various — We Love Hair Stylistics Compilation
When Masaya Nakahara from the Tokyo band Hair Stylistics was rushed to the hospital in January, the Japanese music community was in shock. They banded together to produce this album, with proceeds going to Nakahara’s medical care. The varied list of contributors is impressive, including veteran singer Shintaro Sakamoto, experimental musician Foodman, up-and-coming rock singer Avirgin and J-pop band Cornelius. The sheer breadth of genres and wide-ranging demographics illustrate just how integral Nakahara is to the scene.
There are two songs by Eiko Ishibashi, who wrote the soundtrack to Drive My Car. She drops a series of calming tones for “Ofuro,” followed by husband Jim O’Rourke. He is known as a member of the seminal band Sonic Youth and recently collaborated with Aaron Dilloway.
Whether you like all the songs or just a few, We Love Hair Stylistics is a heartwarming instance of the Japanese music community banding together, from across the country.
Satoh — Born in Asia
Satoh is part of a growing number of Japanese groups who mix rock with electronic beats. Since kZm’s infamous “Teenage Vibe,” which sampled Bloc Party, the scene has exploded with tribute after tribute to the y2k pop-punk era. For Satoh, commonly referred to as J-rock, the reality is more than just a homage.
Anyone else remember the likes of Sum41 and Fall Out Boy? These kinds of bands are currently enjoying a revival among Gen Zers. The semi-forgotten teenage genre is seeing an influx into new music. You can blame TikTok for sped-up classics enabling the younger generation to consume hours of Blink182’s music in minutes. For better or worse, in Satoh’s case, better, the electric guitar is back, crossing over into genres which would have previously pooh-poohed the humble instrument. Front man Linna Figg raps and autotunes his way across Kyazm’s electric guitar. Guests include Lovely Summer-Chan and Cwondo from indie band, No Buses.
“Rainbow” features an opening befitting Green Day, with machine-gun synth and overly pitched backing vocals, journeying between HI-NRG and guitar breakdowns. “Isoges!!!” (Hurry Up) is as quick as one would expect. The video shows the boys dramatically aging in seconds.
“Zenbu” (Everything), is a fuzzy slow-headbanger, nicely bringing us to the strangely emotive closer. “Tokyo Forever” is a song that would be Kids Return if it were a movie, a snapshot of hedonistic life in Tokyo.
Singles and EPs
Nina Utashiro — Better
Nina Utashiro released “Better” from last year’s album, Operetta Hysteria, underscoring how criminally underrated she is. For someone who claimed that she became an artist in part to control everything she put out, it was definitely a good move. In alternating restraint and hysteria, she raps in both English and Japanese. “I’m just like you, only infinitely better,” she screams over pounding bass and relentless beats. It’s a song that gets “better” with every listen.
G. Rina — Charm
G.Rina, as a farewell before relocating to Malaysia in April, remixed the third track on her 2021 album, tolerance, into an EP of its own. In doing so, she proves how much her home country will miss her, by turning the R’n’B groover into a dub number you’ll have on repeat.
Sai — Hirokou
Ms. Machine singer and lyricist, Sai, released “Hirokou,” a brooding, drill-influenced track. With chimes bursting like a Central Cee song, the low-key energy created by grime producer Ironstone gently keeps it in check with Sai’s murmuring vocals.
Voquote — Go!!!
Kota Matsukawa from Tokyo-based collective wau (featured in our January new music piece) released his fourth single as Voquote. Our favorite track to date, “Go!!!” is a jazzy house number, complete with hollow drums and synth flourishes. It’s easy to imagine Kotsu or other CYK members playing this out at a garden party.
Luminous101 — usso
If it is 95% instrumental, does that make it an instrumental track? Post-punk band Luminous101 have made a self-proclaimed minimal techno track with “usso” Intense drumming and melodic, barely-there vocals repeating “usso” throughout. It’s original and addictive.
Volojza — Real Culprit
Designer and rapper Volojza is back in the game, with his freight-train flow and bass-face-inducing beats. Listen while miming gun-fingers and wearing an on-brand neck cover. We’re looking forward to his upcoming album. It’s out in May.
If you’re a Japan-based musician and are interested in featuring in this series, please send any forthcoming releases over to the editor[at]tokyoweekender[dot]com and include the subject line: “FAO Music Editor.”