Released: 22.10.19 / Label: Self Released

TOKYO OX ISSUE is a newer electropop duo hailing from, of course, Tokyo. The duo is made up of model and actress Hinata Kohinata on vocals, and classically trained pianist Shu Katayama on keys. They made a bit of a ripple with their first album, it featured an impressive mastering engineer adding his talents to the lead single (which sounded amazing). But since then it seems like the going has been a bit rough. This track is from their 2nd, and latest, EP “cupola” but it hasn’t seemed to have made as much of an impact. Is it just bad timing, or is the music just not up to snuff? Spoiler: it was probably both.

This track is a bop in its own right, if a bit dated. I feel like the electropop duo thing has been a bit done to death in Japan, and while I enjoy the esoteric piano parts that make this group unique, it’s not enough to really set them apart. The track has got a nice pop groove and some really interesting melodies and solo sections. Hinata’s voice is spectacular here, clear and crisp with a cute tone throughout. It’s exactly the right style of singing for this kind of music. The keyboards are great as well, Shu is having a lot of fun with different pop phrases throughout. But the song suffers from a lack of focus, too many disparate sections and a sense of wandering that muddles the track’s flow. I feel like there’s at least two good songs worth of material here, and it probably should have been split up. The mix is a bit rough as well. Normally not a problem with indie groups, but this track pales in comparison to the lead single from their last album. So a bit of a let down with this release. But I’m looking forward to hearing them grow, and I can’t wait to hear what their next album holds.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.5/5)

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Iruka to Suisei by Aivy

Released: 22.10.12 / Label: real future records

This high-energy track from the Tokyo-based band Aivy is definitely worth a full listen for all the J-pop lovers out there. Iruka to Suisei (translated: “Dolphin and Comet”), the lead single for the group’s second full album, was released in late 2022. To be honest, on my first listen I was ready to check out at the second verse. But what starts off as a typical pop song morphs into a thing of real beauty in the last third, so be sure to give the track a full listen.

The musicianship here is at an undeniably high level. The opening riff shows off the guitarist’s skill with catchy riffs, then the vocals come in clear and strong. The second verse is where the drums and bass have a real moment together with a tight and well crafted groove that shines. But the best part of the song starts at around 2:50 with a virtuosic music break and a beautifully crafted bridge that builds into the final chorus. The playing and the mix of this whole ending section are just stellar.

The song is well-arranged for the pop formula its in, but it’s definitely as by-the-book a composition as they come. I’d love to hear something from this group that’s not so genre-bound, just to see how far they could go. They may have already done that on some other tracks on the album…I’ll have to go check. But as an introduction, I’m already very impressed and want to hear more.

Verdict: Worth your time (3.6/5)

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Last Night by the dresscodes

Released: 22.09.02 / Label: EVIL LINE RECORDS

The dresscodes is a solo project by multi-instrumentalist Ryohei Shima. What started out as a full band back in 2012 morphed into a solo project in 2014 and has featured a variety of guest players for recording sessions and shows. The project has had a lot of success over the years, with festival performances, a YouTube channel boasting close to 12 million views, and music featured in the CG film GANTZ:O among other achievements. So a seasoned veteran of the Japanese music industry who, while not quite independent, seems to be making a go of it on his own while covering a refreshingly wide range of musical styles.

Today’s track Last Night is a masterfully crafted dream-pop tune that has a great groove. The melody is smooth and easy to listen to, in fact the whole song is wrapped in a nice cushion of synth blankets that make it really soft on the ears. The mix is really incredibly well done. The soft, washy nature of the song actually hides some fantastic instrumental parts going on in the background. Every part is really well placed, and just active enough to work with the whole.

Ryohei’s vocals are very unique, and this song is a great example of the soft, breathy, almost-falsetto tone he approaches each piece with. It’s definitely going to be the area that divides listeners, though. I think it works well here (it doesn’t always) and it meshes well with the light feel of the song. I also particularly enjoy the use of percussion and synth effects, in particular the wind chimes. It’s rare to hear those used so sparingly when they’re present. I’d definitely consider adding this to a few relaxing playlists.

Verdict: Worth your time (3.6/5)

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Site moved and slowly updating…

There were some admin things that got in the way of my regular review schedule, so sorry for the wait. Old reviews are slowly being reformatted and updated and once that’s done I’ll be working on the look of the site, so stay tuned! In the mean time, regular weekday reviews are restarting today with Dive by 0am. So check that out and share the site with your friends!

Also, if you have any review suggestions I’d love to hear them so send me a message.

Dive by 0am

Released: 22.09.02 / Label: Self-released

0am is a unique pop duo from Tokyo. Members MAKIADACHI and COMiNUM have found success on TikTok with covers, original music, remixes of TV clips into songs, and some makeup videos. I love that they perform a lot of their music live in video, not to mention the crazy amount of videos they’ve put out. Their style is definitely modern pop. Great fashion sense, impeccable makeup, and crisp well-framed vertical videos shot closeup with multicolored LED lighting for ambiance. They certainly know their platform, but how does the music sound?

Today’s song Dive was released last September, so this review is a bit late because I’m really behind, but it’s been somewhat well received when compared to their other music. It’s a hyper-focused pop track with a simple groove and straight synth hits supporting a really active vocal line. The groove is created with typical drum samples, but also a lot of fun random non-musical sounds which give the whole track a playfulness that probably wouldn’t be apparent otherwise. The lyrics are your basic love song, and the song follows a pretty typical form. Of note is the addition of bass in the break down, which gives a little more color to the track, however the return to the final chorus afterwards ends up feeling a bit bland. Overall a solid pop track, and one that shows a lot of potential in the pair.

Verdict: Worth your time (3/5)

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Bokumetsu by Satoko Shibata

Released: 15.09.16 / Label: P-VINE

Today’s track is from previously reviewed artist Satoko Shibata. While I wasn’t entirely impressed with her track Ryokou it did make me want to do a bit of a deep dive and see what else she’s released. I eventually ended up here, Bokumetsu off her self-titled release Shibata Satoko from way back in 2015. But is it all that I’d hoped for? Perhaps even more?

It is! It’s a much more subdued and sweet composition than Ryoko. And I must say I prefer this energy. Bokumetsu is a well written balled featuring delicate vocals supported by a dreamy and simple indie pop band sound. The lyrics are sweet, and the little spoken asides that float in the background give it a dreamy feel. The acoustic guitar, bass, and drums provide the base of the song while a soft lead guitar noodles around in the reverb-laden background of the tune. I particularly enjoy the lilting melodic phrases and slightly odd timings employed in the vocal line. It’s just enough outside of expectation as to invoke a sense of suspense and surprise. While the production isn’t as good here as in her newer music, this feels much more focused and well executed. Perfect for a relaxing playlist.

Verdict: Worth your time. (3.4/5)

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Bokura by MEMEMION

Released: 22.08.17 / Label: Self-released

This track took me completely by surprise with its strange mix of straight-ahead pop and almost classical tonal complexity. MEMEMION is a five-piece band that formed last year, 2021, in the midst of corona shut-downs. While it’s clear this group of extremely talented musicians all come from different backgrounds, it’s impressive that they’ve found a way for it all to (mostly) fit together in such a short time. The vocals take the lead in Bokura, center stage in every section aside from the guitar solo, and boy are they all over the place. Strange harmonic leaps across a massive range are the norm here, giving the melody a Visual-K or classic prog rock sound. Meanwhile, the rhythm section is busy hopping back and forth between rock, funk, and straight J-pop. The guitars feel like the glue in the mix, playing the mediary between genres. While the song definitely kept my analytic brain super interested for the first few listens, I can’t say I ever really felt the groove. Eventually the leaps in the vocals started to wear on my ears, and the lack of of a strong tonic base in the chorus left things feeling floaty and inconclusive. So while repeated listening is not recommended it’s a great ‘outside’ track for playlists. Especially recommended for those more familiar with music theory, or fans of complex harmony.

Verdict: Recommended with caution (2.9/5)

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Escort by BananaLemon

Released: 22.08.24 / Label: Self-released

While I’m not as into J-Pop as I used to be, I occasionally see a group name that just calls to me. That’s exactly what happened with BananaLemon. And we’re in luck as the group just parted with their label and has released this newest single independently! The track-making certainly hasn’t suffered from the split, though. This is very well produced, and the number of sections they’ve fit into the sub-3-minute track is impressive. Escort starts off hard and quickly moves into rock/rap territory for the first verse. It sounds like we hear from two of the three members here before the obligatory clap-based pre-chorus. The chorus anti-drops with some really smooth vocals over a more relaxed guitar riff. I like how they’ve made the chorus pop by actually making it more subdued than the preceding build sections. It’s a great use of contrast. The second verse is a bit of unique songwriting: the music drops almost completely out and there’s just a short whispered vocal section before heading right back into the pre-chorus. It’s a smart choice that keeps things active and the song moving. Then the chorus again, followed by an R&B breakdown where they get in some diva singing. Then the last chorus does a great job of combining these different styles of singing, but for me it seemed to end a bit prematurely. I think an extra ad-lib section would have felt completely natural to end on, but I respect the ability to not needlessly prolong a track. The modern K-Pop influence is very apparent throughout the track, and while they’ve add a few new ideas here it’s definitely from the same mold. But sometimes just releasing a banger is enough.

Verdict: Worth your time. (3.1/5)

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BYE BYE by chilldspot

Released: 22.08.26 / Label: Pony Canyon

Killer track coming from the relatively new band chilldspot today. They may be young, but they’ve already made a name for themselves. After taking off on Spotify over the last two years they’ve been grabbed up by Pony Canyon, one of the larger labels in Japan. This track is being used in a car commercial, so they may be jumping to a major label soon. This is the first track of theirs I’ve actually properly sat down and listened to, and they’ve got a tight a pop sound that really took me by surprise. The song moves. While the band is tight, they aren’t breaking any new ground here. No, it’s the vocals that really make the sound. The singer, Hiyune’s powerful yet cute tone really grabs the listener. The melody is the most rhythmic part of the song, and the strong J-Pop melody (with obligatory glockenspiel doubling) feels dated, yet modern. Quite the feat. I’m interested to see how typical this sound is for the group. Given that it’s for a commercial, I imagine they went more mainstream than usual, but I’ll have to check out some older tracks to be sure. So expect to see these guys on the blog again.

Verdict: Worth your time. (3.6/5)

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Fukaikan by OSTRIP

Released: 22.08.17 / Label: Self-released

I’ve reviewed a track by OSTRIP before and I liked them so much I though I’d check out their newest single. I’m sad to say that I’m a bit underwhelmed this time around. Fukaikan starts out playfully enough with a cute synth plonking down a lilting melody line that continues throughout the song. Good start. The groove seems mysterious and fun, at first. But as soon as the vocals enter things go sideways. Although the melody is solid, the singing in the verse feels too laid back and takes all the energy out of the song. A change of singer as we enter the chorus doesn’t help, it just don’t pop. The rhythm section might be to blame here, literally nothing changes throughout the whole song and as the track hits its second verse it’s already starting to feel old. In general it feels they should have spent a few more weeks working on arrangement. So, while not a bad melody, the whole track feels very much in need of polish. Especially when compared with their last single.

Verdict: Take it or leave it. (2.2/5)

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