June 2022

Deep Himawari by SANABAGUN.

Released: 22.06.23 / Label: Self-released

Deep Himawari is Japanese for deep sunflower. So there’s the cover art explanation for you. SANABAGUN. is a band I’ve not heard of before, but let’s see what we can find out about them.

The name SANABAGUN. is a Japanesifacation of the English phrase “son of a gun” which I’d suspected but am delighted to find out is true. The group began in 2013 and consists of 8 members, two lead rappers and six in the band who also rap sometimes. Looking at the roster it seems that two previous members left the band to pursue music in the group Suchmos, a band that has achieved considerable fame over the past few years, so they’ve definitely got some heavy hitters on the team. It feels a lot like one of those fun side projects you join while also doing more focused work elsewhere. They’re definitely having fun, so let’s see what they’ve created this time.

Some funky music happening here. They had me hooked with the modern intro and then the vocals came in and dropped the 90s on my head. I think this song is just meant to be a fun jam for the group, but while the band stays groovy and interesting the rap takes center stage. The mix makes a big mistake, though, setting the instruments pretty far into the background where they feel less like members and more like samples. I’m sure this is much better to see live with all the musicians together on stage.

The song is solid overall, really well composed and written, staying pretty straight-forward throughout. The only time the group drops the ball is in the break in the middle of the song. They use weird effects that completely stop the groove and feel out of place. It’s a really strange choice given the smooth section they’re setting up. That section’s singer’s voice is like butter by the way. So smooth.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.9/5)

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It’s Summer in the Southern Hemisphere by Akimi Morinaga

Released: 22.06.15 / Label: Self-released

I love this album cover so much. I have no idea who this guy is, but I’m already excited to find out. And it works with the title and everything. Great first impression.

A solo artist from Tokyo, Akimi Morinaga released his first EP in 2018 and has remained active since. He describes himself as a pop artist who “absorbs various genre(s) of music” and infuses them into his own style. He seems quite active as a performer, and also quite prolific. This is his fourth single released this year. Let’s see what he’s offering up this time.

That was a lot. On the one hand the composition was incredibly detailed and well thought out, but on the other hand, it’s so spastic that it’s hard to follow any of it. As a musician I can see the arrangement is a typical pop song, but I don’t think a regular listener would catch that at all. So it all washes out to being impressive but not at all moving. The individual performances are all great but the mix kind of makes everything feel a bit cheap. It works for the light happy sections but not at all during the drastically different slow sections. The lyrics are nice as well, but it feels like a bit of a chore trying to keep up with him.

I can definitely see the influence of various genres, but Akimi needs to work on fusing them better. As is it’s just disparate sections juxtaposed next to each other in a seemingly random way. Incredible music but lacking musicality, if you know what I mean. Certainly an artist to follow and watch as he matures musically, though. I’m sure he’ll be creating some interesting and more palatable work as he grows.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.9/5)

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Honey – Luby Sparks

Released: 22.05.11 / Label: AWDR/LR2

Honey is the lead single for Luby Sparks‘ latest album Search + Destroy. They’re releasing through AWDR/LR2 who we’ve seen before working with Satoko Shibata. The name Luby is probably a play on the fact that the Japanese spelling for Ruby and Luby are the same. But that’s just a guess! Let’s do a little research and find out.

A 5-piece band from Tokyo, Luby Sparks is described as alternative rock, dream pop, or indie depending on where you look. Which gives me the impression that they either combine all the genres or have changed sound since they began in 2016. According to their bio on, weirdly, their YouTube channel, the band has had quite a lot of international collaboration behind the scenes on their music. They’ve also opened for a lot of bands on tour in Japan from overseas. No info on that L though… Let’s give the track a listen!

Wow. Well that was definitely pop. Weirdly I think I heard an exact guitar riff from a Jimmy Eat World song in there too. Overall it felt pretty flat for a song of this kind, which may be the styling of dream pop, I don’t know the genre very well, but it doesn’t really work for me. The vocals, rhythm guitar, and sparkly synths are all in the same range and it makes the song very top heavy. Without that sonic contrast it just feels a bit weak. The guitar and bass players are killing it though. Really great playing from them.

The lyrics seem to have a nice love story for us, but English is definitely not the singer’s first language. There’s no rhyme scheme, the grammar is pretty bad, and the pronunciation makes the whole thing hard to understand at all. I find this strange given how much work they seem to have done with international artists. The production is pretty bland and poorly balanced overall. And the single’s cover is needlessly risqué given the song’s lyrics. The album’s cover is much more subdued and would have worked fine here too. Obviously not my cup of tea, but let’s check out the verdict to finish today’s review off.

Verdict: Skip (1.8/5)

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Deepest Ocean by The Fin.

Released: 21.01.22 / Label: Hip Land Music

After reviewing the remixed version of this track by BowAsWell I thought I’d give the original a proper listen and see what the source material was all about. But first, let’s talk about The Fin. a bit.

The Fin. began as a four member band back in 2012, and after rising to popularity on SoundCloud they found moderate success in Japan with their first album. This led to the group touring in the US and UK. Moving to the UK for a time and working with producer Bradley Spence and mastering engineer Joe Lambert on their second album. After moving back to Japan in 2018 they completed their third album Outer Ego, from which we get today’s track. Along the way the four became two, the drummer became the bassist, and of course the coronavirus killed the music touring industry. Check out this interview with vocalist Yuto Uchino from February 2022 to get a more in-depth account of the journey. For now, let’s take a listen to the song.

My first impression of the song is that I wish he’s picked a less aggressive synth sound for the hook. The song is very repetitive, and I think that helps convey the song’s message but boy does it get old fast. The song itself is very interesting and I like the compositional ideas he’s used. The arrangement remains interesting throughout, variations in the groove and the synth pads give it forward motion when really nothing is changing. The form is unique, with no real chorus section and an extended outro. And the repetition means that the small changes in form really pack a punch. But that synth sound, man. I could only listen to the track twice. Maybe it’s just my ears though.

The song’s meaning is well conveyed, his English writing is superb. He knows his limits so it stays simple and to the point. The production was all done by the vocalist as well it seems, and he did a pretty good job except for one sound…

Verdict: Worth your time (3.1/5)

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Ame by Keishi Tanaka

Released: 22.06.15 / Label: FRIENDSHIP.

Another artist working with Friendship for their release. Friendship is a distribution service, so I’m not sure how much they actually contribute to the track, but it will be interesting to see what kind of music they favor. I’ve not heard Keishi Tanaka before, but if he’s anything like the previous band we reviewed from this label, it’s going to get funky. Although looking at the cover it may be something a bit more subdued and melancholy. But before we listen, let’s see what he’s about.

Keishi Tanaka has been active in the Japanese music scene since 2002, beginning his journey as vocalist of the J-pop band riddim saunter. They broke up in 2011 and now he is touring and writing music as a solo artist. It looks like he performs with a back band, sometimes up to 11 people, for the big shows. And it looks like he’s starting a ‘Summer Rains Tour’ this month with a three piece group. Let’s see what the tour’s leading track has to offer.

Well that was way more of a pop song than expected from the opening groove. I’m guessing that our singer plays piano on the recording, because the bass and drums are walking all over him in terms of musicality. Surprisingly the vocals sound completely average. Nothing about the melody is unique, the harmonies are pretty flat and don’t pop at all. That last one may be a mix problem, though. I think the best part of the song may be the bass. He’s having a really good time with this part.

The message of the song is a pure one, about overcoming depression and finding the strength to go on. Sadly it’s written using only the most cliché J-pop lyrics of the last 20 years, so it’s hard to hear any real sincerity in the words. The way he sings them makes me wonder how many times he’s said the exact same phrases during his 20 year career.

The production itself seems pretty basic, they clearly know how to record, mix, and master J-pop. But it certainly isn’t anything special, and the vocals in particular could have used a little more love.

Verdict: Skip (1.9/5)

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lean forward by Spangle call Lilli line

Released: 22.06.17 / Label: felicity / P-VINE

Spangle call Lilli line is a name I recognize but this will be the first time I’ve actually had the chance to listen to their music. First impressions on the cover: I’m not sure what I’m looking at. Maybe some weird kind of architecture or art piece with a lot of blue. Let’s do a little research and figure out who this band really is.

This three piece band has been around since 1998, giving them an impressive 24 years on the scene. They started in Shimokitazawa, which is an area of Tokyo with a really active indie rock music scene, and they’ve got a huge discography. I’m not sure how I haven’t heard them before, but here we are. Let’s hear what they have to offer in this latest single.

A much lighter and groove oriented song than I was expecting. The vocalist, Kana, has a beautiful voice and it carries the song to a large degree. Which isn’t good when the intro is 30 seconds long. To be fair the composition is really nice, the mix just feels low energy and not up to the level I’d expect from a band that’s been around for so long. I did some digging and found out that the mixing engineer was Zin Yoshida of rock band Salon Music. Certainly a musician with a lot of experience, but I feel like they missed the mark a bit here.

The band plays really well overall, a very early 2000s sound to the song aside from the drums. The drums in the pre-chorus do a really cool groove that is definitely the most modern thing here. It kind of works, but the instruments don’t seems to know how to fit in. It’s a little awkward.

As for the lyrics, they’re ok. It’s very much a mood poem that doesn’t really have any solid story. But it’s very beautifully written in a meandering way. I guess that explains the album cover as well. As for if they stuck the landing? Let’s head to the verdict.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.6/5)

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Hello by Ichiko Aoba

Released: 22.06.15 / Label: hermine

Ichiko Aoba is an artist that plays a lot in my house, I love her music. It’s usually dark and mysterious so this cover is throwing me for a loop. Maybe we’re in for something different this time?

A folk singer/songwriter from Kyoto, Ichiko has been on the scene since 2010, releasing her first album at the age of 19. She has a lot of albums under her belt and a plethora of side projects including some work in theatre. Her music is definitely more artistic and thoughtful than most folk artists here in Japan. Her haunting voice is also unique in a country where more nasal J-Pop voices are common.

Hello is a sweet song with a caring message meant for a loved one. The music video gives the impression that it may be a message from a parent to a child, but I think these lyrics can be about any person you care about. The song’s arrangement is very minimal, featuring just piano and voice. The melody is clear and the singing is soft and sweet. The piano is played in a pop/classical styling commonly used for school songs here in Japan. It’s a choice that’s certainly supposed to feel nostalgic for Japanese listeners. Ghibli often uses this kind of composition in their sweeter scenes to a similar effect. The cover art also seems to be a child’s drawing, tying in to the theme.

The production value is good. The voice and piano sound clear and are mixed well. With such a soft arrangement it’s important to capture even the most subtle nuances of the performance. Ichiko Aoba releases her music through her own label hermine, so everything is done in house and she knows the sound she wants. Very beautifully done.

Verdict: Must listen (4/5)

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Released: 22.06.15 / Label: THISTIME RECORDS

I love pop-punk, especially of the early 2000s flavor. And while I’ve known about Nerd Magnet for awhile, I’ve never had the chance to sit down and really listen to a full song before. Let’s learn a little about the band first though.

This four piece band has been around since 2006 coming on the scene just as their genre’s popularity was fading. Like most indie artists the band’s members all hold down jobs while pursuing music, so it’s impressive how active and prolific this band has been over the years. While they may have been a bit late to the scene in the early 2000s everything is cyclical, and they’ve maintained popularity long enough that this may just be their time to finally shine.

YOUR NEW FAVORITE BAND is the lead single from the group’s newest album I’m Still Here. And while kind of short, it definitely showcases the group’s mastery of the pop-punk style. Everything you want is there, the high pitched vocal lines, the linear moog-like guitar solo, the octaves in the bass, the melancholic self-aware lyrics, the driving drums, even the music video is pitch perfect. While there isn’t anything ground breaking going on, I think they’ve achieved exactly what they set out to do and I’m into it.

The production is also spot on. Harmonies are perfectly balanced, the snare and guitar hit hard unison phrases, the guitar solo sits right above the band but just below the vocals. And the vocals sound great to boot. Really well done. The cover is a bit mysterious, but the album hasn’t dropped yet, so we’ve yet to see what the whole package entails. This one will definitely be on my short list to review.

Verdict: Worth your time (3.9/5)

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Alien loves you! by The tiva

Released: 22.05.25 / Label: Self-released

I’ve not heard of The tiva before but the art for the cover already has me intrigued. Let’s see how it sounds.

There isn’t a ton of information about The tiva available, but this interview shed a lot of light on the group. This young indie duo is inspired by the indie scene in Canada and has tried to emulate that sound here. The members played in a larger band together previously, but after that disbanded in 2018 they decided to start this new project together in 2019.

Alien Loves You! is a pretty good indie alternative song. The lazy feel, slightly off pitch solos, and vocal tone are all spot on. I really love the use of keyboards and effects, they give the song a really good atmosphere. And the guitar parts are wonderfully dissonant.

The band sounds good, but it’s clear that there isn’t really a message here. Reading into the lyrics a bit and it’s hard not to feel disappointed. There are some good seeds in there for a strong song, but the language barrier is just too much for them to say anything clearly. The accent of the vocalist also makes the song impossible to understand, so it comes across as a faux-English indie song meant primarily for a non-English speaking audience.

The production is on the same level as the music, things are muffled and messy and it’s all very charming. The art also fits right in to the style, being colorful but bleak in it’s own way.

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

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Oto mafia by DONGURIZU

Released: 22.06.01 / Label: CONNECTONE

I’ve been hearing this group’s name for awhile now, but with this weird art I’m not sure what to expect.

DONGURIZU are a rapper and producer duo in their mid 20s who have been making waves in Japan for the past few years. While touring was likely stunted by the corona lockdowns, now that festival season is back I’m sure they’ll be making the rounds.

This is a great dance track, and I would love to hear it at a club or DJ event. The music is really well done, with the opening slow jam feeling smoothly transitioning into a killer drum and bass track about 40 seconds in. Interesting it never goes back, so it feels a little like they abandoned some great material. The track does start to feel a bit long at the 4 minute mark and then just keeps going. I’m sure it works well when it’s background or dance music, so genre matters a lot here.

The rap is the sticky point, because on the surface it sounds great, really cool rhythm and vocals, but in terms of content there’s just nothing there. It sounds like they got music advice from Outkast but never figured out that songs are actually about something. The song’s title is Oto (Noise/music) Mafia, but that doesn’t really seem to have any significance. Best not to think about it too much and just dance I guess. It’s super fun as a workout song as well.

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

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