J-Pop

Dystopia feat. AAAMYYY by Tomita Lab.

Dystopia album cover

Dystopia

22.06.29 / Speedstar

Listen Where You Like

Full Review

Stained glass imagery as an album cover is usually a good sign. We’re approaching the upper limits of the indie classification again by reviewing this song, but judging by the lack of attention for this release, I think it still classifies as J-Indie. These artists have about 30 years combined experience in the industry, so I’m excited to take a look. Let’s see who’s behind Dystopia first.

The Artist

Tomita Lab. is the solo project of prolific Japanese producer Tomita Keiichi. 2022 marks his 20th year working in the industry, and even at 60 years old he’s still going strong. The majority of his work is as a producer, but he’s also contributed as a composer and arranger for many albums throughout his career. His most recent release “7+” features 20 guest performers and is where we get today’s track. Dystopia features vocals by artist AAAMYYY from the psychedelic rock band Tempalay. We’ll go into more detail about her work when we review her music, but she’s a force to be reckoned with in the music scene in Japan. All this to say that, with two powerhouses working together my expectations for this track are set pretty high. Let’s take a listen and see what they’ve made.

The Song

For a song called Dystopia that was an absolute joy to listen to. AAAMYYY’s smoky vocals are a perfect match for the percussive and almost frantic energy of Tomita’s track. The first half is off the wall in just about everyway, bubbly bass sounds, lo-fi piano parts, and sweeps shoved in all over the place keep the groove on its toes. The vocal line is simple, very pop oriented, and anchors the listener firmly in the pocket of the groove.

Then, out of nowhere, the parts switch roles completely in the second half of the song. The music calms down into a tight funk groove, restructuring themes and allowing the vocals to start exploring their full range. I absolutely love the change and was invested in where the track was headed, but the ending felt somehow lacking. They fake a return to the songs earlier themes but then hit the escape button and the track ends. It works in its own way as a surprise, but it felt like there was a better way it could have been done.

The only downside of this track is how overdeveloped it really is. The sounds and the melodic phrases are pushed to near breaking with complexity in some sections, which some listeners may find to be too much. It was a lot even for me. I usually listen to the songs on repeat while writing but I had to stop this one on my third pass so that I could concentrate. So it’s great for when you can listen actively, but it demands too much attention to work as background music.

The Verdict
Overall
4
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Production
  • Presentation

Verdict

Dystopia is an energetic and creative track balanced perfectly with incredible vocals. Worth a listen, if only to marvel at its ingenuity.

Reviewed: 22.07.08 / Reviewer: EB

Munasawagi by NIKO NIKO TAN TAN

Munasawagi album cover

Munasawagi feat. Chi-

22.06.29 / NIKO NIKO TAN TAN RECORDS

Listen Where You Like

Full Review

So many capital letters with this track. NIKO NIKO TAN TAN is our main artist here, but you may recognize the name Chi- from the CHAMELEON LIME WHOOPIEPIE track we reviewed last month. I loved her stuff there so I am very excited to hear what she brings to the collab this time. I’m not as familiar with NIKO, so let’s learn a bit about them before we get to the track review.

The Artist

NIKO NIKO TAN TAN is a four member “mixture unit” formed in 2019. Two members do the music while the other two do video. So they really are more of a creative unit and less of a traditional band. They’ve been busy putting out releases like crazy the past few years, so they’re quite active. And I’m hoping that means they’ve got some really developed work here. Because half the band is devoted to the video side of things, I feel like it might be best to actually embed the music video here for you to watch rather than just listening. So give that a watch after you check out the review!

The Song

Chaos is the name of the game with this group in an awesome and creative way, but it’s all just a little too fuzzy. Chi- is a perfect match for this style, and, despite the craziness of the video, she seems more restrained than in her own music. The song is fun and the composition is solid, though nothing to write home about. It works well as a jam song. The lyrics are, just like with the WHOOPIEPIE track, not that great. They’re playful and not to be taken seriously, but even so they could have been a lot better. The video has way more story than the song does, and that’s not saying much.

Speaking of video, clearly a lot of work went into the shoot and there are a lot of fun stylish scenes, but I don’t think it adds anything to the music. Which is disappointing when you consider half of the group is working on video. I expected the two halves to work together better than they did.

Overall a lack of polish in the audio mix, and a lack of quality control on the video means that I probably won’t listen (or watch) this again. Maybe the group just needs a bit more experience to work things out, maybe there was a time crunch, or maybe there was a lack of funding. Whatever the cause, there’s a lot of room to grow, and I think I’ll be waiting a year or two before checking back in.

The Verdict
Overall
2.3
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Production
  • Presentation

Verdict

Munasawagi is a chaotic collab that, while fun, could have used more polish. All the ideas are there, the execution just hasn’t caught up yet.

Reviewed: 22.07.07 / Reviewer: EB

Foolish Summer by Deep Sea Diving Club

Foolish Summer album cover

Foolish Summer

22.07.01 / Beacon LABEL

Listen Where You Like

Full Review

Foolish Summer seems like a kind of self-introduction for the band, as you might have guessed by the album cover choice. While I’ve not heard of this group before, we reviewed a track last month by an artist on the same label: BBHF’s Shinigame. That track was awesome, so I have high hopes for this song as well! But let’s learn a little about the band before we dive in.

The Artist

This “genre-less” four piece band hails from Fukuoka prefecture and they’ve been active on the scene since 2019. They’ve been busy as well with an EP, a full album, and several singles released so far. It seems they go by “DSDC” for short, so I’ll be using that from now on. I found this wonderful write-up on the band by realsound. You can translate that to read, or just click over to enjoy pics of the band and some music video links! Now, let’s listen to the song.

The Song

That was a really skilled performance mixing Latin stylings into a rather straight forward J-Pop song. It’s clear that these guys are some great musicians who really know their stuff. The bass player especially is absolutely killing it. He’s got chops. The individual parts are all really fun and, while segues are a bit abrupt at times, the composition has clearly been given a lot of care. I love this Latin groove mixed in with the J-Pop progression they’ve found. It’s unique and interesting. Sadly the instrumentals feel way overproduced, and not a lot of emotion has survived the mixing process. Every part has a weird flatness to it, and while it’s a clean mix, it’s very hard to really connect with the music. Interestingly if this were a straight pop song it might work, but the Latin elements lose their depth when they’re cleaned up this much.

This would be much better to see performed live, and the music video is already way more fun than just listening to the audio. There’s definitely something to be said about the importance of visual elements when dealing with J-Pop. So be sure to check that out if you like the track.

The Verdict
Overall
3
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Production
  • Presentation

Verdict

Foolish Summer is a unique track that mixes together Latin and J-Pop. Great playing but a bit over-produced. A must listen for J-Pop lovers.

Reviewed: 22.07.07 / Reviewer: EB

Kink by Kent Ido

Kink album cover

Kink

22.06.29 / Kent Ido

Listen Where You Like

Kink – Full Review

Kink appears to be the latest single from Kent Ido’s recently released album “I’m here, where are you” and the album cover (featured above) is entrancing. I don’t think it’s supposed to be Sci-Fi, but those are the vibes I’m getting. Let’s find out a bit more about the artist before listening to the song.

The Artist

Kent Ido is a Kyoto based musician who, according to his website, does it all. He mixes, he masters, he edits, he plays guitar, he composes, and he sings. He’s also the lead of Kyoto band “super noah” who I’ve not heard, but am now interested in hearing. This is his second solo album following his first full release “Song of the swamp.” The man knows how to title his stuff. Now let’s hear what he has to offer.

The Song

Wow. That was an incredibly well written and polished track. It had me grooving from the top and just kept getting better. The man knows composition and style. I really love all of his choices here; the instrumentation of each section, the effects on the voice, the simple musical ideas fully explored in each instrument. It’s really well done all around. I was equally impressed with his mixing and mastering. I would assume given the info on his website that he mixed this one himself, but I’d need to do some research to find out. Whoever did it, they did a fantastic job.

It’s finds like this that make the whole blog worthwhile, and I’ll definitely be doing a review of the full album later this month. If this song is any indication I’m sure that the rest of the album is great. I’ll also be reviewing some of his band’s music in the future as well.

The Verdict
Overall
4.5
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Production
  • Presentation

Verdict

Kink is a wonderfully crafted and well polished pop song. Kent Ido has written a banger here and I definitely recommend giving it a listen. 

Reviewed: 22.07.05 / Reviewer: EB

Kuchibue by OSTRIP

Kuchibue album cover

Kuchibue

22.06.22 / OSTRIP

Listen Where You Like

Full Review

I love me a city skyline, but the song name ‘Kuchibue’ means lips in English so I’m a bit lost here. Love that logo in the bottom right though.

The Artist

Ostrip is short for “Ostrich Trip” and boy does this band love that bird. They talk about it at length in their band bio, but the gist of it is that their music will give you the energy to push on in life like an ostrich runs. Something probably got lost in translation there but you get it. The band is brand new, this is only their second release following their first single ‘bitter’ and from what I’ve found it looks like it’s just a three-piece band. So let’s hear how these bird-lovers sound.

The Song

Funk! They’re a funk-rap group! That’s actually a surprise given the what I found during my research. Not only that but they’re good! I love the dual singers. The girl’s rap is super cute but really funky, and her singing voice and the guy’s voice are a perfect match. The guitar has some great rhythm, and while the rhythm section is super simple it totally works with the song. I could have done without the guy’s rapping, but it wasn’t awful but his singing voice is much better. The solos could also use a bit of polish and creativity, but it’s only their second single so they get a pass. This time…

Speaking of which, for being a second release the recording and mix sound fantastic. I don’t know if they put a lot of money into this or just know what they’re doing, but it works. Definitely an indie group, but high quality for the amount of experience they have. I’ll definitely be coming back to review their next release, and I might just give that first single a listen, too.

The Verdict
Overall
3.2
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Song Meaning
  • Production
  • Presentation

Verdict

Kuchibue is some great poppy funk from a relatively new group. I can’t wait to hear what they make next. Definitely worth a listen.

Reviewed: 22.07.03 / Reviewer: EB

No.8 by Ribet towns

No. 8 album cover

No.8

22.06.22 / Ribet towns

Listen Where You Like

Full Review

Am I about to listen to a perfume commercial? I don’t know what to make of this cover or this song title. I love the use of color though. Ribet towns is a new name for me, so let’s learn a little about the band before we listen.

The Artist

Ribet towns is a 12 member pop band hailing from Kyoto, and from they’ve written in one of the bios I read that they also have a bit of Celtic flair. This is my first time listening to their music, so I don’t know what to expect but just looking at all the instruments they’ve got in their group I’m excited to find out. The band has been around since 2016, so with six years under their belt I’m expecting some quality arranging. Let’s give the track a listen.

The Song

Well that was straight J-Pop with a bunch of toys added on top. The song itself has nothing really unique or innovative happening, it’s certainly not a bad song by any means, just average. The extra members outside the basic four-piece band just kind of stack on top of the song. Unfortunately they’re actually kind of distracting most of the time. I don’t think they’ve worked out how to compose shared melody lines within the group, and there are parts with three or four separate independent melody lines playing at once. It reminds me a little of Gamelan music. The only part where it felt like they got it right was at the ending of the song, literally the last 2 seconds. So, kind of a let down.
The mix is pretty messy, but I think that’s probably due to all the extra instruments playing in the same range as the vocals. Actually given that fact, it was probably a challenge working on this song. So, good work Mr. mix engineer.

The Verdict
Overall
1.7
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Song Meaning
  • Production
  • Presentation

Verdict

A massive 12 piece band whose member’s are tragically underutilized. The music gets a pass from me until they figure out how to play together.

Reviewed: 22.07.03 / Reviewer: EB

It’s Summer in the Southern Hemisphere by Akimi Morinaga

It's Summer in the Southern Hemisphere album cover

It’s Summer in the Southern Hemisphere

22.06.15 / Akimi Morinaga

Listen Where You Want

Full Review

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.

The Artist

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.

The Song

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.

The Verdict
Overall
2.9
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Song Meaning
  • Production
  • Presentation

Verdict

I want to love this so much, but it’s so hyperactive I don’t feel anything but impressed. Worth a listen, but probably only that.

Reviewed: 22.06.27 / Reviewer: EB

Ame by Keishi Tanaka

Ame album cover

Ame

22.06.15 / FRIENDSHIP.

Listen Where You Want

Full Review

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.

The Artist

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.

The Song

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.

The Verdict
Overall
1.9
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Song Meaning
  • Production
  • Presentation

Verdict

Ame isn’t a bad song, but it’s been done better by others long ago. Stereotypical J-pop that it lacks any real punch. Don’t waste your time.

Reviewed: 22.06.23 / Reviewer: EB

comedy by Tele

comedy

22.06.01 / Birth Records

Listen Where You Want

Full Review

Tele is an artist I’m not familiar with, and a rather uninspiring cover to work with, but let’s see what we’ve got.

The Artist

Tele is a new solo project from singer/songwriter Kitaro Taniguchi. He looks really young, but I couldn’t find any information on his age. This is his debut album and the release has been well planned. He set up a YouTube channel in December and has been releasing some really great music videos every month since January. Judging by the quality of the videos and music he seems to have a budget to work with, but I couldn’t find any concrete information on the label, so I’m not sure who’s behind it. It’s all very mysterious and intriguing.

The Song

The song is incredible. Just a wonderful pop tune that sounds really upbeat and happy, but hides some very dark undertones in it’s lyrics. The comedy in question here seems to be the singer’s own existence, with the lyrics expressing feelings of rejection and resignation. Really interesting and skillful folk style writing, sections repeat melodically but with the words changed. Musically it also makes great use of odd numbered phrases in the verses (five measure sections rather than the regular four) and there is some great filler during the breaks between sections. The playing is good but it’s all focused on telling the story, so very unobtrusive.

The production value is also really high quality here, everything sounds great and the mix is focused and clear. A really tight song overall and very sure of itself. Certainly made with a vision. I’m very excited to listen to the rest of the album and try to find out more about the artist.

The Verdict
Overall
4.2
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Song Meaning
  • Production
  • Presentation

Verdict

A masterfully written and emotionally performed song. An instant hit for me, but mileage may vary depending on taste.

Reviewed: 22.06.16 / Reviewer: EB

Mad Doctor by CHAMELEON LIME WHOOPIEPIE

Mad Doctor

22.05.25 / CLWP Records

Listen Where You Want

Full Review

I’ve never heard this group before but just by looking at the cover I’m excited to hear what they’ve got.

The Artist

This mouthful of a unit, CHAMELEON LIME WHOOPIEPIE (that last word is pronounced Whoopie Pie) is the solo project of leading orange-haired lady, and cover model, Chi. She’s backed by two “Whoopies” #1 and #2, who seem to be anonymous contributors. The three handle all the creative and production aspects of the music and videos, making this a truly unique indie project to be sure. Then seem almost like a Japanese version of Superorganism, but on a smaller scale. This is the title track and lead single for their second EP, and it is delightful.

The Song

The music is as crazy as you’d imagine from the cutout-style artwork featured on the cover, tons of different samples and percussive vocals create an elaborate musical tapestry for what is essentially a simple J-Pop tune. The vocal work is upbeat and infectious, and while it has a lot of repeated sections, it manages to stay interesting through some creative and masterful arranging thanks to one (or maybe both?) of the Whoopies. It also sounds great, the recording, mixing, and mastering are really well done. Given the chaotic nature of the song that’s quite an accomplishment. Good work Whoopies.

The visual side of things is also really well developed. Looking back at their previous releases, and skimming through the long list of videos on their YouTube page, it’s clear that the group has crafted a strong aesthetic that perfectly matches the music. It’s so well put together that the crazy world they create ends up feeling completely natural.

The only area that suffers at all is the lyrics. While they’re catchy, they don’t really seem to have any real meaning. They do mention the Mad Doctor coming, so there may be some element of album-wide storytelling I’m missing here. I don’t think this is a concept EP, so I’m betting they just went with something crazy and catchy. Not a bad choice, but compared to the music and visual language they’re using it just feels less developed..

The Verdict
Overall
3.8
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Song Meaning
  • Production
  • Presentation

Verdict

Incredibly creative and unique, this song is a joy to listen to, but you’ll want to watch the music video to get the full experience.

Reviewed: 22.06.15 / Reviewer: EB