4/5 - Must listen

Twinkle Star Girl by the quiet room

Released: 22.07.20 / Label: mini muff records

Some beautiful artwork to start the week off! Not so sure about the name of this track, though…Twinkle Star Girl seems like the name of an anime princess type character.

the quiet room is currently a three-piece rock band from Ibaraki Prefecture. I say currently because they’ve been through three drummers since the band started in 2010 and there used to be another guitar player, so who knows how it will change in the future. Looking at their discography it seems like the band is crazy busy. They have releases every year since 2011 and they’ve done a ton of competitions and tours. Those competitions eventually landed them with a pretty successful label in 2015, so it seems like it worked out. This track leads into their 2023 national tour, coming up in January. Let’s hear what kind of song they’ve come up with.

Well that wasn’t rock, or the kind of song I would expect given the cover, but I love it! It’s much more of an alternative-pop song with a couple world grooves thrown in for good measure. The band definitely knows how to write a song. The whole thing is designed for the vocals, so the instrumentals are left in the background most of the time. Which is fine, because the singer is fantastic. Definitely much more of a pop style, which is perfect for this track. The song is about a character helplessly falling for a call girl, the ‘twinkle star girl’ from the title. I won’t go into translations here, but it’s funny and really well written, which is rarer than you’d think in Japan.

When the instrumentals do get a chance to take the lead they do a great job, the double time guitar solo at 1:50 is killer. (As are the Radiohead inspired choked chords at 2:24. Nice.) The flying guitar solos throughout, and the chorus parts work perfectly together to create motion and pad the top end of the mix. Ending the song with a bass solo section is a nice touch as well. The drummer plays well here too, but seems a bit robotic in comparison to the other parts.

The production is also incredibly well done and deserves a shout out. Everything sounds amazing, and the mix is just right for the genre. Incredible work. I’m actually hoping for a music video for this one. I’ll let you know if it drops.

Verdict: Must listen. (4.3/5)

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Whoopie is a Punkrocker feat. Stephen Harrison by CHAMELEON LIME WHOOPIEPIE

Released: 22.07.06 / Label: CLWP Records

Ok, I know I’ve been doing a lot of songs with Chi- lately, but she’s been incredibly busy! And, after that last one, I think I need to hear her back in her element.

We’ve covered a CHAMELEON LIME WHOOPIEPIE track recently and I loved it, Mad Doctor. You can read up on the band there if you’ve not heard about them before. Even more recently we caught the singer Chi- doing guest vocals on a track I didn’t like so much (link above). Now we get to hear CLWP bring a guest into their own track. Non other than the delightful Stephen Harrison. He’s an American guitarist who currently plays with the band Fever 333, and played previously with The Chariot. I don’t know a lot about him, but he looks incredibly badass and I’m excited to hear him play with this awesome group. Let’s get into it.

Well that was way harder than the punk rock sound I was expecting. This whole song is incredibly fun, and the amount of different sections they crammed in makes it feel way longer than it is. The guitar definitely changes the sound of the group for the better, it’s a playful band at heart so the over the top riffs fit in perfectly with the cute glitchy sounds and cheesy bass lines. And these riffs go hard. They pull the band along with them and I love where they end up. Talk about a great sound, I don’t know who did this mix, but it’s perfect in so many ways. The depth of the sounds is incredible and yet every part is perfectly audible throughout. The sound is also genre appropriate, which, given the number of genres they cycle through in this 2:22 song, is unbelievable.

I’m also really happy that they decided to go almost completely Japanese with the lyrics. I’ve had problems with the English in the past, and I feel a bit vindicated after hearing the quality we’re getting with the change here. The emotion behind the words is so clear and gives the song so much more power.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the only thing I could find wrong with this song is how short it is. I really hope they do a track together again. And we’ll probably be seeing CLWP again in the near future.

Verdict: Must listen (4.8/5)

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mayonnaise by ego apartment

Released: 22.06.01 / Label: NihyakuWIND

I think “mayonnaise” is the best song title I’ve heard in a long time. I’m already invested and need to know what this is about. I wish this song had it’s own unique artwork but sadly this is just a single from a full album, so we have to look at plums.

It’s time to give ego apartment another chance at a review. I reviewed their song FOG almost a month ago when the blog was just starting out, and a lot has changed since then. For my part, the review style has shifted a bit to be more broad and music focused. For their part, they got a shiny new website up and running and their album has finally dropped! The self-titled but all-caps album “EGO APARTMENT” has found moderate success, with a couple tracks really taking off. I’m definitely interested to hear some of their more popular music, so let’s dive in and see what kind of song they could have possibly written about mayonnaise.

That was so creative and fun! What an absolute joy of a jam they set up here. Really creative grooves, fun lyrics, great pacing, interesting melodic ideas and rhythms in the vocals. This is way better than the last track I heard of theirs. I can definitely hear the time and care that went into this track, which was my big issue with FOG. Where that song sounded rushed and rough around the edges, its clear that each section and instrument here was carefully crafted and perfected here.

I still have an issue with the bad English, but they really cleaned it up a lot this time around so it’s much easier to listen to. That the second vocalist has perfect pronunciation though, and the gap between the two is still jarring to hear. Hopefully that’s something they work out by their next album.

Speaking of sounds, they use a ton of them here. There are guitars, funk basses, sub basses, keyboards, percussion of all kinds, multiple vocal layers. It’s a huge project and it all works together seamlessly. I would really love to know more about their production process, who had what ideas, how they recorded them, all of it. Also a vibraslap. Respect for any band that knows where to place a vibraslap. But all around a stellar job on the mixing this time.

Verdict: Must Listen (4/5)

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Dystopia feat. AAAMYYY by Tomita Lab.

Released: 22.06.29 / Label: Speedstar

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.

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.

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.

Verdict: Must listen (4/5)

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Kink by Kent Ido

Released: 22.06.29 / Label: Self-released

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.

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.

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.

Verdict: Must Listen (4.5/5)

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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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comedy by Tele

Released: 22.06.01 / Label: Birth Records

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.

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 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.

Verdict: Must Listen (4.2/5)

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Like a Fable by Shintaro Sakamoto

Released: 22.05.19 / Label: zelone records

A new lead single for a new album from Shintaro Sakamoto. Let’s see what kind of music he’s up to now.

Shintaro Sakamoto is most famous for his role as singer and guitarist of legendary psychadelic rock band Yura Yura Teikoku from 1989 to 2010. After the band ended he continued releasing music through his own label, zelone records, and also put out a book of illustrations. His songwriting credits are equally impressive, not only writing for his own band, but working as studio player, composer, and sometimes lyricist for various groups over the years. All this to say, the man’s multi-talented and prolific.

Like a Fable is a throw back to the late Showa era music of the 70s and 80s in Japan. Soft rock guitar calmly pulls us along as the singer tries to convince an old flame to revisit the past with him. Beautifully sung lyrics with a simple accompaniment including bongos, melancholy sax solos, and a doowah chorus. Not at all what you’d expect from this psychedelic legend, but not really a surprise either. It certainly showcases his maturity as a songwriter. It does feel like this kind of love song to a bygone era will be a challenge for casual music listeners of a younger generation. But for music lovers, or those who remember when this was the norm, it’ll be hard to stop reminiscing.

The recording is pristine, almost to a fault given the era. But this is definitely a modernized sound overall. The mix is also well done, although the simplicity of the song means it stays pretty inert the whole time. The guitars have maybe the best sound in the group, vying for attention and sometimes stepping on the vocals a little. But since it’s all the same guy I guess that’s ok.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this song is the music video. A must see even if you don’t like the song that much. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that it perfectly encapsulates the message and era of the song. As does the cover of the album and this single. The art is, as always, by Mr. Sakamoto himself, and it’s a fun visual representation of the lead single. That being said, I don’t think it’s appealing enough for me to choose this song from a lineup, but I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Verdict: Must listen (4.2/5)

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Shinigami by BBHF

Released: 22.05.25 / Label: Beacon LABEL

A surprise hit that pulls you right in and tells you to sit down and listen. I can’t recommend it enough for pop lovers and alt-rock lovers alike.

This three piece band hailing from Hokkaido is the newest face of brothers Yuuki and Kazuki Ozaki of Galileo Galilei fame. Throw in guitarist DAIKI and you’ve got a BBHF. The name is new, shortened from the original mouthful “Bird Bear Hare and Fish” for obvious reasons, but the sound hasn’t changed since they began. A naturalistic J-Pop fusion of alt-rock band and EDM stylings. Listening to them you get the impression that this is the logical progression for pop music in the modern era.

Shinigami is the third track on the band’s newest EP ’13’ (read “Ju-San”) a concept EP that explores the theme of ‘life.’ The use of space to create grandiosity really stood out to me on my first listen. I actually had to give a few plays to wrap my head around the unique form they chose for the chorus. It’s really well structured. Keep an ear out for how the melody in the chorus is supported by a syncopated rhythm section. It’s a unique sound and gives the song a very energetic and positive feeling.

The track also sounds incredible, they did a wonderful job melding the electronic and physical performances. The vocals float above it all giving structure to the song, and the instruments all play a supporting role for that message. There are some nitpicks I could make but I don’t think they would change the fact that this sound just works.

Being a track on a concept EP means that the weight of the songs value will be in its contribution to the overall message, and this song does that so well it made me go listen to the whole album. (Spoiler, this is the best song on the EP) They also made great use of lyrical progression, the lyrics shift change over time showing growth, and progressing the album forward.

The album artwork is just beautiful. They’ve chosen to represent each song on the EP in the cover art and then used that specific imagery in the lyric videos and in-app backgrounds. This track ‘Shinigami’ means ‘god of death’ and so we get a grim reaper type shrouded figure. Clearly they paid attention to detail here and it really helps the message. It’s nice when the whole work gets the care it deserves.

Verdict: Must listen (4.2/5)

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Secret Ceremony by millennium parade

Released: 22.05.20 / Label: FlyingDog

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because this track is the first place I’ve ever heard about millennium parade.

millennium parade is a creative collective led by of Daiki Tsuneta of King Gnu fame. And I’ll be honest, it feels a little wrong including it in these reviews because it barely counts as an indie project. His (well deserved) success and fame give this project access to many more resources than 99% of the other artists I review. But seeing as FlyingDog is only a subsidiary of Victor and they do rep artists that are more the indie scene speed, and because I really want to talk about this song, we’re giving this track a pass.

Looking at millennium parade’s YouTube content it’s clear they’ve been making waves with their ultra creative work. I love it all, and I’m excited to dive in to some more of that content now that I know it exists. If, like me, this is the first you’re hearing of the collective, do yourself a favor and check out some of their work here.

This is a dark and haunting song that pulls all the right emotional strings and leaves an impression. This collective is focused on the music and video working together to produce intricate multimedia works, as such the composition is cinematic and very focused on creating atmosphere. They pull that off really well here, with a vast array of sounds and effects giving depth and detail throughout the track. The production value is through the roof, and it shows. Everything sounds amazing and every idea is fully developed. Which is to be expected after the countless quality control meetings I’m sure they had. I can’t imagine the budget on this thing…

Sadly the track’s lyrics, by artist ermhoi, don’t hold up so well under scrutiny. There are some great one-liners that really pop as an opening theme, but if you read through the whole song the words just make no sense. It’s kind of disappointing but extremely common in the world of anime opening themes. The mindset is ‘If it sounds good who cares what it means.’ Well, at least it sounds good.

Speaking of sounding good, the musicians on the track all sound great. There are some very skilled players in the collective including a few members of King Gnu (for obvious reasons), but also some great keyboardists and string players. Check here if you want to search names.

The only other thing I think worth mentioning is how much I hate this cover. Totally my subjective opinion, but it just looks awful. I know they had it set up with a bunch of cool merch they were selling, so it probably works there, but as a digital release cover it’s annoying to look at. Objectively, it also has nothing to do with this song, so I feel like they could have made something better.

Verdict: Must listen (4/5)

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