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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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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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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Radio Star by Analogfish

Released: 22.07.20 / Label: Self-released

We’re finishing up the week of reviews here at J-Indie so I thought I’d throw in a group I’m already a fan of. This isn’t the kind of jacket cover I’d expected from them, but it peaked my interest so here we are. Before we get into talking about the band, I just want to say: This site has been going for about two months now, and it started out as a bit of an experiment. I’ve been trying to find my rhythm and voice for the posts and this week is the first time I’ve felt like things are going smoothly. So I wanted to say thanks for being part of the early audience. Expect some changes, little tweaks here and there, and feel free let me know what you think. And thanks for reading! Ok, let’s talk about the band.

Analogfish is a three-piece rock band formed in 1999. They’ve played some of the biggest festivals in Japan and have had a track used as a closing theme on Naruto. They debuted on a major label in 2004, but returned to the indie world just a few short years later in 2008, where they remain today. Which is perfect, because that means I get to review them! The group has released an impressive 11 albums to date. Each album has it’s own unique feel and their entire discography is definitely worth a deep dive. Today we’re listening to their latest single Radio Star, written for Idol Konoka Matsuda’s new radio show on Nippon Broadcasting System. If you’re like me and don’t know what any of that is, I researched it for us. It’s a theme song for a radio program. Now I bet the song title makes sense. Ok, let’s check it out.

Oh. Oh no. This isn’t what I was hoping for at all. Attempted J-Pop from an alt-rock group is not a good match. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of J-Pop when it’s good, but this just doesn’t cut it. It’s exactly what I would expect a group of guys who don’t listen to J-Pop to write if they were asked to compose a J-Pop theme for a radio show. The music is lifeless and feels uncomfortable, the range is too high for the vocals, and the whole thing is a never ending loop of boring. Man, talk about a let down.

It sounds like they attempted to shake it up a bit by adding some interesting harmonies. (They feel out of place.) They also mess with the meter for a split second at 1:24 and 1:53. (It just feels like a glitch.) They added a stylish effect to the solo. (I’m not even sure what instrument it is or what it’s playing now.) But they got a couple things right. The bass line is pretty spot on, grooving like it should. The last chorus is done right, with the band dropping out until the big climax. And the lyrics are dorky but completely on brand for this kind of music sung to a melody that fits the genre. They did forgot one of the most important parts of J-Pop though: Bells that play along an octave above the melody. You gotta have that somewhere if you’re making J-Pop. Instant classic.

So, what’s the takeaway here… Stick to what you know? Only make art if you have something you really want to say? You don’t have to take every job you’re offered? I don’t know. But I do know this. You should probably just skip this track and go listen to some of their other music, because it’s so much better to hear them in their element. I’m going to have to review another song by them to make up for this… I’ll see you next week.

Verdict: Skip (1.1/5)

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Macguffin – Re Make by SHIROIRO

Released: 22.07.03 / Label: Self-released

Ok, I need a bit of a breather after yesterday’s review. Something that’s going to relax and refresh my ears for the coming weekend. This cover seems about as calming as you can get, so let’s see what’s up.

SHIROIRO seems to be a newer two-piece unit, a composer who goes by the name “I love full moons.” and a singer named Shion. They’ve released quite an album, an EP, some singles, and a few music videos if you want to check that out. Today’s track is actually a release of a song from their EP “Dessert” which I’ve not yet heard, so I’m going in blind. A good song may lead to a full album review though, so let’s see what they’ve made!

What a pure and adorable little J-Pop song they’ve made here. Right off the bat I loved the singing, she has a great voice. She’s got the soft tone common with a lot of the current singer-songwriters, but when she switches to a fuller voice there’s a strength that really helps sell the arrangement. Speaking of arrangement, what great instrumental writing as well. The samples and midi are low quality, probably due to budget constraints, but the parts are so well written that it doesn’t really matter. The song’s composition is simple, but the guitar playing early in the song makes all the difference and keeps it from feeling cliché. Then in the second verse, as other instruments are added, the complexity of the track hits a sweet spot. Just enough motion to be interesting, but not too much to take away from the vocals. While the mix isn’t incredible, it’s not hurting the song at all. It’s nice to know that we’ll be able to watch the group grow as they release more music. And I certainly hope they do! I might have to go back for a deep dive on their other tracks.

Verdict: Worth your time (3/5)

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Oblivion Sheep by Bakudan Johnny

Released: 22.07.06 / Label: Yarakase Records

To the moon sheep, to the moon! I love this album art, and the song title is equally epic. This band is also one that I’ve not heard from in a while, so let’s see what they’ve been up to.

Bakudan Johnny is a 5-piece band that formed 12 years ago in Hokkaido. They made some pretty large waves on the music scene and it looked like they were about to take off, but then in 2014 the band was put on hold due to health problems. They started back up in 2016 and have released two full albums since then, one in 2020 and another in 2021. Oblivion Sheep is actually the lead single from their upcoming third full album, LOVE, out August 3rd. So it seems they’ve been incredibly busy, but this is honestly the first I’ve really heard of them since 2014. So it seems the steam has been let out of the group’s sails so to speak. From what I remember they were a rambunctious rock band with killer shows and pretty wild pop-rock music. But that may have changed over the last few years. Let’s find out!

Ok, the first thing I have to get out of the way is the Hello Goodbye section in the middle of the song. Now I like the Beatles as much as the next guy, but if you’re going to use their stuff you have to actually have a song that’s worthy of it. This is not, and I can’t being to explain how irrationally angry that section makes me. It’s definitely going to cloud my view of the rest of the song, so I wanted to let you know up front. Now…

This is a pretty boring J-pop song that somehow gets the most fundamental parts of pop wrong. It lacks the catchy melody and hooks required for it to have any impact, the instruments are poorly arranged, and the lyrics are way too messy and cliché to have any real meaning or power. There’s a random guitar solo that meanders alongside the song without actually impacting anything. The bass interrupts the vocals with a random slap section out of nowhere. And there’s a weird empty arrangement after the first chorus where the singers play ‘pass the phrase’ for no reason. The choice to put an entire section of a popular and well written Beatles song in the middle of this track.. I mean. It’s like it’s there to try and trick listeners into believing that this band respects or has learned anything from them. They clearly haven’t.

Ok, wow. Sorry for that. I didn’t expect to be that harsh right off the bat. I should mention the things I liked about the song too…

The instruments are mostly recorded well. And they can definitely play in time together. Oh, and the cover is awesome.

On to the verdict.

Verdict: Skip (1.8/5)

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