Journey by Czecho No Republic

Released: 23.03.24 | Label: mini muff records

Czecho No Republic is a 4-piece pop rock band who have been on the scene in Japan since 2010. Their current line up is:

Masami Takei on vocals and bass, Shotaro Yamazaki on drums, Kazuki Sunagawa on guitar, and Mai Takahashi pulling triple duty on guitar, synthesizer, and vocals.

If you’re a fan of Dragon Ball you may already know some of their music from the ending credits of Kai and Super. I however, have somehow never actually heard them play before, so this is a real treat. I have some idea what to expect after reviewing the side project Living Rita. But let’s give this track a listen.

Oh wow, I was not expecting a fade out. What an interesting track this turned out to be! The general structure and music is most definitely pop rock, but the sound is really something special. It’s got a roughness and playfulness I really enjoy. The break into digital drums in the second verse is also kind of out there, but somehow fits perfectly within the track. And then there’s the early-2000s style break-down that reminded me of Sum 41 for some reason. Great music here.

The lyrics are pretty forgettable, but I think the groove and energy of the track are the real heart of the track, so it’s forgivable. I can definitely see this going on to my work out playlist. What a great introduction to the band!

Verdict: Worth your time (3.5/5)

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Take That ! feat. TENDRE by Tomita Lab.

Released: 23.03.08 | Label: Speedstar

Tomita Lab. has a new collaboration out! And it comes with a strange and honestly kind of creepy music video! Let’s watch.

This song is somehow way happier than it should be given what each part is doing. It’s got that signature wackiness that Tomita Labs. always brings to the music, (we’ve reviewed him before if you remember) but mixed in with the smoothest and calmest voice ever à la TENDRE. This is a combination I didn’t know I wanted, but hearing it together made it seem so obvious. Definitely worth your time, but be warned that this is a love it or hate it kind of situation.

Verdict: Worth your time (3.5/5)

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Megaphone by BBHF

Released: 23.03.15 | Label: Ouchi Daisuki Club Records / Suzume Studios

What year is it?!? This song sounds like a mid to late 2000s summer anthem release about 15 years too late. Super catchy and ambitiously fun, with the weirdest music video I’ve seen in a while. Who is that man and why are we watching him dance around a nameless city? You’ll never know.

BBHF is a band I’ve reviewed before, and I really loved that track. I like this one ok as well, it’s just waaay noisier. I feel like they were going for something a bit cleaner and just added way too many plugins to the mix. It’s absolutely dance-able and super fun in an OK GO kind of way, but I don’t recommend listening to it on repeat with headphones. It’s a lot.

The band sounds great as always, the lyrics are playful, the riffs are dated but fun. Definitely worth your time.

Verdict: Worth your time (3/5)

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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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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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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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Easy by KOMONO LAKE feat. gb

Released: 22.07.27 / Label: Self-released

KOMONO LAKE is an entirely modern three piece group from the Tokyo area. Consisting of a vocalist, a bassist, and a track maker/DJ. Their sound is heavily electric. The production is top notch, but what really makes them stand out are the strong vocals and creative bass lines that accent their music. Today’s track is a bit on the lighter side, and sounds fit for inclusion on a Katamari Damacy soundtrack. The production is fantastic, somehow finding a catchy combination of adorable and cool. The groove is a slower Latin-feel that really gives the singer and bassist room to shine. The bassist has some tasty licks throughout the tune, but the vocals are the standout here. The clear tone and straight pop style of singer Kanbin gives the song direction and really cements the groove. Sadly the rap section from guest gb seems out of place here. It may be a mix issue, but I’m thinking it’s more a groove issue. He’s gone with a smoother approach that just doesn’t mesh with the track. The rap is quality though. I’d like to hear them do a collab again in the future on a different track.

Verdict: Worth your time. (3.5/5)

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Signal by Yukarisa

Released: 22.07.28 / Label: fuwari studio

Quite a simple design for this track’s cover. I expect some pop when I see an all-text cover like this.

Yukarisa is a three piece band that formed in 2019. The members all both sing and play instruments, so they get a pretty full sound for just three people. They use a unique group of instruments to boot: organ, synth bass, piano, guitar, and harp. So, something a bit unique to start the week off!

Signal definitely has a fresh clean pop sound. These are some really great all-around players and the vocals and harmonies were really well done. The form was fairly straight forward pop, but there are a couple twists thrown in that make it stand out. The instrumentation, while subtle, also helps keep it sounding new and interesting. The lyrics are refreshingly clear, telling a simple yet endearing love song. Nothing that I really connect with now, but it’s the kind of song that will stay with you if it catches you at the right time. It’s also the perfect length for the message. They said what they wanted, they said it well, the end. Well written and mature for its adorable sound.

Verdict: Worth your time. (3.6/5)

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