Who are you ? by Liza feat. Yo-Sea

Released: 22.07.22 / Label: Self-released

Liza is definitely going for the rebellious vibe for the cover. I’ve not heard Liza or Yo-Sea before, but I love a collaboration so let’s find out what this is about. Liza is a younger rapper with about 10k followers on Instagram and a few successful tracks under her belt. An up-and-coming artist who’s doing her best to make some waves here. While this is Liza’s track, from my research it looks like Yo-Sea is the more popular artist. So a really great collab for her on this deluxe reissue of her debut EP. Ok, let’s check out the song.

This track has a tight groove with some great sample work giving it a perfect flow for the rappers to work with, and Liza kills it. She uses a really straight-forward rhythmic groove for this track, with a lot of rapid fire phrases ending with stretched syllables. It makes for some really addicting phrasing, made even better by her voice which is incredibly easy to listen to. Yo-Sea pops in for a single verse that seems a bit lackluster in comparison. His voice is amazing and the harmony work is cool, but the rap itself isn’t that memorable. His vocal ad-libs peppering the following choruses are also a bit much. Sometimes guests can be like that. But she got the name drop, so good for her. This track definitely makes me want to check out the rest of the new album.

For comparison I also checked out the older version of this track that was released last year, and while the rap is a bit more playful in that version the music here is much improved. It seems like she was able to simplify and polish up almost every aspect of the track, something I wish more artists would do for their older releases. In an age where releasing music is so easy, you’d think that songs would be updated as they evolve over the years. I’m glad she did it.

Verdict: Worth your time. (3.5/5)

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Reality by Living Rita

Released: 22.07.15 / Label: Orange Sunshine

Reality is the first track out from the upcoming double release “Reality/UTOPIA” from Living Rita. I love this minimal cover they’ve chosen. The RGB shifted almost flower-like object gives it a mysterious and spooky quality. No idea what it is though, so I guess that fits the title pretty well. I’ve not heard of this group before, so let’s do a little digging and find out who they are.

This duo is a spin-off project by Masami Takei (Ba/Vo) and Mai Takahashi (Synth/Vo) both of popular indie group Czecho No Republic. Turns out I did know who they were, I just had no idea they’d started this new group. Their band Czecho is well known in Japan and their music has been used as the ending themes for two recent Dragon Ball series. But Living Rita is a much newer and lesser known group. It seems that the two wanted to explore songwriting outside the music they were making with Czecho and the Corona lock-downs gave them the opportunity to get started. They’ve had a few large shows, one with Luby Sparks who we’ve reviewed before, and they’ve got another big event next month to celebrate this release. I’m very interested to hear what they’ve created as a smaller unit, so let’s check it out.

Wow, that was a strange song. It’s not like anything I’ve heard recently, seeming almost late 60s or early 70s in its composition. The melody is extremely slippery, velvety smooth but all over the place harmonically. At the same time the backing band is super chordal and straight forward. The players all have the occasional fill at the ends of phrases that attempt to give the track life, but it sounds more like a backing band at a bar show. Not lazy playing, but a kind of bored feel to everything. By the second listen I was a little bored, too. Not to say that the song is bad, it’s just not interesting either. Everything seems very stagnant and all the interesting bits come off as decoration.

The band sounds great though. It’s clearly a group of stellar musicians, especially the two main members. The recording is clean and the mix is nice if a bit washy. The short guitar solo sounds great, but has little impact on the song. Which is a pretty good summary of the overall vibe here. Not something I’d recommend, but I won’t hit the next button if it comes up on shuffle. I’ll be sure to check out the second single from this release when it comes out, Hopefully that will give me a better read on the group.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.8/3)

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Munasawagi by NIKO NIKO TAN TAN

Released: 22.06.29 / Label: Self-released

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.

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!

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.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.3/5)

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girl by suya suya junction

Released: 22.06.22 / Release: Self-released

girl is the lead single from suya suya junction‘s new EP “hometown” and has there ever been a more spot on album jacket? This is a new band for me so let’s find out who they are.

suya suya junction is a four-piece indie band that started in Tokyo just two years ago in 2020. They’ve released three singles before this one, and now they’ve got a full EP out. The band seems young, but looks can be deceiving. They say on their website they’re into shoegaze, indie rock, and post rock styles. So I’m hoping for a refreshing hit here. Let’s see what they’ve created.

What a charming song. The band has that young J-Indie sound that’s a bit rough around the edges, but also a clear confidence in the music. The form is decidedly pop, but the guitars have a rough sound that grounds the somewhat shaky groove in the post-rock genre. The vocals are the stand-out here, really natural singing with a great tone and the harmony work is outstanding. I’m very excited to see what other songs are on this EP, and it’s on the list to review for sure.

The lyrics are calm and loving, although the narrative isn’t clearly defined. Each instrument is played well, perhaps a bit shakily, but in a charming way. The mix is also very indie, lots of space and untreated sounds. A lot of focus was given to the vocals here and for good reason. Everyone gives a great performance that conveys a lot of soul. I hope the rest of the EP sounds like this, it would make for great driving music.

Verdict: Worth your time (3.4/5)

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Released: 22.06.22 / Label: felicity, P-VINE

Rolling is from OTOGIVANASHI‘s newest album US. I don’t know much about this band except that they love using capital letters and simple words. Let’s find out a bit more about them before listening to the song.

A band that started in 2000 but really rose to prominence with the release of their first album in 2007. I’ve not heard the name before in my decade in Japan, so I’m not sure just how well known they still are today, but judging by the numbers I see on socials they’re still very active and have quite the following. I’m excited to see how the 22 years of experience has treated the band, so let’s get to the music.

That was surprisingly messy given the amount of time the band’s been around. I’m getting the feeling that this might be a better song when listened to in the context of the album. As a solo track it’s pretty boring. They’re emulating a bygone era of rock that I personally don’t like, but objectively they do a pretty poor job of making it interesting. All the parts are there but it sounds almost like they don’t really have any special love of the style. For an example of a good era-driven piece check out the track from Who Do You Love? I reviewed last month. The comparison is should be like light and day.

I could go on into detail about the parts of the song that work, but I don’t think it’s worth the time. I’ll check out some other stuff by the band another day because it seems like with 20+ years of playing they can do better than this.

Verdict: Skip (1.5/5)

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Strange World by Hazy Sour Cherry

Released: 22.05.27 / Label: Damnably Records

A J-indie rock band already making waves overseas, but how does their lead single hold up?

Hazy Sour Cherry is a Tokyo based rock group formed in Shimokitazawa, and very much entrenched in the garage band rock sound that the area is known for. They’ve been working with an English label who featured them at SXSW 2021, they’ve also gotten some attention from Bandcamp Daily and various other rock magazines across the web. Everyone is rightly enchanted by the group’s sound, and I have to agree. I’m betting that their live shows are super fun, and I’ll definitely check them out if they ever stop by on tour. They’ve got a new album coming out tomorrow (June 15th, 2022) which I’m sure will be well received. But today we’re only talking about the title track.

And it’s…not that great. It’s not a bad song. The guitars are fun, the vocals are ambitious, and the song is a bop to be sure. But the whole thing sounds hollow and the song from is too overdone to save it.

The lyrics are all English and contain a little introduction of some of the band’s members, and talk about how they can go everywhere in this strange world, (they said the title of the thing!) and then they say it all again. Very cute, but typical of this kind of song. The guitars sound great, and the drums are good. The whole group has some rhythm issues that seem less like purposeful choice and more like they’re just messy. It works with the style, but it definitely isn’t helping the mix, which is where the problems really are.

I don’t know what went wrong during mixing, but it’s really bad for the majority of the song. It finally comes together at the end, but whenever the guitar riff cuts out the song loses all power. The chorus isn’t soo bad because the harmonies help give it some meat, but in general the song feels lonely. If the mix had some more weight I think it would hit much harder. As it is, it just makes me want to go see them perform live so I can hear how the song how is meant to sound. I really hope the rest of the album sounds better.

Verdict: Take it or leave it (2.2/5)

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Hanikami Filing Love by Who Do You Love?

Released: 22.05.18 / Label: NEW FOLK

I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked this track for the review list, but I didn’t think I’d be immediately transported back to the 60s.

Who Do You Love? has perfectly arranged this song for the period they’re emulating. The melody seems familiar but is totally unique as far as I can tell. If it is ripped from something please let me know in the comments. Even if it isn’t an original melody, the music they set it to is incredible. All of the instruments are played to perfection and the vocal harmony is just icing on the cake. I really like the little Japanese Showa-rock twist during the solo at the end, it’s a creative way to end the tune. It’s just a wonderful song all around.

The vocals are definitely a stand-out part of the track: passionate and the right tone throughout. The different instruments’ fills and solos have just enough character to add to the song without hogging the spotlight. I’d definitely buy a ticket to see these guys live just from hearing this.

The production is almost perfect, but is just a tiny bit too clean in some sections for my taste. I almost wish they’d recorded to a tape deck and cut it by hand. The panning also seemed a but out of place for the era, a bit too modern. But these are small nitpicks, the track sounds great overall. The cover is where they lost me, it just seems disconnected from the song. It’s such a weird color choice and good lord that font is awful. This song is not at all what I expected from looking at the cover, which definitely isn’t a good thing when there is a niche audience for this kind of song.

Verdict: Must listen (4/5)

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OH HEY by Hitsujibungaku and Lücy

Released: 22.05.18 / Label: F.C.L.S.

This surprise collaboration between Japanese Indie-rock group Hitsujibungaku and Taiwanese singer Lücy has taken my local radio by storm the past few weeks. And I can tell you why, it’s a great song! While I think it’s coming at the tail end of Hitsujibungaku’s indie days (their recent successes have me convinced they’ll be moving over to a major label soon) I’m happy to be adding it to the review list while I can!

This song is a fantastic example of how simplicity and energy work so well together. The different member’s parts are extremely straightforward by themselves, but put together they create a track where something fun or interesting is always happening. I really love the guitar riffs throughout the chorus, just enough bite to push things forward but not so much that it takes over the song. The bass and drums add motion but they don’t steal attention from the vocals. And the shared vocals create just enough variation in tone that the repetitive lines they’re singing always seem new. Not to mention the backing vocals giving those powerful little ‘oh hey!’ nudges forward. Also be sure to pay attention to the use of rhythm in the chorus and bridge, the shortened lines adding all that tension and emotion. Chef’s kiss.

Hitsujibungaku’s vocalist Moeka gives a stellar performance here, her voice is well suited for these kinds of songs. Lücy is surprisingly bland in her delivery overall. This is the first time I’ve heard her, so I need to listen to her other work, but I don’t know if she has the right approach here. It works, but just barely, and I don’t think she could do this song solo. The lead guitar’s sound is expertly crafted for the song, as is the bass. And they both play their parts to perfection. The drums could have used a better choice of cymbals and perhaps a little bit higher tuning to blend better, but the performance is tight.

Sadly the bad English from Lücy makes most of the song impossible to understand. Which is strange, because there’s really only like five lines total, so you’d think they could have at least clarified them. It seems like they’d be pretty cool, too, which is annoying. The Japanese lyric sections work well, but I think the two parts are supposed to play off each other, so we really only get half the story. Definitely could have had a lot more impact if they had gotten this right.

The track has great production value. Everything sounds great, so the recording session must have gone smoothly. The mix is also great overall. The twin vocals are balanced well against each other. I really love the guitars panned around us adding all that weight to the groove. The chorus parts are just far enough in the background to give the whole thing scale. I could have used a bit more polish on the drums, particularly the ride. It’s just so close to the vocals, and doesn’t need to be… But the bass drum, and bass play well off each other, so that’s the important thing I guess.

The fact that this was a surprise collaboration means it’s a stand alone release. The cover is super fun and VERY clear on the songs feeling. However things get muddled as to who’s song this is with the inclusion of only one artist name on the cover. The release has been heavily marketed here in Japan as a collaboration, and it was released by a Japanese label, so I’m not sure what happened behind the scenes. Best guess is that she’s the one who proposed the collab, so she gets her name on the cover. Still strange though. Maybe it’s being promoted differently in Taiwan.

Verdict: Worth your time (3.8/5)

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