2018 Quarterly Review part 2: April-June

If winter 2018 was the season for experimental releases, spring 2018 is the season for alternative pop. For whatever reason all the best Korean artists decided to opt out from releasing their good stuff during the spring, so this season is entirely dominated by Japanese.

Note: All the releases listed are all available to western audiences through physical copies from western distributors, streaming services, bandcamp etc.

Haru Nemuri – Haru to shura

haru nemuri

Not only is this an incredible album, but I also get the satisfaction of seeing how much Haru Nemuri has grown since her 2016 debut. Back then she was a really solid DAOKO clone following the trend of cutsy girly hip-hop. Jump to 2018 and she’s basically the hottest artist from Japan to hit the international indie scene. She even landed on the radar of high profile music reviewers in the west with her latest record. Not to say this record has no elements of cutsy hip-hop, but Haru Nemuri has evolved into something with a much larger breadth. Its not a hodge podge start-stop between experimental rock, pop, and cute hip-hop. Haru to shura is a true fusion on those sounds. Her rapping sounds excellent, but even more impressive are her chill inducing screams. Limiting the screams to few scattered moments on the album make them that much sweeter when they do appear. I’m talking Mariko Goto (ex-midori) tier screams. I literally get goosebumps everytime I listen to Narashite.

The album is essentially perfect with absolutely no filler. If there’s only one Japanese album you decide to listen to from 2018, it better be this one. I can’t recommend it enough.

Spotify, Apple Music

Ayano Kaneko – Shukusai

ayano kaneko

Ayano’s first album in 3 years is a warm and comfortable indie folk/rock record. Like her previous work this record has an old soul with modern sensibilities. The 2nd half of this record especially has a few very old school sounding rockers that will get your head bobbing and your feet tapping like a kid a woodstock. Shukusai isn’t as cute as previous efforts which is a disappointing, but I can’t deny that I didn’t have a great time listening to this album.

Spotify, Apple Music

Gacharic Spin – G-litter

gacharic spin

As always Gacharic Spin have released another solid high-energy rock/metal pop fusion record. One thing that has always given this band an edge over other all female metal bands is their confidence in their femininity. While many other all female metal bands get dolled up in frilly dresses, they put on a masculine facade musically to compete with the male dominated metal scene. Gacharic Spin skips the competition altogether by making very cute and girly music with lots of heavy flourishes. It certainly rocks hard, quite often in fact, but it definitely sounds like it was written by women unlike many of these other girl bands who could easily replace the vocalist with a greasy long haired dude without making a huge difference to the sound. Their unique multi-vocalist approach and their obvious “don’t take us seriously” attitude is also very refreshing.

G-litter is quite corny and I’d argue that not every decision makes a successful landing, but the sheer number of sounds and genres fused in this album makes it a really fun listen. I don’t think I will ever get sick of this band.

Spotify, Apple Music

Urbangarde – Shoujo Fiction


Like a lot of big Japanese releases Urbangarde’s Shoujo Fiction is bloated with too much going on and a muddy production. However, I think that’s the point. Since their inception, Urbangarde has taken a satirical approach to represent otaku and young adult culture. The band has even referred to their sound as “Tokyo Virginity Pop” and “Trauma Techno Pop“.

Its kind of a beautiful mess. Like the aforementioned Gacharic Spin, Urbangarde jumps stylistically all over the place between heavy metal to electropop to traditional pop ballads and more. Another similarity to Gacharic Spin is the frequent vocal trade-offs. Lead vocalist Yoko Hamasaki has a traditional Showa-esque voice, while Temma Matsunaga has a very atypical goofy style. Its pretty impressive how it all comes together despite sounding like a terrible idea on paper.

One warning is that its pretty tiring listening to the entire record in one go, so you might want to break it up into multiple listening sessions.

Spotify, Apple Music

Vampillia – Happiness Brought by Endless Sorrow [EP]


I don’t really like extreme metal, but Vampillia is truly something special. Simply calling them an extreme metal band doesn’t really serve them justice, as they’re range of music is quite diverse. The 10 piece band refers to themselves as the “brutal orchestra”, and they’ve released a number of avant-garde projects. This year’s release definitely falls heavily on the extreme metal side (harsh vocals, speedy tremolo picking etc.).

By condenses 4 tracks into just over 6 minutes you can be absolutely sure no moments are wasted in this harsh but brief wall of sound. What really impresses me are the frequent melodies that are ingeniously intertwined in each track. Definitely worth 6 minutes of your time.


Spotify, Apple Music, bandcamp



Seriously underrated! I wouldn’t blame you for not getting excited about an actor/model turned musician’s debut album, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice for skipping NON’s (Rena Nōnen) SUPERHEROES. Stylistically, its somewhere between veteran punk rock girl girl group Shonen Knife and the old-soul folk rocker Ayano Kaneko. Unlike most artists from a similar career background, NON’s music isn’t overproduced or glossy in the slightest. All the flaws in her voice are front and center. Only the track Superhero ni naritai features anything more than a basic band structure (guitar, bass, drum, keyboard/piano). I imagine these are the kinds of songs high-school bands would cover, or ones that beginners would learn on guitar. That’s not meant to be an insult, but rather to emphasize the feeling of nostalgia. Simple in the best possible way..

Spotify, Apple Music



Not a lot to say about this album, but its a really chill hip-hop/jazz record that I really loved. My favorite part of this band has always been the horns, and they certainly deliver again on this record. Some of the guest vocalists, whom I don’t particularly like, sounded quite good on these tracks (ex. Yojiro Noda). One of my most listened to albums of the year, and I still feel like going back to it.

Spotify, Apple Music

CHAI – Wagamamania [EP]


Quite possibly Japan’s quirkiest and most original groups at the moment, CHAI is continuing their crusade of tacky cuteness across the globe with their 3rd EP Wagamamania. Don’t let their cute youthful appearance fool you. These girls are not corporate idol puppets, but are all competent members of the band playing their own instruments. On top of that, they’re making some of the most exciting music currently. Just like their amazing debut record last year, this EP deliver’s a no filler barrage of high energy pop/rock. Very weird and very charming.

Nagoya’s finest.

Burger Records


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