Not much music of interest that came out the earlier half of 2014 has maintained a position on my list (except for my top pick), but, once I sat down with the goal of knowing what I may have been missing out on, which I did around the last quarter, I discovered remarkable stuff I am sure will stay in memory for a significant amount of time. As expected, the list is dominated by Japanese acts.
5. Suiyobi no Campanella – Watashi wo Onigashima ni Tsurete tte
FEATURED VIDEO: Suiyobi no Campanella – インカ
At most times, the accompanying dance music of Suiyobi no Campanella will be sweeping, wide-scaped, contemplative, much like what we’ve heard of from acts like Lamb, but then a voice comes in that raps, does spoken word, and the same voice would attempt to sing, the sort of singing that needs some getting used to. The tone reeks of the tongue-in-cheek, the carefree, and once you’ve seen the music videos (here, here, here), the live performances, you’d witness the frontwoman, KOUMAI, just goof off, with the music tethering her before she gets off-rail. Suiyobi no Campanella came out with their fifth album late 2014, and having also had the chance to listen to their earlier material, it is apparent that if taken separately, the elements that comprise the signature sound of the group would be imperfect, indistinct from what influenced it, but taken as a whole, it just becomes mesmerizing. Easily, the most hypnotic artist/record I listened to last year.
4. tofubeats – First Album
FEATURED VIDEO: tofubeats – Don’t Stop The Music feat. 森高千里
The pop-dance record for the musically adventurous, tofubeats‘ first major label release ‘First Album‘ comes on very strong, with top-notch guest artists that just gives this multi-layered collection of songs flavor-punches party-worthy all throughout.
Related article: tofubeats calls on pals for his ‘First Album’
3. Especia – GUSTO
FEATURED VIDEO: Especia – No1 Sweeper
I have championed the idol group Tokyo Girls Style for some time, having had that missed nostalgic 90s tinge to their output, but have always wished they would put that sound up-front. Especia filled that gap, and they needed much, much more space than I allotted. Gloriously teeming with campy 80s staple sounds, a genre called city pop -imagine resort hotel lobby background music in the economic-boom 80s era of Japan- and idol pop rolled into a golden brick, way too hard to resist. Their 2014 record GUSTO sounds both vintage-cool and minty-fresh, and ‘No1 Sweeper‘ may as well be the best Jpop song to come out last year. This post-disco, jazzy-funk heap has also caught some attention from the English-speaking internet media, so I do hope that the now-trimmed to five member-group would not quit, and that the girls realize that Especia has its own unique sort of awesome. Must, no, integral listen.
2. Oomori Seiko – Sennou
FEATURED VIDEO: Oomori Seiko – Imitation Girl
For the uninitiated, you have to spend an hour or two to listen and watch what offerings the web has of Oomori Seiko. You may rest for a few minutes to read some interviews. I did all of that, and all I have to show after is a semi-obsession of the multi-polar character who can be as wistful and angelic as a guitar-weilding, piano-playing, singer-songwriter type (and she is all of that), as abrasive and demented as Jun Togawa, and an unconventional, sexy charmer, much like (early) Shiina Ringo. One doesn’t have to make comparisons though, or even know the references, to get into the fanclub, or even take the anti-idol figure pinned on her seriously. The perfect starter record is her twee-ish Poi Dol with Lai Lai Lai Team from last year (sample here/live version), but you’ll just be exposed to a minimal fraction of Oomori’s magic. Her major label release Sennou from last December is an unabashed pop album, with hooks generously peppered on each track. At this point, there’s no convincing me to turn back, and I will still take numerous viewings of her running breathlessly to a pro-wrestling ring across a music festival field to perform, and to tongue-swap with a random fan, or singing sweetly in a dangerously short, blood-soaked nurse’s uniform, or rock out on TV and kick her band’s guitarist off to a corner, or just be incredibly cute and semi-normal, thank you.
1. BABYMETAL – BABYMETAL
FEATURED VIDEO: BABYMETAL – Ijime, Dame, Zettai (Live at The Forum, London)
I found BABYMETAL‘s first song, Doki Doki Morning, released around 3 years ago, amusing. Everything else before their major album release February of 2014? Still amusing, and I’ve always found it endearing that idol pop can be this adventurous, but it was something I can’t fancy at that time. Then, I heard the self-titled album, and though I wasn’t too crazy about the production (I wished for a more aggressive tone), but the way these previously released singles (plus new songs) were put in order was something to behold. I liked the album then, I didn’t doubt it. Shortly after, I chanced upon a live concert of theirs, where I had to blink a few times, and review the performance again, just to confirm that they were actually singing-and-dancing with a live band, abandoning the skeleton-costumed fake band they had from the start. I listened to the album again, saw a few more concert footage, complete with moshpits, crowd-surfers, and walls-of-death, and until now -it has almost been a year since I’ve labelled myself as a fan- there is obviously no denying BABYMETAL holds impeccable power personally for me, both as a hybrid heavy metal act, and as idol entertainers to follow. The BABYMETAL formula just needed fine-tuning, I should’ve realized early on. I won’t be surprised that the group’s first album won’t be a staple in year-end lists, but busting victoriously through heavy metal walls in the West just shows a battle of music-opinions just don’t hold up much to how they keep winning each war.
BiS – Uryaoi!!!
FEATURED VIDEO: BiS – My Ixxx (Live)
I didn’t get BiS, until I got to see videos of their live gigs, in the tiniest music venues. The singing and dancing didn’t show much semblance of admirable talent, but the crowd moshed, the crowd danced, the crowd sang heartily. This wasn’t the expected idol crowd that would wave glowsticks in the air at each predictable beat, they were a different sort. The crowd welcomed any member who dived into them in reckless abandon. They lived up to the anti-idol tag, with videos with simulated abuse, and one where they were propped as masochistic living sculptures. They had numerous collaborations, but most notable is with noise outfit Hijokaidan, where they, well, watch this. BiS has now disbanded, and released their last album last July.
Vampillia – The Divine Move
FEATURED VIDEO: Vampillia – Endless Summer
I’ve only seen their gorgeously animated music videos, but Vampillia, a band that can get it on with both the aforementioned BiS, and Krallice’s Mick Barr, is worth noting down. This is blackened, brooding, orchestral post-rock, or something like it.
Anything from the West that took your fancy, Rain?
Glad you asked! The new stuff from Flying Lotus and FKA Twigs are collectively awesome, I may have heard the new Weezer record, I’ve played the critic favorite St. Vincent album on Spotify, and it didn’t really make me go WOW, but it is the best time to go through other’s lists right now, I may allot this month and the next for that.
PS: My VPN quit on me, hence all the video links are non-Youtube.