Hi there everyone, resident mod Shmilly here with a little something to round off the year. Over the last three days of 2014, I’ll be posting some of my favourite releases from this year. Maybe you’ll find something new that catches your interest; maybe you’ll disagree; maybe you’ll even have recommendations of your own for me! Feel free to leave any comments you like and we can discuss the year in Japanese music. Today will be singles! (mini- and full-length albums to follow). Originally I was going to rank these but it’s too difficult so we’re going alphabetical instead xD
BORN – Son Of A Bitch
People complain when bands dramatically change their style, but at the opposite end of the spectrum people also complain about those who never experiment outside of their usual sound. BORN are a band who remain very firmly in the latter group, with many of their songs regrettably ending up quite forgettable as they merge with one another in your mind. Happily, while retaining that BORN sound, Son Of A Bitch does just enough different to place it among my year’s favourite singles. That electronic emphasis and a ridiculously catchy hook got it stuck in my head for days after I first heard it.
GACKT – P.S. I LOVE U
Despite my taste having grown progressively heavier over the years, GACKT retains the honour of being the first Japanese artist I ever listened to. As a result, he holds a special place for me and I’m always up to date on his releases. After a string of best-of style albums with only a handful of new songs, he put out this beautiful ballad. It’s written as an emotional letter to a lost love – someone you still care deeply for but to whom you wish a better future with someone else. On a more personal note, it also summed up my feelings pretty well and helped me get through a sad break-up this year.
MIYAVI – Let Go
This song may have slipped under the radar for even many MIYAVI fans. His other single this year, Real?, didn’t do a lot for me. In contrast, this short and funky number showcases the man’s catchy slap guitar grooves along with the electronic elements he’s been so fond of lately. With his self-titled album released globally and his first appearance in a Hollywood film this year too (Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken), MIYAVI’s world domination plans are going ahead in full force. This one’s an iTunes exclusive, so go pick it up cheap.
MY FIRST STORY – 不可逆リプレイス (Fukagyaku Replace | Irreversible Replacement)
I’ve been following MY FIRST STORY since they formed a while back, as vocalist Hiro is the brother of ONE OK ROCK‘s vocalist Taka. This year they’ve finally really broken out into their own sound for me, and this excellent single was inexplicably left out of their album that released soon after it. Also amusing bonus points for the B-side, a cover of Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (have you been watching Terrace House, MFS?)
NOCTURNAL BLOODLUST – Strike in fact
In a three-month slew of singles, and later an album featuring them all, it’s been a busy year for NOCTURNAL BLOODLUST. Of these three singles, my favourite was Strike in fact. It’s an energetic but heavy romp with a memorable riff and I think it really showcases the NB sound (at least, the bit of it that nobody rips into too much for copying all the other metalcore bands out there). Although I’ve been a long time fan of NB, and I saw them three times last year in Japan, this has quickly become one of my favourite songs that they’ve ever produced. It just gets the blood pumping!
ONE OK ROCK – Mighty Long Fall
Amidst all the touring, it’s been a quiet time for releases for ONE OK ROCK. Thankfully this one excellent single slipped out to accompany the first of two Rurouni Kenshin films released in Japan this year. Unlike a lot of their previous work, Mighty Long Fall is heavy on the electronic elements and the PV channels a sort of 30 Seconds to Mars vibe. It’s a dramatic song with a catchy chorus and was a hell of a lot of fun at their concert in London this month. Along with another new song for the final Kenshin film, I have high hopes for their new album in February.
VAMPS – GET AWAY
For the uninitiated, VAMPS is a rock duo tour-de-force headed by Hyde of L’Arc~en~Ciel fame. While I was never much of a L’Arc fan, I have always enjoyed the energetic riffs of VAMPS. While they can be a little hit-or-miss at times, GET AWAY has become one of my favourite songs from them, ever. There’s just enough drama in the mysterious synth and just enough power in the catchy chorus to get it stuck in my head, and even on their latest album it’s a standout track. I apologize publicly to my housemates for loudly singing along to this one many many times.
カルディア (Cardia) – LiberaLibere
This little-known indies VK band is one of my favourites in the current scene. Ex-Riddick vocalist GAB‘s unique voice and the band’s intriguingly titled singles make for a very interesting proposition. Out of three new singles this year, LiberaLibere is my favourite (although the others, FuturoFunere and MagnaMendax are well worth checking out too). I also had the pleasure of meeting these guys in a very entertaining in-store event at Like an Edison Shinjuku. I urge people to give Cardia a listen and support this exciting up-and-coming group.
グリーヴァ (Grieva) – 生ト死 (Sei to Shi | Life and Death)
I’ve had my eye on Grieva for a while now, with their old-school visual kei influence and a heavy but nostalgic sound. Sadly drummer Rui has left their number this year, but their last single with him is one of their best. Comprising a beautiful ballad and a typical Grieva-style energetic, shouty track that was made for lives, it showcases excellently the two ends of what the band does well.
少年記 (Shounenki) – ガゼルバベル (Gazelle Babel)
I was introduced to Shounenki this year, and they are quite something. This young band has a lot of promise. This single in particular caught my interest due to the hilarious title (and opening lyrics – please just play the start of this video, it will brighten up anyone’s day xD). Jokes aside, Composition and vocals are strong, and I look forward to Shounenki eventually releasing an album. I hope someone else reading this is also excited by this little-known group.
21g – 天照賛歌 (Amaterasu Sanka | Hymn to Amaterasu)
Another new band, 21g‘s claim to fame is bassist NATCHIN from VK legends Siam Shade. Guitarist mi-ya is also from all-girls band a DROP OF JOKER. What got me hooked on this group though was the unique husky vocals from Geno, a man who has remained masked since the band’s debut. I was quick to snap up their dual single release, both of which are excellent (the other being エメラルドグリーン or Emerald Green), and since they’ve just announced a full album coming out in 2015 I’m very excited to see where they’re headed.