The year 2020 saw the coronavirus pandemic take center stage, making this year feel longer than usual as we isolated indoors for months on end. On the bright side, however, releases from our favorite artists kept coming, with only a few delays here and there. These releases undoubtedly got us through it all and although it’s far from over, we at JROCK NEWS thought it would be brilliant to compile our personal favorites. We’ve asked each writer to explain their choice, and also name a couple of honorable mentions.
So in no particular order, and without further ado, here are our top picks taken from yesteryear.
Miyavi – Holy Nights
This is probably the release that’s kept me going this year! Following its release in April, right around when things started to get a little more serious, we were treated to Ishihara family music time, which cemented this album’s place in my heart that little bit more. I love the direction Miyavi’s sound has been heading in these last few years, and Holy Nights weaves his guitar style with more electronic elements masterfully. With his recent forays into virtual live shows, I can’t wait to see how his music and performances will evolve next!
Another favorite of mine this year was Crossfaith’s SPECIES EP, as was Bring Me The Horizon’s collaboration with BABYMETAL for the song Kingslayer. And I can’t, not, mention Vorchaos’ single Mystery Night Tour—their first new release since 2017 which beautifully showcases their range.
DEXCORE – [METEMPSYCHOSIS.]
Shortly after releasing the incredibly powerful song DRAGOUT earlier this year, the band entered an unsteady phase with the sudden announcement of Naoki departing, the founder of the band. However, none of these worries remained once the music video Cibus was released, granting one of the most extreme breakdowns I’ve ever heard. You will find this song on the band’s first full album [METEMPSYCHOSIS.] that comes with the song the Ground, by far the hidden jewel of this work. The cherry on top, the “-RED-” edition of the album which contains almost all tracks ever released by the band, for an impressive total of 33 songs. A must-have.
Then, the silver medal goes to JILUKA’s album Xtopia, the song Ignite is fire (got the pun?), while Chronos by Matenrou Opera receives the bronze medal! Finally, I award the medal of honor to NOCTURNAL BLOODLUST for their revival through THE WASTELAND. It’s not my favorite release of the band, but I’m glad they’re back!
Yousei Teikoku – the age of villains
It’s been quite the year. One of the many upsides was a return from Yousei Teikoku. The band went through some interesting changes to eventually bring us an amazingly raw, hardly-seen look into the band. The age of villains represents an astoundingly interesting message while at the same time introducing an array of new favorites to my library. No matter the other great releases of the year, I found myself constantly running back to the unfettered seduction in Yui’s voice. Fans of Yousei or not, definitely give this one a shot.
Don’t forget to check out our interview with the band where we discuss this album, described as “[the] most powerful album we ever created”!
Aside from Yousei, what is life without DEVILOOF? “The loof” put out a much-awaited single, Devil’s Calling/Angel’s Cry, after a number of unfortunate setbacks. Damn, what an absolute treat. The completely new direction of some good ‘ol power metal and then the filthy grind coming in to save the day. I can’t wait for their next album!
RAZOR – Okite
I was equally excited and nervous about RAZOR’s second full album Okite. One, because it would consist of mostly new songs. Two, because this would be the first release featuring former ALSDEAD and AIIS drummer NIKKY as an official member and finally, three, this would be released in the space of a year of their first album, Sennen no Shirabe. However, listening to Okite elevated those worries. This was a brilliant way to not only welcome NIKKY, but also showcase the evolution of RAZOR as they explored new sounds and integrated them with its current one. You can also check out our interview with the band regarding NIKKY joining the band and album Okite.
Shout out goes to DIMLIM’s MISC., my most played album of 2020, lynch.’s ULTIMA which raises the bar for the band once more, and HOLLOWGRAM’s Pale Blue Dot, easily one of the most beautiful sounding albums I have heard in a while.
YOASOBI – Yoru ni Kakeru (Racing Into the Night)
While I’m a fan of composer Ayase’s Vocaloid work, I do feel like his music shines best when working together with vocalist Ikura under the duo unit YOASOBI. Yoru ni Kakeru is a refreshing take on the definition of “catchy” and does it well through its speedy piano and jazzy guitar along with delicate vocals. Even though the release and breakthrough started in late 2019, the year 2020 revealed all the amazing opportunities that this sole single arose.
My second pick would be the album ERA by RAISE A SUILEN, a band from the BanG Dream! franchise. The incredible energy and kick you get out of the album is so intense that it became my go-to pick when working out.
Chanty – Shoutai Fumei
The release of the mini-album Shoutai Fumei is a culmination of the sounds that form Chanty’s world compressed into six beautiful tracks. It consists of bright, energetic, and melodic tunes adorned with the expressive and unique voice of vocalist Akuta. The release also marks the complete integration of guitarist Shiro to the line-up, who unquestionably demonstrates he’s a suitable piece for the band, following the departure of the beloved Chitose, contributing with his creativity and skills to the compositions. The album feels fresh, and fun to listen to, definitely a great addition to Chanty’s catalog.
Next up, yonige’s Kanzen na Shakai with the production of ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION’s vocalist Masafumi Gotoh introducing us to the duo’s gloomiest effort to date. Other releases worth mentioning is the album NEMOPHILA by the short-lived band NAZARE. And also anisong singer ReoNa’s debut album unknown, an artist who’s been associating her name with the Sword Art Online franchise.
SILENT SIREN – mix10th
This year, SILENT SIREN celebrated 10 years of their sweet pop career by releasing the album mix10th. With a decade of hits, they do not stray far from the formula that made them famous in Japan. For “Sai Sai” (as fans affectionately call them), this was a satisfying blend of their pop flavor while also bringing a few new treats to the table. Make no doubt, their songs are mostly positive and uplifting. So in a year of tough times and personal struggles, playing this album was a guarantee to put a smile on my face. To be certain, my favorite track is the hard-rocking Up To You, featuring Aimi from Poppin’Party.
Next up was the smashing release KARMA, from our favorite punk rockers, BRATS. The obvious bias here, as I had the pleasure of interviewing them earlier in 2020 at Anime LA. Check out Ms. Downer, the tune that got the crowd jumping out of their seats.
XaaXaa – ‘Ai’
It’s only fitting that an EP themed on ”love” would cause me to have a love affair with it. When Matenrou Opera released Chronos, I didn’t think it could be matched. Then along came XaaXaa with ‘Ai’. Both releases are amazing in their own right. However, ‘Ai’ nudged ahead by the array of compositions based on the emotions that come from being in love, and falling out of it—from wishing your ex to drop dead, to not being able to fully let someone go. XaaXaa narrates each song with dynamic expression and dramatic vocals that I love this band for. Have you heard Happy Wedding?
So, that leaves Matenrou Opera’s beautiful EP Chronos as my runner-up. And, when DIR EN GREY’s Ochita Koto no Aru Sora gave my eardrums lacerations, ASAGI’s hypnotic Amabie was the silkiest linen used to bind the wounds time after time. It’s seriously that soothing.
Polkadot Stingray – Nanimono
Although I have a newfound appreciation for silence and quiet time this year, when Polkadot Stingray came out with their new album, Nanimono, it just further proved they’re special in my heart. The crisp and earnest voice of vocalist Shizuku paired up to each wholesomely playful melody of each track just makes this entire album so easy to listen to. It’s like drinking cool water and just feels nice any time of the day. My personal favorites on this album are FREE on track three, JET on track nine, and POSE on track 14, but the whole album is excellent. I wish I could pick most songs on this album as my favorites. Just listen to it!
Close friends would be shocked I didn’t choose Tokyo Jihen’s single Aka no Doumei after waiting years for them to reemerge so I’ll give them a special mention here, as well as Brian the Sun’s BEST PARADE.
It’s here we come to the end of our team members’ picks for 2020. Did any of the releases stick out to you in any way? What were your favorite releases of the year past? 2021 has already started and artists are already announcing their plans for the coming months so do continue to stay tuned to JROCK NEWS as we report on the latest developments.