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Greetings, monochromians and netizens at large! I'm a bit late, but here are my top 20 Favorite Albums (and mini-albums) of 2016. In this list, I've made no distinction between Japanese and International releases, since I enjoyed much fewer non-Japanese albums in 2016 than usual. I usually never bother ranking my AOTY lists, but I wanted to give it a shot this year for fun. I do think the rankings reflect my general sentiments in a way, but...don't read too much into them lol. XD Lastly, Please note that this list isn't meant to be some kind of objective statement on the music released last year - this is simply a recollection of the albums I enjoyed most in 2016. So have a look around, and if you have any thoughts to share, please feel free! (I also made some short audio samples for each track, for those who might be curious!) Let's get into it! 20 The Heart Speaks In Whispers by Corinne Bailey Rae While this album didn't entirely live up to the lofty expectations set by 2010's The Sea, there was still a lot here for me to enjoy! Corinne dabbled in her usual pop fare, but it was the strong, classic r&b and soul influences throughout the record that truly struck a chord. I adore her usually refined and elegant approach to songwriting, but it was great to hear her stretch those fantastic vocal chords and really go for it at times too. 19 SECRETS by Deep Sea Diver At the risk of sounding like a complete and utter weeb, I must admit that's it's been incredibly difficult for me to find American indie-rock bands that cater to my taste. There are, of course, some that I enjoy, but on the whole, few seem to possess the kind of rhythmic and melodic sensibilities that I go for. Seattle's Deep Sea Diver are an exception, though. They're certainly not innovators by any means, but they do have an understated quirkiness that I find extremely charming! 18 TAXIS by koh nakashima I'm a bit surprised that there's not much mention of this guy in the Western Jpop sphere. For me, he's been one of the most impressive and promising newcomers to hit the scene. He seemingly came out of nowhere, dropping two EPs - RAFT and TAXIS - just a few months apart. I found TAXIS especially appealing for its nostalgic, yet refreshing blend of house, city-pop, uk garage, and pop. This also gets extra points for being one of the few releases where me and @beni's taste actually converge! 17 NIPPONNO ONNAWO UTAU BEST by NakamuraEmi Speaking of nostalgia - NakamuraEmi also won me over with an acoustic-pop style that hearkens back to early 00's jpop. Though, like Koh Nakashima, she brings a hip flair to her music and even skillfully incorporates a rap flow at times; which is something of a normal occurrence in Jpop these days thanks to acts like daoko and suiyoubi no campanella. Funnily enough, "NIPPONNO ONNAWO UTAU BEST" is simultaneously Nakamura's major debut while also serving as a best-of album for her indie material. This was my first experience with her (as it probably was for most people), and I'm nothing short of impressed. She already has a well established sound, honed from years of toiling away in obscurity, and I can't wait to hear what's next for her. 16 Word in the Petals by CHERRYBOY FUNCTION Unless you're some kind of Japanese club music aficionado, then chances are you probably haven't heard of CHERRYBOY FUNCTION. Hell, even if you're just a casual fan of electronica, coming across him or his music is unlikely given his sufficiently weak social network game and scanty remix work. Yet despite this, he's been quietly cranking out his bleeps & bloops via the small record label ExT Recordings for about a decade now, and also plays alongside more prominent electronic acts like DE DE MOUSE and TOFUBEATS. Word in the Petals is just another great dose of his colorful techno and house grooves. 15 THE NEWEST JOKE by VELTPUNCH Despite their prominence as one of the western fanbase's treasured indie bands of the 00's, I was never much of a VELTPUNCH fan. Even when I first listened to this album, I wrote it off as being decent, but nothing more. Yet for reasons unknown to me, I gave it another try and it actually began to click, growing on me with each repeat listen. With a whopping fourteen tracks, clocking in at over an hour, the album does drag on for a bit too long. I might have placed this higher in the list if the pleasant-but-forgettable tracks were omitted in favor of the stronger moments, but there's still more than enough raucous indie-rock fun here to keep me coming back! 14 LAST WALTZ by world's end girlfriend This was actually my first time listening to a WEG record, and to be honest, it just barely made my list. Not because I didn't enjoy it, but because it's simply a massive record and I felt I hadn't properly digested it yet. Though the fact that I still included it is a testament to the impression that's it's left on me. LAST WALTZ is an expansive amalgam of beautiful, cinematic landscapes, twisted distortion, and gritty electronics - right up my alley. I'll definitely enjoy continuing to digest this one in the year ahead. 13 freeform jazz by uyama hiroto Uyama Hiroto will probably be viewed as the spiritual successor to his peer and collaborator, the late Nujabes. However, with all due respect, I would say that this album has propelled him into a league of his own. While not technically "free-jazz", it certainly feels less bound than his previous works. It's a more musical effort overall, and the drumwork is especially more organic than before, as opposed to the straightforward boom-bap approach that similar artists take. In fact, you can hardly categorize this as just "jazzy hip-hop" anymore. Hell, the entire album only has one actual rap feature (and thankfully so, because I can't stomach cheesy backpacker rap!). It's an exquisite listen with fantastic vibes. 12 remix04 rem by Chouchou I've followed Chouchou casually for years now, but this album has completely cemented me as a fan. It's a self-remix album in the which duo have reworked their songs completely into ambient piano pieces, and it's astoundingly gorgeous! It's so well done that this albums feels like a new, cohesive work of its own, as opposed to an assortment of previously released tracks. I'd love for them to continue along this style. 11 DEEPER by HITORIE Wowaka's musical mind never ceases to amaze me. As a former vocaloid producer, he brings to HITORIE all of the colorful melodies and infectious riffs that I love, while thankfully leaving the actual vocaloid at home. If it weren't for the tail end of the album, DEEPER would have been much higher in rank, but the first half is so strong and has received SO MUCH playtime from me that it warrants a place on this list! 10 "inori de wa todokanai kyori" by JYOCHO The spirit of uchuu combini being resurrected in the form of JYOCHO was no doubt the biggest year-end surprise for me. For the most part, JYOCHO picks up exactly where the band left off, except this time adding a flutist into the arrangement. Even the new vocalist Rionos is barely distinguishable from uchuu's Emichoco. All in all, It's a lovely dose of math-pop, and just what I needed in my musical diet last year. 09 DISTORTION by THIS IS JAPAN These 4-piece alt. rockers appeared with yet another awesome debut EP last year. Citing influences such as Fugazi and Japanese indie legends NUMBER GIRL and Bloodthirsty Butchers, these guys play a style of rock that smashes together fun and catchy melodies with pure, spastic rawness! At a time where the smooth grooves of city-pop and the chilled sounds of western indie are trending in the J-indie world, THIS IS JAPAN is a breath of fresh air! 08 Floa by Mammal Hands With the emergence of acts like mouse on the keys and fox capture plan, bands fusing post-rock with piano-based jazz seem to be appearing more these days. Mammal Hands was my latest discovery in this style, and unlike their labelmates GoGo Penguin (who also released a solid album in 2016), this trio are a bit more loyal to their jazz influences. They have a pretty awesome saxophonist, which definitely supplements their jazzy predilections and gives them a more notable edge over similar bands. I like to imagine that Floa is what Uyama Hiroto would sound like if he went in a more jazzy and cinematic direction. 07 Flames & Figures by The Seshen The Seshen was another serendipitous new discovery for me last year. I stumbled across them while perusing one of my favorite UK music labels, Tru Thoughts, and I was enamored immediately. They make the kind of forward-thinking soul music that I love, with hints of electronica, synth-pop, and psychedelia all bundled into one, crisp, enthralling package. I've seen them described as "Little Dragon meets Erykah Badu", which is brilliant since I love those two. Apparently, they've also supported acts like Thundercat and Hiatus Kaiyote (who I also love!). 06 IKI by HITORIE No, you're not going crazy. This is, indeed, another HITORIE album on my list lol. They released two last year, and as you can see, I'm smitten with them both! IKI, however, is the second one to be released and also the better of the two. It doesn't have the powerhouse singles that DEEPER did, but it's the more cohesive and balanced work. Whereas DEEPER fizzles out towards the end, IKI is thoroughly engaging throughout. The amount of quality music that HITORIE released last year is just baffling! 05 A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead I'm most likely a fan of any Japanese band that you can describe as sounding Radiohead-esque - sleepy.ab, downy, trico, wooderd chiarie, ar - so it only makes sense that I'd be a fan of the masters themselves. I can't even tell you why I like them so much, but I guess their sound just speaks to my heart on a visceral level. This album is like the soundtrack to a dream of infinitely unravelling splendor. The arrangements are gorgeous and the production is as pristine and masterful as it gets. Amazing! 04 Ugly Slave Children by No Party for Cao Dong These Taiwanese rockers completely swept me off my feet after seeing what I'd easily consider my favorite music video of 2016. Admittedly, the album took a while to grow on me, with its unexpectedly danceable nature, but I've really come to love its uniquely passionate blend of grooves, mathy passages, and emo outbursts. 03 SONASILE by Shohei Amimori I was beginning to lose faith in PROGRESSIVE FOrM, my favorite Japanese electronic label, as the quality of their releases have been shoddy over past few years, but Shohei Amimori has completely dispelled my growing stigma with this album! SONASILE is an absolutely incredible sonic feast of colorful IDM and sunny glitch-pop. There are also hints of modern classical and jazz piano strewn throughout, and even some very strong Shibuya-Kei influences. I'm surprised that the western fandom seems to have overlooked this one! 02 dai roku sakuhin-shu "mudai" by downy As expected, downy's 6th untitled album is absolutely singular! It's much different from their previous album, yet just as good. Robin Aoki's vocals are more prominent than they've ever been, and the production seems a bit more earthy and natural, as if the album was produced specifically with live performances in mind. It's brought out a new kind of warmth to their otherwise stark and cold, dystopian sound. The general soundscape of the album isn't as varied as their previous releases, but it works in downy's favor here. Instead of going for an outwardly expansive sound, the album plays out like the band exploring their own inner workings, and it's a whole new world unto itself. I'm not sure how these guys do it, but they keep evolving while remaining a uniquely potent force. 01 siraph by siraph You know those "create your dream band" topics? Well, I've ruminated on those kinds of subjects quite a bit and never in a million years would I have thought to create a band as perfect as siraph. These guys are literally a dream come true - mostly due in part to the god-tier combination of haisuinonasa's Yoshimasa Terui and school food punishment's Masayuki Hasuo. Terui was the driving force behind haisinonasa and Hasuo was responsible for school food punishment's best material. With both bands in the throes of oblivion (the former appears to be on hiatus and the latter has been disbanded for years), their unique sounds seemed at danger of being lost to time. Thankfully, siraph has appeared with this godsend of a debut to save the day! The EP combines Terui's offbeat, math rock-sensibilities and Hasuo's eccentric synth grooves to brilliant effect. Both composers wrote three tracks each, and while their individual styles are obvious, they couldn't be any more complimentary as a unit. Singer Annabel completes the circle, bringing with her an anison charm that completely invigorates Hasuo and Terui's already imaginative compositions. With this EP, in addition to their demos and recent single, siraph has single-handedly made my 2016!
Greetings, monochromians and netizens at large! Here are my Top 30 Favorite Songs of 2016! Every year, there are tons of amazing songs released that, while not belonging to my fav. albums of the year, still heavily impact my musical experience. So for once, I wanted to highlight these songs! Unlike my AOTY list, every song here is Japanese. I also chose not to include songs by artists that made my AOTY list. As I mentioned in my AOTY thread, I usually never bother ranking lists, but I wanted to give it a shot this year for fun. These rankings are super erroneous, though, as I could prefer any of these songs over another on any given day. XD So...yeah, don't read too much into the actual ranks, ahaha. As always this, list isn't meant to be taken objectively. If you have any thoughts, please feel free to share! And if you're curious about any of the songs, please do check out the short sample clips I've created! Shall we begin? 30 "UNDYING" by the GazettE the GazettE's 'Dark Age' has been...same-y to say the least, but "UNDYING" has stood out as one of my favorite songs from this era - probably because it sounds like a mess, with the band trying their hardest to be progressive. It's an enjoyable mess, though, and as usual, it never takes much for Ruki an co. to win me over. 29 "KEIREN" by qujaku THE NOVEMBERS have been on a mild decline since 2014's Rhapsody in Beauty, and qujaku are slowly creeping in to capitalize on all of that lost potential. the loud, pummeling art-punk of "KEIREN" is captivating, and I can't wait until this band releases a proper debut! 28 "matsuo basho" by suiyoubi no campanella suiyoubi gave me a scare with the release of UMA, wherein the group's characteristic sound was subverted by incorporating several different producers, but they quickly followed up with "matsuo basho", reviving my hopes in the process. As long as Hidefumi remains the sole producer, I doubt they can go wrong. 27 "2772" by ZA FEEDO Experimental pop outfit ZA FEEDO has a plethora of talent and potential, but unfortunately, they've yet to truly find their sound. The groovy and soulful "2772", however, is a fantastic indicator of where they should focus their efforts! 26 "gods" by mothercoat Sadly, mothercoat released only this single last year, but it's the band doing what they do best. Quirky, upbeat indie-rock that's both buoyant and super infectious! 25 "gourmet kikou" by fujin club Organic pop with bright melodies and crisp, colorful instrumentation = instant love from me! I like to imagine this song as the musical equivalent to a Ghibli movie. It's cozy, endearing, pure, and full of wonder! 24 "sayanora anata" by ayano kaneko Young indie singer-songwriter ayano kaneko made an instant fan out of me with this one. "sayonara anata" is the perfect blend of carefree indie-pop and adorably earnest folk-rock. 23 "LAST HERO" by BLUE ENCOUNT BLUE ENCOUNT are amongst the kind of major-label rock bands in Japan that I don't typically gravitate towards (stuff like ONE OK ROCK, KANA-BOON, KEYTALK), but I'd be damned if "LAST HERO" isn't one of the most catchy and fun tracks that I've heard in 2016. That and, I blame @benifor bringing my tastes full circle and getting me to appreciate the poppier side of life again. 22 "Sunshine Freeway" by I love you Orchestra In spite of their brilliant line-up, I love you Orchestra has yet to truly strike a chord with me, as I found their work a bit too erratic and unfocused, but with "Sunshine Freeway", the band has found a great balance between their spastic tendencies and accessibility; making this a coherent and easily memorable track. 21 "wither mind" by girugamesh I'm only familiar with girugamesh's material from about 2013 and on (shout out to @togz for actually getting me to listen to them), so while I can't compare their early works to their recent stuff, I've come to enjoy the synth-laden alt. metal that seems to be characteristic of their final days. "wither mind" sums this sound up perfectly, and it was the highlight of their farewell mini-album for me. 20 "tabun, kaze." by sakanaction This is your average sakanaction song: danceable, synth-driven rock with big, sing-a-long choruses - and thankfully, 'average' for sakanacation means that's it's frikkin' great! It's been about 4 years since their last original album, and I'm practically salivating for more! 19 "short hope" by akai ko-en As bright and talented as the girls in akai ko-en are, their music has been hit-or-miss in my book - a sentiment that became especially true for me after they went from inventive indie-upstarts to a full blown Jpop band, seemingly overnight. They definitely get things right on "short hope", though, showcasing a kind of hip and smooth, r&b-esque side that I've yet to hear from them. Not to mention, I'm in love with Chiaki I'm in love with Chiaki's vocals! ^_^;;; 18 "voice" by SOSO BREAK THE WALL I'm still thanking @Hakoniwafor indirectly introducing me to this band, as I most certainly would not have heard it about them otherwise. "voice" is the kind of dark, mournful female-fronted alt-rock that I've been craving since me-al art's third album and the demise of REDЯUM. SOSO released a solid EP last year, but I need MORE! 17 "Talisman" by Boris Forbidden Songs, the 2nd disc from Boris's reissue of 2006's Pink, is comprised entirely of unreleased songs, and it could have easily been released as a brand new album on its own. The songs are just that good. "Talisman" is an absolutely crushing stoner-doom number that harkens back to 2002's Heavy Rocks, but is equally apt as an extension of Pink. 16 "The UNreal" by Silhouette from the Skylit I've been casually following this band for a few years now, and while they're consistently solid, every now and then, they put out a song that really sticks with me. "The UNreal" is a charging tune done in their usual electro alt-rock fashion, and it's both funky and commanding. 15 "yotaka" by kiryu I'm super new to Kiryu, as I've only heard their material from 2015 and on, but they've been one of my favorite VK discoveries of recent times. Admittedly, I wasn't too impressed by their full length last year, but I loved the entire single for "irodori". "yotaka" was the first b-side for this single and its frantic, cacophonous mix of metal, traditional Japanese motifs, and VK melodrama is everything I've come to love about Kiryu! 14 "kami-iro awase" by binaria 2016 has been a busy year for Annabel. Not only has she continually wowed me with her work in siraph, but she also released a solo EP in addition to cranking out both a single and an album with binaria. I actually consider binaria to be somewhat of an anison supergroup, with both Annabel and the renown Nagi Yanagi on vocals. I like to imagine that they're this generation's Maaya Sakamoto and Akino Arai, respectively. "kami-iro awase" serves as the OP for an anime called "Danganronpa 3", and it's a brilliantly penned track with subtly ingenious instrumentation - very similar to some of school food punishment's material. 13 "EDGE" by nowisee Speaking of anison, nowisee (pronounced "noise") is a rather enigmatic audio-visual project that specializes in creating songs with their own, unique animations, so it surprises me that they've yet to actually do a song for anime. They've been highly prolific over the past 2 years, but the recently released "EDGE" has become favorite track from their rapidly expanding catalog. It's an electronically infused pop-rock power-ballad, with graceful verses and a monumental chorus. And yes, I fully accept my inner-weeb. ; ) 12 "Shandy" by TK from ling tosite sigure TK has been a flat-out disappointment these past few years, so it should come as no surprise that the best song he released last year is actually a re-recording of a classic ling tosite sigure song from 2010 - back when he was at the top of his game. Surprisingly, TK hasn't altered the original too much, and he hasn't watered it down either. Instead, it's a more organic version that faithfully captures the same epic intensity of the original. Hopefully, TK will begin to take a few more cues from his past. 11 "Mother Fucker" by Limited Express (has gone?) It's so refreshing to hear these veterans of the Japanese underground still kicking ass after nearly 20 years in the game. Their latest album All Ages was a wild, alt-punk ride that showed the band is still as vital and crazy as ever. "Mother Fucker" stuck with me in particular, but it's emblematic of the entire album: turbulent drums, chaotic sax, groovy post-punk basslines, erratic riffs, and YUKARI’s ear-piercing vocals! It’s noisy, it’s bonkers, and it’s a hell of lot of fun! 10 "F.A.K.E." by lynch. "Listening to a Lynch album all the way through is like the musical equivalent of living on macaroni for an entire week." said one @Disposable some time ago, ahaha. I'll never forget that line. I agree with him, but I do enjoy lynch. quite a bit. I think it's due to their creative stagnation that I've come to expect at least one major jam from them with each new album. In 2015, it was "EVOKE", and last year gave me "F.A.K.E.". I also have to thank @Flame-Xfor making this song infinitely cooler by using it in his awesome AMV for Gundam IBO. Now I inadvertently associate it as the actual opening theme for that anime, and it's glorious. 09 "lost/stand/alone" by cinema staff 2016 was a great year to be a cinema staff fan. They released a super solid album and an excellent single/EP, both of which showcased their range and continued viability in being both talented rockers and compelling pop songwriters. I thought "lost/stand/alone" was the perfect example of this duality, with its catchy emo riffs, coercive drumming, and Mizuki's bright, soaring vocals. I've yet to hear anyone I've liked better doing this style. 08 "Youth" by Young Juvenile Youth Young Juvenile Youth, consisting of vocalist Yuki and producer/beatmaker Jemapur, are fairly new, but they already stand out within the greater Jpop landscape. Not exactly trip-hop, and not exactly electro-pop either, "Youth" sports a sound that I can name no contemporaries for in Japan. It's the kind of sleek, minimal electronic music that you'd sooner expect to hear out of London than Tokyo. The synths in "Youth" are meticulously layered and arranged, and the beat is just chill enough to garner a contemplative head-nod. It's also accessible, but not overtly poppy. This duo definitely has my attention, and I'm curious to see where they go in 2017. 07 "shirobara no lullaby" by aoi teshima Aoi Teshima's image has always been a direct reflection of her music. Her songs exude the same level of elegance, class, and modest beauty that she does, and as such, her most recent album Blue library was expectedly lovely. "shirobara no lullaby" was particularly extravagant. It's a stunningly somber, psych-folk song that harkens back to 70's kayōkyoku ballads and even reminds me a bit of Douji Morita. Exquisite! 06 "I Love You" by Chocolat & Akito I feel like Chocolat & Akito have gone grossly underrated by the western Jpop fanbase. While most overseas Jpop fans were praising Seiko Oomori for including hints of Shibuya-Kei on her latest album as if she single-handedly revived the genre, Chocolat & Akito -actual vets of the movement- were busy releasing quality music as usual. The married couple's latest venture saw them team up with Californian surf jazz twins The Mattson 2 and the results were lovely. "I love you" was an instant favorite for me, as Chocolat & Akito did a fantastic job of merging their beautiful vocal melodies and their sunny, shibuya-kei flavors with the jazzy psychedelia of The Mattsons. 05 "Nightseeing" by Klan Aileen I was instantly mesmerized upon watching the original video for this song, and sold even more on this band after hearing the re-recorded version. They left such a big impression that I'd automatically shoehorned them into a spot on my AOTY list without even hearing the album yet. Sadly, the it didn't turn out the way I'd hoped, but "Nightseeing" has a permanent spot on my playlist. It's a riveting, noisy psychedelic-rock track with killer riffs. Hopefully they do more of this style in the future. 04 "M.U.T.E" by PELICAN FANCLUB According to some fans, OK BALLADE wasn't PELICAN FANCLUB's strongest release, but it was the first one in which any of their songs were able to leave a significant impact on me. "M.U.T.E" has this surprisingly smooth and groovy, western-indie feel to it. I can't really explain why, but it just feels "right", aha. I may not be as devout a fan of these guys as @fitear1590or @seurong, but "M.U.T.E" has provided me with a fantastic incentive to sign up to the "FANCLUB". 03 "Tokyo" by ame no parade ame no parade has been...highly conflicting for me. Kohei has quickly become one of my favorite vocalists, and I enjoy the band's general sound and aesthetic, but my gosh, their songwriting has been incredibly stagnant - especially after going major in 2016. "Tokyo", however, is one of the best songs they've ever written. It takes on their usual format of minimalistic verses, and big pop choruses, but actually manages to be engaging in the process. Not only that, but the song just has a really amazing vibe to it. I think the PV, where Kohei is openly singing and dancing through the streets of Tokyo on what seems to be a beautiful evening, perfectly sums up how this song feels. 02 "blues" by Galileo Galilei Galileo Galilei called it quits last year, as they left us with their final album Sea of Darkness. The album wasn't as gloomy as its title suggests, though. In fact, it was full of the light and airy pop-rock that their career was known for. However, the aptly titled "blues" was the most emotionally poignant moment on the album for me. It's an enthralling track with amped-up instrumentation and a passionate vocal performance from Yuuki Ozaki. In a farewell message from the band, they expressed that they put all of their last thoughts into this album, and in this track, you can literally feel the heartache and sorrow that they've experienced on their road to the end. 01 "us" by Aimer Annnd finally, my number one track! If you've bothered reading this far, then bless you! I love Aimer's powerful croon, but she's the type of artist whose music quality depends on who she works with. Her vocals are like a hollow reed through which the intent of the producer flows. She's released some amazing tracks alongside the likes of Yoko Kanno, Hiroyuki Sawano, Androp, and Taka from ONE OK ROCK, but her most stellar work comes from a collaboration with none other than TK from ling tosite - which is ironic considering how I just ragged on him for the declining quality of his own music. In "us", TK employs all of his signature touches, but with Aimer at the helm, his songwriting feels fresh and new, as if the two of them have unlocked an entirely new dimension to their respective sounds. "us" is a beautifully haunting and epic pop-rock song. I can only hope that these two will continue to collab in the future!