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CAT's Top 20 Favorite Albums of 2016!

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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! :3 

 

20

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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

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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

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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! :lolita_love:

17

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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

 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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"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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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wtf none of these people are wearing kawaii dresses even though its 2017??? 0/10 list : S : S : S

 

 

 

 

... In all seriousness, as usual, I'm gonna have to scope some of this stuff 'cuz it sounds interesting. Already discovered Koh Nakashima through the 25 Days of MHmas and enjoyed it, so I feel like there must be some more gems up in here

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The only band I've heard on this list is Mammal Hands, and they rule. Seriously didn't expect anyone to bump em on MH. Animalia is great and I actually haven't checked out Floa but am going to do so. Also there's some other stuff on the list I'm interested in, mainly THIS IS JAPAN. Haven't heard their music before but if they're inspired by Number Girl then I'm interested. Cheers!

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From this list, the only album that i listened to was mudai by downy(and it was dope af) :D

Soooo,looks like i have to give other artists on this list a listen,maybe i'll find something interesting xD

Edited by Anne Claire

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Really slick layout man! I'm liking the simplicity. Maybe next time you could add a little tag indicating the preview track since I don't know what half of what I'm listening to is.

I like looking at these lists because it shows us where our tastes line up and where they diverge, and there's always something that I nick from you at the end of each year and ruminate over for the next year. There's so many releases here especially ones which I remember from the ChristMHas voting back in November.

Uyama Hiroto is a must check out if it's similar to Nujabes. This could be something I get people into.

Nakamura Emi surprisingly is someone I've been keeping my eye on. This looks like a good release to jump in with.

I've seen Nakashima Ko's name on both RT and the list, so now I'm sure I have to check it out. Been looking for a replacement to Fugenn for quite a while.

 

I didn't realize how much I agreed with you about the general degrade of quality from PROGRESSIVE FOrM. Especially after getting into more abstract electronic music a lot of the newer releases don't have substance. Still might check out Shohei's album anyway since it sounds up my alley.

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the only release i listened to from this list is weg, but this is still a great list!! you should check out more of weg's stuff btw! i haven't listened to all his stuff, but The Lie Lay Land and Hurtbreak Wonderland are pretty good albums imo, although maybe not as good as Last Waltz where just about every track is a masterpiece. you can find more of that darker vibe from Last Waltz in The Lie Lay Land tho.

 

i just got into chouchou and it's pretty cool to see that you're into them too! that album sounds like my cup of tea~

 

i've never heard of THIS IS JAPAN before but they totally sound like my kind of j-indie band! cool to see that their influences come from NUMBER GIRL and bloodthirsty butchers, both of which i love.

 

Hitorie sound pretty great from what i've heard, but i just never really found the time to sit and listen to one of their albums. i will reference these two albums when i do!

 

again, great list! i still need to catch up on Radiohead and downy!

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I'm surprised siraph was your top pick! I really enjoyed their EP, as well as their newest single. I'm still vastly unfamiliar with haisuinonasa, but siraph's sound really spoke to me and helped fill me void left by sfp a little bit.

 

Radiohead was easily amongst my favorite albums released last year too. I wasn't a big fan of "Burn The Witch" at first, but after the video for "Daydreaming" came out, I knew I'd love it. From your picks, koh nakashima's "TAXIS", downy's 6th, JYOCHO's EP and Corinne Bailey Rae's album would also be in my list if I ever bothered to make one. lol Corinne's was kinda heavy and there's quite a bit of filler, but the gems it has make up for it. The others were just awesome. I still owe you one for introducing me to koh nakashima's music, heh. :)

 

There's still quite a lot of stuff here I didn't hear (I keep forgetting to get that world end's girlfriend album for some reason), so it shall keep me busy whenever I'm in a rush for new music. Good work on your list, man!

Edited by saishuu

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YES, Corinne Bailey Rae! The entire album didn't stick with me unfortunately, but there are some major 2016 highlights like "Been to the Moon," "Green Aphrodisiac" (the video is really interesting and...sensual), and "Horse Print Dress". She's got a unique voice and it works well with the 'neo soul' stuff.

Chouchou sounds noice from the sample! Shit, JYOCHO aka uchu conbini 2.0 went under my radar but this sounds tight. Gotta contact @Peace Heavy mk II, cause I know he's all about that #SPAAAACE math-pop. The Seshen sounds really nice too.

I need to finally check out siraph. I wasn't aware of the haisuinonasa connection, so that's a good incentive!

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