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Best-Of J-Pop Round-Up: April 2020 Edition

Hey, I kept my promise! After February’s maiden voyage, I’m back with the second Bias List J-Pop Round-Up! This is the place where I get to recommend Japanese tracks or albums that I’ve been into over the past few weeks. Like before, this won’t be a place for Japanese songs by Korean artists. Those will get their own review or buried treasure posts, as usual.

Ans also like before, expect these features to be very biased. My J-pop taste is not all-encompassing, so these songs will be picked almost exclusively from the idol world, with certain agencies much more likely to be highlighted simply because that’s where my interest lies.


M!LK – Winding Road

A couple years ago, M!LK’s label mates Bullet Train released a song called Yell. I dismissed that track on first listen, but it slowly went on to become one of my favorite tracks of its year. Winding Road may go on to repeat that story. The song didn’t hit me strongly when it came out in February, but as I listened to the group’s great new album JuvenilizmRoad gave me that same sentimental rush that Yell did.

I’d be shocked if anyone relates to this reference, but before I got into K-pop and J-pop, I listened to tons of Scandinavian rock and pop. There was a band called Laakso, whose 2007 Mother, Am I Good Looking? was one of the formative albums of my twenties. In many ways, Winding Road reminds me of those songs. It has a supremely nostalgic feel to it, driven by pulsating percussion and big crests of anthemic pop melody. I just love it, and hope you will too.


Miyavi – Need For Speed / Bang

If you’re not already familiar with guitarist/performer Miyavi, I’d strongly recommend his back catalog. He’s an unbelievable performer (and just so happened to compose one of my all-time Kis-My-Ft2 favorites). His upcoming Holy Nights album will be his first under the LDH label, and these two pre-releases point towards a creative renaissance. From the sound to the aesthetic, this is right up my alley. It’s like anime biker gangs meets synthwave imagery. Meanwhile, the songs feel like Billy Idol-does-Jpop. Yes, please!



News – Story / Seven / Superstar

I’ve been a fan of News for years, but the last couple entries in their quartet of concept albums haven’t excited me in the same way as their best music does. But, last month’s Story will easily make my shortlist of “best J-pop album of the year” at the end of 2020. It’s incredibly cohesive, and stuffed with great songs. I like News most when they embrace their majestic pop sound, delivering sing-for-the-rafters anthems. Story hinges on this approach. I could easily recommend almost any track, but I’m going to link the album’s first three songs to give you an idea of how Story sounds. If you like anything here, you’re bound to love the whole album.

Song links:
Story
Seven
Superstar


Kis-My-Ft2 – Make You Mine

Kis-My-Ft2’s new album is pretty solid, though far from my favorite that the group has to offer. Its best tracks come during its second half, highlighted by this dance-rock slugger. That triumphant brass in the chorus borrows more than a little from The Chaser’s epic DNA. Much of that success is down to producer Tommy Clint, who never lets me down.


Fantastics – Hey, Darlin’

Fantastics are a super-promising group, and they’ve already released some… ahem… fantastic singles. Hey, Darlin’ isn’t as upbeat as Time Camera or Overdrive, but it does a nice job maturing their sound with the help of atmospheric electronics and an emotive melody.


A.B.C-Z – Cheat Time

Amidst all of the Johnny’s Entertainment releases in March, I didn’t have a chance to review this one. I find A.B.C-Z’s music to be pretty hit-or-miss, but Cheat Time is an absolute blast. It’s cheesy, retro and insanely catchy. If you’re in search for a fun exercise track, look no further.


Johnny’s West – W Trouble

Like A.B.C-Z, Johnny’s West’s music sometimes polarizes my opinion. However, their newest album takes some risks that pay off, boosting their upbeat sound with rock influences. Opener W Trouble is a bombastic burst of jagged guitar riffs and shout-along hooks.

W Trouble (partial song)

10 thoughts on “Best-Of J-Pop Round-Up: April 2020 Edition

  1. YES Winding Road!!
    I remember when I first heard it I was just blown away. It just carries so much weight through an incredibly enjoyable pop package. I was actually surprised when I didn’t see you cover It then because It seemed like a very “nick” song!

    Also what did you think of last years Kasukani Kimidatta? I was obsessed with that track for the longest time.

    Also the new Miyavi songs are brilliant, though I don’t think he’ll ever be able to overcome the masterpiece that is Horizon. The other songs are fine, but holy NEWS and Fantastics really knocked it out of the park on their new album and single respectively.

    Really enjoying these Japanese roundups since I’m finally getting back into jpop after a near 5 year hiatus!

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    • Yeah, I don’t know why Winding Road didn’t totally bowl me over when it was first released. I must have been listening to something else at the time. What matters is that it’s wormed its way into my heart in a big way. Like you said, it’s a very “Nick” song!

      I liked Kasukani last year, but listening to it in the context of the album makes me appreciate it more. It came with some great b-sides, too. If you haven’t heard Touch The Sun and Gotta Get Up, I’d strongly recommend them.

      And yes, News’ new album is incredible.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah Touch the Sun and Gotta Get Up are great too!
        But I have to say the more I listen to the NEWS album the more blown away I am. I only got into them like 2 months ago and their discography is breathtaking, and the themes of the album only amplify the greatness of tracks like story.

        Thanks so much for recommending the album since I didn’t even know it came out (oops)! Is there any site that has schedules for upcoming jpop releases like how r/kpop does? I can really feel myself falling down this rabbit hole again ahaha

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        • I’m curious… have you gotten into any other Johnny’s groups? I ask because if you like one, you’ll probably like them all. Early 2010’s KAT-TUN is a treasure trove all on its own.

          No one asked for (or probably wanted this), but I made a list of all the songs from other JE groups that I’ve rated 5-stars on my itunes (equivalent of 9+ rating on this site).

          If our tastes align, you’ll love all of these. Many are very Chaser-esque in their production and melodies.

          KAT-TUN
          4U
          Ask Yourself
          Believe In Myself
          Come Here
          Cosmic Child
          Dead Or Alive*
          Don’t You Ever Stop
          Emerald
          Face To Face
          Fake
          Fire And Ice
          Hide & Seek
          In Fact
          Kusabi
          Lock On
          One Day
          Phoenix
          Race Goes On
          Real Face
          Rescue*
          Run For You
          Triangle*
          Ultimate Wheels
          White
          Wonderful World

          KIS-MY-FT2
          Ai No Beat
          Brand New Season
          Break The Chains
          Dancing Star
          Dream On
          Everybody Go
          Explode
          Freeze*
          Gravity*
          I’m Still Far Away From My Endless Dream (Ima wa Mada Toku hateshinai Yume mo)
          Let It Burn
          Liar World
          Line!
          My Resistance (A Certain Thing)
          On Your Mark
          Perfect World
          Real Me
          Shake It Up
          Strawberry Dance
          Summer Breeze
          Super Tasty!
          We Never Give Up*
          Yeah E Yeah!!!
          Yes! I Scream*

          HEY! SAY! JUMP
          「I」
          AinoArika
          B.A.B.Y
          Beast & Rose
          Burning Dream (Shakunetsu No Yume)
          Call & Pray*
          Fantastic Time
          Flash
          Forever
          I Am
          Journey
          KazeKaoru
          Miracle Wonder Magic (ミラクルワンダーマジック)
          Monme Hana (はな壱もんめ)
          Over The Top
          Precious Girl
          Roulette (Ruretto)
          Start Days
          Super Delicate
          Superman
          Union
          Weekender
          What A Feeling
          Yell To Tomorrow (Asu e no YELL)

          V6
          Be Yourself!
          Can’t Get Enough
          Generation Gap
          Music For The People
          Rock Your Soul
          Take Me Higher
          To Be Free (Jiyuu de Aru Tame ni)
          Wait For You

          ARASHI
          A.RA.SHI
          Asterisk
          Breathless
          Face Down
          Find The Answer
          Let’s Sing Of Love
          No One Knows (DareMo Shiranai)*
          Sakura
          Truth
          Under The Blue Sky, Next To You (Aozora no shita, kimi no tonari)

          SEXY ZONE
          24/7
          Child (Kirin no Ko)
          Far East Dance (Kyokutou Dance)
          Honey Honey
          Ignition Countdown
          Make-Up Kiss (Suppin Kiss)
          Maware Miracle
          Rock Tha Town
          Sexy Zone
          Unforgettable Flower (Wasurerarenai Hana)

          KING & PRINCE
          Beatmaker
          Cinderella Girl
          Get On The Wind (Kaze ni Nore)
          Lover’s Delight
          You, Wanted!

          JOHNNY’S WEST
          Can’t Stop
          Daybreak (アカツキ)
          Ee Ja Nai Ka
          Reverse Winner (Gyakuten Winner)
          Summer Dreamer

          A.B.C-Z
          Our Answer (Here We Go)
          Telepathy – One! Two!
          Us (Love & Peace)

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh wow, this is perfect!

            Johnny’s has pretty much consumed my entire listening history for the past month, with KAT-TUN and NEWS leading the charge. To think that accidentally clicking on the EMMA pv would lead to this ahaha.

            Other than NEWS I’ve fully immersed myself within Kat-tun’s discography and to a lesser extent KIS-MY-FT2 and Sexy Zone. Btw do you consider any Johnny’s or Jpop songs to be ”legendary” or a 10? I’ve always wondered that. since I’ve been a regular reader of your blog since 2018.

            Kazuya’s solo’s are always brilliant and I’m so happy that his solo debut was so solid.

            Also thanks for giving some HEY! SAY! JUMP recommendations! They’re a group I’ve really wanted to explore further but haven’t heard much other than their great Parade album.

            Surprisingly my favourite V6 song might be ”Change the world”, but that’s probably more to do with my nostalgia of Inuyasha, the anime it soundtracked. Arashi are now on Spotify so it’s been much easier to delve into their discography, though I don’t think it has clicked with me as much as some other Johnny’s groups.

            I’ve never heard of A.B.C-Z or Johnny’s West but I’ll check those out! Thanks so much for this, it’s going to make it much easier for me to explore the gargantuan discography’s these groups have.

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            • RE: Legendary Songs – That’s a good question, and a hard one to answer. I edited the list and put an asterisk next to the songs that I’d consider 10/10. But, there are probably a couple that I’m leaving out on first glance. I tend to toil unnecessarily when it comes to giving a song 10 out of 10!

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  2. i definitely recommend you check out beyooooonds and their first album “beyooooond1st”. i’m biased af because i’m a beyooooonds stan but that album is incredible and every track is worth the listen. actually hello project as a whole consistently releases good music so i recommend any group from them lol

    Like

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