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 Juvenilizm, Road 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.
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.