|Johnny v. Neek - ROUND 1: Sample Platter|
In which our two heroes offer each other 25 songs--and will have to jam the entire album of their 10 favo(u)rites!!!
Johnny's TOP 10 SO FAR:
1. Alanis Morissette // Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie - “Front Row”: 4.2
2. Anna von Hausswolff // Dead Magic - “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra”: 4.1
3. Avenged Sevenfold // The Stage - “Sunny Disposition”: 3.5
4. Afghan Whigs // In Spades “Demon in Profile”: 3.4
5. Algiers // The Underside of Power - “Walk Like a Panther”: 3.0
Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana
Back in the day, I didn’t jam any Japanese artists except Envy and Mono - and then I heard the first half of this song on a stream while sharing 500MB of data a day with 14 people in a 3-room house in Tokyo. Oops. A couple of impulse-bought Shiina Ringo albums and a year and bit later, this album is still one of art pop’s boldest and best.
NEEK'S JUDGEMENT: 4.8
This song makes me feel like I’ve stepped through some musical portal that I was never supposed to go through, except in the best way possible. This is a no-holds-barred approach to pop, skipping seamlessly from sound to sound with reckless abandon. I’m just throwing useless words at this, the fact is that it’s monumental and it only astounds more the more I listen.
Jun Togawa is kind of like Japan’s evil Kate Bush; her work in the 80s had a huge impact on subversion in pop, performance and image that’s still v pertinent today (look at good ol’ Tentenko). It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but well worth touching base with. The title track is probably my favourite, so there you go :O
Neek's Judgment: 3.9
While her voice just plain doesn’t gel with me, it’s hard to ignore how captivating the music is here. Somewhere between an Atari soundtrack and an orchestra, there’s something truly special here in these bizarre beats. Second listen didn’t do it many favors, but it also didn’t tank it so I’m feeling generous ;)
Haru to Shura
"Yume wo Miyou"
dedex’s soundoff for this album is the perfect take - this is a perfect gateway drug for Jpop in general and goes hard as hell live. Haru Nemuri is about as straight-up and sincere as things get, so this spares you the cutesy sparkle and endless sugar that tend to turn people off.
Neek's Judgment: 4.2
While I was taken aback a bit by the rapping, I was quickly won over by the bright piano and aggressive melodies as the song went on. Things were a bit repetitive here which didn’t make it glow as much as it could’ve but either way this song was just great.
Shiina Ringo’s other classic is the loudest shit in the world and the hardest of 5s. It’s a straight overdriven rush from the start, but then *this* drops near the end as its catchiest, most sensationalising number. Fun. Shiina’s voice is particularly raspy, but other than that it’s worth warming up to the way she does a hell of a lot with a relatively thin tone - this carries over to a lot of other artists!
Neek's Judgment: 4.3
Okay this is a lot more rocking than the last Ringo pick, and I’m definitely digging the jazzy vibe, the verses are almost taking on a James Bond-throwback sound. Goddamn these melodies are just catchy as fuck, it’s not even fair. Why does the drumming go so goddamn hard? This isn’t as mind-boggling as her other track, but it’s certainly a total jam.
|6||Judy and Mary|
THE POWER SOURCE
Judy and Mary were a super popular ‘90s band who blended a load of funk/pop/punk sounds and coined a series of upbeat, horrifyingly wistful highlight tracks, of which this is one of the absolute best. Their albums are a little hit-or-miss, but this one has a great hit ratio. Also, reapply everything I wrote for Shouso Strip - their vocalist Yuki is a classic example of an inarguably talented singer with an unashamedly Occident-proof tone.
Neek's Judgment: 2.9
This, however, is just too much. While the noisy-af opening is a nice head-turner, it follows it up with some of the blandest pop rock I’ve heard in a long while. While the dynamics between the instruments are a lot of fun and the singer seems like she’s enjoying herself, there’s not too much to return to here (outside of the occasional violent guitar punches and other momentary oddities). Bonus points because the girl I’m kinda seeing enjoys these guys apparently.
School Girl Bye Bye
"Omoide in My Head"
Number Girl are like Japan’s version of the Pixies/Fugazi combined; pick literally any indie band today who likes to play it relatively hard and the chances are they owe a lot to these guys and gal. A lot of their later stuff is more abrasive and stranger, but this is their most popular song and a bona fide banger.
Darker Than Darkness (Style 93)
BUCK-TICK are a ridiculously enduring post-punk group, but they’re also a solid example of visual kei - basically a movement built around extravagant performance similar to glam rock, and a big enough deal that there can’t not be a classic visual kei act here! This song is sexy as hell and the album is a wild ride.
This album is like an anthology of emotionally driven guitar rock; I keep getting blown away by how it confidently and *rawly* it spans alt, indie, post-hardcore, emo and whatever else. July is the biggest and best track here and a jam for the ages, so tuck in.
You sign up for a J-music 101, there’s no escaping the fact you’re gonna get an obnoxious as hell supercharged electro pop knockout at one point or another. REOL is as overblown and infectious as these things come, so strap in...
Last pop album, I promise! This is the best pop album of the last ten years in any language, and my AOTD. It takes forever to get fully into and has a lot of bits that scan as novelty-hawking Jpop crassness until you clock how enduring their songwriting is; this track is probably the most immediate and most sentimental it’s got to offer.
There’s a *really* good review for these guys’ album Futurama setting out that while it’s lazy to compare Japanese bands with analogous Western acts (oops!), Supercar were so similar to Radiohead that it’s hard not to. Futurama was their OK Computer but way too inconsistent (though great) to match up to that platform; Highvision is their Kid A and it blows that album out of the water. Enjoy.
^the oldest review on this page remains the single best thing I’ve ever read on RYM and tells you all you need to know.
|14||Spangle Call Lilli Line|
These guys are a really great indie/post-rock band with a range of great albums. It was pretty tough to pick just one, so I gave up and picked their best song.
I’ve tried to steer away from anime-esque music, but if there’s one band to go all-in on in that regard, it’s these guys. This is shy science nerd indie at its most charming and evasive, and there’s no-one who makes *that* style of delivery work quite as well as band leader Etsuko Yakushimaru. And the guitars are t a s t y. The songwriting on this album is supertight; went from an accidental YouTube discovery to a solid 5.
Uchuu Nippon Setagaya
Fishmans are another Obligatory Mention band for all the right reasons. I think Long Season is at the very top of the RYM chart for dream pop in general, but while that one’s lovely, I think this has more going for it as far as dreamy dub vibes are concerned
The more glitch pop I listen to, the more I’m convinced it’s a mood-only deal. Not this album. In my mind this is the Mezzanine of glitch pop: it has all the nuance and craft of other genre classics, but also this feeling of substance and OOMPH that hits me every time. It’s also a sloooooow grower, so I’ve picked by far the most immediate and undelicate track, a total knockout about dystopia and the death of dreams and trains falling from the sky XD
"Shield For Your Eyes, A Beast In The Well On Your Hand"
You’ve probably heard enough about Melt-Banana already; nothing to add except this is 100% the best song to start with and ignore everyone who says Fetch is their best album.
This is a horrible album that mangles noise pop with shoegaze and veers headlong into suicidal depression. It’s a love/hate deal, and the opener is a perfect litmus test. Bonus points for being a rare case where you don’t need to speak a word of Japanese to understand exactly what they’re howling about.
|20||Coaltar of the Deepers|
Coaltar of the Deepers are a weird band and Yukari Telepath is a fucking *weird* album. Sometimes it’s shoegaze, sometimes it’s not. Ditto for metal and electronic. I dunno. I had a hunch you’d dig this, and it’s very hard to boil it down to one track.
|21||Dir En Grey|
Dum Spiro Spero
Obligatory Dir en Grey pick. Epic scale, bold songwriting, otherworldly vox. Beautiful song, intense album. Yay!
All the Footprints You've Ever Left and the Fear Expecting Ahead
"A Cradle Of Arguments And Anxiousness"
Half the reason I’m rec’ing this is so you can go ahead and check Envy’s awesome new album without feeling green. Like Melt-Banana, they’ve always been more successful internationally- they’re pretty important for the brand of skramz that used to be this site’s bread and butter. This is their best album and one of their overall best tracks, so do your worst...
This is one of my favourite hardcore tracks/EPs and mmm that’s about it. Heaviest girl group ever. Actually, probs worth pointing out that Japanese rock bands tend to have a way lower gender disparity rate than Western groups (and not just with vocalists), so that’s nice.
|24||Ling Tosite Sigure|
Just a Moment
"a 7days wonder"
Ling Tosite Sigure are a power trio who play flashy post-hardcore with a shitton of effects, notes and reverb. Yeet. They go all in for musicianship and cheap thrills, but their songwriting and atmosphere are stellar as hell and their drummer gets big brownie points for being married to Oomori Seiko. This song is far from my favourite, but it maps out their scope without going for their usual superintensity (hear the first 10 secs of any of their openers and you’ll get me).
|25||Mass of the Fermenting Dregs|
Mass of the Fermenting Dregs
"I F A Surfer"
These last two are freebies: dope indie groups who do fun things with shoegaze. Mass of the Fermenting Dregs are exhilarated and upbeat; Kinoko Teikoku are much more moody (although tbf I gave you their hardest banger, so take my word for it ;]).
|27||Queens of the Stone Age|
Neek's TOP 10 SO FAR:
1. Shiina Ringo // Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana - "Shūkyō": 4.8
2. Shiina Ringo // Shouso Strip - "Honnou": 4.3
3. Haru Nemuri // Haru to Shura - "Yume wo Miyou": 4.2
4. Jun Togawa // Tamahime-sama - "Tamahime-sama": 3.9
5. Judy And Mary // The Power Source "Sobakasu": 2.9
|28||The Afghan Whigs|
“Demon in Profile”
This aging alt-rock band gets better with every album, and their latest is no exception. “Demon in Profile” is a bit more upbeat than the average track here, but it plays to the album adventurous and lively strengths through and through.
Johnny's Judgment: 3.4
That brass hook is tasty, but I’m not feeling the vocals here. All style no soul, or something like that - something here is a bit too clean. I imagine easily this hitting the mark incorporated into a film sequence. The crescendo at the end is great, I’m very much here for that - but this feels like a flash in the pan deal, and then the song is gone…
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
While pretty much nothing on here sounds like the rest of the album, this opener seems to make a conscious effort to prepare the listener for what’s to come with an eclectic slice of schizophrenic alt-pop. It does the trick pretty well ;)
Johnny's Judgment: 4.2
Was looking forward to this one; Jagged Little Pill is a stellar cooking album. Definitely vibing this, the first chorus is a mess but her voice really suits this. This sounds so dated in such a good way. Rock my world, Alanis. I dig that every chorus is better than the last (and the layered vocals are great). I already want to hear this one again...
The Underside of Power
“Walk Like a Panther”
This might be the most furious cut from the album (a bold opener), but it manages to the strange and anxious album in a captivating way. This sound might not be for everyone, but godDAMN is it for me. Hopefully it’s for you too!
Johnny's Judgment: 3.0
So if a song’s overtly political and I pick on the slightest reason not to take it seriously, I instinctively don’t (watching the lyric video was probably a bad move); part of it’s being a cynical bastard, but also I feel hearing this kind of music by yourself loses a lot of the community spirit that it’s meant to go hand in hand with. So, it’s a hmm on this one - strong chorus, but the percussion in general fell flat for me and the Definitely Revolutionary vocal stylings lose a lot of that scope in they were layered imo.
|31||Anna von Hausswolff|
“The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra”
Sending Scandanavian chills down my spine, this bone-chilling song is probably the most accessible track on the record. Other tracks get weirder and scarier, but the tightness of this one along with the closing howls make it the ultimate winner for me.
Johnny's Judgment: 4.1
I wasn’t as into the beat on this one as I’d like to have been, but her voice is a knockout and those final two minutes bring it all home. Shit yes. Started out with a lot of misgivings, ended up feeling a r_u_s_h. This feels like it’d benefit a lot from repeat listens. Would absolutely love to see this live.
Proving that they can still get weird without messing up the momentum of the record, “Sunny Disposition” is modern A7X nearly at the top of their game. It’s a great mix of old and new, and it’s clear they’re done trying to be anything other than themselves.
Johnny's Judgment: 3.5
As a Long Term Fan who jumped ship with Hail To The King never got on board again, it’s kinda weird to hear this now. This production is pretty damn crisp for Avenged Sevenfold and took a bit of getting used to. If I’d heard this within a couple of years of Nightmare dropping, it’d be a steal. As it is…hmm. I respect these guys a lot for how tight they this sounds and how much cleaner their musicianship is, but it’s speaking to my nostalgia-brain as a B-tier City of Evil fix, probably very unfairly. I feel I’d need an overload of this sound to get into it more
Definitely more “anthemic” than the majority of the album, it’s still a hyper satisfying and exciting rallying cry. It’s also got more balls than most hip-hop I listen to which is just another reason why Beyonce rules. Oh and Kendrick’s here too.
Chicago Transit Authority
This is another one I had a hard time picking, but ultimately this is a perfect summation of what made Chicago great, huge horns, Kath’s amazing guitar work, and cheesiness, wrapped in a nice jazz-rock bow.
My Favourite Faded Fantasy
“The Greatest Bastard”
Definitely in line with its slow-burn brethren on this album, this blooms into a climax so devastating and gorgeous that it more than makes up for the stakes-setting that comes before.
Just so y’all know, Johnny chose to go for the “emotional sappy” side of country rather than a barn-stompin’ good time, but then again I don’t think anyone manages to nail the emotional side of the genre like the Chicks do.
Get to Heaven
While I’m not as emotionally invested in these guys as I am in some of these others bands, I’ve gotta admit that they write some kick-ass alt-pop songs. Pretty sure this is about a suicide bomber or something? Idk, it’s a bop.
|38||Florence and the Machine|
I basically went ahead and recommended the “biggest” song here in terms of scope, but the rest of this album contains a similar adventurousness and palate. The cinematic sound here is irresistible imo, and there’s plenty of it to be found throughout Ceremonials.
Nearer My God
Foxing are definitely an acquired taste thanks to the wonky instrumentation and high-pitched vocals, but I think this song, if not the most immediate one here, proves just why their layered and ambitious approach to emo is basically just the best!
If Ghost hadn’t figured out their pop-metal sound before, this album is what nailed it down. It’s got huge riffs, huge choruses, and this song is one of the crown jewels of their career!
Bouncing constantly between conflicting sounds and moods, from aggressive and bizarre to what sounds like wonky kids’ show themes, these have got to be the most underrated guys in post-rock right now. And trust me, I’m an expert in post-rock. I said trust me, dammit!
|42||Harrod and Funck|
Hey, so speaking of underrated, here’s the most underrated band in existence! Ever! This duo crafted some of the best folk songs of their generation, and you’re about to hear their best one. Lucky you :)
Okay, okay, I wanted to rec “Come Alive,” but this one is probably more in line with your tastes. Regardless, this is a gorgeously sung and produced pop number that gets to the very heart of Monae’s message and sound. Oh and watch the video too.
Though this may fall into the “petri dish” classification you accused some art-pop of falling into, it’s impossible to deny to power of Kenney’s minimalism and emotion. I said it’s impossible dammit!
Another vibrant slice of art-pop for ya, this one is both bold and incredibly tight, featuring a plain gorgeous climax that pushes Folick’s vocals to their edge and (hopefully) proves to you why you need to listen to this album right now.
So I guess this is the rumored doomgaze(??) subgenre? Idk, it’s loud and heavy but rife with huge melodies and creepy vibes and I love it. Also it’s post-y so I’m catering to you!
Brand New Eyes
I know you have some experience with Paramore already Johnny, which is why, after you’ve heard this, you should have no problem admitting that this is the hardest that Paramore has ever gone. This is probably my favorite straight up rock track from them.
"Rhythm of the Heat"
Signaling PG’s deep dive into "world" (don’t crucify me) music (following his hints at it with his previous album), this opener was inspired by Carl Jung’s hallucinatory experience while observing a group of African drummers. And it fucking delivers the heat.
This was another hard one to nail down, as it's by far the calmest thing on this record, but its peace is hard-won and fuck man it’s just beautiful. The album took ten years to make and each song feels like he locked himself in them for a year, and this one is no different.
Hahaha I don’t remember much about this one but I remember having an awesome time with it, and now you’re cursed with it too hahahahah >:) Bonus points if you can guess who’s side project it is without looking it up.
Remember Us To Life
Fuck it if this sounds nothing like the rest of the record, it’s her best record and you should listen to it anyway. And regardless, this song is required Neek listening. It’s like an apocalyptic-capitalist fever dream.
"Where No Eagles Fly"
This album is a bit of a bastard child, and didn’t get the praise it deserved even when its successor blew up out of nowhere. Filled to the brim with violent riffs and Julian Casablancas’ unhinged vocals, this song might not the craziest or best the album has to offer, but it is one of the most fun!