So, here we go, the cream of the crop. Here’s my top 5(ish) albums of this year!
5. ZOMBIE-CHANG- ZOMBIE-CHANGE/Hanae- SHOWGIRL
Ok, ok, I know it’s cheating a bit, but I honestly couldn’t decide which of these two were better. I love them both in equal amounts for different reasons, so I’m gonna take the easy way out and group them together. ZOMBIE CHANG with her ethereal, relaxed, trippy and gorgeous opus that is her sophomore album and Hanae with her bizarre, carnival like mix of bright and bubbly sounds that is SHOW GIRL. Both albums do have their own blend of sensuality, ZOMBIE-CHANG with her shy-girl approach and Hanae with her more blatant sexuality. They both are really nicely made, neither of them have any real dud tracks, both flow wonderfully and both have gotten equal playtime from yours truly since their release date. Hell, they both run for about the same time too. It’s just two of the best releases you will find from Japan this year, and I highly recommend both to anyone.
4. Angel Olsen- My Woman
Ah, Angel Olsen‘s “My Woman“. What a wonderful release this one was. Only being somewhat familiar with the singer-songwriter, a lot of buzz was being made about her latest- which I foolishly chose to ignore for a little while. But dammit, this name was popping up everywhere I lurk, so I went and listened. What a treat I was greeted with- here was someone who had fully developed her craft, whether it be in short pop ditties or longer, near ten minute epics, everything was delightful. Her voice is AMAZING- and seems like she is almost limitless in her power. Music style is a neat mix of traditional indie pop mixed with some 60s/70s inspired progressive rock and psychedelia. A friend once described her as “The Stevie Nicks of the Twitter Generation” and that description has really stuck. A must hear. And if she’s ever touring your neck of the woods, a must see. Her live show is outstanding.
3. Jun Togawa with Vampillia- Watashi ga Nakou Hototogisu
This album is honestly the biggest shock to me this year. Sure I was expecting it to be good, and also expected it to land somewhere on this list, but I generally thought that it would likely be just some neat variations of Jun Togawa tracks that would be a nice addition to the collection. Wrong. This album is SPECTACTULAR. These aren’t just rearrangements to me, they are totally reinvigorated, the most respectful arrangement Vampillia could possibly come up with. Blending Vampillia’s signature black metal/orchestral sound with Jun Togawa classics, this is truly a heart-stopping release. Togawa’s aged vocals only add a level of sorrow and emotion to the mix that perhaps hasn’t been seen before in any of her releases- it had this hardcore Togawa fan in tears. All at once it feels like a new Togawa album and an amazing, powerful and ultimately, honorable celebration of one of the greatest Japanese pop stars to ever live. A must own.
2. Mitski- Puberty 2
Mitski‘s Puberty 2 is fucking great. I have spent so many hours with this insanely confrontational, open, soul-bearing release and often just fade away listening to it. It’s a wholly engrossing experience, and it’s lyrics are bound to hit anyone on a deep and profound level. Musically it’s fantastic and slightly nostalgic- with plenty of inspirations to mid 90s alt rock- and it just works a charm. There are two extremely powerful moments in particular that haunted me long after hearing them- that is the tracks “Fireworks“, with its amazing buildup and lyricism and the punkish belter “My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars“, that really makes listeners feel uncomfortable but unable to escape its clutches. The album is no doubt going to become a cult classic, and rightly so. If you haven’t heard Mitski’s masterpiece yet, then you haven’t heard the best western release this year.
1. Seiko Oomori- TOKYO BLACK HOLE (and the rest of 2016).
Now let’s face facts. You all knew that Seiko Oomori was likely going to top my list. No surprises there. But it’s not just TOKYO BLACK HOLE (which indeed I feel is the best album), it’s the entire year of 2016, where Seiko released so much great material that it was hard to even keep up. But first lets start with the album:
TOKYO BLACK HOLE was to me, at first, an amazing album full of top notch songs and a great flow by Seiko Oomori. It may be a bit more gentle than her previous albums- but I’d say that has to do with the period in her life in which a lot of this was being written- that time where she had just given birth. Over time it has grown into something completely different, an album that has firmly worked its way into the hearts of many listeners. I’m reaching a point where I dare say it’s my favorite of her releases in general- and a favorite release by my favorite artist is nothing to be sniffed at.
It’s hard to imagine 2016 without TOKYO BLACK HOLE, it truly is the sound of year- through all it’s ups and downs, the album has been there to fall back onto. It’s one of those records- a guiding hand, a comforting friend. The songwriting skill here is top of the line, every song holds its own and yet can work together as a full album with ease. It has never left my playlist since day one- and it still gets plays frequently. It truly deserves its place in the Seiko Oomori canon, and fully belongs here, at the top of the list in 2016.
But as we know, it wouldn’t end there. Seiko released many, many more tracks over the year, including a three single project (which I will review in full soon), multiple songs for the likes of other idol groups, songs on compilations, appearances on a few bands releases and released a whopping 12+ hours of video footage of live concerts on her fanclub’s website alone. To go into it all would take an entire post of it’s own. The very fact that she’s always got a presence of some form makes her one of the most attractive and rewarding artists to be a follower of- and the fact that her quality barely ever drops is something quite unseen in the Jpop market in 2016. She’s always there, always doing something. For a fan, it’s always exciting. It always feels like she cares about her fanbase.
2016 truly has been the year of Seiko Oomori and that is why she is top dog in this years list. Bring on 2017, where we surely will see her next album (and hopefully, her first covers album).
And that concludes my best of 2016 list, I hope you all enjoyed reading it. There are still a few albums that I feel should be mentioned, but unfortunately I had to cut off, so I will post a second round of honorable mentions in the next week or so. Overall, I feel 2016 has been one of the strongest years for music in a long while, particularly for the Japanese scene. One can only hope next year will be just as amazing.