I explore music rather randomly, so some what I liked best this year did not actually come out this year.
That said, without further ado, I present my New Year’s Countdown…
Five Artists I Fell Madly in Love With in 2012
I kept hearing their name thrown around on J-Pop review blogs and looked up a few songs, and I really didn’t get the hype. Then I listened to their 2011 album, DocumentaLy, and I was immediately hooked. Their songs are a ridiculously fun, high energy blend of alternative rock and electropop. To me, they’re like the less zany version of POLYSICS, or the more exciting counterpart to school food punishment. No wonder Galileo Galilei frontman Ozaki Yuuki is a fan of them. As for me, I’ll be humming the refrain from Identity well into the new year, for sure…
#4 Yakushimaru Etsuko
After hearing j1m0ne speak so highly of Soutaiseiriron, I tried several times to get into them. Their music was nice, but never really stuck with me (perhaps the fact I am far less fluent in Japanese has something to do with it). However, once frontwoman Yakushimaru Etsuko started putting out solo material, that was a different story. What really attracted me to her, however, is her voice – its soft, whispery timbre runs the span from whimsical to plain cute to coy and sexy with ease. And I find her solo material really exploits the different sides of her voice and shows it off at its best. Kamisama no Iu Toori and COSMOS vs ALIEN will definitely remain playlist favorites.
#3 Galileo Galilei
I discovered these kids from the opening they did for AnoHana, and I think that’s how most fans know them. But oh, they have done so much more, and have produced an impressive body of work for such a young age (they’re still only 21… barely). The band’s change in sound is evident as they tried to find their musical identity – from heartfelt, raw yet sweet indie-rock to a more polished pop-rock sound to a synth-pop-oriented album… each phase of theirs is unique and has its gems and I am really, really interested to see what they cook up next. I am still not quite over the fact that they lost two of their members… however, I will still be keeping tabs on them for a while.
I hadn’t expected to fall so hard for this group back when I was looping the catchy rapid-fire Oshakashama. When I watched their Zettai Enmei tour DVD on a whim one night, I knew I was in trouble. This band appeals to every quirk I like in pop and rock music, and they are so bloody versatile – from standard pop-rock to punk to rock with funk influences to heart-melting acoustic ballads… you name it. Okay, they haven’t exactly screwed around with synths quite yet (unless you count that one dalliance on Nazonazo) but you get the idea. Their band chemistry is just amazing as well, each member’s individual personality shines so wonderfully onstage.
#1 BUMP OF CHICKEN
I could probably write you an essay on why I love these guys so much, but I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. Is it Fujiwara Motoo’s unique, slightly nasal-but-not-really, soft and crooning with a gritty edge voice? Is it Fujiwara’s lyrical style, which is oh so vague yet so transparent and just conveys the most honest of emotions? Is it the catchy melodies carrying that undercurrent of nostalgia so powerful that it makes me both melancholy and wanting to jump for joy? I don’t know what makes this understated, straightforward group so magical, but I’m pretty sure it’s why they are so famous. firefly was one of the best single releases of 2012, here’s to hoping for a great album in 2013…!
Four Songs I Was Obsessed With in the Last Moments of 2012
#4 “St Elmo no Hi” by BUMP OF CHICKEN
A bit too typical of them… but it’s just how I like it. The chorus is what sealed the deal for me – I love the “how far are you?” parts, and the bridge (with the どれくらい先にいるんだろう parts) just makes my heart soar. St Elmo’s fire, by the way, is a weather phenomenon. I find it an interesting title for the song, given what the lyrics say.
#3 “22” by Taylor Swift
Totally captures that restless atmosphere of being an almost-college-grad with random bouts of wanderlust. I relate to this song very much… “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” – that’s my favorite part. I love the dance-y feel of this song…oddly enough, it reminds me of Ke$ha, in a good way.
#2 “Hikari e” by miwa
I was never inclined to check out her stuff since she seemed too much like another YUI clone, but my friend Gary showed me this song, and it is one of the best pop songs I have heard in a while. Funny how miwa is another ‘girl w/ guitar’ act but the one song of hers I latch on to is the one with the synths…
#1 “Kane wo Narashite” by Bonnie Pink
My ex used to play this a lot since he was a Tales of Vesperia fan, but recently I started loving this song a lot on its own. It’s the best ‘let’s go on adventure’ song ever – uplifting and hopeful, without being overly cheery. Also doesn’t hurt that her singing style reminds me of Sakamoto Maaya (though Maaya was actually inspired by Bonnie Pink, if I am not mistaken)
Three Artists I Used to Love, Lost Interest in, and Rediscovered
I’ve had this strange love-hate relationship with YUKI’s voice for the longest time. I remember finding her nasal voice a bit too shriek-y and thought it mangled the ballad Home Sweet Home, but not so long after, I fell in love with the quirky Melancholinista. I kept tabs on her music loosely, but for some time ditched her to listen to Joanna Newsom (the world only has so much space for voices like these…). After hearing the opening she did for Sakamichi no Apollon, I think YUKI has won this round…
Discovering this duo was like finding that rare treat that changes your life – or your outlook on music. Back when I was in high school, I didn’t care for any of the series they did songs for, but I was enamored with atsuko’s distinct lilting, flip-singing voice with its throaty vibrato. I don’t know when it happened, but I think as I gravitated towards more organic, standard vanilla ‘pop’ sounds and started listening to dramatic ‘anime-esque’ music less and less, they disappeared. Though thanks to the glorious reappearance on KINGS, the opening theme for K, they have more than made a comeback on my playlist.
Japan’s answer to Taylor Swift and Avril Lavigne rolled into one. Wholesome songs about love and other things in life. There was rarely a moment I walked around without envisioning a YUI song as background music in late high school and early college. I stopped following her around her 3rd studio album, as a lot of her music started sounding too much like pale imitations of her debut material, but recently I have been craving some down to earth acoustic singer-songwriter stuff, and revisiting YUI reminded me of why I loved her so much, and some of her newer stuff’s not so bad actually.
Two Artists I Wish to See Reach Great Heights in 2013
This five-piece boyband not only charmed me with their edgy image and catchy dubstep-incorporating songs but also gave me a more positive impression of K-Pop in general. It’s partially because of them that I’ve started becoming swayed by the likes of Big Bang, 4minute, Orange Caramel, (old full lineup) DBSK… etc. They’ve debuted with a resounding bang with two strong singles, Face and Action, and I’m really hoping this isn’t just an overly strong start. Here’s to 2013, and may they come back with even more epic songs and music videos!
#1 Goose house
This formerly amateur cover group captured my attention with renditions of my favorite J-Pop and anime themes, and I love everything from their harmonies to their breezy folk arrangements. Sometimes only a few of their members (often just two) cover songs, but with them I feel ‘the more, the merrier’ is an approach they should take – their group covers always tend to be better. Their original material still leaves much to be desired but once they polish up their songwriting (or collaborate with really good writers), they’re bound to go places… I hope. Fingers crossed for 2013!
One Amazing, Opinion Changing Album
#1 “Red” by Taylor Swift
I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Taylor Swift. I don’t dislike her, either… she’s kind of in that category that if her songs started playing wherever I was, I’d just briefly recognize it and then lose interest and go back to whatever I was doing. When a friend of mine started telling me how good Red was, I was sure he was out of his mind… until I actually bothered to sit down and listen to it. Red is good. Really good. Not mindblowingly good in the ‘opens my mind to a whole new world in terms of music and does great things for its genre” way. But amazingly good in the ‘this brings back everything I actually loved about the mainstream pop industry in America’ good.
The content is a step more mature than her previous works – the songs, while still focused on romance, do have a more frank, emotional take on it than just chattering about high school crushes or the ‘guess which ex pissed me off’ songs of her previous albums. A few songs still retain a tint of country styling and have that distinct ‘Taylor Swift sound’, but most of them seem like a conglomerate of the best parts of all the pop singers I loved back in high school – which is not a terrible thing. I feel like Swift is experimenting more with her musical identity. “Red” brings to mind all the bits I loved about Avril Lavigne, Jewel, Miley Cyrus, even a tiny bit of Ke$ha as I mentioned earlier, and Swift herself. The cutesy sensibilities are mostly gone and in its place is a sweet yet honest album, a diary of a young woman almost ready to face the world. The highlight? The Last Time, Swift’s duet with Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody. Oh, is it heartbreaking.
Happy New Year everyone!