After a hiatus, Staff Selections is back! And what better time to bring it back than the end of the 2010s! This decade saw so much happen, but what did the staff members of Arama! Japan like this decade? Find out below!
1.Sakanaction – DocumentaLy (2011)
This is honestly the album and the act that made me dive even deeper into Japanese music than ever before. I spent more and more time listening to KPop at the end of last decade right before it started to rise, but my heightened interest in KPop was shortlived. I remember seeing this band in the singles leading up to the album and they felt like a breath of fresh air after my KPop journey. It was such a mix of sounds that felt old, yet new at the same time. It felt like a new era in way. The band boom of the decade was starting to begin, which Sakanaction’s breakthrough being part of it.
2.YUKI – FLY (2014)
One of the big talking points of this decade was the state of female soloists in the industry. Some blamed idols for diminishing their role in the scene (I’m guilty). But let’s be honest, a lot of those women were past their peak and not giving us anything new. So I found it interesting when YUKI, at the age of 42, delivered this album, which felt so fresh and saw her exploring so many different sounds, at an age when she really could just phone it in like a lot of her female soloist counterparts were doing at an even younger age.
3.Suiyoubi no Campanella – Zipang (2015)
Buzz act of the decade? Probably. This group (yes, they’re a group) exploded onto the scene and disappeared just as fast. They released a slew of charming releases in quick succcession and then believed the hype and it all came crashing down. But what a ride it was! There was a time where I thought everyone should work with Kenmochi Hidefumi, the brains behind the group. Suiyoubi no Campanella was making the pop of the future that was never to be.
4.cero – Obscure Ride (2015)
The peak album of the 10s city pop revival. Such a smooth and satisfying listen. I still can’t believe that they managed to get on SMAP x SMAP. The fact that they were able to rise so high to even have this surreal moment happen still amazes me. One of the more bizarre moments of this decade musically.
5.G.RINA – Lotta Love (2015)
My 80s fantasy! This album felt so familiar to me, because it was basically like the music my parents played when I was a kid. I’ve spent the last few years in essence going back to my musical roots and to have this pop up during that process was great! I think this was album that made me want to dance the most this decade.
6.KLOOZ – SEASONS (2014)
I’m a sucker for great production and this album was full of it! This was the album I did the most to get this decade. I remember going 45 minutes away to the postal hub to pick this up after missing its delivery because if I didn’t, I’d have to wait the whole weekend to get it. I was not disappointed at all. Production was split between Seiho, groooveman Spot, and Takemoto Kenichi, leading to a mix of sounds that still worked well together.
7.AKLO – Outside The Frame (2016)
Another hip hop album on my list. Honestly, out of every genre of Japanese music, the most improved one this decade was hip hop. We got a new generation of rappers and producers that created a new scene that washed away the largely corny one of last decade. AKLO and BACHLOGIC are two of the biggest names to rise this decade. They work together constantly and have created a body of work makes the Japanese hip hop scene of note.
8.ICONIQ – CHANGE MYSELF (2010)
I like to call her the last attempt by Avex to make a diva. I remember reading about her around the time of her debut, and someone from Avex said that she, along with GIRL NEXT DOOR, were the company’s attempts to not lose money with the decline of Ayumi Hamsaki and the demise of Tohoshinki. Well that never happened! But they tried! I can’t remember ever seeing such a push from them the way they pushed ICONIQ. That Shiseido ad is still the best introduction in JPop history! I thought it would work out and she would be the new diva, but we all know how that turned out…
9.Hitomitoi – CITY DIVE (2012)
If cero’s “Obscure Ride” is the city pop revival peak, this album is the genesis. It seems like after this album, that whole revival took off. It has a throwback sound, but it felt new at the same time.
10.JASMINE – GOLD (2010)
The last attempt at making a R&B diva. Too bad by the time this album was released, the scene had turned away from R&B and divas. Like ICONIQ, I thought that she would be the next big thing. She was even called “the next Utada Hikaru” by the media early in her career, but that moniker is a curse more than it is a gift. The scene is littered with girls who are “the next Utada Hikaru.” For every Kato Miliyah, there are a dozen kaho’s. But like Miliyah, JASMINE has her own identity and the vocal talent to not be just a “next Utada Hikaru.”
1.Ame no Parade – stage (2016)
I went back and forth over making this my #1. It was between this and my #2, Sakanaction’s “Music.” Both songs strike me deeply from an emotional standpoint, but there is something about the frontman Fukunaga Kohei’s delivery and the synths that make it #1. Kohei always sounds like he’s on the verge of tears, and that hits me hard. Like a lot of people have commented, Ame no Parade is the direct descendant of Sakanaction, but also of another band that I love, The xx, from the UK. Ame no Parade is the newest / youngest act in my decade-end list, and I’m glad they are part of the future of Japanese music. There are three acts that emerged this decade in Japanese music that excite me the most: Sakanaction, Ame no Parade, and Mukai Taichi. I had the opportunity to see all three acts last year when I was in Japan. Like I said earlier, Ame no Parade is the child of Sakanaction, but Taichi also has a close relationship with Kohei, so he’s like part of that family too. In fact, I saw Ame no Parade and Taichi at the same concert in Osaka. They have a number of crossover fans judging from the concert as well as from a guy I met a few days later. I’m still annoyed though that they didn’t play this song during the concert, even though it’s their signature song. And I don’t normally go on about music videos, because I like to focus on the music, but this is a gorgeous video. The part from 3:40 fowards… amazing! Kohei’s head breaking the water’s surface… wow!
2.Sakanaction – Music (2013)
I already talked about this song above. I really didn’t think anything could top this until “stage.” When I saw Sakanaction live in Saitama last year, it was surreal. I was seeing the act that brought me back to Japanese music, the act that made me plan my entire trip to Japan. The band acknowledged their international fans and let us buy tickets to their tour with our foreign credit cards on an English site. There was a foreigner section at the concert. It was nice meeting other international fans from around the world. But when they played this song, it all hit me. It was closest I had ever come to tears at a concert.
3.Kou Shibasaki – Parallel World Reading (2011)
Ethereal. Otherworldly. A true parallel world. It just takes me to another place.
4.Kato Miliyah – DESIRE (2011)
This is the song that never ends, and I don’t want it to end! Miliyah is known for making long songs, but she goes for it with this one! It is a seven minute rollercoaster ride of emotion!
5.YUKI – Daredemo Lonely (2015)
On the surface it’s a fun song, but there’s more to it. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.
6.G.RINA – Back In Love (Music) feat. PUNPEE (2015)
I don’t know if it was G.RINA or PUNPEE who came up with the samples for this, because they’re both listed as producers, but WOW! Samples of Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo” and Barbara Mason’s “Another Man” on the same song?! The former song is a staple of my childhood, while the latter is one I found out about as a teen due to the seminal LGBT documentary “Paris Is Burning.” It’s a very homophobic song, yet it’s a gay classic. Both samples songs are actually. But their MINDS to put these two together! I can’t think of a gayer Japanese song this decade from a referential standpoint. That musical knowledge!
7.Kawabata Kaname – Let’s Say I Do (2012)
Honestly, I like Kaname more solo than in CHEMISTRY. A solid R&B song a time when genre was basically dying. His vocals!
8.SALU – Weekend (2014)
SALU is part of that new wave of rappers that I spoke about earlier. He delivered a solid body of work this decade. This is the standout. I love the throwback West Coast vibe.
9.Alice – X LOVERS II feat. SHUN (2013)
People talk about JPop dying this decade, but the genre that really struggled was J-R&B. The J-Urban boom was such a thing last decade, but it didn’t really make it to see this one. Japanese hip hop recovered and actually got better, but we’re still waiting to see if R&B can do the same. Listening to this, it’s something that I wanted more of, but knew I wouldn’t get. It just wasn’t in the cards. There is a youthful, more contemporary, more international, I suppose you can say, flavor to this.
10.avengers in sci-fi – Yang 2 (2012)
There was a period earlier this decade when there were a number of newer bands making noise on the scene. This is one of the standout tracks of that era. The drums, the rhythm, the energy!