Otaku USA Magazine
Best Japanese Albums of 2010

2010 was a great year for music fans of some lesser known players in the Japanese music scene. While the pop stars continued to churn out the hits, lurking just below the surface were some astounding new releases from industry veterans and newcomers alike. Here’s a look at the Best Japanese Albums of 2010 that might have slipped under your radar.

10: Polysics – eee-P!!!

2010 was a tumultuous year for new-wave spazz rockers Polysics. It saw the retirement of founding member, keyboard player and back-up singer Kayo, possibly the band’s most beloved member. Many fans were understandably worried about what would happen to the band, but eee-P!!! proves that Polysics is still alive and quite well. The five short songs are intense, full of the squibbling keyboard noise, pounding bass and off-the-wall vocal styling we’ve come to love over the past ten or so years. While it might not be their catchiest release, it’s rock solid. The special DVD version also includes a fantastic documentary and interview with English subtitles. It sheds some light on what the band went through in transforming to a power trio, as well as an in-depth look at their gear and live set up. It’s a must have for any self-respecting Polysics fan.

09: Vola and the Oriental Machine – Principle

Ahito Inazawa has gone from being an amazing drummer in the influential indie rock band Number Girl to an amazing front man in a much cooler band of his own. After the break-up of Number Girl, Inazawa’s Vola and the Oriental Machine hit the ground running and has only been improving. While Principle might not be a huge leap forward for the band, it is nevertheless a solid album. The dual openers “Empire of V O L A” and “Thank You My Force” blend both sleek electro-pop with their more usual angular rock guitars and are easily the highlights. As such, they sort of make the rest of the album pale in comparison. But that’s OK since it’s really all pretty great.

08: Midori – Shinseki

Midori’s Shinseki is the perfect presentation of the group’s schizophrenic sound. On the one hand, they are fronted by a petite woman dressed in a high school uniform who often sings in a super-cute voice over gentle piano melodies. On the other hand, they are a screaming, ear-splitting jazz punk band that often ends their songs in blood and broken gear. The band has always been an amazing experience, but Shinseki sees them at the top of their game, both in being able to focus their furious rage and add just enough studio trickery to elevate their raw sound to new, fully-realized heights.

07: Wienners – CULT POP JAPAN

Speaking of spazz rock, somehow Wienners manages to make both Polysics and Midori look like sludgy stoner-metal. These guys are hyped up! Their micro songs are jam-packed with material delivered at light-speed. It’s like punk/ska/pop/new-wave squeezed through a rainbow and played at fast-forward. The songs are totally upbeat and fun despite all the shouting and thrashing around. You’ll have to set this one on repeat just to be able to take it all in. But that’s OK, because the fifteen songs clock in at just under twenty minutes.

06: The Brixton Academy – Vivid

Taking things down a notch or two is the debut full-length album from The Brixton Academy. While it may sound like Vivid was plucked straight out of the record bag of an ‘80s era new-wave DJ, this is definitely a modern release. All the the “vintage” synth-pop is perfectly executed and performed without a wink. But that would be nothing if the songs weren’t criminally catchy. Plus it’s all sung in English with just the right amount of an accent to add a cherry on top of this synth-pop sundae.

05: iLL – Turn A

If you want a quick primer on the who’s who in the hip, trendy and arty not-too underground Japanese music scene, then this album from iLL, a.k.a. Koji Nakamura, a.k.a. the ex-frontman for Supercar, is your text-book. He’s been doing great things on his own, but this album is a collaboration with a large number of guest musicians and producers. Members of Polysics, Zazen Boyz, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Base Ball Bear, The Telephones and many more are all here and each track is a winner. Somehow they all sound like Nakamura’s own work while also hybridizing in the collaborator’s own style. Together it’s a special mix of rock, electro, ambient and whatever else the collaborators felt like tossing into the mix.

04: Ling Tosite Sigure – Still A Sigure Virgin

It’s got to be difficult to follow up the best album of your career, especially when your next album seems to follow it so quickly. So I guess it’s inevitable that Ling Tosite Sigure’s Still A Sigure Virgin falls just a little bit short of their previous Just A Moment. But that’ s OK because Still A Sigure Virgin is still amazing. The production is just as otherworldly and surgical, their playing is still as frenetic and precise. The songs are maybe a bit less catchy and infectious, but they are no less crushing in their intensity. If nothing else, Still A Sigure Virgin proves that this band isn’t a fluke. This is the real deal.

03: Boom Boom Satellites – To the Loveless

It’s been a big couple of years for Boom Boom Satellites. After ten years (or so) they released what seems like a handful of Best Of compilations and made more than a few appearances around the world. It might have been easy for them to sit back and take a rest after all that, but instead they managed to release the best album of their career. To the Loveless is a sprawling monolith of electo-rock mastery. It shows a depth not often seen from the band before, as well as musical maturity and good old-fashioned ass-kicking. The songs are much more than mere dance-floor fillers this time around. They are intense, personal, expansive and lovely, all while bearing the hallmarks of a duo who know how to make people move.

02: World’s End Girlfriend – Seven Idiots

Seven Idiots is a caged monster of an album. It often roars and bears its teeth, but it’s also always just out of reach. Constructed entirely by Katsuhiko Maeda, it’s packed full of enough instrumentation to fill a concert hall. There are strings, horns, stuttering percussion, guitars and all manner of electronic manipulation, as well as a thick layer of gloom and doom. In less capable hands it might all end in a mess of chaos and noise, but Maeda makes it all work beautifully. Well, unless he wants it to be a mess. Each song follows a long evolutionary arc, never ending where it begins. These are not simple pop songs, yet they all manage to stick with the listener and become instantly recognizable on a second and third listen. It’s a stunning work that stands up to even the most critical scrutiny.

01: Plugnet – Select

It’s not sophisticated. It’s not deep. It’s not complex. It’s not profound. But what this tightly wound collection of chiptune rap is transcends all of those more serious goals and is instead just a plain and simple and somehow amazingly fun album. The trio of rappers fire off their seemingly endless lyric-sheets at a zillion miles a second while the massive 8bit sounds underneath propel the songs into another realm. They manage to inject just enough in-your-face aggression into each track to force you to pay attention while keeping a huge grin on your face the entire time. The production is out of sight, mixing ear-bleeding old-school NES waves with hard edged beats and a smattering of other electro bliss. It’s the perfect album to blast out of your car windows while driving all too fast through a neon mega-city. Sure, it’s just good fun, but it’s also a thrill not to be missed.