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Best Japanese Albums of 2023

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the best physical Japanese albums of 2023!

Ano – Nyang Nyang Oeeee
ano - Nyang Nyang Oeeee
Please enjoy the musical equivalent of a cat puking rainbows in this ridiculously cute, deceptively upbeat and unequivocally entertaining album from ano. Titled Nyang Nyang Oeeee meaning "Cat Vomiting," the album gets straight to the feline point in the wild kawaii rock explosion Nyang Oeeee Gokurako Ondo. There's plenty more high-speed, high-energy and high-pitched cuteness delivered in ano's unique singing style, but the perky songs drenched in furious beats are far from happy and innocent. Smile Agenai seems like fast-food nonsense – "I ate lunch while watching TV / That potato / I can't move from this room / Escaping reality / Buns, patty, mustard, ketchup, cheese / Have a nice day" – until the following lines reveal modern-day malaise. From tipsy, love-crazy Chu, Tayousei and chaotic schoolgirl anthem Neetneves to the super bouncy Namida-kun, Kyo mo Ohayo about covering sadness with music, the kawaii overload comes with an angry and unhappy edge – absurd songs to answer an absurd world.





BUCK-TICK – izora
BUCK-TICK - izora
In the lead-up to izora, BUCK-TICK released the singles Taiyo to Ikaros and Mugen Loop, both retro rock melodies with nature and mythological symbolism. The two singles set expectations for music on the lighter, earthier side of the band's varied spectrum, and indeed, izora is one of the most accessible BUCK-TICK albums sound-wise. Anchored in modern and industrial rock, it features pop-leaning songs like Campanella -Hanataba wo Kimi ni-, which sounds straight out of the Showa era. However, once the surprise of the cheery, chirpy melody subsides, the markedly simple lyrics sink in with an acute image of war. Reflecting BUCK-TICK and Sakurai Atsushi's emotions on world events, Sayonara Shelter as well alludes to the violent tragedy of war within its gentle pop rock stylings, and references to Icarus in Taiyo to Ikaros and Valkyrie in Walkure no Kikou take on greater meaning in the context of the album's themes. Balancing dark and light with more of the former, izora brings us from the hopeless outcry of the stuck SCARECROW exposed to the elements, to the uplifting entreaties of a nameless flower experiencing life's cycle in the Namonaki Watashi. BUCK-TICK's last album before Sakurai's passing, izora may not satisfy those who prefer the band's harder and more experimental cuts, but the album's message, musicality and lyricism represent the best of BUCK-TICK.





Da-iCE – Scene
Da-iCE - SCENE
The members of Da-iCE flex their singing, dancing and songwriting talents in a well-produced pop album that shows their ability to pull different music scenes together into a consummate whole. Title track Scene, written and composed by Hanamura Sota, announces Da-iCE's presence with powerful beats and show-stopping vocals. Fast numbers make up a good portion of the album, and the group adopts and adapts on-trend elements while retaining their identity in songs as varied as summer festival hit Star Mine, hip-hop/R&B track Pioneer and stylish drum and bass song Chase, which Kudo Taiki created with m-flo's Taku Takahashi and Jazzin'park's Kurihara Akatsuki. Hyperactive dance bop Funky Jumping successfully packs in EDM, rap and many transitions while remaining harmonically pleasing. The mid-tempo and ballad songs are pure showcases for their strong, expressive vocals, especially the inspirational Dandelion and classic R&B ballad Nureta Ballad. Highlight of the album: Highball Boogie combines pop, jazz, dance and burlesque into an incredibly fun jam that continuously changes tempos like a long alcohol-fueled night.





Hitsujibungaku – 12 hugs (like butterflies)
Hitsujibungaku - 12 hugs (like butterflies)
Hitsujibungaku saw a mainstream boost this year with more than words, the pulsating ending theme of Jujutsu Kaisen's Shibuya Incident arc. Moody with a tinge of aloof, this rock song is one of the 12 hugs that make up the alternative band's third major album. What does a gentle hug sound like? Acoustic intro Hug.m4a is probably pretty close. 12 hugs (like butterflies) wraps listeners in chill songs with a warm core and peculiar lyricism that lives up to the name "Sheep Literature." The band especially has a finger on the pulse of the young, broody and aspirational, as evident in driving indie pop bop countdown, dreamy rock declaration FOOL and shoegazing Addiction which features the sign-of-the-times lines "So take me somewhere / Preferably off the phone screen / Because I want to feel alive." Other emotive songs, like honestly's confession of pain and weakness and Flower's farewell to love, give voice to life's downs for comforting catharsis.





Lilas Ikuta - Sketch
Lilas Ikuta Sketch
Besides being half of YOASOBI's globe-sweeping success, Lilas Ikuta also released her first solo album this year. Completely self-written and self-composed, Sketch spotlights the singer-songwriter with more intimate and vocal-focused songs different from the synth overdrive of YOASOBI's musical storytelling. Her clear and bright voice carries the mid-tempo ballad Answer, which starts with stripped-down piano, snapping beats and feelings of weakness and yearning before building to a richer arrangement and the realization that "It's fine to remain unfinished." Sketch expresses relatable emotions and thoughts of life and love in progress, from guitar-strumming rock numbers Circle and JUMP that emanate youthful energy to the sweet and sultry Midnight Talk sprinkled with dreamy synth beats. Lilas Ikuta's alt pop rock mostly cruises on bright, easy-listening compositions with just enough elements of interest, like Tanpopo's fluid beats and tenacious heart and Kichijoji's evocative, introspective lyrics of walking around town. This entire album is a perfect playlist for a refreshing stroll to clear your head.





Sakamoto Maaya - Kioku no Toshokan
Sakamoto Maaya - Kioku no Toshokan
Sakamoto Maaya's 11th album stems from the concept of a "Library of Memories" and returning boxes of discarded memories to owners. The memories are shared in eight new songs, most of which feature lyrics by the singer. Naimononedari opens the music box with a gentle yet spirited mid-tempo song that matches the fairytale-like concept with dreamy strings-laced arrangement and soft, airy singing. The airy vibe floats through all the album's new songs including the tricot-composed alt-rock Ichidokiri de Ii, the summery pop confection Anything You Wanna Be and Dojima Kohei-produced Kuuchuu Teien which dances on delicate strings and bossa nova beats. Though the sounds are wonderfully light, the sentiments may not be. Composed by Takeuchi Anna, jazzy dance tune discord expresses the desire to escape from one's present world, while the majestic mid-tempo Time Traveler tucks longing and fears for the future in soaring notes – "A bird that forgets how to fly will eventually lose sight of why it should fly / I don't even look up at the sky anymore." There are also four requisite anime themes on the album including the epic Mada Tooku ni Iru from The Fire Hunter.





Sakiyama Soushi - I FURERU SAD UFO
Sakiyama Soushi - i FURERU SAD UFO
Sakiyama Soushi's third major album has a modern city-pop mood with more than a touch of quirkiness. The 21-year-old wunderkind blends detailed guitar, electric sounds and groovy rhythms into comfortable, captivating songs, all performed in a distinctive vocal tone that he tweaks for different songs. Sakiyama blends his overall sound better than ever in i FURERU SAD UFO, such that alternative, experimental and acoustic works flow naturally from one to another. The progression from spacy, synthy title track i FURERU SAD UFO to quiet and melancholic In Your Eyes to moody alt-rock Akari to the mysterious, electronic-laced Predator in the first four songs is impeccable. Many of the album's songs stand out with their sound construction and details, like Oboete Itanoni's whimsical repetition that makes you think your player is skipping, Swim's high-pitched guitar and watery effects, and I Don't Wanna Dance In This Squall's ambient, oddball dance-alone energy.





Spitz - Himitsu Studio
Spitz - Himitsu Studio
Spitz's Himitsu Studio has our ears and hearts from the moment i-O (Shuri No Uta) comes in with gentle tinkling notes and Kusano Masamune's reassuring vocals. The calming pop rock number is about a lonely, broken robot that can always be fixed by the loving, reliable you. This song and album are classic Spitz: warm, eminently listenable music that tells stories and fills you with fuzzy, nostalgic feelings. Refreshing lead track "Beautiful Fin" charms with beguiling lyrics and lively arrangement incorporating a horn section and impressive drum and guitar phrasing that shows how the veteran band is continuously refining their signature sound. There are so many wonderful mid-tempo pop rock numbers in the album, like Daikoubutsu and Sandie which conjure sweet images and sentiments, pure-hearted rock ballad TOKIMEKI part 1, lyrical modern rock hymn Sanka and lonely guitar rock love song Sabishikunakatta, which gets you in the heart from the very first line (“I wasn't lonely until I met you”). For faster fare, there's funky and experimental alt-rock Mirai Mirai, jumping pop-punk throwback Tobe and fun anthem Obake no Rockband for which all four members sing! Himitsu Studio ends on an energetic note with Megurimegutte, an infectious rock jam that surprises with a brilliant tempo change in the mid-section while sending out positive vibes all around.





Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra
Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra - JUNK or GEM
Definitely GEM! This mini-album from Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra caps off the band's trilogy of collaborations with singers who play wind instruments. The collabs began last year with Free Free Free featuring Lilas Ikuta on trumpet. Starting gentle, the delightful song builds to a dizzying whirl of free-spirited notes and buoyant instrumentation expressing hope and aspiration for the future. "Small White" featuring Saucy Dog's Ishihara Shinya on tuba oozes heart-fluttering high spirits from every note. The joyous love song slows down for a gentler brass and vocal section in the middle before leaping back into perform-your-heart-out mode. Finally, "Etude of Adolescence" featuring Ryokuoushoku Shakai's Nagaya Haruko on trombone is the most balladic and nostalgic of the bunch, detailing the feelings of a youth thinking about making a love confession. Besides the collabs, there are three purely instrumental works plus the uplifting Carpe diem sung by drummer Motegi Kinichi. Be it vocals or instrumentals, all the songs are delivered with a palpable exuberance that makes you want to sway and smile along.





Yuuri - Ni
Yuuri - Ni
Yuuri's sophomore album, aptly titled Ni, maintains the high quality of his first album while evolving his style. The singer-songwriter quietly adds richer sounds, stories and instrumentation into his relaxing repertoire. The album starts off with the stripped-down pop rock numbers he's known for – soothing allegorical tale Billimillion, holiday heartbreak ballad Christmas Eve and heartrending breakup song "The Day We Become Eternal Love, Not Lovers." From there, more uptempo numbers come in, including uplifting pop rock jam Astronauts, pop-punk refresher "Choked Up To Ask You" and the bass- and beat-heavy "City Without Heroes," Wo and Lyra. The closing song Merry-go-round beautifully marries these sensibilities as a melancholic love song that matches growing emotions with a bigger band sound as the stirring melody progresses.












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Published December 27, 2023


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