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Best Japanese Albums of 2016

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

We end the year with our picks for the best Japanese albums of 2016!

Aimer revealed her face and her great potential this year with outstanding alternative rock collaborations. The singer's strong vocals and music sensibilities have been apparent since debut, but Daydream unleashes a more explosive, evocative side of her through distinctive rock numbers produced by One OK Rock's Taka, Ling Tosite Sigure's TK, Androp's Uchisawa Takahito and Radwimps' Noda Yojiro. Taka, in particular, composed four songs, two of which - insane dream and Falling Alone - are among the album's most impactful. Aimer's duets with Egoist's Chelly (the Sawano Hiroyuki-produced Ninelie) and Abe Mao (wistful pop rock For Lonely) are also fresh and appealing.

amazarashi - SEKAI SHUUOSOKU 2116
amazarashii tells stories with every album, and Sekai Shuusoku 2116 is their darkest and most piercing yet. Despair hits straight away in the first song Taxi Driver, in which fast and furious lyrics envision a suffocating city with acutely specific imagery (a young man buying a rope to hang himself, a pregnant woman standing in a train, terrorism news on the radio). From song to song, lyrical melodies, pounding beats and anguished poetry pour out inner loath and suffering and lash out against the cruelty and apathy of a senseless, disappearing world. Akita Hiromu's words cut like a knife, from the beautifully morbid doomsday references of Speed to Manatsu and "Flowers Bloom on Top of Corpses" to the viscerally personal reflections on death ("I'm covered in blood from the many times I killed myself," he declares in "I Think I'd Throw Up"). This album goes to incredibly gloomy places, with a masterful storyteller as your guide.

Blowing minds since 2011, Babymetal has had a trailblazing year that included a world tour that kicked off at the Wembley Arena, opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and even an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The kawaii teenage rockers give their all in Metal Resistance, a fierce record that shows their growth since Gimme Chocolate and validates the hype with explosively catchy metal and pop fusions like Road of Resistance and Karate and more experimental pieces like Sis. Anger and From Dusk Till Dawn.

Boom Boom Satellites vocalist Kawashima Michiyuki passed away this past October, four months after the release of the duo's last album Lay Your Hands on Me. The electronic pioneers closed their 16-year musical journey with their dreamiest record of spacy electronic alternative rock. The immensely atmospheric album's four songs seem like one as they flow seamlessly into each other both in sound and in theme, beginning with the dreams and bright lights of the edifying title track Lay Your Hands on Me and disappearing into the night with the mesmeric beats, cosmos-reaching melody and fading footsteps of the wordless Narcosis. The loss is immeasurable, and so is the legacy that Boom Boom Satellites leave behind.

Domoto Tsuyoshi stands alone musically in Johnny's when it comes to his solo work. He's gone through various creative stages and pseudonyms, but what hasn't changed is his commitment to experimenting with the sweet sounds of funk. The eccentric artist builds on the funk, soul and spacy music style (and lingo) of last year's TU and creates an even more intricate and mature release in Grateful Rebirth. The mini-album is filled with gems and surprises. The irrepressibly fun T & U sets the tone with its groovy melody, strong brass section, chirpy female backing vocals and repeating lyrics. Believe in intuition challenges the senses with disorienting layered psychedelia broken up by string interludes, while the soulful Aru Sekai and slinky Be grateful slow down the tempo to sensual lounge ballads.

Many artists create an idiosyncratic style and maintain it for their entire career. Miyavi reinvents a new idiosyncratic style with every release. It's hard not to feel revved up when listening to Fire Bird, because the album carries an infectiously playful vibe and, of course, electrifying guitars. He escalates the internationally minded dance rock style of his last two albums with songs like Afraid to Be Cool, She Don't Know How to Dance and the addictive You Know How It's Love, and also rolls into newly vintage territory in the heavy beats and dramatic guitar line of Steal the Sun, the surprising vocal mixes of Long Nights and the frantic energy and reverberation of Epic Swing.

Radwimps leapt to a new career high this year thanks to a little animated film called Your Name. for which the band created prominently featured music. Arriving on the heels of the best-selling soundtrack, Ningen Kaika includes the original versions of two songs in Your Name. (Zenzenzense and Sparkle), and many more effervescent pop rock anthems that could very well also be in the movie like "Light," "One Spring Day" and especially Weekly Shonen Jump. Between the wistful etudes, the alternative band also drops some interestingly varied electronic-laced numbers in the psychedelic "Listen to It When It's Raining," the pulsating Lights Go Out and rap-rock AADAAKOODAA.

Catching his first break last year after being selected for iTunes Japan's "New Artist Spotlight" project, Towatari Yota released his first full album this year, and it decidedly announces the 24-year-old singer-songwriter as a new-generation voice to watch. I Wanna Be Towatari Yota speeds breezily through a wonderfully refreshing repertoire of earthy guitar-driven numbers that play better with each listen. The album starts with the invigorating, uptempo Beautiful Day, which has a rich arrangement filled with inspired vocal and instrumental flourishes, and ends on an equally positive note with the emphasized guitar chords of the clean acoustic Good Day.

Utada Hikaru returned after six long years with a highly personal album about love, sorrow and loss. Though it opens with the dance song Michi, Fantome is largely a mature, understated work that requires multiple listens to fully absorb, but once it does, you'll hear the diva at her peak as a musician. Utada employs naturalistic and low-key melodies and arrangements in most of the songs, and matches vocally with mellow singing that emphasizes emotions and ease rather than flashy technicals. Carrying elements of traditional enka, the ballads Hanataba wo Kimi ni, Manatsu no Tooriame and Ningyo are especially heartbreaking expressions of grief, homages to her late mother. Despite being a less radio-friendly album released in only one edition, Fantome topped the Oricon weekly chart for four consecutive weeks, because there is only one Utada Hikaru.

Regardless of whether one has watched the HiGH & LOW dramas and movies, the album spawned from the project stands strongly on its own as a representative work of EXILE TRIBE and the LDH pop music empire. Though there's no actual EXILE song, the supergroup is pretty much covered with J Soul Brothers, Generations, The Second, The Rampage and collaboration units Ace of Spades and PKCZ®, not to mention Doberman Infinity and that one E-girls song. The two-disc album attacks the senses with a barrage of dramatically catchy and powerful dance and hip-hop tracks like Generation's Run This Town, Ace of Spades and Tosaka Hiroomi's bombastic rock number Sin and the super-packed fusion of dance, electronic, rock and rap that is Higher Ground.

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Published December 29, 2016

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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