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Best Japanese Albums of 2018

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the ten best Japanese albums of 2018!

You don't have to be Sleepless in Brooklyn to grasp the restless in the city vibe of [Alexandros]'s album. Recalling early oughties emo and pop punk, the band rocks and chills out to mellow alternative numbers like Arpeggio and Last Minute that express the feeling of being lost and lonely, and yearning for something more. Bleach theme songs Mosquito Bite and Milk liven things up with harder beats, throwback rock chords and knowingly catchy lyrics from the teen rebellion lexicon. The hidden gem of the album though has to be the deceptively chirpy Fish Tacos Party with its mundane truth-spitting lyrics: "You gotta get yourself up in the morning / No matter how much / You don't want to go to work."

Boku no Lyric no Boyomi emerged from the Nico Nico/utaite scene when he was only in his teens, and the preternatural talent is now also wrapping things up young with his last album. The rapper and singer-songwriter, who announced that he is leaving the music industry by January 2019, at least goes out with a bang with this outstanding album that blends rock, alternative, electronic and soul with his distinctive monotonic rapping and singing style. Boku no Lyric no Boyomi's lyrics aside, the music production on this album is excellent; just listen to the epic melodic progressions of Rinne Tensei and the deliciously funky beats of Boku wa Mo Inai.

Daoko leapt to the top of the charts last year with the Yonezu Kenshi collaboration Uchiage Hanabi. This year, the young breakout shows the success was no fluke with her assured third album Shiteki Ryoko, which molds her previously scattershot style of synth, R&B, rap and pop into polished form. Besides writing the lyrics to all the album's new songs herself, Daoko collaborates with a who's who lineup of creators, including Kobayashi Takeshi for the floaty game song Owaranai Sekai de, Nakano Masayuki for the dreamy synthpop Nice Trip, Mizuno Yoshiki for the light and bouncy Sunnyboy, Rainygirl, and her most natural match, Nakata Yasutaka, for the dangerously cute and catchy Bokura no Network.

When Hoshino Gen's last album Yellow Dancer made our year-end top ten in 2015, he was still more of a music fan favorite than a mainstream name. Three years and one viral drama theme song later, the singer-songwriter is now a household name and Kohaku regular, but his feel-good music is still of the same high quality and the same playful, soulful, slightly dorky style. As his first album in three years, Pop Virus has the game-changing Koi and his subsequent hit plugs Doraemon, Idea and Pop Virus.

Sakurai Kenta-produced idol group Maison book girl ventures further down the rabbit hole in a brilliant album that brings their dreamy alternative concept to a new level. The dream begins with an fMRI¬_Test #2 instrumental that leads into cotoeri and its mesmerizing swirl of pop tunes, catchy beats and clapping sounds. In a statement of the group's unique concept, the song's lyrics were actually arranged by AI based on Sakurai's past lyrics! Nestled among the atmospheric interludes and instrumentals, a musical story emerges from sugar-coated confections of synth, alternative and pop. From Semai Monogatari to Boy Meets Girl, Sakurai Kenta's melodies and arrangements jump off the page with hasty beats, majestic chord progressions and complex layers of sounds and synth.

After hitting a new level of mainstream popularity last year, Miura Daichi could have easily continued in a plug-friendly direction. Instead, he followed with his most experimental effort. Created in collaboration with composer/producer Nao'ymt, Kyuutai ("Sphere") is still very much in Miura's style but the album – which does not include any singles – doesn't rely on individual songs, refrains or hooks. The album is full of stand-out tracks, like the fragmented falsetto-heavy Tansuigyo, the synth-laced dance number Garasubin and the dramatic Jokotoba, which blends piano ballad and silky R&B into an epic opening. However, Kyuutai's heady fusion of R&B, electro, pop and ambience is best listened to as a whole musical journey that gently welcomes you home to the crashing waves of ending track Okaeri.

Oomori Seiko goes hard and coy in a fierce album that makes you think "What was that?" and immediately go back for another listen. She gets the Kusokawa Party started in atypically understated manner with the gently piercing rock ballad Shinigami. Then she hits you with the tour de force collision of rock, metal and pop hooks that is ZOC Jikkenshitsu. As the jester, Oomori Seiko delivers J-pop through a kaleidoscope with songs like the electro earworm Reality Magic, the growly-cute girl power anthem Girl's Girl and the carnivalesque pop rock Ameba no Koi. Whether this is the Oomori Seiko concept and character that fans like best may be up in the air, but her vocal performance on this album is definitely her best as she comfortably shifts and controls her talky, wailing singing style.

Soil & "Pimp" Sessions makes a Dapper return with another welcome dose of ever so classy and accessible jazz. The magical ensemble is as high-energy as ever in acid jazz numbers like the awesomely titled and delivered Pride Fish Ball, the percussion-heavy Deform Reform and Bond's serenade of saxophone and dancing keys, while also displaying a calmer intricacy than previous albums. The band widens their repertoire in notable collaborations with rapper Awich, Miura Daichi, Kawamura Nao and fellow jazz outfit Ego-Wrappin'.

Just the title of Utada Hikaru's seventh album already gives us the feels: Hatsukoi, a nod back to the record-setting First Love that announced her arrival 20 years ago. As she already demonstrated in 2016's Fantome, the consummate artist is now in a mature stage of music that requires no karaoke hooks or deliberate airplay hits, though most of the album's songs were lapped up for tie-ins anyway. The delicately crafted Hatsukoi is less heavy-hearted than Fantome, as signaled in the groovy opening Play A Love Song and the presence of a song dedicated to cilantro (Pakuchii no Uta). The title track Hatsukoi, an emotional stripped-down ballad so very different than the teenaged First Love, beautifully defines the album and redefines the significance of "first love" in Utada Hikaru's musical journey.

Ole!! Wanima earns their exclamation points in this breakthrough album of infectiously uptempo rock numbers. Starting with the explosive Juice Up!! Theme, the band's major debut is packed with fast-paced picker-uppers that barely leave time to breathe. Calling on pop punk, rock and ska, as well as reggae and folk, Everybody!! is as enthusiastic and energetic a record as one could ask for. Wanima is the best when attacking the eardrums with furious drums, raspy vocals and scream-along hype tracks, like Signal and Tomoni, but they're also great at slowing things down with more melodic numbers like Snow and Human, which bookends a rousing rock anthem with gentle folk chords.

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Published December 31, 2018

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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