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Best Japanese Albums of 2020

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the best Japanese albums of 2020!

Aimyon - Heard That There's Good Pasta
Aimyon shot to the top of the charts in 2018 with Marigold. Although no song on this tracklist matches the singular impact of Marigold, the album itself is all the better for it. Where Aimyon's previous albums were aspirational but inconsistent, Heard That There's Good Pasta, deadpan title and all, fits her as a comfortable, cohesive and down-to-earth record. Bright-eyed but not bushy-tailed, her guitar-strumming pop rock and relatable sentiments in "Remember the Days We're Talking Rubbish in the Twilight," Harunohi, "Cigarette" and Chika connect easily with young musers. Aimyon tucks an articulate edge into her refreshing tunes, and her modern voice often evokes a nostalgic charm, like in the classic ballad "Naked Heart" and the slinky "Living Like That." This album is just right for the singer-songwriter at this point in her career, and just right for the listeners who turn to her for youthful, buoyant and thoughtful pop music.

amazarashi - Boycott
Boycott the things that hurt you and live life as yourself. That's the message that amazarashi sends out in this characteristically elegiac album of musical poetry. Akita Hiromu begins with rapid recitation in the scintillating, image-laden opening track Kyohiology. "Stabbed to Death" follows with piercing beats and even more piercing lyrics of daily despondence and defiance ("A day like a dead man comes again"). The themes of hope and despair walk hand in hand throughout the album – the dissonant rhythm and slow-burning anger of "Sleeping As If Dead," the memories of the rusty hometown we left behind in "Come Back," the wistful farewells of a life traveler in the folk number Yuudachi Tabidachi, the soul-pouring confessions in the gently impassioned "I Want to be That Kind of Person." Both musically and lyrically, amazarashi's powerful storytelling cuts to the heart in Boycott.

Buck-Tick - Abracadabra
Buck-Tick has been rocking since the 80s, but their ever evolving music still sounds as fresh and explosive as new. The band's latest album reveals a greater emphasis on electronic to create the dark, dramatic sound that defines Buck-Tick, no matter the genre. The atmospheric intro Peace sets the mood for a magical journey that storms restlessly from Quesera Elegy's swirling earworm of driving rock beats and electronic overdrive, to Urahara Juku's hard rock attack and Sophia Dream's dreamy Gothic overtones, crescendoing with the evocative lead single Moonlight Escape. Of course, tying everything together is Sakurai Atsushi's powerful, expressive vocals that carry the growly Villain, punkish Eureka and power ballad Bokyaku with equal ease and impact.

Chara + YUKI - echo
Chara and YUKI collaborated back in the late 90s for the hit Ai no Hi Mittsu Orange. Two decades later, the dream duo is back together with this special album that oozes bold, sultry and experimental vibes. Their 2020 version of Ai no Hi Mittsu Orange retains the tinkly, wintry atmosphere of the original while upgrading the overall sound with more comfortable vocal performances and a cleaner arrangement featuring brass instrumentals. The two singer-songwriters' new songs carry that same wispy, synth-laced ambience. The mesmerizing club mix You! You! You! and the sizzling sweet Hitori Kamonemu playfully beckon you to shimmy on the dance floor, while Tanoshii Kenobi and YOPPITE reel you in with soft, alluring vocals and suggestive lyrics. The album's best is the closing title track echo, which gently layers their whispery vocals over a simple guitar melody.

chelmico - maze
chelmico's third album is an Easy Breezy pick! You may recognize the rap-pop duo for the loopy opening theme of the Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! anime. Let that be your entry point to maze's varied, vibrant selection of laid-back bops that get stuck in your head with smooth rhymes and sunny hooks. Offering an updated hybrid hip-pop reminiscent of Rip Slyme and Halcali, Rachel and Mamiko are mellow and melodic in pluggable tracks such as the tipsy and danceable Disco (Bad dance doesn't matter), the acoustic-leaning indie pop milk and the jazzy, stripped-down Douyara, Watashi wa. Meanwhile, their more interesting tracks, like the densely constructed Gohanda yo and the topsy-turvy Premium Natsu Mansion, go harder with the rap flow and the busily layered electronic arrangements.

Fujii Kaze - Help Ever Hurt Never
Hailed as a name to watch before his debut, Fujii Kaze does not disappoint with his jazzy R&B sound and deep, rich vocals in his outstanding first album. Help Ever Hurt Never seamlessly embodies a range of influences. Fujii's debut single Nan-Nan jumps from a brief classical buildup to a funky, bluesy tune that jives to an old-school rhythm. "Cause It's Endless" lays light, lingering vocals over futuristic electronic beats, while Tsumi no Kaori injects an appealing explosion of brass. Yasashisa refreshes a classic kayo ballad melody with a contemporary arrangement. This silky, groovy marriage of classic and contemporary runs through the entire album, tip-toeing to an end with the stirring piano- and strings-accompanied ballad Kaerou.

milet - eyes
Since debuting in 2019, milet has quickly drawn notice for her powerful and husky voice that has inspired comparisons to Adele. We're not exactly onboard with that comparison, but there's no denying the appeal of milet's lower register and lilting pop numbers. Gathering the lead tracks of her past EPs, her first full-length album Eyes opens with a new mix of the soaring ballad Again and Again from her debut release. Parachute exemplifies her enthralling vocal tone and talent, as well as her music style that blends Japanese and Western pop sensibilities. Along with the dramatic ballad Dome, the lightly uptempo rock number Grab the air and the minimalistic love song The Love That We've Made produced by Toru, this album showcases one of the most impressive vocalists of the new generation.

the telephones - NEW!
the telephones' new album is titled NEW! – but it could just as well be OLD! because it's still that same old infectious sound. The rock-electronic band's first album in five years spares no time for niceties, jumping straight into a hyperactive tracklist of irreverent dance-punk and spirited odes to disco. From the raucous energizers Here We Go and Do the DISCO to the cheekily titled Broken Government and cheerily earnest Small Town Dreams, this album is a shot of joyous, knowing fun. As for life's rough patches, the band also offers fighting words of encouragement in Changes!!! and Light Your Fire.

Yonezu Kenshi - Stray Sheep
Yonezu Kenshi may seem like an obvious pick, but Stray Sheep is the biggest Japanese album of the year for good reason. With Uma to Shika, "Spirits of the Sea" and the still-charting Lemon in the midst, the singles on this million-seller cement the low-key singer-songwriter's meteoric rise to superstardom while maintaining his own distinctive brand of music. His resonant style of dangerously catchy pop rock with a touch of funky lyricism and flippant melancholy is on prime display in Kanden and Himawari. At the same time, there is versatility and evolution in the R&B beats of Campanella, the retro electropop of the Noda Yojiro collaboration PLACEBO, and the clean folk melodies of the moving ballads Yasashi Hito and Canary.

Yorushika - Plagiarism
Yorushika makes our year-end picks for the second consecutive year, this time with a concept album about a "man who steals music." The musical journal unfolds the protagonist's emotional tempest and impulses over a lifetime, starting with the eerie instrumental intro "Confession of Plagiarist" and then curling through adolescence and middle age before returning to childhood. Following last year's breakout, the rock duo builds on their repertoire of upbeat-sounding songs that hide dark thoughts, but this album carries jazzier, funkier arrangements and more varied vocal interpretations. From the funky yearning of "Burglar" and the fervent pop-punk of "Bomber" to the nimble alt-rock of "Plagiarism" and the wispy nostalgia of "Escape," this is a life story well worth hearing.

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Published December 29, 2020

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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