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Best Japanese Albums of 2015

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Here come our picks for the top ten Japanese albums of 2015!

Three years after her first, young R&B singer Aisha returned this year with her sophomore album Pink Diamond, and it was definitely, positively worth the wait. The ridiculously fun and compelling songs on the album are lifted to great heights by Aisha's powerful, distinctive voice and enthusiastic delivery. The album is full of gems, but the singer especially excels at mid-tempo tracks and ballads, with Ai ni Iku yo, Anata dake ni and Kami-sama no Ijiwaru being standouts that can and should be counted among the year's best J-pop tracks.

Committing to the concept of "renewal," J-pop's Queen of Dance roared back this year with her first original album in two years, _genic. With a list of production team members that reads like a who's who of 21st-century Western pop, _genic is pretty much the perfect soundtrack to the best girls' night out ever. Although such a behind-the-scenes crew may worry those who prefer the classic J-pop sound, Amuro's energetic and exceedingly capable delivery ensures the album remains distinctly hers.

Now in its 16th year as a band, three-piece indie stalwart Analogfish proves once again that age is no barrier to innovation with its stunning album Almost A Rainbow. Though officially categorized as a rock band, Analogfish and its music are a virtuosic mish-mash of musical cues. At turns hypnotic, sly, sexy, ethereal, meditative and urgent, Almost A Rainbow is the kind of album that's capable of transporting listeners to a different world. As a veteran of the Japanese music scene, Analogfish serves as a shining reminder to younger bands that innovation is nothing to fear.

At just two years old, Awesome City Club made its major label debut this year with a duo of mini-albums, Awesome City Tracks and Awesome City Tracks 2. The latter release is a genre-hopping affair, taking cues from electropop, disco, dance rock, funk and new wave, displaying, perhaps inadvertently, a kind of mellow reverence to mid-2000s Western indie pop and 1980s popular music. Of particular note is the delightful Outsider, which perfectly blends Awesome City Club's various influences with a comforting J-pop sensibility.

The term "renaissance man" isn't often bandied about anymore, but when it comes to Hoshino Gen, there's hardly a descriptor more fitting. The singer-songwriter, actor, writer and director returned this year with what is arguably his best musical release to date in Yellow Dancer, claiming his first Oricon number one in the process. Full of feel-good J-pop of the highest quality, the album is also notable for Hoshino's incorporation of soul and R&B elements, giving it a dose of sensual maturity.

Listening to a Kanjani8 album is like having a bowl of chicken noodle soup, if chicken noodle soup could be described as "hyperactive." With a Kanjani8 album, you always know what you're going to get, and that's a dang good time. The Johnny's Entertainment group's 2015 effort KANJANI8 no Genki ga Deru CD!! could not be better named, as it is a full album length's worth of glee and energy. Make sure to stick around for Genki ga Deru SONG, a gentle, lovely and hopeful tune that sees the members express their appreciation for their beloved fans.

Can the entire idea of youth be captured in an album? Koisuru Enban takes on this challenge in its second mini-album, Her Favorites. The combination of brash, surprising instrumentals, assured songwriting and lead singer Otsuka Shintaro's bright voice gives the power pop outfit a fully fledged sound, despite its music recalling the heady days of youth. With the group disbanding in late 2015, Her Favorites has become Koisuru Enban's last release. Considering the album's quality, though, it's unlikely that anything but greatness awaits its young members, whatever they choose to do next.

Hoshino Gen makes his second appearance on this list as a member of Sakerock, the 15-year-old instrumental band that bid farewell this year with Sayonara. Its message may be "goodbye," but Sayonara is in no way a weepy affair. Sure, there are a couple of detours into nostalgia and wistfulness, but on the whole, the album is irrepressibly joyous. Of course, if you have the marimba in your ranks, it's hard to be anything else. The album's title track, in particular, is representative of what makes Sakerock so great: It's gentle, accessible, multilayered and utterly exuberant.

The Challenge's major debut Star Tanjou may not be the most musically sophisticated J-pop release of the year, but it sure is a heck of a lot of fun. Despite the band treating everything it does as a joke (it calls itself "the miraculous ikemen band"), its songs are nothing short of singalong pop-rock at its best. Filled with crowd-pleasing flourishes like chant-along sections, guitar riffs and claps, the album's 11 tracks are highly infectious, always playful, unyieldingly danceable and exceptionally joyful.

With its second release, three-piece band Qaijff firmly puts the "rock" back in "piano rock." Through six tracks in Organism, Qaijff tackles life's greatest questions. While you may not be able to find philosophical enlightenment with this mini-album, what you'll certainly find is a breathtakingly exuberant and highly elaborate set of tracks. Virtuosic instrumentals and powerful vocals lift the innovative compositions to great heights, giving the band a mature musicality that belies its age.

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Published December 30, 2015

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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