# 18. Luby Sparks – Luby Sparks
[AWDR/LR2 / SPACE SHOWER NETWORKS INC.]
Music has the power to bring people together–and sometimes a mutual love of similar artists can lead to something special. At least, that’s the story behind Luby Sparks, a Japanese band which formed after the four members of a funk/soul/R&B appreciation club decided to create their own band. Ironically, Luby Sparks isn’t an album that fits into any of those genres–it’s instead a 90s inspired alt-rock record that already sounds timeless, much less one that was created by modern-day Japanese college students. Think of a more upbeat Mazzy Star or Sixpence None the Richer.
Recorded with UK rock band Yuck’s Max Bloom, Luby Sparks is a misty time capsule that sounds comfy and familiar, out of place for this era of high-gloss beats and crystal clear production. The quartet developed their sound well–even basing most of their lyrics off of other English songs that they liked. Songs like “Hateful Summer” and “Sparks” sound like they could be pulled straight from any rom-com montage from a 90s film.
But despite all that, Luby Sparks is an album that extends beyond a 90s tribute. It’s a record that evokes memories of tangerine teenage bliss, even for those of us who haven’t lived through them. Luby Sparks is ultimately an album for the nostalgic dreamer.
# 17. Ginger Root – Mahjong Room
“Aggressive elevator soul”. Is there a better combination of words used to describe the kind of music that Ginger Root (Cameron Lew) makes? Cool and calm, while maintaining a certain edge that’ll turn heads–that’s the sort of confidence that Lew carries with him throughout all of his releases. Step into the smoky world of the Mahjong Room, Lew’s third album as an artist.
While most of Mahjong Room follows Spotlight People and Toaster_music in terms of its funk factor, it’s a step forward for the soul prince. Golden tones encapsulate the album in rays of warmth, evoking the sunshine 70s era that Lew borrows for his signature style. Although he often plays with a whole band, Lew’s keyboard is the traditional star here. It’s omnipresent throughout the album, but it importantly plays a different part in every single song. On “Call It Home” or “Having Fun”, it’s the backbone, contributing to a joyfully age-old piano-based aesthetic. On songs that could easily be extended beyond its short runtime like “Red” or “Hazel Street”, it’s the absolute star of the show. Like it is on the album cover, the keyboard is king. For Lew, whose style could easily be categorized into bedroom pop, there’s a technical skill here within his piano that elevates his music into something great.
Mahjong Room is the album to set the mood for a dimly lit lounge … or better yet, an album to play you out in an actual smoke-filled mahjong room all night long.
# 16. Kikagaku Moyo – Masana Temples
There’s a mysterious other world just waiting to be discovered behind the beaded curtain of Kikagaku Moyo’s fourth album, Masana Temples.
The Japanese psych-rock band, which has been active since 2014, weaves beautifully inspired textures of sound with every one of their releases. On their newest, Kikagaku Moyo have outdone themselves, creating a dimension that will melt every notion of your current existence. Consider the drones that transform the soundscape of Masana Temples into a hazy psychedelic fog, lingering long after each song is over. Revel in the Indian ragas that creep in and out, intermingling with guitars like it’s second nature. That’s not to mention Katsurada’s and Kurosawa’s careful Japanese vocals that serve as your spiritual mentor, guiding you through the dense fog.
Masana Temples and the colorful swirls that surround its existence are akin to falling into a rainbow wormhole where howls, babbling children (“Majupose”), and counting (“Nana”) can be the only sounds that matter right then and there. Lie down, close your eyes, and dream about metamorphosis: this is one trip you’re not going to want to miss out on.
# 15. Miya Folick – Premonitions
[Terrible Records / Interscope Records]
# 14. FAUXE – I K H L A S
Ikhlas is more than just a regular album: it’s an ambitious, experimental, and historical project.
After spending eight months in neighboring Malaysia, Singaporean producer FAUXE found inspiration from the country’s rich history of song and dance. To help aid him in his search for musical samples, he turned to a familiar site to ease the process: YouTube. Thus Ikhlas (stylized I K H L A S), was born.
Meaning “sincerity” in Malay, Ikhlas is a modern plunderphonics album that builds off of Malaysia’s largely untapped treasure trove of musical tradition. FAUXE, who is a known beatmaker in Singapore, mingles hip hop with classical music to create songs unlike any other. Malaysian Tamil and Hawaii Malay music are remixed and given a modern twist under FAUXE’s careful eye, making them dance jams for a younger, beat-hungry crowd. FAUXE revives long forgotten melodies and traditional chants, resulting in an album that is just as ethnographical as it is intriguing.
From the wobbly “Gungho” to the heavy-bass distorted “Chai”, there’s lots to love about Ikhlas–whether you’re a historian or not.
# 13. harunemuri – harutosyura
Harutosyura is an album to be listened to straight through. No distractions, nothing. That’s the only way to truly appreciate the sonic achievement that it is.
There are so many cogs that Japanese singer harunemuri (Haru Nemuri) sets in motion throughout harutosyura, and all of them somehow work in unison. In theory, it shouldn’t work. It shouldn’t work at all. But Nemuri has done the impossible, bringing together genres that range from familiar J-POP to spoken word poetry to heavy metal to electronic together. You name it, and it’s in there.
Harutosyura is a mixed-up, blended album filled with sonic tricks that allows Nemuri to essentially become a musical chameleon. Kicking off with two songs that seem to be the thesis statement for the album (“MAKE MORE NOISE OF YOU”, “narashite”), Nemuri makes instantly makes it clear that harutosyura is an all-out attack on your senses. In a single second you’ll be chilling out with the electronic sounds of “underground”, and in the next, the anxious “harutosyura” will knock you down a few pegs, keeping you on your toes. “Zzz pt. I” cheekily samples a distorted version of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”, while Nemuri straight up rocks out on the appropriately named “rock n roll wa shiranai” with her buddy totsuzenshounen.
Challenging, distorted, and heaps of fun: harutosyura is hands-down one of the most exciting albums of the year. Producers, take note.