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JPop: HeadAssClown's Top 20 Albums

Mar 11, 2013 10:47 pm
HeadAssClown By HeadAssClown
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My love for Japanese music began a little over 10 years ago. Anime was my gateway drug to the tripped-out, euphoric world of Jpop, which was a great escape for me from the drudgery of western pop music that had infected the US around that time. Jpop had many elements which appealed to me, namely a more electronically-oriented futuristic sound with a greater use of synthesizers and autotune, the beautiful Japanese language, a happier and more positive tone or subject matter to most songs, a feel-good cuteness, and often a nod to retro pop music. It also had less whining and fewer low-moral vocalists, which are prevalent western music.

Not only was the music composed better, or at least more so to fit my interests, the vocalists were so loveable and made me actually want to see them succeed rather than hoping to see their name associated with a crack whore scandal on a tabloid magazine. Japanese culture just had that edge which pulled me in, spiritually, and made me want to specialize my musical knowledge in Jpop rather than hurt my ears with the abhorable pop music being forced on us Americans.

That was 2002. Today is March 11, 2013, and I have never looked back. The first artist that I really loved was Hitomi, whose releases like the 99' Thermo Plastic album was ground-breaking, at least in my mind, and helped Jpop "massugu itte" down the right road. Another was capsule's 2007 release, Sugarless Girl. Besides a really hot cover of a sugarless...and topless...girl, the music contained therein began the electro era of Japanese music that I really adore beyond words. Aira Mitsuki, saori@destiny, immi, Eiko Shimamiya, and LIL would follow. Perfume would, don't hit me for saying this, improve. MEG and Ami Suzuki would abandon earlier musical approaches in favor of the electro sound. De De Mouse would...well I don't know what the hell you call what he did, but I really like it. Nakata would later unleash Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a Harajuku cutie with all the fashion and sound of Lady Gaga, but none of the associated trash culture of her act.

Electro is my specialty, but Japanese music, and perhaps Japanese culture, centers around the idol. I retroactively discovered the greatness of the 80s idols including Onyanko Club, Yukiko Okada, Wink, and my favorite Momoko Kikuchi. Morning Musume (momosu) took the idolotry to a whole new level beginning in 1997, and soon after the Hello Project blessed us with the "special generation" of the Berryz Kobo and C-ute. AKB48 rose to superstardom, and now Momoiro Clover Z is expressing their loveable hankouki (rebellious youth).

Even with the later emergence of Korean pop music, Jpop still fits my musical tastes much better. Someone who likes Kpop can still have an opinion in a musical talk with me, just as long as no one tries to purport that American music is better than either.

Without further adeu, here are my favorite 20 studio albums. I encourage you to try these if you are love you some Jpop or want to give it a try.

20. Canary Club - 2 Eejanaika
Release Date: August 26, 2009

The Canary Club is an idol group that didn't garner the same level of attention as the Hello Project groups, but this is an excellent album with at least 7 quality songs. That is compared to their first release 1 Kanari Canary, on which I only liked Dream on dreams and Sweet & Toughness. At the time of the 2nd release, there were 7 members, with ages varying greatly, and highlighted by Mana Ogawa (Ogamana).

19. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Pamyu Pamyu Revolution
Release Date: May 23, 2012

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, real name Kiriko Takemura, is the latest act from Yasutaka Nakata, who also produces the music for capsule, Perfume, and MEG. Besides the fashionable Harajuku visuals, the music itself is superb including her most famous track, PonPonPon. Candy Candy, Drinker, and Tsukema Tsukeru are top tracks, including my personal favorite Suki Sugite Kiresou.

18. MEG - STEP
Release Date: June 18, 2008

Similar to MEG's 2007 BEAM album, STEP has the amazing songs MAGIC and HEART, as well as KITTENISH and NATALIE. MEG is very Japanese and a skilled live performer. After taking a brief break, she is resumed releasing new music in 2012.

17. Berryz Kobo - Dai 2 Seichouki
Release Date: November 15, 2005

In my opinion, this is the best Berryz album musically, including 'nanchuu koi wo yatteruu you know', as well as koi no jubaku, which has a priceless pv (music video). As of today, March 11, 2013, all seven Berryz are still together and will release their 31st single (Asian Celebration) on March 13th.

16. Perfume - Triangle
Release Date: July 8, 2009

Perfume is one of the most widely liked jpop groups. For me, they are a little too mainstream and too western, and I don't particularly like how similar the three vocalists are. Perhaps the most insulting blow was when their song Polyrhythm was used in the trash movie Cars 2. All that aside, their music is occasionally very good, as are the first 5 tracks of the Triangle album. I listen to their better songs frequently, but I don't have the same love for their group as I do for Nakata's other acts.

15. Eiko Shimamiya - O
Release Date: October 4, 2006

Eiko Shimamiya was a member of I've Sound and mentored some of their other girls like Kotoko. Before she lost her voice due to cancer in 2011, Eiko released O and Hikari Nadeshiko, for which she composed the music, wrote the lyrics, and provided the vocals. The songs are an electro trip with a hint of new age.

14. Shoko Nakagawa - Big Bang!
Release Date: March 19, 2008

Shoko's father was Katsuhiko Nakagawa, a Japanese actor and musician who died in 1994. She is just too perfect mentally, with a huge interest in anime and tokusatsu. That's not to mention her gorgeous voice, face, and body. Big Bang! is her first and best studio album, and she has also released three albums of her covers of anime theme songs.

13. Momoko Kikuchi - OCEAN SIDE
Release Date: September 10, 1984

Momoko Kikuchi was an idol who hit the scene in 1984 with the mega-hit Seishun no Ijiwaru. OCEAN SIDE has that track along with Shadow Surfer, Blind Curve, Summer Eyes, Futari no Night Drive, and others. She has a dreamy voice and face, the prototypical idol. Some of her songs were recently covered by the artist Kaiida, including my personal fav, Eden of Galaxy.

12. immi - Spiral
Release Date: June 16, 2010

immi's 2008 album Switch fell into the so-bad-its-almost-good category for me. With the ridiculous opening song Go with the flow and the somewhat mediocre songs that follow, including a cover of The Cure's Lovesong. That song sucked from the beginning, and I think it's about time people stop covering it.

Now, her 2010 album Spiral, that was masterpiece. All 14 tracks are quality and enimatically artistic. Sign of Love, that hits you right in the heart and is truly a beautiful song, as if it has the pop ballad power of Cyndi's Lauper Time After Time. Then, you have Alice (you know the Wonderland bitch), which is a bad-ass electropop heart-pounder and immi is so cute in singing it out the side of her mouth in the pv. Yes, I truly adore most every track on this album, such as FIGHT BACK, Swimmer, and Jeezy Peezy. This album really thinks outside of the box and provides lots of thrills.

11. Momoiro Clover Z - Momoclo All Stars 2012
Release Date: April 25, 2012

Just when you thought Jpop couldn't get any better, along came Momoiro Clover in 2009. They originally had 6 members, then Akari Hayami "graduated" on April 10, 2011, and they became Momoiro Clover Z. You have to understand that Momocloz is almost a religion that is bigger that all of us (laughs). No seriously, they are very addictive.

Momoclo All Stars 2012 was a live album featuring studio recordings, but accompanied by the 2-day Yokohama Arena concert itself, which truly blew my mind. Shiori Tamai won my heart with her performance of Namidame no Alice, maybe my favorite song of 2012. Then, Ayaki Sasaki's Aari was Hankouki! was just awesome, and cracked me up as did Momoka Ariyasu's song with Zainichi Funk. Kanako Momota and Shoiri's Single Bed was Semai no Desu was too kawaii for words. Reni Tagaki is great too, that's the fifth member, couldn't do with her. :)

10. Aira Mitsuki - C.O.P.Y
Release Date: September 8, 2008

When I heard my first Aira Mitsuki song, I wonder why they (turned out to be Terukado) picked her to sing the songs, given that she has a speech oddness and all. Then, it grew on me really fast and I would not tell you that she is my favorite artist in music today. The way she sings the songs is so unique and the Terukado's electro vibes are very hard-hitting.

What's more, C.O.P.Y plays homage to the cyberpunk genre, and features a cyberpunk pv for Galaxy Boy. All 16 tracks are good, some I will cherish for life, such as Happiness Land, Yellow Supercar, China Discotica, and Colorful Tokyo Sounds NO.9. This album just reallys captures what Japanese culture means to me and at the same time Aira and Terukado establish their unique sound.

9. Nana Mizuki - HYBRID UNIVERSE
Release Date: May 3, 2006

Wow, it's hard to believe that Nana Mizuki is 33 now. She's definitely one of the best anime seiyuu and vocalists ever, alongside Megumi Hayashibara. My fav studio album of the supersonic girl is HYBRID UNIVERSE, because of the classic tracks Eternal Blaze, Brave Phoenix, and Wild Eyes. Hoshizora to Tsuki to Hanabi no Shita, Faith, and You have a dream also get a lot of play from me. It's music to cherish forever for anyone who likes anime and/or jpop, a lot of heart in all of it.

8. hitomi - huma-rhythm
Release Date: January 30, 2002

hitomi is about vocalist Hitomi Furuya, but it is also about her amazing band and music composers. She herself fits the songs well, which include a often overlapping variety of electropop to rock to classical/ballad, and unfortunately the occasional hip hop song. huma-rhythm has songs from the first three genres, including Is It You? and Inner Child, maybe her two greatest songs ever in my mind. All 15 tracks are quality, unlike her recent albums SPIRIT (2011...a few good songs) and Mobius (2012...any good songs?).

hitomi always resurfaces though with a killer hit just when you think she is gone for good. Her 2006 LOVE CONCENT album just missed making my list, and LOVE LIFE 2 had some of the most beautiful classical songs she has ever made along with perhaps the final hitomi electropop gem, WORLD! WIDE! LOVE!.

7. DE DE MOUSE - Sunset Girls
Release Date: May 7, 2008

De De Mouse is a electronica genius, first making a name for himself in the underground Tokyo club scene, and now releasing one-of-a-kind studio albums. As it stands, he has released Tide of Stars (2007), Sunset Girls (2008), A Journey To Freedom (2010), and sky was dark (2012). The first track on each of those albums has to be heard to be believed, the creativity is off the charts.

Sunset Girls is my favorite album of the group, with maybe a little heavier synth than the others. Top tracks are east end girl (keeps singing), hill girl steps, sundown river, and skyline boy.

6. Buono! - Buono! 2
Release Date: February 11, 2009

The concept of Buono! was to take Momoko Tsugunaga and Miyabi Natsuyaki from Berryz Kobo, and team them with Airi Suzuki from one of the Hello Project's other groups, C-ute. Best idea ever. Buono! 2 has 12 tracks, all good. Early Bird is kind of like Cafe Buono from the first album, and they are performed together live. Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!, the title of which would indicate a gutter-quality song if an American artist had made it, is actually very catchy and reminds me of the early 80s band Culture Club.

Kira Kira and Rottara Rottara bring the doki doki. You're my friend tries to break the kawaii scale. Over The Rainbow and Goal warm the heart. Minna Daisuki almost does make you want to love everyone, or at least the Buono girls and whoever wrote all these songs.

5. capsule - Sugarless GiRL
Release Date: February 21, 2007

capsule is vocalist Toshiko Koshijima and previously mentioned producer Yasutaka Nakata. To understand the greatness of the latter, you just have to listen to capsule's discography. It begin with a focus on lounge/bossa nova and then hit a synth (almost even retro synth) and electronica groove in 2007 with Sugarless GiRL, and followed by the albums Flash Back, More! More! More!, and Player, and recently even moving into even harder more trancelike electro World of Fantasy and Stero Worxxx. Of course, those are just the high level musical direction of those albums, he will occasionally pull a totally different song out of no where like You Are The Reason (on Flack Back) or I was Wrong (on Player).

At least in my perception, Sugarless GiRL started the synth electro craze that influenced jpop releases for the next 3 or 4 years. By the end of the 00s decade, the r&b, western-imitation non-sense of the late 90s and early 00s was seen to be completely overthrown. capsule is more than just electro though, it's jpop electro and that is distiguishable from what you will hear on the electronic/dance radio channels in the states.

4. hitomi - thermo plastic
Release Date: October 13, 1999

thermo plastic was a ground-breaking release featuring many tracks composed or arranged by Zentaro Watanabe and still others by Dai Nagao of Do As Infinity. The edgy sound of Gamble, Bird, and Wish cut like a knife. Then, there are the spiritual songs like Kimi no Tonari, There Is, and Taion, truly beautiful expressions of Jpop music. Under The Sun is maybe better than any of Nagao's Do As Infinity tracks, except for Fukai Mori and Hi no Ataru Sakamichi. If you like rock, jpop, electro, or any combination there of, check out thermo plastic.

3. saori@destiny - Japanese Chaos
Release Date: November 19, 2008

Saori's career supposedly start with performances in Akihabara, the famous electronic shopping district of Tokyo, and this album has the strongest underground electro sound to it. It's just very different, and the songs merge together like a concept album. The vocals are passionate, the words are sometimes harsh, the music inspires emotions. chemical soda and My Way are maybe the best of the best, but all 9 are great, then you get a denpa remix of Sayonara Revival as a bonus (and what could be more underground than that, well except maybe an 8-bit denpa remix but I digress). Saori is retired now by the way.

2. Aira Mitsuki - PLASTIC
Release Date: July 22, 2009

PLASTIC is an in-your-face electro album with 14 insane tracks. Robot Hony, BAD trip, Plastic Doll, Sayonara TECHNOPOLiS, and BARBiE BARBiE are probably the most famous. I personally adore them all, except for Natsu Ame which is an aimless song with male vocals (Notice that no albums on this list have male vocals. De De Mouse doesn't sing, just compose.).

From the opening track, PLASTIC draws you in and doesn't let go, with one heart-pounding song after another. It's a good one to turn up really loud so that you can hear every last artificial vibe.

1. Buono! - Cafe Buono!
Release Date: February 20, 2008

Cafe Buono recently had its 5 year anniversary, and it is still my favorite jpop album ever. Every song is a very catchy and quirky-good song, except for Kimi ga Ireba which sounds like a generic filler. Around 2008 and 2009, Momo, Airi, and Miyabi's collective cuteness hit its peak as demonstrated in this killer 12-track studio album and the associated Hybrid Punch 4-day concert in February 2009.

At Hybrid Punch, we got to see Momo and the girls give top performances, with their band, of ROCK no Kamisama and Nakimushi Shounen, among other songs from Cafe Buono and the followup Buono 2 album. The 8-bit-esque Internet Cupid, anime theme Kokoro no Tamago, trippy Hoshi no Hitsuji-tachi were performed with music only, no band, but these were also also inspiring and ultra-kawaii performances. Baketsu no Mizu and Garakuta no Yume were not performed, or at least they were not included on the DVD release, but these great songs were performed earlier at the Rock N' Buono 1 concert.

The studio versions of the Cafe Buono songs are wonderful - some really pure jpop. It seems that both Japanese and western artists have one thing in common, that their first albums are often the best. I think Buono is no exception as Buono! 2 was a very strong album, but Cafe Buono was unparalleled.

HeadAssClown is the mastermind behind the Brood Of Clowns circus. He created BOC as an alternative for people who aren't douche bags and dislike the typical stupid trash culture. In his free time, he enjoys reading, long walks on the beach, and asian pornography. He has had sex with over 300 women and at least 50 snakes.

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