10) Hi-STANDARD – “ANOTHER STARTING LINE” “NEW”
Hi-STANDARD is the second band on this countdown that is returning from a fifteen-year hiatus. Unlike the other band, from whom you will hear later, Hi-STANDARD did no major promotion for this single, dropping it completely out of the blue.
The title of this song is appropriate in the sense that this new single marks the start of a phase in the band’s recording career. Hi-STANDARD has announced the arrival of a new EP in December, which is to be a quartet of covers of classic rock and pop tracks from the West in Hi-STANDARD’s tried-and-true pop punk style, not all that different from the songs of American novelty punk act Me First And The Gimme Gimmes.
9) Nulbarich – “NEW ERA” “NEW”
This band only started releasing material earlier this year and have become nothing less than an honest-to-god phenomenon, becoming the Apple Music Artist of the Week within two days of the release of their debut album in early October. They have been slated to perform at Billboard Live Osaka in late December and share the bill with the J-Pop/J-Rock hybrid group Lucky Tapes, who have been active for the past two years.
Nulbarich too prides itself on the blending of genres, such as pop, acid jazz, soul and funk, so it makes sense that their name also be a portmanteau of sorts, combining the contents of an entire phrase (“null but rich”) into one word. The phrase represents the band’s ultimate goal in bringing soul and substance to the music industry, which they see as a formless and meaningless void.
8) 秦基博 – “70億のピース” “NEW”
This song is being used as the new opening theme song for the long-running TV Asahi episodic mystery series 土曜ワイド劇場, or Saturday Night At The Theater— Japan’s response to The NBC Mystery Movie, which ended in 1977, the exact same year of the initial broadcast of 土曜ワイド劇場. Another shared attribute is that both series relied on semi-famous character actors from their respective nations for their rotating casts.
Two months ago, 秦基博 participated in the ten-hour TV Asahi live music special, Music Station Ultra Fes 2016, alongside a host of Japan Top 10’s perennial favorite artists, like 宇多田ヒカル, 三代目 J Soul Brothers, from Exile Tribe, miwa, 西野カナ, SEKAI NO OWARI and one of 秦基博’s biggest influences: J-Rock band エレファントカシマシ.
7) 中田ヤスタカ – “NANIMONO (featuring 米津玄師)” “NEW”
This song — “何者” — is the theme song for the film of the same name, for which 中田ヤスタカ has composed the score. The film brings together director 三浦大輔 and director of photography Daisuke Sôma for the very first time. Sôma is known for being a hired-gun cinematographer that has worked with the some of the most skilled modern Japanese auteurs, like 園子温, SABU and 蜷川 実花.
米津玄師 was originally a Vocaloid music composer working under the pseudonym ハチ. This song marks the inaugural occurrence of 米津玄師 contributing his considerable talents as a vocalist to the work of another artist. Although he is the sole writer of the lyrics, in an interview, 米津玄師 made it clear that he approached the invitation to collaborate with a certain degree of anxiety. However, he says, in the end, he felt a sense of relief following the track’s eventual release.
6) SEKAI NO OWARI – “Hey Ho” “NEW”
Revenue acquired from purchases of this single is planned to be donated in full to the Zero Japan Project to fund the construction of no-kill shelters for stray domestic animals. The project seeks to reach its financial goal by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The project’s name come from its mission statement: to reduce the number of stray dogs and cats killed in Japan to zero.
The lyrics for this song were the result of a collaboration between keyboardist Saori and vocalist/guitarist Fukase. Fukase supplied the voice of the Vocaloid bearing his name manufactured by Yamaha; it is the first-ever bilingual Yamaha Vocaloid. His actual visual representation was decided via an online competition, although minor changes were made to the winning design before its official public unveiling.
5) THE YELLOW MONKEY – “砂の塔” “NEW”
This song — “砂の塔” — is being used as the opening theme for the TBS drama of the same name. The show makes liberal use of drama veterans such as 横山めぐみ and 松嶋菜々子, the latter coming fresh off her turn as the titular character in 営業部長 吉良奈津子. This is the first drama tie-in song associated with THE YELLOW MONKEY since they contributed the theme song to the TBS drama 職員室 nineteen years ago, which featured, in a supporting role, none other than… 横山めぐみ!
This is the first single released by THE YELLOW MONKEY in a whole fifteen years. The final single they released before they disbanded — “プライマル。” — made its way back to the charts earlier this year upon the issuance of the official report that the band was reuniting, and was actually the #10 song on the very first Japan Top 10 Countdown I, Will, hosted.
4) RADWIMPS – “前前前世” -3
Further details have been revealed regarding RADWIMPS’ upcoming studio album they have planned to release in the wake of the success of the 君の名は。original motion picture soundtrack. It is to be titled 人間開花, which can be roughly translated into English as Human In Bloom. “前前前世” will be one of two songs from the 君の名は。soundtrack that will be re-released in new versions on the album, the other being “Sparkle.”
This year, RADWIMPS vocalist 野田洋次郎 rebooted his electronica solo project illion with a single he dropped in July and a full-length album from last month entitled P.Y.L. A majority of the songs on the album are sung in English, although one of the Japanese-language deep cuts is available for streaming on the Japan Top 10 website, where you can read my review of it as well.
3) サカナクション – “多分、風。” “NEW”
This song was used in commercials to promote Shiseido’s new line of sunscreens, Anessa, which has been released with a choice of formulas: “Perfect” and “Essence.” It was confirmed as being waterproof by an eighty-minute “Water Resistance Test” and reportedly becomes even more effective when exposed to water. It is officially certified by Cosme, Japan’s online authority on all cosmetic products.
The name of the band is a bilingual portmanteau intended to convey the band’s collective desire to demonstrate in their creative output the speed and grace of a fish in motion and a fearless, proactive attitude in the face of ongoing changes in the music industry; it combines the Japanese word for fish (“魚”) with the English word “action.”
2) 宇多田ヒカル – “道” “NEW”
This song opens 宇多田ヒカル’s latest studio album, Fantôme, and although it has been hailed as the most upbeat song on the record, it manages to make direct references to the passing of 宇多田’s mother three years ago, and exhibits 宇多田’s capacity for optimism in a tragic period of her life with lyrics that that offer herself (and her audience) the assurance that she is “not alone.”
In late September, 宇多田ヒカル went on the music program NHK Songs to perform this song, “花束を君に” and a song entitled “ともだち” that tells a story of unrequited love written from the perspective of a gay person who has feelings for a straight acquaintance. 宇多田 was accused of exploiting the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community, although she has been a supporter of those who live alternative lifestyles for as long as six years now. She took to Twitter to defend her song, saying: “To say gay people can only be understood and portrayed by other gay people is sad and alienating.”
1) 星野源 – “恋” +5
This song is being used as the theme song for the TBS drama 逃げるは恥だが役に立つ, which, in English, can be translated as We Married As A Job! 星野源 actually plays the male lead in the drama. Fans of his acting can also see him currently in the NHK samurai drama 真田丸, in which he has a supporting role as the real-life second shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, 徳川 秀忠.
星野源 has found other, creative ways of blending his career as a J-Pop artist with his love of acting. The limited-edition CD/DVD combo pack for this single includes a short film detailing a songwriting trip to Ishigaki Island in Okinawa conducted by a long-haired comedic alter ego of his named “ニセ明,” who previously made an appearance in the promotional video for 星野源’s last single, “SUN.”
J-Rock Extra: ONE OK ROCK- “(You Can Do) Everything”
This song is a deep cut off ONE OK ROCK’s debut album ゼイタクビョウ, which, rendered into English, means Luxury Criticism. It is the album that displays the group’s roots in punk more than any of their records onward, although the band made the choice to actually explore a wide range of emotions with this record, going from quiet and subdued to wild and noisy within the space of a single song.
ONE OK ROCK brings together a host of different influences, from J-Rock trio RIZE to American funk-rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers to rap-rock group Zebrahead to pop punk band Good Charlotte. However, vocalist/guitarist Toru has made it clear in the past that the feeling he gets from playing live music is completely different from listening to recordings, and cites the sensation he feels from the very activity of performing live as the catalyst for his increased fascination with music.
J-Drama Theme Extra: Superfly – “99”
This song is being used as the opening theme for the fourth season of the ongoing TV Asahi medical drama ドクターX: 外科医・大門未知子. To date, all four opening themes have been performed by Superfly. 米倉涼子 has won Best Actress at the Nikkan Sports Drama Grand Prix for her role as freelance surgeon 大門未知子 — the eponymous heroine of the series — three years in a row.
Four years ago, Superfly participated in the one-off charity project Japan United With Music, which also featured artistic contributions from Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, 布袋寅泰, miwa and AI, among others. They recorded a cover of The Beatles’ own charity single “All You Need Is Love.” The proceeds from purchases of the single were donated to health organizations striving to assist those affected by the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake.
‘90s J-Pop Flashback: Boom Boom Satellites – “On The Painted Desert – Rampant Colors” (from your friendly neighborhood music director Jordan)
This song was released in 1995; it was the first piece of music by Boom Boom Satellites to ever become commercially available. It was re-released in 1999 as an EP which included remixes of this track from one of the pioneers of Japanese hip-hop — DJ Krush — and the number-one contender for the inventor of downtempo, 高木完, who “reconstructed” the track under the moniker Sandwicked.
Boom Boom Satellites was an electronic music duo made up of bassist and drum machine programmer 中野 雅之, and vocalist and guitarist 川島 道行. The band ended its activities earlier this year out of concern for the failing health of 川島 道行, who contributed largely to the group’s unique sound with a crunchy, moderately distorted guitar sound that melded perfectly with the wall of synthesizers that gave the band their experimental edge, never more properly represented than by this track. The band gleefully tread the line between acid house and alternative rock, never settling into one style for too long. Last month, 川島 道行 passed away, unfortunately succumbing to his brain tumors. He is survived by his wife, actress 須藤理彩, and his two daughters. He was truly one of the greats, and left behind a legacy of adventurous music.
Just look up into the night sky tonight, and should you see a swirling monochrome nebula spitting up dancing multicolored orbs of light, you will now know who that is.
Rest in peace, 川島 道行.