Recently I happened to get my hands on some very interesting compilations of Japanese pop/rock music. Japan For Sale is a series of comps that profile popular Japanese “alternative” bands of the non-Jpop variety (i.e. no pop idols or anime music). The comps are released by Sony Music Japan, so many of the same artists show up on each volume. Nevertheless, Japan For Sale gives a rare glimpse into the state of Japanese popular music and the tremendous amount of innovation happening within the Japanese music scene.
While most of the songs on the Japan For Sale comps are heavily weighted towards dance and techno music, other styles are represented as well, including hip-hop, pop, rock and even dub reggae. A few of the bands featured on Japan for Sale include: Boom Boom Satellites, an electro-pop duo that has achieved a measure of worldwide fame; DJ Krush, an internationally famous hip-hop producer who has recorded with numerous artists worldwide; Polysics, a spazzy pop group who take many cues from Devo, including their onstage attire; L’Arc-en-ciel, one of Japan’s most popular mainstream rock bands; Brilliant Green, a popular alternative pop band; Aco, whose haunting music makes her the Japanese equivalent of Bjork; and Supercar, an eclectic group that would appeal to fans of Brit Pop.
The fourth volume of Japan for Sale hits stores tomorrow, and while the previous three volumes are very good, Volume 4 is probably the best, and the easiest to aquire. Tofu Records is the American distributor for Vol. 4. You can also buy new and used copies of Japan for Sale through the Amazon link to the left.
Japanese mega girl-pop group Puffy AmiYumi (also adequately represented on the Japan for Sale series) has their own animated series premiering on Cartoon Network next month (For those of you who watch plenty of CN, Puffy AmiYumi did the theme song to the show “Teen Titans”). Puffy AmiYumi has a gleefully unrestrained, 60s-influenced pop sound that indie pop fans would be very comfortable with. The duo is huge in Japan, which would probably explain why they have their own cartoon show.
Although Japanese popular music has made little headway in America, it’s interesting to observe that the most popular Japanese artists in America tend to be the most interesting, unusual or extreme. Prime examples include Shonen Knife, Pizzicato Five, The Boredoms, Melt Banana, Guitar Wolf and the ridiculously prolific noise-pioneer Merzbow. Japan for Sale lays out the middle ground between these underground Japanese artists and the manufactured J-pop adored by American anime fans.
Due to the language barrier, it is difficult to find good information on the Japanese popular music scene. Rock of Japan is the best online English resource I can find on Japanese rock music. Below are a handful of mp3’s from the Japan for Sale series.
Tommy Heavenly^6 - Swear (Vol 4)
Matally - Four Seasons VS Yo-Yo C. (Vol 3)
Polysics - New Wave Jacket (Vol 2)
Puffy AmiYumi - Brand New Days (Vol 2 - bonus mp3!)
Supercar - White Surf Style No. 5 (Vol 1)