Few people are sad to see 2016 go, perhaps justifiably so – but it wasn’t all bad. This year had no shortage of wonderful music released, and so Memories of Shibuya is looking back on 5 of the best songs to come out in 2016. Streaming options aren’t available for all songs, but links will be provided where available.
5. Sakanaction – “Rookie (Hiroshi Fujiwara remix)” (from Tabun, Kaze)
Sakanaction’s sole release this year, the Tabun, Kaze maxi-single boasted strong A and B-sides, but it was the bonus remix from fashion designer and canonical Shibuya-kei musician Hiroshi Fujiwara that really stole the show. Starting out with a bass-heavy dub groove that picks up in tempo as the rhythm and instrumentation changes and evolves throughout its 5 thrilling minutes, Fujiwara’s superior take on “Rookie” is one of the rare remixes that improves upon the original so dramatically that one is likely to forget what the original even sounded like.
“Rookie (Hiroshi Fujiwara remix)” is not available for free streaming in full, but you can sample the song at Amazon Japan.
4. For Tracy Hyde – “SnoWish; Lemonade” (from Film Bleu)
In an era in which bedroom producers have more, and better, tools available to them than ever before, it’s easy to wonder what the use of a conventional studio really is. However, outside of those musical genres where everything is made in a computer, or those in which lo-fi aesthetics are key to the appeal, the studio is no less vital to great-sounding music than it ever has been. The members of For Tracy Hyde spared no expense in producing Film Bleu, and the difference that the professional recordings make is palpable. “SnoWish; Lemonade” was originally released on their Bandcamp EP In Fear of Love, with the pseudonymous “Lovely Summer-chan” providing vocals on the original recording. The re-recorded version, with new vocalist Eureka replacing Lovely Summer, is immensely crisper and more professional-sounding, lending the song’s lovably quirky blend of Madchester beats and anime-inspired vocal arrangements the clarity it deserves.
The re-recorded version of “SnoWish; Lemonade” is not available for free streaming, but you can preview and purchase the album at iTunes.
3. Kiki Vivi Lily – “Goes All Right” (from Lovin’ You)
Kiki Vivi Lily’s album is the virtual definition of “came out of nowhere.” With her only semi-fame coming from covering former BiS member Yufu Terashima’s song “80 Denier no Koi” under the moniker “Yurika,” her previous originals had largely been melodramatic singer-songwriter fare of the pleasant, yet generic sort. However, on her Lovin’ You album, along with adopting a new name, she swapped the singer-songwriter pose for what she describes as “Blossom Dearie meets hip-hop.” Taking obvious cues from ’90s Shibuya-kei, Lovin’ You is a tidy suite of 6 songs sure to make any Shibuya-kei fan smile, with the sunny ’70s ambiance of Pizzicato Five soundalike “Goes All Right” a particular highlight. “Goes All Right” doesn’t challenge any conceptions of the genre, but the Shibuya-kei formula hasn’t lost any of its appeal; if this is “Setagaya-kei” (as the YouTube description for the Lovin’ You preview calls it), then one can only hope Setagaya brings more like her to the scene.
“Goes All Right” and the rest of Lovin’ You can be previewed on YouTube.
2. Takeshi Nakatsuka – “JAPANESE BOY” (from EYE)
Takeshi Nakatsuka’s masterful songcraft has never won him the degree of recognition and acclaim that it deserves, but that has never once stopped the man from doing his very best anyways. This year’s EYE was his first original album since 2013’s Lyrics, although he’s been consistently putting out new work at a nearly constant pace since the late ’90s. With its upbeat jazz musicianship, heavily-processed vocals and atmosphere of effectively controlled chaos, “JAPANESE BOY” recalls the best of early Shibuya-kei without ever seeming as if Nakatsuka’s merely retracing his footsteps. While the term “Shibuya-kei” is often associated with a more laid-back style, it’s worth noting that the more raucous elements have always been a key part of the music, and Nakatsuka shows that Shibuya-kei most certainly knows how to get down.
1. Metafive – “Peach Pie” (from Metahalf)
Metafive doesn’t always work. Most of Meta and some of Metahalf was devoted to songs that never quite found their groove, ones that, whatever the reason, never really were all they could be. However, when everything did click, the results were electric, and nowhere else across Metafive’s dual 2016 releases did it click as soundly as it did on Metahalf highlight “Peach Pie.” Combining uneasy palm-muted guitars, analog synthesizers and some especially well-deployed live drum breaks to provide the perfect backing to Leo Imai’s best vocal performance across the two Metafive albums. His usual rock-star swagger occasionally gives way to paranoid ranting in the David Byrne vein, and the English lyrics aren’t even as awkward as Metafive lyrics so often are.
“Peach Pie” can be sampled at Amazon Japan.