Oh yes, 2023, what was going on then?! For me it is the best year of music since at least 2012, and it is even a year of music like I have never had in my life. This is not because so many great new albums would have been released in 2023, but rather because a whole new world has opened up for me with the Japanese music market, which I had only marginally noticed until now.

In recent years I had become increasingly dissatisfied with my music consumption; Somehow everything revolved around the well-known Western (indie/wave) channels, which no longer really made me happy. Therefore, Japan was something like a life preserver for me, which took me to some new shores for me. Shoegaze also sounds interesting again from Japan, but I've just started listening to some jazz or 70's folk, or math rock, prog metal, poetry rap… A certain eclecticism is inherent in many artists in Japan, what makes it so exciting. Singers like Sheena Ringo or Ano, or bands like BABYMETAL or Gesu no kiwami otome are particularly outstanding examples that have no stylistic restrictions and always surprise.

So far, you've been able to hunt me down with jazz, but since jazz-like influences often appear in Japanese music – even in seemingly banal chart pop songs; sometimes clearly, sometimes subtly with a few interspersed Japanese chord sequences or unexpected rhythm changes – I couldn't escape it at all. And at some point this sound develops a certain appeal that increasingly hooks me. What distinguishes music from Japan in my ears is that complex song structures are combined with catchy melodies – something that is somewhat frowned upon in the West. However, it takes time to get used to the fact that in Japan the musical clock sometimes ticks differently and people don't always follow the patterns we're used to. It took me a good two years and I worked my way up slowly, but at some point from the end of 2022 I was finally really ready for it.

last.fm provides the bare facts – I listened to more music in 2023 than I have since 2007. Of the 50 most listened to songs, 47 come from Japan, mostly older ones. When it comes to the most listened to artists, 24 of the top 25 are Japanese. I've never been so geolocally one-sided, and stylistically more diverse than usual, but it's a special situation that will certainly “normalize” again over the next few years.

According to my last.fm profile, these are my most listened to songs in 2023:

(For those who can't decipher the Japanese characters: 1st place is YAPOOS/Jun Togawa, 9th, 11th & 14th place is Gesu no kiwami otome, 15th place is Sheena Ringo and 19th place is Atashi.)

Normally it doesn't make much sense to explicitly present the most listened to songs again, because so far there has been a pretty consistent match with my annual song charts, but since so many songs come from previous years this time, I want to explicitly highlight at least a few of them again For the first time, I will write two blog posts just about the songs:

1. Jun Togawa «Punk Pupation Woman (live)» (YAPOOS/Jun Togawa «Panku sanagika no on'na») [1986/87] (You have to know that YAPOOS is the wave/post-punk band of the avant garde artist and enfant terrible of the Japanese music scene Jun Togawa, who actually has an extremely variable and powerful voice – but in this song she intentionally primarily screams and croaks; can almost pass as a punk parody. If only Pachelbel had lived to see that. 😉

4. indigo la End «Forget Bouquet»Wasurete hanataba») [2015] (one of Enon Kawatani's 3 main bands, who is extremely busy and has written many great songs (also for other acts); indigo is his indie rock group, and the song here reminds me of the best Mew times.)

3. REBECCA «FRIENDS» [1985] (One of the biggest 80s hits in Japan; is still covered by young bands today. I found it a bit cheesy at first, but it developed into an absolute catchy tune for me. The underlying melancholy is great.)

5. Kaneko Ayano – Romance Declaration (Ayano Kaneko «Romance Sengen») [2019] (my most listened to artist of the year and also my top new discovery. This song went viral thanks to a meme, but it's just great – fluffy, snappy and funny.)

7. SUPERCAR «LUCKY» [1998] (The typical British sound between shoegaze and 80s Sara Rec. singing can hardly be better captured than with this song. Basically perfect Britpop, just from Japan.)

9. Gesu no Kiwami Otome «Otonachik» (Gesu no kiwami otome «Otonachikku») [2015] (another Enon Kawatani band – and for me one of the revelations and best new discoveries of 2023. I love their jazzy sound, even with a few funk bass lines, but also pop appeal and a look into the experimental. And all of them, really all of her videos are cool and original.)

12. ATARASHII GAKKO! «If you are lost, you are precious» Mayoeba tōtoshi») [2019] (I have AG! I actually met them in 2020, but I couldn't do much with their jazzy and somewhat strange (and extremely varied) sound back then. There is a lot to write about this group – they fall under the heading of “anti-idol” and for me they are basically punks in school uniforms with their anarchic humor – definitely one of the most interesting and entertaining groups in the world at the moment (at least in my world ;- ).)

15. Ringo Shiina «Crime and Punishment» (live) (Sheena Ringo «Tsumitobachi / Crime and Punishment») [2015] (Sheena Ringo is an absolute icon of the Japanese music scene, is celebrating her 25th stage anniversary this year and, as already mentioned above, is certainly one of the most stylistically versatile artists (from jazz to pop to rock), with an amazing voice and always elegant and stylish . With her uncompromising way of not conforming to chart trends, she has influenced and inspired many younger artists. It's actually incredible (and somewhat tragic) that someone with so much talent (she writes to us) produces her own music Songs for other artists and also plays guitar and bass in an equally successful rock band called Tokyo Jihen) which is hardly known outside of Japan.)

And as a bonus, a few more songs that I also enjoyed a lot this year:

Sokoninaru «Tenohira De Odoru» [2018] (This trio falls into the category “MathCore/MathRock”, and until now I didn't like such music because it was too hectic for me. But now I think some of it is great, and especially Sokoninaru, who are all outstandingly good musicians, can do it , combining wild, chaotic structures with ear-pleasing melodies.)

Mayumi Kojima «Poltergeist» [2003] (a Japanese jazz and rocksteady singer who has written some really great songs, like this one, which is from 2003, but from the video it could also be from the 1950s/60s. That's the famous Japanese humor. 🙂

samayuzame «Apocalypse Now» [2021] (This Japanese electronic artist writes and produces all of her music herself – her style is difficult to describe, but it has strong experimental features and, as is often the case, jazz influences also appear. Great video too.)

ano «F*** wonderful world» [2021] (and a little shocker at the end ;-). Ano is a very colorful singer who was once in an idol group, but has always done punk and has really weird sounds, especially in her early solo songs like this one, even though she looks so childlike, as if she couldn't muddy the waters . She even had a No. 1 hit on the Japanese pop charts this year, with Ano's typical weirdness. Unfortunately her voice isn't that great, otherwise I'd be an even bigger fan. Her indie rock band I's, in which she's still active, is also pretty great, see below with a song that's a bit reminiscent of Kent.)

I's «My Spring» [2021]

Source: https://coast-is-clear.blogspot.com/2023/12/der-groe-coast-is-clear-jahresruckblick.html

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