Like with every year, 2016 had its fair share of ups and downs. But, as for many of us, good music has been there to help see us through both the good times and the bad times. So, before we say “sayonara” to 2016, we, the JROCK NEWS team, wanted to share with you all which releases we thought deserved mention for keeping us rockin’ through the year! In no particular order, here’s our very diverse list of the best releases of the year!
In a year plagued with disbandments, injuries and even arrests, 2016 has been a year in which some upcoming new bands have had their chance to make a mark on the visual kei scene. And despite fantastic new albums from other genres, like Aimer’s beautiful daydream and MIYAVI’s latest catchy release FIRE BIRD, for me it’s one of these new bands that captured my attention the most this year. At quite a late entry, I’m here to shout out RAZOR’s mini-album RED INVISIBLE which released at the end of November.
For those of you unfamiliar, this promising line-up has a fair pedigree in the visual kei scene: currently “on-hiatus” Sadie guitarist Tsurugi, ex-members of My BACTERIA HEAT IsLAND, and perhaps most interestingly former BORN vocalist Ryouga (who was, if you remember, the very reason said band disbanded due to his loss of interest). I was cautiously optimistic to see how this combination of veteran musicians worked together, but most interested to find out if Ryouga could shake off that vocal style he had created with BORN’s unique sound. And well, either he took some vocal lessons in the intervening time frame, or he’s been hiding his skill from us this whole time. The strong cleans and deeper ranges of growls and screams were such a surprise that I almost had to check if this was the same guy. Add to that the great arrangements, full sound and catchy choruses and RED INVISIBLE has been on repeat since it arrived in the mail. I can’t wait to see how they hold up live at their tour final in January.
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me well that my favorite band in recent years is DADAROMA. They have been consistently phenomenal with heavy hitters like Velka & Strelka (ベルカとストレルカ) and Morphine#3 (モルヒネ♯3), beautiful ballads like Tsuki no Uta (月のうた) and Neji (螺子), and dramatic masterpieces like their debut Oboreru Sakana (溺れる魚) and my all-time favorite Lucid Dream (ルシッド•ドリーム). So what keeps them from hitting the top spot this year? Well, for a fan like me who is hanging on their every release, their so-called “best album” Stanczyk (スタンチク) contained a few too many old tracks to earn the number one position. For new fans however, I can’t recommend it enough, and their other singles this year Yumetarareba (夢タラレバ) and the powerful Zouka to Kalashnikov (造花とカラシニコフ) are also well worth a listen.
2016 has been one heck of a year and reflecting upon that, there are two memories I can fondly recall. First, is watching the mystery supernatural-themed anime “Boku Dake ga Inai Machi” (which was also known as ERASED) throwing plot twists and cliffhangers like nobodies business. The second was freaking out when I heard the re-recorded version of ASIAN KUNG FU GENERATION. The original Re:Re: has long been a personal favorite when it first came out on sol-fa, but dear lord you can hear how the band has taken their time to mature and become far more technically apt when you hear this 2016 version. The layers of this revised track is deep and full of rich layers. The vocals are smooth like a good whiskey, and the instruments have the just the right amount of funk and aggression. My senses are completely overwhelmed with joy. How can this track be made better while maintaining the essence of the original? Bands rarely can achieve this, so I strongly believe this one is very well deserved single of the year.
This year we have the ever excelling the GazettE who released UNDYING in April. Sakanaction recently hit us with a quirky music video for Tabun, Kaze, and last but not least A crow is white’s album Back to the Future was on repeat for the bitter sweet track Mahoujin Yori Ai Wo Komete in particular.
SiM graced us once again this year with a solid album, one that relegated MAH’s harsh vocals aside, for the most part, in order to give clean vocals an even stronger spotlight. Songs like Life is Beautiful show how much the band has matured, and how much the band has come over the years. Proof of that was the band’s first performance in the US at Knotfest earlier this year, which had been MAH’s long-life dream all this time. So thumbs-up for SiM, and here’s hoping next year will bring us more awesome music from the band.
My god, there’s so many bands that could’ve taken the number one spot for me, some being The Peggies with their Sputnik single, The GazettE with UNDYING, Crystal Lake with True North, Band-Maid with YOLO, THE NOVEMBERS with Hallelujah, and The Black Swan with PERSONA. All these releases were top-notch—albums that were on repeat for weeks and weeks. Generally, this year was filled with great releases, and some of these bands already have releases planned for early next year, so I can’t wait for my ears to be graced by their amazing music.
2016, a year filled with musical bliss for fans of Matenrou Opera (摩天楼オペラ). They released Chikyu, an album that redefined my workout playlist. A digital single Honoo no Hito that I listen to for hours. A DVD of their The Elements tour final that makes me wish I was there. Two best albums, and their first work without guitarist Anzi: PHOENIX RISING (and that hard to get live-limited single if you want to get technical).
Among those releases, PHOENIX RISING stands tall above the others with éclat and serves as the perfect representative of their current mindset: to move forward. And that’s precisely what this mini-album does; it takes you on a journey fueled by gorgeous melodies, emotive vocals, vibrant, uplifting synths, frenetic dual drums, flowing basslines and electrifying guitar skills by Leda (Far East Dizain). I cannot recommend it enough, and I can’t wait to see where they take us next!
This year’s runner-up goes to THE BLACK SWAN for putting out their dramatic album OUSIA; an unrelentingly dark masterpiece that has me mesmerized dozens of spins later. However, If you prefer lighter rock with fun themes, I recommend GIGAMOUS for their solid effort on Super Strong Magnets!
Not much of a shocker here. Some of you who read regularly know that I already covered this release earlier this year. Simply put, Deviloof brought a lot to the table. PURGE was consistent with their theme and consistent as an album. Heavy from start to finish, Keisuke and the gang brought their damn A-game and really blew me away. Deviloof has really set themselves apart with everything down to their lyrics, which make me want to tear the head off a Barbie doll. If you want to break some stuff or just want to feel like breaking things while you bang your head give this one a listen. You won’t be let down. Unless you’re not into the most violent and brutal visual kei band in the world.
For a better look into Mazo’s great picks try REOL’s amazing new album Sigma. Or, get your shoegaze/nagoya kei on with some of Aie’s latest work with Raison d’ȇtre et de sang from KEEL and after the addle apple from the god and death stars. Utafumi by DIR EN GREY also came out, no big deal.
So I thought it would be really difficult to pick one favorite release, but I decided to go for Xaa Xaa (ザアザア) quite quickly. This band released a lot this year, which isn’t always a good sign. But in their case, I enjoyed every single release, as I really like how they worked with themes. The mini album Ame ni Korosareru (雨に殺される) is about rain and I think it’s both funny and sad how vocalist Kazuki sings about the rain “killing him” in the title song. And even though this album is themed, it’s certainly not boring as each song has a different sound. Also, I honestly like how vocalist Kazuki sounds a bit dramatic sometimes, and I really recommend their dark but catchy singles Kamisori (カミソリ) as well as Dosuguroi (どす黒い) (I’m a sucker for Japanese male whispering. Sorry, not sorry.), which came out this year, too. Now, what will they do next?
Other favorites this year for me were from some bigger names, such as SOLOIST by Kiyoharu (清春) and Virgin Vibration by HAKUEI (PENICILLIN’s vocalist). Of course, I have to mention my all time favorite the GazettE with their amazing single UNDYING, including the B-sides Malum and Vacant which aren’t much less amazing than the title song. And last but not least from a band that I’ve been following closely this year too: Avanchick’s (アヴァンチック) first full album Ashita Moshi Sekai ga Owattemo (明日もし世界が終わっても). I didn’t pick this one as my favorite because it contains several songs that were released as singles more than a year ago. Well, I can’t wait to see what our jrockers will bring us next year!
A lot of interesting releases came out this year, while a lot of them sounded great, not many of them actually stood out to me. Out of these “interesting” releases that I’ve come by, my number one pick would be NoisyCell’s latest mini-album Colors.
What I really liked about this album is the great sense of balance between the sound of melodic, progressive, and the subtle electronic rock. It’s not too heavy, and it’s not too soft either, the balance is simply perfect for my taste. The usage of scream vocals are used only as accents, the guitars swing vigorously to its own accord, while the drums back the rest of the band up by creating dramatic tension. The best track from the album was without a doubt Black Smoke with its ridiculously catchy jazzy synth intro!
Like any of the previous work of NoisyCell, this too was produced by Pablo from the (now tragically disbanded) band Pay Money to My Pain. Ironically, one of the biggest reason I really liked this album is because it didn’t sound as “noisy”, compared to their older releases. This is unlike the grainy a distorted sound they used in the past, the mastering on Colors is so much more clean and clear.
As for the runner-up releases, I’ve chosen Shoujo Byou’s album Kyousei Meridie and REOL’s album Sigma. Technically Shoujo Byou’s album was released in mid-2015, but I only found out about the album early 2016 (otherwise that would be my number one pick). REOL, who I picked as my top release last year, released a very strong candidate this year; unfortunately, the album wasn’t as solid as I’d hope.
Even though there is easily one forgettable song that is skippable and four others that have been released previously, it’s forgiven as they meld so well with the release. The absolute joy this one album has given me simply cannot be described in so little words, so I’ll do my best to write sum it up.
The basslines are infectious, going from funky, bluesy to even disco, the guitar is fast and catchy, the delivery of the lyrics and use of repetition sticks is memorable while the drums work well in keeping everything together. It ticks all of my mental boxes.
The band sounded nothing like they did all those years ago, but now with what is their first major album, I can only hope that they continue in this direction. Their music videos about the songs on this album are also really fun, so I do recommend watching them for maximum aural pleasure!
Shout out for the runner’s up goes to DADAROMA once again after absolutely blowing it out of the water with their mini-album dadaism#2, their best-of album Stanczyk (スタンチク) followed by single Yume Tarareba (夢タラレバ). Then there was DIV and their final release, EDR Tokyo because despite the complete u-turn in musical direction and the possible backlash it may have caused, the mini-album turned out to be surprisingly darn good.
Another was THE BEAUTiFUL PEOPLE by SiM that once again proved that Mah’s marvelous wordplay, storytelling, and lyrics along with some great instrumentation made it an awesome follow-up from their last album, PANDORA. A few more worth a mention are ZeTeS by NOCTURNAL BLOODLUST in all of its intensity, catchiness, and outstanding choruses, Kabuku EP by tricot, one such release that is bound to get you jumping or bobbing along, and Seijyo towa and Mura from develop one’s faculties.
However, I don’t think this list would be complete without mentioning girugamesh, who we covered extensively over the course of the year and released an absolute stunner of a send-off in the form of chimera that could have been considered a return to form in some cases. This was, of course, all before unfortunately announcing their disbandment which led to their equally brilliant last single, period.
Thank you all for reading, sharing, supporting and all that jazz! We hope to see you all again next year as we have some huge announcements on its way, very very soon!
Year 2017, here we come!