To be specific: albums that were released in Japan. A couple of things to note: I have not carried out a comprehensive search throughout all Japanese modern music to find the best thirteen albums. It is just the result of my somewhat random ramble through the world of J-pop.This is why some big names are missing (Southern All-Stars and Utada Hiraku, for example) and there’s not much before the year 2000. And I know thirteen is an strange number for a chart (lucky I’m not superstitious), but after this I couldn’t think of anything else that could compete. All of these albums have, at one time or another, lived in my mp3 player for months at a time on high rotation. Bless them all.
13. Comeback My Daughters “Outta Here” (2011)
This blend of easy-going guitar driven pop is charming and catchy in all the right places.
By the way, if I had to recommend one video from this page, it would be this one...
12. Zerii “No need” (2001)
This was their second album and it was to be their finest hour. Well, just over half an hour, anyway. Mind you, I haven’t heard their first album: This isn’t the easiest band to find on the internet. To do so, you need to search for ゼリ→ otherwise you get a load of links to pages about jelly. It’s a blistering punk blast, with occasional overtones of ska.
11. Dragon Ash “Harvest” (2003)
Mixing rock and rap is notoriously difficult. Either the rap is clumsy or the rock is plodding and dull. Not here. Dragon Ash nail this perfectly, drifting from stomping balls-out anthems to quiet, thoughtful musings. And, sometimes, both at the same time.
10. Hitomi Yaida “Candlize” (2001)
Hitomi Yaida was one of the very first Japanese artists I discovered. She can always be relied on for great singles, but this was the time when it all came together for a whole CD: her second album has no weak tracks and is awesome pop goodness from start to finish.
9. Kokia “moment” (2011)
I once read an article or blog post about Kokia saying that your favourite album of hers would probably be the first one you heard. Well, that’s true in this case. Maybe it was the shock of such a great voice matched with those songs that enchanted me. Whatever, no other album of hers has had the same effect on me. This is a glorious celebration of her voice.
8. Missile Girl Scoot “Fiesta” (2000)
While researching this list, I noticed that this CD was on sale on Amazon at a mere $52. I mean, it’s great, but is it $52-worth of great?
This metal-rap-punk-ska hybrid hit the ground running with their debut album. A searing blend of two female vocalists (yes, they’re both female) over some grunge riffs, ska rhythms and irresistible songs.
7. Specialthanks “Seven Lovers” (2011)
Honestly, this is exactly the kind of band I always wished existed. A super-cute female lead singer backed with some joyous punk-pop. There really is nothing else to add.
6. Girls Generation “Girls Generation II: Girls and Peace” (2012)
I think the problem I have with Girls Generation is that I always expect every release to be a slice of pop genius, which it rarely is, although I usually like it. This album is the one time that Girls’ Generation matched my expectations. Light, frothy and fun, it is an undeniably adorable collection of great pop choons.
5. James Iha “Linda Linda Linda OST” (2005)
James Iha’s contribution to the soundtrack of the film Linda Linda Linda was pivotal to it’s atmosphere. The sense of motionlessness that somehow heightened the sense of nostalgia. Like the sound of a distant band practice echoing down school corridors, his ambient pieces are beautiful and also somehow hypnotic.
4. Veltpunch “Black Album” (2010)
This tangle of guitars and choruses was my album of the year not so long ago. It remains a favourite of mine. It's awkward, experimental feel means I never get tired of it.
3. Faye Wong “Sing and Play” (1998)
This was recorded at the height of Faye Wong's infatuation with the Scottish band Cocteau Twins. Faye Wong’s voice is at her most ethereal, riding through spell-binding choruses on swooping walls of synthesisers. (Sorry about the lapse into bad poetry, but that’s the sort of thing this music will do to you.)
2. Bump of Chicken “Orbital Period” (2007)
Bump Of Chicken’s obsession with astronomy reaches an artistic peak with this album. It is perhaps their most gentle album, with many of the songs beginning with a phrase picked out on acoustic guitar before growing into a life-affirming crescendo.
1. Supercar “Highvision” (2002)
It wasn’t until I moved to London in 1998 that I really discovered Japanese culture. Without the internet, there was really no way for J-pop to reach me in my suburban commuter-belt town. However, I’d always been kind of fascinated by it, ever since my brother came back from a holiday there during the 1980s and said it was the closest you could get to leaving the planet.
This album sounds like how I imagined Japan in those early years. Sleek, futuristic, minimalist. Now I know Japan a little better, I realise that's quite unlike the real thing, but when I listen to “Highvision” I’m taken back to that futuristic idea of Japan where driverless taxis glide past and couples wearing space-age clothes speed upwards in transparent elevators to the hyper-restaurant on the 110th floor. Bliss.