New music from Japan – Summer 2023 edition

Notable new Japanese releases

I swear, if it wasn’t for the arbitrary deadline of Bandcamp Friday, I’d probably never get around to finishing one of these things. Here’s a selection of music from these fine isles that has caught my attention over the past few months. No reissues this time (though Music from Memory’s Dream Dolphin compilation, released in March, is making a weird kind of sense now that we’re swimming in an interminable summer heatwave).

Atsuko Hatano

Bleeding Heart

It’s fitting that one of the tracks on this Bandcamp-only release by the formidable Atsuko Hatano is titled ‘funhouse mirror’. On these pieces for viola and Leslie speaker, she does some remarkable things with her instrument, making it ooze and wobble, smearing the contours until they’re barely recognisable. But unlike those albums that seem to dissipate into the air as you listen, this music remains tactile, tangible. It’s one of the most evocative things I’ve heard over the past few months, as startling as encountering Richard Skelton’s work for the first time – and just as distinctive. If you dig this, make sure to check out the album’s “mirrored, inverted sequel,” Ren Bin, which is also mighty fine.



Trying to describe Kukangendai’s music can send you running around in circles, which is what you’d expect from a band who are in a constant process of abstracting themselves. As Headz label boss Atsuki Sasaki writes in the liner notes for Tracks: “They make (or listen to) a difference in repetition and make a new repetition in the difference; they repeat a repetition (with difference) and a difference (with repetition) to yield an unexpected sound and euphony.” That’s either gibberish or the best explanation of the trio’s music that you could ask for. I’m not sure if Tracks is the “third great leap forward” that Sasaki claims, but it’s probably the first thing from the trio that I could actually (try to) dance to.



Maiko Okimoto likes to mix things up, though I wasn’t expecting the opening track on this EP for Tblisi nightclub KHIDI’s new “cross-genre” label to come on like Jaku-era DJ Krush. (Bonus points to anyone who manages to identify the uncredited MC.) The remainder is a push and pull between the dancefloor and weirder headspaces. A couple of tracks are propulsive enough to work in an adventurous techno set, but I’m more taken by the ones in which the rhythmic elements swirl in concentric circles, like space junk orbiting a dead planet.

Minor House

Outside the House in Kanazawa

(Kirigirisu Recordings)
This is a dandy artifact of a duo who apparently no longer exist. Minor House were a fixture at the Space Eauuu venue in Kobe, though their droning, gently psychedelic improvisations remind me of the ambient all-nighters that used to happen at Tokyo’s Bullets (RIP). There’s a whiff of Cluster to the duo’s shimmering, mostly static music. Interestingly, these pieces were captured al fresco at locations around Kanazawa, but recorded directly through the line input on a karaoke machine tape deck – meaning that the surroundings environments are felt rather than heard.


e o

Cero’s 2018 album Poly Life Multi Soul saw them break away from the sophistipop crowd, with songs full of complex rhythms and intricate vocal work. This long-overdue follow-up is more subdued – an album to put on at the end of the night, rather than at the beginning. As with much of the band’s work, it takes a few listens for the melodies to sink in, but the textures are instantly inviting. At times, e o recalls latterday Cornelius, both in its record-nerd sensibility (I can hear traces of everything from Brazilian MPB to footwork) and the way it makes the synthetic elements sound organic.


Dream in Dream

(Warner Music Japan)
Speaking of Cornelius... There was a time when new music from Keigo Oyamada would be a cause for delight, but that was before the revelations about bullying disabled classmates – which his apology and subsequent retraction didn’t do much to help. This would be less of an issue if Cornelius’s music didn’t depend so heavily on a sense of wide-eyed wonder. Despite the title, Dream In Dream actually feels like one of his more grounded efforts, so workmanlike in places that you could almost be listening to Sakanaction. There are some lovely moments (‘Drifts’ and ‘Out of Time’, for starters), but I’m finding it hard to get lost in this one. Available here.


Kross Iteration

(Slide Motion)
This is a fun one. It’s at the ravier end of the braindance spectrum, full of cubist polyrhythmic workouts that make you want to dance to three different beats at once. Parts of it bring to mind Rian Treanor or Gabor Lazar, but others are more like listening to a Jeff Mills banger spin off its axle. Stick around for the Limited Toss remix of ‘Left’, which busts out the breaks for some Cycheouts-style mutant junglist action.



I don’t DJ all that much, but whenever I play a track off Jap Kasai’s OWN ˚C, I can guarantee that someone will come up and ask what it is. Now going simply as Kasai, the Kyoto-based producer continues to refine his potent hybrid of minyo folksong and rubbery, Orange Milk-style electronics. Kasai’s oft-mentioned footwork influence is almost subliminal at this point: the rhythms are much closer to Bon Odori than Bangs & Works. He has a brilliant way with vocal samples, somehow preserving their integrity even when he’s pitch-shifting and chopping them to bits. But his methods can feel repetitive here: too many of the tracks follow a similar structure, steadily adding layers then grinding to a halt. I still love Kasai’s weirdo futurist folk, but I’m hoping he strips things back a little next time.

Iori Shoseki


I don’t know anything about Kumamoto’s Iori Shoseki, but there’s some interesting stuff going on in this succinct set of (possibly) bedroom-bound experimentation. The first couple of tracks stake out a spot somewhere between post-rock and isolationist ambient, pairing glum and strung-out guitar work with electronic treatments that provide some welcome crunch. There’s nothing to prepare you for the sudden detour into lo-fi acid folk later on – well, unless you heard Iori’s previous Mieru Imawa from last year.


ta panta rhei / works for hurdy gurdy

When I first moved to Tokyo in the 2000s, Tomo could be seen playing soprano sax in the now-defunct Tetragammaton, and lived in an apartment crammed to the ceiling with instruments. He’s since stripped things back to focus (almost?) exclusively on the hurdy-gurdy, and this wide-ranging collection demonstrates a formidable command of the instrument. Tomo’s approach uses some inventive electronic augmentations but is a little more orthodox than that of sometime collaborator Keiji Haino, in that he’s drawing on identifiable idioms – from Occitania to the Mongolian steppe – rather than creating an entirely new language. Still, it’s a transporting performance, from a former jack-of-all-trades who’s become a master of one.


Texture and Physics

It’s the dancer-producers you need to watch out for. This tape by Mazlika (who also struts her stuff under the name Jasmine) has a sense of weight and physicality, even at its most abstract. It’s music for the body as well as the head. The opening track could pass for Autechre at their most hip-hop, but Mazlika plunges deep into the dub later on, drifting close to 7FO’s burbling soundworld. Best enjoyed while watching clips of the fluid, abstracted freestyle dancing she posts on her Instagram account.

Remon Nakanishi


(DOYASA! Records)
This came out on CD last summer but only appeared on Bandcamp earlier in the year, and it’s as good a stopgap as any if you’re waiting for the next Minyo Crusaders album to drop. Nakanishi’s mellismatic voice is the main draw here, and there’s an almost Balkan flavour to the close-harmony backing vocals on songs like ‘Saitaro Bushi’. I wasn’t always persuaded by producer Agatha’s izakaya-rock arrangments, which are spunkily played but all a bit tasteful, like something you’d hear emanating from one of the minor stages at Fuji Rock on a Sunday afternoon (sorry, niche reference there).

Puzzle Punks


Not sure anyone was expecting a new album from EYE’s 90s duo with contemporary artist Shinro Ohtake, but here we are. PUZZPUNN (the Ps are silent, apparently) was initially released on vinyl last year to coincide with Ohtake’s retrospective at MOMAT, but has now appeared in an expanded Bandcamp edition. Compared to the lo-fi, often rambling music the duo made during their initial incarnation, these hyperactive bursts (many of them under a minute long) are a lot denser and more digital-sounding, though children’s instruments still seem to play a significant role in the proceedings. I can hear hints of gabba and singeli, though even those genres might balk at a track with a BPM of 877. If you’re in the right mood – preferably over-caffeinated and half naked – it’s a blast.


Oh Sawagi / Shin God

If there’s anyone in Japan at the moment making music as vibrant, snotty and downright noxious as BBBBBBB, I’d love to hear it. The Okazaki-based group have a new album out on Deathbomb Arc later this month, but I suspect their music is best appreciated in small – and extremely concentrated – doses. ‘Oh Sawagi’ is what you’d get if you tried to make Pop Tatari on an iPhone, while ‘Shin God’ comes on like vintage Kid 606 scrambling a would-be club banger.

Ayami Suzuki & Rob Noyes

Classic Fevers and Chills

(A K T I)
I’d been hoping for a while that Tokyo-based 12-string maestro Rob Noyes would hook up with some local artists, but I wouldn’t have bet on it being Ayami Suzuki. The improvising vocalist – whose effects-heavy solo work is more on the Julian Barwick/4AD spectrum – strips things back here, perfuming the air with languid, sustained tones while Noyes goes deep into the raga zone. I feel like the guitar is doing most of the work, but that’s all fine: this is lovely stuff, perfect for sultry summer evenings, and builds to an ecstatic finish.


Mind Sketches

A regular DJ at Forestlimit’s Ideala parties, Banana has also been quietly making music on the side, sharing tracks with friends on CDRs or via the occasional Soundcloud upload. As heard on this compilation, it’s a playful and appealingly scuzzy update on the sound of the 1980s DIY electronics scene. The timbres might make you think you’re listening to a lost Yen Records demo tape, but the way the elements in each track play off each other reveals a more contemporary sensibility.

Ken Ikeda

Sparse Memory

Ken Ikeda creates fecund environments, an arboretum of half-remembered flora. In the album notes, he describes how the instruments used – including a Yamaha DX-7 and Korg SDD3000 delay unit – evoke the “fundamental failings of human memory.” But listeners are probably going to bring their own associations to these richly layered compositions. I can’t help thinking of early-80s Eno and Hiroshi Yoshimura, and Sparse Memory doesn’t shy away from such ambient milestones. Rather, it suggests how they – like everything else – might get transmuted by the passage of time.

Satomimagae + Duenn


(rohs! records)
Anyone who enjoyed Tujiko Noriko’s most recent album should jump on this (and it’s a snip at €1). Kyokai – the title translates as border, inviting the usual cliches about liminal zones and whatnot – inhabits a similar realm of drifting voices and surfaces that dissolve at the touch. Its tracks, some of them tantalising fragments, don’t so much develop as envelop. Whereas Satomimagae’s solo work can evoke Grouper, Duenn draws her into a digital ether where it’s hard to tell whether you’re awake or (day) dreaming.

Eiko Ishibashi/Jim O’Rourke

Lifetime of a Flower

(Week—End Records)
The first “proper” album from this duo, after a handful of under-the-radar live recordings released on Bandcamp. Lifetime of a Flower was originally composed as the soundtrack for an installation in which visitors could watch a live stream of plants growing in the couple’s garden, but don’t go mistaking it for background music: these two side-long pieces are too interesting to be ignorable. Ishibashi’s flute provides the only (relatively) stable foothold in a rich sonic environment that’s constantly shifting, as oscillating synths dissolve into warped field recordings and spongy rhythms. It’s as elusive/allusive as the duo’s live performances, conjuring a welter of weird and unexpected associations.



(Flau/Lo Recordings)
When he had all his recordings stolen in a burglary, Yasuhiko Fukuzono could have been forgiven for making a harsh noise album – but that was never the Flau label boss’s style. His first full-length release in 15 years is characteristically serene: a collection of classically-tinged electronica that sounds almost too nice on first listen but has enough wrinkles in the production work to keep things interesting. It’s a family affair, with contributions by Flau artists including Henning Schmiedt, Noah and Kumi Takahara (whose shiver-inducing strings are put to particularly effective use). Not so sure about the vocal features by Gutevolk and Grand Salvo, but overall this is beguiling stuff.

Ruby Nakamura

At the Sanatorium House

There’s no mistaking Susumu Hirasawa’s operatic electropop for anyone else, which is a problem when he’s working with other artists. Maybe this is exactly the EP that Ruby Nakamura – a veteran of the “underground idol” scene, more recently seen fronting retro-rock trio Freaky Style Loca – wanted to make. She wrote all the music (think: demented fairground jams) and lyrics, and her skronking tenor sax makes a few appearances. But it’s hard to get past the contributions of her big-name producer, including a guitar solo on the opening track that made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it.


Underground Sea

Sendai’s a0n0 doesn’t seem to go in for big artistic statements. As the succinct blurb for Underground Sea puts it: “This album is my daily life, that’s all.” Fans of the producer’s beautifully abrasive work will find plenty to relish here – ‘Ultra Lite Mk3’ feels like getting your ears cleaned with steel wool, while Peeq contributes an improbably lovely remix of ‘Blue.Electronic.Sky’, from last year’s Peter Rehberg tribute compilation. Gotta love the punk gestures, too: When closing track ‘The day plate tectronics stopped’ suddenly cuts off, it’s like a0n0 has slammed his laptop shut.