We have hit the half-way point of our attempt to capture some of the greatness that the alternative, indie and underground idols of Japan have contributed to the world over the past ten years. If you would like a recap of the methodology we used to arrive at the album rankings, please visit week one’s installment. If you missed last week’s post or want a refresher of the albums that placed 31st – 40th, you can find that here.
Now, on with the next ten albums in the countdown plus one honorable mention that fell just a little bit short of the top 50:
30. Yanakoto Sotto Mute, ‘Bubble‘ (2017)
What does raw perfection sound like? For some of us, the undeniable answer to that question is, “Yanakoto Sotto Mute”, and Bubble is the incontrovertible proof. Between the harmonious math rock of “morning” and “No Known”, grungy exhilaration of “Lily” and “Done”, hopeful exuberance of “Just Breathe” and “orange”, heartbreak of “am I”, and delicate foray into high-pitched vocal dissonance of the ethereal “Horoscope”, Bubble is one surging wave of sonic brilliance after another. A slight dirtiness to the engineering of the album imbues it with a hint of garage band burr, adding a ragged poignancy to the Perfect Modern Idols perfect debut record.
29. Bellring Girls Heart, ‘Bedhead‘ (2013)
There’s a fan-driven tendency to regard the “firsts” of musical artists as, if not the absolute best the artist produced, then at least the fan’s favorite; fortunately, the only “first” that applies to BedHead was that it was the first full-length put out by a group that, in its first year and change of existence, had already proven to be wholly original, wildly creative and at times even kind of disturbing. Not all of the best tracks from BRGH’s early run of EP releases made it onto this album, but it’s worth it for any lover of music and explorer of the first few years of the alt/chika scene’s growth to spend multiple listens with BedHead; it’s an almost uniquely potent look into a culture and performing act within it that can only be fully understood in terms of each other.
28. Cinema and Boy CQ, ‘The Soundtrack of Different Dimension Travel‘ (2018)
What if I told you about a compilation of songs from different movie soundtracks, but it turned out that none of the movies these songs are from actually exist? This conceptual exercise is what Cinema and Boy CQ have set out to do and they have the chops to deliver on the musical aspect as well. Looking in the booklet is a way of going into a tiny adventure, but even without knowing anything about the concept, you will have a good time with this album. The sheer variety of sounds and the voices of the co-ed duo are sure to take you out of this world.
27. Shihatsu-machi Underground, ‘Shihatsu-machi Underground‘ (2019)
Truly indie idols tend to have a difficult time making a splash in equal proportion to the quality they often deliver. Shihatsu-machi Underground was no different; a group of friends self-producing what can only be described as cool Euro-urban lo-fi alt rock (or hell, find your own descriptors) got a lot of certain people’s attention, only to fail to capture the wider fan imagination. No matter — when they finally combined best existing material with some new tracks into this album, the result was one of the most complete and front-to-back consistent modern rock albums you’ll find. “Inu to Messiah” captures the approach well — guitars on a ska beat, flute lead and solo, and deliberate (and unexpected) religious undertones produced in an echo chamber — and depending on the person it’s not even in the top half of the album’s quality rankings. Do you want more idol like in “Yubisaki-mirai-yosouzu” or more Doors like in “Kazemachi-timetravel”? Maybe split the difference and put “Frustration” into your permanent playlist — it’s only in this writer’s all-time idol song top 10.
26. PIGGS, ‘HALLO PIGGS‘ (2020)
Like a delayed revelation from a forgotten rock god, HALLO PIGGS fuses vintage proto-punk tributes with riot grrrl sensibilities under the insurgent direction of modern idol’s most legendary anti-hero. Since the disbandment of the original BiS, Pour Lui flitted between several projects with varying degrees of longevity, relevance and success. With PIGGS debut album, she re-introduced the world to the full potential of her inescapable influence. From the all-out banger, “Kicks”, to the more emo, “Love Cats” and “Moonage Driver”, to the infernally catchy (and subtly sinister), “Snatcher”, the results are near perfection.
25. DAIDAIDAI, ‘Mudai‘ (2018)
As an early email exchange with their manager suggested, it seemed that PSYBOU KANOJO had to die so that DAIDAIDAI could live. Despite having minimal associated acts in its life cycle, DEMON TAPES has proven to be one of the most ambitious and musically innovative companies in idol, and their current flagship put the hammer down on this album. Every fool who ever thought “idolcore sounds great but what if it were more like Chemlab and AA= had a baby and drank the entire pregnancy” was rewarded with this densely heavy, sonically mesmerizing collection of songs, the truest intervention of digital hardcore in idol’s long flirtation with the genre. The 33 minute run time isn’t long, but it’s exhausting, like how great VR can leave your brain discombobulated for hours afterward, and all eight tracks have something to offer (though the incomparable “ZZ ALLIN” stands out as frankly one of the greatest idol songs and music videos ever devised).
24. Especia, ‘Carta‘ (2016)
Carta ended up being a bittersweet masterpiece. What would have been the latest brilliant showcase of the very finest in vaporware-city-pop-idol took a surprise twist when nearly the entire group graduated while producer Schtein & Longer was having a falling out with their major-label and retaliated by uploading the whole album onto Soundcloud and walking away. All that drama kind of loomed over this release and ended up not being fair to the group, ’cause it was seriously packed with some underrated greatness. From the insanely catchy double a-side city-pop singles “Boogie Aroma/Aviator”, the ultra-smooth-jazz bop “Rittenhouse Square”, to the 80’s rock of “Clover”, Carta is just an amazing document of the golden glory of Especia. Yes, the final, newly transplanted to Tokyo incarnation had a decent little run as a three-piece, but the truth is, Especia died a little in early 2016, and this is the gorgeous swan song they left us with.
23. Maison book girl, ‘bath room‘ (2015)
Do you like rain? Do you ever feel you would like to meet the essence of the days where the sky is not quite grey, but a perfectly uniform luminous white that feels both calming and ominous? This album is that, mixed with loss and melancholia. bath room is easier to describe through metaphors than plain, straight-forward examples. I was immediately hooked by the melodies of cats dancing on haunted wooden xylophones. This already quite polished album really paved the way for what has been a consistently unique and fascinating project.
22. NECRONOMIDOL, ‘DEATHLESS‘ (2017)
2017 was an exciting time for alt-idol across all groups, especially so for NECRONOMIDOL. Their second album, “DEATHLESS” marked the start of what many fans would consider the group’s “golden era” starting with the addition of now-elder Himari, to Sari and Hina’s graduations in 2019. It was an unforgettable time, and DEATHLESS, in particular, was an unforgettable album. The album’s lead track, “ITHAQUA” has become a staple of live performances ever since, and the other tracks, such as its dramatic opener “END OF DAYS”, are nothing to ignore either. “DEATHLESS” is a beautiful transition between early Necroma’s trademark dark wave sound to their more polished modern sound, and what alt-idol fans old and new can easily consider an essential release.
21. GANG PARADE, ‘GANG PARADE Takes Themselves Higher!!!!‘ (2017)
WACK’s middle child were always going through constant shake-ups – from the group name changing to sudden new members to the Kamiya Saki/Aya Eightprince rental trade with BiS. “GANG PARADE Takes Themselves Higher!!!!” was the album in the eye of the storm, fresh off of a sound change from POP’s er, more pop-esque sound to the noisier, rockier stuff established here. From “Iminai Uta” with it’s glitch rock chainsaw sounds to their titular song “GANG PARADE” where they declare “GANG PARADE EVERY DAY”, not only is this a truly unique album in the sea of WACK releases but this is also a foundation stone that helped the group establish their identity. Their unique brand of chaos will forever be missed.
Honorable Mention: Bed In, ‘RICH‘ (2016)
I’ve described Bed In in the past as the “fun, boozy aunts of the idol world” and no better album exemplifies this more than their debut, RICH. A boisterous blend of disco and 80s-inspired rock, RICH succeeds in Bed In’s goal of catapulting us to the Bubble era and so much more. Kaori’s dominant vocals and Mai’s expert guitar skills are nothing to be ignored. Listen to the album’s main singles, “♂x♀xPoker Game” and “C-Chou Venus” if you feel like psyching yourself up before a girly night on the town.