When future music historians look back at the history of the genre the English-speaking world, for lack of a better term, generally refers to as “Alternative Idol”, the decade of 2010 to 2020 will be seen as foundational. Underground idol in Japan has been around since at least the late 90s, hard rock composers were penning songs for idol units in the mid 2000s, and indie idol has probably existed since the birth of the idol genre itself. However, it was the year 2010 when the momentum of disparate events would begin to coalesce and eventually define the broad genre we know and love today. That year’s creation and subsequent seismic success of BiS and BABYMETAL would inspire the formation of hundreds of punk and metal idol units. At the same time, the zeitgeist of the early 2010s independently birthed several other less prominent but just as significant influences. Bellring Girls Heart, You’ll Melt More, Especia and others emerged to embrace an edgier and more avant-garde approach to idol, crafting the sounds and sensibilities of post- and pop-punk, new wave, techno and progressive rock into something entirely new. These early groups inspired both creative composers and adventurous music fans to embrace independent and underground idol as an effective medium for expressing almost every subgenre of rock, hip hop and electronica. Over the past decade, alternative Japanese idol has grown into a world class laboratory for the creation of some of the most innovative music on the planet.
In an attempt to encapsulate the best of the past decade, we here at Homicidols dot com have stolen a page from the Rolling Stone playbook: the ridiculously pretentious “Greatest of All Time” list. This is, of course, a futile exercise. Musical taste is entirely subjective so this list is innately flawed and inaccurate from the start. We did, however, want to try to thoughtfully capture, as best we can, what we feel to be the most innovative, influential and awesome idol albums produced during this pivotal decade and recognize the artists that have brought us so much joy and catharsis over the past ten years.
For this project, each of Homicidols’ contributing writers submitted what they considered to be the 20 best independent, underground or alternative idol albums released between the years 2010 and 2020. The writers were asked to consider personal appeal, artistic quality, innovation and overall influence. Everyone’s lists were then combined into a comprehensive survey which asked each writer to rate every album on a scale from 1 (never heard of it/boring) to 10 (influential masterpiece). This final list of 50 was curated from the survey results.
What constitutes an album versus an EP, mini-album or maxi single is a matter of some contentious debate. For this exercise, “Album” means “more-than 5 tracks or more than 25 minutes in length”. We made one sentimental exception to this rule. See if you can find it among the 50 entries.
We will be publishing the results over the next five weeks, ten albums at a time. We will also be including one “Honorable Mention” each week to include albums that didn’t make the final cut but still hold a significant place in the alt-idol canon.
50. Zenbu Kimi no Sei da., ‘Egositic Eat Issues’ (2017)
Zenbu Kimi no Sei Da’s third album hits just right. Their last album as a quintet before the departure of Mikuchiyo Mene includes bangers from previous singles such as “Sophomore Sick Sacrifice“, and the truly saccharine “Wagamama Shinsei Hominina”. The original album songs pack a punch with fan favourites such as “Dokuhakuen “and “Misfit lovers”, but I find “Hohei Dystopia” to be the most compelling, with its fast-paced drumming accompanying the girls’ voices to perfection. I love that this album covers the entire range of sounds Zenkimi has, making it a perfect introduction to the group for people looking to get into them. If you manage to get your hands on the limited edition, you even get to listen to the members’ solo songs. What more to ask for?
49. SAKA-SAMA, ‘You Are the Coolest!’ (2020)
SAKA-SAMA has been through quite a cycle of past members, musical styles, and evolutionary shifts. I’ve really enjoyed their entire journey and previous releases, but with the current incarnation of Kokone and Mizuho , it feels like the group has truly found it’s stride. While the “lo-fi dream pop” is as wonderfully present as ever, the newer dance tunes that the duo has been recording are a total blast of freshness. The two-disc You Are the Coolest includes these new tunes, a few rerecorded classics, and some other twists and turns that only the mad-eclectic energy of TRASH-UP!! Records could pull off this well. The result is a rewarding masterpiece that holds up to repeated listens and is just plain fun!
48. MELON BATAKE A GO GO, ‘IKASUZE IDOL 1, 2, 3!!‘ (2019)
2019 was a strange year in idol, but through graduations and disbandments galore was MELON BATAKE A GO GO able to emerge as a major chika player. Nakamura Soze’s fertile imagination created Melon, but by the time of IKASUZE’s release the whole unit was clicking and cranking out their signature psychobilly-meets-idol sound. The result was this one-of-a-kind album that has the frenetic energy endemic to all of its source materials and enough across-the-board quality to have established multiple standards that most other groups wish they could aspire to.
47. GANG PARADE, ‘LAST GANG PARADE‘ (2019)
GANG PARADE were always the oddball group of WACK – where others zigged they zagged. LAST GANG PARADE feels embolic of that at every single turn, from the edo period prostitute themed song “Yoru Kurai Mu“ to what can only be described as “evil circus music” with “Tadashii Kotae ga Mitsukaranakute. Equal parts silly, serious and sentimental”, LAST GANG PARADE is an idol love letter of an album that radiates the reason why they were so beloved by both diehard fans and casual listeners. Yes, even moreso than their album that actually has “love” in the name.
46. Hauptharmonie und Tapferkeit Band, ‘Brass! Brass!! Brass!!!’ (2017)
Sometimes it seems as if the chika world is running a “Who can insert the most unexpected genre in our concept?” contest, often with mixed results. Enter Hauptharmonie, the big band speakeasy-era idols with a penchant for German song names. What would’ve sunk into novelty in less-deft hands instead proved to be an amazingly complex and rich musical experience. The album was recorded with a highly skilled live band giving as much as the highly vocally capable idols themselves, and the results really reach for the heights. Everything the group released was fantastic, but on Brass! Brass!! Brass!!! the booze-and cigarette-drenched (In concept only, as far as I know.) idols truly delivered on the premise, and since it sadly ended up being their final recording, it’s also a worthy coda that stands as the gold-standard for idols dipping into genres not commonly explored.
45. ATARASHII GAKKO!!, ‘Wakage Gaitaru‘ (2019)
There is only one unit out there with the chutzpah to pull off blending acid jazz, post-punk, j-pop and hip hop on a global stage, and this is the album that elevated them to world class. Prodigy/producer H ZETT M’s incorporation of groove, URBANGARDE-style trauma rock and even shoegaze elements gave this album a darker, funkier and more progressive edge than their earlier piano jazz-focused work. Coupled with the undeniable appeal of SUZUKA’s primary vocals and it’s no surprise that the effort led to an international agency contract and debut.
44. Bellring Girls Heart, ‘UNDO THE UNION‘ (2014)
Tanaka Kouji’s experimental mod-cum-fuzz “freak” chika idol unit had already grabbed attention with the BedHead album the year before, but UNION simultaneously showed that BRGH and their raven-winged performance had a ton of range and a distinct, almost eerie aesthetic underpinning the project. Come for the “rainy dance“, stay for the “c.a.n.d.y.” and be sure to find at least one other personal favorite along the way — it’s no accident that the BEST BRGH is almost half composed of tracks from this album.
43. KOTO, ‘Platonic Planet‘ (2015)
While we typically cover harder music, alt can refer to indie too, so that’s why you’re seeing an entry from the sugary solo idol KOTO with Platonic Planet. The marriage between retro futuristic production and KOTO herself with adorable vocals feel like being thrown around on a carnival ride while the glimmering lights distort your sense of time. You could throw around a million terms like chiptune or even hyperpop, but this is just simply pop music at it’s purest – raw unrepentant fun that heavily references itself. KOTO might have retired but Platonic Planet certainly isn’t going to anytime soon.
42. BILLIE IDLE®, ‘BILLIED IDLE 2.0‘ (2018)
BILLIE IDLE® introduced their final lineup in the most idol way possible for a group who’s aesthetic was being not idols: they rerecorded their old songs. A second time. With Pour Lui in tow, the group from this point was split between the elusive sisters Akira and Momo with the other members all being ex first gen BiS, which the group themselves referenced with the $I$ duet “End Roll” and the BI$ version of Hirano Nozomi’s “Douse Kiete Shimau Inochi Nara”. Literally, it has all of their hits from “Be My Boy“ to “Anarchy in the Music Scene”, you can’t go wrong with that! NIGO’s goal for the group was to basically be BiS but cooler, and this is one cool album that bares all you need to know about BILLIE IDLE®.
41. BABYMETAL, ‘METAL GALAXY‘ (2019)
For their third album, BABYMETAL drew influences from across the globe. From the Euro-pop of “Da Da Dance“ and Hindi-inspired “Shanti Shanti Shanti”, to the Thai-spiced “Pa Pa Ya!!” and Paisley Park-flavored “Brand New Day”, all the way to the Caribbean rhythms driving “Night Night Burn!” For any other artist, incorporating such a diversity of genres would probably result in cacophonous chaos, but BABYMETAL’s forte is blending diametrically opposed elements into a cohesive, and decidedly metal, whole. The resulting METAL GALAXY is a brilliant and artistically mature album: BABYMETAL all grown up.
Honorable Mention: ZOC, ‘PvP‘ (2021)
You can’t really talk about quirky idols without mentioning Seiko Oomori but alas, this album has only been out for a month so it can’t be included in the actual top 50. Player vs Prayer is the culmination of Seiko’s loud love for idols and idol music in her solo career up to the point she formed her own group – it’s basically idol fanservice at it’s finest. Seriously, only an idol fan would include the group’s overture in the album itself. With ZOC’s video game references shining through in songs like the peppy “Danshari Kareshi” to the overall theme of self acceptance exploding out in the rock ballad “CUTTING EDGE”, this is an idol album that will go down in history. Handcrafted for fans, by fans, making new fans along the way.