Here it is!! The final top ten in our countdown of the 50 Greatest Albums of the last decade. Be sure to let us know the albums you feel we were criminally negligent to exclude, and the punishment you think we deserve. We are collecting your feedback for our follow-up article: “Albums We are Awful for Leaving Off the Greatest Albums List”.
While we know that our imperfect process (and questionable taste) has overlooked some stellar albums and deserving units, we hope that you have still found the exploration worthwhile. I know I have enjoyed revisiting some classic albums that I haven’t listened to in years and even discovered a few new favorites. We may try the exercise again, perhaps with the “50 Greatest MVs”. If we do, we’ll find a way to incorporate community participation in the selection next time.
Without further ado:
10. BABYMETAL, ‘BABYMETAL’ (2014)
This album has sent more people diving down the rabbit hole leading to the world of alternative idol than any other. Mixing the raw intensity of metal with the addictive appeal of idol seems like a no-brainer in hindsight, and while many have tried to duplicate the formula since, no one has yet matched the level of talent, creativity and persistence as the fervent disciples of the Fox God. Not just a landmark in musical excellence, KOBAMETAL’s involvement of A-list metal musicians with true bona fides added the stamp of METAL credibility to their debut album, the unit and the nascent kawaii metal genre. The global success of the BABYMETAL experiment helped usher in the current era of hard rock and alternative music composers embracing idol as a collaborative playground, and metalheads sporting Sakura Gakuin badges on battle jackets. Even several years on, there is little happening in metal as joyously dark and audacious as “Megitsune” or “Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!!”, as hauntingly gorgeous as “Rondo of Nightmare” or “Akatsuki”, or as fun to mosh to as “Catch Me If You Can” or “Gimme Chocolate!!”
9. Kaqriyo Terror Architect, ‘Cultural Mixing’ (2018)
The Architect incarnation of Kaqriyo Terror is probably as close to perfection as you can get for idol and this first album is no exception. One of the notable things is that all songs are consistently excellent; it is common for an album to have weaker songs, but when I try to identify which ones it would be for Cultural Mixing, I came up empty. All the songs have the “signature kaqriyo sound” while also managing to sound distinct from each other. There is no day where I cannot be hyped by this album and I highly recommend you add it to your album rotation if it’s not already there!
8. Especia, ‘GUSTO‘ (2014)
The 2010’s, in terms of subculture, could easily be summed up with vaporwave: a take on the idea of commercialized nostalgia with retro-futurist visuals. A lot of people seem to have the attitude that “Japan caught on later,” but Especia are living proof that Japanese people were involved in things just as much as anybody else, starting their activities in 2012. While early pioneering works such as Far Side Virtual and Floral Shoppe both tend to deal with the harsher aspects of fusing commercialism with nostalgia, GUSTO is an earnest love letter to the past and the distortions and artistry that come with appreciating it. Now that this album is just as much in the past as some of the concepts it references, why not take another listen? You might find it creates new feelings from old ones, but in a different way to how it did before.
7. BILLIE IDLE®, ‘IDLE GOSSIP’ (2015)
Whatever happened to good ol’ fashioned rock n roll? Why, it was being performed by BILLIE IDLE of course! The debut album from Fake Four zigged where other emerging groups were zagging, albeit often off of a financial cliff but musically? Nobody was doing it like them. Other alt groups have a sound cemented in a mixture of Japanese post-punk (The Yellow Monkey, Thee Michelle Elephant Gun and The Stalin, to name a few) and western acts (“Paprika” by BiS borrowing HEAVILY from “Hysteria” by Muse for instance), BILLIE IDLE went for more retro than retro. In their own tongue in cheek branding, they were NOT IDOL – not traditional and even against the grain in the alternative scene. “Anarchy in the Music Scene” was more than just a name, they were sonically shaking the table! “Be My Boy” puts the Beach Boys to shame and “5th Season” wouldn’t go out of place in the middle of an 80’s pop album. The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long, so with one of their direct rivals still going strong to this day, why not take a look back to BILLIE IDLE’s burning, white hot embers.
6. Shoujo Kakka no International, ‘Satsuki Jiken‘ (2016)
Shoujo Kakka no International AKA Girls’ Excellency International AKA Shōnasho (on streaming services) may not have been the longest lived idol group, but their particular brand of chaos left its mark on the idol world. I think this cacophonic masterpiece is about as close to a Lynchean-style idol album as you can get. There’s a lot of “Don’t think, feel” going on here. This album was recently pulled out of the mothball-filled attic and released on streaming services for the pleasure of our ears (and the displeasure of our neighbors, probably). Shōnasho may have passed on five years ago, but their memory lives on and I guarantee you will be haunted by this 🙂
5. BiSH, ‘Brand-new idol SHiT‘ (2015)
BiS’ dying ember was used to stoke the flames of a bigger, more financially successful fire with Brand-new idol SHiT being it’s catalyst. No other group can say they debuted with a music video where they were shit on violently and nobody is planning to anytime soon either – BiSH are true pioneers of… well, some Brand-new idol shit! Even ignoring that this is a monumental passing of the torch from one group to the next, the music here is truly stellar. “Spark” satisfies the inner emo kid, “Hoshi ga” continues to be a fun punky track for any occasion and “HUG ME” answers the eternal question of “what if idol punk sounded like a Sonic 3 & Knuckles stage?” There’s nothing humble about this beginning and quite frankly, they don’t need to be.
4. ・・・・・・・・・,『 』(2018)
While technically unpronounceable, the unit-also-known-as Dots debut album (also-known-as 9 half-width spaces) is one of the best records of the last twenty years regardless of genre. Dots very existence was a brilliant contradiction of itself: an anti-idol art experiment fully ensconced in the chika idol world and sincerely executed by semi-anonymous idols. Their music was just as experimental as their presentation. Employing the rare talents of some of Japan’s best indie composers, Dots merged retro and progressive aesthetics into a surprisingly friendly post-punk mix of shoegaze, new wave power pop and noise. It is hard to pick a favorite among the ten tracks as they are all standouts, but the three songs most likely to turn anyone into a Dots fan are the euphorically hypnotic, “Satellite”, the dreamy hooks of, “Slide”, and their signature classic, “Ne”.
3. You’ll Melt More!, ‘You Are The World‘ (2015)
(“You Are The World” was my personal pick for the number one spot.) As I’ve said repeatedly, This album remains the greatest progressive-pop-neopsychedelic-danceparty-shoegaze-postrock-jamband-ska-krautrock-electronica-hardsynth-sunshinepop-surrealist-hardcore-spacerock-madchester-worldbeat-dreampop-spazzcore-ambient-noise-transcendentalist-indierock-devolutionist-8bit-artpop-jpop-hyperpop-newromantic-newwave-coldwave-nowave-deconstructivist-disco-dancepunk-postpunk-punkrock-modern-idol achievement of all time. If I had my way, they’d be closing the Olympics with an all-star singalong of “Only You” set to biggest damn LED-adorned synchronized drone show you’ve ever seen in your life, with the members of YOU’LL MELT MORE! standing on individual floating platforms that rise from a simulated ocean and carry them into outer space as the song ends…….
2. Bellring Girls Heart, ‘BEYOND‘ (2016)
Bellring Girls Heart, AKA “The Modern Freaks of Chika Idol Dept.” remain the undisputed superstars of total underground madness. You notice how the artwork is a rectangle instead the usual album cover square? It’s because there’s NOTHING usual here. It’s so incredibly difficult to explain or describe everything that happens in the one hour and two minutes that this release takes over your mind. It’s pure sprawling anarchy. Genres are switched in the same song. Some songs are weird stream-of conscious experiments. Some are dance floor rave-ups. And then there’s Bellheart’s magnum opus, the chika national anthem itself known as “Asthma”; a song that compels fans to join hands and run in a circle around the venue until they get dizzy and nearly fall over. The whole insane masterpiece, which feels like it’s barely hanging onto the rails, is gloriously held together with desperate, life-grasping vocals that shouldn’t really sound “good” in any traditional sense, but here are the most beautiful voices on planet Earth. It really is Beyond everything.
1. BiS, ‘IDOL is DEAD‘ (2012)
The use of idol as a platform for “un-idol” things predated Pour Lui and BiS, but it was this project that took punk — in all the ways to understand that term — and used it to to beat idol bloody with a spiked baseball bat. And this, BiS’s second album, was the group at its creative apex. I once described “primal.” (the capper) as “the stamp on Pour Lui’s hate letter to (the) industry”; having proven with their first album that they could not only get away with, well, being BiS, but they could make a bit of a living at it too, this release barred no holds, pulled no punches and is still, almost a decade after its release, still the absolute high point of loud idol. After the title track punches you straight in the face, you still have a dozen songs ripping through styles but all packed full of a palpably genuine emotional intensity, from “hitoribochi’s” rock ballad to foot-on-the-gas punk ripper “I wish I was SpeciaL” to experimental electronic “urge over kill of time” to flirtations with with digital hardcore on “ASH.” Just on its own artistic merits, it’s an astonishing album. But that undersells its important place in history and the influence IDOL is DEAD had; within two years of this album’s release, the idol scene was filled with loud, violent, experimental, bloody, punk-at-their-heart projects, and it was only getting started. The modern scene, realistically speaking, owes its existence to Pour Lui in the first place, but it probably never had a chance to grow to the size that it did nor to achieve its level of mainstream success without IDOL is DEAD.
Honorable Mention: 14th Generation Toilet Hanako-san, ‘Makkana Toire‘ (2016)
Most conversations about Hanako-san tend to focus on the dark eccentricities of her toilet ghost persona or her anarchic (and infamously messy) live shows that have left her perma-banned from Twitter and most Tokyo live houses. What is often missed is the extraordinary quality of her music and talent as a vocalist. Featuring her ability to deliver both effortless screams and dreamy, childlike lullabies, Hanako-san’s debut album sounds equal parts Nick Cave and Napalm Death. Songs like, “Hanakobyo” (translation: Hanako Disease), and the classic, “HUMAN DIE!!!!”, deliver a kind of melodic grindcore: fiercely angry, disturbingly eerie and yet with an addictive appeal. The hardcore tracks are juxtaposed against uncanny ballads like “Kodomo no Ko” and “Anata to atashi”, sung with a spectral lilt as if… well… as if sung by the ghost of a murdered child. The only downside to this masterpiece is that Makkana Toire cannot currently be found on any streaming service and a physical copy is incredibly difficult to come by. Luckily, Hanako-san’s much more widely available follow-up, Meinichi, is also an abnormally excellent album.