We have reached the second-to-last week of our Top 50 countdown featuring the albums that placed 11 – 20 plus one honorable mention that didn’t quite make the final list of 50.
“Why the honorable mentions?”, no one asked, “Why not just make it a top 55 or 60?”
There are a few reasons such as we had to draw a line somewhere, and also because we wanted to respect our quasi-democratic process. The primary reason though is because, when we first took a look at the final top 50, we were surprised by a few things that weren’t there. This week’s honorable mention is a prime case in point:
In the early days of the decade over on Shikoku Island, HimeKyunFruitCan was experimenting with fusing hard rock and idol around the same time BABYMETAL and BiS were finding their feet. They went full metal in 2012 with the launch of their sister unit, FRUITPOCHETTE, who quickly became one of the signature acts of the then-nascent subgenre of Kawaii Metal. As influential as they became, FruPoche released only a single full album which, horrifyingly, did not survive the voting to make it into our final list of 50 Greatest.
It seemed universally unfair to talk about the last decade of alternative idol without mentioning FRUITPOCHETTE and their impact on the genre. Hence the creation of the honorable mention slot, where we can autocratically intervene to acknowledge the contributions of deserving units who didn’t survive the egalitarian selection process.
For a recap of our selection process, please re-visit the week one post. And please come back next week when we wrap up the series and reveal the top ten.
20. BiSH, ‘KiLLER BiSH‘ (2016)
BiSH’s major label debut changed everything. “DEADMAN”, “IDOL is SHiT”, and the brutal classic, “Am I FRENZY” showed a continued eagerness to dabble in punk and noise while they also leaned heavily into progressive emo punk with, “KNAVE”, the earthshaking, “Hontou Honki”, and closer, “ikitete yokatta to yuu no nara”. Upon its release, however, the most explosively controversial track was also it’s most traditional: “Orchestra”, the sweeping and heartfelt symphonic rock ballad about the bittersweet anguish of lost love. The now-signature song split fans, but there was consensus on what it presaged: BiSH was taking it’s punk ass and making a run for the mainstream, and they just might have the chops to pull it off.
19. Avandoned, ‘Picnic at Nerd Park‘ (2015)
This is a real document of just how much things can change in an idols group’s existence. In 2015, Avandoned (Spelled with a capital “A”.) were teenage oddballs playing underground shows with noise musicians and recording on a small label completely new to idol music called TRASH-UP!!. It was probably completely unforeseen how seminal this seemingly cut-up and reassembled DIY project would end up being. That the group’s signature song “Feedback Friday“ became a sort of sleeper anthem almost feels accidental. But do yourself a favor and dig into the other gems, like the spacey “Have Some Dreams“ and the unexpected glitch-hop of “Saikaku Ichidai Onna“. And the feat that three of the original members are still thriving as idols is pretty amazing. This is truly the captured sound of the chika underground in the mid-2010s. Is it too soon to soak in the nostalgia??
18. You’ll Melt More!, ‘Unforgettable Final Odyssey‘ (2014)
The debut full-length from one of the most important and long-lived of the sort of groups we cover here, YMM were showing from the beginning that idol music can be absolutely anything. You would find no other idol group doing something like dressing up as art-rockers Devo for their cover. The album contains a bit less “rock” than subsequent releases but is absolutely saturated with glorious off-kilter pop songs, each and every one an infectious earworm. Thankfully this was not their final odyssey but it was most certainly unforgettable.
17. Yukueshirezutsurezure, ‘Post Catastrophe‘ (2016)
This defining album, featuring the stellar line-up of Shidare, Komachi, KoKoKo and Tsuyame, propelled Tsurezure beyond big sister Zenkimi’s orbit establishing them as a sovereign planet with their own ascendant trajectory and crushing gravity. Now adept in their signature style of digital hardcore featuring delicate and playful vocals slipping effortlessly into chilling screams of fury or anguish (demonstrated expertly on the title track, “Doppelgänger”, and “the End of…”), this album saw the unit branch out artistically into a kind of industrial dream pop with “Chigiri Hirari”, “Indie Skin”, and “World flood Moment”. The album also features the quintessential, “Six Fall Roar”, and passionately brutal, “Iki Shini Gairon”, (translation: “introduction to death”) which became the fiercely cathartic centerpieces of many Tsurezure lives.
16. RAY, ‘Pink‘ (2020)
The minimalist cover reveals more about this album than you’d initially think: It’s the sea washed in a warm glow. Maybe it’s before a storm, maybe it’s after. It’s a beautiful, life-affirming thing washed in a layer of melancholia that fades into the distance. Pink was my favorite album of 2020 by wide margin. The group’s personal talents were elevated with the musical accompaniment of writers connected deeply to the modern shoegaze scene, and the results resonated on both an audio and spiritual level. Regardless of the lifespan of RAY or this sub-genre of idol, this is an album that will hold up forever. Ask me about it again in the year 2030 and I promise these same words will apply.
15. BiS, ‘WHO KiLLED IDOL?‘ (2014)
The endpoint of OGBiS’ OG releases with OG music was a noisy one, carrying the aural philosophy of “if they’re not that good at singing just make the music really loud.” Heavy, pounding drum machines and explosive bass guitar all culminate in the noisiest release from OGBiS ever. Fan favorite “STUPiG” even gives Atari Teenage Riot a run for their money. Extreme visuals intermingle with extreme noise, which is pretty fitting for such an extreme group don’t you think?
14. There There Theres, ‘Bricks‘ (2018)
I had the wildest dream once. It was in stark black and white, very moody and kind of foreboding, but it was also beautiful and entrancing. Despite the underpinning of something dark lurking within the core, I didn’t feel scared by the dream. I wouldn’t even say it was a nightmare. It gave me the kind of security you get when you realize your most anxious and troubled thoughts are shared with others who understand exactly the way you feel. Then I realized the dream wasn’t really a dream, it was this album right here. There There Theres, one of the split-off hydra heads of Bellheart, may have dressed in black, worn the raven feathers and performed tenuously held-together epic pop dramas, but they were absolutely their own unit and deserve recognition as such. Their reign was short and Bricks was their only album, but damn, what a class-act run.
13. Kai, ‘Moonlight Tokyo‘ (2019)
While short-lived, Kai’s solo career still left a strong impact, as evidenced from her first EP, Moonlight Tokyo. A gentle, nostalgic and playful ride through an 80s-inspired wonderland, listening to it for the first time filled me with sheer joy and excitement of what was to come. Listening to it now makes me mourn for the lost potential following her retirement just over a year later. Nonetheless, I dare you to listen to “Himitsu no Tobira” and not feel fuzzy inside.
12. O’CHAWANZ, ‘Episode V‘ (2018)
While 2018 was a great year for alt-idol releases, O’CHAWANZ’s debut offering was one that slipped under several radars at the time. A crying shame, as, even in this dreadful year 2021, the album in its entirety is difficult not to listen to without developing a huge smile. It’s opening track, the playful and adorable “I Ya Da” helps to paint a picture of the overall mood that Episode V sets to bring, an album of effervescent summer vibes for every time of the day, whether that be driving to the beach or watching the sun set in the garden. It has become the default album to play whenever I want something to perk myself back up, and it deserves to be yours too.
11. Koutei Camera Girl Zwei, ‘Night on Verse ‘ (2016)
Arguably the zenith of the Koutei Camera Girl German Number continuum, this electro-pop-hip-hop-hard-bop album is in equal parts cute, catchy, progressive, chilled and stomping. An album for any mood or occasion. “Doki Doki Doki! One Two Three yo…”
Honorable Mention: FRUITPOCHETTE, ‘The Crest Of Evil‘ (2014)
What could have been. Fun fact: This was the first idol album I ever bought, and the whole reason I did it was in response to a challenge that I in my own personal immature vainglory brought on by asserting without any evidence whatsoever that some other unit’s more prominent contemporaneous release was automatically the better one. Which was a stupid thing to think, because this is probably the best straight-up metal album ever released by an idol unit. There are some tracks that don’t hold up as well, but who cares? Over 13 songs, this almost inexplicable duo from Ehime just absolutely crushed vocal after vocal and in a variety of genre twists. And if you didn’t know any better and picked up Evil and that other record with no context and listened to them in one order or another, you might wonder why FRUITPOCHETTE wasn’t the group that became the international phenomenon. Which, as history shows, wasn’t for lack of interest or trying — I gave MAD MAGZINE shit for not seeming to invest in Frupoche as much as they deserved, but the fact is they didn’t have the resources of Amuse, and when Mina’s illness chased her out of action for a couple of years it was the beginning of a run of bad luck that ultimately capped the group’s potential. What could have been, though … The Crest of Evil may not have the same level of popularity or acclaim or influence as others, but I defy anybody to find an idol metal album that’s better.