The Best Japanese Shoegaze and Dream Pop Releases of 2016

There was a lot of new shoegaze and dream pop coming out of Japan in 2016, and , even more so than in previous years, album releases were way outnumbered by EPs, singles, and mini albums.  As a result I was faced with a couple of problems when putting together my annual “best of the year” list.  The first is that there weren’t ten full-length releases that qualified.

There was a lot of new shoegaze and dream pop coming out of Japan in 2016, and , even more so than in previous years, album releases were way outnumbered by EPs, singles, and mini albums.  As a result I was faced with a couple of problems when putting together my annual “best of the year” list.  The first is that there weren’t ten full-length releases that qualified.  Rather than making a numbered list this time around, I’ve decided to just name my favorite single, EP/mini-album, and album of the year, and then name a few honorable mentions for each category.

It’s a completely different feel from what I’ve put together the last couple years, but it serves the same purpose.  Enjoy, discuss, buy some music.

Note: I’d like to preface this whole list by saying that I’m aware of the new releases from Kinoko Teikoku, My Dead Ishikawa, Qujaku, and others, and I really liked a bunch of them.  Defining genres is tricky, but I decided not to mess with an already blurry line and include the releases that I felt qualified.  The aforementioned did not.

 ★ ☆ ★ Best Single ★ ☆ ★

“Planet Heaven/Perfect Lies” by Juvenile Juvenile

It’s no secret that Juvenile Juvenile is one of my favorite bands in Japan.  Their “Our Great Escape” album topped my 2014 list, and the band came back strong with its first recorded material in 2 years.  The single was produced by The Bilinda Butcher’ Michal Palmer, and further solidified their status as the finest dream pop band in Japan.  It’s also worth noting that Juvenile Juvenile also submitted a really good cover of “I Wish I Was Skinny” for The Blog That Celebrates Itself’s Boo Radleys tribute comp this year.

This was a pretty clear cut winner, but there was some quality in the next group of singles released, headed by Nagoya shoegaze newcomers Softsurf.  Their “Blue Swirl/Beautiful Day” single was a really solid debut.  If I was doing a “liver performances of the year” list, they’d be right at the top along with Juvenile Juvenile for their performances at Daydream Nagoya.  

Saitama’s Collapse was another newcomer to the Japanese shoegaze scene, and they put out a couple of releases in 2016, including their super-gazey “Curse/Drop” single.  More on them later.

Tokyo’s Youthmemory put out perhaps their catchiest track yet on the spring 2016 “April Kisses” release.  One of the more underrated bands in Japan walking the line between shoegaze and jangly indie pop.

Yukino Chaos – a band that’s established itself as a mainstay of the Japanese shoegaze scene, and one of the best young alternative rock acts in Japan – had a busy 2016 that kicked off with the release of its “Hope for the Future” single.  Despite a really positive 2016, the band has unfortunately announced it will be on an indefinite hiatus.

★ ☆ ★ Best EP ★ ☆ ★

“Night Falls” by Magic Love

At this moment, there may not be a better shoegaze band in Japan than Magic Love.  The Tokyo band left us wanting more with its 2014 “Dawn” E.P., and after a couple years they delivered.  On Night Falls, the band showed that they can deliver big walls of sound and more chilled out dream pop, switching back and forth between male and female vocals flawlessly.  “Midnight Baby” has gotten all the love, but “Ghost Novice” was one of the best tracks of the year.  

This one wasn’t as easy to pick, due in large part to the fact that there was so much quality released in EP format this year.  One of the pleasant surprises was that some of the best EP releases of the year were put out by brand new bands.  Collapse made the best singles of the year list, and they also appear on the EP list for their self-titled EP, which was released in February.  The Saitama band, not unlike a number of newcomers to the Japanese shoegaze scene, doesn’t shy away from big wall-ish guitars, citing metal among its genre influences.

Scale is another new band that has made the best EP list, but it’s important to note that since the release of its debut EP “Hidden Blue”, the band has changed its name to Waterblink.  A throwback to the early 2000s shoegaze scene, Scale goes in hard – its founding member also plays in post punk hardcore band Deviation – but also balances things out with some catchy melodies.

Shiga’s Yuragi turned a lot of heads with the release of their debut EP “Bedside” earlier in the year.  Their “Nightlife” EP, which made it in right at the end of 2016, was a massive next step.  The band’s second EP had some of the same pop appeal of the first, but also ventured off in a bit more of a darker, more exploratory direction.  

One band that’s remained a mystery to me over the last couple years is Sapporo, Hokkaido shoegaze outfit Edy Two Arc (formerly known simply as Edy).  Confined primarily to their hometown and Koenji’s HIGH venue, it’s been difficult to access the band from here in Nagoya, but that changed on Christmas Day 2016 with the release of their debut EP “Hide Intention”.  Released via Only Feedback Records, the EP boasts a perfect balance of blaring, fuzzed out guitars and beautiful, subtle vocals.  

★ ☆ ★ Best Album ★ ☆ ★

“Blood Music” by The Florist

Just like Juvenile Juvenile and Magic Love, 2016 saw The Florist release its first material in two years.  The band’s 2014 debut featured a couple of killer singles, but Blood Music is start to finish a more complete album.  In tracks like “Marigold” and “Ghosts” – my personal favorite off the record – Blood Music boasts its own signature tracks, and those weren’t even the album’s singles.  A very emotional eleven-track ride with some excellent guitar work and gorgeous tones.  

Picking the best album of the year was tough, as there were three that I felt strongly qualified.  The debut full length effort from Tokyo-based indie/dream pop outfit For Tracy Hyde was right there at the top.  Film Bleu is the culmination of the band’s hard work and development since it’s inception in 2012.  Featuring a number of tracks previously released on EPs and as demos, Film Bleu showcases some seriously good songwriting in the band’s signature sweet pop style.  “After” is a song of the year candidate.

Veterans of the Japanese shoegaze scene, and one of the best around, Osaka’s Ether Feels released a Greatest Hits album in 2016.  The nine-track record consists of two previously released EPs and three newly recorded songs, including a new version of fan-favorite “Annabelle”.  The melancholy shoegazers continue to pump out heart breaking, nostalgic tunes, with “She’s Wanderlust” highlighting the newest batch of music.  Toward the end of the year, Ether Feels also collaborated on a split EP with Yukino Chaos.

Last year, Plant Cell released a lot of quality tracks, but did so one track at a time and thus didn’t really have any material to qualify for a list of best EPs or albums.  This year, however, the band released a couple of demo EPs as well as a full album titled Flowergaze?, so their inclusion this time around is a no-brainer.  Some of the more beautiful shoegaze you’ll find, Plant Cell’s strength is the ability to weave subtle melodies through dreamy layers of synths and guitars.  “Snow and Luculia” is the recommended track off this one.

16 thoughts on “The Best Japanese Shoegaze and Dream Pop Releases of 2016”

  1. Thanx fir this great list! I will check out the releases which i’m unfamiliar with and, knowing your taste, be in for a treat


    1. As of right now it doesn’t look like it, but I suspect that will change in the near future. Can’t say when, exactly, but it sounds like it will be made available soon-ish.

  2. Thank you for this Matthew. There are some great artists. I dod not know Juvenile Juvenile. As you underline, they are really good. David

  3. Super weak year in Japanese shoegaze for me, after an excellent 2015. 2017 looks promising already though.

    Unsurprisingly, I barely like any of your picks. Can’t understand the appeal of Juvenile Juvenile or Magic Love at all. The Florist is pretty decent at least.

    Best release of the year for me was Old Age Systematic by NYAI, though admittedly they may lean more towards indie rock than straight-up shoegaze.

    1. Not sure what you have against Juvenile Juvenile or Magic Love, but I also had no idea what you were talking about when you said 198X and Somehow Hear Songs were disappointing last year.

      1. Just different tastes, I guess. Both of those bands sound kind of tame and derivative to me.

        Like, I get the sense that you and probably most of your readers prefer the artists who adhere more closely to the Western/British shoegaze model, whereas I prefer the more uniquely "Japanese" shoegaze that has evolved over the past 25 years or so.

        (Things like 198X or My Dead Ishikawa fall into a whole different category of experimental weirdness, and outside the bounds of shoegaze entirely imo.)

        1. I’ve discussed the history and development of Japanese shoegaze at some length via the blog, our wonderful FB group, and my radio show. I wouldn’t say there’s a whole lot of evidence that I necessarily prefer artists who tend toward Western shoegaze. This year’s list sort of reflects the tone of the 2016 releases and quite possibly the next step for Japanese shoegaze, with bands leaning a bit more toward that western model and 90s US alternative than in years past. Juvenile Juvenile quite obviously falls into that category, but I keep an open mind when putting these lists together. I would argue that Magic Love’s new EP offers a really solid balance of Western and Japanese shoegaze influence.

          As for 198X, I’ll give you the fact that last year’s list was a little more open with regard to the blurry defining lines of shoegaze, but it wasn’t nearly as detached as the Kosen EP (and I would also argue more qualified than nayutanayuta). This year, with a bunch of borderline releases from bands like Kinoko Teikoku, My Dead Ishikawa, Qujaku, The Skateboard Kids, etc., I tried to narrow my focus a bit more than in 2015.

          1. You think the next step for Japanese shoegaze is to revert back to the way the scene was in the 90’s? Kind of odd to me honestly.

            Labeling is a strange thing. There’s a crap-ton of semi-shoegaze in the Japanese indie music sphere, or artists who utilize significant shoegaze elements but nobody considers them as such. It’s impossible to say at times what is or isn’t deserving of the label. Like, would anyone really consider Kinoku Teikoku’s recent albums even tangentially shoegaze-related if not for their past?

            But just to make it clear, I totally respect everything you’ve done with this website and your radio station and in no way am I trying to insinuate that my opinions are superior to yours. Our tastes just happen to be quite different.

            Keep on keepin’ on.

          2. If anything, I would say it is trending more in the direction of early 2000s Japanese shoegaze. Indie pop has been king in Japan for years now, and while that influence has been felt in the shoegaze scene here, the new wave of bands are putting out more tonally aggressive stuff via post punk and metal influences.

            I think the Kiiro Records/Chiba Shoegazer and the Osaka scenes will both continue to put out a lot of pop, but in Tokyo, Saitama, and Nagoya, there’s been a bit of a turn as far as the younger bands are concerned. Nagoya is a pretty interesting case, in particular.

            The most recent Kinoko Teikoku record actually made a surprising turn toward their old stuff. The balance between the new stuff and the old was really nice. Still not enough to warrant a spot on the list, but definitely not as far off as the major debut. Promising enough for the fans of their early stuff, in my opinion.

            And no worries at all! I appreciate the discussion.

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