As you may notice, there are some big names missing from the list, namely Luminous Orange who released a really good album titled Soar, Kiss the Moon this year. Though Luminous Orange is an important name in the history of Japanese shoegaze music, the new album simply isn't a shoegaze record.
Kinoko Teikoku, a band that has been on a massive roll over the past couple years, also distanced itself a bit from the genre with Fake World Wonderland. The album itself is okay as a pop record, but lacks a certain intensity that I really came to appreciate from their first couple releases.
Finally, I've really enjoyed net label Kiiro Records' shoegaze compilations this year, but the large number of foreign artists included in the album disqualifies them from the list. You should still download them though, which you can do here: https://kiirorecords2.bandcamp.com/.
Enough about the records that didn't make the list, though. Here are my favorite ten shoegaze albums from Japan in 2014.
10. The Novembers - Rhapsody in Beauty
Though The Novembers aren't strictly a shoegaze band, the record isn't as experimental nor as diverse as the Luminous Orange release and is chock full of the requisite "wall of sound" guitar noise of a good shoegaze album. It's loud as hell and the title track is extremely addictive.
9. Origami - 113,197.73
This one made it in at the buzzer with a Christmas release. Origami are a relatively unknown, brand new band based in England and thanks to a timely recommendation via Greg from DKFM I was able to hear this album. Really nice ambient, textural stuff from the newcomers.
8. Plastic Girl in Closet - Eye Cue Rew See
More sugary sweet pop music from Plastic Girl in Closet, whose album was their second release of the year (the first being their January mini-album White Loud).
7. Aysula - Release Me
Another sort of under the radar release this year, Nagoya's Aysula impressed at the 2013 Japan Shoegazer Festival in their hometown and were invited to this year's event in Osaka as a result. Their mini-album Release Me (seven tracks so I threw it on this list) shows off their intense blend of shoegaze and post rock with massive guitars and powerful vocals.
6. Lemon's Chair - My Favorite Reverb
As usual, Lemon's Chair have put out a beautiful instrumental record. Put on your headphones and jack up the volume, but be careful, as about halfway through the epic 12-minute final track "My Favorite" the band's trademark guitar eruption kicks in and shit gets real.
5. Shelling - Aquarium Sympathy
The textures on this album are beautiful, blending guitar noise, thickly layered synths and breathy, sunken vocals. The electronic beats are super simple and do their job, pacing the listener through a sea of ambient fuzz.
4. Cigarette in your Bed - Darkness
Cigarette in your Bed's debut full-length album release marked their emergence from the High Fader ranks, and rightfully so. They're arguably the best band on the roster now and their gritty, somewhat grunge brand of shoegaze is a welcome addition to a pop-heavy Japanese shoegaze scene. My only complaint is that the new version of lead single "Let Me Out" is significantly slower than the original.
3. The Florist - Dark Entries
I've raved about this record a lot since it came out in April, and the replay value has hardly dimished since then. The album is super "dreamy" and a bit melancholy, and the gently harmonized vocals throughout are a nice touch. Lead single "Middle of Winter" has gotten a lot of love, and not just in Japan. Dark Entries is a successful debut and it looks like a follow up is likely at some point in 2015.
2. Boyish - Sketch for 8000 Days of Moratorium
Boyish entered the conversation a bit late with the November release of Sketch for 8000 Days of Moratorium, but made an emphatic statement with a killer record. The album is a throwback to the jangly guitar-laden shoegaze sound reminiscent of early Ride and My Bloody Valentine, highlighted by my favorite track "Heartwarm Guitar" (which when translating the phoneticized Japanese reads alarmingly like "Heartworm Guitar").
1. Juvenile Juvenile - Our Great Escape
Our Great Escape is simply the best Japanese record this year. Every song is good and the production is great thanks in large part to shoegaze producer extraordinaire Kensei Ogata's hand in the mixing. It's hard to say much more, other than this album is excellent.
10. Suichuu Zukan - Nami
Though it's just a single, Nami deserved a spot on this list as it's one of the best tracks released in 2014. I'm extremely hopeful that this is the first step toward a new album.
9. Grinch/Cattle - Feel Flaw, Lost Girl (split)
Grinch's "Digitalis" plays like a Coaltar of the Deepers track, and Cattle's "fluff" is one of my favorite songs this year. Two really good bands got together and released this split courtesy of Kiiro Records. Sadly it's only two tracks.
8. Uchuu Neko-ko and Lovely Summer-chan - Hibi no Awa
Another project to which the aforementioned Lovely Summer lent her vocal talents. It's just two tracks but Hibi no Awa, released via Bandcamp a couple times, had quickly garnered interest from shoegaze communities and bloggers all over the place.
7. Tokenai Namae - Osiete V Kankaku
While a lot of Japanese shoegaze bands draw on Western influences, Nagoya's Tokenai Namae's music goes back the the roots of modern J-Pop with a unique blend of guitar noise and "kayou kyoku". The self-proclaimed "kayou-shoegazers" released their second EP in March and gigged alongside Japanese shoegaze heavy hitters Plastic Girl in Closet and Shelling on their respective album release tours this year.
6. For Tracy Hyde - In Fear of Love
The Tokyo-based indie pop group had a big year in its new incarnation. Fronted by Lovely Summer - the same Lovely Summer mentioned above - For Tracy Hyde released two new EPs this year as well as a new single (a new version of an older track titled "Shady Lane Sherbet"). In Fear of Love's opening track "First Regrets" is an ultra-catchy pop track, and the rest follows suit.
5. the city - celebration - Another Osaka entry on the list, the city were newcomers in 2014. The indie rock/dream pop foursome put out a really impressive, somewhat moody 3-track EP amidst a flurry of gigs in 2014.
4. Ether Feels - Twilight Dreams
One of my personal favorite bands and one that I've seen live countless times, Ether Feels have released a bunch of material previously, but Twilight Dreams marks the first time they've made their music readily available to an overseas audience. Featuring fan favorite track "Raindrop Sparkle", Ether Feels' latest EP is a step up in production value from their previous works.
3. Al Van She's Coming - Drop*
A nice introduction to how a persistent guitar noise attack and Japanese pop vocals work well together. Hokkaido-based Al Van She's Coming delivers the requisite loudness of shoegaze with uptempo pop beats while switching back and forth between male and female vocals. "Mint" is one of the most addictive tracks I'd heard all year.
2. Oeil - Myrtle
Though Oeil has been hanging around and gigging sporadically over the last few years, Myrtle marked the band's first proper release since 2007's Urban Twilight EP. Whereas their previous EP was more of an homage to My Bloody Valentine, the new one incorporates those same elements while also mixing in a bit of a new wave sound, namely on the extremely danceable title track. The release of Myrtle coincided with Oeil's support of Aerofall and Vibragun on their Japan tour this fall.
1. Magic Love - Dawn
Magic Love came back from a roughly three-year hiatus and did so emphatically. The band spent the latter half of 2014 gigging following the release of their Dawn EP, the reaction to which prompted a re-release of their 2011 EP Bright a Scene and a new two-track live sessions CD. Magic Love's harsh, screaming guitars contrast the jangly pop-infused sound that is generally more prevalent in the Japanese shoegaze scene these days.