The Best Japanese Shoegaze and Dream Pop Releases of 2020

Despite being awful in just about every way imaginable, 2020 was actually a strong year for Japanese music. The shoegaze scene in particular saw the emergence of some more young and impressive talent and with live music largely crippled by COVID-19, it at very least felt like more bands were striving to improve their online presence. Bandcamp Fridays seemed to encourage more Japanese artists to give the platform a chance, online streaming events took off, and some artists even sought creative ways to stay active by way of intimate studio session streams or pedalboard/gear walkthroughs. There was an obvious lack of in-person contact this year, but it opened up new means of artist-audience connections.

The fun part of looking back on a year is to reflect on the themes and trends of a particular scene. There was a lot of genre crossover in Japanese shoegaze in 2020, as gradually the marriage of punk/hardcore and shoegaze that has become quite popular in the US in particular over the past few years has gradually continued to work its way over to Japan. There was plenty of emo, guitar pop, post rock, indie pop, and early 00s Japanese alternative rock blended into shoegaze in 2020, that the scene felt more diverse than ever, and that is reflected in this best of the year list.

A couple of the annual “don’t e-mail me about this, please!” notes before we start. Hitsuji Bungaku‘s POWERS album is a monster, but it doesn’t qualify for this list despite a couple of absolutely killer shoegaze-leaning songs. Tokyo newcomers BLOOD PICK ME deserve some credit for their impressive output this year. Working against them was the fact that, as always, there was loads of tough competition in the single an EP categories.

 ☆ ★ BEST SINGLE ★ ☆

“Talking to Myself/Smoke from Cigarettes” by Morningwhim

2020’s best new band was responsible for the year’s best single.  Nagoya newcomers, Morningwhim, put out two singles last year – “Most of the Sun Shines” and “Talking to Myself/Smoke from Cigarettes”.  The latter was a Pains-esque jangle-fest riding a persistent wave of guitar fuzz.  Style-wise, this is right up there with the best of the shoegaze-indie pop crossover that really dominated the middle- to late-2010s.  A tremendous start from the Japanese indie band to keep an eye on moving forward (the other single is excellent, too!).

The race for best single was so close that Optloquat’s “Red Orange/Someday” felt like more of a 1a than a “best of the rest”.  “Red Orange” might have been my favorite Japanese shoegaze song of 2020.  The band’s sound blends Slowdive-y textural depth with early 2000s Japanese alt rock dynamic and vocals.  It’s music like this that really makes Japanese shoegaze more interesting than its global counterparts.  

Another year, another COLLAPSE appearance on a Muso Japan best of the year list.  This year’s entry was another epic display of the heaviest shoegaze that Japan has to offer by way of the band’s single “DROWN”.  The Saitama outfit dropped the new single in March and it’s a slow-paced belter that checks all of the requisite shoegaze boxes.  

Kyoto’s tip top nap returned in 2020 with “Kotoba no Hana/Haru no Naka e”, two tracks of some of the sweetest dream pop to come out of Japan this year.  “Haru no Naka e” really carried the release thanks to Natsumi Yamamoto’s ability to tear your heart to shreds with her breathy vocals.  The melody in the chorus is tear-jerking stuff and the gently bouncy backdrop is the perfect accompaniment.

Tokyo’s Stomp Talk Modstone have been around for a while now, but in 2020 the band really emerged as they released an absurd amount of music in such a short period of time. There were plenty of candidates to round out this list, but the best of the bunch was July, 2020 single “Hurt”. Stomp Talk Modstone draws on the standard names of the genre, but still manages to keep it fresh. Had I posted this at the beginning of the year when I should have, I would have recommended that you stay tuned for their album. But since it’s already out, I can say with certainty that you should check it out.

★ ☆ ★ BEST EP ★ ☆ ★

“shaman’s daughter” by My Dead Girlfriend

Just like the long-awaited returns of Coaltar of the Deepers in 2018 and Tokyo Shoegazer in 2019, a new release from My Dead Girlfriend was perhaps the most notable event in the scene in 2020. “Shaman’s Daughter”, partially a soundtrack to an upcoming indie film of the same name, was the band’s first new music in 5 years. The Kensei Ogata-produced effort covers a lot of ground tonally from cold, edgy post-punk to power pop with bouts of breakbeats, and is loaded with explosive energy and catchy hooks that you expect from a My Dead Girlfriend album. The best EP of the year and hands down the most fun as well. (CD Japan)

Nuit‘s debut narrowly missed out on my best of 2018 list, but their followup surged to the top of this one. And it’s definitely not due to any lack of competition. “In My Nature” is a massive step forward for the band thanks to some truly powerful guitars and insanely catchy vocal hooks. The balance on the EP is great – Makoto Gomi once again handled the production – and while the band maintained the dramatic vocal style that has defined their sound, it felt much better complemented this time around. Lead single and absolute banger “Forget-Me-Not” is Nuit’s new signature track.

Tokyo’s Moon in June came out of nowhere with their debut EP “Uminari”. Fluttery dream pop has long been a staple of the Japanese shoegaze scene, and while simple pop beats and gentle leads are very much part of Moon in June’s core sound, their ability to build to big, blurry guitar walls at just the right times sets them apart. The songs on the EP are extremely well-crafted.

Something of a Japanese indie supergroup, Tokyo’s Ferri-Chrome dropped some tasty shoegazey guitar-pop on us in 2020 with their debut EP “from a window”. Led by indie mainstay Manabu Kurogome with the support of members from For Tracy Hyde and Boyish, Ferri-Chrome’s sound is a throwback to 90s shoegaze a la Pale Saints or, for a domestic comp, first wave Japanese shoegaze.

Rounding off the list is fan favorite Seventeen Years Old and Berlin Wall, who offered a little bit of a different look in 2020 with their “Abstract” EP. The Tokyo outfit focused less on being a shoegaze band and more on working their shoegaze influence into a wider exploration of genres, and the result is a very fresh, very pleasant new version of itself.

★ ☆ ★ BEST ALBUM ★ ☆ ★

“In Memory Of” by Yukla Down

Tokyo’s Yukla Down blew me away in 2018 with their debut EP “In Demonstrationem”, and their 2020 full length debut In Memory Of stood as hands down the best of what was a strong field for the year. The band takes its shoegaze foundation in a lot of interesting directions, touching on post rock and emo; rolling it back to early My Bloody Valentine one moment and then into a glitchy soundscape the next. There’s not a dull moment on the entire album and the way it wraps up with the twelve-and-a-half-minute post rock epic “Denali” is absolutely perfect.

I’ll spare you my usual comments about how idol music bugs me. RAY is wonderful. For a while, comparing the shoegaze idol group to the now defunct ・・・・・・・・・ was logical, as RAY was seemingly the next step for the management group. But RAY has produced nothing but quality since forming up in 2019. For their full-length debut, Pink, the outfit was supported by an all-star cast of shoegaze composers, including Azusa Suga (For Tracy Hyde), Yusuke Hata (cruyff in the bedroom), and Hiroyuki Imamura (The Florist), as well as Ringo Deathstarr’s Elliott Frazier. I may not be totally on board with so-called “alt idol” music, but in at least this case, I’m warming up to the idea. (Tower Records Japan)

Simple, straightforward, and a bit rough around the edges. On 10 songs, Forbear delivered precisely that many tracks of fuzzy noise pop nostalgia. The album is an uncomplicated flow of sweet vocal melodies over a gritty backdrop and bouncy beats with the occasional breakdown or outburst of scorching guitar noise. There’s nothing to overthink about the album. It’s just really, really enjoyable. (LIKE A FOOL RECORDS)

Two years after dropping their debut demo single that I absolutely adored, Kiwi put out Before You’re Gone, a collection of addictive, danceable shoegaze pop slathered in Ride influence. Unlike a lot of bands that draw on the poppiest of shoegaze’s holy trinity, Kiwi is unafraid to let fly waves of messy guitar noise. The album is loaded with catchy numbers and, seated smack in the middle of the tracklist, “Behind the Times” is premium swoony promgaze. (Tower Records Japan)

SPOOL‘s sophomore effort Cyan/Amber was one of the more highly-anticipated releases of the year, due in large part to the attention the band garnered as a result of a stellar 2019 debut. The album is basically split into two parts, with its “Cyan” half featuring more of the grungy, moody style that the band has largely been known for. The “Amber” offers some lighter-toned melancholy, drifting more toward the realm of dream pop. While it may lack the individual standout song power of the debut, Cyan/Amber as a whole is an impressively worked listening experience.

Otom – “You Lost Me”

Tokyo-based shoegaze producer Otom is back with his first track of 2019, titled “You Lost Me”.  The new song is a bit more upbeat than the billowy electronic shoegaze he wowed us with last year, though if it’s too poppy for your taste Otom included an edited version that’s more or less a glitchy remix showcasing the track’s textural backdrop.  Otom sits atop a fairly long list of recording-only Japanese music projects that I wish would get a band together and take it to the stage.  His style of music seems like it would translate better than a lot of the lo-fi bedroom pop that also populates my list, but for whatever reason it doesn’t seem like that will be happening.  In the meantime, we’re likely to get quite a few more singles this year, so at least we have that to look forward to.

You can pick up all of Otom’s work via Bandcamp.

figure – “Parakalein”

Figure, the solo project of Tottori-based musician Masanobu Hasebe, provided one of the more pleasant discoveries of the year, a new 6-track release titled “Parakalein”.  The EP, which was released in both digital and cassette formats by Kobe indie label, Sauna Cool, is the first release from figure in four years.  It’s a collection of washed out lo-fi indie pop tunes, spread out in layers over a backbone of snappy electronic drums.  “Parakalein” hits the sweet spot where indie pop and shoegaze combine – something that’s been both popular and perhaps a bit contentious among some bands but undoubtedly successful in the Japanese scene.  While there’s not a bad track on the EP, “True Bosom” is the highlight of the release – a blurry mishmash of jangly melodies, synths, and reverb-drenched blaring guitars.  The six-minute “Mary” is a more uptempo, melodic pop song with an ultra-catchy chorus.  It’s some well-written, charmingly-produced dreamy melancholy from an artist that will hopefully get some more attention from here on out.

You can pick up “Parakalein” via Sauna Cool’s Bandcamp page.  Cassettes are available, but limited to 100 copies.

The End Of DKFM…For Now

As 2015 was winding down, shoegaze and dreampop fans all over the world had their usual year-end routines of reading Top 10 lists and sorting out their own interrupted by some pretty sad news.  California-based independent radio station DKFM, a staple within the shoegaze community, had announced that at midnight Eastern time the station would cease to be on air. 

As 2015 was winding down, shoegaze and dreampop fans all over the world had their usual year-end routines of reading Top 10 lists and sorting out their own interrupted by some pretty sad news.  California-based independent radio station DKFM, a staple within the shoegaze community, had announced that at midnight Eastern time the station would cease to be on air.  The reason came down to the expiration of the Webcaster Settlement Act, established in 2009, which enabled small and mid-sized webcasters (as determined by a revenue threshold) to pay special, more manageable rates.  With the expiration of the current agreement and the Copyright Royalty Board’s newly increased rates, DKFM and its small webcaster brethren are left with uncertain futures, removing from the music world a group of valuable and highly appreciated resources.  

Anyway, it’s 2016 right now and no last-minute miracles occurred.  DKFM is silent and the shoegaze community is pretty bummed out about it.  For the purpose of this post I’ll spare any “little guy getting squeezed out” rants.  

I had originally talked to the station’s owner, Greg Wilson, around the time of the first issue of Muso Planet.  It was around that time that I’d first heard of DKFM, and I adored the station’s concept.  Tuning in for the first time, it occurred to me that good radio was something that was I seriously missed – I’d never really listened to much Internet radio to that point, Chicago had been without a quality radio station for probably a decade, and what I’ve listened to of Japanese radio hasn’t been pleasant.  A station devoted 100% to shoegaze and dream pop was just the thing I needed.  On top of that, the station’s mission to promote new music from all over the world via its New Tracks Weekend programming was on a much larger scale than what I had intended with my own project.  I admired the hell out of what DKFM was doing, and tuning in made my life a little better every time.  

A year and some change ago, I was fortunate enough to have been adopted into the DKFM family and given a bi-monthly hour-long slot during which I could share choice tracks from Japan and around Asia.  DKFM had no lack of Japanese music in its database, but Greg, fueled by a love of Kensei Ogata and Tatuki Seksu among others, wanted to have programming dedicated to it and I was happy to oblige.  Having recorded my own radio shows on a tape deck when I was a child, the opportunity was something of a dream come true.  I had a blast working on Muso Asia over the following year and throughout 2015, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

Other members of the DKFM family included Mikkel of Danish new wave/post punk trio The Foreign Resort, Amber of the essential shoegaze and dream pop blog When The Sun Hits, and the somewhat mysterious DJ Ariel.  The family was getting bigger, the programming was expanding, and DKFM just kept getting better and better.  What seemed like a sudden announcement by the CRB put an end to a good thing, and what we’re left with following the station’s final broadcast on New Year’s Eve is a big hole that all the YouTube spam and description-less Soundcloud links in the world can’t replace.  

I get that that last bit’s a little dramatic.  The disappointment could very well just be a temporary thing, as there’s reason to believe that DKFM’s absence from our airwaves may be short lived.  There are alternatives, and while returning to its previous format isn’t likely, a somewhat modified version of DKFM is preferable to none at all.  Twitter activity indicates that the powers that be are working hard to find a solution.  While there are no guarantees, shoegaze and dream pop fans can and should hold out hope that the planet’s foremost purveyor of all things blissful will be back sooner than later.

[Hong Kong] Thud’s Debut EP “Floret” (6/30)

Late last year, Thud was a little-known band from Hong Kong whose single “Lime” had drawn intrigue from just about every shoegaze fan who came across it on social media.  On the back of their first single, the band’s popularity had continued to grow and with it the demand for more music.  A second track “Venture” was released, which was an encouraging sign that perhaps a proper release was in the works.  Fast forward to June and the exciting news that they will, in fact, be releasing an EP.

Late last year, Thud was a little-known band from Hong Kong whose single “Lime” had drawn intrigue from just about every shoegaze fan who came across it on social media.  On the back of their first single, the band’s popularity had continued to grow and with it the demand for more music.  Early this year a second track “Venture” was released, which was an encouraging sign that perhaps a proper release was in the works.  Fast forward to June and the exciting news that they will, in fact, be releasing an EP.


Floret will be the maiden release for both Thud and Hong Kong-based label Records For Children.  The EP will feature four tracks from the quartet, whose sound features an extremely appealing marriage of ‘classic’ shoegaze guitar textures and blanketed atmospheric synths.  Shades of Slowdive and M83 – whose influence becomes especially apparent on the charmingly woozy “Venture” – can be heard throughout Floret, and though comparisons can be made to any number of influential shoegaze/dream pop outfits, Thud’s debut is an imaginative display of a sound that they’ve uniquely constructed as their own.  The whirring instrumental blend is entrancing, the rhythm and synth pop melodies danceable from start to finish, and the breathy female vocals are a thing of beauty.  Simply put, it’s a fantastic EP with no discernible flaws, that should be among the year’s best when all is said and done.  As an added bonus, the fifth track on the CD is a chilled out remix of “Lime” done by Max Bloom of Yuck, for whom Thud opened in Hong Kong this year.  

FloretはThudと香港インディレーベルRecords For Childrenにとって初のアルバムリリースとなっている。4曲が収録され、彼らの90年代シューゲイザーを代表するようなギターテキスチャーと多層のシンセサイザーで作られた雰囲気のある組み合わせをショーケースする作品である。Slowdiveの影響が伺え、気持ちよく渦を巻くような「Venture」ではM83の影響も感じられるが、他のバンドと比べるのは公平ではない。Thudのデビューは非常に想像力のある独特のサウンドの展示である。ギターとシンセの相性がぴったりで、リズムとシンセポップ的なメロディでダンス向きの特徴もあり、かすかなボーカルは本当に美しい。簡単に言うと、欠点のない素晴らしいEPである。更に、5曲目にはThudが今年香港のライブでサポートしたYuckのMax Bloomが手がけたリミックスバージョンの「Lime」も入っている。

In addition to a digital release, physical CDs will go on sale at the EP Release Show in Hong Kong on June 30th.  To follow news and updates regarding this release and future releases follow Thud and Records for Children on Facebook.  

このEPは6月30日にデジタルリリースされ、当日行われるリリースパーティではCDも販売されるそうである。今後の情報はThudとRecords For Childrenのフェイスブックで発表されますので、是非フォローして下さい。

Here is a preview of the EP via Thud’s Soundcloud page:

Muso Planet volume 7 coming 11/1!

Muso Planet will be out one week from today on Saturday, November 11.  It’s our first issue in a while and as always, will feature some really cool bands from all over the world.  The band list is as follows:

Dead Leaf Echo (USA)
magic love (Japan)
JAGUWAR (Germany)
Puna (Peru)
Man in Rug (New Zealand)
Divided (Czech Republic)
rev rev rev (Italy)

[Spain] Sexores’ Debut Full Length “Historias de Frío”

Hailing from Quito, Ecuador, but currently based in Barcelona, Spain, Sexores have released their long-awaited debut full-length album Historias de Frio.  Though the album has been finished for some time, it has finally made it to the Internet and can be purchased at Sexores’ Bandcamp page.  It’s a gorgeous 8-track effort showcasing Sexores’ dreamy shoegaze sound with big noisy textures, warm synths, and stunning vocals.  Give the title track a listen and prepare to get hooked: