10. Morning Musume ’14 – What is Love?
One of the coolest, most surreal experiences of my year was seeing Morning Musume perform live and meeting the members. That was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime weekend that I will never forget. However, I might not have decided to fly to New York for a weekend and stand in line for six hours if Morning Musume hadn’t really upped their game in 2013 and 2014.
Morning Musume’s unevenness is it’s greatest asset and its greatest weakness. It’s always an interesting group, to follow, but there are some lineups and some musical eras that I like better than others. Morning Musume has really hit its stride in the post-10th gen era with catchy, fun music, and What is Love is my favorite MM song in several years.
I think what initially made me love What is Love is the way it bends genres, taking Morning Musume’s current electronic music and mixing it with swing. It’s a delight to hear two genres that don’t get too much mixing and putting them together. Aside from that, What is Love is just a successful song; the pacing is perfect and with a catchy melody. I might have liked some real instruments, but the dubstep instrumentation works just fine here.
What is Love was the first song I got really excited about in 2014, and I think it’s going to be a favorite for years to come.
9. Especia – No 1 Sweeper
While i haven’t explored Especia as much as I might like, there’s no denying that they’re one of the most unique groups out there, in terms of sound and aesthetic. While I’m not entirely familiar enough with vaporwave as a movement, it’s clear that they are inspired by vaporwave. They are clearly influenced by the 80s and early 90s, but often the aspects that aren’t the most fondly remembered, like the saxophone.
While I have been intrigued by Especia for a while, No 1 Sweeper is the first song that really spoke to me (though I am also very fond of Kuru ka na). It’s arguably the most listenable of Especia’s songs, with a catchy melody that shines through all the intentional cheesiness and weirdness of the instrumentation.
That said, I do like how ambitious Especia is as a group. A lot of idol groups are doing some fantastic things with music, but Especia has such a distinct and unique sound and feel to them that it makes them intriguing. I like that they have relatively cheesy instrumentation; I might have a high tolerance for cheese, but it gives them a unique appeal.
Especia is going for something unique and I have to love it. No 1 Sweeper is an addicting song and I can’t wait to hear more from them.
8. Dempagumi.inc – Sakura Apparition
Oh man, did Dempagumi.inc start the year out right. Sakura Apparition isn’t perhaps as ambitious or interesting as the W.W.D series (or the next Dempa song on this list), but it’s a well-constructed, fun, song. I especially enjoy the brief snippets of traditional Japanese music, especially the extended bit that sounds like it’s inspired a lot by ondo music. This isn’t a route Dempagumi.inc goes down too often (preferring to surround themselves much more with a modern identity of Japan rather than a traditional one), but I do like the combination of sounds. It makes me wonder what a dempa enka ballad might sound like.
The melody is, as always from Dempagumi, catchy and strong. It feels a lot more unified and standard than some of their other songs, but I think it works here. The arrangement isn’t a very stand out one (though I often find myself listening to the bass line of this song) but focuses more on supporting the melody in a fairly unobtrusive way. There are some snippets of what sounds like some traditional instruments, so kudos to Dempa for this.
Sakura Apparition isn’t the most interesting or most out there Dempagumi.inc, but it’s a really solid, really enjoyable listen that I’ve enjoyed since it came out.
7. Takoyaki Rainbow – Zesshou! Naniwa de Umareta Shoujotachi
When Takoyaki Rainbow’s center, Towa, graduated the group, I wasn’t too worried. Stardust does a solid job of promoting every member in its groups, so while Towa is missed it’s not a fatal strike the group. However, I did wonder what would happen to the group. As it turns out, they got another song by Hyadain, and an introduction song.
The song I’d most easily be able to compare this to is Dempagumi.inc’s W.W.D, except much more joyful. W.W.D was about Dempagumi.inc’s members coming from less than zero, while Zesshou is much more of an upbeat introduction song focusing on the group being from Osaka. Much like W.W.D, each member gets a separate introduction piece, which then all comes together into the chorus. It’s the type of thing that you don’t think will work, but somehow all the weird pieces of this song come together in a much cohesive whole than I thought it would.
All of Takoyaki Rainbow are still growing as singers and performers, but there is a real confidence to Zesshou. Sakura, Karen and Kurumi all show off some solid vocal skills. This group is growing very rapidly and it’s really fun to watch.
Listen, just seeing the word “Hyadain” should clue you in. This is another really fun, quality song by Hyadain that does a great job of introducing the group. I am so excited to see more of Takoniji.
6. Team Syachihoko – Akamiso Blood
I love this song. I briefly considered putting it at the very top of this year’s list, but held off. But man, Akamiso Blood is one of the most unique songs that came out this year.
Essentially, this is the collaboration of Team Syachihoko and Daichi, a beatboxer who got a lot of recognition off of YouTube. So this is a very minimalist track of Daichi, a keyboard, and Team Syachihoko, who provide both the main vocals and some of the other rhythm and sounds found in the piece.
This is incredibly minimalist, a completely unusual idol song. While some idols have done acapella before, I don’t know any groups that did something this minimalist and had it as an album track. Of course, this is reinforced by the vocals, piano and melody all working well together, but the fact that this even got made shows incredible trust in the songwriter (Shihori, who also did MomoClo’s GOUNN), Daichi, and the members.