The Best Japanese Shoegaze and Dream Pop Releases of 2017

In 2017 things got pretty interesting in the Japanese scene.  The Daydream events took off this year, drawing some more of the focus away from Tokyo and further establishing Kyoto as Japanese shoegaze’s “second city”.  Elsewhere, Nagoya’s local scene got a big bump thanks in large part to releases from local bands and the emergence of some new, young bands.  There were also some long-awaited releases, a shoegaze idol group that blew everyone’s minds, and a couple of tragic break ups.  It was a busy year with a few intriguing storylines.  

In 2017 things got pretty interesting in the Japanese scene.  The Daydream events took off this year, drawing some more of the focus away from Tokyo and further establishing Kyoto as Japanese shoegaze’s “second city”.  Elsewhere, Nagoya’s local scene got a big bump thanks in large part to releases from local bands and the emergence of some new, young bands.  There were also some long-awaited releases, a shoegaze idol group that blew everyone’s minds, and a couple of tragic break ups.  It was a busy year with a few intriguing storylines.  

Release-wise, there was still the “not enough full length releases and too many EPs” problem, but it was more manageable.  The bigger issue this year was the closeness of the contenders.  At least for the LP and EP lists, the top spots were pretty obvious in my mind.  Below that I did a lot of shuffling throughout the year.  So, as is usually the case, I could very easily change this list around in a week or so.  

As is the case everywhere there will be some seemingly notable omissions on this list, but there’s a good reason for them.  The most obvious one would be Plant Cell, who re-released Flowergaze? in 2017.  As it’s just a re-worked version of a 2016 album, I left it off this year’s list.  Then there are bands like Apple Light and Crunch who both released really good music this year (the new Apple Light is seriously so good), but neither falls in the blurry realm of shoegaze or dream pop, even at its blurriest.  Cairophenomenons, Amsterdamned, Kill My 27, Acidclank, and Looprider all released good stuff this year that would have qualified on their own but ultimately didn’t feel right in this list.  

With that out of the way, here are my favorite releases of 2017:


★ ☆ ★ BEST SINGLE ★ ☆ ★

“NEO TOKYO” BY YOUTHMEMORY

At first listen, Neo Tokyo sounds like a pretty big departure from youthmemory’s previous material.  This is true in the feel of the music with the usual bouncy rhythm and jangly guitar backdrop replaced by drum machine beats and dense synth pads.  However, the Tokyo band’s M.O. of crafting danceable, lush, dreamy pop music remains unchanged.  There’s something cold and even a bit gloomy about this release, but it was a great change of pace without ever straying from what had made youthmemory a really enjoyable band.  (Bandcamp)

If this list took live performances into account, Fog Park would be right at the top.  The Saitama-based newcomers put out two demo singles in 2017 – “cigarette punch” in January and then “sleeping cat” in May.  While neither of the demos demonstrates how brutally loud these guys are capable of being, the songs are still really good.  I’m looking forward to their recently announced debut mini album “beautiful blood”, that was released on 1/20.  (Currently only available at shows)

The Kansai region consistently produces some of the country’s best dream pop acts, and the best of the bunch in 2017 was Mariana in our Heads.  The five-piece put out a single an an EP this year, and while the latter received some consideration before ultimately falling to some strong competition, their “Anemone/Yarn” 7-inch was among my favorite singles.  While I generally favor harder-hitting, noisy chaos, I do occasionally have a soft spot for really warm synth-laden dream pop.  2017 was a good year for that, and Mariana in our Heads nailed it.  (Flake Records)

The most bittersweet entry on this whole list belongs to Ether Feels, whose “moonshine” single would be the last material they released before announcing all of the members would be going their separate ways.  The track actually starts off uncharacteristically peppy before transitioning into the sad but catchy melancholic pop sound that Ether Feels spent years doing so well.  (Bandcamp)

I have mixed feelings about Japan’s hottest shoegaze band, ・・・・・・・・・(pronounced “dots”).  The idol group’s surge in popularity is probably due more to their live gimmicks and cute-but-edgy idol shtick, but their debut single “CD” features some legitimately good music – particulary “Slide” which was written by For Tracy Hyde’s Natsu-bot.  I remain skeptical of “alt-idol” acts, but credit where credit is due here.  (Amazon)


★ ☆ ★ BEST EP ★ ☆ ★

“INTO THE DREAM” BY SOFTSURF

With all due respect to the rest of the bands who released EPs this year, this one was never going to be close.  It’s been fun watching softsurf’s rise over the last couple years, and “Into the Dream” helped solidify their status as the best shoegaze band going in Japan right now.  I’ve beaten the Slowdive/Pastel Blue comp into the ground to this point, but it’s pretty remarkable since that sound is so rare here.  With their first proper release and a three-city tour in support of it, Softsurf had an incredible year which saw them establish themselves within the national shoegaze scene.  And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better live band in that scene.  (Amazon)

Though Softsurf was in a league of its own in 2017, there were still some really good EP releases in the next tier.  17 Years Old And The Berlin Wall put out their second EP Reflect last year, following up their excellent 2015 debut.  17Berlin’s sound pretty much reflects the popular sound in the Japanese shoegaze scene, with male-female vocal harmonies and poppy guitar melodies.  What has set them apart, besides the fact that their songs are really catchy, is the fact that hit a bit harder they’re willing to muddy it up a bit and drown some of the sweetness in guitar noise.  (Flake Records)

My 2017 Rookie of the Year award goes to Kyoto-based newcomers Nurse, who released their debut EP ODD.  Nurse sort of spawned from the very short-lived Hakusen Shikatsu, who released a couple impressive demo tracks earlier in the year and then split.  But the new project is even better and way way noisier.  Hopefully these guys stick around for a bit. (Bandcamp)

Chiba’s plant cell may not have been qualified for the album of the year award, but they put out two really good EPs in 2017.  The first, titled Queen of the Nebula – Fairy Lurking In the Thundercloud, was a thematic departure from their usual nature/spirit-based content, but featured their usual dense, dreamy sound.  The second, Cyan, was a collection of new versions of songs previously released on CDs or as singles on Bandcamp.  To be clear, the rebuild version of Flowergaze? wasn’t included in the list because it was just a modified version of a previously released album.  Cyan, on the other hand, was recorded from scratch and marked plant cell’s first recording as a full band.  The result isn’t really all that different, but the live drums add a bit of warmth to some familiar tracks.  For a band that’s put out some of the same tracks more than a couple times now, plant cell always manages to keep things interesting.  (Disk Union)

Perhaps better known as half of Hachioji-based alternative band The Weddings, singer-songwriter, kano, has been writing some seriously good dream pop tunes over the last 2 years. Her second EP, Shochuu, is short and sweet, including three whimsical, feel-good tracks with some really pretty textures woven along with gentle, breathy vocals.  The release was fairly low-key, but the release really hits the spot and rose to the top of a very deep list of 2017 EPs.  (File-Under Records


★ ☆ ★ BEST ALBUM ★ ☆ ★

“HE(R)ART” BY FOR TRACY HYDE

For Tracy Hyde outdid themselves and delivered the most enjoyable album of 2017.  While most bands are putting out singles and EPs, the Tokyo-based dreamy indie pop/shoegaze outfit released an incredibly well-written 17-track album (16 if you don’t want to include the intro) that draws on western indie pop influence while conjuring youthful imagery of life in Tokyo.  That imagery is key, as He(r)art is structured like a film, down to the movie poster album cover and “Opening Logo”.  It’s a nostalgic, playful, and emotional walk through a massive city and impactful relationships made there.  While He(r)art is an extremely cohesive album that is best consumed as presented from start to finish, the individual tracks stand well on their own as well.  “Leica Daydream”, “Houbutsusen”, and “Teen Flick” are among my personal favorites, while “Ghost Town Polaroids” might be my favorite track of the year.  There are some strong contenders below, but For Tracy Hyde owned 2017. (Amazon)

There’s not much to say about Shelling‘s latest album, Waiting for Mint Shower!!  The Tokyo-based duo gave us another gorgeous album based on the simple-but-effective formula of blanketing everything in a cascade of reverb-soaked guitars, warm synths, and Aya’s gentle, breathy vocals.  The way the tracks subtly evolve over the repetitive beats and lulling bass lines is hypnotic.  But you’ve heard all this before.  (Amazon)

Taffy is an interesting inclusion, because I almost have to remind myself that they’re a Japanese band.  More appreciated overseas than in their home country – which is crazy for a band of their quality – Taffy occasionally emerges in the Tokyo scene as they did in 2017 following the release of their Nyctophilia album.  Taffy pushes guitar texture to the foreground, making the deeper lying melodies more subtle and the overall tone of the tracks harsher.  The result is a much different album than most of the releases you find on these lists.  (Amazon)

One of the biggest surprises of the year was the announcement from Nagoya’s Tokenai Namae that they’d be returning from their fairly lengthy hiatus with a new album.  On Seifuku Kanro Kurabu the kayo-pop shoegaze band stayed true to their sound with a cute but chaotic blend of bubbly vocals, bouncy synths, crunchy bass, and ear-blasting guitars.  It’s pacier than the first, and everything below the synth leads feels like it’s been bumped in the mix, making things sound a bit messier.  A really solid release, which is remarkable considering the band was inactive for the better part of 2017.  (File-Under Records)

There are two albums dueling it out for the fifth spot on this best albums list, both of which were fairly long-awaited releases.  Cruyff in the Bedroom‘s first full-length album in almost 5 years, Hate Me, was probably the most highly-anticipated Japanese shoegaze release coming into 2017.  Caucus‘ first in four years, Sound of the Air, came later in the year and was fairly low-key in comparison.  Hate Me had higher highs with a few bangers including HATE and my personal favorite Laurelei, but got a bit too clean and rock n roll at times.  Caucus’ record had its own hot track in lead single, “What Have You Done”, but the album was more consistent start to finish, giving it the nod.  Caucus changes pace well on the album, going from fuzzy pop tunes to slower, more textural tracks like the almost 9-minute “Circles”.  Overall it was a more interesting listening experience. (Caucus on Amazon) (Cruyff in the Bedroom on Amazon)

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.

Top 10 Japanese Shoegaze Albums and EPs of 2014

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.

The Albums

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.

The EPs

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.