July has ended, which means the time to quickly review some releases is also here!
Rainbow Chan — Pillar (2019)
Pillar is both Rainbow Chan’s first full album since her 2016 effort Spacings and my first time approaching her music. For this latest effort, the Australian singer-songwriter fleshes out many of the tricks and formulas of electro-pop songwriting, resulting in a record that can go from melodic and lively to minimalistic and experimental, all without feeling like any of these sides is being compromised. Fitting to Chan’s full artistic name, Pillar is an outstanding, colorful record that allows the artist to seamlessly alternate sounds, ideas, and even languages (with Rainbow Chan singing in languages such as English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Cantonese dialect Weitou) in an effort to, in the producer/songwriter’s own words, “de-centre the Eurocentricity of language in pop music”.
Kai — Moonlight・Tokyo (2019)
Former There There Theres member turned solo idol Kai departs from the alternative sound that made her former group stand out in the underground Japanese idol scene to debut with a colorful collection of synthpop songs. Each song in this EP feels playfully overproduced (to the point where even the slightly weird background noises in Himitsu no Tobira feel like they were planned to be there, and not like a slightly experimental endeavor), resulting in a cohesive and fun listen. 80s-inspired synth-pop often falls under the risk of feeling like a phony, outdated product, something Moonlight・Tokyo’s gracefully avoids by turning up the fun while having production values perfectly balanced between polished and low-budget. Something that in turn gives the solo idol a solid aesthetic to build a stage persona from.
Hideki Kaji — GOTH ROMANCE (2019)
Hideki Kaji’s first album in three years, GOTH ROMANCE can be considered equal parts a revisit to his musical beginnings and an invitation for his friends to bring new elements into the mix. With pretty much every song on the album being a collaboration with a guest musician — the list including names like non, Shibuya-kei co-legend Maki Nomiya, Keigo Oyamada (of Cornelius fame), and Soutaiseiriron member Seiichi Nagai — the album alternates between the usual Kaji-flavored soft, fun compositions and more diverse moments, like the old Broadway-inspired French Cinema!, the playfully aggressive Non Non Song or the disco-flavored 5 to 7 Shibuya-kei. A pretty solid, even if not groundbreaking, effort in branching into more diverse grounds, GOTH ROMANCE is a record that sees Kaji trying out sounds that differ from his trademark twee compositions, which makes this release a welcome addition to his catalog.
Rosalía — F*cking Money Man (2019)
Her latest in a series of single releases, F*cking Money Man follows the Spanish singer’s trend of exploiting an idea to its fullest, both musically and visually. In this double single’s case, the postmodern cantaora explores the highs and lows that come with excessive wealth: sung entirely in Catalán — a first in the singer’s catalog — and building upon a playful, summery sound, Milionària has the Spanish songwriter listing the many luxuries the opulence she dreams of could grant her. A complete flipside to this, Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero resorts to sleek and minimalist repetitions, through which the singer expresses not only her desire to free herself, and others, from the money she wished for mere minutes ago but also expresses her increasingly greedy practices around it, all while also linking this sentiment to kings, presidents, and other figures often tainted by the very same greed. A masterful execution of the “two sides of the same coin” concept (pun unintended), Rosalía’s first double A-Side single gives her space to continue exploring concepts and narratives, while also cementing her musical identity to genre boundary-breaking that has become a staple in her music.
Kanamaru — maruichi (2019)
Winner of the Miss iD 2018 SKY-HI prize and mother to a three-year-old girl, singer Kanamaru sees her debut as a step towards making her dreams come true, and this dream couldn’t have come to reality in a more stellar way. Backed by a production team that includes Sho Yamamoto and Gento Miyano (who often collaborate with personal favorites like Yufu Terashima and Dance for Philosophy) this short album presents its listeners with eight polished and colorful tracks that could be described as a skillful execution of sounds that are currently popular in the mainstream Japanese pop scene. But these songs’ main strength seems to come from the way they mesh with Kanamaru’s vocal talents, with the singer feeling like a confident natural throughout the entire record. Simply put, maruichi is short and sweet listen whose main charm comes from the way the singer’s sweet and mature vocals playfully adapt to the different melodies presented through the record.