Since World War II, US and Japanese cultures have intermingled significantly, resulting in a large American market for Japanese media. While anime might be the most prevalent example, Japanese music has also gained a significant following among listeners in the US.
Personally, I’ve been drawn to Japanese rock (J-rock) as a rock style that sounds distinctly unlike anything I’ve heard from English-speaking artists. Several artists have impressive catalogs of work that deserve more widespread recognition. Now, I don’t speak Japanese, so I can’t say anything regarding the lyrical quality of most of these artists. However, the music itself is stellar enough to enjoy on its own merits.
POLKADOT STINGRAY was my first introduction into J-rock, and I think they provide a good jumping off point for deeper exploration into the genre. Their music primarily features a high-pitched, snappy electric guitar leading their songs and a very active bass guitar that’s just satisfying to focus in on. Much of J-rock also utilizes this type of guitar playing rarely found in the US, especially in popular, contemporary rock artists. Additionally, vocalist Shizuku’s rich, breathy singing allows the more intense instrumentals to shine through A significant funk influence also permeates their discography, like on the album “Nanimono (何者)”, which is my personal favorite.
If you’re looking for a more laid-back band, then Odottebakarinokuni (踊ってばかりの国) is up your alley. The band has a much softer sound than POLKADOT STINGRAY and features a more familiar, US indie rock style compared to other J-rock artists. Tracks like “EDEN” highlight the lead vocalist’s drawn out singing and a guitar with an almost overwhelming, yet quiet, overdrive.
Noise rock has also thrived in Japan as evidenced by bands like Melt-Banana. The punk band’s work has become especially popular in the US and UK, where punk often favors pure noise over the groove found in Melt-Banana’s music. Yasuko O.’s shrieking singing on tracks like “Lie Lied Lies” gets drowned out by a guitar that blows out speakers and drums that leave your head pounding in the best possible way.
CHAI is an uncommon example of a J-rock artist who frequently uses both English and Japanese lyrics and collaborates with English-speaking artists like Gorillaz and Duran Duran. While their music can be profoundly different to most other J-rock artists, they also hold a unique sound among US and UK artists. CHAI incorporates electronica and dance into their rock that makes their sound incredibly fun. When their groove is paired with that same snappy guitar popular in J-rock music, the result is catchy, experimental, and perfect to jam out to. I highly recommend “PUNK”, which captures their style perfectly.