The best Japanese albums of 2013: Sapphire Slows, ‘Allegoria’

by Mike Sunda

If there’s one thing I’ve taken out of 2013, it’s that the kids are alright. Perhaps as a result of growing up Internet savvy, with easy access to decades of music and countless genres at their fingertips, Japan’s young artists have spent the year pasting together aural collages that gleefully defy categorization.

Back in the summer, it was rap trio The Otogibanashi’s who caught my eye with their album “Toy Box” — a miscellany of beats that veered between J. Dilla-esque beats and folky electronica, and owed as much to Disney as it did conventional hip-hop culture. Meanwhile, Yokohama-based imprint Trekkie Trax — several of whose members are still in high school — utilized the freedom of the netlabel format to flood the Web with a deluge of club productions from its extended family, spanning juke, trap and grime. Just one glance at its bountiful output this year and you begin to fear for the members’ graduation hopes.

Someone else whose attendance might suffer in the new year is Hiroshima-born Sapphire Slows, who will have to balance graduate school studies with an increasingly prolific musical career following the release of her debut album in November. “Allegoria” ranges from dub-techno on the track “Corekill” to Chicago house-inspired dream-pop on album highlight “Fade Out.” The glue that holds it all together is the ever-present vocals of singer-songwriter Kinuko Hiramatsu. Recorded at a whisper so as not to disturb her neighbors (one of the perils of operating from a bedroom studio in Tokyo), Hiramatsu’s vocals are soaked in reverb, before being chopped up and looped like they were just another instrument to sample from. At times her distinct brand of melancholia sounds intimate; at others, almost mechanical.

In fact, “Allegoria” as a whole is intriguingly schizophrenic: flirting with both club music and indie instrumentation but ultimately turning both down and going off to do its own thing. It makes for what can be a disorienting experience at first, but one that bears repeated listens like no other release I’ve heard all year.


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