Listen Back - Best of 2010 edition


OK, time for one more mega end of the year top whatever list of our personal favorite albums of 2010!

You may already be familiar with my own favorites, so this is a chance for the rest of the Japanator crew to  champion their own most beloved albums.

Oh, and of course we want to hear what all of our lovely readers have been rocking out to over the last 12 months. What albums have been your constant companions in these dark times? Let us know!

Thanks for sticking with us this past year, and thanks to all these great artists for the great music. I expect that 2011 is going to be very interesting indeed!

Colette Bennett

Vola and the Oriental Machine

I like albums that make me shamelessly rock out, and Principle did just that and more. "Thank You My Force" was the first song to hook me, but overall it's one of those things I could listen to over and over and never get tired of.

World's End Girlfriend
Air Doll OST

I waiting patiently for the film to come out, and the moment it did I fell in love with this score. It's simultaneously so sad and so beautiful, and before I knew it I had listened to it hundreds of times and knew every tiny nuance. I also loved Seven Idiots, which they also released this year, but this album just stuck with me in a much more enduring way.
Zac Bentz
Ling Tosite Sigure
Still A Sigure Virgin


I know I've probably talked about both of these albums many times over the past few months, so I'll keep this short. Two of my favorite albums from 2010 are Ling Tosite Sigure's Still A Sigure Virgin and Plugnet's Select. Both of them spent a lot of time blasting in my car, and both of them have that "just what I needed" feel. They are always the "right" thing to listen to, especially when I feel totally burned out on music (which happens all-too-often.) Sure, as albums they couldn't be much more different from each other. SASV is very serious post-rock with a deadly edge, screaming vocals and incredible musicianship, while Select is 100%, retro-chiptune fun from start to finish. But to me, these two albums, more than any other, represent the best of 2010. Sure, there are many, many, many, many more, but these two are at the top.
Mike LeChevallier
Shugo Tokumaru
Port Entropy

Asian Kung-Fu Generation
Magic Disk

I'll be honest, this wasn't a really spectacular year for Japanese music. It was, on the other hand, a fantastic year for American/UK music (check out my Best of 2010 list here). Plain and simple: going back and grabbing a couple top-notch selections from an otherwise lackluster group was kind of a difficult task. In the end, I selected the two albums that had retained the highest playcounts on my iPhone's foreign playlists: Shugo Tokumaru's Port Entropy and Asian Kung-Fu Generation's Magic Disk.

Musically, Shugo Tokumaru's most recent effort doesn't quite hold a candle to 2007's masterful Exit, but that's an arduous act to follow. What I will say about Port Entropy is that it's Tokumaru's most well-produced project and one of the best multi-instrumental bedroom pop albums of the year, from any region of the world. Listening to Tokumaru's arrangements is like watching a Wes Anderson film with only your ears (if that makes any sense). Every song is quirky and creative without being overbearingly so. When Tokumaru adds his featherweight vocals to the mix, as can often be distracting in a commonly all-instrument genre, they fuse with the musicality so well that you scarcely forget he's singing along. Sometimes light, breezy records are the cure-all for blandness.
[Best Tracks: "Tracking Elevator", "Rum Hee", "Straw"]

I can't tell you how many times I've started to speak to people who claim to be Asian Kung-Fu Generation fans about Magic Disk and am met with a blank expression and a comment akin to "Wait. They released an album this year?" Yes, indeed, they did release a record in 2010 and it's one of their strongest sets in quite some time. What makes the record so enjoyable is the pure creative, playful energy and experimentation of varying styles that Gotoh and his crew aren't afraid to develop. This band has been around for almost 15 years now, and the fact that they stay so fresh with each release is a testament to their mastery of the craft. Magic Disk, to me, seemed to fly under the eyes of fans who hadn't moved past the group's earlier work. There's no shame in that, but look at all this greatness that's waiting for you when you're ready to embrace it. This is the allure of music. It has no problem wait for you; it's not going anywhere.
[Best Tracks: "Shinseiki no Love Song", "Rising Sun", "Yes"]
Tim Sheehy
School Food Punishment
I feel bad picking favorites, and I had quite a few this year. But, I guess since I had to pick two, I'll try to list two that really stood out in my mind. The first was easy. School Food Punishment's major label debut, amp-reflection. It's packed with fantastic musicianship and a ton of songs worthy of their own singles. I had been listening to them for awhile and while I hadn't been as impressed with their indies work, I felt their latest album shows quite a bit of growth and polish, making it well-deserving of a spot on my list. The single "light prayer," reminded me exactly why I used to love piano driven rock so much. Now, if only we could get them to capitalize the names of their songs and albums.
I had a really hard time making a second pick. Initially I wanted to give the second spot to Abingdon Boys School, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Abingdon Road wasn't quite as good as I had remembered it being. Don't get me wrong, I loved every track. I just didn't think it held up to a continuous play-through of every track from start to finish. I also considered ONE OK ROCK's Niche Syndrome and STRAIGHTENER's Creatures but met with similar results.
I finally settled on Chemistry's regeneration -- an album that, once again, shows both polish and growth. When compared to this latest album, their earlier work is a far cry from what they've come to produce. Not only are the tracks an enjoyable listen, they're compositionally sound. I would recommend checking out both versions of their track "Life Goes On" -- throwing both on the album  instead of forcing us to buy a single was pretty sweet of them.

Jeff Chuang

Houkago Tea Time
Houkago Tea Time II

It's anime music, but it's packaged like an M&M--sweet on the outside and sweet on the inside. And considering how it's a fictional band I'm half surprised that Oricon lets people vote for Houkago Tea Time for its annual choice awards. Seriously though, I've just been hooked on K-ON for the past year and its music speaks to me both as pieces of music and as something beyond simply enjoyable tunes that keeps me all fuwa fuwa on my commutes. At time it plunges into the uncanny valley that most seiyuu works resides, but the songs themselves are at worst amusing (both in good and bad ways) and at best inspiring and simply fun to listen to. It melts your brain and your heart at the same time.

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Zac Bentz
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