10 of the most underrated male Japanese musicians

 10 of the most underrated male Japanese musicians

I have previously done a piece on 10 underrated female Japanese musicians you need to know about, so as a companion piece, here’s 10 vocalists and bands fronted by men!

My selections will feature either independent male Japanese musicians who are worth a listen, or some of my favourite bands who happen to be underrated and fronted by a male Japanese musican. Do you have any of your own to add to the list?

Soredemo Sekai Ga Tsuzuku Nara (それでも世界が続くなら)

Content warning: Triggering subjects in video and description.

First up is Soredemo Sekai Ga Tsuzuku Nara (“If the world continues”), who formed back in 2011 and had their major debut in 2013 — though they’re still a band that flies somewhat under the radar. For your convenience, I have also included the band’s name in Japanese characters, since searching them up can be excruciatingly difficult due to how obscure they are online outside of their home country.

As suggested by their band name and depressing music video direction, Soredemo Sekai Ga Tsuzuku Nara are Japanese musicans known for their often emotionally draining and depressing songs. Themes such as discrimination, abuse, bullying, illness and suicide are often touched upon in their works, particularly their videos. Their vocalist, Masayuki Shinzoku, is said to have been affected by many of these issues personally, including being brought up by a single parent, school refusal and bullying, and this influences many of his lyrics. It’s all very hard-hitting.

As a rock/punk band, they also occasionally dabble in one of my favourite genres: shoegaze. While many of us will be unable to understand the themes or lyrics, the sheer roughness and hard edge Shinzoku provides with each song delivers the pain all on its own. It always makes for a striking and memorable performance. As a fair warning, the grungy and harsh vocals can sometimes be an onslaught to the ears — but when you want some raw emotions from your music, you can never go wrong with Soredemo Sekai Ga Tsuzuku Nara.

You will have to stick to searching for any more music of the band on YouTube for now, since you won’t find them on any easily accessible streaming services.

yazzmad

You’ll be seeing plenty of Visual Kei bands here as it is a genre that has stayed close to my heart since well over a decade ago.

While plenty of bands and Japanese musicians within the genre are well-known such as The GazettE and Nightmare, both of whom have provided anime theme songs, the amount of obscurity hidden within it can go as deep as the indie scene. Since Visual Kei is a genre known for eye-catching fashion, yazzmad belongs in the sub category of Art Kei with their specific aesthetic.

Yazzmad is no different to many other Visual Kei bands — they had a string of former members before establishing a stable line-up, and they were pretty short-lived. The band was active from 2010 to 2015 and left fans with only one album, three mini-albums and six singles.

While my favourite of their works has always been their self-titled mini-album yazzmad due to its experimental sound, the group became much more consistent by the time their last mini-album The Strange Bloomer released — which makes it all the more sad that they disbanded shortly afterwards.

The majority of yazzmad’s works are on the calmer, more tranquil side of Visual Kei, and while I believe most who knew them were thankful for the disbandment since it led to its drummer zumi leaving to join the superior Visual Kei band LIPHLICH, it left a hole in loyal fans’ hearts.

Listen to the band’s albums on Spotify now.

KO NAKASHIMA

City Pop has become an increasingly popular genre outside of Japan, with prolific bands such as Awesome City Club, Sugar’s Campaign, and APOGEE being widely noticed and appreciated.

The genre has been around since the ’80s, with well-known Japanese musicans including Taeko Ohnuki, Toki Asako, and Mariya Takeuchi — the latter of whom was behind the famous Plastic Love, which saw a resurgence in popularity online in recent years. A personal favourite artist who dabbles in the urban feel of the genre — and one who happens to be surprisingly underrated and barely known — is Ko Nakashima.

Ko Nakashima’s TAXIS mini-album contains only six tracks, but all of them are incredible. It’s one of my favourite Japanese music records from 2016, and INAZUMA, heard in the video above, is a top song from its tracklist. So if you love what you hear, check out his three mini-albums. The experimental electro sound alongside his clear and lush vocals makes for a heavenly combination that deserves to be much more popular.

He’s still active to this day, thankfully, with his new digital single of Emanon/R having been released last month.

Listen to his works on Spotify now.

EAT YOU ALIVE

Told you that you should prepare for more Visual Kei mentions on the list!

EAT YOU ALIVE used to go by a different name that was quintessentially Visual Kei: MaveRick. Shedding their once dark look and typical edge as a Visual Kei band, their aesthetic using heavy make-up stayed almost the same, but their music went through an unusual development as they attempted to break out from the Visual Kei scene to create a new genre of their own.

Taking clear influence from Limp Bizkit, EAT YOU ALIVE took one of the band’s songs as their new band name, vocalist Hiro began rapping and the group adopted a more Western nu-metal sound throughout the rest of their discography.

With so many beloved options out there to choose from in Visual Kei (Blu-BiLLioN, v[NEU], MoNoLith, Chanty and REALies immediately come to mind), these Japanese musicians could appear on an entirely separate list to celebrate them all.

But EAT YOU ALIVE deserves a spotlight for their unique stand-out factor in Japanese music — and the potential they displayed during their not too short run. Despite lasting from 2006 until 2013, they released only three albums. While each are indeed amazing albums, EAT YOU ALIVE always came across as having the potential to become as massive as DELUHI.

As a memory of what once was old-school Visual Kei, and as a band that deserved wider acclaim, be sure to check out their other music videos on YouTube or a couple of their singles on iTunes for more.

asobius

asobius is a group of rock-inspired Japanese musicians that formed in 2011, and their most recent release dates back to 2016. Unlike many previous entries on this list, asobius have a massive feel good factor to their music. With Kazuto Kai’s endearingly broken English and the theatrical music videos, they prove to be a refreshing and heartwarming band. The majority of their discography can be easily understood outside Japan, since most of their lyrics are in English.

With the themes of their songs including matters such as accepting ourselves and unifying with one another due to our shared hardships, despite our differences, asobius captures what love is all about as they transcend the language barrier; they make us feel warm and comforted as we become inspired by their musical flair.

They’ve had my full support since their formation, and as of 2021, their overall message continues to be greatly appreciated to this day. On a smaller note, it’s funny how the band have appeared in a familiar video game: much like female Japanese musician Yasuha Kominami, their music appears in LET IT DIE. Sometimes the stars really do align.

Check out their discography on iTunes now.

THE TURTLES JAPAN

I know I am often in the minority when it comes to questionable opinions, particularly when it comes to Japanese music, and my adoration for THE TURTLES JAPAN may be the hardest one to back up. They were active for only two years, from 2014 to 2015, and put out just one album — which happens to be one of my favourite Japanese records ever. Its overall message of worldwide happiness and positivity is heartfelt and genuine.

The band was formed by two members of the well-known rock band flumpool wanting to experiment outside of their established constraints. flumpool’s vocalist Ryuta Yamamura and guitarist Kazuki Sakai collaborated with producer Seiji Kameda, WEAVER’s vocalist Yuji Sugimoto and Tom Tamada to form THE TURTLES JAPAN.

As someone who has no special feelings towards the two collaborating bands, they really made magic together with this far too short-lived unit. By touching on concepts and visuals the individual collaborating bands had never explored, it provided a much needed break for the involved musicians — and their album ELECTRONIC HUMANITY had no right sounding as good as it does for a random passion project in the field of Japanese music.

I’ll have to forgive them for making this a limited collaboration I can never get enough of — and unfortunately, that short existence means you can only really find their music on YouTube these days.

Someday’s Gone

Someday’s Gone may remind you of a little known rock song by the All-American Rejects — because the song shares the band’s name. This may very well be intentional considering the very Western sound Someday’s Gone adopted right from their formation. Their consistent use of English lyrics and pop/rock sound hearkens back to the noughties, and Someday’s Gone sticks out of the Japanese music scene — particularly the indie sector — for this reason.

The band’s inspiration from American rock groups makes Someday’s Gone feel unique as a Japanese music group. Their work is an acquired taste due to the sometimes illiterate lyrics and questionable pronunciation, but it makes the songs and band feel all the more authentic and endearing. She Won’t Forget feels especially charming with its simplistic café location shots, and cute lyrics displayed across the music video.

Find even more of their works on Spotify including their latest single, Masterpiece, which released this year.

Awoi

Here comes my third and last mention of a Visual Kei band, and despite being one of the better known bands on the list, they deserve far more attention even if listeners are not too partial to the genre as a general rule.

アヲイ, or Awoi, were around for exactly a decade, from 2004 to 2014. The impressive range of their vocalist, Otogi, is telling of how long the band remained on the scene, since it never stopped improving over their lifetime. Also worth mentioning is Ryo, the group’s drummer, whose talent has always felt woefully underappreciated within the Visual Kei scene.

Their lyrics are consistently emotionally hitting and gutwrenching, as can be seen through translations of a few of their songs on YouTube. Otogi is on the same level as BUMP OF CHICKEN’s Motoo Fujiwara and Radwimps’ Yojiro Noda for his lyrical genius, in my humble opinion. The group oftens evokes dark imagery and disturbing narratives — which makes their work hauntingly memorable.

PLASTICZOOMS

Closing out this list with one of my all-time favourite bands ever feels very appropriate — and despite being the unit with the most acknowledgment in the list, they continue to be underappreciated to this very day.

PLASTICZOOMS has a certain edge and charm unlike any other band I’ve seen in Japan, despite the Gothic appearance which has understandably been done time and time again. But PLASTICZOOMS makes their distinctive aesthetic their own, mainly thanks to their front man and vocalist Sho Asakawa having very appealing fashion taste. PLASTICZOOMS is as much of a brand as they are musicians.

The unit is inspired by ’70s and ’80s rock and new wave, as should be evident from the ILLUMINATION video above alone — and with their many covers of famous songs, this influence is apparent throughout their discography.

Asakawa sings in fluent English, and each of the group’s six albums contain stellar tracks, with some personal favourites including Cry distance. and Savage from Starbow, P A R A D E and Sakura from Critical Factor, Illumination and Sleepwalker from Secret Postcard, and Minds and Veiled Eyes from Plasticzooms.

PLASTICZOOMS continues to grow and remain as strong as ever; they released their brand new album Wave Elevation earlier this year.

Find their discography on Spotify now.

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Lilia Hellal
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