With 2016 coming to an end it’s unavoidable to look back at the year and assess what were the releases that really stood out and the ones that didn’t. This was a rather eventful year in the business. There were a lot of debuts, be it from units to solo artists; there were also plenty of comebacks to rejoice. Despite 2016 having been an awful year in the eyes of most people, we think that these releases encompass the good things this year managed to present us with. Rock, pop, electronica, dance, we’ve never featured these much music genres in one top – that just shows how prolific and varied this year was. Without further ado, let’s kick off this year in review.
Suzumura has been making music at a “my pace” kind of way. Experimenting with new things, polishing others then ultimately try completely different things. “Brand New” is the result of a lot of experimentation and an insane amount of talent and skill from Suzumura and his producing team to deliver one of the strongest singles of the year. It’s impossible to find flaws either on the instrumental or the vocal performance.
Everything was made in a way that the listener wouldn’t be bothered by complicated compositions or overcrowded instrumentals. The title track was surprisingly enjoyable to an extent that we found ourselves with a smile on the face. The b-side track was a lesson to all those seiyuu that have attempted disco music and have failed completely. Overall, “Brand New” shouldn’t be overlooked because it’s a perfect single.
It’s no lie that QUELL made a stellar debut with what is the best single released this year by a seiyuu unit. The amount of talent – even if people don’t know some of the seiyuu included – managed to dazzle everyone. Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, you name it, this unit was everywhere as soon as people had listened to this single. Powerful vocals that count with stellar high notes to breathtaking lower ones blend with top quality instrumental pieces.
Currently the only seiyuu unit that is dressed in an electronic rock fashion, QUELL made a debut unlike anyone else, proving that you don’t need to create a group out of extremely well known seiyuu for the unit to succeed. QUELL not only are featured in this compact list as a must-listen, but they are also in our eyes the best seiyuu unit at the moment.
Honestly, after a couple of disappointing and uninspired releases in the last couple of years, no one was expecting for GRANRODEO to get back on their feet this soon. KISHOW and e-ZUKA brought the big guns for this release.
GR are packed with exciting songs, ranging from classic rock tunes to groovy 80’s garage rock and even some hints of punk-rock, “Shounen no Hate” really showcased a group that is giving signs of having much more in their tank than people think. There was nothing really worthy of critique in this release – the instrumentals were pumped up, insanely energetic in some instances, the vocal performances were once again of top tier, but what can we say? We’re talking about KISHOW, one of the best rock vocalists in Japan. His falsetto and vibrato play tricks on us, making the listener get caught on the web of rich melodies and technical compositions. For us, “Shounen no Hate” is clearly their best release in the past two years and surely one of the best in 2016.
DDD was yet another release we weren’t expecting to blow us away. Emulating T.M.Revolution, Aoi managed to deliver exciting and energizing tracks with mesmerizing vocals and intricate instrumentals.
Mixing rock with electronica is a formula that has been used multiple times but few have managed to get the right ratio of both genres. The ballad “Endless Song” also managed to leave a mark with its delicate instrumental as well as that haunting vocal performance, performance that really demanded a certain technique level to actually sound right. Aoi put to great use his extensive array of vocal techniques and tackled this track without a single issue. In the end if we look at this release, it was the mature, polished and experimental sound that instantly put Aoi on this list.
We can’t talk about 2016’s must listens with mentioning this rare pearl. Kakihara made such a powerful comeback in the most unpredictable way. “Susumasero” was everything and more that we’d been eagerly waiting for him to embrace. Dirty synths, heavy guitar riffs, clean and powerful drumming, the instrumental to the title track is quite possible the best this year has greeted us with.
Unexpectdly, Kakihara tackled an acappella for this release with 碧く, showing just how much his vocals have improved, showing us a stable falsetto and a trained vibrato, both techniques that up until this single he hadn’t made use of. In the end those surprises enriched this single in the most impressive ways. The fact that this release was unlike anything Kiramune artists have been doing also contributes to the reason why “Susumasero” is part of this special top. Kakihara mixed rock with electronica and a bit of acoustic elements for this release and the result is this masterpiece, his best single to date and one of the best releases in 2016.
Irino has been showing his growth through the various releases he’s done in his career, “Uso to mirai to” is what we consider his peak form. A simple release through and through, we’re presented with breathtaking ballads, stunning acappellas and a funky tune that puts the cherry on top of the cake.
He’s proven to be the most talented and versatile Kiramune artist. His vocals have improved so much in such a short amount of time, making it now possible for him to challenge an acappella and mesmerize everyone with it – just listen to 朝焼け. Most people say that singing an acappella is one of the hardest things for a singer – every mistake is noticeable, every little off key or off beat split second will undoubtly stand out -, hence only confident enough singers challenge an acappella or in this song’s case: a minimalistic acoustic ballad (with only an acoustic guitar as the accompaniment). The first two tracks are top quality emotional ballads in which Irino‘s soothing vocals shine more than ever – his falsetto in 朝焼け always manages to send shivers down the spine of most of his fans.
Mamoru Miyano kicked off the year with what is a stunning release. Sure, “Tempest”, “SHOUT!” and “The Birth” were equally interesting releases, but there’s something about this whole single that sets it apart from all other singles released during this year. The heartbreaking “How Close You Are” is pure perfection bundled in a 4:30 minute piece. The acoustic guitars, the dreamy guitar licks in the background and Miyano’s emotional take on the lyrics made it impossible not to be featured on this top.
The rest of the single keeps the usual quality we’re used to with Mamo’s music. “Black and White” was also one of the grooviest tracks of the year, a nice change of pace from his trademark powerful dance songs, a track that was a perfect way to show just how melodic his vocals are. In the end “How Close You Are” confidently is an essential part of this list, a sure must-listen for those looking for something more personal and down-to-earth than any of his previous releases.
Note: These releases aren’t in any special order. There’s no number 1 or number 7, to our ears, these releases are all worthy of your time.