As I said before, it was easier to pin down the ranking of the first half of this list than the last half. The placements on this upper tier are fairly solid, and given the cop out of making a "favorite" list instead of a "best" list, I don’t have to make subject judgments about merit. I like these albums in this order because, well, I like these album in this order.
The singles which preceded the release of this album indicated Cocco was starting to mellow. Looks can be deceiving. After the rush job of her second album, Kumuiuta, Rapunzel came out swinging, the primal wail on "Kemono Michi" just a slight hint of the utter bugfuck ending of "Kagari Bi". Probably Cocco’s most ambitious album.
Hajime Chitose, Hainumikaze
Thank Hajime Chitose’s allergy to beautician products, else she would have never become a singer. Trained in traditional music, Hajime brought her highly ornamented style — not to mention a stratospheric soprano — to pop music that blurred more than a few lines between dub and shimauta (or "island music".) The late Ueda Gen was as much responsible for Hajime’s other-worldly sound as the singer’s voice itself.
Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone imbues the hard sheen of Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever with the more thoroughly-composed structure of The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place. Add a piano and some synthetic effects, and you get Explosions in the Sky’s most definitive statement to date.
Sigur Rós, Takk …
Being a Sigur Rós neophyte, I asked a friend of mine to explain the differences between the group’s albums. He told me to picture an expanse of ice and glacier for Ágætis byrjun, then he told me to imagine angels appearing out of nowhere surrounded by blinding white light for Takk … He was right.
Utada Hikaru, Ultra Blue
Utada’s English language debut, Exodus, was too drastic a makeover for the Japanese pop singer, and the heavy production seemed to mask a dearth of quality material. Something about that album, however, re-focused Utada’s muse, and it ushered in a more mature writing style, heralded by Ultra Blue. The singles that preceded the album were just plain different. "Be My Last" and "Passion" displayed a savvy not hinted by her more crowd-pleasing works. Even the under-produced English-language follow-up, This Is the One, shows that maturity is permanent.
NUMBER GIRL, SAPPUKEI
Working with producer Dave Fridmann for a full-length album, NUMBER GIRL turned the amps to a Spinal Tappian 11 on its third album, SAPPUKEI. Some of the more melodic tendencies Mukai Shuutoku exhibited on the preceding album, SCHOOL GIRL DISTORTIONAL ADDICT, would start to get obfuscated by a more daring writing style. But it’s Fridmann’s bombastic production that makes everything more intense, from Ahito Inazawa’s complex drumming to Tabuchi Hisako’s raging guitar solos.
SUPERCAR started mixing electronics with British post-punk long before Futurama, but the marriage of the two wouldn’t be supremely consumated till this ambitious, continuous album. The band’s songs can get pretty minimal in terms of content, but the production is all out grand.
fra-foa, Chuu no Fuchi
My favorite adjective to describe this album is "menacing." Each song on this album lurches from one crunchy guitar strum to the next, and singer Mikami Chisako sounds like she’s ready to fall apart. Sometimes, this album makes me want to mess shit up.
UA and BLANKEY JET CITY’s Asai Kenichi could tell something was up when the latter contributed songs for the former’s dub-heavy album, turbo. What they created was a supergroup, which included versatile bassist TOKIE and UA’s touring drummer Shiino Kyoichi. Fukamidori gave UA’s beautiful alto just the right rock setting in which to shine. Most of the album is contemplative, but the mix of Asai’s strangled ferret of a voice with UA’s fine silk made for a dynamic combination.
Shiina Ringo, Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana
Where to begin? Who else can take an arsenal of traditional Japanese instruments and set them against a full orchestra and a full rock band? Shiina dissolves the walls that informs her eclecticism to create something, well, new. No one else could have pulled off Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana, and honestly, she probably couldn’t top it if she tried. (She hasn’t.) You could listen to this album for a year and scratch only the surface of what lies within. If the Japanese music market weren’t so insular, this album could be incredibly significant worldwide. Hyperbole? Perhaps.