Check out J-Generation′s best J-Pop and J-Rock album/single jackets of 2021, chosen by David Cirone, Marc Bowie, Greg Hignight, and Nhu Nguyen.
Kizu – Strawberry Blue
David: Kizu isn’t pulling any punches on “Strawberry Blue”, and the twisted symbolism of the cover portrait hints at the mind-bending experience waiting when you press play.
SID – Jiu no Kuchizuke
Nhu: The crimson from a female’s lips turns a flower from white to red, seemingly suggesting that love gives color to life — some would agree, depending on who you talk to!
Haco – Nova Naturo
Marc: On Nova Naturo, recording veteran Haco blends found sounds, piano, percussion, and various electronic instruments and then layers her ethereal singing on top to create a mysterious yet involving sonic palette. The effect on the listener is somehow both invigorating and restful. The cover artwork reflects this duality, as it’s not clear if the images are purely geometric or drawn from nature.
Chanmina – Harenchi
David: Chanmina carries her personal motto of “Pain is Beauty” to the next level in her 2021 release Harenchi. Concentrating on the theme of darkness underneath Tokyo glossy exterior, she conjures a femme fatale vibe reminiscent of cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s work with famed director Wong Kar-Wai.
DIR EN GREY – Oboro
Nhu: I’m pulled into the sadness of the girl illustrated on the cover. She looks soul-less with bleak eyes and grey skin, as butterflies flutter around her like the last bit of life flying out of her.
MIYAVI – Imaginary
David: Anyone who ever seen MIYAVI perform live on stage can testify to his unbridled intensity. This shot captures the pure emotional force of this multi-talented artist.
BAND-MAID – Unseen World
Marc: BAND-MAID seems to up the musical aggression with every album and Unseen World is no exception. Featuring relentless tempos on songs like “Warning!” and “BLACK HOLE” coupled with guitarist Kanami’s furious riffage on every track, the LP is a hard rock assault that leaves you exhausted yet satisfied. The “collage” of the five members’ fingers on the cover creates an unsettling image from ordinary appendages.
Crystal Lake – Curse
Nhu: The cover does look like a ‘curse’, the single’s title, as black water ink swirls out from a dark body and mind up to the heavens.
LiSA – Hadashi no Step
David: Released as the theme for the television drama Promise Cinderella, “Hadashi no Step” presents a simple, powerful portrait of the energetic performer in a state of transformation. One of the reasons for LiSA’s international success is her ability to fully embody the emotions connected to her various theme songs, and the small details on her multi-layered outfit are symbols of her readiness to jump into any role.
MISIA – HELLO LOVE
Nhu: While MISIA’s hair and the album cover filter has an American 60s retro girl-group vibe, there’s some modern twists within it: she’s wearing a sport-cut sweater and has her left arm around a hand sculpture that gives off the same delicate yet sassy nature as her right hand.
Atarashii Gakkou no Leaders – Snacktime
David: The playful chaos of underground dance idols Atarashii Gakkou no Leaders is on full display in the cover of “Snacktime”. Food fight guaranteed.
Mariya Takeuchi – Plastic Love (2021 Reissue)
Greg: In November 2021, a new EP version of “Plastic Love” (best known as the gateway behind the modern City Pop movement) was released in Japan – this time using the photo from the “Sweetest Music” cover in place of the “Variety”- era images – cementing the relationship between the image and the song that made it a worldwide phenomenon.
SHOW-YA – Showdown
David: Japanese metal queens SHOW-YA are as bold and dangerous as ever on their latest album Showdown, and the fierce, regal presence on this jacket leaves no room for challengers.
Kenshi Yonezu – Pale Blue (Limited Edition Puzzle Version)
David: Most creative packaging of the year goes to Kenshi Yonezu, who gives you the chance to piece together the album art while enjoying the music.