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From starting out in clubs in Osaka to selling out a national tour, performing at major festivals like Greenroom and Synchronicity to opening for Tom Misch, it’s taken over ten years, but KYOtaro AKA SIRUP has finally arrived with the release of this first full album FEEL GOOD. The fact it took this long is kind of criminal, but it’s the sort of experience that shapes an artist, and he’s developed the skills and smarts over time to give the people what they want.  

If you’ve been paying attention properly, you’d already be aware of SIRUP, but this album is your best place to start otherwise. For those who came in late, SIRUP has two meanings - “sing and rap,” and being as sweet as classic soul and R&B. With his roots in urban music and an interest in conscious rappers like Common, Mos Def and Chance the Rapper, SIRUP brings a powerful combination of soulful singing and a smooth flow.  

This allows him to fit multiple genres and styles with whatever is required - be it falsetto, scat, lyrical trickery, uplifting warmth, swagger or vulnerability. On this album he works with different producers for almost every track, and this album features some of the brightest talent in Japanese music production with names like Obukuro Nariaki and Yaffle of Tokyo Sounds, Shin Sakiura, Chocoholic, A.G.O of CIRRRCLE, Mori Zentaro and Shingo S. While they all bring different things to the table, the main thread that links them is their sense of groove - these songs bounce and swing, no matter what the tempo or mood. Every single track on this will make you nod your head or sway unconsciously (this album is called Feel Good for a reason!). The fit between SIRUP’s vocals and their production is amazing, which may not be that surprising given that a lot of them are actually his friends/drinking buddies. 

This album includes some remasters of songs from his first two EPs, which are more than welcome, but the highlights this time around are the newer tracks starting with the lead single “POOL,” which launches the album on a floor stomping groove and a pitch manipulated call and response hook. That followed by “Do Well” (which just makes you want to drift through Shibuya crossing in a Honda right?) pretty much sets the tone for the album, but there are plenty of interesting turns like the dynamic dark/light contrast of “Why,” the cascading keys and horn stabs on “Prayer,” the quasi-trop vibes of “Crazy,” and then “Evergreen” which sounds like a little bit of Stevie Wonder and 90’s R&B (including epic key change). Lyrically he strikes a great balance between Japanese verses and English for key hooks, so that he remains relatable to both audiences. As a former English teacher, it’s nice to hear an entire crowd yelling in unison “good music, we love it” (and I particularly get a kick out of people singing “we can do it baby all night long”).

The collaborations with BIM and TENDRE also provide some extra colour, the former with a surprising romantic slow jam and the latter providing his usual mellow soul keys and warm vocals. It’s telling that artists like these are looking to work with SIRUP, regardless of original genre. Producer Chocoholic comments that “Working with SIRUP is a lot of fun since he’s great at creating melodies to fit the songs - he’s always full of surprises.” And with friends like Tempalay and LUCKY TAPES it’s pretty likely we can look forward to all sort of interesting combos in the future too. 

It’s funny, with his lower register he sounds more like a man than most typical Japanese pop male artists (plus he doesn’t have the moves of Miura Daichi or the boyish charm of Mukai Taichi), but perhaps this is why he never really broke out until now that the rise of streaming allows people to look past genres, major labels, mainstream TV and “popular music.” Coupled with social media, current music trends in track making and appreciation of soul, the time has come at last for SIRUP to finally get the recognition he deserves and help lead Japanese music into the future. “Good music, we love it.” We sure do.

Royce Leong