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Rock project ZUTOMAYO shroud themselves in mystery. But with their intricate zigzagging melodies and existential lyrics, there’s no question as to why they’ve become a cornerstone of the late 2010’s J-rock renaissance. Formed in 2018, the group made an immediate impact with their debut single, “Byoushinwo Kamu,” a blistering, piano-heavy jazz-rock cut about putting one’s self first within a relationship. But ZUTOMAYO’s own band dynamic remains ambiguous. Every new number boasts a different arranger, and performers obscure themselves from view at live shows with smoke and dim lighting. The only known presence in the group is a singer named ACA-Ne, who delivers her vocals at a rapid clip to match the music. The vocalist packs a lot of rich details into her lyrics, whether she’s probing what it means to exist on the disco-influenced “Obenkyou Shitoiteyo” or exploring feelings of depression on the hip-hop track “Mabushii DNA Dake.” ZUTOMAYO’s willingness to delve into heavier topics resonated with listeners looking for an alternative to the mostly positive J-pop singles that flooded the charts in the first half of the 2010s. The group, along with similar acts like Yorushika and YOASOBI, continue to stand out by piercing the smokescreen of optimism and offering a more realistic portrait of life that appeals to younger listeners living in a state of confusion and apprehension about the future.


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