May 31, 2016

Elicoide - Elicoide, 1987

The first of two releases from the mysterious Franco Nonni (keyboards) and Paolo Grandi (strings). They released a second album in 1990 with a larger ensemble (does anyone have this lying around?), and then Nonni went on to become a psychiatrist (cool reason to break up a band). This seems to get tossed around in progressive rock and jazz circles, though to me it's neither. I'd call it squarely fourth world (cringe term), with a dip into murky synth drone ("Interludio con Dedica," "Linfoceti") and some moments of brassy baroque-isms (title track). For me, the album peaks at its bookends: "Mitochondria" and "Mitosi" are sublime, drawn-out meditations that build and bubble, leaning heavily on what sounds like a synthetic gamelan ensemble and smoothed out around the edges with strings. Ideal for fans of Jon Hassell, Yas-Kaz, and Hosono's more ambient works. If it's for you, it's definitely for you.

May 28, 2016

Hiroshi Yoshimura - Soundscape 1: Surround, 1986

Very, very special record. Hiroshi Yoshimura was a minimal ambient composer who, in addition to a slew of excellent recordings, also made soundtracks for Tokyo museums, galleries, malls, train stations, and (as is the case here) prefabricated houses. We'll definitely be hearing more from him later, but this feels like the right place to start during such gnarly heat. Surround sounds very much like the cover looks, not just because of the field recordings of bodies of water but because of the way the music moves: in ripples, ebbs, and flows. This is, for lack of a better word, gorgeous. For fans of Yas-Kaz and Inoyama Land.

May 25, 2016

Joel Andrews - The Violet Flame, 1976

As far as new age sound-healing records go, this is pretty pared down. No chanting, no reverb, no swirling synth arpeggiations--no synth at all, actually. Just harp and tape crackle. Feels more neo-classical than new age, but no complaints here: this is sprawling and warm, and to me always sounds like gold threads. Surprisingly multipurpose: works just as well by a fireplace as at a picnic, and I once had a really great day at the Cloisters with this. Note: this tape rip is very staticky. No word on whether the sound on the custom CD available from Andrews's website is better; let me know if you buy it.

May 13, 2016

Nobuo Uematsu - Phantasmagoria, 1994

The first (and from what I gather, one of the only) non-Final Fantasy release from legendary Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu. Alternates between candy-sweet synthetic puffs of new age, ominous baroque, and spoken word. The instantly familiar "Dogs on the Beach" belongs on Ray Lynch's Deep Breakfast, the title track feels like a very tasteful score for a Tim Burton ballet, and of course, "Final Fantasy" is an even more (!) baroque spin on the video game theme, this time with harpsichord and vocals from Chinatsu Kuzuu. Thanks for the tip on this one Mike!

May 9, 2016

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet - Accent on Africa, 1968

Guest post by Charles Cave

This is an album I would describe as multi-sensory and completely transporting. Listening to it, I feel refreshingly elsewhere! Really, it should be thought of less a quintet record, and more a formidable big-band recording with, as the name suggests, a palpable African feel. There's boisterous and joyful percussion throughout, and some tasteful solos by Adderley, but for me what makes this record stand out are the memorable refrains and motifs. Adderley's opening lead on "Khatsana," on my first listen, made me think I had heard it a hundred times before; it’s narrative in such a familiar way and has an effortless predictability that makes you feel you've written it yourself and are merely conducting the musicians in your ears. In typical big-band style, the record is a sure-fire party winner, and the African influenced grooves and chunky percussion only add to the sense of lively ensemble and GOOD TIMES. There's also a filmic quality to much of the instrumentation here, like the sultry "Up And At It," which wouldn’t be out of place in a stylish 60’s detective film. "Gun Ja" slows things back down, initially feeling like a mourning song with a wailing distant vocal before picking itself back up gradually, for a dramatic final chorus with cinematic horn lead. As far as big band records go, this is right up there for me alongside my favourites like Duke Ellington's The Far East Suite. A total romp, with unforgettable melody and some genuinely touching moments. Highly recommended.

May 5, 2016

Panasonic - Kulma, 1997

Minimalist classic. Originally released under Panasonic, and then later as Pan Sonic for legal reasons. Not the most original thing to say, but this feels distinctly like people taking backseat and allowing machines to do the work. Ecstatic beats, long stretches of whirring, and surprisingly little abrasion. Good speakers, headphones, or not at all, since there's nothing to hide behind here.

May 3, 2016

Yoichiro Yoshikawa - The Miracle Planet OST, 1987

As evocative and expansive as any soundtrack can hope to be. From what I gather, there have been two runs of The Miracle Planet (Chikyu Dai Kikou) series--one in 1987 and one in 2005, both co-produced by Japan's NHK broadcasting corporation; although there's very little information available about the earlier series. Technically, this release is a 1988 compilation which includes tracks from two of Yoshikawa's other releases (including the instantly relatable "Nebraska," which sounds as if it was heavily inspired by the Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence soundtrack. I'm always grateful for the full hour of music, so I'm including it as is).

Silvery synth pads, sleek pop arrangements, plump and wet percussion, traditional Japanese drumming, sentimental orchestral arrangements, and a few forays into fourth worldy nostalgia. I can't say enough nice things about this. Ideal for fans of Yas-Kaz, Geinoh Yamashirogumi, Joe Hisaishi, and Hiroshi Yoshimura.