March 29, 2017

Jansen/Barbieri - Worlds In A Small Room, 1985

Arguably an apotheosis of the long and fruitful 80s Japanese and British musical cross-pollination. Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri were both founding members of Japan, alongside David Sylvian, and the band toured with Masami Tsuchiya of Ippu-Do and Yukihiro Takahashi of YMO. Jansen and Barbieri both contributed to Ippu-Do's Night Mirage, and Tsuchiya went on to release his mini-album Alone the same year as Worlds In A Small Room. At this point it becomes unclear who is influencing whom and in what order, as the opening track of Worlds immediately calls to mind the signature staggered synth swells of Alone. Later in the record, "Moving In Circles" is a direct, if gritty nod to the theme from Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, so it's unsurprising that Japan bandmate David Sylvian worked closely with Sakamoto and the two even riffed on the Mr. Lawrence theme together, with Jansen contributing drums, and Seigen Ono mixing. I suspect Ono might have had some indirect influence on Worlds's stark prettiness. Here on the Japanese release of Worlds, "Moving In Circles" gets a bonus reprise, but this time with vocals from Jansen, sounding like a less theatrical Sylvian--a reminder that the two are brothers as well as bandmates. "Mission" sounds for all the world like a murky YMO demo circa BGM (a very good thing). The following year, Jansen and YMO's Takahashi went on to collaborate on the excellent Stay Close. There are probably dozens more inlets of inspiration and collaboration evidenced on this record--this is just scratching the surface. (*closes out of 25 tabs*)

Perhaps more importantly, this is a stunning record that only opens up with increasing generosity upon further listens. "Breaking The Silence" and the later "The Way The Light Falls" are unrepentantly beautiful but without any wasted gestures. There are still surprises, though--a few rays of koto on "Distance Fires," a synthetic organ, a sudden swerve towards pop, towards classical. Sparse, mysterious, and nostalgic, this is a movie score waiting for a movie that's good enough.

As a footnote to all of this, there's a gorgeous collection of Jansen's archival photos on his website, including members of Japan, Sakamoto, Tsuchiya, Yukihiro Takahashi, and many others (notably this one of Sakamoto in the studio during an Akiko Yano recording session.)


  1. WOW the picture of Hosono taking a nap is amazing.

  2. Thanks for this! The duo also recorded an album under the name Dolphin Brothers, also very good art-rock.

  3. Suggestion for a future entry if you have it: Midori Takada's Tree of Life. I have not been able to find it anywhere (beside some expensive copies on discogs). Plus you can use it as an occasion to celebrate the Through The Looking Glass reissue!

  4. Thank you!! I've learned so much from your site in the last year!