In the spirit of the season, I wanted to share some of my favorite releases of the year. Obviously not exhaustive; just some personal highlights. Quite a few of these are giant major label releases, so I’ll be taking down those download links quickly or leaving them off accordingly. Let me know if links are broken. Happy holidays!
Another early 80’s anomaly, this one released on only 50 numbered cassettes in wooden boxes with silkscreen and Russian constructivist paper inserts. Ojima is probably best known for his catalog of significant environmental works, most notably the gorgeous 1988 two-album collection for the Spiral in Tokyo’s Wacoal Art Center (volume one of which has been lovingly catalogued here), but also for the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery and the Living Design Center OZONE. He also produced Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Pier & Loftand Motohiko Hamase’s #Notes Of Forestry. (For more Japanese environmental music, see here, here, here, and here.)
Club takes somewhat of a departure from his more ambient works, but you can still hear his propensity for small motifs that build and layer into complex, embroidery-like compositions, particularly on tracks like “Boy In Vision.” Closer “Graduation” is similarly stunning and somber: between its whale-like, slow-motion horns rearing and arcing in the distance, and its deliberately distracting tinny mechanical whirring in the forefront, it reminds me of Hosono’s “Air-Condition,” released the year prior.
Still, if the cover art wasn’t sufficiently indicative, there’s a sense of humor here that isn’t necessarily evidenced elsewhere in his catalog: a spronky suggestion of mechanical toys on “Entrance,” a childlike wonder and marching-feel on “Orientation,” and perhaps most noticeably on the confoundingly good “Club-A.” People who know more than I do about the history of electronic dance music might be able to label this more accurately, but to me this sounds a whole lot like raucous, gnashing proto-techno, or even proto-acid. And then, just like that, we’re returned to the gleefully spaced out synth whirring of “Club-B,” as if nothing unusual had happened. (Though there are a few small nods to futurity on “Days Man” and “Schooling,” whose drum-machine-going-for-a-walk sensibility sounds like a nod to Testpattern–which is a good thing.) As much as I feel like a broken record, this is largely uncategorizable stuff, and a really special window into a genius stretching his legs and taking some worthwhile risks along the way.
Editor’s note: I’m thrilled to share a follow-up mix from Barcelona-based DBGO, whose YouTube channel is a treasure trove of rarities, and who makes an equally transportive series of mixes, many of which focus on a time-and-location specific musical subgenres and can send you down months-long rabbit holes. You can listen to Part One here.
This is another selection of French folk avant-garde between 1976 and 1989. Hope you enjoy it.
1. Dominique Guiot – Wind Surf Ballad (1978) 2. Serge Bulot – Euryale (1981) 3. Teddy Lasry – Seven Steps (1983) 4. Serge Korjanevski – Petales de Voix Instrumentale (1988) 5. Frédérick Rousseau – The Opening (1988) 6. Fred Manda – Incantation (1988) 7. Serge Korjanevski – Saisons Du Coeur Instrumentale 2ème Partie (1988) 8. André Ceccarelli et Bernard Arcadio – Forest (1986) 9. Jean-Pierre Boistel et Tony Kenneybrew – A Capucine (1989) 10. Bruno De La Salle – Melodie Orientale (1978) 11. Hector Zazou – By The Sea (1985) 12. Tamia & Pierre Favre – Maroua (1988) 13. Théâtre du Chêne Noir d’Avignon – La 7 (1976) 14. Madhya – Meditations (1987) 15. Lightwave – Modular experiment 4 (1987) 16. Luc Marianni – Synthetic Suite N°3 Pour Synthétiseur (1986)
Deeply weird and cool record from Mariah vocalist Jimmy Murakawa, featuring Yasuaki Shimizu production. New wavier and more scronky than the usual around here, even veering into no wave on tracks like “Luci’s Small Hotel Part 2.” With an inclination towards cavernous metallic clanging, creeping synth lines, and echoey muttering, there are moments that feel more German industrial than Japanese–particularly on standout “Down? Down, Down! / Stay Outta My World,” except by the song’s end it’s morphed into what sounds very much like an unfinished Notorious B.I.G. track. A few other standout moments, like “Beauty” and “Vaporous Actor,” call to mind sparser and more percussive moments on Sakamoto‘s Left Handed Dream, which came out the same year.There’s a tunneling, cavernous sensibility to this that reminds me of Colored Music. It’s real good. If it’s for you, it’s definitely for you.
Here’s my most recent episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio. It sort of feels like a continuation of last month’s mix–slinky, flirty, loungey, and never picking up too much speed. I recently revisited Dusty Springfield’s version of “Spooky” in headphones, and while I’ve been a longtime fan of hers, I was particularly floored by her vocal quality and intonation, so that was the jumping-off point here. I hope you like it! You can download an mp3 version here.
1. World Standard – Pasio
2. Frank Harris & Maria Marquez – Campesina
3. Miharu Koshi – Tohboh-Sha
4. Yves Tumor – The Feeling When You Walk Away
5. Dusty Springfield – Spooky
6. Márta Sebestyén & Levente Szörényi – András
7. Karin Krog – Just Holding On
8. Quarteto Em Cy – Caminho De Pedra
9. Lena d’Água – Tão
10. Fred Manda – Cartoon In Kartoum
11. Patrice Rushen – Let Your Heart Be Free
12. Solange (no, not that Solange) – Quero Um Baby Seu
13. Gal Costa – Baby
14. Nora Guthrie – Home Before Dark
15. Hiroyuki Namba – Hiru No Yume
I’m very, very excited to share a two hour mix I made of Haruomi Hosono‘s work, which was a contribution to NTS Radio’s Hosono Day last weekend (here’s to hoping it becomes an annual tradition). As you might imagine, this was simultaneously a joy and a total nightmare to make, as Hosono has contributed to over 900 releases and has refused to be hampered by genre–so rather than trying to pick one vicinity and stay there, I instead tried to find a through-line between my Hosono favorites all over the map. Happily, this selection also gives proper airtime to his fascination with Indian instrumentation–Bollywood, Indian classical, folk, and everywhere in between. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I found myself moved to tears more than once while working on this, as it’s astounding to be confronted by the weight of his genius and innovation while sifting through his archives.
And–there’s more! The lineup of contributors to Hosono Day include some of my favorite artists, labels, and curators, so it was a real thrill to be included among them and to hear so many different expressions of Hosono–I would encourage you to listen to all of it. Happy listening, and a belated happy Hosono Day! You can download an mp3 version of it here.
1. Haruomi Hosono – Hum Ghar Sajan
2. Haruomi Hosono – The Animal’s Opinion
3. Yellow Magic Orchestra – Seoul Music
4. Haruomi Hosono – Luminescent/Hotaru (edit)
5. Susan – Ah! Soka
6. F.O.E. – Total Eclipse
7. Haruomi Hosono – Laugh-Gas (edit)
8. Love, Peace & Trance – Hush – A Mandala Ni Påli
9. Haruomi Hosono – 若紫
10. Haruomi Hosono – Muji Original Background Music
11. Haruomi Hosono – Air-Condition
12. Haruomi Hosono – Sunnyside Of The Water
13. Interior – Luft
14. Inoyama Land – Wässer
15. World Standard – Pasio (edit)
16. Haruomi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki & Tatsuro Yamashita – スラック·キー·ルンバ (Slack Key Rhumba)
17. Akiko Yano – Tong Poo
18. Tatsuro Yamashita – Rainy Walk
19. Yukihiro Takahashi – Sea Change
20. Mickey Curtis – Tengoku No Yoru
21. Chiemi Manabe – ねらわれた少女
22. Dark Ducks – Dandy Dandy
23. H.I.S. – Nihon No Hito (Japanese People)
24. Hiroshi Sato – Jo-Do
25. Harry Hosono & The Yellow Magic Band – Worry Beads
26. Pizzicato V – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
27. Haruomi Hosono – Sports Men
28. Sandii – Zoot Kook
29. Hiroko Yakushimaru – 透明なチューリップ (Transparent Tulip)
Another favorite from the Hosono canon. This was the score for the first animated adaptation of The Tale of Genji, a sprawling piece of 11th century literature written by noblewoman Shikibu Murasaki, considered by many to be the first modern novel in recorded history. (Isao Tomita later write his own symphonic adaptation of the story.) The anime was directed by Gisaburō Sugii, and while it only covers a small part of the epic storyline, the score is highly ambitious.
Unlike much of Hosono’s catalogue, here synthesizer mostly acts as an atmospheric texture and instead puts traditional Japanese instruments, particularly koto, flute, and drums, front and center. What’s really astounding about this soundtrack is the layering of instruments, piling them up until they become unfamiliar: droves of fingerpicked strings sound like a hive of insects, waves of gentle hand percussion feel like the swells of inhales and exhales, processed flute suggests the shrieking wind. Despite a pervasive mysteriousness, and even ominousness, this is unmistakably gorgeous music, and structured in such a way that it will appeal to fans of more conventional synthetic ambient music–but retains a feverish futurist-classical elegance all its own.
This post is a little out of character, as George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby didn’t exactly fly under the radar at the time of its release. The title track single was a massive chart-topper that sold 11 million copies worldwide, and is considered one of the early hits of disco. But I’ve been in a months-long habit of listening to “You Can Have It All” on repeat on my commutes home from work when I’m feeling deflated or overly cynical: it’s a song about deliberate and joyful vulnerability, delivered with infectious open-handed sincerity, and it always makes me feel better. As a record, Rock Your Baby is a relatively rare instance of a disco full-length that’s consistently solid all the way through, so I wanted to share it in the hopes that it might be new to some people.
The title track single came to McCrae somewhat by accident: though he had been a longtime musician, at the time he was largely acting as manager to his then-wife Gwen McCrae, who had been asked to contribute vocals to a track for Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine band because they were unable to reach the high notes that they had written in. The story goes that Gwen was late for the session so George recorded the vocals in her place, and his falsetto was so impressive that he went on to make an entire record with Finch and Casey, who produced and co-wrote Rock Your Baby.
I love the rough, almost winkingly dirty quality of the production, the effortless and smiling quality of McCrae’s vocals, and the irresistible percussion, especially on “I Get Lifted,” which has famously been sampled by everyone and their dog. Oh, and that famous title track is as gorgeous as its sales would suggest–sunny, relaxed, and tropical, more of a groove stretched into six and a half minutes than a verse-chorus disco banger. It’s enough to sell the full-length on its own, but fortunately there’s plenty more to love here. Enjoy!
Here’s my latest episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio. This one’s a bit loungey-slinky, with some some funk and new wave. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version of it here.
1. Spectors Three – I Really Do
2. Ichiko Hashimoto – Poinciana
3. Geoffrey Landers – Say You’ll Say So
4. Akofa Akoussah – I Tcho Tchass
5. Imitation – Watashi No Suki Na Kuni
6. Alessi Brothers – Seabird
7. Barbara Marchand – I Whisper Roll Over
8. The Jellies – Jive Baby On A Saturday Night
9. Letta Mbulu – Nomalizo
10. Maria Kozic & The MK Sound – Trust Me
11. David Astri – Safe And Sound
12. Angelo Badalamenti – The Bookhouse Boys
13. Cocteau Twins – Lazy Calm
14. Minako Ito – 一年ののち
A watershed moment in the career of an avant-garde giant. Takemitsu composed several hundred pieces of music, many of them massive and orchestral in scope; scored over 90 films; and published 20 books before his death in 1996. Interestingly, much of his early output was marked by his contempt for traditional Japanese (and, more broadly, non-Western) music, colored by his experiences of the war, during which Japanese music was associated with militaristic and nationalistic cultural ideals. In his own words: “There may be folk music with strength and beauty, but I cannot be completely honest in this kind of music. I want a more active relationship to the present. Folk music in a ‘contemporary style’ is nothing but a deception.” So severe was his enmity with tradition that he famously destroyed several of his own works upon discovering that he had unintentionally incorporated “nationalistic” elements of traditional Japanese scales. An early proponent of musique concrète, his work has often been cast as in synchronicity with Pierre Schaeffer; however, neither were aware of the other at the time (though Takemitsu was an ardent admirer of John Cage).
Still, despite his fierce commitment to avant-garde experimentation, by the 1960s he had started to more deliberately incorporate traditional Japanese scales, elements of folk songs, the tones and modes of Gagaku, and, as evidenced in Kwaidan, ancient instruments like the biwa.
A quartet of heavily stylized supernatural vignettes rendered in intensely saturated color, Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan was the most expensive film in the history of Japanese cinema at the time of its release. Takemitsu turned out a score ambitious enough to match, channeling his ambivalence towards tradition into a mangled, strangled take on the folk sounds of his upbringing. Silence acts as a prominent texture, but in between the strained gaps are twisted shakahuchi lines, shrieking winds, ghostly metallic clangs, splitting wood, an occasional distant drum, Noh-style vocals recalling a storied mass suicide on a battle ship, and a whole lot of that biwa, played with such venomous ferocity that one can only wonder how many strings had to be replaced over the course of recording. Sparse, horrific, and very potent. Enjoy, and happy Halloween!