Ichiko Hashimoto – Mood Music, 1987

Odd that this is my first Ichiko Hashimoto post, given how much I admire her work–though her catalogue covers so much ground that it’s hard to know quite where to start. A trained jazz pianist, composer, and singer, Hashimoto was one half of Colored Music (friendly reminder that this record is so great), made a slew of ambitious solo records, performed with YMO, collaborated with Belladonna of Sadness composer Masahiko Sato, and scored an anime series, all while establishing herself as an powerful and singular composer, arranger, and producer. Though she’s worked across many genres, she’s maintained a signature proclivity towards gently sinister and avant-garde arrangements, and lugubriouis, pillowy vocals (her love of chanson-style singing pops up all over her discography, not just here).

Mood Music might not be her most canonical record, but it’s a personal favorite and has been on repeat recently. Comprised mostly of jazz standards, the record cribs heavily from bossa nova, samba, and exotica, but Hashimoto quietly subverts these textures into something darker, and at times, less familiar. Her quavering, syrupy-swoony orchestration suggests a Scott Walker-esque approach to sentimentality, particularly on thick and headier arrangements like “Poinciana” and “Night and Day.” The record’s two original compositions, “Flower” and “Île De Étrange,” are its most interesting, with the former a white-knuckled, percussionless tower of taut-string urgency, and the latter a hypnagogic, dubby piece of acid jazz. Mood music indeed.

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World Standard – Allo!, 1986

Hooked on this one. World Standard is the project of Sohichiro Suzuki, who seems to still be releasing music as of 2013. Surprise surprise, a few of his releases feature Hosono production. Allo! is full of of the dry genre-referencing that I strongly associate with Japanese 80s pop, especially leaning into cinematic song structures, doo-wop, chanson, and bossa nova. It’s off-putting for some, though I think this is an unusually well-executed instance of it. It’s also an excellent entry point into World Standard’s considerable, and startlingly varied, catalogue. Cleverly built pop songs with swingy vocal layering, shivery synth blips, and several really effective moments of songs “opening up” in very moving ways. For fans of Asami Kado and Miharu Koshi. Thank you Ian for the World Standard tip!

Brenda Ray – Walatta, 2005

A personal favorite. Brenda Ray rolled around with a handful of musical projects in the UK post punk scene, where she explored African rhythms, dub, hip hop, and electro grooves. After hitting it off with the legendary Roy Cousins in the early 90’s, she helped him remaster and reissue titles from his label, Tamoki Wambesi. Legend has it that it was Cousins’ idea that she make an album using original tapes of Tamoki Wambesi roots reggae tracks. I think this was mostly recorded in the late 90s, released in limited numbers via Tamoki Wambesi, and reissued by Japan’s EM Records (we’re still working our way through their catalog, because holy cow it is good).
Unlike anything else. Ray draped her breathy, 60’s-chanteuse vocals all over some of the best dub and reggae tracks ever made (tracks which she quite literally jazzed up), resulting in what Forced Exposure called “very disturbing slices of psycho-dub/doo-wop/jazz-fusion/exotica music.” Grooving all over Turkey, West Africa, and of course, Jamaica. Alternately shimmery, bossa-nova-flecked, and funky, with appearances by Prince Far I and Knowledge. The sonic equivalent of pink plastic palm trees. A salve for a brutally cold February day. Enjoy!

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