[Mix for Self-Titled] OMG Japan 2: Japanese Pop 1980-1989

cover art by Jeff Velker (SC / Twitter)

I’m very pleased to finally share Volume 2 of the OMG Japan mix via Self-Titled Mag.

That proclivity towards inventive genre splicing is all over this mix, actually, perhaps most noticeably as a reggae influence in three very different incarnations. First, Akiko Yano’s steel drum-flecked synth-reggae cupcake “Ashkenazy Who?” is replete with gleefully gnashed vocals, twisted and slung in the mouth as if to mimic warped synth pulses. Next, Junko Yagami leans even more explicitly into reggae fusion on “ジョハナスバーグ” (“Zyohanasubargu,” i.e. a Romanization of the Japanese pronunciation of Johannesburg), a thick synth-funk ode to a global love for reggae, winking with drum machines and synthetic accordian. Last is Pecqre’s “Kylyln,” a spaced-out dub rendition of a song originally written by Ryuichi Sakamoto for Kazumi Watanabe, which comes from one of the most slept-on records in the Japanese canon. It was largely recorded in Jamaica at Channel One and Tuff Gong Studio on a trip organized by Bob Marley himself, as the story goes, at the urging of drummer and diehard reggae fan Masahito Hashido (aka Pecqre). It’s an incredible lineup: between Aston Barrett and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Carly Barrett and Sly Dunbar on percussion, Minako Yoshida’s lead vocals, and Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt singing back-up, one can only dream of being a fly on the wall during those sessions.

Read the rest HERE, and if you like it, you can download it HERE.

Tracklisting:
1. Tabo’s Project – Feel
2. Imitation – Narcisa
3. Jimmy Murakawa – Down? Down, Down! / Stay Outta My World
4. Zabadak – 蝶
5. Akiko Yano – Ashkenazy Who?
6. Junko Ohashi – I Love You So
7. Junko Yagami – Zyohanasubargu
8. Tatsuro Yamashita – Love Talkin’ (Honey It’s You)
9. Yukihiro Takahashi – Konchu-Ki
10. Sandii & The Sunsetz – The Serious Game
11. Pizzicato V – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
12. Pecqre – Kylyn
13. Joe Hisaishi – The Winter Requiem
14. dip in the pool – Rabo Del Sol
15. Masami Tsuchiya – Never Mind
16. Mami Koyama – Love Song
17. Toshifumi Hinata – サラズ・クライム
18. Ayuo Takahashi ft. Koharu Kisagari – 流れる
19. Hiroko Yakushimaru – 透明なチューリップ (Transparent Tulip)

[Mix for NTS Radio] Hosono Day

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.

Tracklisting:
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)

Haruomi Hosono – 源氏物語 (The Tale of Genji), 1987

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.

Scan courtesy of Kaleidophonics

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.

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Haruomi Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki & Tatsuro Yamashita – Pacific, 1978

A classic. While Hosono needs no introduction around here, I’m realizing that Tatsuro Yamashita has perhaps not been given enough air time. For the unfamiliar, Yamashita is iconic in his own right, not just because of his classic Japanese Christmas favorite “Christmas Eve” or his enormous output but also because of his signature early-80’s take on a wall-of-sound expansiveness crossed with a deep love for the Beach Boys, relentlessly clever songwriting, and of course, mirror-polished synth programming. Shigeru Suzuki is perhaps best known for his work with Happy End and Tin Pan Alley, and is also a wildly prolific session musician, who’s contributed to over 588 recordings as of 2006.

Which brings us to Pacific, for which each track was composed by one of the above three. It also includes plenty of of contributions from–you guessed it–Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi. Though YMO’s self-titled debut was also released in 1978, from what I understand Pacific came first, and feels very akin to much of the exotica and fusion that Hosono had already been fixated on across several projects. Still, Pacific is clearly the product of a handful of masterminds having fun together: its unabashed tropical nostalgia acts as a jumping off point for flitting between genres (lounge, funk, disco, rhumba, smooth jazz, Latin fusion, synth pop), all delivered in full-color with jaunty, winking songwriting.

Even with vaporwave and its kitsch-scraping genre contemporaries behind us, Pacific holds up as well as ever. It’s only in closer “Cosmic Surfin'” that we get a taste of the more hard-edged, crunchy electro that became YMO’s signature sound, and fittingly, a different version of the song went on to appear on YMO’s debut the same year. I highly recommend listening to this as much as possible before fall rolls around.

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Miyako Koda – Jupiter, 1998

Solo record from Miyako Koda (dip in the pool, Love, Peace & Trance, personal style hero). A bit hard to pin down, as there’s a wide range between tracks, but it all feels very true to Koda’s aesthetic: alternately playful and very sober, shifting readily between straight tone choir-boy-esque vocals and spoken word (spoiler alert: closer “A Sea of Love” is an ASMR goldmine). Micro-glitch balearic jazz and delicate electronic pulsing with a bit of a Laurie Anderson feel. Production by Haruomi Hosono, Yasuaki Shimizu, Towa Tei, and Gonzalez Mikami.

To the best of my knowledge, the original recording (download link below) isn’t available for sale anywhere, but you can buy a very good six track mini-album of reworked tracks from Jupiter, featuring an all-star lineup (including mastering by Seigen Ono) from Chee Shimizu’s 17853 imprint here.

Interior – Interior, 1982

A classic. Interior was first released on Yen Records, then later issued on Windham Hill with two of the more post-punky tracks omitted, and the addition of the excellent “Hot Beach.” Confusingly, both the artist and album title are written as “Interiors” in several of the later pressings, and when you try to purchase the mp3s on Amazon it presents you with an unrelated album by “The Interiors.” Because of the un-googleability of the album title, I’m not actually sure if there’s a current version for sale anywhere–please let me know if you know. The version you can download here includes all tracks from both the Yen and Windham Hill releases. As an aside, the group’s lineup includes Toshifumi Hinata‘s brother, Daisuke Hinata.

Having said all that, holy cow, whadda record. This seems to have one of the stronger cult followings of the Yen catalogue, and with good reason. Still feels bonkers that this came out in 1982. It’s about as icy slick as they come, with a synthetic veneer that steers just clear of being too cheesy. As the name would suggest, it’s particularly evocative of certain spaces: Hyatt lobbies, futuristic elevators, waiting rooms. (The cover art for the Windham Hill pressings seems well aware of that, er, interiority.) There’s enough acoustic guitar and piano to ensure that you can’t forget you’re listening to a Windham Hill release, although I don’t entirely follow the insistent categorization of the record as “new age”–it’s too plump and plastic, too winking and too done up. (All good things.) I can’t really think of anyone who wouldn’t like this. Enjoy!

Akiko Yano – Tadaima, 1981

Not for the faint of heart, although I think the cover art should give you a pretty good sense of what you’re in for. Akiko Yano covers a lot of ground here, ranging from bubblegum reggae to pure, high-toned J-pop to the spronky sample relentlessness of new wave contemporaries like Devo, “Little Girls” era Oingo Boingo, and, yep, YMO. The dream team is in full force here: Haruomi Hosono on bass, Yukihiro Takahashi on drums, Ryuichi Sakamoto on synth, programming by Hideki Matsutake (and–bonus round!–Masami Tsuchiya on guitar). In addition to some masterfully psychotic vocals, Akiko Yano is also on piano, marimba, electric piano, production, and arrangement. By this time she had already established herself as a fiercely singular writer, producer, and musician, so it’s all the more exciting to hear her explore even broader musical territory here. Tadaima is best known for tracks like synthetic funk-reggae cupcake “Ashkenazy Who?” and the more unhinged classic “Rose Garden,” where you can hear that signature Sakamoto churn in full effect, but I also love the gleefully gnashing opener “I’m Home” (“Tadaima”) and the strung-out experiment “Iranaimon,” in which Yano speak-sings from far away over a non-melodic collage of synth samples and whirrs that open up more generously with every listen. There’s a lot here for fans of Miharu Koshi. Dense, rewarding, and not for laptop speakers.

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 2

Listen to my second episode of “Getting Warmer” for NTS Radio. Tropical, balearic, ideal poolside or sunset listening. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here. Happy summer!

Tracklisting:
1. Joëlle Ursula — Position Feeling
2. David Astri — Safe And Sound
3. Byron — Too Much
4. 10cc — I’m Not In Love
5. Linda Di Franco — TV Scene (Extended Version) (Excerpt)
6. Mike Francis — Features of Love (Apiento Edit) (thank you Jacob!)
7. Isabelle Antena — Laying on the Sofa
8. Black — Wonderful Life
9. Laid Back — Fly Away / Walking In The Sunshine (Excerpt)
10. Dip In The Pool — I’m Still In Love With You
11. Yōsui Inoue— Pi Po Pa
12. Renée — Come Closer
13. Jennifer Hall — Ice Cream Days
14. Roxy Music — True To Life

Yukihiro Takahashi – Neuromantic, 1981

The third solo release from YMO member Yukihiro Takahashi, with appearances from Haruomi Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Andy Mackay of Roxy Music, and Tony Mansfield, who’s worked with Lio, the B-52s, New Musik, and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Assistance from Steve Nye of Penguin Café Orchestra, Chris Mosdell, and Hideki Matsutake, who has computer programmed many of the greatest Japanese electronic records ever made.

Unsurprisingly, this has a lot of the same spiky relentlessness as the music that YMO was making at the time, though this is more new wavey, more optimistic, and as a whole, less hopped up. It’s also a vessel for very well-constructed pop songs, like “Something in the Air” and the shimmering, perfect “Drip Dry Eyes” (live version previewed below). There’s a rumor that the title for Neuromancer was inspired by the record (which was in turn a play on New Romanticism)–if anyone can confirm or deny, I’d love a citation 😉 Enjoy!

Love, Peace, & Trance – Love, Peace, & Trance, 1995

Apart from the Discogs entry which lists its participants, I can’t find any information about this house-influenced 1995 release produced by Haruomi Hosono. It sounds as if it was stitched together from a month-long experimental jam session somewhere amazing. Synthesizers, thick references to Indian classical music, and feathery vocals dominate, with flute, sitar, thumb piano, and gentle samples drifting in and out. Ambient and dreamlike, with slow building of beats. Other notable participants include dip in the pool‘s Miyako Koda, vocalist Mishio Ogawa, and Yasuhiko Terada, a recording engineer who worked on countless Yen records releases. An underheard release from an under-celebrated but prolific era in the career of the great Haruomi Hosono!