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.

buy / download

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!

Hiroshi Sato – Orient, 1979

Synth-funk exotica at its finest. Hiroshi Sato (sometimes “Satoh”) seems to slip through the cracks, though he was arguably one of the most important Japanese keyboardists of his time. He played keyboards on almost every Tatsuro Yamashita record of the 70s and 80s, and contributed to much of Hosono’s solo work, including the beloved Cochin Moon. Unsurprisingly, Hosono makes some appearances here on bass. Sato died in Yokohama on October 24th, 2012. His only daughter, Chirudo, had to say of her father:

His life’s work was pouring his everything enthusiastically into music. He also loved his studio in Yokohama, putting in speakers and installing the equipment and synthesizers one by one. He fell down and breathed his last breath in that studio while he was making music. He was sixty-five years old, and an acute dissecting aneurysm of the aorta was the cause of his death. However, this is the least important aspect of his passing. Despite an instant death, I believe he knew the time had come, because he was sitting cross-legged with his hands joined together, as if practicing Zen meditation. He was alone, but not lonely, because whenever he was surrounded by music he was happy, as if he were an innocent child. He lived life as a musician and lived as a musician with his whole life.

Orient is mostly instrumental, with vocals by Hiroshi Sato and Masaki Ueda on “Son Go Kuw,” “Tsuki No Ko No Namae Wa Leo,” and “Bright Wind.” Cheeky and heady, with immaculate percussion. Lightyears ahead of its time. Thanks for everything, Hiroshi.

Note: Hiroshi Sato also makes an appearance on our OMG Japan mix.

[Mix for Self-Titled] OMG Japan: Rare & Experimental Japanese Pop

cover image by whtebkgrnd
We’re so excited to release this mix of experimental Japanese pop, up today on Self-Titled Mag.

“This is a mix of Japanese pop songs, most of them with a synth funk backbone. The most exciting aspect of this era of music, though, is how unafraid these musicians were to push the limits of genre: They loved Van Dyke Parks, Kraftwerk and Martin Denny, but they were never confined by any one sound, nor were they afraid to poke fun at western constructs of the ‘oriental’ or Japanese fascinations with Western cultural novelties.” Read more HERE, and if you like it, download it HERE.

Tracklisting:
1. Chiemi Manabe – Untotooku
2. Miharu Koshi – L’amour…Ariuwa Kuro No Irony
3. Hiroshi Satoh – Say Goodbye
4. Colored Music – Heartbeat
5. Minako Yoshida – Tornado
6. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Kacha Kucha Nee
7. Mariah – Shinzo No Tobira
8. Yukihiro Takahashi – Drip Dry Eyes
9. Sandii – Zoot Kook
10. Haruomi Hosono – Ohenro-San
11. Osamu Shoji – Jinkou Station Ceres
12. Kisagari Koharu – Neo-Plant
13. Inoyama Land – Wässer
14. Aragon – Horridula
15. Asami Kado – 退屈と二つの月
16. Tamao Koike & Haruomi Hosono – 三国志ラヴ・テーマ
17. Hiroyuki Namba – Hiru No Yume

If you like this, check out Clandestinations, the mix
we made for Mexican Summer’s Anthology Recordings.

Tatsuro Yamashita – Moonglow, 1979

Tatsuro Yamashita, reigning king of Japanese funky vibes, released this incredibly slick album in 1979 to critical acclaim. Track to track, we’re treated to absurdly solid grooves with Yamashita demonstrating his impressive vocal abilities throughout. The first track, “Nightwing,” is a short but pretty a cappella track.  After that, the record is mostly lightning speed funk, except for the tender “Touch Me Lightly” and the laid back, expansive “Rainy Walk” (below) on which Haruomi pays us a popping visit on bass. “Storm” is also a chilled out treat. Let me just say here that Yamashita is the MAN. He produced this entire thing too. So insane. Great record.