1. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Saru To Yuki Gami No Kodomo
2. Bill Nelson – Heart and Soul
3. Mori Ra – On the Edge of Flip
4. Leopold Nord & Vous – Les Hippopotamtam
5. Isabelle Antena – La Vie Est Trôp Courte
6. Patrice Rushen – Watch Out!
7. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Steppin’ Into Asia
8. Jah Wobble – Hold Onto Your Dreams
9. Yellow Magic Orchestra – Limbo
10. Blonde Mom – Neverhits 1
11. Pegmo – 10,000 秒の恋
12. Akiko Yano – きょうのわたくし
13. Anne Steel – Sparkling World
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.
My newest mix for NTS Radio is a 坂本龍一 (Ryuichi Sakamoto) special! Not an exhaustive overview, just some personal highlights. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here.
In related news, if you’re interested in listening to my NTS show live, my time slot has just moved to every fourth Wednesday at 1pm EST/5pm GMT, which I hope will be a more convenient time for many. The next one will be airing on channel 2 on March 22nd. Thanks for listening!
1. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Thousand Knives
2. Yellow Magic Orchestra – Neue Tanz
3. Ryuichi Sakamoto – You Do Me
4. Ryuichi Sakamoto – E-3A
5. Virginia Astley – I’m Sorry
6. Ryuichi Sakamoto – A Carved Stone
7. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
8. Hector Zazou – Hapolot Kenym
9. Ryuichi Sakamoto & Thomas Dolby – Fieldwork (London Mix)
10. Yellow Magic Orchestra – Kai-koh
11. Akiko Yano – Ashkenazy Who?
12. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Whales (NTT Data 1990)
13. Ryuichi Sakamoto & Robin Scott – Once In A Lifetime
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.
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!
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. 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.
Experimental pop. Brooding ballads with Enya-like synth sweeps and sparse, kick-heavy upbeat tracks that playfully reference dub reggae, hip hop, samba, disco, and even polka. Lush atmospherics, vocal layering, and liberal delay effect. Most songs have several minute long intro sections before opening up.
A lot of people participated in the making of this album. Most are unknowns, with one big exception: Hideki Matsutake of YMO fame. I actually found this record by digging through his absurdly long list of credits on Discogs. You can check out more of his work by grabbing these albums by Mkwaju Ensemble, Miharu Koshi, or Ryuichi Sakamoto. Yeah, I know…the album art is incredible.
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 every great Japanese electronic record 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!
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!
This group of Japanese percussionists, led by Midori Takada and Yoji Sadanari, only released two albums, both in 1981. They’re joined on their first release by Joe Hisaishi (more from him soon), who’s credited as keyboardist and producer, as well as Hideki Matsutake (of Logic System, though he’s often referred to as the “fourth member” of YMO) as computer programmer. With such forward-thinking musicians, Mkwaju (the Swahili word for tamarind) takes you for quite a ride. African rhythms and instrumentation combine with synth sounds in a repetitive but ever-evolving flurry stopping just short of cacophony. More information here; listen to the expansive proto-house “Tira-Rin” below.