Japanese music is still going “BOOM” in the West. There have been a lot of reissues already this year.
Below are a few I think you should check, plus some new music from this land of the rising sun.
Mushroom originally released. Chu Kosaka`s Horo in 1975. Haruomi Hosono produced the album, and wrote a lot of the songs. I think he plays bass on a few tracks, including my favourite, Bon Voyage Hatoba. Slinky City Pop and sampled surf. Who could resist? Kosaka and Hosono had both previously been members of influential Psyche / Folk group, Apryl Fool. It was Aficionado`s Moonboots who tipped me off to Horo`s immenseness, when he asked me to keep my eyes open for cheap copies. I have to admit that even the repress isn’t cheap.
Sticking with Hosono-sensei, Light In The Attic compliment their on-going rescuing of his long-players with a cute 45. Featuring the maestro`s Honey Moon – taken from 1975`s Tropical Dandy – on one side, and a Mac Demarco cover on the other.
While on Light In The Attic, it would be impossible not to mention their Kankyo Ongaku compilation. A thing of beauty to hold, gaze upon, and listen to. Twenty-five tracks, across six sides of vinyl. Painstakingly collected, compiled, and annotated – it comes with a book of extensive liner notes – by Yosuke Kitazawa and Visible Cloaks` Spencer Doran. I live in Japan, and am lucky enough to own half of the originals sourced, but I nonetheless felt compelled to shell out for the other half. A decade ago, you could find these records easily and cheaply. Trust me, now you will not. Enjoyed in one sitting, the comp serves both the purpose the pieces were composed for – to provide an escape from city bustle, if your lucky, worry – and to clearly demonstrate this music’s influence on modern composers, such as “The Cloaks”. A highlight for me is Ayuo Takahashi`s fragile, and all too brief, Nagareru, cherry-picked from the 1985 LP Memory Theatre.
Top record store Jetset have been reissuing classic sides of Japanese Pop as 45s for a while. Their selections are always worth checking and often overlap, and step into the world of “leftfield” dancers. For example, the lovelorn, end-of-the-night, sax-y, 80s, 808 Synth Pop of Nami Shimada`s Stay With Me Now. Former teen-idol, turned writer, Shimada-san being best known in “dance” circles for her 1988 single, Sun Shower (also reissued as a 7 by Jetset). Produced by House legend, Soichi Terada, and remixed by the iconic DJ Larry Levan. Another recent release in this vein is SHYに愛して by 加藤有紀 (Yuki Kato). A kinda novelty, and kinda kawaii rip of Indeep`s Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, reissued by Solid.
Also on a Jetset 45 is Shigeo Sekiito`s The Word II. Taken from his sought after 1975 LP, Special Sound Selection. The original is an experimental synthesizer work-out, which is transformed into head-nodding Fusion by a remix from Masamichi Torii. Fusion of a more bass-driven Boogie kind can be found in the form of Night Cruisin` by Tranzam Moon Band, care of a 7” on Climax Records (sorry, I have no more info than that but would love to learn if anyone out there knows).
Wewantsounds continue their focus on long-term Ryuichi Sakamoto collaborator, and Jazz pianist, Akiko Yano, by reissuing her Japanese Girl LP. Released in 1977, the record is split into an American side, and a Japanese side. The former, the results of Hollywood sessions where Yano-san teamed up with Little Feat. The standout track being Funamachi Uta Part 2 – which I’ve heard played out a lot recently. A percussive New Orleans Voodoo groove. Sam Clayton`s bongo breakdowns given a wild edge by Akiko`s improvised vocal – moaning and shouting. Lowell George and Paul Barrére`s electric guitars growling and howling in the background. Lifted by Yano-san`s wonderful rolling keys.
More experimental is Normal Brain`s Lady Maid, the latest obscure sound licensed for the world by WRWTFWW. Released in 1981 on Vanity Records the album moves between hypnotic Kraftwerk-influenced Speak & Spell Kosmische, and odd Coldwave computer Funk. There’s an abstract Industrial Dub cover of The Beatles` Tomorrow Never Knows, and then the twenty-minute, epic, slow drone piece, Mist. Built upon a foundation of something like Jóhann Jóhannsson inside LaMonte Young’s Theatre Of Eternal Music, it fills with tight twists of pure phase and ringing frequency fallout. Dive-bombing rushing sounds, like you’d hear as you fell into the void of Tangerine Dream`s Zeit. A psychedelia of clock chimes as they are gradually detuned.
Hokkaido singer and mukkuri (like a Japanese juice harp) player, Umeko Ando, first recorded her track Battaki in 2001 for the LP, Ihunke. German label Pingipung repressed the whole set last year, but Joe Claussell has now remixed Battaki for Volkuta. The imprint responsible for Kuniyuki`s sublime rework of Ikue Asazaki`s Yoisurabushi. Both records re-contextualizing the traditional music of Japan. Beginning with sparsely rattling percussion, Umeko-san singing off in the Dub distance. Claussell`s take is a fifteen minute trip. Inducing altered states while spinning and building from softly cascading showers. Picking up speed near the halfway mark, switching from jazzy keys and Santana-like guitar, to soaring and peaking synths. Slowing again to close, and sooth re-entry.
New music comes from Coastlines who have a fresh 45 out on Flower. Following on from their cover Ralph McDonald`s East Dry River, Sunset Reflection begins with the keys from the start of Primal Scream`s Screamadelica, and evolves into a Cantoma-esque combination of piano, heavenly choir, and acoustic picking. On the flip, Half Moon Shadow gives a similar musical mix a 4 / 4 kick, and then relaxes, allowing the piano full reign.
Tominori Hosoya has an E.P. out on Brooklyn label, Scissor & Thread. Containing five tracks, with the title cut, Tropical Imagination, being a piece of “Dream House”. The others are varying shades of Ambient. We Are Here is a quality Fourth World mirage. A Boards Of Canada-esque collage of field recordings, and broken tribal chants and rhythms. Top for me though is Scissor & Thread founder, Francis Harris` “reform” of Heat Exhaustion. Which takes the same hallucinogenic heat-haze-y-ness, and attaches it to racing high-hats, and a half-speed b-line. To my ears at least, recalling classic Black Dog Productions (I love that sound – talk about timeless). Machine-made but somehow “alive”.
Reminding me of my Techno heyday, and shopping at FatCat Records on Covent Garden`s Seven Dials. When I was young, and all about new music. Not old, and all about reissues.
Chu Kosaka – Bon Voyage Hatoba – Mushroom
Nami Shimada – Stay With Me Now – Jetset
Ayuo Takahashi – Nagareru – Light In The Attic
Shigeo Sekiito – The Word II (Masamichi Torii Remix) – Jetset
Normal Brain – MUSIC – WRWTFWW
Toshifumi Hinata – Chaconne – Light In The Attic
Tomonori Hosoya – Heat Exhaustion (Francis Harris Remix) – Scissors & Thread
Tranzam Moon Band – Night Cruisin – Climax Records
Coastlines – Sunset Reflection – Flower
Haruomi Hosono – Honeymoon – Light In The Attic
Umeko Ando – Battaki (Joe Claussell Remix) – Volkuta