For me one of the most interesting things about the recent “rush” of Japanese compilations is that there`s little or no overlap between them – illustrating both the diversity of sounds ripe to be plundered, and the myriad musical niches that folks get fascinated by and fall into. For example, Nick Luscombe`s `80s economic bubble city pop-leaning Tokyo Dreaming, our kinda club chill-out lounge crafted Oto No Wa, and now Music From Memory’s new one, Heisei No Oto, all cater to slightly different crowds. Make no mistake this is a high, high, quality comp. People in the west might assume that I’m some sort of “Nippon ongaku” expert, but believe me the guys responsible here, Eiji Taniguchi and Norio Sato, of Osaka record stores Revelation Time and Rare Groove, are the real deal. They’ve come up with some super selections, sequenced as a spectacular whole, of which I only knew a few: Yosui Inoue`s cute, catchy, Pi Po Pa, simply because a good friend of mine gave it an extended edit a little while back; Peace, Love & Trance`s shaman-sonics – set to a galloping beat like distant hooves – `cos I`m a Haruomi Hosono obsessive; and Ichiko Hashimioto`s sultry, seductive, L`Ete, solely because I’ve been known to shop at Chee Shimizu`s Organic Music.
The remaining treasure may well be even more obscure, but it`s all extremely accessible. The overall “oeuvre” is that of gentle electronic pop, with a thing for art in places and a thing for jazz in others. Sort of “ambient-ish” – more ballads than ambient in the true Eno BGM sense of the word. Full of light, and the odd birdsong sample. Analogue bubblebaths of blissed-out bleeps and chilled chimes. Saxophones soundtracking steel pan tropics. Romantically rippling pianos radiating amongst percolating, programmed, percussive, rainforest vibes. Dream Dolphin`s Take No Michi swims a small synthesized ocean of suitably aquatic tones. Adi`s Co-Cu-U plays with prayer-like harmonies and Zen garden airs. Poison Girl Friend`s teasing, whispered Nobody shimmies somewhere between Smoke City and Stereolab. All of it pretty, precise, polished, shiny, clean, almost clinical.
Dido`s Mermaid, Kina Tomoko`s Ink, and Fumihiro Murakami`s Miko feature traditional song. On Keisuke Kikuchi`s Retro Electric the voices are those of a virtuoso violin, and a perfectly picked guitar. Working together, weaving, without words, lyrical, serene, soft-focus stanzas, to form a closing sunset serenade. On Harai, Keisuke Sakurai raps with the cadence of a Shinto priest, or monk.
You can order a copy of Heisei No Oto – Japanese Left-field Pop From The CD Age (1989-1996) directly from Music From Memory.