Yoshinori Sunahara – Pan Am: The Sound of the 70s

Yoshinori Sunahara - sound of the 70s

Yoshinori Sunahara drm-free mp3 Yoshinori Sunahara compact disc

I recently had the pleasure of reacquainting myself with a little record called Pan Am: The Sound of the 70s, a dazzling example of late-90s downtempo shibuya-kei from producer Yoshinori Sunahara. Some truly funky beats, lush arrangements, and (surprisingly for an offshoot of electronic music), some engaging songcraft grace this remarkably enjoyable album.

Sunahara, who has an obsessive fascination with air travel demonstrates that fascination with not only the "Pan Am" in the album title but also a track called 747 Dub as well as ambient sound recordings meant to evoke the feeling of an airport terminal.

The album’s subtitle, "The Sound of the 70s" however, is little misleading. This recording may get its iconography and inspiration from the jet-settingly fashionable TWA era, but it’s sound is pure late-90s Japan. You owe it you yourself to check out the album’s standout track: the soulfully reworked bossa version of Sun Song (called Sun Song 70s). I’ve had this album for even years now and have never once been bored with it, despite its low-key persona.

The album itself is out of print and a bit rare (and pricey) these days. So unless you just have to have that tactile quality, digital download is the way to go. Apple has the whole disc in iTunes Plus.

Nobukazu Takemura – For Tomorrow: Downtempo Premonition

For Tomorrow

Bouncing off my recent Mudhoney post, I’d like to bring up Nobukazu Takemura once again. I was recently given the pleasure of listening to his For Tomorrow disc, which like My Brother the Cow, was released in 1995, and is the accompanying single to the album Child’s View. It strikes me that, even though the two records were released around the same time, Takemura’s offering appears to have aged much more respectably in terms of cultural influence.

It’s probably due to the fact that the Mudhoney record represents a waning of a particular style of music, a lingering breath of the fading grunge movement, which despite it’s continued popularity in some circles, can be easily dismissed as fad.

For Tomorrow however, is an early example of a style that’s grown and flourished since its release: future-jazz, which blends elements of american jazz with downtempo electronic music to create a relaxing environment.

Like most people who could be classified as ‘musical geniuses,’ Takemura appears to enjoy working in as many genres as possible; no two projects sound quite the same. For Tomorrow is barely recognizable as the work of the same artist compared to the glitch-inspired material of his later career. This record is both smooth and quite listenable. The female vocalist sings off-key on the title track, yet the backing music manages to compensate to the point where it sounds both disorienting and perfect at the same time.

The sounds and styles employed on this record would be echoed throughout the late 90s and into the 21st century as downtempo music increased in popularity, from the elaborate compositions of Tortoise to the seamless beats of Fila Brazillia, and that puts this record ahead of its time.

Nobukazu Takemura – Hoshi no Koe: glitches

The note at the top of the page says that the site layout is currently broken in firefox. It turns out that I royally screwed something up while trying to "Improve" Things around here. As a result, I’ll have to recode the site structure and css from scratch. Until then, sorry firefox users. I commend you for your independent spirit, but for now you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of the page to see the sidebars.

However, that’s not the only type of glitch in these parts lately. I ran across Nobukazu Takemura’s hoshi no koe the other day. Takemura is a guy I was first introduced to in new orleans 5 years ago in june 2001. He was opening for Tortoise and Mouse on Mars at the howlin’ wolf. (by the way, best concert ever. it’s not often you get to see a band at the height of your fandom for them.)

It was my first exposure to both the glitch genre of music and the concept of a ‘laptop performance.’ For 30+ minutes this Japanese guy with a long pony tail sat calmly behind a table, meticulously twisting dials, pushing buttons and manipulating his powerbook, creating a perfect, swirling mess of sounds… And I was mesmerized by it. By the time he was half way through Sign and those dueling artificial voices had finished their seemingly-never-ending chant, I was hooked.

I bought Hoshi no Koe that night after the show and quickly launched an effort to acquire as much Takemura as I could. It was a foolish endeavor; The dude is as prolific as he is obscure (not to mention foreign) and I had a hard enough time tracking down a full discography, let alone much of his music.

Eventually, I gave up on that particular tunequest as it proved nearly impossible. Besides, the thing I came to slowly realize about Takemura’s music is that it’s very dichotomic. It’s either so brilliantly clever that you want to shout "Oh my god, that’s awesome!" Or it’s completely and totally unlistenably abstract, the type of compositions that certain people who want to prove their intellectual mettle listen to. A similar phenomenon occurs throughout the genre. However, lesser composers than Takemura lean distinctively toward the latter opinion.

In the end, despite the short burst of passion, my affair with glitch was short-lived. As I’ve mellowed with age, I’m not as likely to indulge in the less listenable as I find that my musical tastes are for my own enjoyment and not to impress the kids with some kind of street cred.

But Takemura, the man is still fascinating.

Pizzicato Five – Made in USA

pizzicato five

Stopped by Pizzicato Five’s 1994 american debut, Made in USA this morning. it’s a compilation of the better songs that had already been released in japan during the group’s 8 year existence. In fact, combined with the excellent Five by Five ep (released around the same time), this is P5’s first stab at greatness. Pizzicato Five is a group that can take a simple idea and toy with it, remix it, play with it, re-arrange it and reference it in so many divergent ways, but somehow keep it accessible, cohesive and interesting. Plus, the group is so seemingly happy in its approach to chic enthusiastically detached, as i’ve said before, that being cool was never this much fun.

happy end of the world at itunes

A happy end of the world to you

happy end of the world by pizzicato five

Happy End of the World is the Pizzicato 5 album, above all others. Yeah, the five by five ep is of course excellent, but this record is among the definitive late-90s shibuya-kei records from the definitive shibuya-kei act. It’s chock full of that uptempo cheerfulness that one would expect to come from the bright lights of Tokyo, but it’s tempered with just the right amount of lounge-cool to keep it grounded. Enthusiastically detached is one way of thinking about it.

But most of all, this album is fun, especially It’s a Beautiful Day P-I-Z-Z-I-C-A-T-O-FIVE!. And the best part is that you don’t have to know a word of Japanese to enjoy this album. I barely know how to say “hello” and yet, when I finish listening, I want to hear the whole thing again.

It was on the strength of this record, which I picked up over the summer of ’99, that Istarted exploring the music that was coming out of Japan at the time. That was a journey that led to some innovative places, such as Cornelius and Nobukazu Takemura. However, my post-college years have left little time for further treks into j-music, but that’s ok. I’ll always have the end of the world.

happy end of the world at itunes

I can never gauge if I like Puffy

Every time I think i’m ready to ditch those poppy-japanese-rock-girls, I hear the songs that got me interested in the first place. So i explore their music and find myself intrigued, but underwelmed by much of their catalog. Then I start contemplating the removal of the less compelling songs from my library. entering “evaluation mode,” I listen to their songs and can’t help but find most of them catchy and, at the same time, exasperating, with those two reactions constantly fighting each other. Then the cycle begins again. Maybe it’s because they’re Japanese and the cultural differences interfere with my normal reflexes.

In any event, Amiyumi is a decent enough record with Usagi Channel being a stand out track. If nothing else, that song is worth keeping around.