Showing posts with label Shibuya-kei. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shibuya-kei. Show all posts

Friday, 21 May 2010

Kahimi Karie - 'A Fantastic Moment' (1995)

   The charm of following a polymathic musician is in the phases they experience, always casting off their previous manifestations as definitive statements on their transitory fancies

   In 1995, Mari 'Kahimi Karie (カヒミ・カリィ)' Hiki and Keigo 'Cornelius (コーネリアス)' Oyamada were in something of a shared romantique nostalgia, or a relationship, to you and I. The Girlfriend was something of a sylph with a singing voice more incisively described as an airless, tranquil whisper, whose luminescent face, stoic demeanour and protean imagery that included Rococo opulence, French Mod Sex Kitten and Tokyo demureness made her a star; The Woman of a Thousand Fantasies, if you will

   The Boyfriend was running one of the trendiest yet most substantive record labels in the world - Trattoria Records - touring, remixing, producing and playing when he could and collaborating on portable record players, G-Shock models and other playthings that bore his brand. His latest incarnation at that time was an idiosyncratic bouillabaisse of 1960s psychedelia, 1970s heavy metal (he was a self-taught guitarist who developed through playing Kiss records), 1980s hip hop and 1990s electronic noise; at once the classic Japanese refiner of Western developments and the alien refractor of cultural traditions that he interacted with from afar

   Today's selection shows them in a very deliberate Gainsbourg and Birkin-like reverie; aside from their romantic status at the time, Karie can also speak French and English, and the 1960s and 1970s were rather a la mode in the Shibuya-Kei landscape of foreign musical history made modern day blended pop. Oyamada has long been an arbiter at home; his diverse musical knowledge threaded itself through every record he was involved in, no matter what year it was

   In either flavour, 'A Fantastic Moment' is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of music either has released. You barely even notice the Lou Reed sample

   A translation:

We run, cutting straight through the wind
Nothing can stop us as we head straight for hope
We might find it over on that hill maybe, I hope...

La la la when you gently take my hand
Everything around us changes to perfection
All of the world's sunlight shining just for me and you

...And the bugs, they laugh...
...Melting into the ground...

The two of us can do anything. Right?
See, we can even jump over that rainbow.

...And the time stands still...
...The flowers are waving...

The two of us are laughing high above the clouds
Our laughter leaking down as sun beams in the forest
Just now the rain of sadness is turning into a rainbow

Away with the gloom
The grass gently waves
And the birds peacefully fall to sleep

One day...everything...I hope...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Salon Music - 'Chew it in a Bite' (1996)

   Salon Music is Yoshida Zin and Takenaka Hitomi. In operation since 1981, their career encompasses intricate synth pop, full bore rock'n'roll, ethereal shoegaze, krautrock and breakbeat-impelled psychedelia

   I'm specifically fond of their version of 'Say Hello, Wave Goodbye,' recorded with Sparks

Monday, 4 January 2010

Cornelius - '2010' (1997)

   This bears a warning - it should not be listened to, under circumstances, by those of a nervous, or staunchly classicist, disposition. For it is perhaps the most gleefully childish and senses free cover of Johann Bach's piece that exists. And I say that despite being no authority on Bach covers whatsoever

   Every Cornelius album since 1995 has borne a cover of a reasonably well known song; this rather makes that year's somewhat disquieting fusion of Vivaldi's 'Concerto No. 3 From The Four Seasons' and Black Sabbath's opening riff to 'Iron Man' (complete with bizarre neo-psychedelic electronics and the title 'Pink Bloody Sabbath') seem like relaxation music by comparison. But then how else should a downloaded MIDI over drum'n'bass and wild samples from deep space satellites and the Oscar-winning classic Amadeus make one feel?

   As far as I'm concerned, pretty bloody marvellous; at least where the first few days of this year are concerned. Happy New Decade, and do I wish that I'd been able to post this last Friday

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Neil & Iraiza - New School (2002)

   For context, please note that this was written prior to the Sugababes review. This is most apparent in the opening paragraphs:

   I started around 7am. The insomnia is working mondo overtime, as I'm so very fond of saying, though it bears pointing out that the saying sits loftily on my monument of "Turns of Phrase I Wish I Had Devised". For as long as my sleep has been disordered, I've wished for it to amount to something - anything - productive instead of procrastination or zombification or trying to roll my eyes into the back of my head (purely experimental)

   Bearing in mind that this started far back around my 14th year, I recalled sometime after 2am this morning that I used to have a wider variety of coping methods beyond fatalism and rubbing my temples in what I hoped was a hypnotic rhythm. Such as music. And there was something "productive" to be followed, for there was a promise I made to myself and, by extension, the 3 people who peruse this journal on a regular basis regarding what used to be on my iPod, as well as what might be on a future model. To specify, little missives about what I consider to be among the best records of the past 9 years

   New School is rather easily one of the top 5

Via Last FM: l-r: Hirohisa Horie ('Iraiza') and Gakuji Matsuda ('Neil'). I'm planning to acquire sunglasses like Horie-san imminently

   This is, as far as anyone's aware, the final long playing collaboration between the abovementioned band members, who have maintained stalwart status in Tokyo's alternative music corners since the dearly departed King of Pop was onto his sixth new face in the mid 1990s. Matsuda, aka DJ Chabe, is best known under his Cubismo Grafico alias, tying together lounge, classical strings, Brazilian pop, French House, reggae, electronic exotica and a dab of Philly disco to almost unimpeachable effect over multiple albums, EPs and singles, all impeccably produced and played. And he sang too

   Horie is even more disgustingly talented - a multi-instrumentalist who flies the world with former Shibuya-kei figurehead and lauded sonic maestro Cornelius as his live bassist (which means that I've seen him in person twice), and has an almost inexhaustible gift for honing psychedelic rock experimentation into unforgettable melodic hooks and uncontrived arrangements, using his cheerfully wistful and whimsical persona to imbue a winning warmth in his writing (he's also a frequent collaborator of pop star Hideki Kaji, whose recent unfortunate assault was reported a few months ago - their 1999 Tokyo Tapes EP as Dots and Borders is worth five LPs put together). Given the close-knit nature of the scene, his list of collaborators is naturally extensive and, up until N&I's first releases, more used to taking center stage

   On the face of it, it's Eclectic Dance Producer meets Ecelectic Indie Pop Lifer, but the common thread between the two men - unabashed FM radio adoration - makes them entirely an entirely natural pairing. Over two EPs and the first album, charmingly titled Johnny Marr?, as well as New School, the division of labour runs thus: the duo split lyricwriting duties, Horie handles anything with a keyboard, leads on vocals and creates the bulk of the guitar work, arrangements and ultimately, the majority of the music. Matsuda handles choruses, secondary vocals and keys, and an array of percussive instruments including the occasional drum. Friends play parts N&I believe to be better served by other talents. And naturally, Horie and Matsuda produce everything

New School's sole (Japanese) single, 'Wasted Times'. It scores highly with me for the callback to early song 'Five Idle Days', amongst other things

   In my own way, the first adjective I use to describe the album is "consummate." There seems to be an utter lack of limit to the deft touches the two artists leave on the 12 songs. Although their earlier work had a certain ramshackle charm that was nevertheless in tandem with the breadth of their skill, the songs of New School are full bodied, tightly arranged and winningly melodic; hook filled enough that English indie label Ochre Records, released tracks 4 and 11, 'This is Not a Love Song' and 'Oracle Noises' as a 7" in 2003 as a way to increase their cult profile. As an international introduction, the single captures the sunny, charming FM pop side of the duo, who create the most perfect country-inspired jangle pop record of the decade in a little over 2 minutes on side A and then delves into their effects-led psychedelic introspections on the flip, thereby providing a snapshot of the entire album

   I adore every single cut, but aside from the delights of the aforementioned selections, there are many great tricks performed successfully here. Take 'Human Dust Bin' - silly title, sillier risk in leading with beats, keys and sax that resemble mid-1980s synth soul and r'n'b (or Simply Red, if you're feeling mean) and in a possible moment of self consciousness, Horie even sings "Out of my head, that makes no sense, you know" in the middle, but it's an undeniably charming concoction of songwriting and melody that soon papers over the desire to sneer and might even move one to reconsider the source genre. 'Our Housing' is another excercise in such near-3D thought - if the reference to Madness in the title isn't immediately obvious, then the opening soon reveals the extent to which 'Our House' influences the song - the bassline, the horns, the famous guitar lines and the chorus harmony are all present and correct, but it's nevertheless a different entity in rhythm, arrangement,and lyrics, dipping through all the wistfulness and emotion that accompanies nostalgic reflections on a childhood home and providing a strong example of inspiration made good where other efforts are cynical and poor (Christina Aguilera's 'Make Over' of Sugababes' 'Overload') or simply accidental (The Flaming Lips' 'Fight Test' and Cat Stevens' 'Father and Son')

   'Wednesday' is a spirited dash of Kinksian whimsy that manages to seem original through the strength of the melodies and playing, the unexpected soft pop/light reggae collision of 'Hello Young Lovers' is soothing and oddly moving (blame it on Horie's cooing choral lead-out), while the energetic instrumental (save for a whistled lead tune), 'Fez', gallops through lighthearted 60s freakbeat and 70s keyboard wizardry but avoids total antiquity through the  detail and clarity of its production

   Special mention goes to 'Supreme Day', a superficially simplistic drum-pounding jaunt, upon which all manner of instruments and hooks surmount, most prominently a recorder. And then there's 'Mall Rats', possibly my favourite contender for rock'n'roll song of the decade. It's exuberant, confident and practically viral in its memorableness, from its opening riff to its cute, child's-view-of-consumerism-and-defiance lyrics to its slightly dizzying, percussively danceable finish. Best part? It's the second song on the album, and, therefore, the strongest assurance that the record to follow will be one that remains in the memory

   It pulls off the best trick of much of Shibuya-Kei - making the past sound like the present and/or the future - but the childish whims and viewpoints of many of their peers are made more adult  and refined in the hands of Horie and Matsuda. And as an album from the final days of "old" Shibuya-Kei, New School is very much the capstone that the movement deserved

Friday, 2 October 2009

Shibuya-Kei: A Brief Primer

 Whilst finishing off my next 2000s musical review - technically the first until real world events dictated otherwise - I noticed that a genre overview might be needed for those who lack my particular proclivities for musical geekery. So the following is extracted from said review, a classic from Japan's old alternative pop scene, Shibuya-Kei:

The now-dead - and resurrected - scene they contributed prolifically to, Shibuya-kei, deserves its own article or, better still, a link to a better overview and dissection than I could hope to manage, lack of rest or no. Suffice to say, it centred around an auspiciously fashionable and lively area of Tokyo - the titular Shibuya - and its harmonic proponents became known for recombinant, idiosyncratic, heavily detailed and often exuberant and kitschy forms of Western pop history. It was the 1990s incarnation of the DIY spirit of punk and golden age hip hop, yet almost everything had a whispy voiced Japanese femme on vocals and it all sounded like it was created on an unlimited budget, even when it wasn't

   And those links are the preserve and insights of Japanese-but-actually-American alternative/blender pop artist, journalist and cultural disinterrer Marxy, as detailed in six parts. The Legacy of Shibuya-Kei is a vital and excellent read, examining and championing well over a decade of a landscape changed by reinterpreting and reshaping Western music into something familiar but utterly new. And sometimes far more interesting:

   Give Marxy's songs a try. I'll be returning to his output in the near or distant future