Japan Loves Disco and AOR

July 24th, 2016

Let’s bury our sorrows in Japanese covers of forgotten 70s tracks.

Ryuichi Sakamoto
You’re Friend To Me
This is a cover of the Sister Sledge song “You’re A Friend To Me.” Note that the absence of an “A” is not a typo on my part, that’s how the song is listed on the official album liner notes.

Hey, articles are hard.

Anyways, this track is from Sakamoto’s 1979 album Summer Nerves, which is a strange record. Mostly because it’s not all that strange.

The album before this was one was his 1978 debut, A Thousand Knives Of. That record is a revolutionary recording that in many ways set the groundwork for what electronic music was in the 1980s. The album after it is 1980’s B-2 Unit, an uncompromising masterpiece that combines industrial music, electro, classical and undefinable experimental elements wrapped in a pop sheen, all while sounding strangely ominous (in case you can’t tell, it’s a really hard record to actually describe). It’s probably one of the strangest and bravest albums ever released.

But between those two albums we got Summer Nerves, and it’s a stupid disco record with some jazz overtones.

I’m willing to bet that album wasn’t planned as a Sakamoto solo release, and that his name only got pushed to the forefront thanks to his breakout solo success a year prior. In fact, something called “The Kakutougi Session” shares top billing with him, leading me to believe that was how the album was supposed to be billed in the first place.

So who is the Kakutougi Session? Well, it’s mostly names that should be familiar to any Sakmoto or YMO fan. Yukihiro Takahashi is here on drums, and he’s joined by former YMO guitarists Kazumi Watanabe and Kenji Omura. While Hosono is MIA, his bandmate from Happy End, Shigeru Suzuki, shows up for a bit, as does Akiko Yano on backup vocals.

But again, while the YMO regulars are present and this is supposedly a Sakamoto solo album, don’t go into this track expecting much that would signal these people would later go onto to perform on some of the most influential and important synthpop tracks of all-time. About the only thing that makes this even the least bit representative of Sakmoto’s later work is the heavy use of vocoder effects on the verses, and that’s it (and even that’s a stretch).

But hey, you know what’s a great song? “You’re A Friend To Me.” And this version is good.

Kenji Omura
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
Gaijin Heaven
The fact that YMO’s guitarist covered Steely Dan on one of his solo albums really cements my whole “YMO really likes jazz” theory, I think.

Not a bad cover, but it’s still a cover of a Steely Dan song, so don’t get your hopes up. The real gem of the two tacks I’m posting tonight is the second one, “Gaijin Heaven,” which served as the cover track to his great 1983 solo record. For those of you who are unaware, “Gaijin” is Japanese for “foreigner.” Some people consider it almost a racial slur, but in my experience as a gaijin, it’s really not the word itself that’s racist, but how it’s said. If someone mutter “gaijin” at me under their breath, then I know they’re a motherfucker.

The song is great, and one of the only pieces of Japanese pop culture I’ve ever come across that attempts to convey what it’s like to be a foreigner in Japan, even going as far as covering issues with immigration and the fact that no matter how long you’re here you’re never “one of them.” It’s also incredibly catchy and features some damn good guitar work and vocals by the late, great Omura-san. Dig it.

 

Parenthetical Aside (Not Aside)

July 13th, 2016

It’s been a rough month or so hasn’t it? Here’s some silly remixes.

Was (Not Was)
(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With The) Out Come the Freaks (Again) (The Mighty Mook Mix)
(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With The) Out Come The Freaks (Again) (The Bobby Maggot Mix)
Those are far too many parenthesis.

While I love living in Japan, and the record stores here are the best in the world, I do feel that most of them fall short in my bread and butter, which is obscure 12″ singles to B-tier 80s and 90s pop acts. Yeah, I can find a MSFL pressing of Dark Side Of The Moon ($800) or a mint mono copy of The Velvet Underground and Nico with the original front and back cover both in tact (I didn’t even look) but 12″ singles to Big Audio Dynamite, Yaz, Pop Will Eat Itself or Adam Ant are slim in supply it seems. So I get pretty stoked when I can come across a few. Scored these remixes at Recofan last week, along with another set of remixes to the same track that I’m not sharing because they’re available on Amazon legally.

“Out Come The Freaks” is no “Hello Operator…I Mean Dad…I Mean Police…I Can’t Even Remember Who I Am” but it’s pretty good.

Adam Ant
Apollo 9 (Extended Re-Mix Version)
Yes, I realize that I just said I can’t get Adam Ant singles in Japan. I bought this in America last year so shut up.

Speaking of America (oh God why would anyone do that) I’m going to America next month, so expect plenty of updates regarding pizza, record stores and a general state of malaise and unending depression.

Soviet Synth

June 30th, 2016

20160629_194237

 

Alexander Katenin – Alone In The Maze Of Rhythms
I’ve been trying to write about this one for a few weeks now. First I was distracted by the horrible Boom Boom Satellites news and then work. But to be honest, most of the delay in posting this came not from external forces, but simply from the fact that this album is so weird that I’m kind of a loss of words as to what to say about it.

This is Alone In The Maze of Rhythm. It’s a synthesizer covers album. There’s nothing entirely unique or weird about that. There were a ton of these in the wake of Wendy Carlos’ seminal 1968 masterwork Switch-On Bach, “let’s take some classical and pop tunes and play them on Moog” was practically a genre in the early 70s. I have quite a few of them. All Moog Hair? Got it. Wanna hear Gershwin on Moog? How about Handel, Beethoven or even the theme to Flesh Gordon? Guess what, a Moog version of it probably exists.

But Alone In The Maze of Rhythm is unique, and just downright weird, for a few reasons. Firstly, while most Moog covers albums were released in the late-60s to mid-70s, this one came later. It came way later. It came 1986 later.

That’s weird. You see, the Moog covers album craze was mostly born out of the fact that most people had never even heard a synthesizer before, and that their sound was so alien that you could record damn near anything on them and someone would want to hear it, at least once. But by 1986, that just wasn’t true. Synthesizers had won. Shit, not only had the world become accustomed to synthesizers, but they were quickly becoming played out. By 1986, most of the innovation that the synthesizer brought to the pop world had been sullied and watered down to the point of banality. We weren’t getting “Cars” anymore, we were getting “I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight.” Synthpop was on its last legs.

I guess no one told the Soviet Union though, because that’s where Alone In The Maze Of Rhythm comes from.

20160629_194250

Yes, from behind the Iron Curtain comes Alexander Katenin, a man who…I know absolutely zilch about. Turns out there isn’t a lot of English information on the web about mid-80s electronic covers albums from the Soviet Union. Everything I know about the guy I dug up on Discogs. He released two albums a solo artist, both synthesizer-focused cover records, and one as a part of a duo by the name of…Гоги И Гия Бешитаишвили.

Yeah, I don’t know how to say that. You’re on your own.

So what we have here is a synthesizer-covers album composed in 1986 in Soviet Russia. And yet, we still haven’t reached the actual weird parts of this record.

One of them is the instrumentation behind the record. Not all synthesizer covers albums used Moog synthesizers, but an overwhelming majority of them did, so much that for some, Moog is shorthand for synthesizer. But there are all kinds of synthesizers out there, and this was especially the case in the 80s, with the rise of digital synthesizers like the Synclavier and the Fairlight CMI, two machines that literally defined the very sound of the 80s.

But Katenin didn’t use those. No. He chose the Farfisa Syntaccordion. That’s an accordion/synthesizer combo unit. Now, I don’t know how much of a synthesizer it really is. No way it has the range or capabilities that you might find in a Moog or Fairlight unit, but it was definitely advertised as a synthesizer, as this ad from Retro Synth Ads proves. And the album certainly has a synthesizer feel to it, far more than than an accordion one to be honest.

And so if you were ever thinking “I hope one day I can hear Frank Stallone’s ‘Far From Over’ performed on a strange accordion/synthesizer hybrid,” well then you’re in luck! Ditto if you were ever hoping to hear Soviet-electronica interpretations of Elton John’s “Your Song,” “Gloria” by Laura Branigan, and the theme to “Flashdance,” among others.

20160629_194254

This album has an incredibly strange tracklisting, one that I can’t 100% verify, as the liner notes and record label are just straight-up wrong, with tracks in the wrong order and credited to the wrong songwriters. I did my best to fix them on my MP3s, but a few tracks, specifically “Theme d’Avril,” “In Search Of” and “Cappuccino” could still be wrong. So if you give them a listen and know what their real names/point of origins are, please inform me in the comments.

So it’s a weird record with a weird point-of-origin, a weird instrument of choice and a weird tracklisting, but is it any good? Well, I mean…no? It’s cheesy as hell. The cover of “Just The Way You Are” sounds like it was taken out of a compilation of elevator music. But it does have it’s charm. “Gloria” is a dope track that’s hard to fuck up regardless, and the tracks that I can’t properly identify are legit good. “Theme d’Avril” features an absolutely haunting vocal track that sounds all the more unreal when matched up to the cheesy beats coming out of the syntaccordion. And then there’s “Cappucino” which features a rad proto-acid house grimey bass-line paired up with odd, slightly creepy vocalizing that wouldn’t be out of place on a Goblin record.

Give it a listen. And remember that in Soviet Russia, records listen to you.

Hey, I’ve been writing about 1980s Soviet pop culture for the past two hours, I’m allowed one Yakov Smirnoff reference.

ONE MORE FOR THE BOOM

June 22nd, 2016

Today marks the release of Lay Your Hands On Me, the final release from Boom Boom Satellites. In case you missed the horrible news (which received next-to-zero press in Western media), the group had to disband earlier this year due to another brain tumor relapse suffered by lead singer/guitarist Michiyuki Kawashima, which has sadly left him partially paralyzed.

I wrote about it on my other blog, how tragic this news is and how upset it has made me, and I encourage you to go read that. This post is like a part 2 of that.

I’m used to liking bands that no one else care about. I guess it’s my thing. And I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve come to accept that the bands I like, the bands who I think should stand head and shoulders above the rest and reign supreme as pop gods the world over, that they’re all doomed for second-tier status or less. I get it. The music business is tough, random and evil. Cream rarely rises

But fuck, man. Boom Boom Satellites? They should’ve been huge. They should’ve been the first Japanese rock act to break international. And definitely the first Japanese rock band to break into the states. They sing in English. Their music (especially their later stuff) is tailor-made for the mainstream, designed to kick a stadium’s ass. They sound 100% original, but still accessible and fun. There’s no pretension, no reason to issue a warning with the recommendation i.e. “they take a bit getting used to, but…”. One minute into their 2006 masterpiece On, and the opening track “Kick It Out” commences a full-throttle assault on your senses, pounding you to pieces with a wholly unique combination of balls-to-the-wall rock and frenetic electronic beats that should’ve had people all around the world buying the album in droves.

Why not? Why the fuck didn’t they take? Their first album was released in the states and probably did decent enough. I remember seeing the videos for it on MTV and they even toured with Moby. But for whatever reason that was it, their second album was never released in the states, and only a few since have been, and then only digitally. Maybe the band didn’t wan to put in the effort to breakthrough overseas. Maybe the label (which won’t even stream their videos on YouTube in the states) didn’t want to devote the resources. It’s hard to say.

I would guess that the band had it sights on breaking through into the states as recently as 2010, when the attempted to remix “Kick It Out” to appeal to a Western audience. This, of course, means that it was a complete disaster, featuring vocals by B-level former child star and wannabe club singer Tahj Mowry and even a disastrous rap by Flo Rida, which is phoned in and lazy even by his low standards. That monstrosity rightfully tanked and probably dashed any future plans for American domination.

Yet another thing I can hate Flo Rida for. Great.

But what really tears my heart apart is that more people didn’t get to see the group live. As I said in my other post, Boom Boom Satellites live was a revelation. A lightening bolt of pure energy. Just totally non-stop, always on and ready to kick ass. Every time I was fortunate enough to see them, whether as an opening act, as part of a festival line-up or as headliners to their own gig, they fucking owned the stage.

While their Japanese label has made it inexplicably impossible to watch their videos proper on YouTube, thankfully many fans have uploaded live concert footage, much of it taken from the multitudes of live releases the band put out over of the years. I cannot implore you enough, go on YouTube and check those clips out. This user has quite a few on his YouTube page, all of which I recommend.

Then, if you like what you hear, please please please please buy what you can. Their new EP is on iTunes! You can buy it! You should do that! You can also get their greatest hits on iTunes in the states. I recommend starting there (it’s the only way you can get the real version of “Kick It Out” in the states. If you dig that, then move onto Embrace, their 2013 release, followed by their 2007 album Exposed. Their 1999 debut is also available digitally in the states, I recommend that last. It’s a great record, but it is not indicative of their more recent or live sound. However, if you dig 90s electronica, it’s a stunning example of that.

After that, if you want more and can afford it, then bite the bullet and pay the import prices for the rest of their stuff. The one that’s most worth the dough is On, that’s where you’ll find “Kick It Out” and 11 other high-velocity rock tracks that will refuse to let you take a breather for its 50 minute running time. From there, I suggest moving to the follow-up To The Loveless, which is very similar to On, and then skipping ahead to their final full-length Shine Like A Billion Suns (the albums between To The Loveless and this one are on iTunes). Shine is a bit more sedate than the albums that preceded it, but in it’s more mellow groove there’s a beauty that you can’t find on their other albums.

From there I recommend their least accessible full-length releases, the insane jazz/dub hybrid 2001 album Umbra, and its follow-up, 2002’s Photon, which is good meeting point between their more experimental sound from the album before that and the mainstream rock that followed.

Finally, go after their EPs, Joyride and Push Eject. Both are early releases by the group (the former actually being their debut) so they’re more in the dub and electronic arena than the rock one, but they’re still solid. I also obviously recommend their live releases, Experienced and Experienced II.

You should buy their music, it’s in print. That’s why I’m sharing anything from their records proper tonight. I’m only sharing audio rips from video releases that are well out-of-print, or from Blu-rays that go for over $100 online. That seems like the right thing to do. Not only that, these tracks are my favorites from the group, the ones I think of when I remember them, and I feel are the best representation of their amazing live shows.

Boom Boom Satellites are over. Let’s not let them get forgotten.

Back On My Feet 
Dress Like An Angel
Kick It Out
Dig The New Breed
Easy Action
Rise And Fall

 

Disco Funk Techno Beats

June 9th, 2016

Country disco, Japanese synth-pop and 90s hip-hop. I’m not going to be satisfied until I can somehow mish-mash jazz, classical, digital hardcore and calypso on this blog.

Dolly Parton
Baby I’m Burning (Disco Mix)
This song has an undeniable groove that is catchy as hell. I wish more disco crossover tracks from the 70s were this good.

The fact that none of the gay clubs I’ve been to have ever played this song really piss me off, I bet this was the shit back in the day. Makes me wish gay clubs in Tokyo had throwback nights. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some good Rihanna and Lady Gaga when I’m in the club, but would it kill a place to kick it old school once in a while and play some Donna Summer, Thelma Houston or Slyvester? I have a feeling that I went up to the DJ at my local club and dropped a request for “Do You Wanna Funk,” the single-greatest Hi-NRG track of all-time, he’d give me a look like I asked him to play Bach.

Basically what I’m saying is you punk kids and your music.

Targets
I Like The City
I posted a track by these guys a few months back, here’s the other one I have. The Targets were a Japanese synth-pop act in the early 80s who released one album and then promptly vanished off the face of the Earth. The two members credited on Discogs apparently never released anything ever again, and the album has never even been reprinted on CD. The only reason I have two songs by them at all is because they were on a a compilation I got. The vocals here aren’t great, I know that, but the proto-acid sequencer backbeat is totally radical and sounds like nothing else from that era.

Ken Ishii
Echo Exit (Boom Boom Satellites remix)
In case you missed the absolutely horrible news, Boom Boom Satellites are no more, their lead singer being forced to retire due to complications resulting from surgery to remove a brain tumor.

This news completely devastated me. I wrote a brief thing about it on my other site and I don’t have much more to say about it at the moment. I do plan on putting something else together soon though, hopefully to coincide with the release date of their upcoming (final) release, which is due out on the 22nd.

Until then, I thought I’d share this track they remixed, which is by Japanese electronic artist Ken Ishii, a totally rad Japanese DJ and producer who has been laying down dope techno in Japan for over 20 years. Gamers might know him thank to his work on the soundtrack to the seminal rhythm game/acid trip Rez. If you’re a fan of hard techno with a Detroit edge, you’ll probably dig damn near everything he’s ever put out. This track is from a CD single I picked up last night at the greatest record store in Tokyo. A place I’ll tell you more about when I finish my record store guide, which should be sometime next month.

Naughty By Nature
O.P.P. (Ultamix Remix)
O.P.P. (Charming Radio Mix)
O.P.P. (DBM Remix)
O.P.P. (Out Of Mind Version)
Yeah. You know me. Actually no, fuck that. I love my boyfriend.

One thing I never noticed about this song until today is at one point the crowd refrain shouts that “everyone in this party” is down with O.P.P. That means, unless I’m mistaken as to what O.P.P. actually is, that everyone in that party is up for cheating on their significant other or fucking someone else’s significant other. Damn skippy indeed.

Brazilian IDM and Italian Disco

May 27th, 2016

Tonight I’m seeing New Order so I’m pretty damn stoked about that. Last time I saw New Order it was in NYC and the audience was filled with a bunch of shit-eating hipsters and investment bankers who were all clearly more interested in saying they were at a New Order concert than actually paying attention to the music. Concerts in Japan are so great, no one talks and everyone listens to the music.

And I’m a foot taller than everyone else so that’s great too.

Amon Tobin
Verbal (Prefuse 73 Dipped Escalade Mix)
Verbal (Kid 606 Dancehall Devastation Mix)
Verbal (Topo Gigio Remix)
Verbal (Boom Bip Remix)
A few years back I bought the ridiculous Amon Tobin box set. That box, with its crazy screw-top packaging and industrial design, was so over the top I did an “unboxing” post of sorts which you can find here.

Anyways, that box sat proudly on my record shelves for years until I decided to move to Japan. When the time came to back up all my records I started at the top of my shelves, which was where I kept my unusually shaped items. In may haste to shovel it all off into storage, I sadly bumped that box set off my shelves and tumbling to the floor, permanently damaging it with a major dent.

T’was a sad day in the Lost Turntable house, I’ll tell you that much. Will be a sadder one when I finally come to grips with the realization that it’s entirely impractical for me to mail crazy box sets like that to Japan and that I would just be better off selling them.

But until that day, I’ll live in denial and fantasize about getting all my 3,000+ records into my Tokyo apartment and listen to dope remixes like these, which I ripped off of a 12″ single.

Capricorn (aka Claudio Simonetti)
Capricorn (Vocal)
Capricorn (Instrumental)
Claudio Simonetti is best known as the former frontman of Goblin, the Italian prog-rock outfit that served as the composer for some of the greatest genre films of the 70s and 80s, including Dawn Of The Dead and Suspiria.

But in addition to the dude’s prolific contributions in the worlds of film soundtracks, prog rock, and creepy sound effects, apparently he’s also attempted several dalliances with dance music under the name Capricorn (among others). This shouldn’t be too surprising, a lot of Goblin’s best work with Simonetti was electronic in nature, featuring vocoder effects and drum synthesizers abound. It’s their more electronic work that no doubt paved the way for acts like Umberto and Zombi, bands who combine a love for electronica with a desire to make eerie and etheral music.

So when I stumbled upon this 12″ release by Capricorn, an early-80s alias for Simonetti, I was pretty stoked. I expected more of what I loved about Simonetti’s best work, an amazing combination of pipe organs and rad guitar work mixed over a steady dance beat and some arching synths.

What I got, was italo disco.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I dig italo disco. I just didn’t expect italo disco.

For those who may not be aware, italo disco is a sub-genre of disco (duh) from Italy (double-duh) which was kind of like an amalgamation of late-era disco, Hi-NRG house music, and electronic rock. If there’s any italo disco track you know, it’s probably “Boys Boys Boys (Summertime Love)” by Sabrina, which was a big hit in 1987 in every country on Earth except America.

Anyways, Simonetti’s “Capricorn” has a lot of elements of italo disco, heavy use of vocoder and electronic beats abound here, but it also embraces a lot of classic disco elements. The song’s heavy use of strings make it sound almost like a distant cousin of “The Hustle,” which I cannot say is a good thing. The vocals are also atrocious, and since the 12″ single has no performing credits I don’t know who to blame for them. The instrumental version is better by far.

Simonetti released a few singles under the Capricorn name in the early 80s, but sadly none of them have gotten properly re-released on CD save for a few on the occasionally oddball disco compilation. Too bad, if this track is any indication there could be some good stuff there. Hope to discover more in my record hunting.

Japanese Versions Of The Star Wars Theme

May 13th, 2016

The best thing about living in Japan is finding 1970s covers albums of sci-fi films.

Okay, maybe it’s not the best thing, but it’s definitely in the top 10.

Toru Hatano
Star Wars Theme
Toru Hatano (aka Toya Hatano) is somewhat of a minor player in the progressive/jazz/electronic scenes of 1970s Japan. In the early 70s he was a member of the psych-rock band Brush!?, who only released one record as far as I can find. In 1977 he released his solo debut, a soundtrack called Love For You followed a year later by a collection of movie themes performed on synthesizer entitled Space Adventure. Since then, he’s worked behind-the-scenes and runs a company that sells insanely high-end audio cables.

As synth cover collections go, Space Adventure is an odd one, and features not only 70s soundtrack standards like Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but also selections from lesser known genre material at the time including Logan’s Run, Capricorn One, Solaris, and even Flesh Gordon (not Flash, Flesh).

It’s not bad, although as someone who has listened to probably over a dozen synth cover albums in his day, there’s not much to make it stand out aside from its slightly oddball song selection. The cover is pretty rad though.

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Damn, it looks like they’re constructing the ELO spaceship.

Jun Fukamachi
Theme From Star Wars
One thing that I was surprised to learn about the 1970s music scene in Japan is how intermixed the jazz, funk and electronic music scenes were. Look into the discography of nearly any major guitarist or keyboardist from the era, and you’ll find that he or she probably got their feet wet in all three genres, if not more. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s first release as a collaborative free association jazz album, and both of YMO’s most prominent guitarists, Kenji Omura and Kazumi Watanabe, were accomplished jazz musicians before, during and after their work with the legendary synthpop group.

The same goes for Jun Fukamachi, digging through his back catalog I’ve found everything from J-pop, funk, folk, jazz, experimental avant-garde, synth-pop and pure electronic music. He even worked on a few of those “Digital Trip” anime soundtracks that I wrote about a couple weeks ago. His main focuses seemed to be jazz and funk though, using synthesizers in way that could be compared to the 70s output of Stevie Wonder, much more organically and with other instruments than his purely electronic counterparts.

And if you know anything about live jazz, with its heavy use of improvisation and free-association jamming, is why this live take on the Star Wars theme lasts over seven minutes. It goes places, man.

I’m crediting this to Jun Fukamachi because it’s listed under his discography at Discogs and I found it in among his solo records at the record store, but it’s really a collaborative effort. I think the band itself is called Space Fantasy. In addition to Jun, the group is also made up of Hideki Matsutake (aka Logic System) and the previously mentioned Kenji Omura. Joining them are Hiroki Inui, Shuichi Murakami and Shigeru Okazawa, all of whom have worked on countless albums in Japan as session players. So if you know anything about the jazz scene of Japan in the 70s and 80s, then this is kind of an all-star supergroup jam session.

To be honest, the album as a whole diverges into free-improvisation a bit too much for my liking, but their take on the Star Wars theme the only improvisational jazz/funk version of it I’ve ever heard, so they get points for originality if nothing else.

Adventures From The YMO Family

May 1st, 2016

I’m tired, I’m working six days in a row this week and I have to be up to go to work in about seven hours. So of course I decided to randomly write 800 plus words on releases by various Yellow Magic Orchestra associates.

Kenji Omura
Seiko Is Always On Time
The Defector
Maps
Kenji Omura was a longstanding associate of YMO, whose work with members from the group actually pre-dates the band itself; he’s credited as a performer on Yukihiro Takahashi’s solo debut Saravah!, which came out in 1978. Throughout the 70s and 80s he continually popped up on various YMO associate releases, including albums by Akiko Yano, Susan, Logic System (more on him in a second) and Sandii. During YMO’s biggest years he also served as the band’s touring guitarist, performing on their seminal Live At Budokan release.

He was primarily a jazz guitarist (a lot of YMO people have jazz backgrounds) and it shows a lot in his solo work, more than his work as a contributing artist. His 1983 album Gaijin Heaven even goes as far as to have a Steely Dan cover on it, showing that while he was working in the synth-pop field, he was just as interested in rock and jazz fusion as anything else. But, me being me and my interests lying where they are, I’m going to focus on his more synth-pop focused work, specifically these three tracks from his fantastic 1981 album, Spring Is Nearly Here.

While that album is listed as Kenji Omura record, it’s more or less an unofficial YMO release. Not only does it feature all three members of YMO performing their respective instruments, they also contribute as songwriters alongside Chris Mosdell, who served as the group’s English language songwriter for some of their biggest hits, including “Behind The Mask.” The album also features contributions from YMO accomplishes Akiko Yano, Hideki Matsutake and Kazuhiko Kato.

The whole album doesn’t sound like a YMO record (that jazz influence is pretty strong throughout) but the tracks that do sound like YMO really sound like YMO. “The Defector” could have easily been on Naughty Boys, its a pop masterpiece, the kind of track that sounds like it was purposely constructed to be a Top 40 hit and is all the better for it. Unsurprisingly, it was written by Takahashi and his English songwriter, Peter Barakan, two fantastic pop craftsmen.

“Seiko Is Always On Time” is a purely electronic jam, co-written by Sakamoto and obviously channeling “The End Of Asia” with its Eastern influences morphed together with a synthesizer-heavy sound. It’s semi-ambient totally beautiful.

But YMO fans should really take note of “Maps.” If that track sounds familiar, that’s because it’s actually a YMO tune, appearing on both the Budokan and World Tour albums. Those records were recorded in 1980, a full year before this record was released, but close enough for it to be difficult to say if the song was as YMO song first that was later handed off to Omura, or if it was intended for Omura all along. Either way, it’s a great track, and stands up equally with any other classic tune by the group.

Hideki Matsutake & K.I. Capsule
The James Bond Theme
Goldfinger
Hideki Matsutake served as YMO’s programmer, and also worked with electronic music pioneer Isao Tomita in the mid-70s. In the early-80s he went solo under the moniker Logic System, releasing a pair of beautiful albums in the early 80s as well as several…less good albums throughout the remainder of the century (one has a rap track, it’s bad).

For me though, his crowning achievement away from YMO is Digital Moon, a 1979 album composed entirely of James Bond theme covers. I’m not going to say that it’s the greatest album of all time, but it might be the greatest album of all time. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Goldfinger” sung through a vocoder. The only way it could’ve been better is if they had gotten Shirley Bassey herself to do it. This is dope shit. If you like dope shit you’ll like this.

Jun Togawa
Suki Suki Daisuki
Late Blooming Girls
An artist so unique that she’s nearly impossible to describe. I think the best I could come up with was “a cross between Madonna, Patti Smith and Klaus Nomi,” thanks to her pop presence combined with her predisposition for violent screaming fits and the occasional foray into operatic bellowing.

Between her solo discography, collaborative efforts and side-projects, she’s released countless records, which makes diving into her discography rather daunting, not to mention incredibly expensive. Any greatest hits compilation is a good jumping off point though, as it will probably feature one of, if not both of these, tremendous songs.

Both of these songs are highlights even if you can’t understand the vocals, thanks to Jun’s amazing vocal range. But if you do know what she’s singing about, they’re even stronger. Thankfully, for “Suki Suki Daisuki” you can find the translated lyrics on this fan-subbed video. As for “Late Blooming Girls,” I don’t have an exact translation with me, but the song is about a woman who’s scared to lose her virginity because she heard it might hurt, only to find the experience quite pleasurable once it happens. You can probably point out the point in the song where that unfolds solely based on how she changes her singing voice.

Jun Togawa is still recording today, and recently released a collaborative noise rock album that includes a new version of “Suki Suki Daisuki.” It’s something else.

Purple Pain

April 23rd, 2016

Fuck this year.

As I’ve commented on this site many a time, I’m a pretty lousy Prince fan. I only have Purple Rain, the three-disc edition of Hits, and a few of his newer albums. I don’t own 1999, Sign ‘O’ The Times, Lovesexy, Parade, Come and so on. I’ve often mentioned my desire to fill this rather egregious gap in my record collection, and I think now I might finally get around to it.

That being said, I own a shitload of Prince singles, both on CD and vinyl, and many of them are among my most prized musical possessions. Sometimes I just need nearly half an hour of “My Name Is Prince” remixes, and thankfully I can indulge in such ridiculousness.

I just wish more people could.

When Bowie passed away, I shared a few of his rare tunes here, and I was happy that doing so such was a chore. The overwhelming majority of Bowie’s discography is not only in-print, but incredibly easy to get in pretty much every format available. Most of his single-only tracks have been collected in one form or another, and his rarer B-sides and remixes have made their way to digital storefronts or in box sets. You want to hear the Mandarin version of “Seven Years In Tibet?” Yo, you’re covered.

But if you want to hear the 12″ remix of “My Name Is Prince,” you’re out of luck. Ditto if you want to hear the beautiful 10 minute versions of “Mountains” or “I Would Die 4 U,” countless remixes of “Gett Off” or filthy rarities like “Lubricated Lady.”

It’s hard to say what will happen with Prince’s back catalog now that he’s passed away, we’ll have to wait and see. But I hope in the years to come that Prince’s vast army of released material will get a proper remastering and re-release campaign, all of his music, even the eight minute Purple Pump remix of “Gett Off,” for example, deserves to be heard.

Let’s hope they crack open that legendary vault too.

And someone put that album by The Family back in print for fuck’s sake.

Prince
Erotic City (Full Length Version)
Let’s Go Crazy (Extended Remix)
In the massive pantheon of out-of-print Prince classics, these to spectacular remixes are probably some of the best. I can’t believe you can’t buy them today.

I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised by that fact though, as they seemed to have barely been in print in the first place. Both the extended remix of “Let’s Go Crazy” and the full uncut version of “Erotic City” first appeared on a 12″ single in 1984 at the height of Purple Rain mania. In the years that followed, that single was only reprinted on CD once, in 1990, but that hard-to-find European release excised the uncut version of “Erotic City” and instead only included the album version of “Take Me With You” as a B-side.

“Erotic City” has made its way to a few other releases over the years, but always in some sort of abbreviated form. The full version that first appeared on that 1984 12″ single is over seven minutes in length. The version that is included on the Hits compilation is only a little over half that, clocking in at an all-too-brief four minutes. That’s three minutes of funk stripped away from people who need to hear it.

It’s a damn shame because, and yes I know that my Prince knowledge is criminally lacking, I think that the full uncut version “Erotic City’ is one of Prince’s best tunes. A sparse, ferociously sexy electronic funk jam that sounds just as sexy now as it did over 30 damn years ago.

Like I said, I have a ton of Prince singles, and I may share more in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, many of them aren’t in the best shape, so I need to do some sorting first. Until then, enjoy this small offering and remember Prince in all his purple majesty.

And then buy HitnRun Phase One and Two, and Plectrumelectrum. Critics destroyed that album when it came out, but they were crazy. Even after I absorb the rest of Prince’s discography I imagine that one would still make my top 10 list. It’s raw as fuck and completely in your face. It has a song that compares a threesome to a pretzel. And it works.

Because Prince could even make pretzels sexy.

Note: The “Let’s Go Crazy” mix was removed as you can buy that on the Prince compilation Ultimate.

My Spirit Animal is Synth Bass

April 19th, 2016

How is everyone? I’m okay. Had a pretty busy work week, found some good records from some out-of-the way record stores that I can’t wait to write about (both the stores and the records), got a good workout in yesterday.

Oh, and I totally shook Ryuichi Sakamoto’s hand last weekend.

Y’know. The usual stuff.

Osamu Shoji
Airport In South Islands
THIS IS MY NEW JAM.

Okay, you probably don’t know who Osamu Shoji is, and I understand that. I put up an album of his a few months back, an all-synthesizer covers album of music from Lupin the 3rd. You probably didn’t download that one (and I understand that too), but I behest you, please download this song. This is the funkiest, craziest and silliest Japanese synth-funk jam you’re going to hear this year. And while I’m sure you’re saying to yourself “I doubt I’m going to hear many Japanese synth-funk jams this year” well, you don’t know what other crap I have planned for this blog in the coming months.

Cosmo Wave and the Space Cadets
Star Trekking
Hall Of The Mountain King
Everyone knows about Meco’s amazing discofied rendition of the Star Wars theme, but a hell of a lot less people know about this disco cover of the Star Trek theme.

That’s probably because it’s not nearly as good, but hey, space disco! And a disco version of “Hall Of The Mountain King,” because why the fuck not. I have metal, prog and techno covers, what’s another genre?

In case you’re wondering, I have zero idea as to who the fuck Cosmo Wave and the Space Cadets are. The single I got only credits the original songwriters and not the new arrangers. The credited producer is one Elaine Lane, and that sounds like a fake name if I ever heard one. So if anyone out there has any information as to who this actually is, let me know!

Madonna
Love Profusion (Passengerz Club Mix)
Nobody Knows Me (Above & Beyond 12″ Mix)
Between obscure Japanese synth-funk and unknown disco covers of TV theme songs I thought I should throw in something tonight by someone people have actually heard of. My Madonna backlog is getting intimidating, I really have to get around to posting them.

In case you’re wondering why I haven’t, it’s because most are remixes to “Love Profusion.” I mean, I like that song, but I don’t think the world needed eight remixes of it damn.