His name is Ryo and he plays guitar synthesizer

January 14th, 2018

I wrote a thing on my other site about Japanese “city pop” and how it’s becoming kind of a thing in the states to the degree that it’s now becoming kind of a thing in Japan. It’s weird.

The funny thing to me is that, in my opinion, city pop isn’t all that interesting. That is, of course, working under the assumption that city pop is an actual, definable, genre (and it’s really not). But I’m not going to harp on anyone who does dig on it. It’s different, and that’s cool.

I went through a lot of different city pop acts on YouTube, trying to find a few that might appeal to me. Usually I would find a track or two I would like by artists like Taeko Ohnuki or Junko Ohashi, but my interest would just stop there – at a track or two. They just couldn’t hold my interest.

It bums me out. I wish I could be more into this stuff. It’s funny that some form of Japanese 80s music is starting to catch on in the fringes of the outskirts of mainsteam, but it’s the one type of Japanese 80s music I’m just not that into.

You know what I am into though? Utterly bizarre cross-genre electronic music built on obscure synthesizer technology.

Ryo Kawasaki – Featuring Concierto De Aranjuez
I never heard of Kawasaki until a few weeks back, when I started getting his name in my “recommended viewing” list on YouTube due to all the city pop I was looking up. Aside from being Japanese though, Kawasaki doesn’t have much in common with city pop. While city pop certainly overlaps with jazz in many ways, Kawasaki is a jazz musician first and foremost, working exclusively as a jazz guitarist throughout most of the 70s.

I checked out a few of his 70s albums, and everything I heard was, at the very least, interesting. He’s a jazz guitarist, and some of his stuff is just too jazzy for me, but on some of those albums he branched out into great funk tangents. And throughout all of them his guitar playing is absolute stellar top-notch stuff.

But in the 80s he took a hard turn and embraced guitar synthesizers entirely. Of course, this is what I’m the most interested in and what I’m sharing tonight.

Featuring Concierto De Aranjuez is an experimental electronic album built almost entirely on guitar synthesizers. The linear notes explicitly state that no keyboard synthesizers were used on this record, only guitar synthesizers and a handful of drum machines. The album is split into two halves. The first half, like the title suggests, is based on the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo. It starts out almost entirely acoustic, only using the synthesized melodies as a backdrop at first. But as it progresses the more synthetic sounds rise to the forefront. It’s a bizarre combination, like a Spanish guitarist somehow ended up on a Klaus Schulze record. Really amazing stuff.

Things go full digital on side B, with tracks like “Marilyn” barely using any traditional guitar sounds at all. It’s amazing that all of it was created using only guitar synths and drum machines. At times it really sounds like he’s using sequencers and keyboards. Incredible.

I really wanted to showcase this album tonight because I think it’s a dynamic and intriguing record. This is not simple “new age” music. This is not a fusion album. This is something different. This is something you really got to hear.

Ryo Kawasaki actually did a lot of other fascinating stuff in the 80s and I’m trying to track it down. I hope I can share more in the future.

One Part Funk and Three Parts Groovy

January 2nd, 2018

My computer, which had served me well for many years and across two continents, kicked the bucket a few weeks back. And it was rather sudden, so I had to move fast in choosing a replacement. I think I got a good one though, a beast of a machine from a local gaming PC shop called G-Tune. It plays games super great, audio editing is faster than ever, and it’s by far the quietest PC I’ve ever had. I love it.

But it really can’t play music all that well.

Although I suppose that’s really not the computer’s fault. In this situation, iTunes is entirely to blame. On my old PC, I never updated iTunes, I think I was rocking a three or four-year-old version of the program. And it was a slog and slow as hell and had all kinds of problems, but it played music well, and that was kind of the point.

On my new machine, with the newest version of iTunes, music sounds like shit. If I have just a handful of applications running, it starts to pop and crackle, almost non-stop. And I’ve tried mucking about with various settings, both in Windows and in iTunes, all to no avail.

So I thought I would try some alternative programs. The first one that I gave a try was MusicBee. I had heard good things, and it was supposed to be easy to use. And it was at first, but how that programs handles rips (or any new files in my library for that matter) is just atrocious. Simply put, they don’t seem to show up, at least, not in a matter that I would deem punctual. I add an album and have to wait several minutes for all the songs to propagate in my library. And when I would play new songs the song order would get all wonky for no damn reason. Every problem I had with the program just seemed nonsensical and beyond hope. Fuck it.

Now I’m trying MediaMonkey. Allegedly, this program is made special to handle super-large media libraries. In my experience so far, that hasn’t been the case. Constant hangups and lag whenever I try to sort anything. And searching my library often creates delays as well. The interface is just a clusterfuck. So hard to make your way around anything.

Can anyone out there recommend a media manager/music player that just fucking works? One that makes adding new media easy. One that can rip CDs. One that allows me to make playlists and gives me plenty of sorting options. I don’t even care if I have to pay for it. I have no problems paying for a program that works!

Suggestions would be welcome, thanks.

Sheila E.
Glamorous Life Medley
This is from a German 12″ single and includes truncated versions of “The Glamorous Life,” ‘Sister Fate” and “A Love Bizarre.” Medleys are sometimes good, it’s like getting a concentrated version of your favorite artist. And any excuse for me to post more Sheila E. is a good thing.

Pizzicato Five
The Audrey Hepburn Complex (Extended Stanley Donen Mix)
The 59th Street Bridge Song – Feelin’ Groovy (Club Mix – Night Owl)
Let’s Go Away For Awhile (Club Mix – Cafe Bizarre)
I haven’t talked about Pizzicato Five much, I think I’ve only written about them once on this blog. Truth be told, I don’t know all that much about them. They were kinda-sorta a little popular in the States for a brief period in the 90s, but they’ve actually been around much longer than that. They’re almost contemporaneous with YMO, with their first releases coming out in the mid-80s.

This is actually their very first single, and it really sounds ahead of its time, in an entirely retro kind of way. I mean, it’s ahead of its time in what it’s references, that mainly being music from the 60s and 70s. They were definitely throwing back to that retro sound before it was cool. Their jazzy club sound is certainly more reminiscent of acts from the 90s, with Saint Etienne being the most obvious comparison.

This shit is groovy, that’s what it is. Makes sense, as the Shibuya-Kei scene from which they came was heavily influenced by 60s and 70s pop music (I mean, one of these tracks is a Simon & Garfunkel cover after all). PIzzicato Five own some Leslie Gore albums I know it.

Mario Syndrome For the Holidays!

December 25th, 2017

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you all enjoy your holiday.

Christmas is nearly over here in Japan, and I had a decent one, considering that my boyfriend was sick and I couldn’t see him. That was a downer, but on the upside Christmas isn’t a big holiday here – meaning all the record stores were still open. And strangely enough, a lot of them were having anime/game music sales. So it looks like my Christmas gift to Japan this year was poor spending habits. I bought a lot of really weird stuff, including this!

Bonus 21
Mario Syndrome
Mario Syndrome (Remix Version)
Princess Peach
I’ve actually been looking for this one for ages. It’s an early example of “arranged” (remixed) game music that takes audio from the game and adds upon it with original instrumentation and even some vocals. There are better arrangements of the Mario theme music out there, no doubt, but very few are as “80s” as this one. It’s pumped full of random samples from the game, and pulses with drum beats that were most likely taken from an 808 or equivalent software. A Japanese breakdancer cut loose to this one, I’m sure of it.

The title track and the remix are reworkings of the main overworld theme to the first game, while “Princess Peach” is a version of the underwater music, complete with lyrics. Said lyrics are entirely in Japanese, and I can only pick up every sixth word so I’m afraid I won’t be offering a translation tonight.

The credited artist here is Bonus 21, and this is their only release. The linear notes list the main members as Shunji Inoue and Hiroyuki Tanaka, who were in the pop group Neverland, they didn’t do any other game music release from what I can tell.

I have about 10 days off starting on the 27th, and I plan on hopefully getting some long in-the-works pieces done, both here and on Mostly-Retro. My health hasn’t been great as of late, but I’m finally starting to recover, so expect a lot more content next month! Once again, Merry Christmas and, if I don’t get another post out before, happy new year! Here’s hoping we all survive 2018.

Have An 8-bit Christmas with GMO Christmas Song

December 20th, 2017

One of my favorite YouTube channels is Lazy Game Reviews. I’m a sucker for old DOS games, and I really appreciate his dry humor and attention to detail. Last week, he shared a thrifting find, a cassette tape of “computer” holiday music. It’s not bad, but it also wasn’t what I was hoping for when I first clicked on the video. It’s too modern-sounding, and at times sounds like something you might hear pumped into a department store. It’s just not idiosyncratic or offbeat enough. And its certainly not “computer” enough.

But then I remembered that I had something that perfectly fit that description.

GMO Christmas Songs
This is GMO’s Christmas album. GMO was a record label founded in the mid-80s by members of Yellow Magic Orchestra. It was created solely to publish game music soundtracks. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to come across 80s game music vinyl, it was probably released by GMO.

GMO Christmas Song is the only release by the label that is not a collection of game music in some way. Instead, it is an original compilation featuring “game music” renditions of holiday classics. Today this would be called chiptune, but that word didn’t exist back in 1987, when this first came out.

The artists responsible for these 8-bit interpretations of holiday standards aren’t notable names of game music. I’ve never heard of any of them to be honest. I had to look them to see that two of them, Yashuhiko Fukuda and Nobuyuki Nakamura, are rather accomplished anime composers. But don’t let that discourage you from checking this out, it’s a lot of fun.

I have no idea as to what equipment this music was performed on. While it’s obviously going for an 8-bit style, it sounds just a bit too advanced for that. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was made on a PC-88 or something like that though.

Hope you enjoy the silliness. Have a chiptunetastic holiday!

Chill Out with Anime Ambiance

December 15th, 2017

How you been?

In the past three weeks my computer died, my three-year visa was denied (leaving me with another shitty one-year visa) and my body decided to revolt against me (again), striking me with what I think might be a recurring bout of atypical pneumonia.

So what I’m saying is, I don’t want to hear any complaints about tonight’s musical selection. It’s my shitty month and I’ll listen to ambient soundtracks of anime if I want to.

Fumio Miyashita – Hino Tori Uchu-Hen
Like I said, it’s been a rough week, so I’m going to be real with you, I had no idea what Hino Tori Uchu-Hen was when I bought this album. I also had no idea who Fumio Miyashita was. I bought this album solely because of the back cover, which lists about a billion different digital synthesizers and computers as the instruments used.

That’s usually a guarantee for me that I’ll dig something on the album. And I certainly found a lot to dig here. Some of this is straight-up ambient background music you’d expect to find in a mid-80s anime, but it also diverges a bit into Tangerine Dream sequencer territory (aka my favorite territory) as well as some more traditional-sounding pieces that sound like they were performed on an organ but were no doubt performed on a synthesizer doing its best impersonation of an organ. It even has a pop song on it, the not-at-all-bad-but-entirely-forgettable “Showers of Gold.”

And it’s not about that kind of golden shower you pervs.

This is good chill out music for me. I just had this on loop for about two hours yesterday while I organized my iTunes library and tried not to think about the fact that I couldn’t breathe.

It turns out that the composer, Fumio Miyashita, was somewhat well-known for his chill out music. Even my boyfriend owns a couple of his CDs, which he listens to when he wants to, surprise, chill out. According to him, people used to go to his concerts to lay down and just relax (with no drugs I swear – it’s Japan).

I want to get more of his stuff, and that shouldn’t be too hard as it turns out that a lot of his anime soundtracks are pretty easy to come by here. I’m not interested too much in his “relaxation music” though. I like my new age in small doses for the most part.

What I do want to dig into more is his prog history though. In the seventies the dude was in two very influential Japanese prog acts; The Far East Family band and Far Out. Their stuff is slightly less easy to find, which is a bummer. But what I heard online I dig. It’s weird as hell. Turns out Kitaro was in that group. Did they invent new age prog? I don’t know if that would be a good thing or not.

I should also probably mention what this is the soundtrack to. Hino Tori Uchi-Hen is an animated movie from 1987, based on the mange by the same name. The manga was the work of Osamu Tezuka, who is best known as the creator of Astro Boy. Like I said, I never saw the movie, but if it’s half as chill as this, maybe I should check it out.

It’s kind of hard to get into anime when you live in Japan, as almost none of it has English subtitles. It’s like that episode of the Twilight Zone with the dude and the books, but with way more anime boobs.

Oh, one more thing happened this week. I met Hideki Matsutake, aka Logic System, aka the guy who played the sequencers on all the best YMO albums as well as a dozen other classic Japanese techno-pop records.

I’m on the left.

I was quite excited. Although if I knew I was going to get a picture with him, I would’ve rocked my pink tie.

Save Me Japanese Nu-Jazz Rock Rap Fusion

December 3rd, 2017

What the fuck do I say?

This is the year that just keeps on shitting. The President of the United States of America is a recluse who sits behind his phone, tweeting out racist propaganda to encourage ethnic cleansing, while the GOP work in the middle of the night to pass criminal “tax” codes that work to dismantle health care and destroy the global climate. The rest of the world needs to pass economic sanctions on the US for human rights violations.  The citizens of America to brush up on their carpentry skills and build some motherfucking guillotines. I feel like that’s the only way that things are going to get any better at all.

In the meantime here’s a 16-year-old song that perfectly defines how I feel right this minute.

Boom Boom Satellites (Featuring Chuck D)
Your Reality’s A Fantasy But Your Fantasy is Killing Me (Coldcut V.Steinski Going Under Mix)
Light My Fire (Live At Fuji Rock)
It’s been a bit over a year since we lost Michiyuki Kawashima to brain cancer and to be honest, I had to take a break from the group’s music for a bit. Some of it, especially Shine Like a Billion Suns and their final EP, just made me too emotional. I strongly associate Boom Boom Satellites with some of my greatest moments in my life, from the Moby concert I went to on my 20th birthday where they were the opening act, to my first visit to Japan where I gorged on their music while traveling the side streets of the city that would eventually become my home.

For me, Boom Boom Satellites are an encapsulation of every kind of music I’ve ever liked. Part hard rock, dub, big beat, synthpop, hip-hop and even progressive rock. They did it all and they did it all well.

I like all their albums, but the one I’ve probably re-visited the least is their 2001 sophomore effort Umbra. It definitely qualifies as a “difficult second album” with diversions into downbeat electronica and even some jazz that are honestly hard to digest at times.

The album does have a standout shoulda-been classic though, “Your Reality’s A Fantasy But Your Fantasy is Killing Me.” Rad live drums and programmed beats accompany guitar noise and dissonant sax. It’s cyberpunk jazz serving as a backdrop for a viscous rap by none other than Chuck motherfucking D. Segueing from nearly nonsensical word association to blistering verses attacking white liberals who want to pretend everything is okay alongside black leaders who aren’t trying hard enough, it’s even more fucking relevant and brutal now than it was when it first came out.

Umbra is not available in the states, but the song is. You can get it on the 19972016-19972007 Remastered greatest hits collection, which is available on most digital storefronts. I recommend that entire album, it’s a fantastic, epic-length introduction to a band everyone needs to recognize.

Another album that isn’t on iTunes is the group’s Remixed compilation, which features a fantastic remix of the track by Coldcut, which is the version I’m sharing here tonight.

From what I can tell, there are no live recordings of the track, but it was often incorporated into the group’s live performances of another track called “Light My Fire,” where they would take the beats and heavy guitars of that song and play Chuck’s rap over them. The combination worked wonderfully, and the fierce nature of the group’s always intense live shows made the rhymes by Chuck sound even more brutal.

Annoyingly, no live version of “Light My Fire” ever made it to a proper BBS live album. However, it made it to plenty of their live DVDs, all of which I’ve ripped and converted to MP3s. The live version I’m sharing tonight is from the group’s 2005 Fuji Rock performance. It’s rad as shit.

In the interests of my own mental health, my next post might be nothing but Japanese new age/ambient music and I apologize in advance.

Flaming Japanese Astronaut Funk

November 27th, 2017

Like most people, when I first started buying records I would occasionally buy some just because they were cheap and the covers were crazy or outrageous. That’s why I own this. And this. But that’s a habit that you have to grow out of quickly, or you’ll find your record shelves full of bad 80s hair metal and obscure 70s cheese. I think the last time I bought a record solely because of the cover was probably close to a decade ago.

Then I found this.

Space Circus – Fantastic Arrival
THOSE FUCKING ASTRONAUTS ARE ON FUCKING FIRE, MAN.

Something about this cover just got to me, and since it was only four or so bucks I figured “why the hell not?” And while the album certainly hasn’t set my world ablaze like an unfortunate astronaut, I’ve been enjoying it.

Disclaimer: this is kind of a jazz fusion record. I have been on the record (many times over) as not being a fan of jazz fusion. That’s still a rule I try to live by. I feel that this is an exception. Not exceptional, the record isn’t that good, but it’s different enough from most of the jazz fusion I’ve heard that it stands out at least a little bit.

Firstly, the dudes playing on this record are clearly virtuoso musicians who know what the hell they are doing. There’s a lot of wankery and showmanship on this record, and it makes for an impressive listen. The bass really sticks out to me. It has a groove that makes the album almost a funk record at times. Sure, no one is going to mistake a track like “Demon Blast” for George Clinton or Prince, but it moves, and slides from one solo to another so naturally, never losing the backing beat or theme, thanks largely to that radical bass.

Secondly, for most of this album, things are kept at a fairly breakneck pace, and when they do slow down, its in favor of the keyboards and/or synthesizers. That might not be a direction that most people enjoy, but anyone whose visited my blog more than once know that’s something that’s always going to earn the attention of my ear. “Acryl Dream” sounds someone laid a funk beat over a Vangelis score. I dig it.

Finally, it’s just really stupid and fun. And I was in the hospital this week, give me a break.

I did a smidge of digging as to who Space Circus are/were. They’re long gone as a group, having only released two albums in the late seventies before calling it quits. However, a few of them continued to release music after parting ways. While both the percussionist and guitar player only seem to have this group to their name, the bass player, Hajime Okano, has a hella long discography. He’s even made his way to a few albums I own, occasionally working with artists like Jun Togawa and Koshi Miharu, two of my favorite Japanese singers, who I really suggest you check out.

Takashi Toyoda is credited as a guest musician on this release, and contributes keyboards and violin. Turns out he makes appearances on a few other records in my collection, including some synthesizer anime albums and a great record by another 80s Japanese singer who goes by Rajie. Yukihiro Takashi from YMO and touring YMO members Kenji Omura and Akiko Yano also appear on that record, it’s worth picking up if you ever somehow stumble across it.

So yeah. It’s silly, and to be honest kind of forgettable. But it’s fun. And you might find a few good grooves to enjoy. Hope you enjoy.

Back from the hospital and laying down dope beats

November 23rd, 2017

So this weekend I found out that if you’re six and a half feet tall and…not thin, and rush to the Japanese hospital complaining of shortness of breathe and chest pains, they see your giant ass immediately, because no one in the country will be able to pick you up off the floor.

I was fine, by the way, ended up just being some weird bronchial infection. But that’s why I was MIA for a bit. But I’m back! I’m not dead, I feel happy.

Well, that’s not true, look at the news, but I’m back to normal at least and ready to post obscure music no one cares about so let’s get to it.

Arrested Development
United Front (Noises In My Attic Remix)
United Front (Acapella)
Fun fact, Speech from Arrested Development is big in Japan. Seriously, he plays solo shows here in respected (if not large) venues that usually sell out. He’s the Mr. Big of hip-hop.

I have no idea why this is. In fact, I always wonder how/why any hip-hop artist makes it big in Japan in any capacity. Rap is such a lyrical medium, and if you don’t understand the lyrics, there’s no way you can get as much out of it. Lyrics are obviously important in other forms of music too, but let’s be honest, you don’t need to understand the meaning of a song like, let’s say “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” to really appreciate it.

I think that explains, at least in part, why some acts make it big in Japan though. In my time here, I’ve noticed that really technically-proficient acts, like Mr. Big, Steely Dan, and Asia have large followings here, while more famous Western artists known primarily for their lyrics and songwriting, such as Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen, are barely ever mentioned here. The language barrier makes appreciating their music much harder. Of course, Bob Dylan is really popular here so what the fuck do I know?

Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock
Joy And Pain (World To World Remix)
Joy And Pain (No-Rap-Attack-Dub-Track)
Joy And Pain (Rob-A-Pella)
I don’t think that Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock are exceptionally more popular here than they are back in the states, but I could be wrong.

Acid House Dollfuckers

November 11th, 2017

Any of your heroes, idols, or creative inspirations get accused of gross sexual misconduct yet? Don’t worry, we still got a month and a half or so left in this year. Anything goes.

This is the upside to only caring about hyper-obscure bullshit that no one else in their right mind would care about. I’m not saying my musical idols and/or favorite filmmakers are saints; I’m saying that they’re all so irrelevant that no one is going to bother doing an expose on their alleged disturbing behavior. With how horrible the past two years have been, sometimes I willingly embrace ignorance for even the slightest bit of bliss.

Anyways, apropos of nothing, some songs about fucking a doll.

Lords of Acid
Rubber Doll (Latex Love Bazaar Mix)
Rubber Doll (My, But You’re A Fine One Mix)
Rubber Doll (I Love It When you Squeak Mix)
Rubber Doll (Do You Mind If We Dance With Yo’ Dates Mix)
Rubber Doll (Back Off The Bitch Is Mine Mix)
I actually found this single in Japan and bought it in a heartbeat. As I’ve lamented before, it’s really hard for me to find the kind of 12″ singles I like to buy – unnecessary remixes by now-irrelevant B-grade pop acts – in this country, so I was pretty stoked by this find.

Did “Rubber Doll” need five remixes? No. No it did not. But I’m certain that it no doubt that there are various 2×12″ promo singles and various CDs out there that feature even more remixes of the track. Because 90s.

Also, holy hell those are some bad remix titles.

German Electronic Avant-Garde Jazz Funk Fusion Top 40 Hits

November 7th, 2017

Blue Box – Captured Dance Floor
I’ve been sitting on this one for a while now, simply because it’s so weird that I didn’t know what exactly to do with it. As some have mentioned (with varying degrees of tact and politeness) my musical tastes have branched out a bit lately. But this one is out there even for me. It’s mental.

Okay, so what the hell am I talking about? Captured Dance Floor by Blue Box, originally released in 1989 in the group’s native country of Germany. In what little I can find on it online, it’s often categorized as jazz fusion, but I feel that categorization is wildly inaccurate. You say jazz fusion, and I think Steely Dan, Gong or Brand X. I think jazzy rock with an abundance of horns. I don’t think sparse mechanical beats overlaid with maniacal saxophone melodies, because that’s what this album is.

I get a bit of a Was (Not Was) vibe from this, but even far less commercial than that group’s most avant-garde mindfucks. But if there was an instrumental b-side to “Hello Operator…” it would’ve been a track from this record.

It’s hard to find much information on these guys in English, but I was able to dig up a bit. The group is a trio, featuring Alois Kott, Peter Esold, and Rainer Winterschladen. The first two were previously in a group called Contact Trio, who discogs describes as “on the more avant-garde end of jazz-rock.”

In the snippets of their first two records that I’ve found, Blue Box started out not all that different from Contact Trio, a bit more upbeat with some electronic drums thrown in, but definitely more jazz than anything else. This album is much different. I suspect that between their 1985 release and this one, someone in Blue Box discovered Art of Noise. The minimal jazz textures, trumpet and bass, are mixed in with seemingly random sound effects and vocal distortions.

It is just out there, man. And I’ll be 100% honest; I really have to be in the right headspace to hear this stuff. When I’m stressed out or a little under the weather, this actually makes me a little sick to my stomach. The ways it defies convention and traditional song structure are actually unnerving to me.  But when I’m willing to roll with it and let it overtake me, I find a lot to enjoy. I appreciate the combination of electronic loops with acoustic rhythms. I like how it sounds so alien that I, at times, can’t tell what’s a sample and what’s live. I really dig how it even sounds almost industrial at times, quiet a feat considering how sparse most of it is. A dissonant sax and a few random crashing samples go a long way I suppose.

Is this for everyone? Definitely not. Is it for most people? No. But is it worth at least one listen? Without question. Give it a try, and let me know what you think of it in the comments.

Oh and that cover holy shit.