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.
Seiko Is Always On Time
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
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.
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.