With this entry in the list, I’ll confess to cheating a bit. Originally released in October 2014, it would fall outside the scope of this countdown of 2015’s best Japanese music were it not for a 12-inch vinyl re-release courtesy of Tokyo underground record store Enban’s in-house label.
This is a marvellous development because it allows me to write about a collection of songs that would almost certainly have made last year’s countdown had I discovered it in time, and was an easy choice this time around. I wrote about the CD edition earlier in the year, so I shan’t go over the same ground in detail (read my earlier review here – the music’s basically the same) except to say that Safe Mode is an intimate little mini-album, recorded warm and up-close, both charming and disarming.
Combining subtle, intricately worked psychedelic elements with witty, sometimes surreal, simple yet intricately balanced folk and acoustic pop, Safe Mode‘s atmosphere is enhanced in all manner of little ways by tiny production choices and quirks of the recording process, from the ambient sounds of fingers sliding along guitar strings on Long Days with Television to the contrast between the wavering tone of the vintage pub piano and the highly compressed drum machine sound on The Return of Hamunaptra.
What’s most remarkable about this record is that for all its short runtime and the apparent simplicity and sparseness of its sound, there is just so much going on, both in the diversity of the songwriting and the imagination and/or serendipity that have gone into the recording and arrangement. While its appearance in this year’s rundown was only able to happen through a quirk of its release process, there should be no question that Safe Mode is a worthy inclusion and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.