Tokyo’s Music From The Mars have roots going back to the eclectic turn-of-the-century Tokyo alternative scene that produced bands like Boat, Natsumen and Mong Hang (Keitaimo from Mong Hang plays bass in Music From The Mars, Kiyoshi Sakai from Boat plays keyboards, while AxSxE from both Boat and Natsumen produced this new single). There’s still a playful prog-rock interplay between multiple elements, brass-buoyed pastoral frolicking one moment, intricate stop-start rhythmical games the next, harsh slashes of punk guitar another, all coming together in a celebratory fashion at the climax. The way Music From The Mars apply near-mathematical technical mastery to essentially easy listening ends means there’s something distinctly Steely Dan about their whole vibe and they don’t shy away from that at all on Every Day and Every Night.
Tag Archives: Natsumen
The release of my Bloody Valentine’s first new album in more than twenty years seems to have given new impetus to Japan’s diverse shoegaze scene, elements of which had come together at round the same time to produce the Yellow Loveless MBV covers album. Less well-publicised it may have been, but another 90s comeback produced one of the year’s finest Japanese rock albums. BP. had been inactive for more than fifteen years when they burst back onto the scene with The New BP. and it’s a corker.BP.: Goodbye, Love
Now you suspect that BP. hate being called shoegaze, but within seconds of opening track Goodbye, Love, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of that going on with them. At the same time, however, yes, there’s more to them, with Tomato Bazooka revealing a post-hardcore side, Puddle occasionally exploding into bursts of metal, and the band throughout delighting in chopping between different rhythms or between melodic and ear splittingly noisy moments in a way that’s very much of a piece with the contemporary Tokyo underground scene. These transitions are all expertly handled in the mix by producer AxSxE from jazz-prog psychedelicists Natsumen, who is one of the best engineers in Japan at making impossibly loud guitars sound gorgeous, and the result is a texturally rich sonic treat for tired ears.
Eiichi Ohtaki: Kimi Wa Ten-Nen-Shoku
A bit late posting this due to one thing and another, but here’s my most recent column for The Japan Times. The theme was Japanese summer albums, and it was primarily an excuse to rave about Eiichi Ohtaki’s 1981 masterpiece A Long Vacation, which remains probably my favourite Japanese mainstream pop album. Ohtaki was a member of Happy End in the 60s and 70s, and his old bandmates helped out in various fashions on this album, but there’s a purity of craftsmanship and vision on this record that even his old band’s most celebrated work doesn’t quite have. In a way, comparing A Long Vacation to something like Kazemachi Roman is a bit like comparing stuff by The Beatles to Brian Wilson’s work with The Beach Boys, in that the former is at heart a band’s album while the latter is fundamentally a producer’s album. Either way, there are obvious similarities and I’m not really interested in ranking stuff this good.Eiichi Ohtaki: Koi Suru Karen
By all means investigate the other stuff I mention in the article, but really A Long Vacation is all I want to talk about here. I love the way Koi Suru Karen just leaps into the chorus with so much power and gusto but does so by dropping in a bunch of new layers of sound, not by rocking out in the typical band style. I love the way the squelchy synth bass in Pap-Pi-Doo-Bi-Doo-Ba Monogatari sounds completely at odds with the light, fluffy, 60s-style melody and yet totally at one with the piece, and I love how FUNx4 just even exists, as one of the most ludicrously, unashamedly pop! pop! pop! tunes ever written. I even love the fake clapping at the end.Eiichi Ohtaki: FUNx4
In the end, it’s just one of the most marvellous summer albums ever and one of my favourite pop albums ever, regardless of where it was made. It was one of the first Japanese pop albums I ever heard, when as a first year university student, my Japanese dorm-mate lent me his copy, so perhaps I’m sentimentally biased — I still harbour warm feelings for Mr. Children’s 1997 megahit album Bolero and Globe’s Faces Places, although neither commands such power over my affections. Fundamentally though, it’s a magnificent collection of songs by a songwriter and producer at the peak of his powers, and that just rules so I make no apologies for this cascade of thoroughly un-journalistic, fanboyish pop-love.Eiichi Ohtaki: Saraba Siberia Tetsudou