Viewing Gum Listening Post #18

Here we go again, guys and gals! Viewing Gum Listening Post is now able to watch the naughtiest kind of movies at the cinema, as it hits number eighteen. It’s a bit more upbeat, poppy, fun and funky than the last entry (well, for the most part), but as eclectic as ever. You can stream below or click here to give yourself in to audio pleasure.

 

  1. Todd Terje – Oh Joy
  2. Architecture in Helsinki – When You Walk in the Room
  3. Buffalo Daughter with Keigo Oyamada – Great Five Lakes 20th
  4. Tune-Yards – Water Fountain
  5. Foster The People – Best Friend
  6. Sky Ferreira – 24 Hours
  7. DJ Snake & Lil Jon – Turn Down For What
  8. Cloud Nothings – Just See Fear
  9. GoGo Penguin – Murmuration
  10. David Lynch & Lykke Li – I’m Waiting Here
  11. Prince – THE BREAKDOWN

Tokyo Soundscape Episode 17: Salyu x Salyu Interview

I’ve mentioned it before (in my post A Personal Document of How I Came to Love Japanese Music), but I host a Japanese music podcast on SOAS Radio by the name of Tokyo Soundscape. I thought I might as well start posting about it here as well, because my latest episode is really worth listening to. Not only is there the usual mix of triffic tunes and silly rambling chatter from yours truly, but this edition features a great big interview with singer Salyu and writer/producer Keigo Oyamada (aka Cornelius – one of my all time heroes), plus Yumiko Ohno and Asa-chang, ahead of their salyu x salyu show at the Jazz Cafe in London last month.

Please give it a listen/download here – and you can find the tracklist below – and don’t forget to like the Facebook page while you’re at it.

NOKIES! – We Are News In The Dance Floor
Miila and the Geeks – CIGARETTE & WATER
salyu x salyu – Tadano Tomodachi
salyu x salyu – Dorei
salyu x salyu – Hanashitai Anatato
DJ Kentaro – Handmade Gift (feat Little Tempo)
Marewrew – Sa Oy
Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra – Come On!
Guitar Wolf – Summertime Blues

I should have another new episode up in the next couple of weeks, but by all means trawl through the back catalogue for ace Japanese music too.

A Personal Document of How I Came to Love Japanese Music

Readers of Viewing Gum may or may not be aware that, since 2005, I have presented Tokyo Soundscape, a Japanese music podcast hosted by SOAS Radio (based at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London). Many episodes have been lost in the annals of history, and I usually record them in brief spurts, based on what material I have to hand and what related events and gigs are taking place in London, but I largely cover contemporary alternative pop, rock and electronic music from Japanese artists, with a few curveballs thrown in for good measure.

It all came about when the initiative was launched to have a radio station at SOAS which would have a brief FM broadcast in November/December 2005. Then titled Open Air Radio, the station transmitted music and talk shows live around London for three weeks, including 3 editions of Tokyo Soundscape. Almost six years later, I have just recorded a couple more and I thought it would be a good time to perhaps talk a little bit about how I came to be interested in Japanese music. I had developed an interest in its popular culture, largely through a Japanese friend of mine at school when I was little, and more recently cinema, particularly the likes of Ringu, Audition, Battle Royale, and Brother. However, my love of the music specifically can be traced back to Spaced: 1999.

Spaced was in many ways a ‘game-changer’ for me, in that as funny and exciting and brilliantly performed as it was, it’s kinetic camerawork and tightly-packed references and in-jokes spoke to me on a deeply personal level, especially as a teenager still giddy from seeing Evil Dead II for the first time as part of Channel 4’s Uncensored season the year before (shown avec un intro de Mark Kermode, along with Zombie Flesh Eaters). However, I only started watching when my friend Stu informed me the last episode had zombies appearing out of Resident Evil 2 and terrorising the characters. What sounded like the greatest thing ever, in a rare occurrence, did indeed turn out to be the greatest thing ever, and so I watched in awe from episode 4 (aka ‘the paintball one’) onwards.

But we’re getting a little side-tracked here. As the Spaced DVD was released, so too, in a welcome surprise, was the soundtrack. The show had matched a great visual style with a nifty song selection too which, coupled with Guy Pratt’s own superb original compositions, really contributed to the feel of the show, and helped it stand out from any comedy that had come before. Amongst the likes of Ocean’s 11 scorer David Holmes, Nightmares on Wax and Coldcut, two contributors stood out: Fantastic Plastic Machine and Cornelius. And it was only after internet research that I discovered they just so happened to be Japanese (also known as Tomoyuki Tanaka and Keigo Oyamada respectively).

As leading lights of the Shibuya-kei music scene (so-called because their offerings, a mix of French ye-ye, bossa nova and beats, became popular at the HMV in Shibuya, Tokyo’s hip fashion district), their tunes struck a chord. In particular, Cornelius’ blistering ‘Count Five or Six’ was my new favourite song, and encouraged by critical consensus, I ordered the album it came from, 1998’s Fantasma, off Amazon. Upon receipt, I listened to it from start to finish, poring over the beautifully designed and detailed inlay, with a big grin on my face. It was like a magical musical mystery tour through influences as diverse as Beck, Bach, and Boys both Beach and Beastie.

It was about this time that Jet Set Radio was released on the Sega Dreamcast. A graffiti-tagging roller-blading slice of videogame cool, Smilebit’s classic featured ground-breaking cel-shaded graphics and, more to the point, wonderful music. Guest tracks came from hip-hop posse Jurassic 5, Headhunter scorer and Metropolis Street Racer songsmith Richard Jacques, and Japanese indie rockers Guitar Vader, but the music was largely provided by Hideki Naganuma, who built upon a Shibuya-kei sensibility with a lively and vibrant soundtrack which fitted the game’s action and aesthetic perfectly. Both Spaced and Jet Set Radio became key touchstones in my blossoming love for Japanese music, which came to be solidified watching coverage of the 2002 Fuji Rock Festival on late-night Channel 4 (back when late-night Channel 4, especially its 4Later strand, was something to get excited about). Cornelius performed ‘Star Fruits Surf Rider’ and it was also my first introduction to one of my favourite bands Supercar.

However, probably the finest exponent of cool Japanese music around the time was the excellent Adam and Joe Go Tokyo! on BBC Three in the summer of 2003. Hosted by the brilliantly funny Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish, …Go Tokyo! was a magazine show of sorts, charting their unsuccessful attempts to integrate into and understand Japanese culture, with informative and entertaining interviews, reports and features.  On the music side of things, there were the latest pop promos and their own attempts at chart stardom (with Gaijin Invasion), but they also closed each show with a live act, and featured some great performances from Guitar Wolf, Polysics, Hoover’s Ooover, and Plus-Tech Squeeze Box.

When I finally had the chance to visit Japan as part of my gap year trip, I put my education into practice, spending hours in HMV and Tower Records listening to the in-store headset, and picking up Plus-Tech Squeeze Box’s Cartooom! and Supercar’s Futurama. And my study year in Kyoto allowed for regular trips to rental emporium Tsutaya, second-hand CD goodness from Book-Off, and the opportunities to see the likes of Cornelius, Hoover’s Ooover, and YMO live. Yet, when I spoke to any Japanese person about the bands I liked, they would usually draw a blank, as little of the J-pop idol stuff, anime theme tunes or extravagant visual-kei malarkey that many would associate with contemporary Japanese music really appealed to me.

Though I still spend time seeking out new artists, it was this early blossoming period that still holds most sway when it comes to my taste in music, even if its kind has fallen somewhat out of favour. There are still examples out there (Kyoto’s Second Royal Records offer a raft of DJs big on playful beats and noises) but they’re harder to find. Even the artists have evolved, with Fantastic Plastic Machine following a more trad house route, while Cornelius stripping back his sound to a more minimalist, but still magical, approach. I have had to recently go back to the well somewhat by finally getting a copy of videogame sequel Jet Set Radio Future, close to 10 years since its release.

But it can all be traced back to a time when all my interests seemed to fit into place – and Spaced kicked it all off, just as Edgar Wright’s subsequent works spoke to my specific love of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (in Shaun of the Dead) and intimate knowledge of Wells town centre (in Hot Fuzz). It all seemed to culminate with Scott Pilgrim vs The World – based on a graphic novel series which I only read because it was announced post-Shaun that Wright was due to direct. And amongst all the videogame nods, crazy visuals and referential humour, what should be found on the soundtrack but an original composition by Mr. Keigo Oyamada himself, Cornelius.

 

UPDATE! 24th July 2012

I had the immense privlege and pleasure to meet and interview Keigo Oyamada aka Cornelius when he was in London to perform with singer Salyu as part of their salyu x salyu project. You can listen to the interview on this episode of Tokyo Soundscape. As you can see from this post, Cornelius is one of my all-time heroes, so it was an honour to be in his company. I even got him to sign my copy of 69/96 (bought second hand from a Book Off in Tokyo), and it turned out it was also the first album drummer and salyu x salyu band member Asa-chang had performed on, so he signed it as well.

Just one thing…how come he’s wearing the same cardigan and t-shirt meeting me as he is with Edgar Wright in the picture above?

 

Having touched on a bunch of Japanese musicians in the main text, here are just three of my favourite albums in a little more detail:

Cornelius – Fantasma (1998)

Cornelius was originally a member of early Shibuya-kei duo Flipper’s Guitar before releasing his first solo album The First Question Award in 1994. 69/96 would follow, opting for a bigger, bolder and more sample-led sound, but Fantasma remains his masterwork. A glorious patchwork of influences pieced together to form a unique whole, it still manages to be a hugely entertaining and satisfying listen from start to finish.

Plus-Tech Squeeze Box – Fakevox (2000)

Tokyo duo Tomonori Hayashibe and Takeshi Wakiya’s debut release is like trying to tune a perpetually scrambling radio from the future while on a wild sugar-rush bender. Stand-out tracks ‘early RISER’ and ‘Sneaker Song!’ show their pico-pop neo-Shibuya-kei stylings at their most wild and wacky, but every track, even the mini interludes, is a delight. Since their 2004 follow-up Cartooom!, they have focused more on remixes, side-projects and production recently, but an appearance on the Spongebob Squarepants Movie soundtrack was a gleeful reminder that no-one does manic electro-pop better than them.

Supercar – Highvision (2002)

Having started out as a somewhat conventional, if still excellent, indie rock band, Supercar gradually developed a more electronic sound, with Highvision marking the high-point of their straddling of genres, venturing close to dance music territory with the likes of ‘Yumegiwa Last Boy’ (featured in quirky comedy drama Ping Pong). Even David Bowie claimed to be a fan. Though they called it a day as a group in 2005, lead Koji Nakamura has released his own material under the moniker iLL, and just this year started a new band with former bandmate Miki Furukawa as LAMA.

To listen to Tokyo Soundscape, please visit the official site at SOAS Radio, or you can subscribe on iTunes. Please also like the show on Facebook.

ALBUM REVIEW: Cornelius – Sensuous

Cornelius aka Keigo Oyamada has widely been regarded as one of the most important figures in contemporary Japanese music, whose innovative albums have gained something on an international, as well as a domestic, following. So, it is only natural that his first album of new material in five years should require one’s avid attention. However, it seems that little progress has been made since 2001’s Point.

As I have always preferred Fantasma, his third solo album, it’s something of a disappointment that the absurdity and upbeat nonsense that made Fantasma so unique is largely absent. Instead, it is largely another batch of experimental pop incorporating electronic tones, everyday noises and Oyamada’s restrained vocals. And while it is true that no-one else makes music in quite the same style, the end result lacks the uniqueness that made Fantasma so damn enjoyable. Nevertheless, it is perhaps unfair to dwell to much on past efforts for comparison, as while this album may not be Cornelius’ best, there is still much to gleam from the dozen tunes on offer here.

It seems that Cornelius must love wind and love the sound of tinkling, as windchimes bookend Sensuous. You could probably split the album in two between the more ambient soundscapes (such as Omstart and Like a Rolling Stone) and the guitar-licked beats of Breezin’ and Fit Song, yet both kinds have an airy, drifting quality. While it is nice to have something of a running theme, it also makes the tracks all seem to run together, with few that properly stand out and others that can only really be considered filler material. However, the ones that do stand out are certainly worth the effort.

The only track that sees Cornelius properly rocking out is the fast-paced Gum, filled with charging guitars and cymbal crashes as voice samples echo back and forth from all angles. It’s as close to Free Fall as one gets this time round, but it’s satisfying enough. Upcoming single Beep It is not especially clever but has a neat beat and manages to be pretty funky. The aforementioned Like a Rolling Stone is soothing and dreamy, as is his cover of Ratpack standard Sleep Warm. It’s just a shame that his brilliant cover of YMO’s exquisite Cue that appeared on the Breezin’ single release doesn’t appear here.

But perhaps the best track on Sensuous is barely a song at all. At just over a minute and a half long, Toner seems to be Cornelius at his most pure, using piano and electronic blips and sound effects to turn the menial task of printing out a sheet of paper into something more playful . It’s like listening to someone remix Microsoft Windows start-up noises, but much better than that sounds.

As a result, Sensuous is something of a frustrating experience, feeling a little soulless and hollow at times, but with just enough flashes of brilliance to leave me sure that Cornelius has plenty more imagination and creativity to offer. I just hope that next time, his talent takes a more refreshing direction. And that we don’t have to wait another five years.

7/10

> > > Cornelius (Official Site)