Mika Bomb – “The Fake Fake Sound of Mikabomb” (2001)

Better change your underpants,
Cuz you might need an ambulance.
— “Contact Tokyo”

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I have a thing for Japanese punk.  I can’t fully explain it, but one aspect is that Japanese musicians are definitely “all in” – it’s a lifestyle.  So that being said I’m always on the lookout for this kind of thing when I’m digging, and that’s how I pulled a copy of Mika Bomb’s The Fake Fake Sound of Mikabomb out of a box at a Seattle record show recently.  A quick check online revealed that prior to this album Mika Bomb had been signed to the Beastie Boys’ label Grand Royal, and if they’re good enough for the Beasties they’re good enough for me.

Mika Bomb is that perfect combination of pop punk and garage, consisting of an intentional rawness and strong pop aesthetic.  The vocals are all in English and Mika’s signing is almost flawless – you could easily assume that she’s a native English speaker, and that makes the record all that much more approachable.  The Fake Fake Sound of Mikabomb is probably at the top of my list of favorite Japanese punk albums at the moment, definitely the one I’d reach to first if someone was looking to explore the genre.

Tomita – “The Planets” (1976)

tomitaplanetsThe Planets is somewhere between classical and film score, but all (or at least almost all) of it played on synths.  It’s spacey quality makes sense given that the album is called The Planets and that each of the five tracks are named after planets, with the conspicuous absence of Pluto.  Did Tomita somehow know that Pluto would someday lose its planet status?  Was he a time traveler?  Was he from the future?  Those theories don’t seem so preposterous as I sit here listening to the theremin on “Venus, The Bringer Of Peace”.

If you’re into synths and 70s electro-weirdness, The Planets is for you.  And if you’re picking up a vinyl copy, make sure the poster insert is included.  If it’s not, that should drop the price a little… though not like this is an expensive purchase.

Pizzicato Five – “Playboy & Playgirl” (1999)

pizzicatofiveplayboyThis is some “Miscellaneous P” section action I found the other day at Tacoma’s Hi-Voltage Records.  I’m fascinated by Japanese pop, though honestly often disappointed. But Playboy & Playgirl… oh you coy Playboy & Playgirl.

I don’t entirely know what’s happening here.  There’s a distinctly retro-pop feel to the opening “La Dépression”, and the same is true of the following number “The International Pizzicato Five Mansion”… two songs that are very similar and very opposite at the same time.  The 70s lounge-style synths of the latter are compelling, sucking you in like some kind of Sonny & Cher tune you pretended to hate even though you secretly loved it.  There’s a sort of sitcom theme song vibe happening, like some wacky Japanese roommates with bright clothing sharing a small shag-carpeted apartment are about to engage in some wild hijinks, maybe something involving the cranky-but-lovable bus driver who takes them to work every day, or the wise old lady at the soba shop.

And yet this was originally released in 1998 (the American version, which I have, came out in 1999).

As for the hot-organ-action of “Week-end”?  Fuh-gedda-bout-it.  It makes me want to take up smoking and drink a Michelob.

Cool retro.

Akiko Yano – “Tadaima” (1981 / 2018)

I’m currently reading Haruki Murakami’s most recent novel, Killing Commendatore.  It’s probably the fifth or sixth of his books I’ve read, and like most of the perennial Nobel Prize short-lister’s works it’s starting to get weird, the protagonist being occasionally visited by a two foot tall, sword carrying personification of the concept of “Idea” that only he can see and converse with (at least so far).  Music always plays some kind of role in Murakami’s fiction, which makes sense given that the author himself is a well-known jazz aficionado and vinyl collector (allegedly 10,000 records strong).  In fact, prior to becoming a full-time writer he owned a small jazz bar in Tokyo.  While the music references in Killing Commendatore have been almost exclusively classical (at least through the first 250 or so pages that I’ve read so far), there are passages about specific compositions, as well as details about various character’s stereo setups.

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In taking a break from reading this morning, I decided to drop the needle on this newly arrived re-release of Akiko Yano’s 1981 synth-pop milestone Tadaima.  This caught my attention because of the involvement of the legendary Ryuichi Sakamoto (♠), and since I love synth-pop I wanted to give it a try.  It’s an intriguing piece of work, one that ambles about seemingly at random, but that when you listen carefully exudes intentionality.  At times it almost reaches the point of sterility, but then something like unexpected “Taiyo No Onara” comes on and Yano’s voice is allowed to express warmth and wonder.  I can’t help but at times to hear traces of dj. flugvél og geimskip in Tadaima, both in the music and the vocals, which is slightly disorienting for me.  Regardless, though, this is an enjoyable if somewhat quirky album that still sounds fresh nearly 40 years later.

(♠) To this day I can’t hear or see Sakamoto’s name and not immediately think of the scene in High Fidelity when John Cusack catches the skateboarding shoplifters.

Kome Kome Club – “Go Funk” (1988)

komekomeGo Funk seemed very out of place when I ran across it the other day at a local shop.  A funk record in a sea of rock, a Japanese record buried behind a pile of American ones.  And because I’m a sucker for Japanese records I took it upon myself to rescue Go Funk, taking it home where it could live on my shelves with some of its friends.

Musically Go Funk is a little less funky than I expected, but still a good listen.  There’s definitely a big band kind of vibe happening here, and songs like “Bee Be Beat” actually do bring the funk pretty hard.  Add some pop elements and what you have is a talented group of artists who can pretty much do whatever they want… and that’s exactly what they do.  Some songs are in Japanese, others in English, making it more approachable to Western ears.

Go Funk is a lot of fun, a good party time go-to kind of record that would appeal to people with a wide range of musical tastes.