Back in March 15th.
I think we can agree that the recent spate of Japanese ambient / fourth world / electronic pop reissues, for all the jewels it’s turned up, has perhaps been a bit much. Moan moan moan MOAN…I know. But I mean why does it all this stuff have to be rediscovered and repackaged at once? It’s like waiting for the bus and TEN of them turning up. There’s scenius, sure, and then there’s taking the piss. But then I suppose the reissue “industry” has always been about exploitation… not exploiting the music or the artists making it (at least, not necessarily) but exploiting YOU. You like Japanese synth curios? OK here’s ANOTHER and ANOTHER and ANOTHER and ANOTHER. And there IS undeniably an appetite for this stuff - driven by, what, the fact that every time you leave YouTube to its own devices for five minutes it recommends you summat by Yasuaki Shimizu?!! But at a certain point you just think, fuck off. Not to the music itself, or the musicians responsible (god forbid), but to the people peddling it. Hmmm. Anyway, this is an impotent and illogical rant for another time.
Koki Emura’s EM Records is at completely the other end of the spectrum, and free from any such taint…based out of Osaka, and at it for 20 years, they’ve quietly amassed an awe-inspiring catalogue, and in all honestly EM ought to be more widely recognised as one of the world’s very best labels. While they’ve released their fair share of Japanese music, their output has never been Japan-o-centric: with room for work by David Rosenboom, Wicked Witch, Khan Jamal, Nicolas Collings, Roland P. Young, Pip Proud, Brenda Ray, Finis Africae, Sheriff Lindo… I mean, fuck, just browsing through their discography now I’m reminded what a debt we all owe to them. You probably know this, but sometimes the obvious goes unsaid, and forgotten. So… lifetime achievement award for EM.
But let’s talk about the record at hand, Emerson Kitamura's glorious The Countryside Is Great… it IS a pellucid Japanese synth record, which DOES have loose affinities with Fourth World and the rich lineage of post-YMO digi-pop, but it’s not a reissue, it’s new music, and it stands out, absolutely.. It’s the fifth and final 12” in a series of releases supporting the film Bangok Nites (dunno, look it up). Keyboardist Kitamua is a renowned session man, active from the late 80s through to the present day; these self-produced tracks, made with his “trademark old-school rhythm box”, are just amazing, existing in an oneiric nether-world between wonky lounge/exotica, pristine electronic pop and dubwise DIY a la General Strike or Pickle Factory… dub is the common denominator here, every track riding on stripped-down but carefully cushioned steppers’ rhythms. The luminous, free-floating, rub-a-dubbed cover of George McRae’s early disco belter ’Rock Your Baby’, with exquisitely creamy vocals from mmm (mi mae moe), sounds like Stereolab without the stick up their arse, floating heavenwards on minimal percussion and Kitamura’s gauzy pads. His version of ‘Lam Phloem Salab Khonsawan’ is on the face of it little more than a compellingly twee J-pop miniature but turn it up, and squint a bit, and it’s an ultra-sparse, avant-dancehall digi-killer that wouldn’t sound out of place on, what, Paid Reach, while the closing version of ‘The Countryside Is Great’ is an uplifting, anthemic, aqua-fresh steppa not a million miles away from Tapes. I can’t think of anyone of you who won’t dig this phenomenal, unusual but totally unassuming record…ignore all those overpriced, overpackaged reissues and spend your hard-earned on this instead.
Also: best title of the year, no?!