Saturday, May 06, 2017

RECORD OF THE DAY: YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA - TECHNODELIC



Yellow Magic Orchestra, the Japanese electronic outfit from the '70s/'80s, are one of those bands who seem to've always been around. I mean, I remember seeing their videos on early-morning/late-night music programs here when I was young. I remember Ryuichi Sakamoto as a music figure from as far back as when I was 11 when he did the Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence soundtrack with David Bowie. I remember seeing YMO LPs for a few bucks a piece when I was a teenager scouring bins for punk rock albums. But I never really listened to their music until fairly recently. I never bought any of their records until fairly recently. I never knew how eclectic and huge Sakamoto's vast back catalogue was until fairly recently. And likewise, I never even knew who YMO mainstay Haruomi Hosono was until, well, about a year ago. These are simply the things which had slipped me by.

Firstly, a couple of things. You should all hear Sakamoto's B-2 Unit and Esperanto LPs from 1980 and 1985, respectively, as well as Hosono LPs such as Hosono House from 1973, Tropical Dandy from 1975, Bon Voyage from 1976, Paraiso from 1978, Cochin Moon from 1978 and Pacific, also from 1978 (what a year!) - and this is merely scratching the surface. Both are still actively making music, and much of it is well worth hearing. Sakamoto has been firing out all manner of experimental/ambient recordings the past decade, mostly on small boutique labels which are often hard to find, but they are worth the time and trouble (and mostly uploaded to YouTube, anyway). The Hosono albums range from rootsy singer-songwriter gaff through to tropical disco, MOR, faux-surf, experimental electronics (Cochin Moon is a masterpiece with strong hints of Cluster/Harmonia and even Suicide-style drone throughout) and all in between. Tropical Dandy and Bon Voyage are in total Van Dyke Parks mode; I can only assume that Hosono was familar with VDP's Song Cycle/Discover America LPs when he made these recordings. If not, then I'm once again musically lost.

And that's not even beginning to describe the greatness of Sakamoto's early catalogue, and I've only chosen two (B-2 Unit is the place to begin) because time is short and YouTube only has so many uploads of these things. In short: you have some homework to do. Now, a lot of this music will be old news to many. Obnoxious DJ types in the west of many a stripe discovered all this hoo-hah decades ago, and I believe the Light In The Attic label is about to (belatedly) do a bit of a reissue campaign on such things. But right here, right now, much of this is still quite new to me - much of it probably spurred on from finally visiting Japan (twice!) last year - and I'm enjoying a new discovery, so just allow me to indulge myself, OK?

That longwinded introduction, which is brief as I could be when attempting to give an overview to a fascinating family-tree catalogue of music, brings us to YMO's fifth studio LP, 1981's Technodelic, which is probably my fave album of theirs. There's some great footage of YMO getting funky in the US of A right here (this footage is quite mind-blowing), but Technodelic tones down the dancing a tad and is much more in the Kraftwerk realm of sound: purely robotic electronics, a dose of austere, Berlin-period Bowie in the more song-oriented material, and straight up one of the most enjoyable non-core releases of 1981 you will hear.

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