Andy Beta on Ryuichi Sakamoto, collections of kankyō ongaku, Australian ‘80s underground rock, and the Afrodisia label, plus fifteen new album recommendations
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This list is unranked and not the result of consensus — I imagine pretty much anyone can find something they haven’t heard in this list. 188 albums all told, and every one of ‘em worth listening to, enjoy!
Throughout his career Ryuichi Sakamoto struck a balance between West and East, between the European classical canon (which he absorbed while earning his master’s in music composition at Tokyo University) and the cutting edge technology emerging from modern Japan.
…they released hundreds of records capturing the plethora of sounds that were igniting the region’s music scenes, from jùjú to Afrobeat, highlife, psych-rock and, later on, soul and disco.
The Japanese term, translated literally as “environmental music,” was coined primarily to describe the kind of music Brian Eno was making starting with Ambient 1: Music for Airports.
…what I want to do here is shine a spotlight on the groups that didn’t quite make that leap – groups who achieved some degree of success in their home country, who may or may not have had limited success overseas, some relocating for a time, some not, but who didn’t quite achieve the infamy and continual critical hosannas of a Nick Cave or David McComb.
Album #17 is their first that’s wholly self-produced, with no outside hands touching it until it was given to Greg Calbi to master, so it’s not out of the question to call this their most autonomous and unfiltered album — at least, unfiltered once they streamlined all their longest-simmering ideas into it.
As a hip-hop head with just as much affinity for alt-rock’s metal-to-grunge-to-noise continuum, Sharif’s partnership with Steel Tipped Dove on his first album for Backwoodz has produced something that the term “horrorcore” isn’t quite sufficient enough to convey.
Playing with a long basis of post-rock/psych exotica mutations has given them a lot to work with, and the Broadcast/Stereolab kinship they’ve become known for is easy for them to extrapolate on; at this point, their hauntology of Cold War-era art pop and its ’90s pomo echoes almost feels comfortable.
Each piece feels like a sort of sonic installation, conjured mutually and lovingly by Andre and collaborators including percussionist Carlos Niño, guitarist Nate Mercereau and keyboardist Surya Botofasina…
Even those who generally prefer the sound of larger or mixed-voice choral groups are strongly urged to give Beauty Farm’s recordings a try; this one exemplifies the ensemble’s unusual ability to conjure a rich, colorful sound from its small forces, and the dark timbre of the voices is a particularly good match for the somber and introspective mood of De la Rue’s music – a flavor that may be owed to the famously melancholy mood of his patroness’s court.
Part of what makes Dub Housing such a great album is the fact that it manifests the distilled essence of Pere Ubu’s music: the tension between weirdness and virtuosity.
With Still Way, he sought to iterate on Eno’s idea of composing a soundtrack to defuse the anxiety of busy life, saying that his music “should drift like smoke and become part of the environment.”
Hiroshi Yoshimura’s very first composition, “Clouds for Alma,” was written on a postcard. The short piece only took up a single measure on a page of sheet music — the perfect size for scribbling on a card.
So: a singer with a wonderful voice and delivery, a rich, clever, shifting production aesthetic that references and transcends all sorts of genres and then, making this album a bona fide triple threat, there are the songs themselves: full of gently soaring melodies, enticing little vocal hooks and with an intimate, diaristic feel.
The first album from JIM — AKA house producer Ron Basejam, AKA Jim Baron, co-founder of UK house outfit Crazy P — is a wonderful debut, toning down his dance floor production chops and presenting a shimmering, melodic confection of Laurel Canyon-style singer-songwriting, blue-eyed R’n’B, yacht-rock and acoustic soul, full of strummed acoustic guitars, rich vocal harmonies, and with a gentle, introspective feel.
Released in 1972 and until recently out-of-print, his second album is a beguiling, bewitching gem.
Recorded in just 48 hours, Sheet One bucked against the prevailing Chicago-influenced sounds of the time and created a world that felt both trippy and fluid, yet minimalist and raw, due in no small part to Hawtin’s masterful manipulation of the Roland TB-303.
However, for all its crystal-clear precision and technical wizardry, far from feeling cold and clinical, Alcachofa gurgles and mutates with an organic spontaneity: motifs and sections many producers would kill for appear once and then disappear as the natural selection of the records’ evolutionary flow works its own meandering magic.
Mina Canta O Brasil sees her taking on some of the great songwriters of samba, bossa nova and Brazilian pop; her voice is made for the brassier, more spirited numbers…
…there’s something about the way the groups keep these songs afloat, across a tangle of threaded guitars, that’s beautifully compelling.
While the Veldt’s full length career had seemingly started in 1994 with Afrodisiac, on the heels of the 1992 EP Marigolds, the truth of the matter was that they’d recorded a full length back in 1989 with a hell of an insane pedigree – the Chavis brothers found themselves not only in London, but working in the new studio September Sound with one of its founders, Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie, as producer.
When collated and presented as an overall album featuring each set of mixes at the end of that year, what was essentially a fragmentary experience became an enjoyable late career sweep through a variety of sonic styles he had long demonstrated skill and success with.