Mari Iijima – Rosé (1984)

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My favorite thing about Japanese pop is that unlike Westerners, they didn’t start with three-chord-blues / classical baroque counterpoint and work their way into more complex or catchy variations — they got all of their Western pop/jazz/etc references at once over post-WWII records and radio, just this sudden deluge of previously unavailable inspiration, and synthesized it all into insane, nearly unrecognizable Frankenstein pop genres. Unlike US pop music which can relax on the comfortably ingrained blues or Pachelbel Canon progressions, J-pop floats around with no historical basis and winds up sounding a lot more like jazz or bossa nova than anything Buddy Holly or Madonna wrote. What is the root chord in a song like “My Best Friend”? Even a song like “Blueberry Jam” — the warmest, most immediately familiar bubble bath of a song — is a hundred times removed from anything like typical Western chord progressions. It’s weird and it shouldn’t work and it’s the greatest album ever — finally on Spotify! (And if you want to truly uncover the secrets of Japanese pop chords, Mari Iijima does piano lessons on Skype). Amazing.

 

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Tony Scott – Meditation (1977)

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Music for the slow contagion of invasive species, like the steadily growing Kudzu vine systems that dominate the land around Florida highways. Don’t let the album title throw you off. This is moss music, wet and dark and fertile. Pet turtles gently lowered into a muddy pond, swimming away from kids’ hands — only to join the million other pet turtles steadily choking out the pond ecosystem. Together. Jan Akkerman’s guitar, murky and widespread, and Tony’s snaking clarinet. Insanely good, infinitely repeatable (except for the off-brand blues track in the middle), and totally unique, a one-off departure into the depths from an underheard originator of New Age music.

 

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Din – Fantastic Planet Revisited (1996)

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Prismatic remaster of the 1992 original, a self-described “glitter space disco horror fantasy”. The thing that gets me about these songs is that they’re so clean — producer Pupka Frey takes what ought to be murky, hyper-abrasive industrial/EBM songs and isolates the individual sounds into these crystalline, 100% pure designer drugs. Each tone is so distinct, so scientifically separated. A totally cloudless sky. The definition of CD music. I know I’m basically describing every mid-90’s trance album, but this one is different — it’s menacing and and anxious and invigorating without the safety of darkness, like those strange transparent fish with the laser-light heart and organs beating out in the open.

Favorite tracks: “Travesty”, “I’ve Seen it Done”, “Terroreyes” and “B-Minis Megamix” (but really every track is a hit — so rare in the 90’s electro world!)

 

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Michael Gregory – Towards The Sun (1991)

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Don’t let the album art turn you off — “Towards the Sun” is a lo-fi weirdo r&b banger that would absolutely fuck up all the charts if he released it in 2019. “I Trust Everything About You”, “Think About This”, “If I Only Had a Minute”, “Love’s Parade” — like D’Angelo, R. Stevie Moore, Sade and Moses Sumney took to the studio on a moonlit night and got DEEP into it. Sensitive bangers. Those hushed bedroom-pop octave harmonies, self-repressing like there’s someone sleeping next door.  The vulnerability of admitting that you have a bedroom. Michael was a really wild avant-garde jazz guitarist in the 70’s and 80’s (and still is on his recent albums) but here the NYC dissonance is traded for warm layering and Seal-esque vocal melodies. Delicate and intricate, melismatic ribbons. Traci Chapman’s there too. I love this album so much. The best part is the way each song cuts out at the end — you can almost hear him hitting record again on the tape recorder to go back, add another layer, fold the garden back over onto itself.

 

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Djeli Moussa Diawara – Sobindo (1998)

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There’s a bunch of stuff on a trampoline. It’s just rained and kids are jumping in slow motion — all the pebbles and branches and the socks coming unstuck from the wet springs — all of it flying up, colliding in the air, rearranging. That’s Diawara’s fingers on the kora, syncopated by milliseconds with pianos, violins, a percussive sound, a voice — the tinkling of the world like raindrops.

 

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Robert Cacciapaglia / Ann Steel – The Ann Steel Album (1986)

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This album has had a pretty substantial cult following for decades, and a ton of writers have dug into the history and untangled the lyrics and pulled apart the references — if you want more info, it’s definitely out there. All I’ll say is that when the ugliness of the world makes jasmine-fringed enchantment seem too far out of reach, there is always Ann and Robert’s hyper-artificial, TV-dinner-style transcendence, an instant secret escape for one. Play any of the first three tracks, let them shatter whatever rut you’re in. It’s absolutely magical.

 

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Peter Michael Hamel – Organum (1986)

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Ambient, hypnagogic organ pieces from an avant-garde master, less classical compositions than bedtime auditory hallucinations, the sound dreams you hear when the laundry is going. Infinite warmth. The sound of an instrument breathing. For me, tracks 3 and 4 edge gently into Beach Boys territory (harmonically) giving the whole thing a strange overlay of Californian sun and jasmine. (See 12:13 of Track 3). But like all dreams, it’s just the head softly replaying sounds and visions of the days before.

 

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