Archives for category: Music

Everybody by now knows that David Bowie has died. And everybody knows this was a global event. Everything that can be written about Bowie by now probably has. I don’t have much to add, anyway.

One string of questions keeps going through my mind though: Who expected the outpouring of love, respect and grief that Bowie’s death caused? Who has caused that level of mourning before? Who will do so in the future? And what is the quality that these people possess?

Within my lifetime, the standout people that have died and led to outpourings of grief are Steve Jobs and Princess Diana. I felt no grief for either and still get a bit irritated about their effect on people. It isn’t jealousy, I bear no ill will to either. I just get annoyed that people loved them. I did not.

I see what was there. Diana managed to convince the British, and later global, public that a “commoner” could enter royalty. After divorce, she became the underdog until her death, when she inspired conspiracy theories (yawn). Jobs, meanwhile, played an instrumental part in the IT revolution we are now experiencing. But I always felt Evgeny Morozov got his character down better than our popular consciousness ever managed to.

Bowie, though, was different. At least for me. He represents something a little like a superhero. I feel shocked by his death because he felt transcendent of us all, immortal. His body of work led to me feeling like that. All the generations of my family love him. My grandmother remembers her daughter’s loud music, and how she learned to love some of his more accessible tunes. My mother and father remember being there at the time, seeing the effect Bowie had on their peers, and feeling and sharing it themselves. I just don’t remember life without Bowie. He was there and he was good. As I got older, I listened to his records more carefully and found a lot of value in them. And now he is dead.

Who remains in our cultural royalty after Bowie? Who commands the respect Bowie did? Who has his back catalog? Some people have to have the credentials to match Bowie’s, surely? So who are these people? Bob Dylan? Quentin Tarantino? Madonna? Dr. Dre? Thom Yorke?

If Bowie is irreplaceable, what does that tell us about our culture and the place we have arrived at? Is it an Internet thing? Do our stars no longer have the cultural power they once had? I don’t know, but life without Bowie is strange, the reaction to his death was strange, and that huge gap he has left behind is strangest of all.

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It has been a strange year in music for me. At 35, I seem to have admitted to myself, at last, that I am maybe getting a little too old to be going to clubs on a regular basis. Hopefully, something will happen that brings the sort of DJ bars to Tokyo that made England such a pleasure to visit earlier this year, but for now, my vinyl is gathering dust and my disco trousers are at the bottom of the wash basket.

This year also brought streaming to Japan in a big way. As a subscriber to Apple Music, I have found myself wondering what people are talking about when they sow disdain for the service. It’s great for listeners and can hopefully help revitalize the music industry. Having access to basically any album I want to listen to has reacquainted me with a lot of indie, jazz and rock sounds that had sort of fallen of the radar in favor of techno in the last few years.

I also started listening to Gilles Peterson regularly, because my dog loves the show. The Awl’s daily music recommendation has also been a pleasure to follow.

Anyway, in short, my music taste sort of changed. So I made a list of favorite albums and a mix of favorite songs. Here they are:

This album started off unlistenable and irritating, but for some reason I kept listening to it. It has shades of Frank Zappa, and I feel like it should still bug me as some sort of hipster homage to earlier music, but it doesn’t. I really like it.

It’s always nice to see a band revisit their older music and come up with something new. Here, Mercury Rev have made an album that sounds like “Deserter’s Songs,” but in 2015, and by an older and wiser group of musicians.

It’s probably my age, but a lot of the directions electronic music has taken in recent years strike me as self-indulgent noise with little evidence of melody. This album, though, is full of nice pop music, which is what most of the electronic scene was about at one time.

A good stoner album. I have heard people say they find it repetitive and bland. I don’t at all.

There’s not much groundbreaking about this album, but it has some very danceable jazz tracks on it. Sometimes sticking to standards works.

The two tracks on here appear to have been fully sampled from sounds off of YouTube, as that’s what this guy usually does. It’s a quality afrobeat/funk EP, but as it lasts about half an hour, I decided to call it an album.

Also a bit shorter than an album, this includes a couple of songs — “Lone Wolf and Cub” and “Nobody Knows” that are among my favorites of the year. Thundercat became more prominent because of his work with Kendrick Lamarr (see below) and deservedly so. Can’t wait to hear new stuff by him this year.

“Don’t Take My Soul” released in 2014 was beautiful. The entire album takes a similar line, with shoegazy guitar and electronic beats. Hardly anyone seems to have heard of Jane Weaver, which is a shame, because she deserves commercial success.

The keyboard/organ guy from Kendrick Lamarr’s album, Bilal has a bit of a Money Mark feel: His album is at times a bit inconsistent in tone, but somehow it works. Another artist who feels like he is at the start of a flourishing career.

Four Tet is Four Tet. He is good. Listen to him.

Most of these sort of lists I have seen do not have “To Pimp a Butterfly” as the No. 1 album, which is weird. Maybe everyone thought everyone else would put it at the top. It will probably end up being the album of the decade. Hip hop had hit a bit of a dead end because of people such as Kanye West, who seemed to think it was some sort of comic book style genre in which people had to be parodies of themselves and show off. The old ways of rap (Guru, KRS-ONE, Tribe called Quest etc.) seemed dead. Lamar brought them back. He put together an album that musically and lyrically is deep, textured and stands up to repeated listens. And thankfully, there is not a single EDM sample on there.

Two 20-year-old women, twins, are behind this album. The songs are just joyous. The simple beats, minimal jazz, beautiful voices and innocent lyrics suggest Ibeyi are having a good time without a care in the world. It’s just nice, which seems rare these days.

There’s also a mixtape of some of my favorite songs from 2015 here.

Back in early 2011, I had the chance to meet Phillippe Cohen Solal of Gotan Project. The story based on this interview was never run, due to a series of unfortunate events. Gotan Project’s promoter in Japan was not able to bring the band over to perform because of financial difficulties, most importantly. And then the quake struck on March 11, and the article ended up getting lost amid the chaos that followed.

Below is a Q&A with Solal that I wrote before the ill-fated article.

Are Gotan project looking for commercial success? Or something else?

On the first record, there was one tune that was a little bit more housey and written for the dancefloor. My friends all said ‘this is the one, this is the one that will make you guys big,’ but it didn’t make the album. I wasn’t completely happy with the song and so we did not put it on there. Every song on every album we have released is a work I am satisfied with, I do not particularly care if we make the charts.

I would love to work with, say, Madonna or Lady Gaga, though. That could be a lot of fun.

When did you realize you had “made it”?

I remember after we released our first record and my girlfriend came into the bedroom and told me Gilles Peterson was on phone. I told her to go away, I did not believe her. But since then he has been very supportive of us.

What would you consider your main influences?

Actually, I have been DJing since the early 90s, so there are a lot of influences in our records. Of course, disco and the house of Paris – Daft Punk – and then there is tango. We spent time in Buenos Aires and that was a wonderful city, full of music, one of those special places that you cannot help but feel affected by.

You are French, and have a lot of ethnic influences. How do you balance that with your government’s treatment of immigrants?

Of course, what is happening to French politics makes me uncomfortable. Sarkozy will go home at night to his beautiful wife and dance to the music of gypsies, yet he does not want them in his country, and now they are suffering. But on the other hand, we hear about gangs from overseas exploiting immigrants and so that makes the question a difficult one. But from a musician’s perspective, it certainly seems hypocritical.

Do you think Japan has an environment conducive to original music?

There is a lot of diversity in Europe that you cannot see in Japan. And the cities are very … strange. There are so many people and so many huge buildings, and these things can also be an inspiration that can make music sound unique.

The record shops here are special, I can spend hours, days in them. But I do not have the time. I have not had 30 minutes to sit down yet on this visit. If people bought records like I do, then there would be no crisis for the industry. Record labels would probably be bigger than the military industrial complex.

Anything out there musically that you are impressed with at the moment?

Music is always moving forward. When we look at the charts we can sometimes be a little disheartened, but there is always something going on. After we became popular, there were many bands that were imitating our sound, but they did not interest me. In South America now though, there are bands doing really exciting things with tango, movements like this will always push music.

An essay that appears to have been written by Japanese rock icon Kiyoshiro Imawano a few years ago has been popular on the Internet today. He discusses life after earthquakes, Shintaro Ishihara, corruption, the constitution and Japan in general. I thought I’d translate it as it shows the issues being discussed today are nothing new, at least among the more Internationally minded Japanese. And it obviously became popular because of the election. Over to you, Kiyoshiro:

“After a Big One, there will be war. To revive public spirit, the politicians will want something big to talk about on TV. The idiots will try to push the people into a frenzy. Snobbishly, they will try to get all to follow them.

It’s five years since the Kobe Earthquake. I woke up in a room flooded on that day. On the TV I saw there were fires in five areas. I thought soon things would be safe, and closed my eyes again. When I woke up six hours later, Kobe was a sea of fire.

After the Kobe earthquake, what did my country do? It helped big firms do big construction jobs. It did so with money to support the rebuilding of Kobe. The carpenters in the area applied for recovery money, and were ignored. This is my country.

There is one politician. A special politician. He likes to talk about his movie star brother that died. He likes to claim that because he supported his brother, one of the greats of the screen, that he also has a rock n roll aura. He is against America. The more reality pushes against his beliefs, the more he pushes back. He cannot turn around from the place he is staggering toward.

This man is capable of banning rock, and rhythm and blues shows. Politicians, after all, really love law enforcement. I want to enforce a peaceful world.

I sound like a communist, but I am just a rocker. I make music that cannot be bought. It’s not a music that can be studied, I just do what I want. I do not do what I do with personal gain or a plan in mind. I am different to those cheap bastards in politics.

What do they want, betraying and tricking people? What will happen to our budget? Who will decide? If for 100,000 yen you can get so done knocked off, what happens when you are talking about people forking out 10 trillion yen or 100 trillion yen?

That’s this country. That’s Japan. That’s the country I was born and raised in. That’s the country you were born and raised in.

But this country also has a constitution. And in Article 9, can we not see the same beliefs as we saw in John Lennon? It says we should give up war for peace. Are we not like John Lennon? End war. Spread peace. Bring happiness.”

Note: Any comments on issues with the translation would be appreciated, as would any ideas on the essay’s origin.