Saturday, 29 August 2009

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Technodelic (1981)

With noted electronic composer Ryuichi Sakamoto's first band, Yellow Magic Orchestra, you could always be sure that each album would bring something new and thought-provoking. From 1978-1983 YMO consistently broke new ground, beginning as the Eastern-mode equivalent of Kraftwerk (but more inspired by 8-bit videogame music and the classical training of their respective members), going on to pioneer electropop and finishing on a high note with 'Naughty Boys' - probably the only J-Pop album that is essential listening - which made them huge stars in China of all place (having already become more of a 'Japanese Beatles' than even the Spiders ever were).

Sakamoto (keyboards) went on to collaborate with just about
everybody and win Oscars, Haruomi Hosono (bass) and Yukihiro Takahashi (drums) maintained electro-god status in the Far East; in a way they were a pre-emptive super group. On top of that YMO were the first Japanese band to aspire to, and attain, worldwide acclaim and influence; the shared vocal duties were multi-lingual (Korean, Chinese, French, and English lyrics written in collaboration with Chris Mosdell) displaying a desire to break down perfunctory international barriers that have no place in music. They even got on Soul Train with their hit cover version of the anything-but-tight 'Tighten Up'! You'll find it's actually nigh-on impossible to listen to classic hip-hop or the various nascent dance musics of the 80's without hearing YMO samples...

This album, 'Technodelic', is their fourth, which as well as being a marked development from their first two bonafide classics (I don't have the third) is probably my personal favourite.
It's well known amongst DJs and dance pioneers as being one of the first albums to make extensive use of samplers, and I don't mean just a drum break or the odd bit of speech. On 'Technodelic' you can hear the beginnings of the ethno-funk, anything-from-anywhere-goes style that Sakamoto is famed for, but it's not the whole story. This one is darker in places, with a wider palette than anything YMO had previously attempted, but it retains that sense of playfulness that makes them SO much fun to listen to; and the whole thing's propped up on the prodigious playing skills of the trio.
I first encountered Yellow Magic Orchestra (a name one assumes is tongue-in-cheek) upon reading a magazine review of all the newly-remastered albums back in 2004. It timed in perfectly with a borderline-Japanophile phase and my discovery of the African polyrhythms of Talking Heads, and I ended up getting four Why 'Em Ohs on CD. This is ripped at 320kbps but I couldn't be bothered to scan the artwork, sorry. If anybody demands it I'd happily oblige however!


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