In the 70’s and 80’s, the Japanese music industry was remarkably ambitious. Artists were making progressive leaps by combining New Wave, Synth, Jazz, Rock and Folk elements from the East and West. These efforts, which would have been considered avant-garde or niche to Western audiences of the time, were embraced in the Japanese mainstream, allowing for big-budget studio productions and generous helpings of creative freedom during an era of rapid growth for the Japanese economy.
Only recently have Western tastemakers and trendsetters caught on to the treasure-trove of sound that was made during this time. Globe-hopping DJ’s and vinyl-hunters are credited with sort of “uncovering” a lot of these works in the past few years, but we’ve also seen big names like Mac Demarco directly cite the sounds (and image) of Haruomi Hosono, which certainly inspired a lot of Pitchfork-types to delve deeper into this seemingly untapped vein.
Now, a quick search on Youtube will send you down a rabbit hole of awe-inspiring music featuring Hosono, Miharu Koshi, and to bring me to the point of this piece, the work of Yasuaki Shimizu, whose group, Mariah, and their penultimate release, 1983’s Utakata No Hibi, are the source of the track we are gathered here to appreciate.
Honoring the creative renaissance of that time, Richmond’s Opin have brought us their glorious arrangement of the Matsuri (festival) song, “Shinzo No Tobira,” from their forthcoming Drifters EP recorded in Philadelphia this summer with Jeff Zeigler.
Ethan Johnstone’s drums stay propulsive throughout as vocalist Tori Hovater sings the title’s English translation, “My Life is Big”, and the interlocking melodies of Landis Wine’s guitar and Jon Hawkins’ synthesizer hypnotically march forward. The track stands as a great homage to the spirit of the original while showcasing the band’s distinctive and confident sound, previously heard on their 2017 self-titled release. It is marvelous celebration of music, just as a Matsuri should be, and I would hope that it also provides a gateway to an era of Japanese music that many sheltered Westerners, including myself, are only just beginning to discover.
The EP does not have a solid release date yet, but this early offering promises it will be a great listen once it arrives in 2018.