• A guide to the best Japanese reissues of 2018

    By | November 7, 2018

    From ambient image albums and Studio Ghibli, to post-YMO synth pop and rare J-jazz.

    Though Japanese records have been in demand for years, 2018 has seen a proliferation of reissues and compilations charting the country’s extraordinary musical output, from jazz and city pop to ambient music and the avant garde.

    Emboldened by the success of reissues like Midori Takada’s Through The Looking Glass, Mariah’s Utakata No Hibi and Yasuaki Shimizu’s Kakashi in previous years, labels have starting digging deeper, making fiendishly rare records available to larger audiences outside of Japan for the first time.

    With original ambient records increasingly hard to come by, and major Japanese labels often reluctant to grant reissue licenses internally, labels like WRWTFWW, LAG, Studio Mule, BBE and Light In The Attic have led the way.

    What follows is a brief introduction to some of the incredible Japanese records reissued in 2018. Listen to the podcast recorded live at Soho Radio and read the annotated selections below.


    Haruomi Hosono
    Philharmony
    (Light In the Attic)

    Listen / Buy

    Following the release of gorgeous Japanese compilation Even A Tree Can Shed Tears in 2017, Light In The Attic turned their focus to Haruomi Hosono – the Yellow Magic Orchestra member and eccentric sonic explorer whose career spans almost 50 years and countless genre-defying recordings. In the summer, the label took it upon themselves to reissue five of his most important solo albums, among them the 1982 album Philharmony.


    Hiroshi Sato
    Orient
    (WeWantSounds)

    Listen / Buy

    There’s a story that multi-instrumentalist Hiroshi Sato turned down an offer to be in YMO by Hosono in the late ’70s, with Ryuichi Sakamoto taking his place instead. Had Sato accepted the invitation, we wouldn’t have been treated to Orient, the producer’s 1979 opus that spans ambient electronics, playful exotica, and esoteric synth pop.

    Orient was reissued earlier this year by WeWantSounds, the London and Paris-based label now overseeing the reissue of vocalist and composer Akiko Yano’s idiosyncratic 1981 album Tadaima. Blurring the lines between synth pop and Japan’s playful city pop sound, it features YMO and was co-produced by her then husband Ryuichi Sakamoto.


    Colored Music
    Individual Beauty
    (HMV Japan / Japanism)

    Listen / Buy

    Cult synth duo Colored Music had their self-titled 1981 album reissued this year by WRWTFWW. However, as there’s enough material from the label to fill a list like this alone, it’s the Japanism reissue of Colored Music’s new wave double 12” Individual Beauty that we’re highlighting here.


    MKWAJU Ensemble
    Ki-Motion
    (WRWTFWW)

    Listen / Buy

    And on to WRWTFWW – the label behind Midori Takada’s Through The Looking Glass, and a veritable treasure trove of Japanese ambient and jazz rarities in 2018. While its sister label We Release Jazz put out a brace of Rui Fukui LPs this year, we can’t look beyond the reissue of much sought-after MKWAJU Ensemble LP Ki-Motion, which features Midori Takada on marimba.


    Takashi Kokubo
    A Dream Sails Out To Sea
    (LAG Records)

    Listen / Buy

    Another label that came into its own in 2018 was LAG Records. Awarded our favourite reissue 12” of 2017 for Neo-Plant, it began this year with a reissue of storied Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi’s Kisshō Tennyo, the original score to an ’80s manga comic of the same name. A few months later the label followed it up with Takashi Kokubo’s A Dream Sails Out To Sea – a 1987 image album made for a new range of Sanyo air conditioning units.


    Joe Hisaishi
    My Neighbor Totoro
    (Studio Ghibli)

    Listen / Buy

    Speaking of Hisaishi, in the late summer, we shared the news of nine Studio Ghibli soundtrack reissues from some of the legendary animators most loved films, including My Neighbour Totoro, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Each comes complete with character image albums, song books and symphony versions, and will be released later this month.


    Yasuaki Shimizu
    ReSubliminal
    (HMV Japan / Japanism)

    Listen / Buy

    Another artist whose been on our radar for a few years, and responsible for some of last year’s top reissues (Music For Commercials was one of our favourites), is Yasuaki Shimizu. His zany 1987 solo album Subliminal was recorded in Paris and was reissued by HMV Japan earlier this year, featuring two edits by Chee Shimizu.


    Various Artists
    Kumo No Muko
    (Jazzy Couscous)

    Listen / Buy

    Helmed by two Frenchmen in Tokyo, Jazzy Couscous released one of our favourite compilations of the year in Kumo No Muko, a collection of synth pop, ambient and new age music from ’80s Japan, which features a host of pivotal artists and beautiful artwork by Lucy Harris, who reimagined all of the albums featured as coloured pencil illustrations on the back cover of the album.


    Atalas
    Breeze
    (Studio Mule)

    Listen / Buy

    As well as releasing volumes one and two of their Japanese disco and boogie compilation Midnight In Tokyo, Mule Musiq sub-label Studio Mule reissued Balearic rarity Breeze in 2018, one of three studio albums released by trio Atlas in the 1980s.


    Tohru Aizawa Quartet
    Tachibana
    (BBE)

    Listen / Buy

    It wasn’t all ambient and synth pop however. This year BBE stepped up their efforts to bring a handful of superb Japanese jazz artists back into the spotlight, releasing a compilation of called J-Jazz at the start of the year, as well as Takeo Moriyama’s East Plants and Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s Tachibana. Then a medical student, Aizawa and friends recorded the LP for wealthy businessman Ikujiroh Tachibana in March 1975. Tachibana then used the finished album as a business card, which became one of the rarest Japanese jazz records of all time.


    Kimiko Kasai & Herbie Hancock
    Butterfly
    (Be With Records)

    Listen / Buy

    Our final reissue comes courtesy of genre-hopping Manchester-based label Be With Records, who made the highly sought-after collaboration between Japanese vocalist Kimiko Kasai and Herbie Hancock available once more. Recorded in Tokyo in 1979, it features Kasai’s silken reinterpretations of Herbie classics ‘I Thought It Was You’, ‘Sunlight’ and a timeless version of ‘Butterfly’.

  • Midori Takada’s coveted MKWAJU Ensemble LP MKWAJU reissued for the first time

    By | October 1, 2018

    The first album produced by Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi.

    Maestro percussionist Midori Takada’s 1981 MKWAJU Ensemble LP MKWAJU is being reissued for the first time, via WRWTFWW this November.

    Read more: Midori Takada In Motion: An intimate afternoon with the pioneering Japanese artist

    Although its official release was a few months after KI-Motion, MKWAJU was the first album Takada ever recorded.

    It was produced by storied Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi, best known for his long time collaboration with Hayao Miyazaki’s iconic animation house Studio Ghibli.

    MKWAJU features Takada on marimba, gong, vibraphone, and tom tom, alongisde Hisaishi on synthesisers, as well as Yoji Sadanari and Hideki Matsutake of KI-Motion, Junko Arase, and Pecker.

    According to WRWTFWW, its six tracks move “from colourful dance floor-ready percussion pieces that stand somewhere between proto-techno and experimental synth-pop, to cinematic ambient landscapes and ethereal drone delicacies.”

    The album follows WRWTFWW’s rerelease of Takada’s Through the Looking Glass, one of our favourite reissues of 2017, as well as KI-Motion in June, and Midori Takada’s first new music in over 20 years, Le Renard Bleu.

    Pre-order a copy of MKWAJU here ahead of its 9th November release, listen to an album mini-mix and check out the track list below.

    Tracklist

    1. Mkwaju
    2. Shak Shak
    3. Lemore
    4. Tira-Rin
    5. Pulse In The Mind
    6. Flash-Back

  • Watch our new film Midori Takada: In Motion

    By | August 30, 2018

    An intimate afternoon with the pioneering Japanese artist.

    Tokyo-born composer and musician Midori Takada has always looked at the world differently. In a Coca-Cola bottle, Takada sees a flute. In a rush of blood to the head and pulsating heartbeats, Takada hears percussion. In silence, Takada feels rhythm.

    Though she has been performing and creating music since the 1970s – releasing albums as part of her MKWAJU Ensemble and solo, collaborating with legendary theatre director Tadashi Suzuki, and teaching as a professor of music in Japan – for decades Takada remained relatively unknown to wider audiences.

    Until a few years ago, when the mysterious algorithmic forces of the internet forever changed that. In 2016, a YouTube video of her 1983 album Through The Looking Glass, a cult record among collectors, amassed over 1 million views. That particular upload has since been removed, however a reissue of the album by WRWTFWW shortly afterward fuelled international fervour.

    Since then, Takada has toured across the globe, with additional reissues of her similarly coveted albums – MKWAJU Ensemble’s KI-Motion, and Masahiko Sato collaboration Lunar Cruise.

    As she releases her first new music in twenty years, Le Renard Bleu – a collaborative 20-minute track with Lafawndah inspired by the mythological legend of The Blue Fox, we spent an afternoon with Takada at Union Chapel ahead of her London show.

    Following an intimate rehearsal, Takada spoke with us about her unique approach to sound and performance, what inspires her, and what she would like to teach people about her music.

    A unique visionary, whose work is finally getting the recognition it so long deserved, we’re celebrating her music in its many forms. Watch the film above, look through photographs from the performance at Union Chapel, take a journey through her discography, and delve into Through the Looking Glass in our extended interview.


    All images by Pawel Ptak for The Vinyl Factory.

  • Beyond the looking glass: A journey into the music of Midori Takada

    By | August 30, 2018

    Through The Looking Glass may have exposed Midori Takada to new audiences around the world, but the Japanese composer and percussionist has spent more than forty years recording and performing, leaving a fascinating musical trail in her wake. Here are six entry points, from avant garde jazz collaborations to ambient solo projects.

    Midori Takada’s work has always straddled the worlds of theatre and music. Whether in the percussive dramas she weaves with MKWAJU Ensemble, or the synthesised landscapes of her solo opus Through The Looking Glass, Takada’s music unfolds with the tension and release of Japanese Noh theatre, where sound, costume and gesture play crucial roles in articulating the ritual narratives of the performance.

    On the stage, Takada strikes the same dramatic postures – at one moment a marionette twirling between upright toms, the next, swooping across the marimba, clad in shimmering shozoku-esque outfits.

    As part of our celebration of her work – which includes our film Midori Takada: In Motion, extended interview and photo gallery of a recent performance at Union Chapel in London, we introduce a selection of her most striking musical works as an entry point for those who want to explore beyond the looking glass.


    MKWAJU Ensemble
    KI-Motion
    (Better Days, 1981)

    Listen / Buy

    Taking their name from the drought-resistant tamarind tree (which translates as ‘mkwaju’ in Swahili), the MKWAJU Ensemble showcased some of Takada’s earliest explorations in the percussive exploration of minimalism and African tradition musics. Alongside Junko Arase and Yoji Sadanari, she explores the textures and repetitions of marimba, vibraphone, and bamboo percussion (for which the mallets were often crafted from the mkwaju tree), built into trance-like structures that interlock with the subtle use of synthesisers she would become known for on Through The Looking Glass. An early example of Takada’s pan-global approach to instrumentation, which has recently been reissued for the first time by WRWTFWW.


    MKWAJU Ensemble
    Mkwaju
    (Better Days, 1981)

    Listen / Buy

    Released in the same year as KI-Motion, Mkwaju strikes a more confident tone in the ensemble’s use of rhythmic variation. Tracks like ‘Shak Shak’ strip the instrumentation back to allow the subtle syncopations of the mallets to rise to the fore, while the contrast between ‘Tira-Ran’ and the glacial ‘Pulse In The Mind’ explore the ensemble’s ability to merge and subvert both eastern and western minimalist traditions. The thunderous drama of ‘Flash-Back’ is a fitting overture to the group’s short-lived existence.


    Midori Takada
    Through The Looking Glass
    (RCA, 1983)

    Listen / Buy

    Through The Looking Glass is Midori Takada’s masterpiece, and main entry point for the legion of new listeners beguiled by the post-impressionist surrealism of the cover, the music’s transcendent quality, and a sympathetic quirk of the YouTube algorithm.

    Such is the nature of online musical archeology that context is often hard to come by. Writing in the introduction to an interview with Takada for VF, which you can read here, Paul Bowler picks up the story: “Entering the Aoyama studio in Tokyo on the tightest of budgets and with only an engineer for company, the self-produced Through The Looking Glass was recorded onto analogue tape in just two days using a dizzyingly diverse array of instruments, including marimbas, gongs, chimes, recorders, a reed organ and Coca-Cola bottles which were blown into and played like flutes.

    “In an effort to create music that embodied what she termed “the notion of time and body, of physicality”, she carefully measured the distance between the microphone and each instrument to generate a three-dimensional sound sculpture. Lacking technical knowledge, she relied on a spirit of creative improvisation to facilitate the recording, correcting mistakes with multiple layers of overdub, a process which resulted in its unique sound.”


    Midori Takada & Masahiko Satoh
    Lunar Cruise
    (Epic, 1990)

    Listen / Buy

    The first recorded collaboration between Takada and legendary jazz pianist Masahiko Satoh, Lunar Cruise was released following the pair’s 1989 tour around Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The album begins with the marimba movements that typified MKWAJU Ensemble, before diving head first into the more overtly Middle Eastern-influenced ‘Ancient Palace’, which sees Takada joined by saxophonist Kazutoki Umezu and Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono, who appear sporadically throughout a record that is at once resolutely calm and infectiously danceable. A reissue from WRWTFWW was announced last year.


    Ton•Klami
    Paramggod
    (Ninety-One, 1995)

    Listen / Buy

    The second of three CD-only releases with free jazz group Ton•Klami (the most recent of which was a 1995 recording released in 2017), was produced by Satoh, and brings the saxophones of Kang Tae Hwan and Ned Rothenberg to the fore – layered and dubbing extended horn phrases to create swells of sound that are among the most assertive and voluble of Takada’s canon. Like Mkwaju Ensemble, her work with Ton•Klami speaks to the collaborative nature of her work, and a desire to operate outside of classical structures.


    Midori Takada & Lafawndah
    Le Renard Bleu
    (!K7, 2018)

    Listen / Buy

    Conceived off the back of the unprecedented exposure of Through The Looking Glass, which has brought Takada to international attention, Le Renard Bleu is Takada’s first new release in 20 years, and returns to her fascination with combining Africa and Japanese folk traditions, here united in tales of the fox, and composed over the course of one week at Avaco Creative Studios in Tokyo. Transcending the ambient and improvisational environments of her previous work, the collaboration with artist Lafawndah hears Takada crafting instrumentals using waterphone, bells, marimba and various forms of drums, before Lafawndah adds melodies and lyrics to the single 20-minute recording. The release also explores the theatrical element to Takada’s work through an accompanying film of the same name, directed by Partel Oliva, krump artist Qwenga and photographer CG Watkins.


  • Photo gallery: Midori Takada live at Union Chapel

    By | August 30, 2018

    The Japanese percussionist and composer on stage in London.

    During the making of our new short film Midori Takada: In Motion, we spent the afternoon with the ambient maestro as she prepared for her sold out show at London’s Union Chapel in April 2018.

    An artist for whom the theatricality of sound and vision are crucial, Takada’s performance was shrouded in mist, as she played bells, gongs, toms, marimba, and her now iconic arrangement of standing cymbals to an enraptured audience.

    With light streaming in through the chapel’s stain-glass windows, we captured Takada in full flow during the soundcheck, images from which you can see below.

    A unique visionary, whose work is finally getting the recognition it so long deserved, we’re celebrating her music in its many forms. Head here for more.


    All images by Pawel Ptak for The Vinyl Factory.

  • Through the looking glass with ambient pioneer Midori Takada

    By | August 30, 2018

    The composer and artist behind cult minimalist adventure Through The Looking Glass, Midori Takada opens up about her influences, from Steve Reich and Brian Eno to traditional African and Asian music.

    With the Japanese music industry finally opening up long-closed doors, the last few years has seen a slew of long sought after reissues. None however have been as feverishly anticipated as percussionist Midori Takada’s ambient minimalist masterpiece Through The Looking Glass. Originally released in 1983 by RCA Japan, and given new life by WRWTFWW / Palto Flats, its four-song suite of evocative, pan-global, dreamscapes shares similarities with western contemporaries such as Steve Reich and Jon Hassell yet is invested with Takada’s own starkly original, dreamlike and meditative qualities. Largely ignored on its release, the album built up a reputation as a holy grail of Japanese music over the years, with prices reaching up to $750 for a copy.

    Still very much active today, Takada’s career has typified the questing spirit that defines her masterpiece. She began within the realms of classical music, making her debut in 1978 at the Berlin Philharmonic for the Berlin RIAS Symphonie Orchestra after graduating from Tokyo University Of The Arts. Early disillusionment led to a change in direction. Seeking less overtly emotive forms more conducive to her desire to create a spiritually centred music, she began to study traditional African and Asian styles. She formed Mkwaju Ensemble alongside fellow percussionists Yoji Sadanari and Junko Arase. Their two 1981 albums, Mkwaju and Ki-Motion, delivered a hypnotic, purely percussive sound that synthesised the rhythms of Africa and Asia with those of western minimalism. By turns sparse and riotously danceable, both have become highly collectable in their own right.

    The financial constraints of running an ensemble proved unsustainable however, and Mkwaju were disbanded as Takada sought a career as a solo musician. Entering the Aoyama studio in Tokyo on the tightest of budgets and with only an engineer for company, the self-produced Through The Looking Glass was recorded onto analogue tape in just two days using a dizzyingly diverse array of instruments, including marimbas, gongs, chimes, recorders, a reed organ and Coca-Cola bottles which were blown into and played like flutes. In an effort to create music that embodied what she termed “the notion of time and body, of physicality”, she carefully measured the distance between the microphone and each instrument to generate a three-dimensional sound sculpture. Lacking technical knowledge, she relied on a spirit of creative improvisation to facilitate the recording, correcting mistakes with multiple layers of overdub, a process which resulted in its unique sound.

    Marketed as a contemporary classical album, it struggled to find an audience on release and Takada subsequently embarked on a wildly diverse career that has taken in a number of disciplines. She composed and performed live music for theatre, scored film, anime and game soundtracks, and is part of the free jazz band Ton-Klami. There were two more releases under Takada’s own name; 1990’s Lunar Cruise, a collaboration with legendary jazz pianist and composer Masahiko Satoh, and the 1999 solo outing Tree Of Life. Both releases continued the pan-global rhythmic path begun with Mkwaju Ensemble.

    I met Midori Takada in London at the end of a successful European tour in promotion of 2017’s Through The Looking Glass reissue. The previous night at a sold-out Café Oto had witnessed a mesmerising percussive performance by her that was by turns serene, ceremonial, theatrical, poetic, and thunderously loud. Elegantly dressed in modernist Tokyo style, she was humble and friendly in person. Deep thinking and strongly opinionated on the subject of music, she has an encyclopaedic knowledge garnered through a lifetime of exploration and study. We spoke in English and in Japanese through an interpreter.


    How does it feel to have your works appreciated by a modern audience so long after you first recorded them?

    I think it’s amazing that young people are listening to an album I made 34 years ago. It’s something I really appreciate. All these years later I now realise why I made it.

    In retrospect, the early ’80s seem like the beginning of a golden age for Japanese ambient and minimalist music with classics by you and by contemporaries such as Satoshi Ashikawa, Inoyama Land and Hiroshi Yoshimura released in a short space of time. Did you feel part of a movement or part of something special?

    I didn’t feel part of a mainstream movement. There were a few composers influenced by people like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Brian Eno. It was a time of change though there were very few people involved and we all knew each other. I played vibraphone on Satoshi Ashikawa’s Still Way for example. But it wasn’t just a music scene, it was multi-media including fine arts, architecture, and minimal dance.

    You started off within the realms of western classical music. What were your reasons for switching to minimalism?

    I first realised I needed to find my own music when I had my debut concert with the Berlin Philharmonic. At that moment I realised ‘I can’t be here’: playing in an established concert hall felt wrong. I felt I wanted to be playing music on the street. Later I discovered Asian and African music. It was from such a rich and non-materialist culture. It’s music that denies the materialistic.

    You then studied with traditional African and Asian musicians such as Ghanaian kogyil (xylophone) player Kakraba Lobi, and Korean kayagum (zither) player Chi Soung-Ja. What did you learn from them and how did their teachings affect your music?

    I studied African music by myself at first, because there was no information in Japan about African music. I copied from field recordings on labels like Nonesuch and tried to write scores and rhythms, and I would study the construction of rhythms. I then met Kakraba Lobi in Tokyo, and went to Ghana to play with him. I learned to play with him and learned his theories which gave me confidence about playing African rhythm. Not traditionally but using my own style using African constructions and theories and using Western not African instruments.

    How about Western figures? You’ve said that Steve Reich was a major influence. Were there any other key figures in shaping your sound?

    I often played Steve Reich’s music and got to play with Terry Riley in Tokyo though I was more influenced by Steve Reich, particularly his earliest work such as Clapping Music. I was more influenced by African construction though, which is much more complex than Steve Reich. Steve Reich learned rhythms from the Ghanaian Ewe Tribe and used them in minimalism. I wanted to learn the origins of the rhythms.

    There seems to be a transition from the primarily African rhythms of your work with Mkwaju Ensemble to a more distinctly Asian sensibility with Through The Looking Glass…

    Yes, Through The Looking Glass is primarily my own interpretation of Asian rhythms. The exception was on ‘Crossing’, where the rhythms were inspired by the sound of Japanese train crossings.

    Mkwaju Ensemble seems more dance-orientated to me. There are textures and beats that resemble techno…

    There were no techno influences. People sometimes make that mistake because of the involvement of Hideki Matsutake [prolific computer programmer known for his work with proto-techno outfit Logic System and Yellow Magic Orchestra]. Everything was either from African repetition or from minimalism. How the act of producing music changes your body – that’s what fascinates me. If you use a machine that process won’t happen so I don’t use any machines in my work. The only time I’ve ever used a machine was to record and pick up brain waves and muscle electricity through the synthesiser to make alpha waves. I’m fascinated by how to control your body, not only the outside but the inside as well. I used to do cybernetics, using brain waves and the body. I would use the recorder to pick up blood circulation and make it into sound. Sometimes I would even use a machine with a probe microphone that you would normally use to check the sound of a pregnant woman’s blood circulation and her unborn child’s heartbeat, rhythm and tempo. I used this machine to amplify my own heartbeat and blood circulation on stage with Masahiko Satoh playing piano during a live performance. He hated it!

    You’ve spoken of your desire to produce music without emotion. Do you feel that minimalism suits the Japanese sensibility?

    Well, minimalism was a term that started to be used in the 1960s for fine arts. Japanese tradition doesn’t deny emotion on frown upon emotion. Traditional musicians would put all their emotion into one sound. In that sense minimalism already existed in Japanese music.

    Through The Looking Glass is an incredibly evocative, almost dreamlike listening experience. Was that the effect you were hoping for?

    I certainly didn’t mean to create dreamlike music, maybe it was there subconsciously but that wasn’t what I was looking to achieve at the time. I wanted to make a perspective of sound. It was an analogue recording so I placed microphones in many different places. I tried to create a three dimensional music by controlling the distance of the microphone to create a perspective. As a result it ended up hypnotic or dreamlike as people say.

    You’ve had an incredibly diverse career. Has there been a constant theme or guiding principle? What keeps you exploring and searching?

    Like everyone I needed to work to provide. But there is definitely something that has kept me searching and continues to do so.

    With thanks to Ken Hidaka

    This article was originally published in May 2017.

  • The 10 best new vinyl releases this week (20th August)

    By | August 20, 2018

    With new Midori Takada, Blood Orange, Mitski and more.

    This week sees the return of Japanese maestro Midori Takada with her first new record in 20 years, boogie-centric modern soul from the Hawaiian islands, and tropical drum incantations courtesy of Düsseldorf’s finest.

    On the albums front, highlights include Specter serving up booty house for his debut full-length, Mitski returning with playful pop meets melancholia, and a long-awaited reissue of Gboyega Adelaja’s afro-disco holy grail.

    Scroll down for our definitive across-the-board rundown of the week’s new vinyl releases as selected by The Vinyl Factory’s Chris Summers, Patrick Ryder and James Hammond with help from Norman Records. 5 singles and 5 LPs every 7 days that are unmissable additions to any collection.


    Singles


    Midori Takada & Lafawndah

    Le Renard Bleu

    (!K7 Records)

    Listen / Buy

    If the reissue of Midori Takada’s debut KI-Motion album didn’t adequately perk your percussive passions, or even if it did, you’re in luck! Because she’s back, releasing her first new music in 20 years. Composed over the course of one week at Avaco Creative Studios in Tokyo, Takada crafted the instrumentals using waterphone, bells, marimba and various forms of drums, with Lafawndah then adding melodies and lyrics to the 20 minute recording. The collaboration is well worth repeated listens. We’re also seriously holding out for an instrumental version, where Takada rides solo once more.


    Frnt Bznzz

    ‘Cool It Pump the Breaks’

    (Aloha Got Soul)

    Listen / Buy

    Aloha Got Soul has been doing a fine job of highlighting under-heard musicians from Hawaii, and here they turn away from a wealth of archival material to focus on the present, with Frnt Bznzz’s first 7” single. Son of legendary percussionist Carlinhos de Pandeiro, Frnt Bznzz has the same flair for rhythm. Keeping things boogie-centric, he brings a sound that is decidedly different from the new age connotations and tropical soul flavours which the Hawaiian Islands are commonly associated with.


    Jack White

    ‘Ice Station Zebra

    (Third Man Records)

    Listen / Buy

    Jack’s third single sees him going full gonzo over a rocking break beat, a killer riff, pianos, synths and a bass-line RZA would love. Yeah it’s pretty crazy, but that’s what we want from Detroit’s own Willy Wonka. Right?


    Various Artists

    Mogul Vier

    (Themes For Great Cities)

    Listen / Buy

    Arne Bunjes’ excellent TFGC imprint drop the fourth edition of their Mogul series this week, reminding us that Düsseldorf does things differently, thanks to four leftfield dancers from their impressive roster. Regular contributors Stabil Elite start the party with the maximal dance floor psychedelia of ‘Snack Jam’, a heady journey through warehouse acid, NYC disco and NJ house which should tear the club apart. Next up, new school heroes Phaser Boys hit us with an entheogenic excursion into Street Sounds electro, before tropical drummer Wolf Müller engages in more paradisiacal percussion music. Last but not least, the Aiwo Posse power into your life with a totally tropical breakbeat trance dance which should mix nicely into that Plez record you’ve got at home.


    Jerry Paper

    ‘Your Cocoon’

    (Stones Throw)

    Listen / Buy

    Jerry Paper is not his real name of course. This is the Stones Throw debut from Lucas Nathan, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who will appeal if you adore the likes of Homeshake, Mac DeMarco and Mild High Club. Wooze pop at its wobbliest.


    LPs


    Specter

    Built To Last

    (Sound Signature)

    Listen / Buy

    Specter aka Andres Ordones has been producing shimmering, Detroit-style productions for over 20 years, but Built To Last marks his first full length proper, and boy oh boy does it deliver. Released on Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature, Specter serves up a mighty helping of what can best described as booty house. Best prepare thy asses and minds for the bass machinations that will be powering dance floors through autumn and beyond.


    Blood Orange

    Negro Swan

    (Domino)

    Listen / Buy

    What a week for Domino, with Dev Hynes keeping Animal Collective off this list. Although not released on vinyl until earlier October, it would be remiss not to mention the latest Blood Orange album, which Hynes describes as “an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of colour.” Soulful early singles ‘Charcoal Baby’ and ‘Jewelry’ (with stunning videos to match) pointed towards Negro Swan being one of the year’s essential releases, and the full album doesn’t disappoint.


    Gboyega Adelaja

    Colourful Environment

    (Odion Livingstone)

    Listen / Buy

    In terms of reissues, Livingstone Studio have certainly delivered the goods this week, as Gboyega Adelaja’s funk and disco heavy debut is made available again for the first time since 1979. With original copies of this all killer no filler effort trading for “holy grail” prices, this is a much needed reissue that puts to shame all those unnecessary legacy editions that typically clog up pressing plants. A staple of the Lagos scene at the time and having toured with the likes of Parliament Funkadelic and Herbie Hancock, Adelaja and co. managed to pack this LP full of seriously addictive grooves, weaving a tapestry of guitar, brass and synth lines around a floor-moving formula.


    Mitski

    Be The Cowboy

    (Dead Oceans)

    Listen / Buy

    Pitching the joke of melancholy perfectly, Mitski’s fifth album is a series of playful pop moments that give humour to the big themes dominating the album. Her lyrics are daring, and often comical (check ‘Me and My Husband’), the music extravagant and buoyant.


    Thee Oh Sees

    Smote Reverser

    (Castle Face)

    Listen / Buy

    From the first few tracks you begin to think John Dwyer’s crew have gone all ELP with the Hammond thumping away in the background, but you soon realise it’s business as usual. The record also boasts one of the best sleeves of the year.

  • 10 new albums to look out for in August

    By | August 3, 2018

    Next month’s wantlist.

    We’ve combed through the pre-orders, promos and release listings so that you don’t have to, showcasing a diverse selection of music from our favourite artists and labels, alongside newcomers we think you need to hear.

    With festivals and summer holidays in full swing, August can sometimes be a quiet month for releases, but not so this month. Anticipated and under the radar electronic music comes from Helena Hauff, Djrum and Ramzi, there’s a striking collaboration between Lafawndah and Japanese ambient queen Midori Takada, and Domino Recordings unleash two introverted and expressive albums from Tirzah and Blood Orange.


    Helena Hauff

    Qualm

    (Ninja Tune)

    Listen / Pre-order

    Due: 3rd August

    According to techno electro doyenne Helena Hauff, on new record Qualm she is “trying to create something powerful without using too many instruments and layers”. One only needs to look as far as its first two singles ‘Qualm’ and ‘No Qualms’ – for evidence that her mission was very much accomplished. A record that grows on you with each listen, in case its sonics weren’t enough to perk your joy-o-meter, fellow science geeks rejoice. Qualm also features various nods to her sound, physics and acoustics background amongst its 12-tracks: ‘Entropy Created You And Me’, ‘btdr-revisted’, and ‘Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’. Read our new interview with Helena Hauff here.


    Tirzah

    Devotion

    (Domino)

    Listen / Pre-order

    Due: 10th August

    Channeling lo-fi soul and UK RnB, the long awaited debut LP from South London-based singer Tirzah has finally arrived, and it does not disappoint. Written and produced in collaboration with Michachu, Devotion weaves the influences of Al Green, Barry White and D’Angelo into garage and grime, to create a heartrending future classic – an album that will warm the souls of even the most jaded among us.


    Autechre

    NTS Sessions

    (Warp)

    Listen / Pre-order

    Due: 13th August

    A 12xLP Autechre box set featuring 8-hours of new music should need no introduction. Presented as part of their month-long NTS Radio residency, the new music will also be available as individual LPs. However, it’s the collected edition that has piqued our interest. Featuring artwork by Designer’s Republic, the one-time pressing will be housed in a rigid slip-case and feature foiled-blocked monochrome design.


    Mitski

    Be The Cowboy

    (Dead Oceans)

    Listen / Pre-order

    Due: 17th August

    With her breakout album Puberty 2 one of our ten favourite records of 2016, anticipation around Be The Cowboy is high in the VF office, and what we’ve heard so far doesn’t disappoint. Retaining the raw emotion of that previous effort, there’s a grander feel already, with Mitski embodying strong female characters. As the liner notes describe: “The self-abasement of desire is strewn across these 14 songs as our heroine seeks out old lovers for secret trysts that end in disappointment, and cannot help but indulge in the masochistic pleasure of blowing up the stability of long-term partnership.” It’s going to be a wild ride.


    Specter

    Built To Last

    (Sound Signature)

    Pre-order

    Due: 17th August

    Specter aka Andres Ordones has been producing shimmering, Detroit-style productions for over 20 years, but Built To Last marks his first full length proper, and boy oh boy does it deliver. Released on Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature, Specter serves up a mighty helping of what can best described as booty house. Best prepare thy asses and minds for the bass machinations that lie in wait, this one will be powering dance floors through autumn and beyond.


    Ramzi

    Phobiza “Amor Fati” Vol. 3

    (FATi Records)

    Listen / Pre-order

    Due: 17th August

    Though its cover might make you think you’re about to listen to ambient acid-bat-rat field squarks and squeaks, what lies in store on the third instalment of Ramzi’s Phobiza “Amor Fati” Vol. 3 is a different story. According to Ramzi, aka Phoebé Guillemot, Phobiza is a mythological island locale filled with flora, fauna and animals of all varietals. Consider it a hazy suite of tropical-hued, electronic zips and zings, that will see you through long summer days into blissed out emerald twilights.


    Djrum

    Portrait With Firewood

    (R&S)

    Listen / Pre-order

    Due: 17th August

    UK producer Djrum returns to his childhood training in jazz to craft a soulful, rhythmically complex album for R&S, that veers between tribal percussion, avant garde breakdowns and syncopated techno. Deeply textured and expressive, Portrait With Firewood also sees Djrum nod to the influence of performance artist Marina Abramović, borrowing the title from one of her works and attempting to convey what he sees as her “deep understanding of the human condition.” The Michael Mitsas artwork is also top.


    Anna Meredith

    ANNO

    (Moshi Moshi)

    Listen / Pre-order

    Due: 17th August

    Coming off the back of her acclaimed album Varmints (and a brace of EP releases with VF – Black Prince Fury and Jet-Black Raider), classically trained electronic explorer Anna Meredith turns her attention to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Weaving her own original compositions into the fabric of the iconic work, Meredith promises to create “experimental, utterly fresh partner pieces to sit alongside Vivaldi’s original compositions.” Based on her work so far, we’re excited to hear this one in full.


    Midori Takada & Lafawndah

    Le Renard Bleu

    (!K7 Records)

    Listen / Pre-order

    Due: 24th August

    If the reissue of Midori Takada’s debut KI-Motion album didn’t adequately perk your percussive passions, or even if it did, you’re in luck! Because she’s back, releasing her first new music in 20 years. Composed over the course of one week at Avaco Creative Studios in Tokyo, Takada crafted the instrumentals using waterphone, bells, marimba and various forms of drums, with Lafawndah then adding melodies and lyrics to the 20 minute recording. The collaboration is well worth repeated listens. We’re also seriously holding out for an instrumental version, where Takada rides solo once more.


    Blood Orange

    Negro Swan

    (Domino)

    Listen / Pre-order

    Due: 24th August

    What a month for Domino, with Tirzah and Dev Hynes keeping both Animal Collective and Anna Calvi off this list. Although not released on vinyl until earlier October, it would be remiss not to mention the latest Blood Orange album, which Hynes describes as “an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of colour.” Soulful early singles ‘Charcoal Baby’ and ‘Jewelry’ (with stunning videos to match) point towards Negro Swan being one of the year’s essential releases.

  • Midori Takada releases first new music in 20 years

    By | July 9, 2018

    A collaborative EP with Lafawndah.

    Japanese percussionist and composer Midori Takada has unveiled her first new music in 20 years, a single-track EP called Le Renard Bleu, out digitally today ahead of its vinyl release in August.

    Read more: Through the looking glass with ambient pioneer Midori Takada

    Le Renard Bleu, which translates to the Blue Fox, is inspired by Japanese and Senagalese folktales about the animal.

    Composed over the course of one week at Avaco Creative Studios in Tokyo, Takada crafted the instrumentals using waterphone, bells, marimba and various forms of drums, with Lafawndah then adding melodies and lyrics to the 20 minute recording.

    The EP will be released by !K7’s white label this August, and is accompanied by a film of the same name directed by Partel Olivia.

    Takada’s previous releases have achieved cult status among collectors thanks to their scarcity and hefty price tag. However, reissues of some of Takada’s most coveted albums have helped her music reach wider audiences once more.

    Last year, WRWTFWW reissued Takada’s seminal Through The Looking Glass LP, one of our favourite reissues of 2017. In June, WRWTFWW reissued the debut album from Takada’s MKWAJU Ensemble, called KI-Motion, for the first time.

    Pre-order a copy of Le Renard Bleu here ahead of its 24th August release and watch the video above.

  • Japanese percussionist Midori Takada’s debut MKWAJU Ensemble LP reissued for the first time

    By | April 13, 2018

    An essential from the golden age of Japanese ambient.

    MKWAJU Ensemble’s 1981 album KI-Motion has been remastered for its first ever reissue via WRWTFWW Records.

    Read more: Through the looking glass with ambient pioneer Midori Takada

    Led by maestro composer and musician Midori Takada, MKWAJU Ensemble released two records that year – KI-Motion followed by the self-titled MKWAJU LP.

    According to WRWTFWW, KI-Motion “takes its conceptual inspiration from the tamarind (‘mkwaju’ in Swahili), a drought resistant tree notably used to craft some of the first mallets and marimbas but also known for its culinary and medical uses, an essential symbol of life and identity for the Central African grasslands.”

    Capturing the birth of Takada’s exploration of ambient, African rhythms, and minimalism, the album features marimba, bamboo percussion, synthesisers and vibraphone.

    Two years later, Takada released her seminal solo LP Through The Looking Glass, which was reissued in 2017 by WRWTFWW and one of our favourite records of the year.

    KI-Motion has been remastered from the original recordings, and cut at Emil Berliner Studios.

    Pre-order a copy of KI-Motion here ahead of its 22nd June release, and check out the track list below.

    Tracklist

    1. Wood Dance
    2. Maximum
    3. Ki-Motion
    4. Angwora Steps
    5. Hot Air
    6. Zindo Zindo

  • An introduction to 10 of Japan’s best independent record labels

    By | December 29, 2017

    Featuring homegrown talents, imported funkiness, Okinawa bass and everything in between.

    More than any other year in recent memory, 2017 saw a remarkable number of quality Japanese records released, both new and old.

    Fittingly, our favourite music of the year lists were filled with Nippon’s finest, from fresh LPs like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s async to reissues like Midori Takada’s Through The Looking Glass to soundtracks like Jun Fukamachi’s Nicole Spring/Summer ’86.

    Whether this was because Japanese musicians broke through the mainstream radar thanks to computer algorithms, or whether this was because of the sheer volume of incredible albums and EPs released by Japanese musicians in 2017 remains to be seen.

    But what are record lovers in Japan listening to?

    To give an insider’s view we tapped producer Sugai Ken, who released his atmospheric electroscape UkabazUmorezU this autumn on RVNG Intl.

    Here Ken shares his 10 favourite independent Japanese labels. Let us know what your picks are in the comments below.


    17853 Records

    Location: Tokyo
    Known for: Experimental, ambient, new age, reissues

    Record diggers, domestically and internationally, have immense faith in the online record store, Organic Music, run by Chee Shimizu. Recently, he introduced Japanese ’80s music before it caught on internationally. He has an aesthetic ear when it comes to music, and we should all be paying close attention to the releases.


    Altzmusica

    Location: Osaka
    Known for: Experimental, synth-pop, house, techno, imports

    Osaka prides itself on the label run by the genius Altz. It has an extensive collection of music, having released DJ Iryoku and aSYmMedley, as well as other remarkable Japanese artists like the Idjut Boys. His movements are always being checked out by music freaks.


    Black Smoker Records

    Location: Tokyo
    Known for: Japanese abstract and hip-hop

    A label that for a long time brought in tremendous titles from the Japanese underground scene. The high anonymity in its label image combined with music that is “black” and “sharp” makes it unlike any other. Many followers are born through the label’s unwillingness to compromise or change its DIY approach.


    El Folclore Paradox

    Location: Kanagawa
    Known for: Intergalactic folklore from the future

    El Folclore Paradox is run by DJ Shhhhh who runs Original Groove, and is a combination of traditionally handed-down music with the latest trends in electronic music. As one of the DJs who represented Japan between 2000 to 2010, his emerging label has quickly garnered attention from many music lovers.


    EM Records

    Location: Osaka
    Known for: Genre-mixing that spans experimental, jazz, blues, classical music, rock, traditional and dance; imports

    Life has its glories and falls, but EM Records is one of the few labels from Japan that has consistently impacted the world for close to 20 years. Based on being able to “sniff” out extraordinary sound, the label has continuously presented astonishing music that is recognised and ever praised.


    Slow Motion Replay (aka SMR)

    Location: Tokyo
    Known for: Balearic, electronic, disco, edits and reissues

    By re-editing without rules, this Japanese dance music label expands balearic grooves with creativity that excites DJs and crowds, and brings on a playful mood. Not caught in the norm, they are relied on and trusted by many DJs and crowds alike.


    Japan Overseas

    Location: Osaka
    Known for: Avant-garde and new releases distributed largely via mail-order

    With over 57 releases, Japan Overseas is an Osaka-based label that sent off Japanese avant-garde music to the world.


    Bud Ryukyu (aka Churashima Navigator)

    Location: Okinawa
    Known for: Bass music with traditional Ryuku influences

    Churashima Navigator transmits bass music from Okinawa into the rest of the world, with a foundation of heavy rhythm and roots taken from the Japanese Ryukyu culture. It has already established a reputation for itself with dancehall music fans in Japan, gradually spreading in popularity to an international audience as well.


    Newdubhall

    Location: Tokyo
    Known for: Experimental dub

    Newdubhall launched as an experimental dub label in 2017. The first record they released had a vintage sound, that had space between the acoustics which brought about a particular intensity. There are high expectations on this label from various groups as they go deeper into their music.


    Wonderful Noise

    Location: Osaka
    Known for: Left-field dance music

    Music producers whose only rules are to avoid operating by any pre-conceived images of what the dance music scene should be, and to keep producing good quality music. They are deeply involved with artists from New Zealand, overflowing with innovative crossover funkiness, and have a very strong fan base.


  • Ethereal ambient meets drone in Lobster Theremin founder’s new album

    By | October 27, 2017

    An intimate one-take record, for fans of Midori Takada’s Mkwaju Ensemble sonics.

    Lobster Theremin founder Jimmy Asquith is releasing the debut LP under his Tom Hang alias, this December on sub-label Tidy Bedroom.

    To Be Held In A Non Position explores “extended themes of isolation, loneliness, personal loss, disconnection and reconnection with reality and (self)-identity,”  shares Asquith.

    A melded recording, captured in a single take at The Post Office Hotel in Melbourne, though it is separated into 12-tracks the LP is a sublime and unique album best listened to as a whole.

    To Be Held In A Non Position is out 15th December. Pre-order a copy here, listen to audio clips and check out the track list below.

    Tracklist

    A1. Tibetan Crash
    A2. Theme For B======
    A3. Everything Is Ending
    A4. Intel
    A5. Hiya
    B1. The Calling
    B2. Everybody Left Behind
    B3. Open Sanctions
    B4. Please
    B5. Love Song For Hammer
    B6. All Lost & Forgotten Woes
    B7. The Calling (Reprise)

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