Rare Japanese Album Reissues You Might Have Missed
We train our gaze on some of the best Japanese records reissued in the past few years - including some ones you may have missed first time around.
As 2019 drew to a close, we took a break from stuffing our faces with mince pies to muse on the year just passed. Amidst all the ‘Old Town Road’s and ‘No Home Record’s, something stood out to us - we’d stocked an unusually high amount of records by Japanese artists that year.
Now, of course there is always tonnes of great music being made in Japan. However, it’s certainly notable how much focus record labels have trained on the country in recent times - to our knowledge there are far more records from Japanese artists being released on Western labels than there were even a handful of years ago.
The reissues game has been particularly kind to musicians from the Land Of The Rising Sun. Indeed, you may well already have spent some time with popular collections like Light In The Attic’s ‘Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990’ or any of the numerous new editions to emerge from the Yellow Magic Orchestra archives, all of which have proven to be extremely popular releases over the past couple of years.
Indeed, there’s an argument that those records have somewhat hogged the spotlight, preventing other equally worthy reissues from getting the attention that they deserve. As such, we thought we’d give some shine to some great overlooked Japanese reissues - and the labels who are driving this scene forward - as well as drawing your attention to a couple of exciting new releases.
Japan has long been one of the global centres for psychedelic rock. Bands like Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. are well-known for their commitment to all things far-out, and psychedelic principles also inform the work of prominent Japanese artists like Boredoms and OOIOO. P. S. F. Records have seen it all - from their base in Tokyo the Psychedelic Speed Freaks have long fronted some of the best freaky-deaky riffery that the country has to offer. LP boxset ‘Tokyo Flashback’ is proof of their pulling-power. Compiled by Ghost’s Masaki Batoh, P. S. F. managed to score almost two-dozen tunes from the likes of High Rise, White Heaven and Keiji Haino for this comprehensive collection.
WRWTFWW Records describe themselves as ‘insanely happy’ to reissue Yoshio Ojima’s 1988 album ‘Une Collection des Chaînons I and II: Music for Spiral’. That’s pretty happy! WRWTFWW are something of an authority on reissues, Japanese or otherwise, so if they’re excited about something then it’s guaranteed to be worth a listen. The two parts of ‘Une Collection des Chansons’ - also released as separate vinyl editions as well as this double-CD set - are landmark volumes in the history of Japanese discrete music. Think Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient 1: Music For Airports’ as reimagined by Midori Takada, herself a longstanding WRWTFWW favourite.
Japanese jazz has been given particularly special attention by the new reissues glut - and when it comes to toe-tappin’, horn-tootin’ tunes, Studio Mule are perhaps the best diggers out there. An offshoot of house label Mule Musiq, Studio Mule have forged a particularly strong relationship with the boutique jazz imprint Johnny’s Disk Record. One of the best JDR tomes that the Mule gang have got their hands on is ‘Gogo Sanji No Aki’, a 1982 collaboration between Mayumi Sonoda and the Kichiru Sugino Trio. A set of smoky, sultry jazz songs, Sonoda’s husky voice and choice to sing in English makes ‘Gogo Sanji No Aki’ a rare delight - so rare, in fact, that there is nothing from the record on YouTube!
‘DJ Nobu Presents Beyond Space And Time 001’ inverts the dynamic of the other releases in this list. Rather than a western label combing the archives of a Japanese artist, here we find the esteemed Japanese techno selector kicking off Rainbow Disco Club’s ‘Beyond Space And Time’ series with a set of tracks that are never far from his record bag. Cuts from Pan Sonic, Laurent Garnier and Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia are among DJ Nobu’s picks.
We could probably do this whole feature just on Light In The Attic releases if we were so inclined. Masters of the reissues game for several years now, the label have been at the forefront of this new Japanese wave. One of their most important collections is 2017’s ‘Even A Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973’, a compilation that they claim is the first of its kind. The nineteen tracks here shine a light on musicians of the period who embraced the contemporaneous British/American folk boom. The results are stunning.
No discussion of modern Japanese electronic music can pass over the contributions of Susumu Yokota. His influence is particularly felt on ambient and house music - genres he combined, Orb-style, on cult classics like ‘Acid Mt. Fuji’ - and he put out records at prolific clip throughout the 90s and 00s. Sadly passing away in 2015, the fifth anniversary of Yokota’s death was marked by the release of the previously-unheard LP ‘Cloud Hidden’. A set of potent, billowing avant-garde electronics and fourth-world compositions, fans of Visible Cloaks and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith will certainly appreciate the singular genius of Yokota’s music.
Atlas’ 1987 LP ‘Breeze’ is a record as dreamy as its title suggests. The third and final album from the group of keyboardist Hiroyuki Namba, arranger Eiji Kawamura and studio musician Toshiro Imaizumi, ‘Breeze’ wafts along in a manner not dissimilar to fellow Japanese synth-pop legends Dip In The Pool. Balearic, beatific and brilliant, ‘Breeze’ is as floaty-light as any shoegaze records you’ll hear from the same time while also delivering a ghost of City Pop’s synthetic sheen.
BBE have been on the Japanese jazz wave for a minute now - their popular J-Jazz series should be proof enough on that front. However, reissues like ‘Stop Over’ prove that the label are very much in it for the love. A 1976 LP by the slightly-confusingly-named Hideto Sasaki - Toshiyuki Sekine Quartet +1, ‘Stop Over’ is a collection of hyped-up hard-bop that must have left the players with shredded fingers after they laid it down.
Remember how we said that Studio Mule tended to handle the jazz stuff while Mule Musiq concentrated on house? Well the two seem to have got a bit mixed up on ‘Feel My Love Vibes’. You see, this 1992 EP from Yukihiro Fukutomi is very much one for the DJs, its delightfully deep house groove skipping along with the buoyancy similar to what (Matthew) Herbert was doling out around the same time. The Studio Mule reissue is faithful to the original pressing, meaning that you get four mixes of ‘Feel My Love Vibes’ to play around with here.
We told you that Light In The Attic were good at this, didn’t we. One of the label’s key releases of the past few years is ‘Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1976-1986’, an extensive compilation that has done more than perhaps any other to further the City Pop boom. The label are now readying a second volume, and its sixteen tracks promise an even deeper dive into this chic, surprisingly malleable sound. ‘Pacific Breeze 2…’ also contains extensive blurbs on all of the featured artists, which is unsurprising really - Light In The Attic are completists to the last.
WEWANTSOUNDS is another of those labels that has been at the forefront of the Japanese reissues resurgence. This lot tend not to deal in jazz, instead focussing on the synthetic innovations of the 70s and 80s - they’ve been on a great run of records from off-kilter popstar Akiko Yano, and also given new life to tomes from Yellow Magic Orchestra members Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi. However, possibly the most intriguing of all their reissues is a record from a group with just a single entry in their discography. Film/TV composer Kentaro Haneda cobbled together a group of session musicians for his 1977 LP ‘The Adventures Of Kindaichi Kosuke’, an album based on the escapades of fictional detective Kindaichi Kosuke. Under the name of The Mystery Kindaichi Band, Haneda and his gang cooked up an album of charmingly quixotic disco-funk numbers.
Of course, Japan has always been a world-leader when it comes to video games. Video game soundtracks being released on vinyl is a relatively new phenomenon, but the past few years have seen a huge surge in pressings of gaming music both old and new. There are few places to dive in better than the OST for Konami’s seminal ‘Metal Gear Solid’, released here in a package that includes Rika Muranaka’s ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ - an original song composed specially for the game.
Everyone’s been getting very excited about the recent run of vinyl pressings for Joe Hisaishi’s Studio Ghibli soundtracks. And why wouldn’t you - Hisaishi’s stirring, classicist scoring has become synonymous with the work of this beloved animation studio. We’ve got not one, not two, but three versions of Hisaishi’s compositions for 1997’s ‘Princess Mononoke’ available. Have a look and see which out of the ‘Soundtrack’, ‘Symphonic Suite’ and ‘Image Album’ (that’s one with special new artwork) takes your fancy.
And after all that looking back, let’s now turn our attention to the here and now. The Japanese indie and punk scenes are in rude health at the moment, something testified by recent LPs from CHAI and Otoboke Beaver. Morr Music’s ‘Minna Miteru’ compilation looks to provide an extensive overview on the scene from folks on the ground - Saya, a member of local legends Tenniscoats, is one of the driving forces behind this album. Dustin Wong and Tenniscoats themselves both feature, but part of the fun of ‘Minna Miteru’ is how it will open your ears to a bunch of amazing artists you might otherwise never have heard of.