Sunday, January 29, 2012

JAM DESHO: Takumi - Meat the Beat

By Steve Jones.

It's time for a ~Samsonite Samurai Sunday~ with me, your Samsonite Samurai.  Today, I want to tell you about a curiosity from 1983: Takumi's Meat the Beat.

An internet search doesn't reveal a lot of information about this record.  It appears to be the first and only LP by Takumi, full name Takumi Iwasaki.  It was released on the Sound Design Records label, who also produced most of the material from Jullan, a Japanese synth pop outfit similar to Yellow Magic Orchestra.  And that's about it.

What I can glean from the album, however, is that Takumi was quite the visionary and talented electronic music producer.  From a technical standpoint, the variety of sounds and their applications makes no two songs sound remotely alike.  And while I would not call this "world music" in the way the term is most commonly understood, the international set of influences I hear is impressive.  Meat the Beat is perhaps unmistakably Japanese in its playful and unique refraction of sounds from other countries.  The YMO-style fun synth pop sound is met with New Wave, post-punk, krautrock, and even a little opera.  I also love Takumi's voice, which has an almost Yukihiro Takahashi-like timbre in many places.  Overall, it's smooth and expressive, and for those of you who don't care for lyrics in Japanese, the only songs which aren't in English are sung in German.

The entire record is a fascinating look into accessible avant-pop, and side A ends strong with "Reproduced Functionalist" and "A Cloudy Sky in my Yard," but side B is where things really pick up.  "Myron" is a true highlight of '80s pop.  The song is driven by some killer drums, but it also features Zappa-esque melodic and rhythmic breakdowns, record scratching, pseudo-spoken word with multiple narrators, and synth horns.  "Days of Romance" surprises by being quite sincere and beautiful.  Strings, a chiptune solo, and an emotional refrain add some depth to an otherwise still catchy track.  The climax of the album for me is "Dear Dori..."  It takes so many unexpected turns--alternately whimsical and wistful, unhinged and restrained, cacophonous and sonorous, chamber and dancehall--that it just needs to be heard.  "Mein Schatz" straddles that line between post-punk and new wave, which makes the final track all the more jarring.  Eschewing the perfectly cheesy '80s drum beats and synth pop production of the rest of the album, "Wave Over And" functions as an atmospheric piano piece, using various sound samples to back up pleasantly heavy chords.

Meat the Beat is exactly the kind of music I like to hear.  It's familiar, I can trace where it comes from, but it still surprises me with an adventurous attitude towards the sonic craft that makes me want to learn its secrets and the secrets of its creator.   I find it almost criminal that Takumi never made another album.  But even as a one-off project, this one is a jewel of the place and time.  It's the kind of music I wish I were talented enough to fully comprehend.

I imagine this LP is pretty impossible to find, even in Japan.  However, because we live in such a marvelous age, you can hear the entire album thanks to mlhbro on YouTube.  Start with the operatic track 1 here:

What do you think, huh?

(Steve Jones is a freelance writer because he's not good enough to be a permanent one. You can find him on Twitter if you don't find him too much of a bore.)

1 comment: