Sunday, July 8, 2012

JAM DESHO: After Dinner - Paradise of Replica

By Steve Jones.

(JAM Desho highlights the best music from the Far East. Today, we recommend Paradise of Replica by After Dinner.)

I should have written about this record already. I hold it on a rather tall pedestal due to both its genius and its place in my listening history. Much like J.A. Seazer's choral prog rock in Revolutionary Girl Utena, my early time spent with Paradise of Replica helped me identify certain musical qualities I liked to hear, and it hinted at the larger fact that Japan had at least one fascinating music scene.

After Dinner, formed in 1981, was the brainchild of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Haco, whom I believe to be one of the strongest voices of Japan's avant-garde scene. She's up there with people like Otomo Yoshihide (with whom she has collaborated) and Eye. Although she has produced many solo and collaborative efforts since their disbanding, After Dinner was her '80s group, and Paradise of Replica is their crowning achievement: a delightfully unpredictable record that nonetheless appeals to the base senses and emotions.

One thing that I love about this album, and that I love about any good piece of avant-garde composition, is how fresh and identifiable it still sounds. I cannot think of any artist who does what Haco did in After Dinner (and if you can name some, let me know!). I've heard comparisons to Kate Bush, but the similarities end after you get past the fact that they were both women in the '80s who made weird music. A line drawn towards Art Bears would be more apt, although this album is much less impenetrable than most Art Bears records. Paradise of Replica balances traditional and modern influences with deftness, flipping effortlessly between the Baroque and the baroque pop. "A Walnut" begins with Haco's voice backed by a harpsichord and continues very classically until its middle section. The song goes double time and grooves no less beautifully with more intricate instrumentation. It's the kind of left hook (and I do mean hook) that this album is wont to throw at the listener, but it never feels superfluous or simply there for the sake of being clever. It's a smart album, but it's concerned with music more so than bravado.



"Kitchen Life" is a two-parter split by the "Motorcycle" interlude, but I'm partial to the first section that utilizes the shredding and wailing of an electric guitar in an entirely non-rock setting. Its context instead finds a regality in the way Haco sings and the way the instruments march along with her decree. You have to imagine that, this being 1989, there wasn't a whole lot of that going around in the popular music scene. The distinction of "favorite track" belongs to "Ironclad Mermaid," which by no accident most resembles a piece of post-punk influenced and slightly industrial '80s pop. But what crowns it are the beautiful string interludes and distinctly worldly characteristics of the melody. It has a cello part that is heartbreaking to hear, especially as the song cuts off without any warning. If I had my way, the instrumental outro would continue into infinity, but its jarring conclusion is similarly effective.



The last 3 tracks are the weirdest of the bunch of already weird songs. "Dancing Twins," for instance, is short piece that features Haco bouncing a volleyball as a piece of its percussion. It's then followed by 8-minute journey that is "Ka-No-Pu-Su-No-Ha-Ko," which is the track most clearly influenced by traditional Japanese music. Haco sounds like she is speaking to a large court hundreds of years in the past, with the music's grand scale supporting her words. "I'll Just Go Birdwatching" is the most abstract piece in terms of qualities like melody and rhythm. Its instrumentation is also very minimal, including things like a ukelele and those plastic tubes you swing around to make whistling sounds.

Haco covers A LOT of territory in one half-hour, which seems short for an LP, but it contributes to the album's surprising accessibility. The LP does fit squarely into the avant-garde label, but don't let that label scare you. Its chamber pop sensibilities and Haco's strong and lilting voice are sure to be intriguing even if you don't often care for the artsier side of music. It also has the advantage of presenting legitimately catchy pieces of music, and despite its intricate construction it retains a grounding sense of childlike whimsy. Paradise of Replica embodies the spirit of music that transcends national and cultural borders, which is the reason why I write the JAM Desho column in the first place.

(Steve Jones is not quite sure what an ironclad mermaid would look like. If you any information on this, let him know at his Twitter @vestenet.)

2 comments:

  1. I think you are spot on! I love this album and it, unseated Mr Bungle's "California" as my all time favorite from this genre. To think that thus was made in 1989 blows my mind, also that it has remained kind of obscure despite having obviously influenced so many other artists. Iron Clad Mermaid is also my favorite on this album. I imagine a Toshio Saeki picture when I think of what an iron clad mermaid might look like.

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  2. Nice article keep on writing. Thank you, wonderful job!

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