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Friday, Sept. 5, 2008

LISTENING POST

CD REVIEW

Yukari Fresh — "grrrl, summer cape kid, etc." (Escalator); Aira Mitsuki — "COPY" (D-Topia)


Emerging from the dark days of the 1990s' "lost generation," the Shibuya-kei movement in Japanese music was a breath of fresh air, bringing together with impeccable style a variety of musical genres encompassing jazz, retro-futurist lounge pop, 1960s French pop and dance music. Its commercial heyday was short-lived, but its influence abroad managed to make Tokyo the hippest city in the world.

As a bona fide 1990s vintage Shibuya-kei artist, Yukari Fresh shows that the genre isn't dead, with opening track "Summer Cape Kid" fusing the rhythms of the 1960s to the production techniques of the electronic era. Throughout the minialbum "grrrl, summer cape kid, etc.," the values that made Shibuya-kei so cool still prevail. There is a firm grounding in alt-rock and lo-fi aesthetics, but those sounds are cheekily subverted by deliberately over-produced, electronically enhanced vocals and squelchy retro synths, as you can hear on the track "Interstellar Kiss and Ride."

Shibuya-kei's lasting legacy in the mainstream exists in the work of Yasutaka Nakata from Capsule, whose work as producer of idol phenomenon Perfume melded Shibuya-kei's love of stylish foreign culture, in this case French house and electro, with the more insular aesthetic of Akiba-kei (Akihabara otaku geek style). Nowhere is Nakata and Perfume's influence more apparent than in "COPY," the debut album by Aira Mitsuki, which deploys the same vocoder-heavy electro and 1980s technopop sounds (the album shares a title with a classic single by '80s legends Plastics) in the service of J-Pop melodies, with past single "China Discotica" a standout track on the album and a cast-iron pop gem in its own right.


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