18.2.12

YUKARI FRESH : Yukari's Perfect! (Escalator CD, 1997).

Photobucket
Photobucket
I treated myself to wee binge in Juno's sale t'other week &, amongst other elusive delights, picked up the 2-part Yukari Fresh career retrospective, Flammable Tapes (her "greatest hits" collection) & Instrumentally Flammable (a companion disc of demos, remixes & rarities). They're immaculately packaged, of course - most Japanese CDs are - each disc daintily housed inside an elegant origami-style cardboard wallet, with a 1' badge, a peculiar scrap of Zen-like embroidery, & an info-packed insert printed on gossamer-thin bible paper. They're a great way to catch up with Yukari's extensive back catalogue - each containing a minor avalanche of short & sweet, playfully melodic electronic chanson that could actually be obscene paeans to noodles for all I know, my understanding of Japanese being predictably non-existent. Unfortunately, they're not cheap. I coughed up £20 for the 2, an absolute bargain considering they'd normally retail at a whopping £25 apiece (I've already seen Flammable Tapes on Amazon for £50+). That said, the former is one of the most played CDs I've bought in ages, so it was worth the splurge...

Back when I was young(-ish), £25 was a ludicrous amount of money to pay for a compact disc. Never mind if it had been specially imported from Japan in minuscule quantities, was elaborately packaged, & came complete with that all-important - sigh - obi-strip (I've no idea why I still get excited about those rather nondescript, often incomprehensible rectangles of printed card but, inexplicably, I do). One of the great advantages of Internet blogging was that I was finally been able to hear dozens of the horrifically overpriced, long deleted Japanese imports that I'd drooled over back in the mid-90s - pre-Paypal, pre-mp3, pre-iTunes. Hai!

Yukari Fresh was one of the very first Shibuya-kei artists I heard - after the ubiquitous Pizzicato 5, of course - c/o Bungalow Records' genre-founding Sushi 4004 compilation. The solo project of Yukari Takasaki (ex-Snapshot), her debut, Yukari's Perfect!, was released on the P5's Escalator label in 1997. The epitome of cheeky Tokyo whimsy, it made Altered Images sound like King Crimson (don't panic, it's also very short). As a friend once pointed out to me, if the industrious inhabitants of Bagpuss's Marvelous Mechanical Mouse Organ had ever tried their hand(s) at producing hi-NRG Yé-¥é techno, Yukari's Perfect! could plausibly have been the result. Though aesthetically reciprocal, it pre-empted Go-Kart Mozart's deadpan, Bullring Centre-inspired 'novelty rock" by several years.

As with many of the original Shibuya-kei artists, Yukari went on to pursue a bewilderingly prolific career over the subsequent decade, including releases under her punkier Yukari Rotten nom de plume, & collaborations with Mansfield (on this wonky cover of Beck's "The New Pollution") & Fantastic Plastic Machine, while hosting her long running Radio Active Man radio show (named after one of the songs from Yukari's Perfect! as it 'appens). Her most recent - & possibly final - record, 2008's Grrrl Summer Cape Kid Etc EP (Escalator's swan song release) was far more rough & ready than her earlier work, with each song recorded live in a single unedited take while Yukari sang, whistled, played kazoo, & wrestled with the drums. An oddball crossbreed of lo-fi & high tech, the intentionally crude samples subvert her refined electronic wizardry, & vice versa. It's strange to think that, like most of her Shibuya-kei contemporaries, Yukari is pushing 40 now, as her music's unaffected child-like charm has remained largely unsullied. One question though: why are so many Japanese indie acts obsessed, at least lyrically, with English football?

11.2.12

SONIC YOUTH : Kali Yug Express (2002)

Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
A quicky post. Sonic Youth's Kali Yug Express is currently fetching £100+ on Discogs & the like, which makes it ideal blog fodder, I suppose? A 3-song blue vinyl 10", a meagre 500 copies were given away with the French edition of the Murray Street album. Though recorded in & around the Murray Street sessions, these tracks were actually out-takes from the band's ancillary soundtrack projects, Things Behind The Sun & Demonlover, & reflect their penchant for freeform, experimental improvisation. Kali Yug Express was also released as an extended promotional CD, though the additional songs thereon were merely selections from the band's pre-Geffen back catalogue, as per the Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love compilation.

n.b. In Japan, Murray Street was appended with an exclusive bonus track, "Street Sauce", which I've yet to hear. If anybody can slip me an mp3 of it I'd be pathetically grateful (thanks).

9.2.12

ADVENTURES IN STEREO : The Attic Walk EP (1996)

Photobucket
Photobucket
Jim Beattie, founder member of Primal Scream with Bobby Gillespie, formed Adventures in Stereo in Glasgow in 1994, following the break-up of his post-Primals project, Spirea X. Joined by ex-Spirea vocalist Judith Boyle, & Simon Dine (who had managed & co-produced the band towards the end of their brief career), the trio's initial trilogy of low-fi 7" EPs provided a hazily melodic, pop art distillation of The Beach Boys finest (pre-Smile) moments, & Phil Spector's early girl group productions. Based around Dine's evocative 60s-derived loops, the songs themselves were often puzzlingly fragmentary, pop art miniatures fading in & out of earshot like alluring excerpts from half remembered 60s chartbusters. Despite the bargain basement budget, their records were so seamlessly produced that it was often difficult to identify at which point the sampling wizardry ended & the authentic musicianship began. Their sonic magpie approach elicited comparisons with Stereolab & early Broadcast but, though all 3 bands certainly shared a similar retrofuturist aesthetic, A.I.S. actually had far more in common with sampledelic New York duo Dymaxion (though their records were markedly different). One thing A.I.S. definitely were NOT, however, is "twee". Twee = Belle & Sebastian, Talulah Gosh flexidiscs, bed wetting virgins with Hello Kitty hair slides, & grown men in shorts murdering jingle-jangle Byrds riffs. A.I.S. always sounded more like Saint Etienne being dragged backwards into an undulating Joe Meek vortex.

Dine split after the first few singles &, while both parties briefly continued to use the A.I.S. moniker, he would eventually knuckle down to mastermind the pandemically groovy Noonday Underground (& end up collaborating with mod coffin dodger Paul Weller, bizarrely enough!). Noonday Underground recorded a handful of LPs but called it a day when vocalist Daisy Martey jumped ship to join Morcheeba (yuk). Beattie & Boyle released a couple more A.I.S. albums, with live musicians playing a greater part in proceedings as they progressed, but both of them have slipped away into (willing?) obscurity since calling it quits in 2000. Does anybody have a clue what either of them are up to nowadays?

The Attic Walk EP was Adventures In Stereo's debut release, a 4-song 7" on their own Kinglake label, from 1996. I'm a great fan of all their records, but this one's a particular favourite.

4.2.12

SHOES THIS HIGH : Shoes This High EP (1981)

STH1
Photobucket
Photobucket
Shoes This High weren't together for very long, only a year or so in fact, but they still managed to leave behind this incredible 7" as their defining artifact. Barrelling 'round New Zealand's North island at the arse end of the 1970s, their sketchy, Rough Trade-indebted sound suggested that either (i) somebody down under was importing copies of Grotesque & A Trip To Marineville at a phenomenal rate, or (ii) John Peel's broadcasts reached a far wider audience than the Beeb intended (hats off to The World Service!).

Eventually settling in Auckland, the band released their eponymous EP c/o their own STH Music label in 1981, & it's 4 snotty, shambling outbursts were as hermetically innovative as the benchmark 45s their South island island contemporaries - embryonic incarnations of The Chills & The Clean - were concurrently recording for the nascent Flying Nun. It's a tragedy Shoes This High didn't hang 'round long enough to record an LP but, as a result, this solitary single has since acquired semi-legendary status, like that dumbfounding What Is Oil? e.p., & justifiably so. It still sounds hilariously brilliant (& remarkably prescient) to my fagged out ears, & warrants some sort of lavish re-release, preferably supplemented with as many moth-eaten out-takes as the band's scattered ex-members can round up between 'em. Put your money where your mouth is, Mr. Domino Records, the world doesn't need any more cosy James Yorkston 10th anniversary repackages, it needs Shoes This High!