The nucleus of Some Water and Sun is the collaboration between Hefty label boss John Hughes and Japanese musician Shin Takasi. Hughes—not the director of Pretty in Pink—also records under the name Slicker, while Takasi is better known as Spanova. An impromptu decision by Takasi to visit the Chicago headquarters of his American label led to the recording sessions that created All My Friends Have to Go.
The sound of Some Water and Sun is of a piece with Hefty’s traditionally eclectic output. Home to artists such as Savath+Savalas and Telefon Tel Aviv, in addition to Slicker and Spanova, Hefty specializes in multi-genre electronic music that encompasses multiple disciplines and songwriting approaches. All My Friends Have to Go could be described as a number of things, including downtempo microhouse, futuristic J-pop R&B, or glitchy primary color trip-hop, but none of these imaginative labels could fully explain what appears to be one of the most peripatetic musical smorgasbords to come around in quite a while.
In execution, the album reminds me of the Beta Band. Now, if you can remember back to the hazy days of 1999, when the Betas first crossed the pond and their 3 EPs was garnering rave reviews, the most unique thing about the group was the fact that they created unique, defiantly unclassifiable music by drawing on a variety of disparate musical sources: rock, hip-hop, folk, country and a heavy does of every extant electronic genre. Of course, it goes without saying that they were never able to fully live up to the promise of those initial tracks, and this disappointment no doubt contributed to the pressures which prompted their break-up last year. But the idea was sound, sound enough to have become almost commonplace in the year 2005. Just as the Beastie Boys and Beck had created new sounds out of the clever juxtaposition of old ideas, the Betas appropriated a massive amount of stylistic influences to create a characteristic jumble that was often messy but occasionally inspired. They were, in the words of Devo, pioneers who got scalped, and their trippy influence shows on All My Friends Have to Go.
The album’s first track is “Snowbreaker”, featuring Tasaki’s Japanese rapping over a space-age R&B beat, something that sounds like an R. Kelly slow jam remixed by Autechre. The clipped beats and slightly screwy melodic samples do not detract from the atmosphere of general light-heartedness that prevails throughout. “Blossom” continues the album’s preoccupation with rhythmical ellipses, featuring a loping, stuttering beat that caroms from side to side, hitting all the walls while somehow managing to avoid knocking over the fine china.
The sunny melodies continue throughout the album, some of which, in all honesty, could gag a diabetic. Tasaki’s off-kilter English makes the lyrics seem imperturbably sweet and almost cloying. The fact that the words are usually somewhat abstruse adds to the general surreal atmosphere, as on “Some Water and Sun”:
“Gonna wait for you, /
Til’ your lies come true, /
So our love can, too, /
Some water and sun.”
“The Rain” comes on like the Bizarro World equivalent of “Quiet Storm” R&B, complete with a sliced & diced hip-hop atmosphere and shrouded, slightly sinister atmospheric samples. “A Oh” combines an acoustic guitar with glitchy beats, spaced-out vocals, spazzy synthesizer belches, and oddly syncopated percussive loops to create an unsettlingly complex effect.
“Watering” and the album’s title track are surprisingly straightforward examples of funky R&B and jazzy mid-tempo breakbeat, respectively. However, this is only a relative distinction, considering that both tracks are still filled to the brim with some pretty weird effects. “Gloomy Town” seems to hearken back to the endearing melodies of old-school Stevie Wonder by way of Aphex Twin—seriously, there’s a flute breakdown over some pretty harsh proto jungle beats that could have easily wandered into the studio from a guest appearance on Druqks.
“Mizii” and “See You Next Spring” bring the album down to a more meditative, melancholy feel with an emphasis on a slightly more lackadaisical approach to downtempo. “Everything” finishes up the album with an uncharacteristically straightforward elaboration on a bedrock of fairly simple beats—it grows in complexity throughout, adding numerous layers of complication onto the beat until climaxing in a hard break.
After listening to the disc a number of times, it would be useless to try to classify this as anything other than defiantly singular. Imagine a straightforward R&B album, sung partly in Japanese, produced by Lemon Jelly and remixed by the Neptunes, and you might have some vague idea of what to expect. It’s weird, but in a good way.