Music

Guitar: Tokyo

How did such a lovely-sounding experiment turn into rudimentary trip-hop with fancy guitars?


Guitar

Tokyo

Amazon: 1140166800
Label: Onitor
Germany release date: 2006-02-17
US Release Date: 2006-02-21
UK Release Date: 2006-02-27
Amazon
iTunes

Guitar's third album, Tokyo, is the sort of thing that sounds really interesting in theory. Michael Lückner took the koto and pipa guitars, two guitars traditionally used in the music of Japan and whose sounds he truly loved, and created an album around them. He played them, spliced them, put them over some other, non-guitar programmed music, and made an album out of the result.

It's obvious that Mr. Lückner feels a bit indebted to the country that is the inspiration for this album. You see, Guitar's previous release, Honeysky, was only released in Japan, as Lückner simply couldn't find distribution for it elsewhere. He obviously holds a very special place in his heart for Japan, and particularly Tokyo, where he spent a good part of 2004, a time during which he recorded this very album. That love is all over Tokyo, as it is an extremely pure, clean sounding album, every sound crisp and clear, no beat, synth, or guitar pick clouded by noise. Parts of it are even quite beautiful, as Lückner's approach to programming his music is to layer as many sounds as he can on top of each other, until the result renders the original melodies nigh-unrecognizable, but necessary parts contributing to a greater whole. The songs on Tokyo very often climax as deceptively complex washes of sound, propelled forward by beats whose only function is to provide underlying structure to the songs they adorn. Songs like "Red & White" and "Sunday Afternoon at Tamagawa River" exemplify this approach via their length (both break the seven-minute mark) and the fact that the first four minutes of both act merely as setup for their final three -- it's at approximately the four-minute mark of each that Lückner reveals his artistic vision, where the full, layered picture hiding in the parts of the songs becomes clear.

The problem, then, is that Lückner's love for Tokyo becomes a crutch, an excuse for not delving further into the atmosphere of the city. Tokyo is a city of industrial high-rises mingling with tradition, a city whose underground culture's favor of excessive sensory stimulation stands in stark contrast to the grip that tradition and presentability has on corporate and social structure. Sure, I speak in broad generalizations here, but so does Lückner, perhaps moreso -- the entire picture of Tokyo that he presents is the beauty, exemplified through those lovely programmed walls of sound, and the tradition, portrayed via the constant presence of the uniquely Japanese guitars. Even the cover art is strangely incongruous, an odd, happy-go-lucky combination of the peacefully surreal and the intensely colorful.

Perhaps this is the sound of Tokyo through a western tourist's ears.

Even as such, it's hard not to be let down by the simplicity of the beats that back up the songs on Tokyo. Get past the lack of any hint of dirt or grime, and Tokyo could almost function as a mood piece, if not for the distractingly simple nature of the beat programming. It's a little too obvious that Lückner's focus was on the melodic layering of his instruments, and not on the beats, which are sparse and unchanging in every single track. And if I haven't mentioned the vocals, it's because they are almost inconsequential -- Ayako Akashiba has a pretty voice, to be sure, but in this context, with so much swirling around it, it's incredibly easy to ignore. Songs like "Tokyo Memory" and "Wash Me Away" are pretty, but they don't really benefit or suffer for Akashiba's presence.

That leaves penultimate track "Sakura Coming" as the only other track that features Akashiba on vocals, and it's notable as it sounds like nothing else on the album, a wash of guitar noise turned into something unidentifiable swirling for five minutes while Akashiba lets that whispery voice supply the beauty, and another underdeveloped drum line supplies the beat. As the only sign of variety in Lückner's vision, it's the standout track on Tokyo, but it's too little, too late. Tokyo is what happens when a man is left alone with a vision, with no editors to comment on its weaknesses or cut off the fat -- I'm sure it sounds beautiful and perfect to Mr. Luckner, and maybe that's what matters. Still, it's just a little too glossy to be experimental, and a little too underdeveloped to be worth further examination. If nothing else, I suppose it would make a nice travel brochure.

4

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image