‘Pacific Breeze 2’ Is Another Refreshing Dive into the Waters of City Pop

Reissue label Light in the Attic follows up last year's Japanese musical excursion with another collection, Pacific Breeze 2, that's sure to please lovers of international retro-pop.

Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1972-1986
Various Artists
Light in the Attic
15 May 2020

Last year, Light in the Attic – already riding high with reissues covering late ’60s/early ’70s Japanese folk and a stunning ambient ’80s instrumental collection – introduced the western world to the wonders of City Pop with Pacific Breeze. The collection showcased this unique genre — a type of soft rock/AOR/funk that was tremendously popular in Japan in the age of disco and early new wave. The genre was inspired partly by Japan’s prosperity boom (which itself was the product of the country’s thriving technology exports) and offered an East Asian take on the contemporary pop music of the day.

Light in the Attic is drawing from that same deep well with Pacific Breeze 2. Generally speaking, if you liked that first collection, you’ll be happy with what they came up with this time around. They cast a slightly wider net with the sequel – while the first set concentrated on 1976 through 1986, Pacific Breeze 2 goes all the way back to 1972. As a result, some of the earlier tracks in this collection have a slightly edgier funk sound, like the opening track “Pink Shadow” from Bread & Butter (brothers Fuyumi and Satsuya Iwasawa), from their 1974 album Barbecue. Engaging melodies and syncopated funk show a definite Stevie Wonder influence – not surprising, since they met Wonder on an earlier U.S. tour, and he played keyboards on one of their previous albums. Another earlier track on the compilation, “Yubikiri” from Eiichi Ohtaki – formerly of the hugely successful Japanese folk-rock band Happy End and described in the liner notes as “an obsessive collector and scholar of American pop music” – melds a four-on-the-floor groove with a funky bassline and jazz-inspired flute.

As in the previous Pacific Breeze compilation, the dancefloor thump of disco is readily available here. Much of the musical genres so popular in the U.S. and Europe at the time made their way to Japan, and disco was certainly no exception. “Vibration (Love Celebration)” from Kimiko Kasai’s 1977 album Tokyo Special is full of hip-swaying rhythms, wah-wah guitars, and Kasai’s cooing vocals that recall Donna Summer at her most seductive. The Mystery Kindaichi Band keeps the dancefloor alive with “Kindaichi Kosuke No Theme”, inspired by Seishi Yokomizo’s detective Kindaichi Kosuke book series, and the relentless, percussion-heavy funk rhythms are bolstered by Kimio Mizutani’s inspired guitar work, dashes of contemporary string accents, and lyric-free group vocalizing. It’s very much the sound of a sweaty Tokyo dance club, circa 1977.

Pacific Breeze 2 curators Andy Cabic (of Vetiver) and Mark “Frosty” McNeill (of dublab) have managed, as they did the first time, to gather together a collection of music largely unfamiliar to western ears, with much of it previously unavailable outside of Japan. The artists featured here have managed to recreate sounds that are uncannily like those outside their native country, but with new compositions – sometimes sung in English, sometimes in Japanese – that sound like long-lost hits of the era. As Michael K. Bourdaghs wrote in his book Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon, this music was “deconstructing the line between imitation and authenticity.”

Once leisure suits and bell-bottoms became passé, Japan followed the rest of the world and soldiered on with new wave-inspired funk and pop, well-represented here. The elastic, synth-heavy funk of “Kanpoo” by Yumi Murata shows an undeniable Prince influence. Anri’s “Last Summer Whisper,” from her 1982 album Heaven Beach, is a gleaming mid-tempo slice of keyboard-and-horn infused “quiet storm” pop. Eri Ohno, a noted jazz vocalist in her day, adapts perfectly to the funky early years of the ’80s with “Skyfire,” a regional dancefloor favorite featuring plenty of neon synth stabs as well as jaw-dropping bass playing by Yoshifumi Okajima.

Pacific Breeze 2, like last year’s City Pop installment, is a goldmine for fans of music that perfectly evokes a bygone era, albeit one with an exotic twist. These are songs that you’ve likely never heard outside their country of origin. Still, their resemblance to more globally familiar songs of the time makes them sound like something eked out of the dark recesses of your subconscious, or a particularly vivid dream. There’s mystery, undeniable craft, and the insistent pull of the dance floor. Time to hit the beach and turn up the volume.

RATING 8 / 10