While they may be based in Seattle, the reissue specialists at Light in the Attic have been on a serious Far East bender lately. Their Japanese ambient music compilation, Kankyo Ongaku, was released earlier this year. Before that, the collection Even a Tree Can Shed Tears spotlighted Japan’s late ’60s/early ’70s folk-rock scene. Now, this merry band of overachieving archivists have their sights set on a completely new collection that’s sure to shed light on a music scene largely overlooked by Western listeners.
Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1976-1986 is a fairly self-explanatory title, with the exception of the term “City Pop”, which is simply a type of soft rock/AOR/funk that was tremendously popular in Japan in the age of disco and early new wave. As Japan’s tech exports thrived, the country experienced a boom of prosperity, and the sophisticated sounds of City Pop mirrored the optimism and fast cash that resulted. Pacific Breeze chronicles this musical positivity, with slick beats and gleaming grooves providing the perfect soundtrack.
The cover art – as well as the title – certainly evokes a sense of wealth and leisure, as Hiroshi Nagai’s exclusive painting brings to mind carefree resort life (the deluxe package even comes with a brightly colored beach towel). The music contained within the grooves oozes perfection and an exquisite taste for the good life. Tomoko Soryo’s “I Say Who”, with its sugary harmonies, electric piano, and swooping strings, brings the sounds of ’70s disco to downtown Tokyo. With “Kusuri Wo Takusan”, Taeko Ohnuki’s soft rock funk includes hip-shaking congas, jazzy, Steely Dan-style electric guitars and seductive flutes. The sound quality is impeccable and, despite the decidedly retro styles, it sounds like it was recorded yesterday.
Since Pacific Breeze spans an entire decade of music, the collection tends to touch on a variety of styles. One of the set’s highlights comes from Haruomi Hosono, one of Japan’s most influential pop music figures. As a founding member of both Happy End and Yellow Magic Orchestra, Hosono contributed to a variety of genres, and on “Sports Men” he crafts an infectious, percussive new wave dance single that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ’80s college radio playlist. Izumi Kobayashi’s eclectic mini-epic “Coffee Rumba” bridges the gap between Prince-inspired funk and vintage synth-heavy Thomas Dolby.
Pacific Breeze isn’t simply the mimicking of Western pop/rock/funk – plenty of native influences creep up within the 16 tracks. On “Sun Bathing”, Akira Inoue, Hiroshi Sato, and Masataka Matsutoya join forces on an infectious Latin-tinged stomper that incorporates exotic Eastern percussion, creating an unusual dichotomy that somehow clicks into place. Likewise, the lazy yacht rock of Shigeru Suzuki’s “Lady Pink Panther” includes what sounds like traditional koto strumming alongside Stevie Wonder-style harmonica riffing and slick guitar licks.
By the time Pacific Breeze begins to wind down with Hitomi Tohyama’s four-on-the-floor, Vocoder-fueled dancefloor banger “Exotic Yokogao” and the slinky sophistication of Tazumi Toyoshima’s “Machibouke”, the listener has taken a wild, intoxicating voyage to another time and place, one that’s both familiar and oddly new. True to its lengthy title, Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1976-1986 covers a wide range of styles to the extent that there’s virtually something here for every taste. It’s impeccably executed and lovingly curated and the perfect soundtrack for a sunny day off with the ocean breeze in your hair.