Ryuichi Sakamoto's 'Async: Remodels' Is One of Those Rare Remix Albums That Enhances the Original Recording

Photo: KAB America / Wikimedia Commons

Ryuichi Sakamoto's async sounds almost as good when it comes out the remix wringer as Async: Remodels.

Async: Remodels
Ryuichi Sakamoto


16 Feb 2018

Ah, remix albums. Too often they feel like answers to a musical question that no one asked. "How would one of my favorite albums sound if an army of DJs tampered with it?" "How would a great album sound if it subtracted all of the musical elements that made people love it and substituted them with outside clichés from club culture?" "What if this exceptional album were to be suddenly dipped into a new musical genre, one which could severely make or break my opinion of everything at hand?" It's not always that bad. But the higher the profile of the original source material, the greater the risk.

Ryuichi Sakamoto, on the other hand, floats around the periphery. He's one of those lucky souls who get to feed bits and scraps to the machine of popular culture without getting soaked by the limelight. Case in point, his Academy Award-nominated soundtrack work for The Revenant lost out to, of all people, Ennio Morricone. When he's not dipping his pinky finger in mainstream pop culture, Sakamoto is going about his merry way making music that blends classical, electronic, ambient, and several more subgenres of the avant-garde. His career as a pop musician (see work with Bill Laswell, Dee Dee Brave, Roddy Frame, and about half of the Lounge Lizards) appears to be on indefinite leave, though it's naive to think that he left all that he learned from his days in the Yellow Magic Orchestra behind for good. In other words, if you are familiar with the name Ryuichi Sakamoto, news of a remix album of his material is not an unwelcome thing.

The original async is pretty pliable to begin with. Acoustic and electric sounds were woven together in a manner that was a few more degrees experimental than it was neo-classical. There were sample-heavy passages as well as minimalist cadences tinged with soft noise (PopMatters's Chris Ingalls pronounced it a dark, eerie, ethereal beauty). The listener is never given the impression that Async: Remodels is the sound of a sacred cow being led to slaughter. Electronic artists like Andy Stott, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Christian Fennesz have taken an already sprawling and uncompromising work like async and somehow unlocked a whole new series of doors for half of the compositions to creep through. Whether or not Async: Remodels bests its parent async depends on many subjective factors in the beholder, as is always the case. But I would like to try and convince you that Remodels is every bit as exploratory and delightfully weird as async. If you enjoy one, you'll enjoy the other.

Seven of async's 14 tracks are remixed, and four of those are remixed twice. The two "andata" remixes play towards different ends. While Oneohtrix Point Never intends to throw the curtains wide open for some Eno sunlight to bathe the room, Electric Youth wants to take the same track out for a night on the town with cocktails and disco balls. The prepared piano piece "disintegration" gets to hold onto its defining trait under the supervision of Alva Noto (who co-composed The Revenant with Sakamoto), though the surrounding atmospherics make it float like a ghost. Under the hands of Christian Fennesz and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, the stretched ambiance of "solari" is thrust further into outer space with gentle yet discordant noises and billowing synthesizers.

Yves Tumor's tinkering of "ZURE" takes the prize for the most surprising interpretation. One of the two ominous minor chords that drive the piece is still there, but it's intermittently interrupted by a cymbal crash and bending guitar note. It initially struck me as a joke. Cornelius's rendition of the same track sounds like an excuse to play around with various outboard effects. Hey, on a remix album, this can't be an entirely bad thing! If Tumor's remix is the most surprising, then Andy Stott's "Life, Life" would have to take second place. He nicely twists the song into something that only peripherally resembles the original track, yet retains all of its inherent subtlety. It would be at home on an Andy Stott release, and yes, that's a compliment.

Async: Remodels is more likely to serve as handsome background music than a tool to convert the uninitiated. But that's not to say that it can't happen. Listeners more inclined to admire ambient sounds could use either async or Async: Remodels as a way to get into Sakamoto's work. If you only know of the composer's name through films like Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence or The Last Emperor, then this remix album and its parent release could pose a bit of a challenge. But not all challenges hurt, and Sakamoto's army of knob twiddlers make it one that's as interesting as the first go-round.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.