If Tokyo Nights sounds like a cheesy name for an album, it’s only fitting. A collection of Japanese city pop from the daring vintage record collectors over at Cultures of Soul, this is an album coated in Pepto-Bismol pink, the peak of saccharine ’80s dance music, a whole world of garish neon from which there is no respite.
I love every second of it.
Saddled with the cumbersome subtitle Female J-Pop Boogie Funk – 1981-1988, Tokyo Nights is an album that fills a very specific niche. It couldn’t have come at a better time; as retro synthpop style vaporwave breaches the boundaries of the underground to spill into the mainstream, Tokyo Nights shines a light on the genre’s roots precisely as its popularity is on track to peak. This is appropriate not just for the sake of marketing, but because this album is, historically speaking, all about taking advantage of hype.
As the album’s booklet notes, this music comes primarily from Japan’s economic “Bubble” years, a time of excess and optimism following three decades of outstanding post-war growth. This spirit of extravagance oozes through the songs of Tokyo Nights, high-tech to the point of forsaking all traces of acoustic instruments – except, of course, the irreplaceable human voice.
The featured nu-disco divas bring with them strong, high voices laced with near-constant vibrato. Backing singers bring a semblance of soul to Hitomi Tohyama’s “Wanna Kiss”, while the thin and funky beats of Kaoru Akimoto’s “Dress Down” try with all their heart to make the track sound like some unknown Thriller-era Michael Jackson b-side. RA MU’s “Ai wa Kokoro no Shigoto desu” sparkles, an aqua-hued dream that directly follow up the sharp, metallic handclaps of Rie Murakami’s pitch-perfect Debbie Harry impression on certified banger “T.N.T.”
There are slower tracks, too: Yumi Seino’s wistful ballad “Sky Restaurant” features a heartstring-tugging sax solo and some of the most expressive singing on the album. The steady rhythm of Kikuchi Momoko’s “Mystical Composer” gives it a sustaining warmth, while the mid tempo beats of Aru Takamura’s “Koi wa Saiko (I’m in Love)” allow it to bob between earthy substance and airy height, with skillful Takamura firmly in control of the altitude.
Not one of the above tracks, though, is as likely to linger in your head as the simple, sticky chorus of Hitomi Tohyama’s opening track: “Love me tonight / Dancin’! / Hold me so tight / Dancin’!” Life is too short to overthink these things.
Some of you are going to hate this. The barely attempted rap break on Junko Ohashi’s sinuous “Sensual Night” is as gritty as it gets on Tokyo Nights, and it… really isn’t. The production here is processed to squeaky-clean uncanniness, and you’re going to feel something about it – but you won’t know what until you try. But there’s a sophistication to the tightness here, to the consistently sleek vocals and utterly precise synths, that makes Tokyo Nights a luxurious listen. Stop taking yourself so seriously, change into your best night scrunchie, and get down to some of the most high quality boogie beats you’ll ever hear.