Various Artists: Beatwave Japan

Dominic Umile

Like the self-checkout line in the grocery store, Beatwave Japan works better in theory than in practice.

Various Artists

Beatwave Japan

Label: Sonic360
US Release Date: 2005-02-21
UK Release Date: Available as import

Outside of a handful of entries on the download-only Beatwave Japan compilation, there isn't much that's strikingly burning up for anyone's love here. However, the ones that stand out of the ten tracks do so with the vigor and brilliance of brand new crayons.

The Sonic360 label is the brainchild of London's Chris Allison. The idea for this outlet came to fruition in 2000, and it enabled him to release music from artists around the world. His production resume includes some heavy hitters, as he worked on Coldplay's Parachutes, the Beta Band's self-titled release and their spotless The 3 EPs among others. Sonic360 signees include the Grammy-nominated Mexican outfit Kinky as well as UK acts Pea Green Boat and Littl Shyning Man. Allison's endeavors to expand horizons and introduce acts from the globe's little traveled corners also succeed in opening the doors on the Beatwave series. A follow-up to the Beatwave Argentina compilation, Beatwave Japan is a serving of Japan's bouncy electronic underground.

After a couple of mediocre openers, 7 O'Clock Shadow's "Microdiver" rectifies any immediate disappointment that may have surfaced with the first two entries. Synths, stuttering distant chimes over persistent breaks and backward, swirling sunny vocals make for pleasant electro pop from this Tokyo trio. This is a pal@pop remix that goes over five minutes but it still doesn't feel long enough; it's the rare kind of drum n' bass work that calls for repeated listening, as more elements are added throughout and it takes a second glance to get everything in the spectrum. Their Onomatopoeia LP on Japan's P-Vine label falls alongside an eclectic roster of artists like Sangatsu, and Jim O'Rourke as well as rarities from the likes of Low and DJ Vadim.

Kousuke Ogawa damn near steals the show with an ambient techno head-nodder called "Tom Vac". Campy science fiction-type laser fare opens his subtle layering of a synth loop and beats. There are several different drum breaks that enter eventually, while the lasers appear and re-appear, accompanied by breezy chimes and a sax snippet. His patience is somewhat along the lines of the atmospherics in DJ Krush's load-bearing pieces, and has been exhibiting such in Japan's electronic scene for years. Along with Tremorela's "Sound Goes On", these are the best Beatwave picks: They're standing out in this track list because they apply more than run-of-the-mill electronica to their work.

Tremorela utilizes a frenzied, carefree party vibe in "Sound Goes On", one that might underscore Jack Lemmon chasing around Sandy Dennis in The Out of Towners. The prime melody for "Sound" emerges from a rather surprising element: Producer Tomonao Tanaka lets up-tempo whistling propel this nugget into the upper echelon of the compilation. A cocktail hour piano loop follows the laptop drums and the bridge section is most glorious, sounding not entirely unlike "Praise You", if for just a few seconds. Tremorela appears twice on Beatwave Japan, and while "Go Out in the Rain" stands well on its own, "Sound Goes On" kills it with its bright, peppery energy.

The majority of Beatwave Japan isn't nearly as exciting as the aforementioned pieces. Repetitious beats and mundane methodology strongly detract from what could be a sizable victory from Sonic360. As far as this brand of underground electronic stuff goes though, a sampler is win-win. Given the limited information that enthusiasts of these genres living outside of Japan have on acts like Kousuke Ogawa, compilations like Beatwave serve a worthy purpose. It would just be easier if the content as a whole was as fruitful as the concept.


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