Monday, 3 June 2019

Fujiya & Miyagi ‎– Transparent Things (2006)

Style: Indie Rock, Prog Rock, Krautrock, Space Rock, Disco
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Tirk, Deaf Dumb & Blind, Impossible Objects of Desire

Tracklist:
1.   Ankle Injuries
2.   Collarbone
3.   Photocopier
4.   Conductor 71
5.   Transparent Things
6.   Sucker Punch
7.   In One Ear & Out The Other
8.   Cassettesingle
9.   Cylinders

Credits:
Mixed By – Alan Boorman
Producer, Written-By – Fujiya & Miyagi
Recorded By – Julian Tardo
Written-By – Matt Avery

This Brighton trio's third long-player, a singles-compilation-plus, is big fun to overthink. The witty lyrics toss biomatter into the same heap of vague "things" as technomatter; thus you get songs called "Photocopier" and "Cassettesingle" snugly beside songs called "Collarbone" and "Ankle Injuries". Obsessing about F&M's obsession with thingness forces one to conclude that this album is a mysterious relic from an alternate 1971. 
Think about it: In 1971, British writer Alan Watts released Does It Matter?: Essays on Man's Relation to Materiality, in which he argued (among other "things") that humans aren't really true materialists, with our reverence for materials, resources and craft. Rather, he typed, we're abstractists, caught in our preference for stockpiling plastic gewgaws. Transparent Things playfully spoofs and luxuriates in how we're possessed by our possessions. One song's speaker wants to "kick it" with a girl, but first he's "got to get a new pair of shoes." Another's chorus taunts, "I'm just monkeying around with your furniture," after the verse cites spilled "bodily fluids" and how the subject "must be off [his/her] bleeding rocker." In context, "bleeding" suggests actual blood rather than the UK default pejorative. With comic detachment, the lyrics' casual violence contrasts with the music's antiseptic cleanness enough to make one recall the sterile/obscene, bodylike/inorganic sculptures from the milkbar and the murder victim's house in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (ahem, 1971). 
Anyway: Alan Watts went on to become a Nipponophile, leading temple tours in Japan and even getting accused of faking his enlightenment; Fujiya & Miyagi readily admit their impostorship in a chorus on this album, as if the whole thing was a meticulous piss-take: "We were just pretending to be Japanese." True: Fujiya's a turntable company, and Miyagi's the filmic Okinawan played by Pat Morita who instructs sullen white kids in martial arts. Fujiya & Miyagi presumably relish urban Japan's cultural gizmosis, the fixation with gadgetry and the attention to detail paid even on the level of toy eraser design. F&M's carefully constructed retro-futuristic electronica definitely suggests the quaint, boxy dawn of portable media. And what year did Sony begin selling televisions in Britain, prompting the Time Magazine cover story "Japan, Inc"? That would be 1971.

The "coincidence" continues: Can and Neu! are the acts whose production and syncopation F&M most acefully cop; both acts were either recording or releasing their crucial work in 71. "In One Ear and Out the Other" bounces with Eno-era Roxy Music's eerie psychedelic-lounge sound; yup, they formed and recorded their debut in 71. "Sucking Punch" apes the falsetto vox, pimpy guitar, and whomping, slinky bass of both Curtis Mayfield's 1971-recorded Superfly and Serge Gainsbourg's 1971 LP Historie de Melody Nelson. And the name of the lengthy instrumental that best synthesizes (the 1971-recorded) Kraftwerk 2 with the best of the rest of krautrock's stoner-jazz and metronome-prog? "Conductor 71". 
To be fair, Can and Neu! aren't the only three-letter outfits that F&M echo: This band has processed bits of contemporaries such as Air, DFA/LCD, and BoC. At points, the funk and the unrhyming lyrics even mount to imply various UK greats: A muted Happy Mondays here, a stream-of-consciousness Streets there. And yet, F&M's coy pose comes off as somehow original. David Best doesn't speak-sing about commodities with the abandon of say, Sisqo harmonizing "thong-th-thong-thong-thong," but he also sidesteps the posthuman staidness with which Ladytron tried to address blue jeans and cracked plastic (during "Blue Jeans" and "Cracked Plastic", respectively) back on Light & Magic. 
A kind of consumer-Zen can be heard in the way Best sings the fabulously confident title track's refrain, "I look through transparent things and I feel okay," pronouncing the last word, "O-kehh." Is he talking about seeing through eyeglasses? Drink glasses? Or, by noting the behavioral norms (of litterbugs, cyclists, and college students) and their "grids," "zones," and "boxes," is Best referring to the matrixy systems in which most of us are transparently ensnared? Either way, F&M's execution of old modes is authoritative enough to ward off soundalike syndrome, just as Interpol somehow dodge their ancestors' arrows. 
The album's weaker spots are its louder numbers about actual monogamous desire, which seem banal next to the whispered, anchorless prosaic observations of the songs that would only count as "rave-ups" at some secret librarian party held on a monastery's roof. A group so adept at merely creating an irresistible pulse seems overextended when trying to concoct a banger. I mean, come on, they begin this album with shy in-house brand enthusiasm, chanting "Fujiya" and "Miyagi" in barely audible voices! 
The relatively effete and Euro-centric American poet Wallace Stevens is famously supposed to have said to the relatively dudeish and homelandy American poet Robert Frost, upon meeting: "The trouble with you is you write about things." To which Frost replied: "The trouble with you is you write about bric-a-brac." Via fiery slightness, Fujiya & Miyagi humbly request that you dance to both. 
William Bowers / Pitchfork

Fujiya & Miyagi ‎– Electro Karaoke In The Negative Style (2002)

Style: Indie Rock, Prog Rock, Krautrock, Space Rock, Disco
Format: CD
Label: Massive Advance

Tracklist:
01.   New Accounts Analysts
02.   Rot
03.   King Holer
04.   Simeone Slides
05.   Skinny Punk
06.   Tarr's White Collar
07.   Skeleton Phone Cover
08.   Uptight
09.   Diagrams
10.   Shake
11.   Electro Karaoke
12.   Lolalucamilla

Credits:
Programmed By , Keyboards, Bass, Backing Vocals – Steve Lewis
Vocals, Guitar, Bass – David Best
Written-By, Producer – Fujiya & Miyagi

Romare ‎– Projections (2015)

Style: House, Hip Hop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Ninja Tune

Tracklist:
01.   Nina’s Charm
02.   Work Song
03.   Motherless Child
04.   Ray’s Foot
05.   Roots
06.   Jimmy’s Lament
07.   Lover Man
08.   Rainbow
09.   Prison Blues
10.   The Drifter
11.   La Petite Mort

Romare Bearden was an artist and musician who chronicled African-American life and culture during the jazz age. Romare is an artist and musician who has adopted Bearden’s collagist approach and uses it to fuse decades of African-American musical styles into a format familiar to modern dancefloors. It’s an album full of warmth: Rainbow pairs a snatch of smoky, soulful vocal with the groove of old garage house; Roots mixes an ecstatic piano hook with African drum loops and a sample of Malcolm X. Romare’s skill and his affection for his sources mean Projections’ component parts all hang together beautifully, but this is more than just an act of curation: it works for the dancefloor, often hitting on grooves that are as timeless as they are difficult to resist. Reminiscent of the early-00s output of Saint Germain, Caribou’s side project Daphni, or even early Basement Jaxx, Perceptions might not feel entirely original, but it is thoroughly winning. 
Paul MacInnes / The Guardian

Romare ‎– Meditations On Afrocentrism (2012)

Style: House, Bass Music
Format: Vinyl
Label: Black Acre

Tracklist:
1.   Freedom (Aspirations Of A Prisoner)
2.   The Blues (It Began In Africa)
3.   Down The Line (It Takes A Number)
4.   I Wanna Go (Turn Back)
5.   Footnotes (Meditations On Afrocentrism)

Credits:
Mastered By – Beau
Written-By, Producer – Romare

Meditations on Afrocentrism. Sounds like some heavy stuff, doesn't it? Somehow it isn't. Londoner-via-Paris Romare succeeds on his Black Acre debut by avoiding both the scratchy collagist aesthetic of crate-diggers like Onra and the submerged, quashed quality of most footwork, for high-intensity percussive music that doesn't sound a whole lot like anything else out there. Opener "Freedom Aspirations of a Prisoner" opens with cinematic strings and hollow rimshots—no bass to be found anywhere—before Romare brings in tiny little clips of orchestral mayhem that serve as an ominously throbbing bassline. "I Wanna Go (Turn Back)" features more traditionally frenetic footwork rhythms, a flurry of cascading hollow drums and decaying synths, but even this incorporation of familiar structures sounds totally unique.  
The other two tracks are much slower, abandoning the footwork mission for their own skewed takes on bass music. The 88 BPM "Down The Line (It Takes a Number)" is a sticky-slow hip-hop jam with a funk guitar more languid than lashing, but the EP peaks with the 122 BPM "The Blues (It Began In Africa)." Splaying a house-friendly flute panned to the extreme peripheries of the stereo spectrum, the undulating bass riff at its centre totally eclipses everything, the kind of eminently physical frequencies that feel like they're enclosing around your entire head rather than just your ears. Though the track might not technically be footwork, it plays around with footwork's dread-inducing dislocated bass clouds, inflating them to a grotesque level. It's an uncanny tune that remains breathtaking from the first play to the tenth, and a little stroke of genius that raises Romare above the level of just another producer jumping on the footwork bandwagon. 
Andrew Ryce / RA