Dip in the Pool – On Retinae (Music From Memory, January 2016)

Matt Anniss summed this one up perfectly in his review as a genuine Balearic pop gem, and a rare beauty. On Retinae is another pink-sounding record to inaugurate the year: it feels like early summer in the midst of winter. While they actually had their first LP released on Rough Trade here in the UK in 1986, Dip in the Pool have been criminally underloved outside of Japan over the past 30 years. We’ve been missing out. What they consistently made was sophisticatedly dreamy, delicate new wave, clean and lean yet sonically exploratory, up there with the best early 4AD or Disques du Crépuscule traditions.

The increasingly elegant Music From Memory (I use the word ‘elegant’ every time I write about this label!) puts out the “East” and “West” versions of the song which originally bookended the 1989 LP Retinae (worth a listen) which here is just enough to whet our appetite. And boy, appetite-whetting is exactly what the track does, gifting a little morsel of late-night poolside languor, all watery textures sparkling against wandering clarinets and wide, long, linear synth-lines. Yes it’s J-pop, yes it’s Balearic, and yes it’s got a new age and ambient feel to it, but it is also and fundamentally a perfectly round, self-contained new wave diamond that manages to impeccably fuse a serious, stylish coolness with an irresistible tenderness.

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YMO – BGM (Music On Vinyl, February 2016)

Finally repressed and reassessed in all its glory, this album has the magical ability to turn London’s grey skies into electric blue, glossy emerald and shiny patent yellow! One of the brightest stars of the Japenese synth tradition, BGM is perhaps the oddest and most delightful of the Hosono-Sakamoto-Takahashi trio’s bunch of LPs, and for me personally, the best. As a whole its differing parts inexplicably yet seamlessly click together; contemplative romantic synths and monumental martial compositions meet weird screwball funk while Morricone-in-Brazilia whistles in the wind. Most strikingly though, this is a record the bends your aesthetic sensibilities: it seduces you and persuades you into sonic worlds and kinds of imagination you maybe didn’t know you had.

The movement between the cold war pop nectar of tracks like “Ballet” and “Music Plans” and the utter strangeness of “Rap Phenomena” and “1000 knives” is thrilling in how it guides the listener from one palette to another; funk for the unconverted. More lip-smacking wonder occurs in “Camouflage”, the soundtrack for an impossible film noir, whilst “Mass” is one of the most sacred pieces of non-sacred music I have ever heard. BGM may be conceptually constructed as ‘Back Ground Music’, but that background is in fact more like an environment, like a building, like a space that’s inhabitable and potentially transforms how you live. If you’re only going to make it one Yellow Magic Orchestra record in this lifetime, make it this one.

Shinichi Atobe – World (DDS, June 2016)

Demdike Stare’s DDS label are almost deliberately vague on when exactly the acclaimed yet mysterious Shinichi Atobe recorded the material on this new mini-album, World. ‘Sometime in the past twenty years’, a press release declares with ambiguity. Let us agree that’s enough to include this gem of an album in the best archival releases of the merry month of June. Running at just over 35 minutes, the Japanese maverick’s second record on DDS (and only the third in two decades’ worth of making work), is mini in duration but maxi in ideas.

The record opens on the elusively titled “Intro,” a strict piece of minimal synth which does an interesting job at ‘introducing’ what follows; a series of adventures in icy, stark house music, all impeccably measured and, at times, wearing the rough patina of DIY right on their sleeve. In fact, you can hear the technology progress through the record: from “World I”, a rough House piano riff fresh like 1991 yet serious like the 17th Century, to “World II” a delicate gallop of the thinnest, squelchiest pulse, to “World III”, where what sounds like a duo of electric guitar and cigarette lighter deliver a warm and hypnotic beat. Glitchy digital dreams abound on the fourth and fifth ‘worlds’; inventive cross-genre experimental dance music, cerebral yet distracted, minimalist and full of rigour. Just how many worlds are contained in World might be hard to establish: each and every one of them contains at least another sonic world inside it. They’ll open up like Russian dolls to lovers of electronic music whatever your passion is exactly.