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Imagine a post-apocalyptic universe where space age sounds, '70s grooves and Hawaiian guitars all nestle together in harmony within a world that doesn't always quite make sense and where things could explode into chaos at any moment. Where every moment is the calm before the storm arrives, again. This is really what creates the basis of Shintaro Sakamoto's latest solo effort Let's Dance Raw.
You may not have heard of him, or maybe you have, but in his homeland of Japan he is something of a cult legend, due mainly to playing front man duties to psychedelic Japanese heavyweights Yura Yura Teikoku. Let's Dance Raw is only his second solo effort to date, and sees Sakamoto take on most of the instrumental duties, with Yuta Suganuma helping out on percussion and drumming roles.
It's one of those selection of songs where the album artwork is intrinsic to the feel of the album and how it is meant to be perceived. The artwork sees Sakamoto sitting against a backdrop of what is arguably some kind of nuclear nightmare of apocalyptic proportions. But that's not what is crucial. It is the skull face that is put in place of Sakamoto's own face, that seems to smirk at what he has in store for you, and really gives the sense that everything is very far from what it seems in this strange world of sounds that Sakamoto has single-handedly created from the depths of his own mind.
It is no understatement to say that Shintaro Sakamoto is a man who makes fascinating music. On first listen, this is an album that could easily be mistaken for something that is a lot sweeter and innocent than it actually is. The squeaky clean melodies and twanging Hawaiian guitars give this false sense of security, which is juxtaposed by a dementedly altered electronic voice that sings out in imitation of Sakamoto. Take 'The Birth Of A Super Cult', where the title alone brings about all kinds of connotations, and sounds a bit like a Spongebob Squarepants episode gone really wrong and weird, where the children's cartoon is suddenly really not suitable for children anymore. But in a good way (somehow.)
It sets you on edge. Then the lyrics, sang entirely in Japanese throughout, cry out above the music, speaking mostly of the human race's downfall. However, this dismal and pessimistic message is buried deep beneath contrasting major keys, which accumulates in sending out all kinds of signals. Things that should comfort leave a disorientating feeling that doesn't quite settle, with Sakamoto's skull face looming large over all of it. It's all a little creepy really.
The album's title track, 'Let's Dance Raw', works off a different mood, building on a deep-seated groove that drives it all along. It's like it's come straight out of the '70s via Americano staccato guitars and a radio in a deserted café. There are so many influences that run through this album, with the dark-room Jazz of 'Like An Oligation' to the hillbilly banjos of 'You Can Be A Robot, Too'. It is endlessly experimental and explorative in its sounds, textures, rhythms and the instruments it uses.
This is an album that will not send Shintaro Sakamoto into super stardom, but will further cement his place as an experimental and eternally intriguing cult artist. It should do him some service in gaining him some much worthy praise far from his homeland and inspire many. It is staggeringly different to anything else that is being made at the moment and its unique take on the subject of the human race's journey to self destruction are to be admired and thought about. It tightens up Sakamoto's signature sound and is a mean feat in how the imagination can play out through music.
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