Here are the album reviews I wrote for the July issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo last week.
-Jamie xx (Young Turks/Hostess)
-Young Juvenile Youth (Beat)
Though Jamie xx’s solo album has been anticipated for almost five years now—ever since he remixed Gil-Scott Heron’s last album We’re New Here into something quite different from the original—the record is still startling, if only because of how dissimilar it is to the work of his group The xx. In some ways this is a good thing. The xx’s second album was much less interesting than its debut, and it’s easy to surmise that Jamie, the producer, was already outgrowing the song-based predilections of his mates by the time Coexist was recorded. Removing the need to write original tunes with conventional meaning—no matter how abstract they tried to make it—obviously freed Jamie to explore what he could only do on his own, i.e., sample sounds and music that meant more to him than any personal verbal expression. Significantly, the casting off of normal structure has made his work more musical. The songs on In Colour still have that melancholy cast that made The xx’s tunes so indelible, but at the service of a wider range of fundamental emotions, which is probably what the album title is all about. Jamie is not going to tell his audience how to feel, but he will insist that there’s more than one feeling to feel here. His use of old doo-wop and ragga rhythms never seems gratuitous, and he’s careful to loop beats and melody snippets for maximum tension-and-release. You can almost hear the intent coming at you. Since this is unabashedly club music, made to be played (and danced to) in the presence of many people, it’s by definition more limiting in style than whatever it was The xx was trying to accomplish, but within those parameters it takes advantage of more resources than The xx ever did. It’s the most democratic dance music imaginable. Producer Jemapur (Toshiaki Ooi) has less pressing concerns in his new project with pop vocalist Yuki Matsuda. He surrounds her breathy, languorous vocals, in both English and Japanese, with the kind of spare beats that highlight those vocals rather than compete with or even complement them. His pop mission statement is more forthright than Jamie xx’s, but Jamie’s songs are closer in effect to what we enjoy about pop—its immediacy, its lack of guile. In interviews, Matsuda implies that there is no longer an “underground” market, and thus her vision of pop music cuts across all lines of taste and style. She obviously sees Young Juvenile Youth’s music as being more of a challenge to local consumers, which is probably why she sings mostly in English. Apparently, it was she who went to Jemapur and not the other way around, and she seems to control the message. That may explain why YJY sounds less like an organic partnership than two people struggling to find common ground, which is fine. Struggle can be entertaining, too. Continue reading