The Rough Guide to
The Best Japanese Music You've Never Heard
World Music Network
Review by Chris Nickson
"Eh! Eh? Eh!? Janaika"
If weird came in sizes from XS to XXXL, then The Best Japanese Music You’ve Never Heard would clock in somewhere around an XL on the scale. Not so alien it sounds as if it’s from another planet, but heading towards the edge of this one. It certainly goes for it from the start as singer Utsumi Eika teams with a cocktail full jazz band on a traditional minyo (folk) song, “Don-Don Bushi.” To Western ears it makes for a strange, unlikely pairing, a clash, really. but it sets the tone for tracks from different artists where Japanese rap meets folk and other artists carry the traditions into some deep and dusty musical territory, upping the strangeness quotient.
Then, perhaps inevitably, there’s surf guitar, whose influence lingers long and strong in Japan’s roots rock scene, not just in the six-string, but also on the native three-string shamisen, which makes for an interesting experience. Definitely odd, but appealing, and highlighted by the Surf Champlers’ take on Dick Dale’s rock classic “Misirlou.”
Quite rightly, though, the strangest is saved for last, with vocalist Norio Nakagawa and flautist Dogen Kinowaki, known jointly as, ahem, the Cockroach Eaters, who produce a track called “Saboten No Wakusei” that gleefully defies any kind of stereotype to produce its own pool of extra audacious bizarro that ensures the album lives up to its title. Unheard, perhaps, yet curiously satisfying. – Chris Nickson