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New Satellite Young: “Modern Romance”

Nostalgia and irony frequently criss-cross. This is hardly a new observation — anyone who sat through ten hours of Mo Rocca explaining The Love Boat in the Aughts knows it well — but one that feels ever present. Satellite Young offer a masterclass in balancing this just right without tipping over into the sort of eye rolling “Slinkies, wow!” territory no shortage of pop culture happily bathes in. The music on this year’s Satellite Young channels ’80s idol songs with a droplet of John Hughes prom climax, but the lyrics focus on the world of now, from fake Facebook profiles to FOMO. And for all the winks, the trio are capable of transcending it and hitting on real longing.

“Modern Romance” might now stand as their best example of this tightrope walk. This is a song about Tindr, or at least about love in the age of Tindr — the use of the word “swipe” seconds in should give that one away. Yet it also doesn’t dwell too much on that — remember this piece of garbage? — and the group simply accepts this reality and just makes a jam out of it. “Modern Romance” is ultimately just a fantastic synth-pop song taking cues from late ’80s Japanese pop, highlighted by an ear-worm chorus made all the better by the synthesizer melodies. No goofy dwelling on what-it-all-means, no thick layers of thought to work out — kind of like how some of Perfume’s best songs simply shrug and accept a digitally absorbed world, Satellite Young embrace reality, and make the most of it. Listen above.

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Digital Voices In The Rain: Goto Nao’s SleepSleep EP

Omoide Label has become one of the best digital spots in Japan to find interesting utilization of Vocaloid and UTAU technology in electronic music. Goto Nao’s SleepSleep EP only adds to this growing reputation. The producer turns to UTAU program Kakoi Nizimine to provide singing on these three songs. The program’s voice isn’t particularly experimental on its own, and Nao doesn’t push it — compared to mus.hiba’s embrace of whispery software — but Nao surrounds the computer-generated lines with an electronic glow that brings out the emotion at its core. Opener “AM2:30” follows the most predictable path, the song opening with rain samples and soft keyboard notes, but building up to a drop that’s part Marshmello, part Porter Robinson. Thing is, the parts where the voice meets the music stand as SleepSleep’s most interesting moments. And that’s on full display on the next two cuts, which avoid predictable formula in favor of solid songcraft (like how the second track here lets the voice collide with the little digital fidgets interrupting it). Get it here, or listen below.

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New House Of Tapes: “Not Eternity” And “There is No Encore”

Two new songs from Nagoya’s House Of Tapes emerged over the weekend, both highlighting different sides to what the electronic producer — one of Japan’s more prolific independent electronic acts — has been up to recently. “Not Eternity” finds him in a particularly dreamy space, his singing muffled but surrounded by bright synth pings. Ultimately, the vocals offer some disruption, as when they leave the number “Not Eternity” approaches a particularly shimmering headspace. But the words cut through, and add some ennui to the proceedings. Listen above.

“There Is No Encore” treads similar ground, as it too features prominent (albeit frazzled) vocals from House Of Tapes. Yet it’s less dream-worthy and a bit more muddled, at least until late in the song, when it opens up and House Of Tapes’ synth melodies really get a chance to shine. Listen below.

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Electro Overload: New Songs From Motometointe And Aire

Great week for fans of near-suffocating (in the best possible way that word can be deployed) electro-pop originating out of Japan. First up is “Weekend,” a bouncy dance-pop cut courtesy of Motometointe, a duo featuring Nmotome and Intend. While the busy electronics and generally upbeat pace hit immediate pleasure centers, its the tag-team vocals that really lift the song up for me. Intend jump-ropes between rapping and a more familiar, monotone singing come the chorus, while Nmotome interjects with a Rip-Slym-y verse his own to lighten the mood. Listen above.

And from today, Kanagawa-based artist Aire shared “Kokoro No Katachi,” a loose-limbed electro-pop numbered embracing the futuristic bend of this style with Vocaloid singing. It’s still human, after all — besides Aire’s charged-up composition and production, the lyrics come courtesy of Y2 and the song features nice guitar touches courtesy of O2I3. It all comes together to form a rubbery number apt for a sunny day. Listen below.

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Rich Blips: Chip Tanaka’s Django

Hirokazu Tanaka isn’t just any video game soundtrack composer. He’s a legend, having helped create the familiar 8-bit musical backdrops for games such as Metroid and Tetris among others. And the songs for Earthbound, a game which I played a lot as a kid, and which boasts a soundtrack that still goes strong today. Part of his skill lies in the simple fact he’s not drawing from a childhood spent sitting in front of an NES — he played the role of architect in shaping how a new generation of kids (and now, artists) hear chip music. He can’t fall for nostalgia, because he shaped nostalgia for many.

This is part of the reason that Django, the first full-length album under his Chip Tanaka moniker, sounds so good. The other is that Tanaka is just a great artist, whatever sound he leans in to. Django finds him applying 8-bit sounds — among others — to reggae, not novel on its own, but done well on cuts such as “Ringing Dub” and “Pop Bomb” by a dude who spent the 1980s playing in Kyoto-area reggae outfits (aside: peep that James Hadfield interview with Tanaka in the Japan Times today). Free to go in whatever direction he wants, Tanaka creates sunny-day hiccups (“Beaver”), ping-ponging cascades of bleeps (“Drifting”) and skittery pop (“Prizm”). It’s colorful and ever-surprising, rising well above the trappings some chiptune albums fall into when they get a little too fixated on childhood memories. No need for the guy who made a lot of them. Get it here, or listen below.

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