I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Tomoko Aran -- More Relax

This is one of the few times that I've actually been happy to eat crow with a good slab of humble pie. Back on my very first article for the singer-songwriter Tomoko Aran(亜蘭知子), the smooth and urbane "Slow Nights", I had stated some lament for the fact that the source album with the grammatically-troubled title, "More Relax", was probably out of circulation after all these years. Well, allow me to give some fervent thanks to the remastering boom that has been going on in the Japanese music industry for the last several years. During my trip in October, I was in Tower Records in Shibuya walking around when I came across the supposedly lost 4th album from the Aran discography on a shelf with some of the other obscure City Pop discs. It took all of a second (or most of one) to grab "More Relax" from that shelf.

I've already covered a couple of the tracks on the blog: the aforementioned "Slow Nights" and "Drive to Love", the bouncy first track which had also been released as Aran's 3rd single in June 1984, just a month after the release of "More Relax". Having listened to the album a couple of times now, this is a thoroughly City Pop/J-AOR disc with all of the urban contemporary mellowness that the tag would imply. Aran wrote the lyrics to all of the tracks while the famed fusion band, Casiopea, helped out with all of the music.

Having done the first two tracks of the album already, I guess I will be going into the middle of the order, so to speak. "Relax" is one of the more uptempo songs that, the title aside, sounds more like a night in 80s Tokyo: hit a darn fine Italian restaurant before dancing away at the discos and then an all-night cafe (most likely Almond in Roppongi at the time). Original bassist for Casiopea, Tetsuo Sakurai(櫻井哲夫), took care of the music here.

The Casiopea arrangements, by the way, had me thinking of an analogy. I mentioned for the article on Quincy Jones' fabulous "Ai no Corrida" that the album, "The Dude", sounded like a Michael Jackson project without Michael Jackson. In a way, I think there was something similar going on with "More Relax" in that it sounds like a Manhattan Transfer album when the famed US vocal quartet was doing similar urban contemporary pop stuff in the early 80s. I'm thinking about their 7th studio album, "Bodies and Souls" from 1983.


Keyboardist Minoru Mukaiya (向谷実...who also produced the album) composed "I Can't Say Goodbye", a smooth fine ballad with some nice tender vocals by Aran. I think folks like Rod Temperton and David Foster would have been quite happy here. Most of Casiopea was also behind the instruments during recording of the album, and I also have to point out that another City Pop legend, guitarist Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)was another contributor.

Mukaiya was also responsible for another downtown funk track, "E-SPY", a song from the album that reminds me most of that Manhattan Transfer foray into urban contemporary music. Aran sings about throwing away the conventional and just enjoying the night life as a mystery party animal, Not quite sure how that "E" in the title fits in, though.

Finally, there is "Waterless Pool" by drummer Akira Jimbo(神保彰). It has all of the pounding synths and pulsating bass helping Aran describe the end of a love affair symbolized by the titular empty swimming pool as the autumn leaves start falling into it. I definitely don't visualize the bright lights of Roppongi or Shinjuku when I listen to this one despite the arrangement. It's more like seeing a heartbroken lady looking out the bay windows at the backyard in need of a good raking.

"More Relax" is a musical look back into the early part of the 80s through a genre that was definitely neither enka nor aidoru but into a section of Japanese pop music that represented the urban nooks and crannies where some of those enka singers and aidoru teenyboppers probably headed for a good and expensive time.

And since I mentioned one of my favourite groups, you can take a listen to "Spice of Life" from "Bodies and Souls".

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