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.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Aragon -- Aragon

Back in September, I wrote about singer-musician Kazuhiro Nishimatsu(西松一博)and his amazing techno-cabaret of an album "Bouekifu Monogatari"(貿易風物語)from 1985. I first wrote about Nishimatsu when he was on his City Pop kick with his 1981 debut album "Good Times", specifically through his "My Last Lady".

(Sorry but the video has been deleted.)

Well, between those two albums, albeit with it being much closer to "Bouekifu Monogatari" since this particular album was released right in January 1985, I present "Aragon" by Aragon. Now, before you start thinking that this is the name of an old Calvin Klein cologne, Aragon was a band that included Nishimatsu and some other of his longtime collaborators such as guitarist Tsuyoshi Kon(今剛), drummer Tatsuo Hayashi(林立夫)and keyboardist Tadashi Namba(難波正司), all names that I've seen in many other liner notes for other artists over the decades.

As far back as that "My Last Lady" article, I had mentioned about Aragorn and its star lineup without knowing what was up for this album that has been classified as Ethno/Ambient. Quite the label, so I was intrigued by what kind of music that "Aragon" would entail. But I figured that I would be in for a good ride since I was impressed by what Nishimatsu brought in "Bouekifu Monogatari".

The first track "Ieji"(家路...The Road Home)is a fascinating opener which comes across as a mix of a child's lullaby and something deeply exotic. And again, Nishimatsu's vocals are pleasingly high and haunting. I was going to compare them to Tiny Tim's, but perhaps that would be a bit too whimsical, so I'm going with the higher registers of the late Klaus Nomi.

Track 2 (4:24) is "Horridula". I tried to search for any definition of horridula but wasn't successful, so I will assume that one of the band members made up the word. The weirdness and slightly horror-inducing feeling of the title aside, this was a creation that hooked on me immediately. I automatically got hints of Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一)and Vaporwave (maybe even American group Hiroshima) from listening to this, and Nishimatsu's vocals once again flit about in the stratosphere.

My third and last track for this article is the first one on Side B of the original 1985 LP, "Teami no Onpu"(手編の音符)which can be translated as "Musical Notes of Hand Knitting" or "Phonetic Symbols of Hand Knitting". Not sure where the classic hobby comes in but perhaps it involves the quiet but intense concentration needed, and that's how I treat "Teami no Onpu". There is something European folksy and very mellow with this song which fits that Ethno/Ambient tag. It starts off pleasant if introspective before Nishimatsu vocally throws in revelation and hope. Perhaps he hit that magical "Knit One Purl One".

"Aragon" is a most fascinating album; perhaps it can almost be considered to be an avant-garde or otherworldly one. Considering the famous musicians involved, that fascination further grows. I never thought that folks like Kon and Namba could work together to create this unique sound. Since both "Aragon" and "Bouekifu Monogatari" were released in the same year, I think the latter is the night out on the town while the former is a day inside alone while watching the garden.


  1. Hi J-Canuck, Matt here.

    Not sure if you've ever heard of Geinoh Yamashirogumi, but they're basically a *massive* ethno-ambient collective (Wikipedia claims they're comprised of quite literally hundreds of people from vastly different walks of life) around since 1974 whose music is so far removed from the Japanese pop scene it's even a far-cry from the stuff that Aragon wound up doing in 1985 with their sole release. Whereas Aragon effectively began as an anime soundtrack-pop collective with a spacy edge, Geinoh Yamashirogumi is about as "ethno-ambient" as one can get.

    The main reason I'm mentioning them here is that Geinoh had apparently referenced Aragon in the liner notes of their 1986 album "Ecophony Rinne". As I've said before they have very little in common with Aragon aside from occupying a similar musical niche—Geinoh Yamashirogumi are more or less full-on "ethno" whereas Aragon retained some elements of the 80s Japanese pop sound its members helped to sculpt in some way or another, in particular Tsuyoshi Kon and Kazuhiro Nishimatsu. I've had a listen to "Ecophony Rinne" and it was...jarring to say the least, one of the most surreal listening experiences I've ever had—it doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard before.

    1. Hi, Matt.

      Indeed, I just listened to the first track of "Ecophony Rinne" (Primordial Germination), and if I can use the analogy of dance/performance art from that decade, I could see Geinoh Yamashiro-gumi as Butoh compared to Nishimatsu's tap dance/breakdancing.

      "Ecophony Rinne" is quite avant-garde and I'm impressed by having folks who have their professions contribute to this project which seems to be aspiring for a decades-long art work.


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