So intrigued I was with singer-songwriter Minami Kitasono's（北園みなみ）song "Zakuro"（ざくろ...Pomegranate）and one of his later contributions to the J-Pop world that I ended up getting his 2014 debut album "Promenade". However, to be specific, though, this is actually a mini-album of 5 songs, and his album history has kept things to that number for each of his other releases: "Lumiere" (July 2015) and "Never Let Me Go" (December 2015).
As much as I am aware of the conventional sci-fi of "Star Trek", "Star Wars" and even "Doctor Who", the concept of alternate universes and realities has also tweaked my attention over the years, and I know that two of the shows above have also explored those possibilities. I guess for me, along with the utopian future, an alternate Earth that has raised my interest is the one that combines the sleek and shiny future with the seeming footloose and fancy-free past of a European city in the early 20th century, perhaps between the two world wars. Perhaps it might be a steampunk reality.
But in any case, when I've listened to the five tracks of "Promenade" including "Zakuro", I've gotten that feeling of that hybrid reality I just mentioned in the previous paragraph, although the illustrations in the album booklet by Hirokazu Matsuda are just of that early 20th-century environment. Maybe the paintings depict a suburb in France or Italy.
Just to let you know right off the top, though, Kitasono took care of the creation, production and performance of the tracks, and a couple of friends/contemporaries from the band Lamp, Yusuke Nagai（永井祐介）and Kaori Sakakibara（榊原香保里）provide backing vocals; the latter even provides instrumental help with her flute.
"Soft Pop"（ソフトポップ）is Track 1, and it's a breezy flight of fancy that has struck me as being typical of the Kitasono sound (if there is such a thing): a melange of jazz, Shibuya-kei and urban contemporary against a backdrop of traipsing through that titular promenade in some big city. And I can't help feeling that the jazz here is from Europe thanks to the tootling sax and guitar. Plus, that old-style promenade with folks selling everything from beans to bats probably has old-fashioned dirigibles as well as flying 21st-century cars overhead.
"Denwa Goshi ni"（電話越しに...Over The Phone）goes a bit more down and dirty and funky, especially in the beginning, but then it dips a bit into Steely Dan territory as the protagonist gets a call out of the blue from an old flame after a night of carousing. There's some more synthesizer in here which gave me the initial sensation that "Denwa Goshi ni" was going to be some sort of technopop tune. Love the trumpet by Taichiro Kawasaki.
Then we have "Vitamin" which sounds perfect for a performance in some sort of cool Sunday cafe on one of the myriad side streets in Omotesando or Aoyama. Perhaps we can hear the good music while sitting in the al fresco section of that establishment. I can also pick up on that French jazz. Always fall for a cool brass section.
"Plastic Minyo"（プラスティック民謡）doesn't just get my curiosity up because of that title. I'm not sure whether Kitasono was trying to put his little twist into the ancient Japanese music genre, but his efforts have generated a song that seems to provide chindon'ya accompaniment to a gentle walk along that promenade and then a slightly wild beefy sax-driven ride on a jinrikisha. Now, that's what I could call a great day in Asakusa!
"Promenade" is a short and sweet album at 20 minutes but I think it's just enough to offer a pleasant guided tour through my utopia of future tech and past style. I have my doubts whether Kitasono himself has ever seen "Kayo Kyoku Plus", but if he has, I would venture a question to him: Have you ever thought of doing soundtracks for anime?
P.S. Just to give credit where credit is due, all of the videos were provided by uploader Bootleg_Dankie.