How do you classify a six-piece Japanese band like Apsaras? Their debut album Apsaras definitely covers a ton of bases. Let’s count all the genres that they bring into their musical mix: dub, new age, minimalism, vocoder funk, balearic, are a few. Heck, you even hear the glimmers of Afropop and Jazz-Fusion. How many genres have I mentioned so far? Five or so, right?
More post-rock or post-ambient than the genre – New Age – they were filed under when signed by Epic/Sony in Japan, Apsaras holds the distinction of being one of the few Japanese electroacoustic groups to push for crossover success in America. A strange group for its time, nothing about their debut was conventional. First of all, how many New Age groups do you know employ two drummers at once? That sorta gives you a hint at how different Apsaras was. Yes they could make calm, reflective, and wistful music, but somehow they could add all sorts of other groove elements that could make this style joyful, moving, and (surprisingly) even danceable.
Where does one start with Apsaras? You can look at the songs on the album. Almost every song hovered near or above the six minute mark. Then take a listen at the songs. On a track like “Ashitani” you’d hear one stone cold, cool tropical groove suddenly be consumed by an esoteric ambient wash that takes the original impetus elsewhere. Then you could hear something like “Misato”, that could belong in the Interior Music series, go the opposite route. You’d hear this fascinating bit of Japanese minimalism somehow turn into balearic sunset music. The music of Apsaras although made for people who were searching for music to zone out to, wasn’t really music that was easy to zone out to. Apsaras was much too intriguing and compelling to do so.
Apsaras, as cool as it is, remains another tempting bit of fourth world music that is in release purgatory. Although it was one of the earliest albums released on CD, it hasn’t been reissued since then. The band itself broke up after its release. No matter, nothing shakes away that this is a unique slice of Japanese music worth rediscovering. Although some of us are crying for a proper vinyl reissue – to better blow up it’s wonderful cover art! – the only consolation I have is that we can share a digital copy that can still be passed around to others.