My mind races trying to describe Chinatsu Kuzuu’s music. Should I share with y’all my first impressions? First, I hear the voice of June Tambor as transferred to a young woman (around her age) in Tokyo. Then, I hear the Gaelic fantasy music of Horslips, mutated through the introduction of digital polysynths, drum machines, and samplers. As my thinking speeds forward, I have to stop short and remind myself: all of this music was actually created by one person, seemingly, seriously divorced from whatever influences she’s putting forth. The City in the Sea is an album of unlikely marriages; its the marriage of Japanese techno-pop with English Neofolk music set to the poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edgar Allen Poe, done in such a way that is awesomely fascinating and brilliant. I would have to imagine I’m dreaming if such an album, done by such an artist like Chinatsu Kuzuu would exist, if it, in fact, didn’t. It does, and boy is it special.
Chinatsu Kuzuu is a Tokyoite who is mostly known now for her work in various Japanese commercials and video games. If anyone has stumbled upon Nobuo Uematsu’s Phantasmagoria one would have even been able to hear another famous piece, one of actual popular music. It was Chinatsu’s vocals and arrangements that would grace the epic titular track to the Final Fantasy video game series found on that album. Few, outside of Japan, would know that Chinatsu had already a decidedly strong, but small, legion devoted to her left-field meeting of New Albion and Japanese New Age electro-acoustic music.
In 1985, Chinatsu had begun developing a sound that only a few other groups/artists like Zabadak and Ayuo Takasahi seemed to gravitate to. Seemingly, ignoring the heavy Gallic, Brazilian, or American influenced sound of other Japanese Art Pop scenes, it was these groups who turned to Anglophilic influence of the first wave of English Folk/Rock like Pentangle, Fairport Convention, and Shirley Collins as heard in the music of Kate Bush and the Cocteau Twins. Chinatsu, perhaps more faithful to the Olde English tradition, faithfully stuck with singing in English and conceiving the songs with a Japanese bent. Early on, since 1986, she had to create her own music and release it herself (under the Salisbury label) as no takers were willing to market what she was making.
In 1986 and 1987, Chinatsu started to release EP’s like The Lady Of Shalott ~ The Raven and St. Agnes’ Eve that aimed to show her conceived sound. Listed on the liner notes was the equipment used to create her future folk: Prophet-5, Oberheim Xpander, Mirage, Roland System 100M, Korg 770, PC-8801mkII + MPU-401. Terrific, were her ideas to translate and update a certain Anglophilic in a new space. Those works, much like her closest English analogue, Virginia Astley, spoke of finding ways to make such digital creations still speak to very personal feelings of time immemorial, of traditions/affections from far long ago.
This all brings us up to a work done four years later, The City In the Sea. The City In The Sea has all the makings of something that still remains so out of step with whatever existed then. Holding more in common with contemporary neofolk artists or little-known gems by some like Japan’s own Yoko Ueno, this release just bristles with even headier arrangements that flesh out even further her translation of harp-driven, bodhran inflicting, and wayfaring treatises into things that can outlive the derivative Loreena McKennitt’s of the world.
Critically, what’s there poke holes at? I will not be the first to knock the heralded geniuses of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edgar Allen Poe, it is in fact the gorgeous May Queen poem of the former that kicks off the whole affair. What makes The City In The Sea so different lies in the intricate interpretation Chinatsu creates out of the ether from such poems. The opener sounds like something from Amazing Blondel filtered through all sorts of FM synthesis. “Nature Rewards Me” fades in and out, and knocks drum beats to and fro, like a Mariah song sent along a trip through the River Thames. Poe’s “The City In The Sea” sounds equally as wiggy, and strangely affectionate as the melancholic original. Imagine the sound of Canterbury prog as synthesized by someone who wants to parcel the epic-ness out; who wants to rearrange it in a glitch as a sonic blip of concise sentimentality — that’s this track here.
I still don’t know how to describe this album. Way back when, this blog did a long sojourn through the depths of English folk music to show how much it had the capacity to reassess and rebuild itself from the times of Anne Briggs, Shirley Collins and others to the time of Talk Talk and The Blue Nile…but I wouldn’t have thought I’d round the bend, here in Japan, with another artist who found another way to put another ring around that round. Yet, here I am, with This City In The Sea, with this bit of fascinating, long-out-of-print, Japanese New Albion beauty.