First off, I have to apologize for the lo-fi quality of this recording. Unless your name is Masaki Eguti or you are Kaoru Todoroki, most likely, you’ll never happen upon the original cassette recording of this truly audacious release. The only source for this audio is Kaoru’s (?) own Real Audio files uploaded to a long forgotten website a decade ago. However, let’s tackle this music with feeling and forget about fidelity. Much like Ernest Hood’s Neighborhoods, Kaoru Todoroki’s カルビンおじさんの 私生活 (Uncle Calvin’s Private Life) has all the hallmarks of being something unique, even for its own time. Touching on nostalgia and innocence in his own weird, but oddly mystifying way, Kaoru somehow found a niche in 1985 — on a label that was releasing Merzbow meanderings, of all things… — to join all sorts of ideas he had in his head of the music of Van Dyke Parks, the Residents, Brian Eno, and new school Japanese techno-pop or new age music coming together into its own intriguing thing.
Listening to カルビンおじさんの 私生活 (Uncle Calvin’s Private Life) makes it easy to forget how little semblance of a coherent musical theme exist in it. One track might be a quirky Harry Nilsson-like pop ditty only to be followed by a Godley & Creme-like absurdity. Then, once you think you have this album pegged a mesmerizing ambient piece takes you elsewhere. If you’ve heard Kaoru Todoroki’s other band, Picky Picnic, you might be prepared for this kind of music. In theirs yad had a Residents-level musical mastery attuned to Japanese techno-pop with equal aplomb. However, even if you’ve heard of them before, that still won’t prepare you for how much more personal this vision is.
Kaoru Todoroki’s カルビンおじさんの 私生活 (Uncle Calvin’s Private Life) sounds like vignettes of a larger thing, because it was exactly that. Kaoru wrote this music to soundtrack an actual children’s book written by label head Masaki Eguti detailing the a day (or days) in the life of the titular character. Uncle Calvin is introduced to you through the far off sounds of nostalgia-tweaked environmental recordings jumping right into a sing-song, twee thing. As the album progresses, happy-go-lucky children’s melodies and harmonies that affect such a feeling (through sample and pitch manipulation) cement how each song is indeed telling a different part in the story. From going to fish every day, to detailing how Uncle Calvin loves to be out in nature, because that’s where he is accepted kindly (as opposed to laughed at elsewhere), Kaoru’s music matches the balance of sweet innocence with an underlying melancholy and anger present in some of our most powerful, youthful memories.
All one needs to actually get Kaoru’s album is to simply listen to the transition from the childish sampler and musique concréte, schizoid pop of “Scenes In The Dream” to “Atmosphere Of The Forest”. One song reminds us of the joyful, naivety of simply making music through noise, happenstance, to only then have it come out as a “song”. The other one, purposely wakes us from that dream to remind us — via sonic atmosphere — how we can create very unplaceable emotions with something as simple as a song title and some searching, sonic experimentation. The first side of the record goes through that joy and discovery with equal profundity. The second side, as it follows the story line, goes from disappointment to joy again.
Although we might not understand all goings on in カルビンおじさんの 私生活 (Uncle Calvin’s Private Life) Kaoru did do a wonderful thing and actually painted that picture for us. It’s zany, brainy, and (at times) quite rainy, but even then, at this lo-fidelity, there’s just something about Uncle Calvin’s Private Life that’s quite, quite special.