Nothing’s worse than someone recommending a half-great album. I hate doing so, and I’d imagine you’d half-hate downloading an album only to find out that you have to skip half the tracks. Be that as it may, I have to break my own rules, and whole-heartedly recommend this: take some time, download, and listen to Seri Ishikiwa’s Rakuen. How come?
Released in Japan in 1985, Rakuen was in fact Seri’s swan song. Seri was a hafu, born of American and Japanese parents. Her early career was typified by striking out in unfamiliar territory other Japanese artists weren’t quite as sure-footed to tackle. A pop singer first and foremost, she began her career in a decidedly Western way. In the late 70s, working in a funk and soul style, her early releases then were far more groove oriented than most Japanese artists were willing to go at the the time. Sometime, before the 80s rolled around, Seri met and married Japanese-rock icon Yosui Inoue. That in turn propelled her to further investigate her own connection to Japan and produce her own music irregardless of how different it would become.
When the 80s rolled around, this meant Seri started to increasingly integrate more modern, Japanese-influenced electronic music into her stew of far-out J-Pop. Unable to get much traction from her notable works like 1982’s electro-pop revelation Möbius and the decidedly experimental Femme Fatale released in 1984, Seri saw fit to release one more album and call it quits afterward. Rakuen meaning “paradise”, was exactly that, her final attempt to reconcile all these expanding influences she’d no longer have the time to explore. That’s why it’s so half-realized and half-extraordinary.
For every other track where you’d hear something dated, you’d find some other track with a truly, fully formed visionary thing. When an album begins with one of the most gorgeous slo-mo lovers rock tracks of the era, then proceeds to bookend itself with a truly unique minimalist Japanese dream pop masterwork (courtesy of co-writer Ryuichi Sakamoto), you have to be considerate. You have to know that something really different lies there. Patience. Some of the best paintings require you to step back – away from all those brush strokes – and take the whole picture in. Seri Ishikawa’s Rakuen is not quite paradise, but for a few choice minutes, I’ll be damned if this isn’t something special.