Tokyo, Berlin, London and other points in between, are the locales touched by Meat the Beat an intriguing work from surprisingly prolific (yet largely unknown) Japanese musician Takumi Iwasaki. Eleven songs in total, nine sung in English, two in Germany, with a startling album cover touching on the austere visuals of Berlin-era Bowie, should it be any surprise that what you’ll find Meat the Beat evokes a sort of reverse parallax. It’s the sound of a Japanese musician aiming for a similar motorik-cum-art-pop that already took its own cues from very insular Japanese musical motifs and styles, phew. Phew, indeed. Inspired and eccentric enough to pull it off, Takumi assumes the role of Bowie and Visconti, while he enlists Seigén Ono to play the role of he was born to play (Brian Eno) in this passion play.
The album begins with a gambit, one you’ll probably recognize. An A-side Takumi dubs the “Face Side”, features all the rockers, punkish, and rip-roaring tracks one would normally expect to hear on the A-Side of Before and After Science and “Heroes”. The B-Side, beginning with “Myron”, dubs itself the “In Side” continuing on in a different tip. This side is far more atmospheric, experimental, and electronic. Manning the Fairlight CMI sampler and a battery of drum machines Takumi writes, performs, and sings on each song with the bravado of someone who has a point to make.
Off the bat “Hauch Von Mir” throws you right in the thick of it. Entirely sung in German, Takumi envelopes this song with all sorts of mechanical-sounding far-away samples (a boon showing his prowess on the Fairlight CMI sampler) and heavy drum rhythms ratcheting up its intensity with sneaky mellotron-like pads and Eno-like snake guitar. It’s a massive sounding album that belies the fact it was released on a label only know for releasing new age cheese from Kitaro. A testament to the relentless experimentation and prowess Takumi had in knowing how to arrange all those varied parts into something that could sound both playful and dark. “Tokyoite” a rejection of staid nationalism, sung in English, reveals itself as a joyful ode to owning to doing/liking what you want. Bouncy, glammy, and angular, playing like a long lost track from Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy, it’s art pop with a finely-honed “p.”
As the rest of the “Face Side” plays through with some of the most wicked-sounding post-punk The Associates or John Foxx-era Ultravox would have killed to write, “A Cloudy Sky In My Yard” is the perfect cherry on top. A gorgeous, start-stop bit of art rock with classical guitar meeting yearning, larger-than-life sounding rhythms, it’s a magnificent way to end the first side on a high note…dispelling all the nonsense of this being a dark album. The “In Side”, well that’s its own fascinating even better bit of music.
“Myron”, now “Myron” what…a…track. I’d write track in all uppercase caps, if I could. Beyond forward-thinking, its intangible mix of electro-African rhythms with (what sounds like) chopped-up vocals, turntablism, and urban body music, completely washes away whatever came before it and throws you knee-deep into the future. “Days of Romance” continues with more surprises. A wonderful track featuring the unlikeliest/most unknown mix of City-Pop, new romanticism, and tropical slow-mo disco. Sashaying through equal bits of darkness, lightness, romance and sadness, it’s a would-be dance-floor filler with heavy areas for retrospection. Can you think of anyone that could pull off something like this, then? Don’t quote me on this, but parts of Kajagoogoo’s Islands strike me as having this same vibe – albeit with half the heft and bite Takumi brought to the table. I better end my post before I go on full fanboi mode, but man alive does that second side make this album WORK.
If you, kind blog reader, comes back to this post, did “Wave Over And” strike you with the same feeling “Sense of Doubt” does? You know Takumi would go on to do other interesting things but let’s hope someone out there hears our quiet pleas for a reissue. Trust, this one is vital!