The first year of Yen Record’s existence surely must have felt like a fruitful one for its famous YMO founders Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi. Initially begun as an imprint for the Alfa Records company, Yen Records became less of a way to release YMO side projects, and more as a way to expand upon the amount of musical ideas those two had in abundance. By using this label as an outlet to get all those fascinating ideas out, they were also able to invite other bands to join in and exert a new kind of freedom they might not have enjoyed with other Japanese record labels. Even though we are slowly discovering artists from their roster like Miharu Koshi, Guernica, Hajime Tachibana, Interior, and Inoyama Land, there was a time when these were the kind of artists that would not be any other Japanese label’s first choice as artists or bands to sign. The Yen Manifold Vol. 1 compilation gives you a taste of the powerful ideas and innovative bands that made Yen Records exactly the essential record label it came to be.
You know what’s the most surprising about this compilation? It’s what you don’t hear. You don’t get the palatable techno-pop of Yukihiro Takahashi or the minimal wave-ish sound of Guernica. You don’t get the New Romantic-style New Wave of Sandii and the Sunsetz. I’m surprised you don’t even get the obvious entryway to the “Yen sound” in the form of any track from by Miharu Koshi (their would-be breakout star). No, what you get is a selection from their more experimental signings.
What you’ll hear in Yen Manifold Vol. 1 is a mostly instrumental selection of songs from groups like Interior and Testpattern. Interior, whom I covered before, was a band with feet in the worlds of New Age, ambient, and post-punk (things more obviously heard here). Testpattern, a duo consisting of Fumio Ichimura, Masao Hiruma, had more in common with French technodelic artists like Telex, Jean Michel Jarre, or the floatier side of German music (think the work of Cluster) than most of the Yen roster that looked towards Roxy Music, Japan, or Talking Heads for inspiration. Even the less obvious electronically-indebted work of Koji Ueno, which makes an appearance here, one that draws from minimalist and modern classical music, has a unique point of view that feels distinctly like a Yen product. “Movement Perpetuels” isn’t something you would think as an obvious choice for such a compilation, but here you can appreciate what he could bring to the label.
Taken as a whole, this compilation truly captures the spirit of music that Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi exactly wanted to see being created at Yen. In rare songs you can only find here, you’ll hear how this roster wasn’t some flavor of the month club but a collection of bands trying do something far more timeless. I’ll get to some of those other releases, from this label, soon enough. For now, same advice as always…