n this series, clicks’n’cuts dilettante Francis Henville describes his descent into the netherworld of Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean commercial pop. Track by track, he navigates deeper into the genre, searching for ever-more-toothsome morsels with which to satiate his jaded appetite…
Cloud Cuckoo Land (Acoustic Demo Version)
Here she comes now, floating down from the sky, in her cloud calculator, the girl with the strawberry voice, Takako-chan. A string of Mini-Moogs is suspended above her head like a crown of black laurel, and she opens her mouth to whisper, “White. White is the greatest color of all.”
I first came across the icing sugar voice of Takako when I heard Nobukazu Takemura’s remix of her “Phonoballoon Song.” It took me two years to locate a copy of the EP that it came from: Ximer, a collection of remixes that also has this alternate version of Cloud Cuckoo Land. What’s really odd is that the two versions have identical vocal melodies and completely different chord structures.
This is the incomparably sweet and raw—dry, with only a few effects. Takako even fails to hit a few of the notes: a far cry from the Autotuned robo-perfection of the average J-Idol. The guitars aren’t perfect and the synth lines are simple. Percussion is not required. Her voice takes you away to the clouds with Isaac Newton and Thomas Merton and everyone’s heart is a marshmallow for a moment.
Crucial too, I’d argue, is Takako’s straddling of the line between the mainstream and independent music. This track is pretty old, and Takako isn’t really a big name in J-pop these days. Before she was a singer, she was a synth programmer and even wrote articles for various Japanese synth magazines. (She is constantly photographed with her beloved Minimoog.) This is incredibly uncommon in a land where most idols can’t even play an instrument. Eventually, after a few singles, her label tried to break her as a big star: but her unusual synth programming and English lyrics never really translated to her home market. Plus she was “too old” to be a pop idol in the conventional sense—she was in her late twenties. No matter: she’s managed to hang on at a level of success that, at the very least, has allowed to continue to release her music.
So here’s a track that hangs halfway between the Japanese “kawaii” independent music popular in North America—Shonen Knife, Pizzicato Five, Deerhoof—and the mainstream stuff that I’ve been dissecting and then frying on a brazier in this column so far. Here’s a bridge for overseas fans of cute Japanese music. A pink bridge in the sky with white polka dots. With happy, smiling bunnies on the other side. And all the bunnies have big sharp knives. C’mon over, nothing’s gonna happen.
By: Francis Henville
Published on: 2004-08-19