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SSR Picks - October 28 2021

Akina Nakamori: 不思議 12” (Reprise Records, 1986)

A few weeks ago I was on my couch late at night, unable to sleep, reading about Japanese punk music. On this particular research binge, my focus wandered outside the noisy Japanese hardcore that occupies the bulk of my attention, and I got curious about non-hardcore punk and new wave in Japan in the 80s. Somewhere amidst reading about groups like Friction, Anarchy, and INU, I came across a brief mention of Akina Nakamori’s 1986 album. That description prompted me give the album a quick listen, and it caught my ear right away. 不思議 reminded of something that might have come out on 4AD Records with its lush instrumentation and dark pop style, but unlike Siouxsie and the Banshees or the Cocteau Twins (the album’s closest sonic points of reference), Akina Nakamori wasn’t a young musician whose talent was just coming into bloom. Rather, she was an established pop star throwing a mid-career curveball.

Akina Nakamori was a Japanese pop idol, beginning her career in 1981 by winning the singing competition show Star Tanjō!, or A Star Is Born. After establishing her name with the TV series, Nakamori started her recording career and released a long string of successful singles and albums, regularly topping the single and album charts in Japan, with some of her releases approaching one million copies sold. I’m no expert on this style of mainstream 80s Japanese pop, but what I’ve checked out is about as glossy and gentle as you would expect given the cover art for her second album, Variation:

Compared to other pop idols, Nakamori’s image was edgy, her slightly risque lyrics contrasting with her biggest rival, Seiko Matsuda, who projected a gentler, girl-next-door image. Nakamori also followed the lead of western pop stars like Madonna who changed up their image with each new single or album release, making her the more sophisticated choice among the competing pop idols.

不思議 (Fushigi) is Nakamori’s tenth album, originally released in 1986. 不思議 is the first album of original material Nakamori released after BEST, her first greatest hits collection. Perhaps looking backward for BEST prompted some creative restlessness, or maybe the timing is coincidental, but 不思議 represents a dramatic shift in style for Nakamori. This is obvious from the album’s cover artwork, which subverts the pop idol convention by obscuring the singer’s face and adopting an earthy color scheme rather than modern-looking graphics.

The music also subverts pop convention by putting Nakamori’s voice way back in the mix—which is dominated by a busy bass, huge-sounding drums, and ethereal strings—and drowning it in echo. The vocal approach brings to mind Cocteau Twins, while the dark vibe and knotty rhythms remind me of Siouxsie and the Banshees circa Tinderbox. The entire album is in this style and it’s a gripping listen all the way through. Everything I’ve read insists that the UK post-punk that 不思議 most closely resembles was not an influence, and that Nakamori arrived at her similar sound independently. This is particularly impressive given that 不思議 is the only album in her long career that Nakamori self-produced.

While 不思議 went to #1 in Japan, it only topped the charts for three weeks, a relative disappointment for a huge star like Nakamori. While the album seemed to confuse much of her audience, critics hailed it as a triumph and it remains well regarded to this day.

If you want to read more about 不思議, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky wrote a very detailed piece on the record (much better than this one) for the AV Club back in 2016: https://www.avclub.com/a-one-of-a-kind-album-tried-to-turn-80s-pop-on-its-ear-1798243749


What’s up Sorry Staters?

I don’t how many of you get as psyched as I do about this time of year, but I’m trying to dwell in it as much as possible. I’m bustin’ out the flannels, I’m drinkin’ the hot cider… shit, I might even carve a pumpkin! Hoping all you freaks out there are prepared for a killer spooky-ass weekend. I love Halloween. And while I’m sure there will be plenty of Misfits and Samhain on deck, I feel like most of my energy during this time of year is devoted to watching movies rather than listening to music.

I’m by no means a soundtrack buff, but one great thing that comes along with 80s horror classics is the score. For whatever reason, cold and sparse synthesizer soundscapes seem to fit perfectly. I’m sure most people are familiar with John Carpenter’s films. Amazing of a filmmaker as Carpenter is, I still find it so interesting that he also composed a memorable score for many of the movies his name is attached to. One of my particular favorites is the 3rd installment of the Halloween franchise, Season of the Witch. An interesting sequel for sure, considering it doesn’t even feature the iconic Michael Myers. However, I think the score by Carpenter, along with Alan Howarth, is maybe his best work. In contrast to the instantly recognizable, anxiety-inducing 5/4 theme from the original, the 3rd sequel is predominantly a series of droning atmospheric mood pieces. The synth sounds hit piercing dissonances and have these perfectly organic yet cold synth-pad tones before the over-digitized sounds that came later in the 80s. The major theme “Chariots of Pumpkins” stands out with a more beat-driven feel that was destined to become a remixed disco-fied banger played by DJs in the years to follow. If you’re looking for some eerie and spine-chilling ambiance for your Halloween weekend, I’d definitely recommend jamming this electronic masterpiece. Also, if Season of Witch weren’t lumped in with the Michael Myers series and was a stand-alone movie, then I think it would maybe be less maligned. I think the movie is definitely worth revisiting as well!

As always, thanks for reading.

‘Til next week,

-Jeff


Happy Halloween Dear Sorry Staters. What’s up? Before I scribble a few words for my staff pick this week, let us take a moment to acknowledge the fact that we now live in a world where Liverpool Football Club beat Manchester United five nil at Old Trafford. An absolute horror story for them and one of the greatest wins for us, and we have plenty of memorable victories to choose from. Non sport fans can shrug their shoulders in indifference and the rest of you I encourage to google the game and enjoy the multiple highlights and global reaction.

Okay, moving on. It is Halloween this week and although I am sure my other SSR colleagues are going to pick horror theme records (Rachel) I couldn’t resist jumping in with a selection myself.

I know I have talked about my love of soundtracks previously. I have quite a few, so this week’s pick is plucked from them. Let’s listen to The Vampires Of Dartmoore and their Dracula’s Music Cabinet LP from 1969.

This was a German released record made to cash in on the Horrotica craze of the late 1960s that continued into the early 70s. European cinema was awash with B-Movie titles featuring scantily clad women being pursued by vampires and monsters. Most of these films used stock music library compositions for their soundtracks, although many of the better ones had scores made especially. This record was made by music library session guys for a film that didn’t exist. They are cues and themes for an imagined film. Does it work and is it any good? Kind of. The critics are divided. Some people think the record is utter pants and others have discovered some charm to it and like it. I fall into the latter camp, obviously. So do the good folks at Finders Keepers who prepared this reissue, which I have. Original copies disappeared into the backs of dusty European record shops and the collections of vinyl hounds and are tough to score.

Musically, the record is a kitschy pastiche affair. A cross between a jazzy lounge record, sound effects LP and actual soundtrack. There are some psychedelic touches here and there, but it is far from a Krautrock album, although you can hear similar stuff going on in some of the early Irmin Schmidt soundtracks he did in his early pre-Can and Can days. Who played on the record is not completely certain, but we know the composers and main artistic inspiration came from two dudes, Horst Ackermann and Heribert Thusek, who were active in the German music scene at the time. Oh, and there is a drum break in there too.

The cover is pure horror theatre with white faced, vampire toothed characters and a child looking creepily at the camera. The rear has a vampire chick spreading her cloak wide and looking like a Kiss extra with bad teeth. Great stuff.

I listened to the record a few times this week, and I liked having it playing in the background whilst I worked. It is a quick affair, about thirty-five minutes, so doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. Like I said, not brilliant, not a lost John Carpenter or Morricone score, but fun and appropriate for the season. You can check it out yourself here.

Alright, that’s my lot for you this go around. Have a great Halloween weekend everyone. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be given some of that THC dosed candy that apparently people are giving out. According to Fox News. Not holding out much hope, as in all my years I rarely hear of people giving out free expensive drugs to strangers.

Peace- Dom


Hello again,

It has been a week already? Ahh... a lot of stuff happened in the past week. We got some killer new releases (per usual I guess haha). My birthday was over the weekend. This photo is Jeff, Kevin, and me getting wasted with the Hardy Boys. It was a great time. I was happy to spend it with my closest friends. Anyway, I was really excited for the parcel from D-Takt we just got in. I had been accumulating a stack of records over the course of a month or two from Jocke (D-Takt). So on top of the hot new releases, I was looking forward to all the shit I was getting from him, hehe. D-Takt just dropped four 12”s at once! Insane!! We did not stock the WARCHILD 12" cos there is a U.S. press coming from Black Water. I fucked up and never checked out WARCHILD til this release. Black Water has released three of their previous records. I mean shit, we have those records in stock at the store too. The new WARCHILD 12" is amazing, not that it matters, but I think it’s my favorite of the four titles D-Takt just released. I wish I could drop a link for you but I can’t find one. They are from Sweden, and it definitely sounds like it. The style is similar to other crushing Swedish bands like MEANWHILE or INFERNÖH. Top-notch… grab it when you see it available in the States!!!

I have been playing the Anti-Metafor 12" a lot. I think I have all their previous releases, but this one really shines in my opinion. On the back it says “100% DIY REHEARSAL RECORDED.” To me that sounds like it could be a put off… but then beneath that it says “SCANDINAVIAN HARDCORE” haha, which might draw you back in. Anyway, what I mean to say is the recording and production sounds fucking excellent. The drums are simultaneously pummeling and piercing. It sounds killer. I don’t think this record is for everyone, though. I’m not tryna be pretentious or anything, but I know a lot of people can’t hang with absolut blazing fast käng. They probably think it’s boring or some shit. A lot of elements of this band remind me of CIMEX. A lot actually, haha. The A-side is four pummeling songs in the vein of Raped Ass. The riffs are pretty straightforward with some guitar leads here and there. The final song on the A-side is a slow one. A lot times I fucking hate slow songs… but I like this one. Well done. For the B-side, it starts off pretty straight forward with some crying guitar leads like you would hear on the A-side, but the sound changes a bit after that. It honestly sounds like the songs that follow are more in the vein of Victims of a Bombraid, haha. It’s much heavier on the leads, and the riffs are a bit more complex. It still maintains the pummeling of the A-side, but some of the songs’ tempos are certainly pulled back. I love it… this is an excellent 12". You can check out a song here. Alright, thank you for reading and thanks to everyone for the support!!! ‘Til next time...


I can’t end October without another round o’ spooky records! As my reorganization continues and as my coworkers dig through collections, I’ve added more and more things to my Halloween vinyl playlist. Here are a few more creepy LPs from my collection…

Leinengen Vs. The Ants / Sorry, Wrong Number

I’m slowly trying to get these Radiola records because they never disappoint. Killer swarms of ants? Come on now, that’s so good. I will say, though, the B side’s story is much more compelling, and it caught my ear when I listened to it. “Sorry, Wrong Number” is a tense tale about 1940s technological troubles that had me stop what I was doing to listen to the conclusion. Stoked to find a rip on youtube. You should definitely give it a listen.

Even More Death and Horror

These BBC sound effects records are top notch. If you can suspend your critical thinking for a second, this record can get pretty gross. It’s pretty obvious someone is messing with food to make disgusting sounds, but as soon as I read track titles like “two throats cut” and “fingernails pulled out - assorted” I stopped hearing veggies being torn apart and started to hear the bodies.

Edward Scissorhands OST

This movie has been one of my favorites since I saw it when I was a child! Waxworks is one of my favorite movie soundtrack labels right now and I was kicking myself for missing this release. If you know anything about Waxworks, Mondo, etc, you know that the after market prices skyrocket when a pressing is sold out, so I thought it just wasn’t meant to be... until I found a new copy at All Day Records in Carrboro (holy shit you have to go there, it’s so good).

Basil Rathbone Reads Edgar Allan Poe Volumes 1 & 2

Caedmon is another label that I will almost always buy. The album art, the attention to detail in the recordings, I have loved every single release of theirs I’ve found. I picked up Vol. 2 of this FUCKING MASTERPIECE last year and was so so so excited to find volume one in a buy at the store the other week. Rathbone and Poe are a match made in spooky heaven and these records provide the perfect ambiance to the stories being told.


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