Posts By Patrick St. Michel

High Rise: High Rise II

Originally released in 1986, the reissue of *High Rise I*I shines a light on an important and fiery document of Japanese psych rock.

tofubeats: Fantasy Club

Yusuke Kawai could have settled into the J-Pop background. The Kobe producer became a breakout name in the country’s netlabel scene in the late 2000s, creating high-energy breakcore often centered around anime samples under the name DJ Newtown, before adopting the name tofubeats for wholly original compositions. His nervy, genre-skipping dance-pop songs featuring radio-friendly choruses made him an apt choice to bring the internet-centric sound to a major label. Since, tofubeats’ albums have mostly highlighted his songwriting and production, handing vocal duties off to pop heavyweights, comedians, models and more. It’s a common path for artists plucked from the underground who focus on building a sound for other voices.   

Fantasy Club, tofubeat’s third major-label album, breaks from that path. The guests are mostly absent, and instead Kawai’s Auto-Tune voice sits in the spotlight. It’s one of the stranger releases to get prominent space in the J-Pop section in recent memory—across its 13 songs, Fantasy Club channels Southern rap, house music, and lush orchestral pop. Compared to the generally upbeat tone of his compatriots, Kawai often sounds angry or tired here, his tracks full of unnerving sputters. Yet all these intricacies make it one of the best from Japan so far in 2017, a style-blurring affair showing what happens when a strong personality gets the chance to broadcast themselves fully through their music, regardless of how left-field they can get.

Kawai has discussed being introduced to the concept of post-truth, and feeling shaken by seeing the web he came up on turn sour. Early number “Shoppingmall” sets the album’s tone. Musically it’s simplistic, seasick synthesizer melodies and hi-hat skitters. But that emphasizes the vocals, which find Kawai gnashing outward (“What's real and what's not/Is just that exciting enough?”). It soon becomes clear he’s not angry at what’s around him, but grappling with his own confusion and anxiety.

The songs that follow are rarely stable, reflecting the unease that shapes the theme of Fantasy Club. “Lonely Nights” calls on rising rapper Young Juju to cooly rap through a digital mist before Kawai delivers a distorted hook full of stuttering syllables. “Callin” is melancholy electro R&B, underlined by Kawai’s mutated vocals, run through layers of effects to the point it sounds like a depressed burst of static. Dance numbers designed for the club feature warped details—the title track shuffles forward on house whistles and a galloping beat, but the edges of every sound quiver with echo, like they are wilting. Fantasy Club’s most outright floor-focused moment, “What You Got,” is crashed by a disorienting passage featuring a flurry of menacing Kawais tripping over each other.

Yet all these disruptions make the moments of release well-earned. Whereas older tofubeat’s albums played out as singles collections that could be played in basically any order, complete with tracklistings reading like J-Pop all-star squads, Fantasy Club is best listened to from start to finish. At its center is “This City,” which starts off like it’s malfunctioning—synthesizer notes going wobbly and electronic sounds chirping off over it like it’s on the verge of going haywire. But from this chaos tofubeats builds an ecstatic dance number, growing ever more upbeat as its seven minutes play on.

As tofubeats, Kawai has always been able to hopscotch across styles, but Fantasy Club marks the first time he’s been able to really explore the sounds he loves: minimalist wooze-pop (late comedown “Yuuki,” featuring singer/songwriter sugar me) or Houston rap (the outro to opener “Chant #1” serving as direct homage to DJ Screwsomething you don’t usually see in J-Pop) without having to worry about accommodating big names or scoring a hit. Given how much before it is shaped by anxiety about the world at large, it’s a bit funny that Fantasy Club’s climax is a simple love song called “Baby.” It’s anchored by a string sample sourced from a song by celebrated Japanese pop star Yumi Matsutoya. In the wrong hands, it could be treated like a building block, an obscure find waiting to be sped up in Garageband and be called an aesthetic. But tofubeats celebrates the sound and creates an original song showing its warmth. It makes one glad he stepped to the forefront for Fantasy Club.

Kikagaku Moyo: Stone Garden

Japanese underground artists possess a flair for myth-making, from Les Rallizes Dénudés shrouded history to eventual Boredoms founder Yamantaka Eye driving a bulldozer on stage for a gig. Tokyo’s Kikagaku Moyo have their fair share of good yarns since forming in 2012. The first song on their debut album was supposedly “written over a night spent jamming on a suspended footbridge in remote mountains,” while drummer Go Kurosawa took a significant period of time before starting the group living out of a backpack in Central America. Stone Garden, the band's latest release, was recorded in a Prague basement during several near-continuous days of improvising, and then pieced together back in their hometown. The real hook, though, is that the five-song album finds a band who's attracted attention for a folk approach to psychedelic rock showing off their experimental and often messy side.

It’s a deliberate pivot by a quintet that has found attention well beyond the cramped clubs of Tokyo. Whereas many Japanese experimental artists are celebrated for their loudness, Kikagaku Moyo often let noise and chaos linger on the edges of their music. They aren’t shy about a feedback-loaded electric guitar solo or 20-minute-plus sitar drone session, but recent full-lengths Forest of Lost Children and particularly last year’s House in the Tall Grass stood out for their organization of sound.

Stone Garden rejects structure in favor of improvisation, or at least jamming for hours on end and piecing the results together afterward. Album opener “Backlash” delivers over six minutes of distorted guitar and drums. It’s a rumbling cut nodding to Krautrock, and one content to barrel forward with slight variations and not much else. That’s followed up by “Nobakitani,” revealing the other big change between Stone Garden and Kikagaku Moyo’s last couple of albums: Each song on Stone Garden occupies its own stylistic universe. “Nobakitani” is a slow moving guitar-and-sitar haze featuring scattered vocals breaking through the trance-like tempo. It sounds like a House in the Tall Grass castoff and feels far removed from the maelstrom preceding it.

This showcases Kikagaku Moyo’s stylistic variety and experimental tendencies, but highlighting the latter makes them feel jarringly unfocused. Despite an immediate and forceful chug, “Backlash” sounds sludgy in a way that adds little to the song, while “Trilobites” garbled quality makes one think they should have just recorded the jam session from the other side of the basement wall. It’s this constant feeling of good ideas settling rather than pushing forward that hurts Stone Garden the most. It’s filled with great sonic bits—“Backlash’s” driving guitars, “Nobakitani’s” meditative atmosphere—but Kikagaku Moyo rush them, every song falling into a groove and then fading out rather than go off in some new direction. They show their experimental merits in frames too small to really let them shine, even if a lot of these songs feel like teasers better suited for live settings.

The highlights from their last two albums tower over the sketches here, while their psych-rock bona fides should never be in question after something like 2014’s Mammatus Clouds EP, boasting a 28-minute-long opening track slowly shapeshifting as it went along. Stone Garden features good ideas ending prematurely, but album highlight “In a Coil” shows everything that has made them the next buzzed-about psych outfit from Japan—guitar and sitar wrap around each other, charging the song forward while voices lock together, everything building in intensity before reaching a crescendo. It’s a reminder of how compelling Kikagaku Moyo’s story can be, even if Stone Garden is only a minor chapter.

Kikagaku Moyo: Stone Garden

Japanese underground artists possess a flair for myth-making, from Les Rallizes Dénudés shrouded history to eventual Boredoms founder Yamantaka Eye driving a bulldozer on stage for a gig. Tokyo’s Kikagaku Moyo have their fair share of good yarns since forming in 2012. The first song on their debut album was supposedly “written over a night spent jamming on a suspended footbridge in remote mountains,” while drummer Go Kurosawa took a significant period of time before starting the group living out of a backpack in Central America. Stone Garden, the band's latest release, was recorded in a Prague basement during several near-continuous days of improvising, and then pieced together back in their hometown. The real hook, though, is that the five-song album finds a band who's attracted attention for a folk approach to psychedelic rock showing off their experimental and often messy side.

It’s a deliberate pivot by a quintet that has found attention well beyond the cramped clubs of Tokyo. Whereas many Japanese experimental artists are celebrated for their loudness, Kikagaku Moyo often let noise and chaos linger on the edges of their music. They aren’t shy about a feedback-loaded electric guitar solo or 20-minute-plus sitar drone session, but recent full-lengths Forest of Lost Children and particularly last year’s House in the Tall Grass stood out for their organization of sound.

Stone Garden rejects structure in favor of improvisation, or at least jamming for hours on end and piecing the results together afterward. Album opener “Backlash” delivers over six minutes of distorted guitar and drums. It’s a rumbling cut nodding to Krautrock, and one content to barrel forward with slight variations and not much else. That’s followed up by “Nobakitani,” revealing the other big change between Stone Garden and Kikagaku Moyo’s last couple of albums: Each song on Stone Garden occupies its own stylistic universe. “Nobakitani” is a slow moving guitar-and-sitar haze featuring scattered vocals breaking through the trance-like tempo. It sounds like a House in the Tall Grass castoff and feels far removed from the maelstrom preceding it.

This showcases Kikagaku Moyo’s stylistic variety and experimental tendencies, but highlighting the latter makes them feel jarringly unfocused. Despite an immediate and forceful chug, “Backlash” sounds sludgy in a way that adds little to the song, while “Trilobites” garbled quality makes one think they should have just recorded the jam session from the other side of the basement wall. It’s this constant feeling of good ideas settling rather than pushing forward that hurts Stone Garden the most. It’s filled with great sonic bits—“Backlash’s” driving guitars, “Nobakitani’s” meditative atmosphere—but Kikagaku Moyo rush them, every song falling into a groove and then fading out rather than go off in some new direction. They show their experimental merits in frames too small to really let them shine, even if a lot of these songs feel like teasers better suited for live settings.

The highlights from their last two albums tower over the sketches here, while their psych-rock bona fides should never be in question after something like 2014’s Mammatus Clouds EP, boasting a 28-minute-long opening track slowly shapeshifting as it went along. Stone Garden features good ideas ending prematurely, but album highlight “In a Coil” shows everything that has made them the next buzzed-about psych outfit from Japan—guitar and sitar wrap around each other, charging the song forward while voices lock together, everything building in intensity before reaching a crescendo. It’s a reminder of how compelling Kikagaku Moyo’s story can be, even if Stone Garden is only a minor chapter.

Various Artists: Atomic Bomb Compilation Vol. 4

Nuclear energy produces anxiety in Japan. Long a controversial topic, it became a renewed source of worry following the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi power plant during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Fears stirred by the aftermath—and of similar incidents occurring—caused a nationwide furor in subsequent years, leading citizens across the nation to speak out about how little they trusted the government tasked with harnessing a nuclear program. Anger over Fukushima even drew out a group that isn’t always eager to get political in Japan—musicians. Long constrained by commercial commitments, performers such as Ryuichi Sakamoto and Kazuyoshi Sato criticized the government’s handling of the situation online and appeared at protests against nuclear power. Still, many artists chose to express anger and worry through heavy metaphor rather than directly, if at all.

The Atomic Bomb Compilation series is direct with rage. Started in 2012 by Hiroshima juke producer CRZKNY, the project gathered dance songs around the theme of “the tragedy caused by abuse of nuclear energy.” The United States’ use of atomic weapons on CRZKNY’s hometown and Nagasaki at the end of World War II were remembered on these collections, both as memorial and reminder of nuclear energy's destructive past. The music, fittingly, is ominous and frequently chaotic. Although initially heavy on domestic artists and footwork, later releases brought in creators from around the world dabbling in a variety of styles. Vol. 4, released on the 71st anniversary of Japan’s surrender, is the best installment yet, featuring over a dozen electronic acts coming together to painfully reflect and highlight the paranoia of present-day nuclear power.

Protest sits at the center of Atomic Bomb Compilation Vol. 4, but it also offers a snapshot of how international artists have absorbed the Chicago-born juke sounds in the years since RP Boo, Traxman, and the Teklife crew started receiving increased attention. This set features contributions from Japanese producers, members of Polish Juke, creators in Mexico and beyond, each giving their own perspective on the high-energy style. Jakub Lemiszewski pushes “Exceeding” towards suffocating levels with rippling synths, while Argentina’s Aylu makes good use of space on compilation closer “Y_Y,” a cut where every breath and skittery drum hit lingers in the air.

Although most of the tracks here at dance-floor speeds, the mood permeating Atomic Bomb Compilation Vol. 4 is rarely joyful. Opening number “e_i_r,” courtesy of Hyogo’s jue6ons, is an eight-and-a-half-minute warning signal that slowly grows in intensity. The following songs unfold more swiftly but use the cornerstones of juke to create uneasy atmospheres. “Bakushinchi,” a team-up between Kyoto’s Gnyonpix and Melbourne’s DJ Innes, takes a steely drum machine and places them next to synth gurgles that highlight the stiffness of the beat, making for a disconcerting feel. Organizer CRZKNY takes it even further on his three contributions, embracing sharp metallic textures that give footwork-ready cuts such as “Vida” a dangerous edge. When the album deviates from juke during the gutter drone of Black OPS’ “Ruins Lining” or “Hiroshima’s A-Bell” by Polish creator Paide—featuring a field recording of chirping birds slowly folding into harsh white noise—the end result still feels unnerving.

The bulk of Vol. 4’s tracks don’t call out nuclear energy or accidents directly, opting instead to create a paranoid atmosphere mirroring the worries of the atomic age. Yet other instances are far more direct, whether referencing former prime ministers who helped bring Japan’s nuclear industry to peak prominence (producer Franz Snake’s “Yasuhiro Nakasone Said,” a jittery track featuring the former PM’s voice sliced and diced) or being very on the nose with what they are trying to recreate (lililL’s “Atomic Explosion,” the comp’s most cacophonous moment). Juke’s use of repetition, meanwhile, drives home deliberate messages sampled from familiar figures. Chicago’s bahnhof::zoo takes a snippet of Barack Obama's speech during his historic visit to Hiroshima earlier this year and makes it the center of “Fell From The Sky.” On the very next song, UK artist Count Vanderhoff centers the piece around a soundbite of Scottish Parliament member George Kerevan asking new UK prime minister Theresa May, “Is she personally prepared to authorize a nuclear strike that can kill a hundred thousand innocent men, women, and children?” (She said, “Yes.”)

At 25 songs, Atomic Bomb Compilation Vol. 4 is an overwhelming listen given its intentionally bleak vibe. But this series isn’t meant to be an escape. It memorializes immense human suffering brought on by nuclear weaponry and looms high as a cautionary tale for catastrophic misuse of nuclear energy. There’s very little fun to be found in exploring the concept of man-made Armageddon. Instead, this collection highlights the urgency of a highly politicized issue and soundtracks an uneasy, uncertain life in the atomic age. 

Yumi Zouma: Yoncalla

Distance has long defined Yumi Zouma. Two of the group’s founding members moved away from their native New Zealand after the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake, forcing them to piece together tracks across land and sea. It makes sense that gaps between people, both physical and emotional, served a central role across their first two dreamy, disco-accented rock EPs, which caught the attention of Lorde and Chet Faker.

The four members of Yumi Zouma recorded Yoncalla, their debut full-length, in the same place while on tour, marking the first time they’ve worked in a room together. Closing the ocean-sized distance works, not surprisingly, to their advantage; it’s a polished record on which their balmy dream-pop remains intact, sweetened by new intimacy. Their music has always sounded suited for warm climes, existing in the same sun-dappled terrain as JJ’s poppier cuts or Air France’s Balearic-tinged escapism (the latter of whom Yumi have covered), and Yoncalla features some of their brightest songs to date, from the dazzling synth-pop of “Short Truth” to the Fleetwood-Mac-indebted strut of “Yesterday.”  

Yumi Zouma also push their dance inclinations in more directions now, starting with the opener, “Barricade (Matter Of Fact).” It’s a delicate number built on airy keyboard notes and singer Christie Simpson’s rousing personal pep talk: “Just breathe/Just breathe/And then over the barricade,” she cajoles, the music beneath her building like an anticipatory deep breath. Beneath the breezy guitar playing and dance floor-ready rhythms, Yoncalla’s lyrics find Simpson in a contemplative mood; “Text From Sweden” is a woozy meditation on travel and how it affects relationships, while “Short Truth” embraces pessimism and frank talk to oneself. Many dream-pop numbers seek escape from the outside world, or at least foster a place to wallow, but Yumi Zouma have little time for either.

Yoncalla’s swift pacing ensures that moments of joy balance lurking regrets, and “Haji Awali,” the most guitar-centric inclusion here, finds Yumi Zouma pinpointing just where to start their recalibrations to optimism. Plus, Simpson has a great sense of humor about it, which lifts the tension a bit. (“I’m screaming in my dreams like it’s going in and out of fashion,” she drawls on “Yesterday”). Yoncalla highlights all the best elements of Yumi Zouma, wrapped up in some of the prettiest music they’ve made yet. Hopefully this leads to more face time together for them.

Yumi Zouma: Yoncalla

Distance has long defined Yumi Zouma. Two of the group’s founding members moved away from their native New Zealand after the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake, forcing them to piece together tracks across land and sea. It makes sense that gaps between people, both physical and emotional, served a central role across their first two dreamy, disco-accented rock EPs, which caught the attention of Lorde and Chet Faker.

The four members of Yumi Zouma recorded Yoncalla, their debut full-length, in the same place while on tour, marking the first time they’ve worked in a room together. Closing the ocean-sized distance works, not surprisingly, to their advantage; it’s a polished record on which their balmy dream-pop remains intact, sweetened by new intimacy. Their music has always sounded suited for warm climes, existing in the same sun-dappled terrain as JJ’s poppier cuts or Air France’s Balearic-tinged escapism (the latter of whom Yumi have covered), and Yoncalla features some of their brightest songs to date, from the dazzling synth-pop of “Short Truth” to the Fleetwood-Mac-indebted strut of “Yesterday.”  

Yumi Zouma also push their dance inclinations in more directions now, starting with the opener, “Barricade (Matter Of Fact).” It’s a delicate number built on airy keyboard notes and singer Christie Simpson’s rousing personal pep talk: “Just breathe/Just breathe/And then over the barricade,” she cajoles, the music beneath her building like an anticipatory deep breath. Beneath the breezy guitar playing and dance floor-ready rhythms, Yoncalla’s lyrics find Simpson in a contemplative mood; “Text From Sweden” is a woozy meditation on travel and how it affects relationships, while “Short Truth” embraces pessimism and frank talk to oneself. Many dream-pop numbers seek escape from the outside world, or at least foster a place to wallow, but Yumi Zouma have little time for either.

Yoncalla’s swift pacing ensures that moments of joy balance lurking regrets, and “Haji Awali,” the most guitar-centric inclusion here, finds Yumi Zouma pinpointing just where to start their recalibrations to optimism. Plus, Simpson has a great sense of humor about it, which lifts the tension a bit. (“I’m screaming in my dreams like it’s going in and out of fashion,” she drawls on “Yesterday”). Yoncalla highlights all the best elements of Yumi Zouma, wrapped up in some of the prettiest music they’ve made yet. Hopefully this leads to more face time together for them.

Cornelius: Fantasma

 By the mid-‘90s, Japanese pop culture had peaked in global coolness. Anime and video games enthralled kids all over the globe, and author Haruki Murakami was starting to gain traction in the English-language world. And although it might not have been  quite as universal as Pokemon, Shibuya-kei music was winning praise from Western listeners. The genre’s mish-mash of sonic references and samples spanning the entire 20th century caught the ears of non-Japanese labels, leading to the ‘60s-swooning of Pizzicato Five and lounge-tronica of Fantastic Plastic Machine seeing widespread release. Nothing captured as much critical attention, however, as Keigo Oyamada’s Cornelius project, whose 1997 album Fantasma came out Stateside one year later via Matador Records. Soon after, the Shibuya-kei movement became oversaturated and its biggest names drifted to new sounds.

Fantasma marked the high point for the movement, and has since been celebrated as the style’s ultimate triumph. The Japanese music media isn’t big on “all-time” lists, but when the mood strikes, Cornelius’ third proper album always winds up in the top ten. All this canonization has the side effect of making Fantasma feel like an artifact, a musical museum devoted to a scene that could never exist outside of ‘90s Tokyo. Portland-based imprint Lefse’s new vinyl reissue—featuring four enjoyable bonus tracks, albeit songs that aren’t on the album for a reason —reminds that what makes this set of songs special hasn’t aged. Like Endtroducing… or Discovery, Fantasma took the (often literal) sounds of the past to create something new and exciting, while also ending up a celebration of the process of finding, listening and creating music. 

It’s fitting Shibuya-kei’s finest statement came courtesy of one of the people most central to its emergence. Coming of age during Japan’s economically booming Bubble years, Oyamada had time to play in bands and spend hours exploring Tokyo’s well-stocked record stores. Alongside Kenji Ozawa in the group Flipper’s Guitar, he crafted songs drawing inspiration from all sorts of eclectic sources—the Scottish post-punk of Orange Juice, Madchester, bossa nova, the Monkees’ movie debut Head. Despite a tendency to swipe melodies wholesale, they pushed a slew of new sounds into the Japanese music conscience.

Alongside Pizzicato Five and a few other groups introducing unfamiliar styles, Flipper’s Guitar’s CDs sold extremely well at Shibuya music stores—well enough that they snuck into the nation’s album charts. The media, smelling a trend, called it Shibuya-kei (literally, Shibuya style). From there, new artists emerged, not united by a specific sound but rather an ethos that writer W. David Marx pins as “pastiche and bricolage,” offering an alternative to mainstream J-pop. Oyamada launched a label, Trattoria, sharing music from names such as Kahimi Karie and Hideki Kaji, and started his solo career as Cornelius, releasing two albums that found him caught between singer-songwriter and musical curator. He also starred in a Shibuya-kei-tinged hair mousse ad.

Fantasma, though, promised something different and more daring. Whereas previous Cornelius albums launched right into sunny horn fanfare, “Mic Check” begins with a faint click and a lot of space. Someone puffs a cigarette, a can cracks open, and somebody whistles a portion of Beethoven’s 5th. Early copies of Fantasma came packaged with earphones, and “Mic Check” quickly establishes why—it’s a producer’s album, one where every sound is labored over and plays a role in the greater journey. Oyamada wants the listener to be adequately ready for this—“can you hear me?” he asks in Japanese—so that they don’t miss any detail, before letting a semi-song bloom around them.

From there, Oyamada treats listener to a smörgåsbord of musical thrills. His songs here frequently jump between headphone channels—the dizzying Speak & Spell rock of “Count Five or Six” being a great example of this technique—while going one step further by playing around with the idea of recording music. Side two of the record starts with “Chapter 8 (Seashore and Horizon),” which opens with Robert Schneider and Hilarie Sidney of the Apples in Stereo performing a very Apples-in-Stereo-sounding song. But before a minute can pass, someone hits the stop button on a cassette player, and Oyamada jumps in with his own interpretation of sweetly sung indie-pop, the sort of number that could easily slide into the Elephant 6 catalog. Then the player clicks again, the tape rewinds, and the Apples come back in frame. 

“Fantasma is a kind of album that only has one entrance and one exit. That is, you can’t listen to if from the middle,” Oyamada told a magazine around the album’s release. As the defining Shibuya-kei full-length, it’s loaded up with references to obscure older music spliced with styles that were, in 1997, fresh—drum ‘n’ bass drills through tropicália on album centerpiece “Star Fruits Surf Rider,” while “Monkey” jams samples sourced from R&B and an old record starring Mr. Magoo to create a playful romp that’s the most stereotypically Shibuya-kei-sounding thing here—but Oyamada wasn’t simply flexing his deep record collection. Sounds reappear frequently across Fantasma, songs referencing one another in subtle ways—early English-language reviews tended to knock Cornelius for having too much going on, but Oyamada knew exactly what he was doing with the rush of noises. Everything ends up in its right place, making for a more cohesive and intimate listen.

And that’s fitting, as Fantasma celebrates the process of discovery and falling in love with music. Shibuya-kei was built on crate-digging discoveries, but oftentimes could come off as simplistic (or, at worst, trying to be too cool with nothing but some obscure records). But only Fantasma peers into the actual act of listening. Half of the songs here feature no coherent lyrics, but when words do come through, they capture the feeling of being at a concert (“Clash”) or shutting out the world via headphones (“New Music Machine”). Sudden shifts in style even make sense within Fantasma’s walls—the twinkling, childhood collage of “The Micro Disneycal World Tour” gives way to the feedback-soaked, adolescent thrash of “New Music Machine.”  

Nearly every song title on Fantasma references an existing musical group, obscure or world famous, but it feels like an act of grateful tribute rather than a hip name-check. With Flipper’s Guitar, Oyamada straight-up sampled chunks of the Beach Boys “God Only Knows,” but on his own “God Only Knows” he spends the track’s seven-minute-plus run time weaving an intricate pop production inspired by (but never directly taking from) Brian Wilson (and quoting another Oyamada favorite, the Jesus And Mary Chain). He reveals his intention with the penultimate number, “Thank You For the Music,” which acknowledges all of his musical heroes, along with the listeners who came along for the Fantasma ride, all over a folksy backing track that makes way for a rapid-fire collage of sounds heard over the course of the album...a reminder of the last 50-some minutes.

A lot of Shibuya-kei in 2016 sounds extremely dated, and it’s not totally the fault of the music for this. A big draw of the style was how the artist themselves served as a curator for the audience, funneling the forgotten sounds of yesteryear to a new audience. But the internet has completely changed the concept of curation—anyone can become an expert on niche styles with some focused Wikipedia digging, while the idea of finding a new perspective to old sounds has been replaced with “make me a playlist that sounds best while I’m in the bath.” Not to say there aren’t perks to a digital reality—I downloaded Fantasma off Soulseek in 2005, and it’s easier to find Shibuya-kei deep cuts on YouTube now rather than go to the actual Shibuya neighborhood.

But Fantasma distills the spirit and process of Shibuya-kei down to its purest essence and still sound warm and celebratory today. He imagined musical utopia, where genre lines fade easily and where geographic borders can vanish (in 2016, Japanese artists construct their own imagined versions of albums because of streaming exclusivity). In the ‘90s, Cornelius caught attention for a cool sound that earned him comparisons to Beck, but it’s the sense of sheer joy and excitement running through Fantasma that still makes it an exhilarating listen today.