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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pizzicato Five - Combinaison Spaciale

I'm an otaku, a Japanophile, though I can't say that I'm nearly as informed as I'd like to be. I love to watch, read and learn about Japanese culture, though I couldn't tell you what is widely considered good or bad in it. In the country high school I attended we somehow managed to get a Japanese foreign exchange student. I tried to ask her about what was and wasn't cool in Japan but she simply didn't speak very good English and I didn't even know what "kawaii" meant at the time. One thing I remember clearly though was that when I asked her if Pizzicato Five were still hip and cool in Japan, she gave a certifiable "no" as her response. One very clear word in English said it all.

Despite the exchange student's response, it didn't matter as I was smitten by Miss Maki Nomiya's vocals and the overall sound of P5. I'd purchased a tape of their second US compilation, The Sound Of Music, and thought it was brilliant. I was practically knocked out when I heard the Made In USA compilation, which is exactly where I should have started. In the US they were spoken of like alien gods, bringing kitsch and wonderful pop music to the masses, whereas it seems their home court popularity had waned. Nonetheless, Matador Records, their American label, continued to release P5 albums, including two peculiar EPs, the acoustic rock of Sister Freedom Tapes, and Combinaison Spaciale, a remix record.

I was in college when the aforementioned EPs were released and could only find and afford Sister Freedom Tapes, which I was rather disappointed with as I was expecting more kitsch rather than a sweet, stripped down band. It's grown on me over the years, now becoming quite a wonderful favorite of mine, though I'd neglected Combinaison Spaciale as I assumed it would be cheesy house or something of that sort. I got the shock of my life when I was in a mall record shop and it was playing, leaving me to ask the guy at the counter "what the hell was that?" I bought it and played it all the way home and for a longtime thereafter, in wonder at how spaced out and dreamy the whole thing was. It was a record for romance, love and the summer, breeding dreams and relaxation as it played.

Contrary to what the cover says, the remixes on Combinaison Spaciale aren't very dubby, at least not in the typical sense. Rather, the whole thing starts off with a Japanese interview with vocalist Maki Nomiya, an interview that goes on for almost four minutes and for which I have no clue what they're talking about. The interview is followed by what sounds like a live version of the poppy, bouncy, horn-laden Baby Portable Rock. It's not terribly removed from the studio version but it's just as irresistible. From there, the first of two remixes of Icecream Meltin' Mellow appears, although it's also not terribly divergent from the original, still featuring Triip's rap and the main melody, albeit without most of the scratching. Everything changes on the next track though, a Gentle People remix of Contact a swim in synths. Then a remix of the conversational-English filled Good that removes the upbeat flow in favor of backwards, skewed strings and a lovely kind of weird. Next up is the truly groovy Tokyo Mon Amour, an instrumental featuring organ from Kume Daisaku that sounds like the soundtrack to a love shack or a Playboy Club. Finally, as if the whole thing couldn't get any dreamier, the other remix of Icecream Meltin' Mellow comes in with most of the original music stripped away in favor of a shimmery, simmering beach groove begging you to move and love to. It's stunning, and ends with some solo piano as the sound of an incoming plane cuts off, leaving you wondering where to go next. Next is hitting the play button again!

Maybe Pizzicato Five isn't terribly hip any longer. Maybe they were simply in the right place at the right time. Then again, with music as good as they made, who cares if they were popular or not. When it sounds this good that's really all that matters. Play this on a warm summer night with someone special and tell me Maki Nomiya isn't right when she says Good.

Pizzicato Five - Combinaison Spaciale

01 Maki Nomiya Interview
02 Baby Portable Rock (Baby Mexican Rock Version)
03 Icecream Meltin' Mellow (Marin Mix 2 by Sunahara Yoshinori)
04 Contact (Percolator Mix by The Gentle People)
05 Good (Samoan Attorney Mix by Nauga)
06 Tokyo Mon Amour (Discotique 96 Mix feat. Kume Daisaku at the organ)
07 Icecream Meltin' Mellow (Marin Mix 1 by Sunahara Yoshinori)

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