2 x Vinyl LP
Over the last few decades, producer, DJ, and video game soundtrack composer Soichi Terada has slowly but surely perfected a distinctive brand of electronic music that infuses club sounds with East Asian elements. While Terada is a pivotal figure in the Japanese scene, he’s perhaps best known for his soundtrack for the Sony Playstation-exclusive game Ape Escape in 1999—and, six years later, Ape Escape 3. (He landed the job after someone high up on the project enjoyed his 1995 song “Sumo Jungle.”) Ape Escape’s soundtrack stood out thanks to its drum and bass stylings, which gave extra energy to the already bizarre game. Even now, YouTube uploads of the game’s soundtrack continue to rack up hundreds of thousands of views.
Asakusa Lights is the sound of Terada returning to his roots. It’s the first house music album under his name in over 25 years, as well as the first standalone work since Sounds From The Far East, a compilation of tracks released in 2015 through his self-run label, Far East Recording. Here, Terada demonstrates his mastery with his spartan use of house music’s key elements. Each track is simply but painstakingly constructed; what the arrangements lack in textural flourish, they make up for in rhythmic consistency. By focusing his attention on the cornerstones of house music—bouncy, four-on-the-floor bass and piano-powered upbeats—Terada establishes a time-tested foundation for the rest of the record that reflects his appreciation for the craft.
Terada isn’t merely an acolyte of the past, though. Like the rest of his catalog, the grooves on Asakusa Lights nod to traditional Japanese music, deftly manipulating FM synthesizers so that they mimic folk instruments like the shakuhachi, or bamboo flute. Consider “Bamboo Fighter”: the bass clobbers right off the bat, as a sprightly synth line takes over melody duty. It’s reminiscent of countless house classics, like a futuristic variation of Larry Heard’s “Mystery of Love,” each note stabbing so hard that it’s a kick in itself. By the one-minute mark, an 8-bit synth and swirling ambient pad roll in, followed by a wavering flute lead, tying the whole thing into a neat, neon blue package. Listening to the end result is like watching Terada pull off a slight-of-hand trick.
What we’re left with is a tight, almost conservative record. There’s not much flair or experimentation, but no matter: it’s because of his simple mastery that Terada can properly apply Occam’s razor to the institution of house music, paring it down to a singular statement of beauty. Sometimes, simpler is better.