2 x Vinyl LP
Japan’s bubble years feel like a fantasy in 2020. During that period, which played out over the course of the 1980’s, the country’s economy soared and the mood was jubilant. It was a decade defined by opulence, neon-soaked nightscapes, and persistent optimism. Thirty years on, and images from this time function as a kind of nostalgia for better days that younger people all over the world haven’t actually experienced. The same goes for music—specifically a style dubbed “city pop,” referring to glitzed-out songs borrowing from funk, R&B, and disco designed to be blasted out of a high-end car system. City pop has served as the building blocks for niche genres such as vaporwave and future funk, inspiration for young Japanese creators and the source for surprise YouTube hits.
Light In The Attic’s Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1972 – 1986 spotlights the sonic development and diversity of a style that often feels reduced to an aesthetic or algorithmically-assisted curiosity. It follows last year’s Pacific Breeze, a release that made songs from artists helping define what city pop would become—and among the nation’s most celebrated acts, including Haruomi Hosono and Takeo Ohnuki—available outside of Japan for the first time ever. That mission is continued here.
Pacific Breeze 2 captures the way city pop and its adjacent genres developed in Japan, reminding that this sound didn’t burst out at the same time the nation reached its capitalist peak, but in fact took form earlier. Fuyumi and Satsuya Iwasawa’s Bread & Butter project begins the compilation with “Pink Shadow,” a number closer to the folk-rock of Japan’s “new music” of the early ‘70s thanks to its acoustic guitar sprint. Everything becomes sleeker with other mid-period cuts, such as The Sadistics’s “Tokyo Taste,” and more bombastic with Kimiko Kasai’s horn-assisted “Vibration.” The ‘80s cuts, all electronic sheen and shimmy, roll in shortly thereafter (Piper’s “Hot Sand” and Momoko Kikuchi’s “Blind Curve.”) There’s also reminders of how important jazz fusion is to this era of Japanese music, capped off by Yuji Toriyama’s “Bay/Sky Provincetown 1977,” Pacific Breeze’s most soaring moment.
Optimism is one of city pop’s defining characteristics, mirroring the rise of a country emerging from ruin to become an economic powerhouse allowing people fun lives. These flashes of joy come through in “Pink Shadow”‘s chorus hollers and the excess of Eri Ohno’s “Skyfire.” Yet Pacific Breeze shows many more emotions swirled around in this sound, from the tension lurking beneath the flute and tropical percussion of “Yubikiri” (from former Happy End member Eiichi Ohtaki, one of and among Japan’s most celebrated songsmiths) to the melancholy funk of Anri’s “Last Summer Whisper”: a song focused on how nothing can last forever, though the memory can be revisited. That’s fitting for this set, considering the genre’s arc—when Japan’s economic bubble popped, city pop faded as well—but as Pacific Breeze demonstrates, its uplifting mood will never go out of style.