“Paraiso”—Harry Hosono and The Yellow Magic Band
Paraiso (1978) is an absolutely perfect–if bizzare–summer album. I have listened to it nearly every day this season, driving around in the suffocating Midwestern heat, wishing desperately I lived on the wonky island these tracks seem to narrate. This is the first record where Hosono worked with his future Yellow Magic Orchestra bandmates, Yukihiro Takahashi and Riyuichi Sakamoto, and they bring to it a truly spectacular chemistry and sense of humor that continued to permeate YMO’s entire career. The first track, “Tokyo Rush”, plunks you right into a ripping blues piano and harmonica riff (not to mention a honking clown horn) which results in a cartoony anthem perfect for driving your friends through the city on the way to the beach. It’s hard not to imagine a gorgeous cloudless day, with your feet up on the dash and the wind in your hair–a mood which pops up throughout this album’s inescapable sunniness (especially on tracks like the steel drum-heavy “Shimendoka” and the beachily syncopated “Worry Beads”). Hosono sings in both English and Japanese throuhgout the album, and on “Fujiyama Mama” comically falsettos his way through a swingin’ sixties-style duet with himself.
For all its silliness, however, there’s an undeniable oddity to these songs that reveals itself the more you get to know them. This record is a remarkable blend of styles, characteristic of Hosono’s musical omnivorousness. He takes Western influences and runs with them, blending funk, jazz, folk, reggae and blues with distinctly Japanese musical tradition (more overt on tracks such as the traditional Okinawan song “Asatoya Yunta”). There is a tongue-in-cheek attitude to Paraiso, especially considering its release in the decade following the rise of the island fantasy sound of lounge exotica. On tracks such as “Femme Fatale”, Hosono distinctly nods to the lounge tradition, but with a twist–the tropical bird sounds in the background are overly compressed, hinting at a canned kind of paradise. On other tracks, however, he leans into real “island” music, flipping the appropriative exotica stereotype on its head. “Shambhala Signal” demonstrates Hosono’s pioneering electronica sound as applied to the ancient Indonesian tradition of Gamelan music, an influence that sticks with him and the rest of Yellow Magic Orchestra throughout their career. It’s interesting to note that this record marks the first time Hosono recorded a track with a synthesizer since he began his career in 1969, especially considering he was later known as a pioneer of electronica. (If you want more synths in the form of a groundbreaking and dissonant soundtrack to a non-existent Bollywood film, seek out Hosono’s subsequent record, Cochin Moon).
Only on the final title track does the record give in to the psychedelia bleeding at the edges of the album’s vision–but only for a minute. Soon, Harry Hosono and The Yellow Magic Band are back at the perfectly tropical pop that makes this record so indelibly listenable. This record’s wonkiness and odd melange of styles are nothing short of charming, and there is a subversive peculiarity to it that only grows the more you listen. It makes for a casually genius album that seems effortless in its inventiveness, and begs to be the soundtrack of your summer. Listen here.