Features I by I 22.01.15

The Essential… Yellow Magic Orchestra

Few artists hold as firm an influence on electronic and technology-based musics as Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra.

Their reach spreads from the charts to the deepest corners of the underground, influencing hip-hop, numerous strains of dance music culture, and even the world’s shiniest pop tunes. Formed in 1978 by songwriter, bassist, and singer Haruomi Hosono, the original aim of YMO was to release a one-off album of technological exotica which spoofed the West’s archaic and offensive fetishization of the “oriental” while simultaneously paying tribute to the musical talents of Martin Denny and Les Baxter, two American bandleaders whose instrumental albums took the post-World War II fascination with tribal primitivism and tropical calm to vibrant extremes.

That album, Yellow Magic Orchestra, made huge waves in Japan and also found its way into Western ears, making connections with a diverse array of talents and sparking inspiration for new listeners. What casual fans seldom recognize about YMO is that they weren’t dilettantes twiddling their way through relatively new technological breakthroughs, but rather were all seasoned players and veterans in the industry by the time of their formation. Over the course of their career they continued to embrace new technologies while finding ways to fuse these breakthroughs with classic pop forms. Subversion was always there, whether it was sociopolitical, technological, or musical.

Hosono initially rose to prominence as a member of Happy End, one of the first Japanese rock bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s to write, record, and release songs in their native language rather than simply aping Western styles with awkwardly enunciated English lyrics. That same desire for a strong cultural pop identity led to the creation of a subverted take on the styles of southern R&B, northern soul, and jazz fusion in Hosono’s next project Tin Pan Alley, which fused those sounds with Hawaiian and Okinawan tropical flourishes in a genre dubbed “city pop”. This smooth, cosmopolitan pop music then led directly to the vibrant “technopop” that Hosono brought to the top of the Japanese charts with the help of powerhouse drummer and singer Yukihiro Takahashi (previously a veteran of glam rock/boogie group Sadistic Mika Band) and a talented young university student named Ryuichi Sakamoto, who was then using his keyboard talents as a session musician, producer, and arranger for a number of city pop artists in Hosono’s orbit.

Operating behind the scenes was programmer Hideki Matsutake, who had mastered the inner workings of early analogue synthesizer technology while working as an assistant to electronic composer Isao Tomita and whose invaluable knowledge helped the group remain on the cutting edge of the era’s deluge of new music technologies.

Together, their respective talents gelled into a zeitgeist-defining moment whose powers dominated much of popular music’s sound in Japan for the first half of the ’80s, and whose aftershocks are still felt today in both popular and underground music circles worldwide. While each member’s discography is vast and deserving of its own respective feature, over the next few pages I’ll investigate some of the key works made during YMO’s initial tenure as performers and producers, beginning in 1978 and ending in 1985.

There’s a wealth of wonderful music to be heard beyond this list, but it’s one hell of a starting point.

This mix of some of the band’s highlights is ideal listening material while you read:

Harry Hosono & Yellow Magic Band
‘Femme Fatale’
(From Paraiso, Alfa, 1978)

For all intents and purposes, the journey begins here. Hosono had been part of a diverse collective of seasoned musicians in the Japanese scene who referred to themselves as Tin Pan Alley. An Eastern variation on Los Angeles’ famed Wrecking Crew of session musicians, Tin Pan Alley wrote songs and performed as the backing band for a number of pop idol singers and folk figures in the ’70s, as well as providing backup on the members’ respective solo projects.

After three brilliant solo albums of loping, stoned tropical songwriter funk, which fused the New Orleans groove of The Meters with Okinawan folk music and the shattered-looking-glass Americana of early Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks (who had worked with Hosono’s early band Happy End), Hosono released Paraiso, an album of technicolor multiculti grooves which sounds as cosmically chill yet as vibrantly dense and psychedelic as the landscape on the album’s sleeve.

Performed mostly by Hosono himself with significant contributions from keyboard wizard Hiroshi Sato, who infuses Paraiso‘s fourth world funk with a gaseous, hallucinogenic spaciness that would dominate their next collaboration, it’s on the lush ‘Femme Fatale’ where Hosono plays for the first time with both drummer Yukihiro Takahashi and keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto. The trio’s tight interplay and dense yet direct layers of humid heat laid the groundwork for what was to come, proving that the group had formidable chemistry as an operating unit. Even amidst Hosono’s massive discography, Paraiso remains an unimpeachable highlight.

Haruomi Hosono
(From Cochin Moon, King, 1978)

Just a few months after Paraiso‘s release, Hosono put out Cochin Moon, an album credited to both Hosono and famed graphic artist Tadanori Yokoo, who provides the album’s iconic cover art. The duo traveled to India prior to making the album, and while there are nods to the nation’s filmi/Bollywood culture in both the album’s sleeve and the melodic structure of penultimate track ‘Hum Ghar Sajan’, the majority of the record is built around swarms of analogue mosquitos, delirious vocoder chants, and a throbbing pulse indicative of feverish malaria sweats. The album remains one of the most hypnotic and singular platters of analogue synthesis, and one of the most overtly experimental albums any involved party has ever released.

Hosono is joined again by Sakamoto on synths, but special mention must be given to keyboardist Hiroshi Sato, whose signature tones are all over this album. The trio’s ingenious playing together inspired Hosono to invite both Sakamoto and Sato to join his next project, which would be an integrated fusion of the sounds explored on both Paraiso and Cochin Moon. Sato turned down Hosono’s offer in favor of recording solo albums of his own (many of which are absolutely brilliant and highly recommended to fans of Balearic synth music), but both Sakamoto and Hideki Matsutake, whose programming skills provided essential guidance here, joined Honono and Yuki Takahashi for what would become Yellow Magic Orchestra’s epochal debut album.

Yellow Magic Orchestra
‘Computer Games/Firecracker’
(From Yellow Magic Orchestra, Alfa, 1978)

This is the one. There may be more complex, more technologically innovative, and even more original tunes in YMO’s canon, but chances are if you’re familiar with the group, this was one of the tracks that piqued your interest. One of their signature songs, Hosono’s brilliant interpretation of Martin Denny’s ‘Firecracker’ had been performed in concert by Hosono and Tin Pan Alley as early as 1976 in an acoustic style closer in sound to Denny’s original.

While the arrangement and structure of YMO’s version is rather straightforward, this new interpretation is still dazzlingly beautiful thanks to layers of synthesized arpeggiations, chiming Eastern harmonies, and absurdly tight drumming by Takahashi (that’s right, he’s not being looped or sampled here – his skill at being able to play along with sequenced drum machines on a trap kit augmented by Syndrums was one of the reasons he was drafted into the group).

‘Firecracker’ was issued as a single with the album’s intro track ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Circus)’ intact, leading many to refer to Denny’s composition by its more arcade-influenced title. The album’s intro – a series of blips and pulses meant to emulate the playing of Space Invaders, then fresh in arcades and renowned for being the first computer game to use a recurring soundtrack motif throughout play – provided relevant context for the album’s pixelated exotica. Hosono recognized arcade gaming as a breakthrough in youth culture and would return to its concept a few years later when he curated, arranged, and released an entire album solely of notable arcade game theme tunes, which he considered pop tunes of a sophisticated nature. The first of its kind, the record later helped spawn the chiptune movement.

The rest of YMO’s debut follows suit and moves into the bright, neon-hued tropicalist flights of fancy explored on Paraiso, but with a keen ear toward the futurist classical aesthetics of video game and computer music. Sakamoto’s piano and synth playing throughout is dexterous and beautiful, and Hosono’s bass grooves give the album a weight that connected not only with Japanese youths, but urban audiences in the United States as well. The record was played heavily in New York by DJs like Afrika Bambaataa, and ‘Firecracker’ even broke the Top 20 on the American R&B charts.

The group would go on to perform ‘Firecracker’ and a wry take on Archie Bell & The Drells’ ‘Tighten Up’ on an institution no less revered than television’s Soul Train, with host Don Cornelius interviewing Takahashi amidst a room filled with youths who connected with the group’s sound and danced their asses off. With an innovative sound and concept (one that predates Kraftwerk’s own Computer World album by three years), Hosono’s plan for YMO to be a simple one-off suddenly became considerably more complicated, as the band became legitimate pop stars.

Yellow Magic Orchestra
‘Behind The Mask’
(From Solid State Survivor, Alfa, 1979)

Of all of YMO’s original songs, ‘Behind The Mask’ from 1979’s sophomore album Solid State Survivor has perhaps gained the most mileage over the years. Penned by Sakamoto with lyrics by Chris Mosdell (a British expat then living in Japan who had first collaborated with Takahashi for a pop album the latter was writing and producing, and who would become one of YMO’s most frequent collaborators), the song explores themes of emotional and social withdrawal brought on by excessive technological addiction (sound familiar, folks?).

It was the centerpiece of a stunning album that, aside from a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’, sheds its predecessor’s embrace of kitsch in favor of a more dystopian outlook towards the technology it so embraced just a year earlier. Songs like ‘Technopolis’, ‘Rydeen’, and ‘Insomnia’ boast darker shades of synthetic texture while being anchored by tough and beefy drumwork by Takahashi, almost predominantly on traps.

By this point, YMO had become a formidable live band, and that muscle comes through loud and clear. Most interestingly, though, was the way ‘Behind The Mask’ began making the rounds in the American and British charts a few years later via a series of cover versions. Michael Jackson actually recorded a finished version with new lyrics for Thriller (!), but a royalty dispute between Jackson and YMO kept his version in the vaults until it was dusted off and refurbished in 2010 for his first posthumous album.

Jackson’s version of the song then made its way to Eric Clapton via Jackson’s keyboardist Greg Philliganes, who in turn had also recorded a version of Jackson’s interpretation. Clapton’s version was produced by Phil Fucking Collins, and was released on the Clap’s 1986 album August. If that’s not weird enough, Sakamoto then went on to re-record the Jackson/Clapton version with Bernard Fowler handling vocals for a 1987 single, bringing the weirdness full circle.

It’s no wonder that Solid State Survivor went on to become YMO’s biggest selling album, not only topping Japan’s Oricon charts and selling over 2 million copies, but shifting more units than any other record in Japan in 1980.

‘Modern Flowers in a Boot’
(From Do You Believe in Mazik, Epic, 1980)

During all of this activity with YMO, each member of the group continued to write and produce music for other artists, often drafting in their bandmates for session work. Much of it fell into more idol-based pop territory, and like any producer worth their weight in sales, the members of the trio imprinted many of their own signature styles into the records they produced for these pop starlets.

Susan was a French-Japanese model and television performer with roots in drama and theatre who met Takahashi at a TV studio and began making records with him soon after. The two albums she recorded with Takahashi and longtime YMO auxiliary guitarist Kenji Ohmura seem rather light on the surface, displaying Takahashi’s more overt leanings toward pop accessibility rather than the the experimental abstractions of his YMO bandmates. But deeper listens reveal a nervous tension underpinning the ’60s bubblegum soul and European chanson influences Takahashi loved so dearly.

Ohmura in particular shines on these albums, adding subtle shards of noise and wiry, fragmented riffs that lean more toward post-punk and new wave minimalism than rock grandstanding. Hosono and Sakamoto provide bass and keys, respectively, throughout, while Matsutake provides programming, bringing the crew together for a project that was decidedly different from much of the work they had been making together up to this point. Consider this the guilty pleasure album, if you will.

Ryuichi Sakamoto
‘Riot in Lagos’
(From B-2 Unit, Alfa/Island, 1980)

Sakamoto and Takahashi continued releasing solo material during YMO’s peak years and throughout the band’s tenure together. 1980’s B-2 Unit was a watershed album for Sakamoto, a record of stark, brutal, yet wholly sensuous exercises in electronic minimalist rhythm science and conceptual theory. The album opens with ‘Differencia’, two minutes of relentless tumbling beats and a stabbing bass synth that foreshadows jungle by nearly a decade, which then slowly unfolds into a series of aural Möbius strips.

Each track is built upon a structure that nods toward dub music (some of the album was engineered by noted UK reggae producer Dennis “Blackbeard” Bovell) but never fully mimics it. Rather, each beat and synth line seems to fold in upon itself as it simultaneously moves forward. It results in one of Sakamoto’s most hypnotic and captivating albums, one which still sounds like the future today, providing footprints that producers like Actress and Oneohtrix Point Never have followed since.

The epic centerpiece of B-2 Unit is, without question, the mammoth single ‘Riot In Lagos’, a track that still kills dancefloors 35 years after its release. Sounding as if Wendy Carlos had recorded Switched-On Fela, the track sees Sakamoto interpreting Fela Kuti and Tony Allen’s Afrobeat structures in his own language via extensive use of the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 and some genius programming by Matsutake. Foreshadowing IDM, broken beat, and industrial techno while retaining the sophisticated classical hallmarks of his sound, this album, perhaps above anything else in his discography, is Sakamoto’s finest hour.

Akiko Yano
‘Tong Poo’
(From Gohan Ga Dekitayo, Japan Records, 1980)

Akiko Yano is a renowned pianist, composer, and songwriter who got her start during the mid-’70s city pop era and served as an additional keyboardist and background vocalist in YMO’s live band for a number of years. She also happened to be married to Sakamoto until the mid-90s, and they produced a number of gorgeous albums together during their partnership, with Sakamoto and the rest of YMO backing her on her own songs.

Yano is often compared to Kate Bush as their voices, both vocally and compositionally, share many similarities. But Yano was actually releasing albums prior to Bush’s debut, completely independent of any influence from the British singer. That’s what makes her stunning 1980 double album Gohan Ga Dekitayo, produced by Sakamoto and recorded with backing by all of YMO (though not credited as such), so shocking – it plays like an expanded, even more experimental take on the sound Bush explores on Never For Ever, released just weeks before Yano’s masterpiece.

The album, Yano’s fourth, manoeuvres from piano ballads to art rock grooves, stark electronic lullabies to buoyant pop numbers, and throughout she and her collaborators sound confident and dynamic as they tackle this complex material with ease. One of the album’s most pleasing left turns is a full vocal version of ‘Tong Poo’, an instrumental single taken from YMO’s debut. Yano slows down the frenetic tempo of the original, and the quartet give the song an entirely new, infectious and alien texture, its rhythm bouncing like a giant rubber balloon against the pavement as Yano’s piano and Sakamoto’s keys intertwine.

Yellow Magic Orchestra
‘1000 Knives’
(From BGM, Alfa, 1981)

BGM, YMO’s fifth studio album, is a milestone in that it features the first recorded appearance of the famed Roland TR-808 drum machine. It also brings forth what is arguably the band’s most experimental collection of songs. The sound is noticeably more aggressive than previous releases, with Takahashi focusing more on Syndrums and the 808 than traps and acoustic percussion. The synth textures are more serrated on BGM, layered into dense, nearly impenetrable collages that reward intense headphone scrutiny and pumping volumes on quality sound systems.

The trio at this point had been enduring a strained working relationship, and Sakamoto was absent for the majority of BGM‘s construction; all the same, he leaves an indelible mark on the album with three startling contributions that include a jacking take on his early solo composition ‘1000 Knives’. While the original was an airy exercise in tropical synthesis, BGM‘s version features a tough 808 rhythm that utilizes the machine’s trademark claps as well as layers of liquid neon melody.

Hosono and Takahashi bring the goods as well, delivering glorious pop hooks in the lyrics and some of their most rhythmically strong yet oblique and tough grooves in songs like ‘Cue’ and ‘Camouflage’. Takahashi in particular shines on the record, and would continue that hot streak on the solo album he released later that same year. BGM is my personal favorite YMO album, and I kid you not when I say that a fair amount of the record often sounds like a precursor to the aquatic sci-fi electro of Drexciya. Fans of the “Seven Storms” need to seek out BGM immediately if they aren’t familiar.

Yukihiro Takahashi
(From Neuromantic, Alfa, 1981)

Takahashi’s third solo album Neuromantic was originally titled Ballet, which also happened to be the title of BGM‘s opening song. That’s no coincidence; Yuki allegedly intended Neuromantic to be a continuation of the themes and vibes he explored on BGM. Of all of Takahashi’s YMO-era solo albums, this one stands out, as it features not only Hosono and Sakamoto but also guitarist Phil Manzanera and saxophonist Andy Mackaye of Roxy Music, who add some of their band’s cosmopolitan sheen to Takahashi’s already classy electro-croon.

Takahashi first hooked up with the Roxy camp when his previous outfit Sadistic Mika Band had opened for Brian Ferry’s band of swanky men in the ’70s. Manzanera and Mackaye’s contributions throughout Neuromantic help emphasize Yuki’s strengths in updating the smooth sophistication of ’70s city pop for the ’80s technopop era, subverting the European oblique strategies of Eno, Bill Nelson (later to become another YMO collaborator himself) and Japan (a band fronted by frequent YMO-collaborator David Sylvian) into wholly funky synthpop jams that keep a sparkling upbeat face as they exude greyscale lamentations until the needle hits the runout groove.

Takahashi to this day remains one of the most dapper, stylish motherfuckers on the planet, and his records exude that same clean-cut, impress-your-babe aesthetic. This is one for the lovers.

Yellow Magic Orchestra
‘Seoul Music’
(From Technodelic, Alfa, 1981)

Sakamoto returned to the studio with YMO for their second album of 1981, Technodelic. A noticeably stripped down, minimal affair compared to BGM‘s synthetic abstract density, Technodelic retains the rhythmic aggression of its predecessor while sharpening its pop hooks into more clearly lyrical forms anchored by both a return to acoustic rhythm tracks and the introduction of sampling and looped textures, including heavy use of the human voice. The majority of these songs alternate between tight, staccato blasts and low-slung, loping grooves, while the vocals switch between harmonized choruses and more pointed, almost barked cries.

Sakamoto’s ‘Seoul Music’, one of the records most infectious and startling tunes, blends cyclical gamelan tones with layers of onomatopoeic vocal percussion and some of Hosono’s most deep and popping basslines as Sakamoto speaks through a transceiver about the military’s oppressive presence in North Korea. Despite its sideways return to pop styles, this is one of YMO’s darkest albums, and the tensions boiling up between the band are making themselves more noticeable in the music. Technodelic preceded a one-year hiatus as the band focused on solo endeavors and re-assessed their complicated situation.

Haruomi Hosono
‘Birthday Party’
(From Philharmony, Yen, 1982)

Hosono hadn’t released a solo album since the start of YMO, so when the group went on hiatus for a year in 1982, he wasted no time in keeping his calendar filled. He and Takahashi formed a label with Kunihiko Murai of YMO’s parent label Alfa and dubbed it Yen Records, and both had a hand in either producing or performing on nearly all of Yen’s releases (sometimes both). Hosono’s debut for Yen, the weird and wonderful Philharmony album, is a schizophrenic beast, flipping between charming and catchy digital pop songs (including a Japanese cover of Neopolitan standard ‘Funiculi, Funicula’ that needs to be heard to be believed) and numerous abstract pop ambient etudes utilizing percussion loops and chopped up samples of his own voice. The results are quite unlike anything else even he has released, though at times the album operates on wavelengths akin to Laurie Anderson, The Art Of Noise, or The Residents.

‘Happy Birthday’ is one of the album’s more abstract pieces, built around rhythmic samples of a lighter being clicked, chiming low-register gong tones, zaps of synth, and circling layers of voices softly murmuring the title phrase as a castrato voice ambiguously cries in the background. It’s as mesmerizing as it is odd, which sums up Philharmony‘s vibe perfectly.

Ryuichi Sakamoto
‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Theme)’
(From Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, London, 1983)

Sakamoto spent a good part of 1982 both acting in Nagisa Oshima’s World War II drama Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence with David Bowie and Takeshi Kitano, and writing and performing the film’s haunting score, which won him a BAFTA award and made him an in-demand film composer. The film’s title theme remains Sakamoto’s most beloved and recognized piece, and he still performs it today during solo piano concerts. The entire score is just as haunting and breathtaking, and is the first of Sakamoto’s records where his classical background really shines through.

The majority of the score is performed on synthesizers with occasional brass, woodwind, or string accompaniment, giving these stark melancholic pieces a more lush, alien sensuality that unsettles far more than the solo piano renditions released later in 1983 on his Coda album. The album is also known for its collaboration with David Sylvian, who sings a vocal version of the title theme entitled ‘Forbidden Colours’, kickstarting a longstanding collaborative friendship between the two that remains to this day.

Yellow Magic Orchestra
(From Service, Alfa, 1983)

YMO returned in 1983 to tie up loose ends and essentially say goodbye. They released Naughty Boys, a slick, shiny, dreamy album that placed the trio on the front cover with heavily made up faces and clean-cut pop idol looks. It was their turn to be heartthrobs, and while the album is extremely beautiful and catchier than influenza, its standing as the last record of the techno-kayo era to hit number one on the Oricon charts says a lot. Hosono in particular seemed to have little to no interest in taking this further, and the three decided that the project had run its course. To quote Takahashi when asked in 2008 why the band broke up: “I was always trying to stop Harry and Ryuichi from fighting.” Hosono is a bit more blunt: “We hated each other.”

Their last studio dispatch was Service, featuring seven new songs and seven skits by Super Eccentric Theatre, a comedy group who also released albums on Yen Records. Takahashi at this point had been hosting a late-night radio program in Tokyo (which was where he met S.E.T.), and that late night broadcast vibe permeates the atmosphere of the songs included on Service; that these songs also happen to be some of YMO’s strongest pop tunes makes for a bittersweet farewell.

The group strips away all of the sugar from Naughty Boys‘ idol sheen, leaving behind the tight and passionate performances that made the group so beloved. Each group member seemingly processes his emotions in the studio, rubbing salt into the wounds and making these songs all the more gripping. Sakamoto has the last word, and his ‘Perspective’ is a modest yet beautiful song about private rituals and how the everyman deals with being a powerless cog in the wheels of industry. Its chorus (“In the gleam of a brilliant twilight, I see people torn apart from each other… Maybe that’s their way of life,”) seems like a wry jab at his bandmates, a final “fuck you” to YMO’s stagnant condition and a resigned sigh at accepting its end. There was one last farewell tour before YMO ceased operations for 10 years.

Miharu Koshi
(From Parallélisme, Yen, 1984)

By the time of YMO’s dissolution, Hosono’s interests and enthusiasm as a producer and songwriter began blossoming elsewhere, most notably in his collaborations with singer, songwriter, and operatic chanteuse Miharu Koshi. Her fourth album Tutu, released on Yen and produced by Hosono with members of cult Belgian act Telex, transformed Koshi from a mild-mannered city pop idol into a startling electronic siren. Tutu’s 1984 followup, Parallélisme, was even better – created solely by Hosono and Koshi in a symbiotic partnership so fluid and intuitive that they credited production to a single entity known as Miharuomi.

The album took Koshi’s love of French chanson and European artsong and hotwired her songs to some of Hosono’s most inspired programming and arrangements. While every song on the record offers up fresh and energetic surprises in texture, harmonic interplay and rhythm, it’s the title track that really hits the mark. From the clatter of its stuttering beat to the dissonant electronic washes that interject between Koshi’s high-octane piano runs, the song fuses an almost industrial aesthetic to classical minimalism, with Koshi and Hosono’s vocal interplay tying the production together. This album and its Hosono-produced followup Boy Soprano are absolutely mindblowing examples of the heights a songwriter can reach combining pop music with avant-garde classicism and cutting-edge music technology. Buy them on sight.

Tamao Koike
‘Kagami No Naka No Zyugatsu’
(From Yen Memorial Album, Yen, 1985)

In 1985, after YMO’s tour and other obligations had been fulfilled for Alfa Records, Hosono and Takahashi also shut down Yen Records, the Alfa subsidiary label they’d been running and curating together for three years. The label’s discography is eclectic and rewarding, offering up solo joints by YMO members, vibrant techno-kayo albums and singles by peers of the band, as well as releasing a number of more leftfield releases in more ambient/avant zones.

All of these artists and sounds are represented on the Yen Yearbook (or Yen Graduation Album), an omnibus set that combines a compilation album of remixed highlights and rarities from Yen’s catalogue with a twisted yet wonderful tribute 12″ featuring the entire label roster singing an old farewell hymn together, backed by an obtuse plunderphonic sound collage on the flip.

The compilation features a number of essential cuts, including YMO’s ‘Rydeen’ in a newly remixed form, an outtake from Hosono’s Philharmony album that was originally written for Jun Togawa (herself repped via two tracks), and this killer song by model-turned-failed-techno-kayo-star Tamao Koike. Koike released one 7″ single on Yen backed by all of YMO (who also wrote the two songs) and provided vocals on one of Hosono’s solo singles.

There were plans for Koike to record and release a full album for Yen in 1983 with additional production by Plastics/Melon/Major Force mastermind Toshio Nakanishi; five more songs were recorded, but the results were sadly never issued during Yen’s lifetime and the album was scrapped. That’s a damn shame, because it would have proven to be one of the best, most unique albums in the label’s catalogue if the shelved material (which can be found online if you look hard enough) is any indication.

‘Kagami No Naka No Zyugatsu (Autumn In The Mirror)’ is a delicious slice of synth-pop heaven that manages to exude strong influences of all three of YMO’s members: the European, Jane Birkin melancholy is pure Takahashi, the weightless, floating keyboard melody has Sakamoto’s fingerprints all over it, and the strong, slowly tumbling groove feels like a Hosono touch. All good things eventually meet their demise, though, and while more labels would be started, new bands formed, and fresh projects pursued, this was the true end of an era.

Read next: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto on The Revenant and David Bowie



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