The past is sometimes said to be a foreign country, and for the mature musician, the chances of going there tend to be especially remote. If nations typically enjoy the assumption of stability, a music scene’s own monuments—genres, labels, magazines, record shops, nightclubs—are more easily toppled. Tastes change. Flats rise. Luck rots. What remains when the cliques and dancefloors of your youth have disappeared? Something along these lines seemed to cross Soichi Terada’s mind one day a few years ago in Wakasu Seaside Park, a waterfront he used to cycle to whenever he’d “run out of ideas to compose.” As he lay on the grass, his arms outstretched on turf where landfill once stood, he said, “I am trying to remember some of the places I used to go to during the ’90s. However, most of them are clubs that have closed or changed location… In the end, change might be the most appropriate word to describe Tokyo’s scenery.”
The passport to remembering is full of fading stamps. But Asakusa Light attempts to be the exception. Over an 18 month period, Terada challenged himself to “[recall] my feelings from 30 years ago” and distil them across an album of deep house, his first full-length of new material in more than two decades. In the early ’90s, Terada was making music with an impressive fidelity to the stuff circulating in New York (this 1987 classic, “The Morning After” by Lenny Dee and Tommy Musto, is what you might call proto-Terada). Soon, though, he emerged with a covetable sound of his own; in the year before his death, Larry Levan, one of Terada’s heroes, remixed the wonderful “Sun Shower,” which began with his own voicemail to the Japanese artist: “Mr. Terada, I need to know the key of your fuckin’ song.” (It’s B minor.) Whatever the mode, the thing about Terada’s music, and especially the karaoke perfection of “Sun Shower,” is that it sounds extremely grateful to exist.
You can hear this urgency even on one of Terada’s moodier classics, “Low Tension,” where, amid smoky trails of synth bass, flute, and horn, Rhodesy keys fluttered with a bird-of-paradise grace. This is more or less the mood in which Asakusa Light begins. “Silent Chord”—which, like “Low Tension,” has that deeply satisfying synth-bass chug—opens with a warbling minor chord and a tinkly iPhone alarm-clock tone, whose effect resembles a shy optimism for the day ahead. This generosity of spirit flows throughout the album. Terada shows it most obviously on the next track, “Double Spire,” whose inquisitive piano figures and glissing space-disco pads are surprisingly reminiscent of Lindstrøm, and the fourth, “Diving Into Minds,” where happy-to-be-here chords and another deep bassline glide through undulating synth canopies. Whenever Asakusa Light evokes a feeling of flight, the ride is reassuringly smooth.
An unusual feedback loop has brought Asakusa Light to being. It’s a new album inspired by old music, an opportunity set in motion by a reissue of largely forgotten work, 2015’s Sounds From The Far East. (The late-career revivals of Midori Takada, Hailu Mergia and the late Pauline Anna Strom took similar paths to fresh material). The comeback business is booming. As the music critic Ted Gioia recently pointed out, the growth area for music in the U.S. is in reissued vinyl, classic radio hits, and holographic resurrections. Instinctively, this must sound Problematic, particularly to those with a natural inclination for progress, or ideas that resemble it. But a renewed emphasis on the past has at least corrected some historical oversights, shining light on the niches in which Terada and his reissued peers were long hidden. And if fetishising novelty in the name of supporting new artists, as dance music tends to do, might mean fewer second chances for talents like Terada’s, then what, exactly, is better about that?
Terada does occasionally step beyond Asakusa Light's nostalgic concept. “Marimbau,” a vibey big-room ripper with celestial piano-and-synth filigree and 2-stepping bass pressure, is a remarkably fresh-sounding house track with a West Country accent, the kind of thing Roman Flügel often nails. A few tracks call back to Terada’s once-prolific career as a video-game composer. (In 1999, his soundtrack for the Ape Escape, a cult classic on the Playstation, introduced hundreds of thousands of teenagers to jungle and drum & bass.) Of these, “Bamboo Fighter”’s flicking 16-bit synth lead reflects that lineage nicely, and the bassline’s tough swagger echoes a similar feeling—something you could call main-character energy—in Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets Of Rage soundtracks. These tracks share a bias for cleanly drawn arrangements and vintage-synth dazzle. If the overall effect can at times feel too slick, “From Dusk” is a modest remedy, with off-key reversed playback and a bassline that churns like boiling mud.
On the deep-house spectrum, where one end is marked “bitter” and the other “sweet,” Terada’s music tends to sway to the latter. One of the pleasures of his work is his willingness to disrupt an aesthetically tasteful mood with outrageous cheer, like a bouncy castle at a cocktail party (listen to the contrast between “Soaking Dry”’s cool, nocturnal keys and its grinning thumb-piano melody). But more than the feeling of a good time, what lingers on Asakusa Light is a respect for innocence, a poignant note that Terada hits again and again, never more sweetly than on “Runners.” Its crystal chimes, teardrop piano breakdown, and, particularly, pan-pipe melody convey something emotionally sincere, even sentimental. Rather than being a flaw, that quality seems essential to such an affectionate record. Unlike so many ’90s house copyists, Terada brings more to this music than the muscle memory of a revered genre. As he recently told Crack, electronic music had saved his life “not once, but many times.” Asakusa Light shines not because it longs for the past, but because Terada knows that the past is worth celebrating.
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