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Peter Stenshoel's Album of the Week: What, Me Worry? by Yukihiro Takahashi




Yukihiro Takahashi is the estimable drummer for Yellow Magic Orchestra (also known as YMO and now, "Not" YMO), but he is so much more than that.  All three members of that seminal group, the other two being Ruichi Sakamoto and Haruomi Hosono, can make major claims to inventing and developing a kind of "techno" sound that went far beyond what the German bands, like Can, had been up to in the early 70s.  In the late 70s, YMO made a sound both danceable and dense; accessible and highly artistic.  They knew how to utilize the fast-changing technological tools of the recording studio and make of them a coherent compositional statement with equal parts personality and innovation.  In fact, the title of one of their best albums, Technodelic, also defines the YMO bent.

What, Me Worry (no discernable relation to MAD magazine that I can discover), is from 1982, a fertile time for the YMO composers.  As with his previous albums, Yukihiro Takahashi exudes Belle Époque romanticism, but absent are fin-de-siecle ideas of degeneration.  There is an undeniable streak of optimism in his poetry, a connection with the ground of being, encouraging a cheerful responsibility:

"I don't want anything to do with anything
That isn't going to make the world a better place 
To live in, you know what I mean
There just isn't enough time for that.
....
I don't know, I could be wrong, but 
It seems to me it's all gonna work out."

A hint of transcendence haunts both the lyrics and the humming, buzzing, drones which provide an electronic approximation of the primordial "OM" sound:

"Here it comes again that sound
Echoing up out of the ground
Is it only me that can hear it?"

----Yukihiro Takahashi and Peter Barakin, "It's Gonna Work Out."

One reason this album succeeds is the supple but strong support of  English electric guitarist and student of hermetic philosophy Bill Nelson. (A detailed interview I did with Nelson is included in the article available here.)  His focused use of harmonic feedback provides illumination--as in illuminated script--for this sonic codex of Takahashi's music and poetics.

The other musicians are well-picked.  They include the other YMO members, the soulful saxophonist, Mitsuru Sawamura, and a seasoned mix of Western and Japanese instrumentalists/vocalists.  The mixing and engineering are masterful, thanks to the team of Steve Nye.  Nye, a member of Penguin Café Orchestra, has production credits with Bryan Ferry, Frank Zappa, Japan, and David Sylvian. Clearly, he cared deeply about the presentation of this project.

I want to finish by sharing a video from Yukihiro Takahashi's just-previous release to this one, Neuromantic.  "Something In The Air" helps show Takahshi's aesthetic sense better than can my words: