Taeko Ohnuki – Sunshower [*The* best Japanese City Pop album]

I’ve long held the opinion that when it comes to the very finest, most consistent in City Pop sounds, it comes down to a closely fought fight between two utterly sublime records. On one hand, Taeko Ohnuki’s Sunshower (1977, PANAM) and Tatsuro Yamashita’s For You (1982, BMG Victor).

The timing of these two records is significant. Ohnuki’s coming very much at the dawn of the City Pop sound, where it was still very much in its infancy, still evolving and coalescing into the full sleekness it would find in the 80s. With Yamishita’s record – we’re in the early 80s – spinning it into a kind of apotheosis (and perhaps almost self-pastiche) of the genre as it revelled in the full gloss of the decade’s rampant consumerism aesthetic.

But if I was forced to choose between the two records, I’d come down on the side of Sunshower every time. It really is *the best* – if we can attach such a sobriquet to a record.

There’s something about the cover art – that while it lacks the sky blues so associated with most City Pop sleeves – that presents a quiet, comfortable confidence, resting pretty in a chic, distinctly Japanese minimalism of white. Unadorned style – utterly modernist in outlook, and yet somehow also avante-garde, primitive in its simplicity.

And the sound of the record contains something of this too – shifting between disco strings, brassy horn sections and of course – at the heart of it all – Ohnuki’s remarkable voice; which frequently hits some jaw-dropping high notes amidst a display of vocal agility that speaks of utter free-spiritedness.

Sunshower’s world is one of luche late 70s designer apartments, convertible cars and classy lounge bars that serve up crisp martinis, all decked out in burnt rouge leather sofas and shag carpets. In the midst of the floaty electric piano chords and noodling organ lines, it lays out a playground of musicianship in which Ohnuki can deliver some of the most irresistibly catchy toplines in the City Pop sub-genre.

Like all great pop music, City Pop invariably finds its best moments clustered around singles – the ‘greatest hits’ if you will. But Sunshower really works so utterly well as an album, a consistent listening experience from start to listen.

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Photo Credit – Mostly Retro

I love the mention in the Mostly Retro article that talks about how of all the City Pop records, it’s Sunshower that is invariably the most sought after by collectors (but rather more amusingly, that most of the people looking to buy it are all foreigners). In the Mostly Retro article, they equate the idea of City Pop to as if tourists came to the UK searching through record bargain bins solely for old Kim Wilde records or something.

I can confess to understanding this kind of outlook – Tatsuro Yamashita aside, many of the artists cited as proponents of the City Pop sound drew blank faces when I cited their names to many of my Japanese friends.

But regardless, the fact remains that City Pop stands as a fantastic example of how a genre of music can enjoy a kind of ‘second renaissance’ or rediscovery. Think of the enduring love by collectors for Motown or Northern Soul.

But what really excited me most is that things really seem to be snowballing now – the number of articles and pieces online mentioning City Pop has gone into overdrive over the past 12 months or so, and only seems to be increasing – something that will be driven even further if more Western compilations of the music itself continue.

Right now, City Pop still exists in a kind of quasi-legal ghetto where it can mostly only be accessed via YouTube / Soundcloud uploads. But as more ‘official’ releases get put out in the west, backed by concerted PR campaigns, the Western music press will start to look up; pushing the genre outside of the sole domain of Japan specialists, in the process, turning an understanding of the world music scene in the 1970s and 80s beyond the shores of the West.

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