Tuesday 18 January 2022

Soichi Terada - Asakusa Light (Album Overview)

Flipping it 180 from last week's post, here we're talking something that is new! And also something I've not done in a long, long time to boot - an album overview. Much less of a review than my previous ones and more of a sort of first impression kinda deal, even though I've heard a couple bits from it and posted them already. At any rate, let's get stuck right in. Soichi Terada returns under his own name with Asakusa Light - a House record that's a throwback to the man's early works. If you're at all familiar with them then you know what to expect, but if you're not: Expect thudding kicks, deep house basslines and deliciously retro brassy flourishes as heard here on a Terada production from 1989!

Tracks like that weren't my introduction to Terada however, like many others it was his Drum & Bass work for the soundtrack to the original Ape Escape that pointed me in his direction - a gig that he got becuase one of the folks working on it was a big fan of his Sumo Jungle release. A solid release in its own right, and home to some of my favourites from his D&B side. The intro track is a preview of the whole album and if you like what's on show there, seek out the whole thing, you won't be disappointed. The soundtrack for Ape Escape is one of those that is sort of emblematic of the era - the late's 90's where everything was super sleek hi-tech low-poly. I'm more than willing to admit a lot of my love for it is tinted with nostalgia - I will stand by some of the tunes on there being real nice even on their own though. But enough history, let's talk about this latest piece!

Terada certainly hasn't been a stranger - he's consistently been putting out tunes on his own Far East Recording label for many a year by now, both by himself and others. I've been a long time admirer of his work but it can be a little tricky to get hold of from time to time. After a re-issuing of a bunch of vintage tracks on a compilation fittingly called Sounds From The Far East on Rush Hour Music, there's been a renewed buzz about Terada and his House works - which leads us to now, as Asakusa Light is released on the same label.

I was excited to get started as I have loved the two sample tracks out there already, and with 9 more ahead of me there was surely plenty to enjoy. Silent Chord starts things off with a nervous sci-fi style synth - it does take a little while to get going but it all pays off around the 1:33 mark when the proper bassy stabs of old are unleashed. I can see some being frustrated that it doesn't build to a proper House style payoff, but as an introduction to the experience I think it works real well - it sets up the next few at the very least. I've already talked at length recently about how I fell in love with Double Spire from the get go, I just adore the pitch bends on show, and the whole thing is almost designed to have all my favourite Deep House elements in it. Just wonderful.

The same goes for Bamboo Fighter - the first of the two preview tracks. That one plays out more like a piece from his early Far East Recording album with Shinichiro Yokota, but still with feet firmly planted in the world of Deep House. Perhaps leaning a little too hard into that eastern influence for some but I think it's pretty tastefully done, Terada certainly has experience merging the electronic with the traditional sound to a more extreme degree with his Omodaka project after all.

Diving Into Minds continues the trend, grabbing me from the offset with its swirling intro. I've seen a lot of people say that this album feels quite videogame-y in parts, it's a comparison I'd been trying to avoid just because I didn't want folk to come in expecting either the chiptune of Terada's Omodaka project or the out and out D&B of Ape Escape. But as the album goes on it gets increasingly difficult to ignore that connection and, thinking back on it now, it would be foolish to suggest that wasn't at least a partial influence on the process for Terada. The textures and composition on show here most certainly feel like they would be right at home in that early 3D era, none more so than the brief incursion of some old skool piano stabs at 2:36 that feel like they belong on a 'Results' screen.

It's a theme that continues, with Marimbau feeling like a menu theme for one of those slightly weird psychedelic puzzle games of the era. With the stripped back approach and liberal use of of-the-era drum machines, it certainly imitates the technical limitations of early CD audio to boot. This one in particular reminds me a little of the throwback influence artists like ThorHighHeels display, in that it's a very earnest display of love for the aesthetic - though THH's is more firmly rooted in the videogame world, Terada's work here is more of a love letter to house with some of that flavour as an addition.

I don't meant to give the impression that it's formulaic mind you, going by Terada's own quotes from the Bandcamp page it's been quite the experience getting back into the groove of making again: "I didn’t even know what I thought about myself five years ago, and the mental metabolic cycle seems to be faster than I thought. I tried different methods, including digging up my old MIDI data and composing by remembering old experiences." - a quote that I totally empathise with. Takusambient is the most obvious of the tracks that show that influence, the 8-bit lead synth should clue you in on that from the get go. I gave the album a quick run through on mobile a little while back, but I ended up stopping around here because I figured I'd give it a run with better output - and I was right, tracks like this reveal a lot more depth now I'm sampling it on a decent set of headphones.

Next up we have a real highlight - a sort of cover of a tune called Soaking Wet circa 1995 - can't say I've heard of it before (shoutout to that one Discogs reviewer that clued me in on that!) but one that certainly makes sense given Terada's wheelhouse. That goes double for the remix of it from the same LP, which feels very much like Terada's own productions, albeit a little more bouncy I feel. I do like it when artists do that, gives yo u a real insight into their influences and points you in the direction of stuff you might not have heard before (See Felix Da Housecat's version of Space's Magic Fly for one good example). Soaking Dry is, like the source material it's referencing, a much more upbeat beast than the previous examples. It nicely bridges the gap between the Deep House we've heard so far and this new direction: Terada's style is very clearly on show here with lush background instrumentation and choice flourishes throughout - as the intro gives way to the 4/4 about the 15 second mark you can't help but start toe tappin' along with it.

One final highlight for the road and the sole collaboration piece for the LP - Runners. In hindsight I was maybe expecting a couple more collaborations to appear on here as there have been many a notable one between Terada, such fellow Far East Recording label-mate Shinichiro Yokota. Still, from the credits alone this one was looking promising as it features Manabu Nagayama, who twinned with Terada on Low Tension in 1991, one of the tracks that made the cut on Rush Hour's reissue compilation Sounds From The Far East. The two are clearly having a lot of fun here, after a slightly sleepy intro it's not long before we're back in the House yet again. The real highlight here is the super old school MIDI as hell pan flute melody, I couldn't help but crack a smile the first time it came in, it's just such a perfect encapsulation of the album's MO and most importantly - as fun to listen to as they probably had making it.

Here's hoping this means more from the man in the future, (though like I mentioned back at the top he's never really stopped either!) I've loved hearing him return to this sound. It's a great little album, one that runs the risk of getting a bit stale due to the simplicity of it, but that could also be a factor of me giving it a pretty intense listen over the past few days as I write this - still, I've been enjoying my time with it, it's had me groovin' around the House (no pun intended!). I like to think of it as the musical equivalent of a garnish, chuck these in your playlists to get a little bit of variety in there - the preview tracks are probably still my favourites, but there is a lot to love here.

I did catch myself thinking at points that Terada might throw in a vocal at some point to complete that Sunshower connection - and part of me still thinks some of these tracks would benefit from that, but at the same time I admire the man for just going back to basics and making a pure House record. If he decides to do the same for his D&B work somewhere down the line I will be all over that - perhaps a reissue of Sumo Jungle, or the slightly more obscure Acid Face? The latter of which I highly recommend if your favourite is his Ape Escape OST work, the two are very similar!

And that'll be all for this time, it's been a while since I've done a big post like this! It's been fun but took a little longer than I expected, I have something else potentially lined up for later this week so I should be back before long. Until then, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


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