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Various Artists - Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1972-1986 Music Album Reviews

Light in the Attic’s latest foray into Japanese easy-listening pop has plenty of summery charm, but it offers few discoveries for those already familiar with the genre.

There’s no greater comeback story in recent reissue culture than Japanese city pop. About a decade ago, Blogspot blogs and Japanese reissues introduced music nerds to a strain of AOR, funk, disco, and yacht rock trafficked under the amorphous term, a vague descriptor for Japanese music that incorporated jazz and R&B, reflecting city life and consumerism amid the 1970s’ economic upswing until the bubble burst in 1992. The music had largely been neglected by Westerners and derided by many Japanese as cheesy, but as YouTube algorithms launched songs into the wider collective consciousness, city pop surged in popularity; nothing was as emblematic of its second wind as a music video popping up for Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love” 35 years after release.
Light in the Attic’s first volume of their Pacific Breeze series felt like a culmination of all the hubbub. At last, uninitiated listeners could dive into a compilation featuring songs from big-name artists like Taeko Ohnuki, Hiroshi Sato, and Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono. Pacific Breeze Volume 2: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1972-1986 nobly continues documenting this time period, but it isn’t consistent in highlighting the finest from the era—or offering any real discoveries for those with a cursory familiarity with the music.

Pacific Breeze 2 opens with “Pink Shadow,” one of the most electrifying tunes from duo Bread & Butter’s middling discography. Its syncopated funk-lite grooves are at once tight and loose, thanks to the session crew known as Tin Pan Alley, whose other work—such as on Ayumi Ishida’s Our Connection—also feels like it’s bursting with joy. Also notable is Tomoko Aran’s “I’m in Love,” whose sly hi-hats and bass glide into a chorus in which Aran coos the titular line, her voice like a spray of rose-scented perfume. Best of all is “Rainy Saturday & Coffee Break,” which ambles along in effortless fashion as Junko Ohashi delivers a strikingly clear and crisp vocal performance.

Kyoko Furuya’s moody “Harumifuotou” is an addictive bare-bones pop-rock song, but its spacious production and distinct mixing feel out of place alongside the following track, the hyperslick jazz-fusion instrumental “Bay/Sky Provincetown 1977.” It’s a noticeable miscalculation, but more frustrating is the fact that “Harumifuotou” was previously reissued in 2017; it feels superfluous. Anri’s “Last Summer Whisper” is another standout; it was written by Toshiki Kadomatsu, who has a real penchant for sticky-sweet basslines that allow the rest of the song to breathe, granting Anri’s vocals a tender dreaminess. But it’s also one of her most famous songs, sampled in popular tracks from both Korea and America; hardly a rarity, it feels like low-hanging fruit.

The most disappointing aspect of both Pacific Breeze compilations is the absence of the best city pop artists. Some of these were mentioned in a feature for The FADER by Mark “Frosty” McNeill and Andy Cabic, two of Pacific Breeze 2’s three curators. While billed as a list of “hard-to-find” tracks, the more precise term would likely be “hard-to-license.” The aforementioned Kadomatsu, as well as Tatsuro Yamashita, are the most impressive songwriters and vocalists of their generation, and they’re not found on either compilation (nor Japanese ones released in 2003). These absences are glaring, leaving a gaping hole in any understanding of city pop as a whole; curious listeners would be better off cycling through city pop mixes on YouTube that don’t omit them.

The carefree bliss Pacific Breeze 2 certainly lives up to its title: Listening to these tracks, it’s easy to imagine yourself at the beach or driving around in the summer, windows down. It’s a good collection of songs that capture much of city pop’s charm. Still, it’s hard not to feel like the compilation does a disservice to the genre: It feels incomplete in scope and features lesser songs from many of its artists, such as those from Yumi Murata and Piper. It feels nice to soak in Pacific Breeze 2’s soft, innocuous pop music. Just don’t expect it to represent the luxury and excess that top-shelf city pop did.

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