Guitar Tokyo

[Onitor; 2006]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: dream pop, indie electronica, shoegazer, downtempo
Others: DJ Krush, Fila Brazillia, Ulrich Schnauss, The Cure

Western fascination with the city of Tokyo has become increasingly evident throughout the past decade, give or take. Whether we are examining its impact in the form of film, comics, clothing, or assorted electronic gadgetry, Tokyo””and Japan in general, really””has gone from being merely alluring yet somehow out of reach, to downright influential upon European and American pop culture. Tokyo, the third proper full-length from Guitar (a.k.a. German guitarist and shoegazer revivalist Michael Lückner), is an homage to the mysteries of that seductive, neon-lit city. The M.O. on Tokyo is the creation of a record performed almost exclusively on traditional Japanese stringed instruments (koto and pipa guitar, to be specific), evoking the spirit and atmosphere of Tokyo, while using the Western pop model as a template. Though this may ultimately seem like a fruitless and overly ambitious endeavor on the part of the artist, it should be recalled that the first Guitar album, Sunkissed, was considered by Lückner to be a logical successor, of sorts, to My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. Perhaps Lückner considers himself to be following in former MBV frontman Kevin Shields' footsteps, as Shields recently provided the musical score for "Lost in Translation," which also takes place in Tokyo.

Tokyo begins with the powerful "Sunday Afternoon at Tamagawa River," a dynamic and beautiful track that bears a stunning resemblance to the music of The Cure, in terms of its song structure, rather than guitar sound, per se. Interestingly, Robert Smith is another artist who has had a longstanding fascination with Japan, as evidenced by the innumerable song and/or album titles in which The Cure cite Japan in some way, shape, or form. Perhaps the experience of Tokyo itself is conducive to a propensity for flowery, ornate arrangements like Tokyo's opening track. The piece is constructed from simple, linear instrumental fragments, pieced together to form a meticulously constructed assemblage that packs considerable emotional resonance. "Sunday Afternoon" is a minor instrumental masterpiece of sublime melodic complexity.

Though Tokyo is a predominately instrumental affair, the album features vocals from Japanese singer Ayako Akashiba on three tracks. Akashiba previously contributed vocals to Sunkissed, Lückner's debut LP as Guitar, and also the Plankton album from Computerjockeys, another former project of Lückner's. Akashiba's vocals and lyrics have a childlike naïveté that recalls the work of Julee Cruise. "Sakura Coming" is a blissed-out shoegazer track that could be an outtake from Sunkissed. It features Akashiba's ethereal vocals and the characteristic "wall-of-sound" barrage of densely layered guitars. Two other tracks, "Naoki" and the closing track "Maki," feature a prominent koto which is treated almost as a blues instrument. Lückner plays the koto on these pieces with a languid swagger that demonstrates an impressive fluency and fluidity of technique.

Naysayers may initially dismiss Tokyo as a throwback to late-'90s downtempo "trip hop," but this would to do the album a grave disservice. Lückner's intricate beat programming is extremely tasteful and unobtrusive, and impresses in and of itself with its complexity. Repeated exposures to Tokyo reveal it to be an album that should appeal to a broad range of listeners: with nary a weak track to be found, the record has this listener wondering what direction Michael Lückner will take his guitar project next.

1. Sunday Afternoon at Tamagawa River
2. Naoki
3. Red & White
4. Tokyo Memory
5. Ayako
6. Wash Me Away
7. Akiko
8. Sakura Coming
9. Maki

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