Deeply engaging and thoroughly thought-provoking, this album is truly like no other. Originally released in 1987, composer and saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu set out to create an album full of short (mostly between one to two minutes) experimental jingles, using the time constraint and a brand name as launching points. The result is incredible; using cutting edge tech (for their time) like samplers and synthesizers, Shimizu is able to build rich, fully illustrated musical landscapes in less time than it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn.
The album begins with “TACHIKAWA,” one of the tracks that highlights Shimizu’s ability to create mood through rhythm and repetition. Though more in depth than Brian Eno’s ambient work on Music for Airports, they both share the same idea; create sounds that inhabit the mind without obscuring the ability to focus on external elements. To put it into perspective, I’ve had the (68 second) track looping continuously while I wrote this paragraph, and while I still hear the synthetic birds chirping and the percussive synth as I type, I never stop to think, “why did he do xyz…”; I simply accept the fact it’s there. It’s akin to a guided meditation and makes for a unique listening experience.
Shimizu has a few common themes on the album, each divided by their track (brand) names: “SEIKO,” “RICOH,” and “BRIDGESTONE.” The “SEIKO” tracks have a decidedly futuristic tinge, characterized by an abundance of shimmering synth notes that sparkle like the precious metals used in Seiko watches. On the other hand, the “RICOH” tracks feel decidedly industrial, dominated by direct percussive elements, pounding like a hammer to steel.
The “BRIDGESTONE” section is the closest Shimizu will wander into traditional jazz territory, weaving the experimental synth rhythms into his avante-garde saxophone wailing. The oddest of the bunch is “BRIDGESTONE 5,” a demented, carnival-like segment that samples itself into a cacophonous demise. It’s hard to imagine this being used in a commercial unless meant to convey disorientation.
The longest track is “KA-CHO-FU-GETSU,” clocking in at almost 10 minutes. This piece was composed for a computer-animated short and, somewhat haphazardly, manages to mix various themes into a complete work. While having some shining moments, it lacks the clarity of the shorter, more precise tracks featured throughout the record.
From the first bird chirps of “TACHIKAWA” to the last repeating phrase in “SEIBU,” the audio here is absolutely stellar. At times, the mix is a little sterile due to the nature of ‘80s recordings, but overall you can expect a nice stereo sound stage with deep bass response and glistening highs. “BOUTIQUE JOY” is a great example of this; the deep bass drums clearly defined as the synth harp, piano and vocals take over the mid and treble.
The vinyl itself is free of surface noise. For my review listen, I only cleaned it with a light felt brush, and no wet cleaning was needed.
The record is housed in a light cardboard sleeve and features a full color insert. The front artwork is quite appealing; the illustration by Akira Yokoyama, titled “Suntory,” features a samurai holding a soda can labeled “OOLONG TEA” while holding what I imagine to be an advertisement covered in Japanese writing. I’m not sure if it’s parody or just an observation, but it’s very striking.
The insert is fairly plain, featuring a few words from Shimizu and a small black and white picture of him holding a saxophone. The vinyl feels pretty heavy and tracks very well.
Music for Commercials is available for pre-order on vinyl at Crammed Discs. It will be released September 15th.