Yoshiaki Ochi, "Ear Dreamin" (Light in the Attic)
Japan in the 1980s was an epicenter of chill... or at least the new compilation by Seattle/LA reissue label Light in the Attic, Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990, would lead you to believe. The 25-track triple LP (compiled by Spencer Doran of Portland electronic-music duo Visible Cloaks and released February 15) contains work by some relatively well-known musicians (Ryuichi Sakamoto and Haruomi Hosono, plus one by their excellent group, Yellow Magic Orchestra), but overall, the lineup's full of names that will be obscure to most Westerners. No matter.
The tracks gathered here coalesce into a Far East Asian twist on chillout music that stimulates even as it soothes. These exotic percussive timbres, beatific drones, and unobtrusively pretty melodies ought to be prescribed by mental health professionals. Anyone who's ever zoned out horizontally to Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Ariel Kalma, or Suzanne Ciani will find a luxurious, engrossing soundpool in which to float peacefully out of our current hellscape.
I had the good fortune to attend a listening party for Kankyō Ongaku in Los Angeles over the weekend at the coolest bar I've been to this decade, In Sheep's Clothing. Hearing it through the exquisite sound system (check the gear here) in that wood-paneled, amber-lit space among deep heads was a sophisticated dream of angel-haired aural thrills. It will be hard to match that initial exposure to the album, but nonetheless, the 10 tracks LITA has uploaded to Bandcamp will make your desk-bound listen or earbud commute or any other situation in which you hear it so much more pleasurable.
One of the many standout tracks from Kankyō Ongaku is Yoshiaki Ochi's "Ear Dreamin," whose title can almost stand in as a description for the compilation. From one angle, it sounds like slow-motion gamelan played on miniature marimbas while angels sigh in the distance. From another angle, "Ear Dreamin" comes across as processional music from a primly industrious tribe who strive to keep moving in an efficient and stately manner, with the goal of assuring everybody that everything is going to be a serene breeze... forever. This is literally music for rational fantasies about a better way of living. You can't not feel clean and refreshed after hearing it.
You can file Kankyō Ongaku with other recent LITA archival anthologies I Am the Center and The Microcosm in the label's attempt to sift out the most interesting, profound, and unjustly overlooked music geared to restore peacefulness to our overworked senses. As a bonus, all of these box sets look amazing on your shelf.