About a month ago, Stranger staff philosopher Charles Mudede wrote a blog post about how the best pandemic-era album was made in Japan in 1986. He was referring to what he considers "to be the nineteenth-greatest album of the 1980s," the Japanese ambient album, Green, by Hiroshi Yoshimura. That 19th-best '80s album was recently reissued by Seattle's Light In the Attic Records to glowing reviews. Pitchfork called it "lush and layered, with a sense of purpose."
Mudede's quick post on Green should just be read in its entirety, but here's an excerpt of what he wrote in June, about the difference between Western and Japanese ambient music:
Ambient music in the West is not the same as the Japanese approach to meditative minimalism. For the West, technology has always been a "bid for freedom" from nature. This is the essence of a spaceship. The rocket, the blasting fire, the rise, the velocity of escape, the exit from gravity, the freedom from the grounded heaviness and incessant liveliness of the biosphere.
This is not the way of “kankyō ongaku” [Japanese “environmental music”], and one of its defining works, Green. We do flee nature, but we do so by going deeper and deeper into it. What is not left behind is technology. It is both one with us and one with nature. The sound of green leaves capturing pulses of light and making them work in the production of bio-batteries is there with the electrically generated sonic effects of synthesizers. This is not a new age paradise. It's a place where a robot dreams like a human, and a human dreams like a robot. The organic and the digital, the birds and the frequency mixer, the babbling stream and the processed loop.
It's a classic Mudede post, which sent me down a month-long spiral of listening to Green. But despite my repeated listening, I didn't entirely understand why it was the best pandemic-era album.
Then, over the weekend, I noticed Green appear again with an apocalyptic framing—this time in Netflix's new disaster drama anime, Japan Sinks 2020.
The newly released 10-episode animated series (which is definitely not created for children) comes from celebrated anime director and illustrator Masaaki Yuasa. Often sentimental, it's a big departure from Yuasa's previous series for Netflix, Devilman Crybaby (2018), an ultraviolent, ultrahorny show about a, um, devilman who is also a crybaby?
Yuasa's Japan Sinks 2020 is based on Sakyo Komatsu's bestselling novel, Japan Sinks (1973), about a cataclysmic megaquake that causes Japan to subside into the ocean. It's a bleak premise to drop in the middle of a pandemic, but it's buoyed by a surprisingly meditative soundtrack from composer Kensuke Ushio. Most surprising is Ushio's inclusion of a song inspired by Green's "CREEK."
Ushio's EDM reimagining of the track comes during a curious episode ("Illusion") where the characters find themselves partying with a cult. At this point in the series, the cast has only encountered growing disasters—burning cities, crashing planes, a smoldering Mt. Fuji—which have driven them deeper into Japan, eventually to a sanctuary operated by a good-natured cult.
Here, in a late-night cult rave, the cast experiences their first moment of real rest in the series. One of the characters, tired of the DJ, kicks him off and puts on this track:
I expected the rave to be turned off by the track's bird chirps and environmental sounds, but no: The track's sounds begin to layer, the electronic melds with the natural, and the crowd goes ham.
Why would they want to listen to nature after days of running away from nature? The answer came to me in Mudede's line on Japanese "environmental music": "We do flee nature, but we do so by going deeper and deeper into it."
Something in Earth's forces must be shifting back around to Green.