The US and European dominance of the indie music scene allows for only a marginal appreciation of what’s been developing elsewhere – in Japan, for example. A few enthusiasts can sprinkle their conversation with names like DJ Krush and Maher Shahal Hash Baz without skipping a beat and, very occasionally, they might meet with something other than a glazed look and a surreptitious glance at their interlocutor’s watch, but, by and large, the Orient is, as it has always been, a dark and mysterious place full of weirdness and baffling behaviour.
Much like Warrington, in fact.
Saya, Ueno, and DJ Klock are native superstars (it says here) whose collaboration as Cacoy combines their talents as singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, and beats-samurai (in that order) into a formidable guerrilla unit that trips the light fantastic around the fringes of folktronica chucking cheery joy-bombs of hip-hoppiness into the Devendra-dominated party like a bunch of feral kids high on M&M’s.
We have the 2004 release Childish Music on Staubgold to thank for identifying and compiling some fascinating examples of a recently-emergent pseudo-genre that seems to be fairly massive in Japan, and introduced us to such artists as Yuichiro Fujimoto, Asa-Chang & Junray, Nobukazu Takemura, and Takagi Masakatsu, inter alia, each of whom plays, as does Cacoy, with notions of ‘new music for new children’. Cacoy’s take on this, their début album, is to merge three distinct styles into one record: a series of seven melodically simple, electronically rococco instrumental tracks with references as far apart as Múm and The Beatles riding on a strange off-kilter raft of beats; a couple of four-to-the-floor-based soppy-poppy-sounding songs sung (one in Japanese, the other in an English so thick it might as well be Japanese – which makes it excruciatingly sexy, of course) in the kind of girl-child voice to the kind of toy-instrument, glock ‘n’ glitch accompaniment that’s become one of Iceland’s major exports; and a trio of quasi-acoustic interludes that seem to emerge from somewhere outside the Main Sequence.
Apart from a couple of pedestrian filler-tracks (New north – complete with cute squeaking puppies – and harmonies – complete with ditto kids) that a less avuncular producer would have left in the maybe folder, the body of this album is as refreshing and delightful as a storm of cherry-blossom.
It’s those interludes, though, that, for my money, take the biscuit, with cacoy’s mood – at a mere two-and-a-quarter minutes – gleaming like a quasar in the light-blizzard of the strange night sky that hangs over planet Cacoy. It’s really so slight a thing: nothing but a crudely-plucked Spanish guitar line dawdling along a meandering trail to nowhere in particular, with barely identifiable extraneous noises – buzzing, whistling, tapping, rattling – popping up en route. It’s like something a spaced out Teletubby might sing when it’s off-camera, which makes it sound unbearably twee, whereas in fact it’s pure genius, as is the similarly sparse trees who treat minors and the achingly beautiful finale, cool spring minister.
There’s really no getting away from it – happy is fast becoming the new black. By some fortunate quirk of cultural isostasy, the darker it gets in the real world, the lighter it seems to get in the musical world, and those relics of the miseryguts never-happier-than-when-we’re-sad shoegazing community (*notices laces are untied) are just going to have to learn to live with it. Rumour has it Radiohead’s next project is a musical about Michael Moore.
A word about this title – Human is Music – it’s one of those baffling contortions of the English language that exemplify a distinctly non-Western approach to marketing, to boldly go where no-one else would even think. It’s more than meaningless, it’s almost actively anti-meaning, but, in much the same way as ‘Walkman’ and ‘Playstation’ – two equally un-meaning inventions that came effortlessly to dominate the brand league tables – work by appealing to the playfulness and enduring naïvety that gets locked behind the grownup masks of seriousness and responsibility, so Cacoy – who I’m sure as the earth spins clockwise didn’t choose that title by any accident of translation – have given their début album an equally deliberate spin in the opposite direction just for the fun of it.
Fresh sounding and fantastic fun, this all-star trio comes, I suspect, with the sort of sense of humour that involves merchandising t-shirts whose cool-looking ideogram actually translates as ‘I heart the Care Bears’ – but hey, I do, so there.