The best Japanese albums of 2013: Yosi Horikawa, ‘Vapor’

by James Hadfield

Few albums this year rewarded repeat listens as generously as Yosi Horikawa’s “Vapor.” The Chiba-based producer makes fecund, wide-eyed electronica constructed from manipulated field recordings, percussion, ethnic chants and slightly new-age keyboards. If that sounds awful on paper, it’s intoxicating in practice: each track teems with unexpected sonic details, to the extent that I seemed to find something new in the mix every time I listened to it on a different stereo. Horikawa took his hefty field microphone with him while touring overseas this year — I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.

Speaking of things to look forward to, 21-year-old producer Madegg took a huge leap forward on his sophomore album, “Kiko”. Given the rate at which this beatific beatmaker is maturing at the moment (as evidenced by the tracks that frequently pop up and then vanish from his Soundcloud page), Kazumichi Komatsu’s next one should be even better. A sign in Tower Records touting “Kiko” as “The next Nosaj Thing?!?” was, I suspect, setting the bar much too low.

In deeper, dubbier territories, ENA’s “Bilateral” proved to be a real grower. Once better known for his adventurous drum ‘n’ bass tracks, here producer Yu Aseda slowed things down to dubstep tempos, but this was sound-system music at its most skeletal and haunted — the perfect soundtrack for walking the backstreets of Tokyo at night.

And it’d be rude not to give a hat-tip to Nisennenmondai, who, without recourse to rhythm machines or samplers, continued to take their guitar-bass-drums trio format into the realms of pure minimal techno on “N.” Even justifiably feted London trio Factory Floor can’t compete with this level of steely dancefloor reductionism, propelled by the remarkable human metronome that is drummer Sayaka Himeno. Austere as hell, it was a tough record to love, but impossible not to admire.


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