Music

Haruomi Hosono reworks a modern classic with 'Hochono House'

by James Hadfield

Contributing Writer

As he enters his 50th year in the music business, Haruomi Hosono hasn’t lost his talent for making you wonder what the devil he’s up to. After using modern studio technology to recreate the sounds of mid-20th century pop on “Vu Ja De” in 2017, his latest effort looks to his early career for inspiration.

Following the breakup of Happy End in 1972, Hosono retreated to a house on the outskirts of Tokyo to make his debut solo LP, installing a 16-track mixer in the living room and turning the bedroom into a recording studio. The resulting album, “Hosono House,” is one of the most popular in his diverse back catalog: a breezy set of songs in thrall to the sounds of The Band and Dr. John, with a tossed-off charm that has inspired countless indie rockers since.

Hosono never much cared for it, though, so he’s remade it. On “Hochono House,” he presents a new version of the album that replaces its no-frills, home-recorded aesthetic with an uncanny digital construct, where the fakery is always close to the surface.

Artists re-record old material for a variety of reasons, from the creative to the purely contractual. In Hosono’s case, it seems to have been for want of something better to do.

After spending the past decade working in a retro vernacular with a regular band, he uses the album as an opportunity to tiptoe back into the realm of computer music, exploring the possibilities of virtual instruments and contemporary sound design.

“Bara to Yaju” recalls the more restrained moments of Sketch Show, his early-2000s electronica duo with former Yellow Magic Orchestra bandmate Yukihiro Takahashi, reshaping the original’s New Orleans funk into minimalist, space-age lounge music. Listen with headphones and it’s easier to appreciate both the detail and the strangeness of the production, including a nagging beat that sounds like it’s being played on a saucepan.

The first side of the album — which plays in reverse track order — continues in a distinctly synthetic vein. “Ai Ai Gasa ~ Broken Radio Version” gets warped and buffeted by radio interference before vanishing in a wash of ambient synthesizer; “Koi wa Momoiro” sounds like a Kratfwerk track that’s reached retirement age. “Fuku wa Uchi Oni wa Soto,” one of the highlights, transforms the original’s kalimba riff into a polyrhythmic kaleidoscope that could pass for something by Juana Molina or Francis Bebey.

Just when it’s starting to sound like Hosono has gone fully electronic again, he confuses things by including a lo-fi recording of “Party” from the mid-’70s, just piano and voice floating in a soup of amplified room noise.

The music in the album’s second half comes closer to resembling a real band and loses a little sparkle. “Owari no Kisetsu” is turned into the kind of whimsical, guitar-led instrumental you might hear on the soundtrack of a gardening documentary. “Boku wa Chotto” is given a fresh set of lyrics and thoroughly purged of its country-rock groove, though the pedestrian drum programming here isn’t much of an improvement.

Throughout, Hosono delivers his vocals with a panache that was lacking on the original album — one of the reasons, apparently, that he was dissatisfied with it.

On the closing rendition of “Rock-A-Bye My Baby,” he croons the melody to a simple accompaniment of acoustic guitar and a metronome click, as ambient noise floods the mix. It sounds like it was recorded on a sunny morning with the windows wide open. It sounds, too, like he’s having fun.