Shintaro Sakamoto finds the realness in cheesy lounge pop | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Shintaro Sakamoto finds the realness in cheesy lounge pop


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Japanese musicians have a long history of fascination with Western kitsch—perhaps they perceive aggressive artificiality as America’s most authentic form of expression. In the 70s, Haruomi Hosono released a number of exotica albums, and two decades later, the Pizzicato Five became famous for their irony-poisoned Bacharach sophisti-twee. Iconic Tokyo singer-songwriter and producer Shintaro Sakamoto advanced that winking tradition for decades as the front man for underground psych-rock legends Yura Yura Teikoku, a three-piece that was very influential in Japan but rarely performed internationally. Sakamoto has had more success in the U.S. since he set out on his own; his 2011 debut, How to Live With a Phantom (released on his own Zelone label), was licensed by Other Music Records and distributed in Europe and North America, exposing him to new audiences. Shintaro’s most recent album, 2016’s Let's Dance Raw (Zelone), deliberately refutes its title; there’s nothing raw about its meticulously smooth grooves and oh-so-precious melodies, which are drenched in reverb and Hawaiian guitar and clothed in late-night evening wear. “Extremely Bad Man” struts across the dance floor, but not too hard, while chipmunk vocals declare in Japanese “(Insanely bad guy) Invite me / You came to sell strange things.” The title track is strobe-light Euro-disco for exhausted cosmopolitans, while “You Can Be a Robot Too” sets its fruity mechanical sound effects marching to a strumming banjo. The hysterically lachrymose “Never Liked You, but Still Nostalgic” may be the album’s most pointed statement of purpose—it’s a dreamy Pacific Island ballad about the pleasures of alienation and the alienation of pleasures. Sometimes someone else’s weird fake emotions are the only things that feel real.   v

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