The cover art to Shintaro Sakamoto's sophomore solo album, Let's Dance Raw, gives listeners a fair clue as to the sounds contained within, yet it's tough to prepare oneself for the shocking landscape painted throughout. Released this week on Other Music Recording Co. in North America and Europe, the record fuses together a post-apocalyptic isolation with widescreen, Technicolor hallucinations. Let's Dance Raw is a bit of departure from the offbeat tropical funk of Sakamoto's first solo full-length, 2012's How to Live with a Phantom; here we find him adding to the breezy mix a heavy dose of cartoon psychedelia straight out of Pee-Wee's Playhouse, or the freaky yet inviting surrealist worlds of multimedia artists Wayne White and Tadanori Yokoo.
This dichotomy of bright, innocent beauty and subtle perversity is the essence of Let's Dance Raw, and here the music is blown wide open, with the steel guitar as the unifying force throughout. Sakamoto purchased and learned how to play the instrument just prior to writing and recording the album, and it enriches the dark, soulful exotica on these ten songs. Let's Dance Raw combines the bright and breezy shimmer of Hawaiian slack-key hula melodies, the dusty shuffle of southwestern desert blues, and the space-age bachelor-pad music of postwar suburban dreamers. It's all anchored by deep, jazzy grooves straight out of a 1970s AM radio broadcast, and peppered with flourishes of Brazilian and Latin percussion throughout.
Atop the music, Sakamoto sings of the human race's downfall, the weight of the lyrics made contrastingly perverse via duets with robotic Vocoder voices and helium-voiced cartoon chipmunks cooing in an unsettling fashion alongside him. The result is an album that revisits the soundtracks of musical escapism made popular in postwar American and Japanese cultures, and deftly updates them for contemporary audiences. It proves to be one of 2014's most engrossing, beguiling, and rewarding albums (and we'd say that even if we weren't releasing it!). If you enjoyed Shintaro's debut, this is an astonishing expansion of the magic created on that record, showing us that his craft continues to expand and refine itself with time. (September 18, 2014)