Various Artists: Tokyo Glow review – radiant homage to Japanese city pop

(Nippon Columbia)
This upbeat collection unearths artists whose glossy, disco-influenced pop contains subtle fusions and canny innovation

Japanese city pop is an enigmatic genre. Emerging in the late 1970s and peaking in popularity throughout the 80s, it was a soundtrack to the country’s economic boom and newly christened “leisure class”: a loosely defined grouping of Japanese-language music influenced by American styles such as yacht rock, R&B, funk and boogie.

Recent years have seen a renewed interest in the genre among western audiences spurred on by cratedigging and YouTube. It has spawned expertly curated compilations, such as Light in the Attic’s 2019 album Pacific Breeze and, from We Want Sounds, 2020’s Tokyo Dreaming. Japanese label Nippon Columbia’s archive-raiding Tokyo Glow is the latest, producing 18 tracks of city pop that exemplify the genre’s wide-ranging diversity.

Tokyo Glow cover art
Repeatedly listenable … Tokyo Glow cover art Photograph: Publicity image

Curated by DJ Notoya, the compilation plays as a paean to the spending power of major Japanese labels throughout the 80s and the open-eared aptitude of their artists. Able to provide top session musicians filling out horn sections, orchestral strings and backing vocals, each track plays as a sumptuously warm instrumental experience. Opener Kimagure is taken from actress Kumi Nakamura’s only album release and features her Patrice Rushen-style silken vocal atop a mid-tempo boogie bassline; Indo No Michibata continues that fusion funk feel with a horn section that references US R&B band Tower of Power.

But this is more than just a well-crafted replica of American styles. Each composition subtly subverts its reference points: Sumiko Yamagata’s balladic Minnie Riperton-style instrumentals are coupled with an eerie top-line synth; New Generation Company’s strutting funk, complete with vocoder banking, has a proto-techno feel; Mizuki Koyama goes full Drexciyan electro in the thundering opening to her Teena Marie-adjacent Oh! Daddy.

Even though city pop is a genre largely coined in retrospect, Tokyo Glow’s varied selection is not a mere historical document. The compilation highlights these artists’ attention to instrumental detail and their delicate fusion of popular international styles with new technologies to create the sound of a city. It is one that is both of its time and still repeatedly listenable today.

Also out this month

Réunion Island experimental composer Labelle releases his latest album Éclat (InFiné Music), a deconstructed selection of string quartet works reframing classical melody through Maloya rhythms and contemporary electronics. Tuareg group Imarhan’s third album, Aboogi (City Slang), is their first record made in their native southern Algeria; the resulting tracks interweave field recordings with dextrous guitar lines. Producer Shay Hazan fuses north African gnawa rhythms with vamping jazz horns on Reclusive Rituals (Batov Records), highlighting the earthy bass tones of the three-stringed gimbri in the process.


Ammar Kalia

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Horace Andy: Midnight Rocker review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
Artfully rearranged classics and mature dub-defining new tracks, all produced by Adrian Sherwood, reveal a late-career masterpiece

Ammar Kalia

25, Mar, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Perú Selvático: Sonic Expedition 1972-1986 review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
A new compilation collects the fuzzed-out, jungle-born head-rush of wah wah and reverb that rethought a traditional folk music of Peru

Ammar Kalia

02, Dec, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
SG Lewis: Times review – soaring, subtle disco for kitchen dancefloors
Given the British producer’s skill for emotionally attuned nightclub elation, his debut shouldn’t suffer from the shutdown of its natural habitat

Alexis Petridis

18, Feb, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Special Interest: Endure review – jackhammer beats and punk catharsis
The New Orleans band provide a release from tough times with a hardcore album inflected by funk, glam rock and disco

Emma Garland

04, Nov, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
‘Kawaiiii!’ Chai, the Japanese girl band reclaiming cuteness
The indie pop quartet might not be overtly political, but their new album – ‘an amusement park for insecurities’ – has a radically positive vision

Dale Berning Sawa

20, May, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Auntie Flo & Sarathy Korwar: Shruti Dances review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
From an uptempo opening track, through swirling melodic ambience to a pensive warm-down, the duo’s debut collaboration is a radiant mini DJ set

Ammar Kalia

20, May, 2022 @7:30 AM

Article image
Joe Rainey: Niineta review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
On his debut album, the powwow singer transports Indigenous music to the concert hall and club while losing none of its power

Ammar Kalia

22, Apr, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Mabe Fratti: Será Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos? review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
Living in a Mexican artist community has led to fruitful collaborations for the Guatemalan musician, using the sound of birds and animals alongside varied instrumentation

Ammar Kalia

28, May, 2021 @7:30 AM

Article image
Rian Treanor and Ocen James: Saccades review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
The presence of James’ bow complements Treanor’s dense compositions, creating the latter’s most melodic and dancefloor-adjacent work to date

Ammar Kalia

06, Jan, 2023 @9:00 AM

Article image
Polobi & the Gwo Ka Masters: Abri Cyclonique review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
In this collaboration with producer Dr L, Moïse Polobi’s remarkable baritone is embellished with Afrobeat funk, trip-hop and Cuban percussion rhythm

Ammar Kalia

03, Feb, 2023 @9:00 AM