Bakurocho band may be world music, but please don’t put them in the world music bin.
Artist: Bakurocho Band
Is there any lonelier aisle in a record shop than the world music aisle? What is even supposed to go in there? Music from other countries? Ethnic music? Music that incorporates elements from more than one part of the world?
Imagine for a minute why you might be embarrassed to be seen browsing in the world music section. It’s because of the stereotype of who you imagine is shopping with you. The world music aisle brings to mind the professorial type who loathes popular music, but lacks the musicality to appreciate jazz. To make up for it, he can scratch his beard and describe how the musicians made the instruments from period correct methods and have resolutely excluded any trace of Western musicality. He’s also perfectly willing to ignore the fact it is practically unlistenable to modern ears.
Don’t you worry. Bakurocho Band won’t appeal to this straw-man-world-music-fan. They’ve got too much modern music in them. Instead of calling them world music, perhaps we should opt for something more accurate: Glocalized Music.
You are likely familiar with glocalization via food. Who hasn’t heard complaints or complained about the Westernization of Chinese food (probably while shamefully recalling that time you enjoyed General Tso’s chicken)? Rest assured knowing it is not unique to the West. You can travel to Hong Kong and enjoy their thoroughly seventies take on American food, 豉油西餐 (“soy sauce western”). It won’t remind you much of mama’s cooking, but you’ll enjoy it. Why? Because it’s delicious no matter its authenticity. Or perhaps you can travel to Seoul and have a delicious bowl of Koreanized Japanese ramen. It won’t taste much like a back alley in Sapporo, but you’ll walk away happy.
Bakurocho Band embraces this aesthetic. The base is thoroughly Japanese, but they treat all the music in the world as colors on their palette; things to draw from. The instrumentation sounds very traditional and very Japanese, leaning especially on stringed and woodwind instruments. And yet, the vocals? Probably more influenced by rap more than anything else. The rhythms? Afrobeat. It’s dizzying and something all new for your ears.
“Tokyo Over Drive”, the lead off track undoubtedly serves as the mission statement and bell weather for whether this album is for you. It starts with the literal ringing of a bell you’d expect to hear in a monastery. It is quickly followed by some preliminary throat clearing from the instrumentation. As the bass enters, so does a chanted vocal figure. You may wonder if you have stumbled into an album that’s going to be 45 minutes of incomprehensibly traditional religious music. But then, as the track closes in on the two minute mark, the voices take on highly rhythmic cadences. It’s hard to describe, but it sounds something like if scripture reading Buddhist monks took cues from the Beastie Boys. Despite using such exotic instrumentation (to Western ears), it is immediately noticeable that the vocals are front, center, and much louder than anything else. From there on out, the song is a frenzy. Chanted background vocals, aggressive drumming, and ultra-fast vocals that lie somewhat imperceptibly between rapping and singing.
About half the of the tracks fall into this up-tempo, manic style while the others fall into some sort of chill Sunday morning at the monastery vibe. Of the slower tracks, “Long Ago People Lived on the Moon” is a highlight. The song features the most pronounced instrumental section and the most restrained percussion. The effect is something like a gang of teenagers passing upon a bunch of geezers playing ultra-traditional music. Only instead of the two groups clashing, they decide to mash together. The result embraces a contradiction between placid and playful.
Playful and placid probably best describes the band as a whole. So, let’s not fix it with that old-style genre tag of world music. Bakurocho Band’s Meteor is an album for people who truly enjoy the intersection of cultures.