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Jun Togawa - 20th

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Artist: Jun Togawa

Album: 20th

Label: God Mountain

Review date: Aug. 25, 2003

Two Decades of Covers

Celebrating Jun Togawa's 20th year in the entertainment business, this half-hour mini-album originally released in 2000 is here reissued with a bonus CD-EP accompanying the first 1,000 copies.

As a 20th-anniversary release, this collection of covers makes a great deal of sense. Ranging from lounge jazz to ominous experimentalism, 20th hits on quite a variety in between, and demonstrates Togawa's unique take on things.

Brigitte Fontaine's "Comme a la radio" starts things off on a smoky jazz angle, a loping rhythm buoyed by clarinet and cello. Togawa's singsong vocals move in harmony with the clarinet, only occasionally going off on their own tangents. Very different is "Finale", a 1980 song from the notorious Japanese avant-garde artist Phew. The music consists of slow, spooky sound effects and a fuzzy sort of bass line, courtesy of The Saboten (producer Hoppy Kamiyama, Saguaro, and DJ-Force). Togawa's vocals are chanted in a sort of naive way, in steady syncopation with the bum-bum-bum bass.

As expected, "Joe le Taxi" – a Vanessa Paradis song – is a cute pop tune, complete with a jazzy sort of guitar and plinky piano. Emi Eleonola’s (of DemiSemiQuaver) accordion is a nice touch. The song builds to a nice peak with a good, nasty guitar solo. On the anti-pop side, Patti Smith's "Because the Night" follows with eerie background noises from electric cello, noise guitar by Otomo Yoshihide, and loops by Kamiyama. The abstract noises create an interesting bed for Togawa's strained, harsh vocal rendition. It's pretty effective, but is definitely not a casual listen.

Slapp Happy's "Casablanca Moon" is a somewhat more faithful version, complete with accordion again by Eleonola, rubbery bass and guitar, and Kamiyama's martini lounge piano. It's a fun piece. The set finishes up with a droning play-through of the Velvets' "All Tomorrow's Parties" that's closer to Nico's solo version than the original. Creepy synthetic background sounds by The Saboten underlie Togawa's loose, not-quite-free-form vocals. It sounds like the guitar of the original version may have been sampled to form part of the sonic backdrop, while the rhythm is a ponderous, glitchy; a mechanical sort of clanking and hissing.

The bonus CD included with the first 1,000 copies of the mini-album contains two tracks over 10 minutes, recorded at a Jean-Luc Godard tribute event in June of 2002. The live performance was a collaboration with Kamiyama on piano and a string quartet. The first piece, a few minutes long, is “Movement #3” from a Godard homage. Vaguely atonal strings and free-style piano interact with Togawa's vocals for a dramatic effect. The second piece is a seven-minute "All Tomorrow's Parties" with a string quartet, featuring an impassioned vocal performance that's unfortunately a bit too unsteady for my taste. The piano, guitar, and string combination, however, is thoroughly fascinating.

By Mason Jones

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