Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl
pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound,
how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving
a brief overview of the music itself. For today’s instalment, we’re reviewing a
brand new reissue of Japanese funk-pop maestro Akiko Yano.
Interest in Japanese music seems to have been at something of an all-time high over the past couple of years, at least in the West. This has led to a glut of reissue campaigns tackling Nippon rarities – certainly no bad thing considering the amount of gems that have been unearthed. Akiko Yano is perhaps amongst the better known artists to see such a surge of interest in the West. Wewantsounds began a reissue campaign of her work last year in a bid to bring her music to a wider Western audience and continue that series with their third release of her music. ‘Iroha Ni Konpeitou’ is Yano’s sophomore effort and one of the most groove-focused, funk-influenced LPs of her discography. Released in 1977, the album is in some respects ahead of its time; both the cover art and musical content feel more in line with the tastes of the early eighties, which makes this a doubly intriguing piece of work. Throughout the album Yano collaborates with an all-star cast. Much of the album was recorded in Tokyo, however the title track was cut in New York and boasts contributions from the likes of David Spinozza and Rick Marotta. Of the Japanese contributors to the album, Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono and Hideki Matsutake are likely to be the most immediately recognisable names to Western listeners. As befitting of an album with such a wide list of collaborators, ‘Iroha Ni Konpeitou’ is a slick, well produced affair imbued with a sense of energy that fills the funkier moments with a playful vest.
Some pressing plants seem to routinely attract more work than others, which is perhaps why it’s unsurprising that GZ Media have handled the manufacturing of ‘Iroha Ni Konpeitou’. They’re one of the most popular pressing plants in operation – but that degree of demand placed upon them does mean that their output can be somewhat inconsistent. However they have certainly produced great vinyl in their time and initial signs are certainly promising here. The mid-weight black wax appears clean, with tidy surfaces which boast an attractive sheen. Dropping the stylus down, things remain just as impressive. Initially, the most obvious point is the flatness of the disc which is free of warpage, something that is less common than it really should be on new records. The noise floor is low on this pressing, allowing playback to remain clean even during the more subdued moments of the album. Across the entirety of the record we picked up on only a few very minor background crackles here and there, with playback being free of more audible defects such as pops or clicks. The album has been newly remastered for this reissue and the resultant sonics are very solid indeed. Each instrument has its own distinct space and the synth bass in particular really shines here, with its beautifully squelchy tonality given full justice to with this edition. Vocals, for their part, are full and rich; in terms of the mix, they’re upfront – unsurprisingly, of course – but remain subtly defined enough that they don’t draw attention away from the instrumentation. There’s a surprisingly varied roster of instruments employed here – check out the lapsteel solo during ‘On The Way Home’ – and each sounds full in its own way.
As any collectors of Japanese records will likely concur, one of the great charms of vinyl from Nippon are the Obi strips synonymous with their releases. There’s a certain charm to these colourful wrap-around strips of paper that can be hard to quantify in conventional terms, but the appeal is certainly strong for a large subset of collectors. This addition alone is enough to ensure that many vintage Japanese titles fetch a hefty premium on the collector’s market, even in cases where a Western equivalent can be bought for far less. It makes some kind of sense, then, that OBI strips – or a contemporary approximation of them – have become increasingly popular with new releases over the past few years.
The original release of ‘Iroha Ni Konpeitou’ included just such an Obi and, faithful to that fact, this WeWantSounds reissue does as well. The design differs from that of the original both in content and construction (the reissue’s OBI wraps around the spine, the original didn’t) but the spirit of the original aesthetic is certainly kept intact. A considerate touch is the fact that the OBI has been cut slightly shorter than the sleeve itself, providing the option of safely storing it in the cover without risk of creasing. The sleeve is also similarly faithful to the original design. The wonderfully kitch artwork is reproduced in full across the front and back covers, with image quality boasting strong definition and vivid colours. The cardstock used is solid – although not unusually weighty, the sleeve does feel reasonably substantial. One new facet of the presentation is a barcode printed onto the back cover – it isn’t large but naturally it’s not the most welcome of additions. It would have been appreciated had they placed it on the Obi strip or a sticker on the shrinkwrap instead. The record itself is housed in a generic, non-polylined white paper sleeve which is not great quality so we recommend caution when removing the record from it. A much more positive aspect of the presentation is a 12″ x 12″ fold out full-colour insert, featuring an image of Yano on one side and full lyrics and credits on the other. The label designs are a big plus to the presentation of the release and serve as a knowing nod to the original edition, coming very close to fully reproducing it. Collectors will no doubt be pleased with the authenticity of the presentation here, as the labels are based heavily on the vintage Philips Records design that the original pressing appeared on. A download code is also included for all your digital needs, which is of course a welcome addition to the reissue.
Wewantsounds have produced a very solid rerelease with their edition of ‘Iroha Ni Konpeitou’. Packaging and presentation is appealingly faithful to that of the scarce original edition and the listening experience is one that benefits from the record’s clean surfaces and crisp remastering.
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