Review Summary: Blue beats for your pleasure, reheat at your leisure
Most artists should count themselves lucky to be remembered for any one reason. Soichi Terada boasts three, in descending order of celebrity: as a video game soundtracker, as a pioneer of ‘90s Japanese house with his Far East Recording label, and as an early Japanese importer of UK jungle with his 1996 LP Sumo Jungle
. Being a pioneer doesn’t always lead straight to lasting glory: come the new millennium and the latter two accolades were superseded by the former, sliding off the table into the realm of historical footnotes. There they stayed until Rush Hour’s reissue of select cuts from the Far East catalogue, Sounds From the Far East
, in 2015.
From there, the internet did its good work: Terada received a renewed wave of interest over his ‘90s output, so much so that he felt compelled to return to his old equipment and methods in the hope of releasing his first house record in twenty-five years. Asakusa Light
is the fruit of this, one of those chicken/egg moments when an artist attempts to respond to their own legacy for an audience who, for the most part, weren’t around for the source material; it’s an inception that brings to mind Sweet Trip (whose presence is further recalled at points by Terada’s phased-out synth pads, albeit tangentially). Quite the foundation. So, uh, how is it?
Well, full disclosure, I was unaware of Terada’s house credentials until after hearing Asakusa Light
; he came onto my radar when I saw Sumo Jungle
on a historical overview of drum and bass, and this album seemed little more than a conveniently timed excuse to get to that one faster. I’d very much like to read a dissection of how this record revives/surpasses/falls short of the particularities of Terada’s ‘90s house canon from someone suitably qualified, but I honestly preferred it with next to no context than with the weight of a major stylistic comeback foisted on it. This isn’t really a criticism, although it is belied by a lack of ostensibly wow-ing moments, something no doubt destined to be amplified tenfold by those still incapable of differentiating deep house from the amorphous catchall of ‘background music’. By that token, it’s not much of a compliment either; Asakusa Light
is as unlikely to generate hyperboles of its own as it is to thrive under any superimposed on it. It does respectably, enjoyably well as an often twinkly soundtrack for urban twilight strolls or study hours.
To that end, its tracks are as unextravagent yet meticulous in construction as they are unambitious yet satisfying in scope, each offering an even-handed but largely unwavering exploration of one or two simple ideas for a handful of minutes, reticent to overstay their welcome. There’s a respectable diversity of beats (well, cymbal patterns) between, but not within, cuts; the same goes for overall tone. Nothing here flips the script on whatever groove or atmosphere it starts out with, but Terada does well in offering a spread of minor variations of mood across the album. “Blinker”, for instance, is a standout that hints at a more propulsive sound with an engaging bassline (his apparent forte) and noirish chime motifs, while “Double Spire” lays on washed-out synths to explore more languid territory. Such details are welcome flecks of colour on an occasionally monochrome starscape.
At the end of the day, this record easily holds together by the sum of its parts, but it’s too straightforward and unassertive to posit a knockout standalone attraction. Most paths of critique will stem more from overbearing expectations than anything it does specifically ‘wrong’, while those who get the most out of it will likely have the shrewdest sense for the moments it pairs with. I’d say those are worth sniffing out; Asakusa Light
’s good qualities, its slick arrangements, its unhurried, gently mobile pulse, its cleanness and crispness, deserve a life of their own. If you have to find their spark of ignition elsewhere, then that’s on you. Study with it, drive with it, cook with it, walk with it, sleep with it [on]; do whatever you do best with unimposing house beats expertly crafted to tint your midnight blue. And then do it again - peace and luck!