Now that we’re in the throes of Polar Vortex 2019, I figured it was time to revisit a few of my favorite Winter albums. Not in the celebratory or romantic sense of the season, but rather the Wisconsin Winter in as it really is in the dead of January. The sheets of white that blanketed everything have turned grey and brown, the trees are bare, and there’s no one on the streets. As the subzero days pile up, people get crankier and more emotionally distant. Outside of being able to store your beer outside, there’s virtually nothing good about it; shoveling snow sucks, and driving in it is even worse.
There are some albums out there that try to capture this feeling – The Moon and Antartica is an obvious one, but I’m more interested in those that nail it without particularly trying to. Haruomi Hosono, as it turns out, writes a lot of music that nails a specific feeling, almost as an afterthought . There is something in his music that feels backwards to me, where I don’t know if he’s trying to write stuff that’s this left-of-center or if his brain just filters things differently. This was especially true in his Monad period in the mid-80s, where he was doing soundtracks and writing music for commercial purposes which were intriguing in just how bizarre they were.
Nokto de la Galaksia Fervojo was a hidden treasure from this period; unlike the other Monad albums it was not part of a boxset, nor did it get a wide release on CD. It was not until the Non Standard 2008 reissue that I was able to finally hear it. It’s a soundtrack to an animated film that I have not seen, based on a book I have not read. All I have is the synopsis, and a brief idea of the themes; a supernatural journey through time, a mysterious voyage to parts unknown, and a lonely boy whose only moments of happiness are fleeting. The essentials of Japanese fantasy literature.
The music tells its own story. The first time I heard it I got the distinct image of watching the Earth from the surface of the Moon, with no one to talk to and nothing to do. Or perhaps traveling through space on an empty train (“The Galactic Railroad”, you see). I’m guessing none of this is in the movie. But there is a distinct loneliness in all the music here. All the decayed notes, the wind-up instruments, the dissonant striking chords – even the one vocal part (“La Gojo”) sounds disembodied, like it’s from a distant memory (that’s Miharu Koshi, isn’t it?). The music sounds like its haunted. Which goes with its sort of old-world feel; despite the presence of synthesizers and digital sound effects, the compositions themselves feel very 18th century. Hosono has always been a mastermind at doing that kind of stuff; I don’t know of anyone else making music like this in the mid-80s where it didn’t come off all stiff and canned.
Like most soundtracks, the whole record works as a piece, but there are a few standout tracks. “La Stelfesto” is like a 4-minute summary of the brilliant Cochin Moon LP (Bollywood meets technopop) and “La Gojo” is absolutely gorgeous. But my favorite is the piano/synth piece “La Travida Malgojo”, which is simply one of the most beautiful and devastating pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s odd to hear him do this sort of thing so well – it’s like he’s stepping on his buddy Sakamoto’s toes here. But Hosono really was on some kinda trip back in the 80’s; he could truly do no wrong.
If you’re familiar with his other work from this time, you’ll want to grab this right away. You might be familiar with some of it already – a piece appears on Coincidental Music, and The Endless Talking contains several really bizarre remixes of this material. There’s even a theme that appears on the Omni Sight Seeing track “Pleocene”, which is often considered one of his best tracks. Of course this may not be the obscurity it once was; Hosono’s music is a bit easier to find now than it was 10 years ago. Still, it deserves to be considered among his best work; much like Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, it stands as its own thing, independent of the actual movie. But if you do want to see it, I did find a link below, which I’ll probably watch tonight:
And if you want to hear the track I was raving about above, here it is: