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Thread: Japan (the band, silly, not the country!)

  1. #1

    Japan (the band, silly, not the country!)

    So we touched on Japan a little bit in the Spandau Ballet/Roxy Music thread. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a huge fan, but I do greatly enjoy the music I've heard, chiefly, the last two studio albums, Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum, along with the subsequent live album, Oil On Canvas.

    I told this story in the Spandau Ballet thread, and I've told it a bunch of times over the years, but I'll repeat it here, just for the sake of making this post mean anything beyond "Oh, yeah, I like that band":

    I first heard Japan via MTV. Yeah, I know that sounds absolutely crazy, but MTV did play one of their videos in the very early days. I think it was Visions of China. And I remember hating it. I honestly don't know what it was that rubbed me the wrong way about it, maybe it was just that I wasn't accustomed to such "artsy" music at the age of 10. Anyway, not long after that, I remember John Taylor, Duran Duran's bassist, did a Guest VJ show, and he played that same video. I remember after the video aired, he came on and talked a bit about how great Japan were, then added "Unfortunately, they've since broken up!", and I remember thinking, "GOOD!".

    A few years later, I read an article on Mick Karn in Guitar Player, and I think by then my tastes had widened a bit, and the article talked about him playing fretless bass, which I was starting to become keen on, and there was talk of him working with David Torn (which I think at that point was just limited to them touring together). Eventually, Torn and Karn did a number of recordings together (eg Lonely Universe, Polytown, and at least a couple of Karn's albums as a leader), which I love a great deal. I also became aware of Torn and Fripp's work with David Sylvian, with our local library having a couple albums they played on (Gone To Earth and Secrets Of The Beehive), which I borrowed and enjoyed. I started to wonder if I shouldn't give Japan another look.

    As a side note, at one point, this had to have bene in the early 90's sometime, I think, Wax Stax got in a used copy of a double LP Japan best of, I think Exorcising Ghosts, was what it was called. Anyway, I remember reading the credits and seeing Simon House credited as a guest musician on a few songs. That pricked my ears up, because at the time I was a massive Hawkwind fanboy, so anything even remotely connected had my attention. Unfortunately, before I could secure funds to buy it, someone else did. Also, I remember Sylvian also did an album with Holger Czukay, but for whatever reason, I don't think I ever heard that one.

    And of course, Richard Babieri was also in Porcupine Tree, who I wasn't into for most of their existence, but I recall he played on portions of The Sky Moves Sideways, which I still think is a fantastic album.

    But eventually, I ended up buying Tin Drum and Oil On Canvas, the old Virgin records editions, and as I said, enjoyed them immensely. The next step should have been to get Gentlemen Take Polaroids, but I never followed through on that until just a couple weeks ago, when I bought that, and (finally!) Rain Tree Crow, the circa 89-90 "reunion" album featuring the principle four musicians from Japan. I'm actually gonna be listening to Rain Tree Crow for the first time later tonight.

    Anyhow, so anyone have any thoughts on them?

  2. #2
    Geriatric Anomaly progeezer's Avatar
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    Surprisingly, I've never really listened to this band, tho' I did know about Sylvie & Barbie.

    That said, I ordered the "Best Of" Japan cd as a result of the Spanroxy thread & am waiting for it (cheapest $ incl. shipping) from the UK.
    "My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician, and to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference"

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  3. #3
    I love Japan. Rain Tree Crow is one of my all time favorite albums, David Sylvian is one of my favorite artists. If you like Tin Drum and Oil on Canvas, definitely pick up Gentleman Take Polaroids and Quiet Life. Jansen Barbieri, Mick Karn, and Jansen Barbieri Karn all had some awesome records as well. Jansen Barbieri - Stone to Flesh is super cool. Mick Karn - The Tooth Mother and Bestial Cluster are also great. As is Jansen Barbieri Karn - _ism. Great stuff.

  4. #4
    (aka timmybass69) timmy's Avatar
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    I'm a big fan of Japan. I got into them back in the 80s right around the time they broke up. IMO, there are really two distinct versions of the band. There is the punk rock first version of the band and there is the art rock/new wave second version of the band. The v2 band began with the Quiet Life record.

    My introduction to Japan was through the bass player in my teenage garage band around 1982. Man oh man, he was a mad fanatic of Mick Karn's playing. He insisted I listen to Tin Drum touting that the band had a unique sound, great musicianship, and of course great bass performances. Understatement. I was hooked thereafter. I've read that Barbieri and Sylvian would spend hours and even sometimes days developing their own custom OBX and Prophet 5 synth sounds rather than sound like everyone else. Steve Jansen played clever ostinato drum patterns, not as programmed drum machine performances, but on his acoustic drum kit. Brilliant.

    I highly recommend Quiet Life, Gentlemen Take Polaroids, Tin Drum, and Oil On Canvas. You could start with Oil On Canvas. The were very capable of faithfully recreating their songs live.
    "Why is it when these great Prog guys get together, they always want to make a Journey album?"
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Rick L. View Post
    I love Japan. Rain Tree Crow is one of my all time favorite albums, David Sylvian is one of my favorite artists. If you like Tin Drum and Oil on Canvas, definitely pick up Gentleman Take Polaroids and Quiet Life. Jansen Barbieri, Mick Karn, and Jansen Barbieri Karn all had some awesome records as well. Jansen Barbieri - Stone to Flesh is super cool. Mick Karn - The Tooth Mother and Bestial Cluster are also great. As is Jansen Barbieri Karn - _ism. Great stuff.
    I have Tooth Mother (which had some surprising guest musicians on it) and Bestial Cluster I have already. Have you heard Karn's other solo records? When I did a search recently on Amazon, there was a bunch that popped up that I didn't recognize, I guess from the last few years of his life. I also recall reading he did a record with Peter Murphy, I think, called Dali's Car? What's that one like?

    Does anyone know if the Oil On Canvas video was ever issued on DVD? I Remember watching it on Youtube some years back. As I recall, Mick Karn's footwork is almost as impressive as his bass playing, almost looking like he's wearing rollerskates.

  6. #6
    The Enemy God
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    Good thread. My intro was like others actually via Mick Karn in the 90s, Bestial Cluster, he's an astonishing player and such a sad loss. I ve just the finished the very hard to find Mick Karn autobiography, which is very interesting. You can get it via Lulu in Italy I think , but it takes a while to arrive. There are some great quotes, Karn seems to be an instinctive player, sort of virtuoso but doesn't sometimes seem to know what he is doing. There is a great quote in the book from I think Torn, who wants to work with him but tells a colleague ' I don't think he knows what he's doing'

    He worked briefly with Bruford and perhaps predictably gets bit lost with Bruford patrician statements about , no this bar is in 7, that one 5 , etc , really quite funny.

    A past girlfriend knew Steve Jansen and likewise another really original player but not at all a self conscious technician, great player, Gavin Harrison always name checks him.

    Worth checking out the YouTube video on Angie Bowie with Mick, uses the Dalis Car bassline, an outrageous smirk on his face, astonishing playing.

    Love his first album from 82, Titles. JBK probably my favourite grouping of these guys.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by gallen1964 View Post
    Good thread. My intro was like others actually via Mick Karn in the 90s, Bestial Cluster, he's an astonishing player and such a sad loss. I ve just the finished the very hard to find Mick Karn autobiography, which is very interesting. You can get it via Lulu in Italy I think , but it takes a while to arrive. There are some great quotes, Karn seems to be an instinctive player, sort of virtuoso but doesn't sometimes seem to know what he is doing. There is a great quote in the book from I think Torn, who wants to work with him but tells a colleague ' I don't think he knows what he's doing'

    He worked briefly with Bruford and perhaps predictably gets bit lost with Bruford patrician statements about , no this bar is in 7, that one 5 , etc , really quite funny.
    Yeah, I vaguely remember reading a story, it might have been in Bass Player, when he passed away, but I've forgotten exactly where I read it, that there was a point where Karn, Torn and Bruford were rehearsing (I think this was just before they toured in the late 80's) and Karn was having trouble with some of the written stuff, because he didn't read music, and I gather that maybe Bruford was being a bit grumpy about the fact that it was taking longer than it "should" to get the material nailed down as a result. I guess he hadn't worked with musicians who couldn't sightread, probably not since the Yes days. But it was Torn's band, and I gather he wanted to work with Mick, so that's how it went down.

    But it's kinda startling to consider all the different instruments Karn played, not just bass, or even keyboards, but also various woodwind instruments. I gather he actually played bassoon as a teenager (which, now that I think about it, makes the "he couldn't sightread" thing not make sense, because if he played in school orchestra or whatever, he shouldn't have had such troubles), and on various records, he plays saxes, bass clarinet, recorder, oboe, and I'm not sure what else.

  8. #8
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    I have always liked Tin Drum (1981)


  9. #9
    The Enemy God
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    Yes he indeed played bassoon in the school orchestra, but didn't really seem to read, again, seems odd, the bassoon got stolen from him in the street , so he didn't go back to it til just picking it up again for some Japan. Confirms again a sort of instinctive genius. Think he did an interview for a bass magazine early on and was asked details of what strings he used, he had no idea and in fact had not changed them for ages. Curious and quaint. Gifted sculptor as well of course and in fact needed up training as a Psychotherapist. Not sure whether he worked as I m based in London and am also qualified. Never came across him.
    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    Yeah, I vaguely remember reading a story, it might have been in Bass Player, when he passed away, but I've forgotten exactly where I read it, that there was a point where Karn, Torn and Bruford were rehearsing (I think this was just before they toured in the late 80's) and Karn was having trouble with some of the written stuff, because he didn't read music, and I gather that maybe Bruford was being a bit grumpy about the fact that it was taking longer than it "should" to get the material nailed down as a result. I guess he hadn't worked with musicians who couldn't sightread, probably not since the Yes days. But it was Torn's band, and I gather he wanted to work with Mick, so that's how it went down.

    But it's kinda startling to consider all the different instruments Karn played, not just bass, or even keyboards, but also various woodwind instruments. I gather he actually played bassoon as a teenager (which, now that I think about it, makes the "he couldn't sightread" thing not make sense, because if he played in school orchestra or whatever, he shouldn't have had such troubles), and on various records, he plays saxes, bass clarinet, recorder, oboe, and I'm not sure what else.

  10. #10
    I came to Japan by way of Sylvians Gone to Earth. Once I heard that, i needed more, and started buying everything I could find with him involved, and found Japan. I think they're incredibly influential, super underrated except round here where so many of Japans members are all over the music and bands so often discussed. And of course Mick Karn. Hearing anything from his fingers just cause chills, one of my all time favorite discoveries. If he was on it I bought it. Someone above mentioned Tooth Mother in the last thread and I hadn't heard it before. I found it on iTunes and was completely floored, as usual. The guy was just so damned amazing.
    There is a beautiful tribute to him by Peter Murphy on their last Dalis Car album, InGladAloneness. Murphy covers a Jacques Brel song If You Go Away. (Which I first hear Scott Walker cover)
    All in all, a huge fan of Japan, and one deeply indebted to them for all the music and bands and musicians they turned me on to over the years. Respect!

  11. #11
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    I can only think of 3 fretless bass players that didnt go the Pastorius road:
    Percy Jones
    Mick Karn
    Francis Moze (Gong, Magma)

  12. #12
    Outraged bystander markwoll's Avatar
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    I played the grooves off of Gentlemen Take Polaroids back in the 80's. Japan was played on local college and alternative stations at the time.
    That was the only album I picked up. It was New Wavey/Romantic and I was into that sort of thing at the time.
    Kept following Sylvian, Brilliant Trees is a big favorite.
    A friend in the record store business kept exposing me to latter Karn stuff, Polytown, Tooth Mother and the like. At the time I did not care for it.
    Fast forward a decade or so and Click! it worked.
    I had been listening to Porcupine Tree ( Sky Moves Sideways, Signify, Coma Divine ) and was curious about Richard Barbieri being in the band.
    Another decade and I had sort of given up on Porcupine Tree and their metal excursions.
    Then I saw that Mick Karn was dying and the Steven Wilson was offering a live recording ( Atlanta ) as a fundraiser. Bought it, fell in love with it.
    Started backfilling Japan, Sylvian, Karn, Jansen/Barbieri.
    Then I find that Wilson was part of the 'Japan ecosystem' of Karn/Jansen/Barbieri.
    It sucks when music you 'should' have been interested in is now way out of print. ( see thread on Is it worth listening to music you don't really like? )
    No sure if Japan's early punkish stuff will ever click. Some bands start with a bang and then run out of ideas, others grow into there lasting sound over time.
    Japan and the ensuing diaspora certainly has lasted, for me.
    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
    -- Aristotle
    Nostalgia, you know, ain't what it used to be. Furthermore, they tells me, it never was.
    “A Man Who Does Not Read Has No Appreciable Advantage Over the Man Who Cannot Read” - Unknown

  13. #13
    Jansen, Barbiere, Karn and Steven Wilson


  14. #14
    And i remember seeing a longer video, in Japan


  15. #15
    Dreams of Reason performed Live 10/04/97 by Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri, Mick Karn with Steve Wilson & Theo Travis

    And there is more but it vanished from the net ....



  16. #16
    More with Steve Wilson, superb !


  17. #17
    Jansen Barbieri Karn Wilson and Travis - Beginning to melt


  18. #18
    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
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    The Tin Drum was once featured in PROG magazine's column "It's Prog Jim, But Not As We Know It!"

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    I also recall reading he did a record with Peter Murphy, I think, called Dali's Car? What's that one like?
    I may be the odd man out, but this is my favorite Karn playing I've heard. The riffs he comes up with are totally unforgettable and Murphy's ice-cold delivery is the perfect foil.


  20. #20
    Big fan.

    Gentlemen Take Polaroids is my favourite.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    Have you heard Karn's other solo records? When I did a search recently on Amazon, there was a bunch that popped up that I didn't recognize, I guess from the last few years of his life. I also recall reading he did a record with Peter Murphy, I think, called Dali's Car? What's that one like?
    I have heard a song or two from his first couple of albums. Buoy, with David Sylvian on vocals is a cool song. I have his album More Better Different. It's good, but closer to "techno" or IDM than the two you have.

    Dali's Car is really good. I don't mind the electronic drums, but some folks might. I really dig the tune Cornwall Stone from their album The Waking Hour. Peter Murphy's albums Cascade and Dust are super cool as well and might appeal to you if you dig Japan/Dali's Car/Sylvian solo stuff.

    I have the Jansen/Barbieri/Karn live album Playing in a Room with People that was released on Jansen/Barbieri's old label Medium Records. Same as the videos above with Steven Wilson, Theo Travis and Natasha Atlas joining the core three. There is a more recent JBK live album that was released on KScope.

    Another interesting record is Flame by Richard Barbieri and Tim Bowness. It features many if the usual suspects, including Karn.

    Japan had a similar trajectory to Talk Talk. Got more "experimental" as time went on.

  22. #22
    I only have the last 2 albums and I'm not a huge fan but MAN if they had more songs like "Ghosts", they'd be one of my favorite bands. That song is freakin' amazing. I also really like "Some Kind Of Fool" which was a song from the GENTLEMAN TAKE POLAROIDS sessions that was first released 20 years later on the David Sylvian collection.

  23. #23
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  24. #24
    Outraged bystander markwoll's Avatar
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    Wow, nice. Now time for fruitless searching.
    Got a couple. Now I just need more hours in the day.
    Last edited by markwoll; 01-28-2018 at 09:59 AM.
    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
    -- Aristotle
    Nostalgia, you know, ain't what it used to be. Furthermore, they tells me, it never was.
    “A Man Who Does Not Read Has No Appreciable Advantage Over the Man Who Cannot Read” - Unknown

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