Thousand Knives (2016 Re-Mastered)

Thousand Knives (2016 Re-Mastered)

Released just one month before Yellow Magic Orchestra’s first album, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s solo debut, 1978’s Thousand Knives, contains many of the YMO hallmarks: hyper-virtuosic musicianship, squiggly electronics, and ironic riffs on pan-Asian musical identity. Drawn from Sakamoto’s experiences working as a session player/arranger in the then-embryonic “city pop” scene—as well as his studies with famed ethnomusicologist Fumio Koizumi, and his experiments with electronics in the city’s intellectually charged avant garde scene—Thousand Knives presents a diverse but unified vision, one that weaves together these disparate strains into something erudite and ineffably modern. While adjacent to the tropical exotica of his work with Haruomi Hosono and YMO in the same year, Sakamoto’s sound here skews slower, darker, and more challenging. After a brief reading of a poem by Mao Zedong—one that’s unintelligibly filtered through a vocoder—the opening title track launches into an alien groove akin to the jazz fusion advanced by Herbie Hancock on albums like Sextant, complete with a wailing guitar solo from future YMO stage guitarist Kazumi Watanabe. “Grasshoppers” shades a jaunty piano duet with Yūji Takahashi with synthesizer colors, and “Plastic Bamboo” molds electronic pulses and Moog bass into a slow rolling synth-funk. While much of Thousand Knives would appear in altered and more economical arrangements in YMO’s live sets and albums to come—most notably, the blistering TR-808-addled version of “1000 Knives” on BGM—the versions here cut with a raw immediacy and palpable youthful energy. While Thousand Knives at times feels like Sakamoto trying to clear a thicket in a city exploding with ideas in order to find his own path, listening to this process is a joy.

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