Insho VII: Maboroshi no Kehai by Toyomu (no label, 2016)
*Listen/Purchase via Bandcamp
Thanks to Apple Music and Tidal being inaccessible in Japan, Toyomu had to create his own The Life of Pablo at the time of its event release in February. Given only sources available online like Who Sampled and Genius, he cobbled together less a remix project than a simply surreal, creative listening experience of the newest Kanye album.
The Kyoto producer’s latest for his Insho series — his re-imagined Pablo was his third installment — works somewhat in reverse for American listeners. His seventh release, Maboroshi no Kehai, remixes J-pop icon Utada Hikaru’s Fantome in its entirety. The source record created as big of a buzz in Japan as Kanye’s did in the U.S.: Fantome marked a return of arguably the biggest J-pop star of the 21st century after her six-year absence. But again, Japan’s music-industry politics with streaming services gets in the way for anyone in the U.S. to listen to the much-talked-about album digitally.
So true to the title, Toyomu’s project stands as an impression of Fantome for American listeners. And as far as resemblance goes, the body of work is a fun-house mirror reflection Utada’s work. For one, the hip-hop influence of the album gets amplified. “Ore no Kanojo” is beefed up with punchier drums in “Watashi wa Taiyou.” “Kouya no Ookami” hilariously transforms into a drum-machine-heavy electro beat in “Sunaoka no Gunman.” And “Tomodachi” gets groovier through funky sample chops and skittering drums in “Kakawari.”
A more sensitive exploration is the original album’s experience of grief. More than a few of Utada’s songs shoulder a deep sense of loss, inspired perhaps by her mother’s death during the writing of the album. Though the original piano take of “Manatsu no Tooriame” rules superior, Toyomu offers an intriguing alternative with a more flat melody and wonky sounds in “Emmert no Housoku.” His takes of “Sakuranagashi” and “Hanataba wo Kimini” suggest the experience much after the initial loss as both “C#” and “Hanataba Ne-chan” float like specters.
Toyomu’s treatment of the original source in the latter hits a deep note. Utada’s voice echoes infinitely distant, detached from the physical world. And the phantom of a chorus disappears far too soon like a fading of a memory. The original song deals with messages the singer wishes she can share but no longer can, with the titular bouquet of flowers as her compromise. While Toyomu’s “Hanataba Ne-chan” gets at her desire to communicate, a lack of resolution adds a much more heartbreaking note to end on.
And like “Hanataba Ne-chan,” Maboroshi no Kehai works best when Toyomu interacts with the source samples. Following the maudlin song comes “Kamomesama ga Miteru,” a take on “Nijikan dake no Vacance,” Utada’s collaboration with Ringo Shiina. The two daydream about an innocent escape in the original, and Toyomu takes it one step further by adding a larger sense of distance. Seagulls and ocean waves, a crackle of radio waves crackling, an intermission of an older Ringo Shiina record — the whole thing sounds like ambient music at Utada and Shiina’s fantastical vacation.