Clive Tanaka Y Su Orquesta

Jet Set Siempre No. 1

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Available only on cassette when it was initially released in 2010, with vinyl and digital editions following in early 2011 -- both tape and vinyl in an eye-catching blue-green -- the debut offering from the shadowy Clive Tanaka y Su Orquesta arrived carrying the distinct whiff of novelty. Add in the generically beachy, soft-focus artwork and the archly hokey moniker and album title -- recalling the leisure-lounge vibe of swinging-'90s shibuya-kei acts like Pizzicato Five and Fantastic Plastic Machine, not to mention Atom Heart's shticky electro-Latin "outfit" SeƱor Coconut y Su Conjunto -- and the strawberry daiquiri-scented stench of kitsch is downright impossible to miss. Meanwhile, the deliberate mysteriousness of the whole business -- available details on Tanaka are scant and sketchy -- makes it all that much more exotic and/or gimmicky. Setting all that aside, though, there is some truly terrific, phenomenally enjoyable music to be found here. Certainly, Jet Set Siempre No. 1 is a highly playful affair, with loads of fun, familiar retro-futuristic touches: cheesy-sounding, heavily filtered synths, "robotic" talkbox and vocoderized vocals, occasional snatches of wah-wah guitar and Latin beatbox percussion, plus some baldly corny lyrics. But none of this feels nearly as cutesy or affected as it might. Maybe, a decade on from Daft Punk's Discovery, the sugary, semi-gloss sounds of early, analog Euro-disco have largely been drained of their camp factor, or perhaps it's simply the strength of Tanaka's considerable melodic and compositional gifts, which absolutely merit inclusion in the same sentence as the aforementioned landmark. Besides enhancing the album's very zeitgeisty artifactual and textural appeal (while hardly lo-fi, the music does have a certain handmade graininess to it), the restriction to tape and vinyl formats makes more sense in light of the clear, utilitarian division between the album's two sides: one "for dance," the other "for romance." Both halves fulfill their functions exceedingly well. The former blasts off with a delirious disco workout, cools down with a midtempo groover and closes strong with a moodier, more modern-sounding electro shape shifter, although the absolute stunner is the impossibly catchy, inscrutably titled "Neu Chicago," a marvelously warm, sunny, disco-ey pop tune. The largely vocal-less flipside is a prime example of what was once termed "chill-out" and would more recently have been tagged as "balearic"; a set of gently expansive, easy flowing organic/electronic tracks recalling dubbed-out Swedish duo Studio and the exotica-sampling Quiet Village. The album comes full circle (and the vocoders reemerge) on the slightly more active final track, a completely transformed, washed-out recapitulation of the opening "All Night, All Right."

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