As Shintaro Sakamoto drifts further away from the work of his former band Yura Yura Teikoku -- and much 21st century music, for that matter -- it becomes clearer that his solo career is united more by an aesthetic than any particular style. On How to Live with a Phantom and Let's Dance Raw, he combines a crate-digging reverence for vintage sounds and a carefree approach to mixing them until they blur into something delightfully and distinctively his. His second album is a self-described journey into "post-apocalyptic exotica" that offers unexpected layers. On the surface, Let's Dance Raw is an elegantly playful musical meltdown that liquefies any borders between eras and genres. The melting slack key guitars that dominate the album sound like something Salvador Dali would play, and their elasticity mimics Sakamoto's musical flexibility as he stretches to fit in as many ideas and moods as possible. He also makes the most of the instrument's dreamy, tropical feel, whether on the Latin surf-lounge collage "Why Can't I Stop?" or the title track's mellow Polynesian country disco, which comes closest to How to Live with a Phantom's sensual reveries. Elsewhere, Let's Dance Raw ranges from the sprightly pop of "Gently Disappear," which recalls Les Paul & Mary Ford in its lilting melody and guitars, to "Extremely Bad Man," one of a few songs featuring sped-up chipmunk/baby vocals that take the album's surreality to an extreme. This could seem like whimsy for whimsy's sake, but Sakamoto's post-apocalyptic fixations are quite literal and temper the music's vibrancy. Let's Dance Raw's lyrics, which are translated into English in the album's liner notes, put some (potentially mushroom-shaped) clouds on the album's sunny horizons as they cover humanity's self-destructive tendencies. Sakamoto gets a lot of mileage out of these contrasts on songs such as "Future Lullaby," a subversively gentle reminder that history tends to repeat itself, and "Birth of the Super Cult," which sets the world's destruction to a tiki lounge soundtrack. He devotes two strikingly different songs to the conformity in Japanese society: "Like an Obligation," a piece of dark and deceptively steamy disco, and the Brazilian bluegrass of "You Can Be a Robot, Too." By the time the satirically lush finale "This World Should Be More Wonderful" arrives, it feels certain that the apocalypse will be accompanied by fruity alcoholic drinks. Thought-provoking, sonically dazzling, and sometimes bewildering, Let's Dance Raw is a lot to process, but it feels like a wish for honesty and intimacy in a world bent on destroying itself.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares