Lamp - Her Watch
80s throwback, easy listening jazz for anyone.
Lamp is a contemporary pop trio who got their start in 2000, and have seen increasing recognition amongst both audiences and critics ever since. Consisting of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Yusuke Nagai, vocalist and flautist Kaori Sakakibara, and guitarist Taiyo Someya, the group's style of songwriting is certainly eclectic, incorporating influences from soul, funk and jazz. Like many Japanese acts, Lamp regularly mix and match styles to help keep things fresh. In 2018, they released their eighth studio album Her Watch.
Her Watch is certainly a breed all its own within the landscape of Japanese music that is currently popular. In a time where many bands and artists are gravitating towards an upbeat, alternative pop-rock style, Lamp take a different direction. The best way this album can be described would be as a throwback to 1980s jazz fusion with a heavy pop sensibility, itself also reminiscent of the '80s.
The majority of the tracks on this album are downbeat with very warm mixes featuring crisp highs of the keyboard and guitar, juxtaposed with dulled percussion hits, specifically with the kick and snare drums. The compositions employ Allan Holdsworth-lite
alternative chord progression structures, and mix them with melodies common in Japanese music. The two vocalists are utilized in creative ways, such as on the opening track At the Night Party, where Sakakibara's
vocal line is written as one large crescendo and decrescendo that takes nearly the entire six-minute song to run its course.
The lead track 1998 offers an almost-stereotypically '80s keyboard sound which, when mixed with the reverb-saturated vocals and warm octaves on the guitar, gives the song a very nostalgic feel. It’s driven by a deceptively involved drum beat which features recurrent syncopation in everything from the kick drum to the snare and high hat.
The electric guitar fills that punctuate vocal phrases in the pre-chorus are accompanied by a rich acoustic guitar arpeggiating the chords. The combination of these elements, Nagai and Sakakibara singing in unison, and the spacious mix help give the song a dreamy quality.
The final track, Fantasy, has a more crisp feel. The smaller soundscape gives this song more of a feeling of classic rock a la The Beatles or Pink Floyd. The way the song is structured, with its atmospheric synth break after the first verse and the way Sakakibara's backing vocals harmonize with themselves and Nagai's gives this song a late-Beatles feel while still retaining the '80s aesthetic provided by the synths.
The chord progression takes turns that, while not necessarily unexpected, still subvert expectations and make for a more engaging listen. The chromaticism, in the three-chord cycle featured in the intro and that remains present in some form through
the various twists and turns in the harmony, gives the song a romantic air. Finally, the sound of falling rain in the outro seems oddly fitting.
The '80s throwback feel of the music may or may not be a selling point for some, but if you're looking for a modern interpretation of early J-pop songwriting sensibilities mixed with British jazz fusion influences, this album is relatively short, completely inoffensive, and might even leave you wanting more.
Her Watch is available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp, and in physical formats at Amazon, HMV, and Tower Records.
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