Kasai J/P/N review

Picture a bobblehead gyrating to its own rhythm, the momentum it generates from minuscule movements, and the base supporting its headstrong (if peculiar) dance, and you’re not far off from conceptualizing J/P/N, the latest album from Kyoto’s KASAI. Formerly known as Jap Kasai, the producer born Daisuke Iijima creates music that, much like a bobblehead, is both ageless and locked to a specific context. For the figures, their likeness to celebrities and athletes ties their cartoonish appearance to reality. Conversely, Iijima the footwork producer is far removed from DJ Rashad’s domineering presence or the dance battles instrumental to the genre’s development. His demeanor is reminiscent of the music he majorly pulls from, minyo. These Japanese folk songs reflect common farmer and fishermen themes and date back to the Edo period, though their subject matter varies depending on the region. By Iijima’s hands, they’re cross-pollinated with footwork.

It’s worth noting that Iijima is not a tourist to the small-scale lifestyle that minyo recounts. He created J/P/N while overseeing and working on a small farm. In an interview with The Quietus, he was photographed holding an impressively sized radish and he filmed in the music video for “おいやァーさァエー oiyaasaaee” in a fish market, his set-up mere inches from fish on ice waiting to be sold. Iijima, simply, lives that life. Yet, it’s a key component of the record. J/P/N’s footwork is much slower than the genre’s standard 160 bpm. At times, it lumbers and plods. Dancing, in a Western context, seems impossible. However, in the “おいやァーさァエー oiyaasaaee” video, Iijima is dancing his way out of his fish stall. It doesn’t matter how slow the beats run or how irregularly the percussion kicks, those eager to groove to J/P/N/ will find a way.

Understanding minyo’s geographic ties can further one’s enjoyment of J/P/N. Rather than representing Japan as a whole, each region in the country produced its own take on minyo, so it’s impossible to pin down a trademark sound. Every region’s interpretation is valid, and Iijima works this variance into his album. Upon first listen, it appears he’s barely stringing together the vocal styles that differ on nearly every track. His approach involves throwing them into a merry-go-round without telling them to hold onto anything before it powers on. Some vocalists wobble whereas other instinctively grab the proverbial rails and ride the beat. However, with repeat exposures, J/P/N establishes a macro-level groove. Everything belongs, it’s just that some tracks, like the third cut “横へ々々,” take longer to sink through the skin. Once every song becomes familiar, J/P/N becomes harmonious. It’s a map of smaller regional communities assembled under a nation’s banner, all expressing their differences. Even if the tracks themselves do not refer to real-life geographic groups, there’s the feeling that some come from artists who’ve never met anyone outside their sphere. How they reflect similar values through different means binds the record. 

The key principles of Iijima’s music overlap with that of farming: patience, an open mind, and an easy attitude. The hand-waving potential reply to hearing J/P/N in any setting unprompted is that it’s wonky, it’s strange, and potentially, even the dreaded, “it’s too quirky.” Yet, those do not fairly represent Ijima or his work. Minyo doesn’t use Western instruments. Instead, traditional Japanese instruments like the shamisen and shakuhachi form its backbone. Iijima uses their synthetic and analog versions, but it’s not their appearance on the record that gives it a peculiar texture. No, it’s that minyo doesn’t operate on Western scales. Notes, therefore, come off as wonky. The style doesn’t seem to have a rhythmic base either. Rather than cut those defining traits to adapt minyo to his view, Iijima works in reverse. His production emboldens them rather than smoothing them out. That result is that occasionally, the traditional vocal styles are the only entryway into a track laced with MIDI sprinkles and kooky drums. This isn’t always the case, and when appropriate, Iijima’s production plays the straight man for nasally vocals. Fortunately, neither party compromises itself entirely, and each feels like it requires brain power to decipher. 

This isn’t to say that J/P/Nis overtly complex because it’s not. In reality, the record is quite spacious, with plenty of open air between the drums, vocals and synths. It’s just that much of it sounds like a head-scratcher before you adjust and know what to look for. It takes a while to automatically regard each piece as a whole rather than trying to find the common rhythm between the vocals and the percussion (hint; there isn’t one). That’s where the patience and open-mindedness comes in. This is music that doesn’t bend to modern sensibilities or even footwork’s blueprint. It’s tranquil in its character, so sure of itself and its intentions that it doesn’t need to bend the knee. Iijima is so utterly confident in what he does, and the record is so fun on a purely auditory level that even if you don’t understand it on first listen, there’s an impulse to come back. It is, much like farming, a long game. Not one of hard dedication and consistency like the gym, but of repeated tenderness where you must take a second and look at what’s happening instead of perceiving what you want to see. If your tomatoes don’t need water, you don’t water them, no matter if they’re growing more slowly than you’d like. You can’t control them. All you can do is have faith in their process. 

Label: Chinabot

Year: 2023

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