Sunday, December 18, 2011

NAOKI ASAI [浅井直樹] - Aba · Heidi [アバ · ハイジ ] LP (1988)


Side A
Aba · Heidi [アバ · ハイジ]
Otogi Hanashi Gamori Owarui [おとぎ話がもり終る]
Papillon [パピヨン]
Kugutsu-shi no Yume [くぐつ師の夢]
Yakan Hikou [夜間飛行]
Riroriro Ningyou [りろりろ人形]

Side B
Kiri wo Otsuete [霧を乙えて]
Sensha to Orgel [戦車とオルゴール]
Mahou no Shoujo [魔法の少女]
Candy [キャンディー]
Doro no Umi he [ 泥の海へ]
Marude Kajitsu Noyorini [まるで果実のよりに]

Naoki Asai (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, chorus)
Norio Haga (bass)
Takashi Matsuzawa (drums)

Label: Chesire Records
Catalogue number: CHESIRE-001
Format: LP

Lenght: 47:27
Bitrate: 320 kbps

A couple of months ago, this record caught my eye at an online auction. I'm not sure exactly what possessed me to enter a substantial (if not even comparatively ridiculous) snipe on it - was it due to the spartan sleeve design? The weird look of confusion on the young man's face adorning the cover? The fact that the label was Chesire Records? That it is called "Aba · Heidi"? Or maybe just because it was privately pressed (the fact that most privately released stuff is crap surely constitutes no deterrent to the serious collector). Were I to know then what I know now (that the matrix number i "ASAI-01") I would've surely bid even harder. Hey, it's called record nerd for a reason!

Luckily enough for me, none of my competitors seemed really up for the fight (their use of logic and caution when procuring records turned out to be their downfall) and I managed to grab it relatively cheap. Counting the days until it arrived, I could hardly wait to listen to this record. What kinds of untold marvels could possibly be contained therein? Would it be the Tomo Akikawabaya-ish discovery of 2011!? As it turns out - both yes and no. Yes in the sense that "Aba · Heidi" is certainly one of the most intriguing records to cross my path for this year - or even any year for that matter! No in the sense that there's a very real possibility that, unlike Tomo Akikawabayas output, the amount of people who'll actually enjoy this (excluding myself) could be pretty damn small.

Even though I'd already posted one track from it on the HoS tumblr, I was feeling hesitant to let loose the whole thing on the 'net, sensing that my unbridled (and maybe also incomprehensible) enthusiasm for this album perhaps differs a bit from other peoples reaction to it:

And frankly I wasn't very impressed myself when I finally got to give this a first spin. I remember trailing off to the kitchen to do the dishes about halfway through the first song - it just grabbed me THAT hard. Imagine my surprise when just moments after at last making my way through the whole damn thing, I found myself putting it on again. And again. And yet another time after that. What was going on? Had I finally become totally retarded; spinning the same bullshit LP over and over again?

The answer is of course that the subtle magic of Naoki Asai had at last begun to sink in.

I can't really pinpoint exactly what I find so appealing about "Aba · Heidi", but there's something intangibly dreamlike and surreal permeating the whole LP. There are several allusion made to Alice in Wonderland on the sleeve (just check out the record label) and this record does indeed have a fairytale aura to it. In particular "Yakan Hikou" evokes the mental image of an enchanted forest of some kind. This is the stuff you'd imagine finding filed in the Mad Hatters record library.

But for all the quaint stuff going on here, this ain't no Disney style fairytale - there are plenty of Grimm vibes to go around with some magnificently creepy shit lurking in the undergrowth. All of it probably unintentional, I should add. I get the feeling that our pal Naoki was aiming for softness but instead ended up with the disquieting and odd - his high pitched, wispy, lispy vocals slithering into your ear canal like a candy-colored snake crawling up your leg. Perhaps best exemplified by standout tracks "Papillon" (whose bizarre production is also worth mentioning) and "Candy". Especially "Candy". Jesus christ, talk about psychedelic gingerbread house moves. Lock up your infants!

"Kyandiiii... kyandiii..."

But the merit of this record doesn't all lie in it's accidental (?) strangeness. The songs are cleverly crafted and skillfully performed, and the production is both competent and charmingly off-kilter. Clearly a lot of work was spent on "Aba · Heidi" and the result is an aural journey through the wild flora and fauna of Naoki Asai's mind garden.

Too bad nobody ever seems to have ever given a shit about this record. I've yet to find any note of it of any kind (including records of previous sales) anywhere. And I don't think it's because all existant copies are filed away deep inside secretive Japanese über-collections, but rather because they are pining away in old and dusty Book Offs. Which is just too bad.

Maybe I'm overestimating it, but when push comes to shove, "Aba · Heidi" is probably the record I spent most time listening to during all of 2011 - and for reasons I can't fully grasp to boot, so maybe there's where the excitement lies for me? Unlikely to be everyone's (anyone's?) cup of tea, but even so - if even only one person out there can be converted into Asai fandom, I'd consider my work here done.

As for everybody else - I've said it before and I'll say it again:
next time I'll post something cool!


Embarrasing mistake update 23/01/2012:
As an astute reader pointed out, the proper title for this record is NOT "Eva · Heidi" as I first claimed, but rather "Aba · Heidi" as in "Abayo Heidi" = "Farewell Heidi". This fact makes parts of the review much weaker, but on the other hand lends yet another disquieting twist to the album. This record is certainly one that just keeps on giving.


ECno8 said...

hey man. really glad you shared this. i think you underestimate the like-ability of this record. i am completely swept away by it.

Holly said...

I, too, like very much, but am now feeling a touch feverish....thsnk you for sharing!

Loser Knife said...

this is everything i've been wanting to hear all year, i think (besides that PLVN album!). it's . . . magic. his voice is what really does it for me, because it's just as you described; like a candy-colored snake.

thank you so much for this.

Anonymous said...

great write-up! this looks really interesting, thanks.

nattliga_toner said...

Thanks for the comments everybody!

> ECno8
Glad to hear you liked it! You're probably right that I underestimated the draw of this record be frank, I'm quite surprised by the overall positive response shown!

> Holly
Glad you liked it too! It's understandable if you're feeling feverish ...this whole LP is like a long fever dream, but in a good way (if that makes any sense).

> Loser Knife
You're (almost) even more of a Naoki Asai maniac than me by now! Brace yourself for PVLN.

> facegod
Thanks! I'd love to hear what you thought of it.

RickK said...

hey, I gave it a shot, but it just didn't do it for me. anyways, I look forward to your next post

Anonymous said...

reminds me of the legendary pink dot's curse in mood and production

J.R.D.S. said...

You've got to admire the song names of this album regardless; they rival Takemoto Novala poems and Ishizuka Atsuko's "Tsuki no Waltz" video as the most ridiculously, gloriously stereotypically cute-spooky thing ever. Given that level it's only to be expected if the music doesn't reach it – but I've still most of the album to be proved right or wrong on that.

I do think "Otogi Hanashi Gamori Owarui" also can't be what's meant by おとぎ話がもり終る, though. In the recording it sounds more like "Otogibanashi", which is another pronunciation of おとぎ話, and if it's 終る wouldn't that be just "Owaru"? The がもり I'm just mystified by as he sings it as if it's one word, and not "ga Mori", but I don't know what else it could mean.

VK18 said...

Can you reupload this record or does anyone know where I could find a place to download it? Thanks so much in advance.

Shiva said...

DL link is broken so I couldnt download the album :(
It really would be great if links get updated. thanks