Pan Am Lovebeats: The sound of Yoshinori Sunahara

The solo work of Tokyo based musician Yoshinori Sunahara is obsessed with flying and especially with the iconography of PanAm, the airline that once stood for everything that was cool and chic about the emerging mass-tourism of the early seventies.While he was still a member of japanese techno superstars Denki Groove he released his first solo album "Crossover" in 1995.
Aptly titled, "Crossover" is a bonafide product of the Shibuya-kei style that was in full swing at the time. The ever growing possibilities of sampling technology and the obsession with Bossa Nova and the faded Jet-Set era invited many musicians to produce music that sounded like it was put together by bright-eyed kids who had been locked up in a candyshop.

After "Crossover" which was heavy on dancebeats, Sunahara went for an even more eclectic mix on the follow up album "Take off and landing" which marked the beginning of his "aeronautic trilogy". On tracks like "Music for robot for Music", "Elegant World" and "Life & Space" the most prominent influences are definately the exotic sounds of Martin Denny, Les Baxter and the quirky sound wizardry of Esquivel, kings of the stereo/hi-fi craze of the late fifties.
More recent inspiration came from the experimental phase of OMD´s "Dazzle Ships" and the work of british sampling pioniers Colourbox (Sunahara uses the same "Westworld"-dialogue samples).
But Sunahara manages to infuse the experimental with a slick pop veneer of Bossa-beats, cheesy strings, asian influences and sparkling synthesizers. Its a colourful voyage for the ears, never dull but at times a bit incohesive and overboarding.
And track titles such as "Sony Romantic Electro Wave" are wonderful giveaways of what to expect from the music and the mood.Actually, fellow japanese producer Towa Tei, released his first solo album "Future Listening" at the same time to a much bigger, worldwide audience. Tei is working in the same field as Sunahara, while they employ the same imagery and ideas Tei´s production is much crisper and more focussed.

On his next album "Pan Am: the sound of 70s" he would expand the aircraft/airport-theme to a concept. Apparantly a big collector of Pan Am-memorabilia the CD booklet is a dream for every departure-lounge-lizard. And, lets be honest here, aren´t we all?

The "Pan Am" album makes use of a very interesting sound manipulation: The beats are treated with a 16-bit filter which results in a "glassy", very crispy and transparent sound. Its a great contrast to the ultra-easy-listening feeling that the album tries to evoke. This way the music is never in danger to step into the lounge-trap that was looming behind every second production of the second half of the nineties.

Compared to "Take off and landing" the "Pan Am"-album is rather stripped down. There is more focus on songwriting and less on multi-layered sampling.This is an interesting video to "Love Beat" which appeared in a different version on the album

For his third album "Lovebeat" Sunahara would strip down his sound even further. It´s an elegant, stunningly produced electro chill album that is very reminiscent of Kraftwerks "Expo 2000" sound design. After Sunahara gave up on the aircraft imagery he obviously liked to repeat himself with songtitles.
This is his second "Lovebeat" which was a single off the same-titled album.
This time he went all minimal and geometric and for the first time he would allow bits of silence and serenity in his music.
There were no more sampled beats, no steel-drums and no retro-lounge reminders. Just pure, clean sound

"Lovebeat" was released in 2001 and was the last of his solo albums to date. Last year Sunahara released a retrospective double CD "Work 98-05". One CD features tracks from his three solo albums, while the second disc offers a wide range of remixes he did for japanese and european bands.

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