If it wasn’t for men like Mick Karn, my formative years would have been filled with a lot less hairspray and eyeliner, synthesizers and saxophones. There would have been no Duran Duran, no Spandau Ballet, no ABC and quite possibly no New Romantic movement at all. Without which, a staggering quarter of a century after Japan released their last studio album, we would have no Killers, no Bravery, no Burlesque, Lost Vagueness nor Koko and everything round these parts would be ripped jeans and screamed punk anthems.
If you think it’s a good thing that musical history has turned out the way it has, then you’ll enjoy this latest offering from the former Japan man. Three Part Species is a rich delight of ethnic beats and ambient swirls perfect for enjoying chill-out cocktails as you lie back and savour the musical and sartorial debt we owe him.
Looking back across an electronic landscape that’s spawned everything from ambient to drum and bass to trance to trip-hop, it’s hard to remember (even if you’re old enough) how ahead of their time Japan sounded in 1977. The antithesis of punk’s raw energy and three-chords-are-all-you-need ethos, they rewrote the rules and helped to ensure the Velvet Underground were never forgotten and split just as hordes of their copyists were taking the styles and sounds they created into the mainstream.
Since then, Karn has worked with everyone from Bauhaus‘s Peter Murphy to King Crimson‘s Bill Brufford via Natacha Atlas, Riyuchi Sakamoto, jazz, drum and bass and whatever else has taken his fancy. Add into all of this a background as a classically trained bassoonist and it’s hardly surprising that by his seventh solo album (following on from the recent Love’s Glove EP) he can’t really surprise us any more.Three Part Species isn’t an outstanding album, but that’s only because it’s got such tough expectations to live up to. It’s no less an achievement than his previous efforts but it is clear that he doesn’t particularly need to push the envelope any more.
The result is lush and rich, relaxed and confident. Opening track Of & About delivers haunting swirls over a slow percussion that gets trancier as it goes along, backed by a steady beat that holds everything together in a warm embrace. This is followed by Twitchy Hand Mover, one of the dancier tracks, and like the other gems you’ll find here, it’s mostly instrumental. The remaining eight vary from repetitive beats and resonating bass to the deep, sinking down under woodwinds of I’ll Be Here Dreaming.
There’s haunting strings and piano melodies on tracks such as Chocolate Was a Boy and economically rationed vocals throughout the album, used sparingly and to great effect. Female whispers echo in and out of All You Have, while a male counterpart booms out with gravelly horror narration on The Wrong Truth, by far the album’s best track. With its paranoid, sinking and trancy feel and incongruous cymbals, it comes across like an imagined score to a gloriously shot film noir, dubbed into a language you don’t quite understand but like to look at nonetheless. Beautiful.