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Fun? Takako Minekawa rubs sweet with bitter on a semi-acoustic Fun 9.

Sugar Sacked

Takako Minekawa hits the downbeat with 'Fun 9'

By Christian Bruno

FINALLY, A NEW Takako Minekawa album has arrived. The ingenious electric antics of 1997's Cloudy Cloud Calculator, with its wonderfully cute, all-synthesizer musings, unfortunately could barely stand the two-year stretch. And with the substantially weaker remix EP, Ximer, as holdover, Fun 9 is not only refreshing, but startling. The super-sugary sounds of CCC have been given a taste of tartness. With its spare cover portrait of Takako, Fun 9 suggests at the outset that it may involve things less than fun.

This is hardly to imply it's depressing. On the contrary, the pop flair of the previous albums, Roomic Cube and Cloudy Cloud Calculator, still provides the foundation of Fun 9. Interestingly, even as a lesser album, Ximer presented a melancholic Takako in the acoustic guitar version of "Phonobaloon Song" and, more immediately, the Cornelius rendition of "Milk Rock."

Cornelius, Japanese pop's man-for-all-reasons, stripped the tune of its joyful buzzes, beeps and playfulness and introduced the introspection of a bossa-inspired guitar, lending a ponderous tone to its cutesy lyrics. Perhaps Cornelius' presence on the new record is most responsible for this downbeat Takako.

What would account for this change in the girl who sings about how pretty the color white is? Judging by song titles such as "Spin Spider Spin" and "Fancy Funk Work," maybe Minekawa is still up to her old lyrically nonsensical tricks.

Often her music suggests diary entries, a young girl delighted by watching her cat and wondering what she's thinking, or what kind of music clouds might make. But unlike the rock edge of her first LP, Roomic Cube, or the innocent obsession with consumer-grade synthesizers on Cloudy Cloud Calculator, Fun 9 reflects a maturity in its blending of better electronics with "organic" rock instrumentation, including acoustic guitar.

The opening number, "Gently Waves," effectively illustrates the minimalist blend: an a cappella number where the natural resonance of the voices have been sampled and recalled with a keyboard.

The invigorating "Plash," the album's pop hit, can be described as hyperactive folk-rock. Its heavy beat, clearly conjured through some crazy drum programming, has the great kick of authentic drums, while the plucked acoustic guitar hints again at the somber flair of bossa nova. The inclusion of the acoustic guitar on Fun 9, further explored in the melancholic fragment "Flash," is as refreshing as it is hopeful in reflecting Takako's continual exploration of the rock medium.

MOST TELLING is the closing track, "Fancy Work Funk." Ostensibly a computer voyage, narrated by the Photo Surprise Guide Voyager, to "visit exotic land and water animals," the five-minute instrumental journey begins naively enough.

The Guide's inquiring questions before lift-off elicit agreeable responses. But when Takako answers "no" when asked if she has said good-bye to her friends, a melancholic air invades the space. It's OK, of course, as they will be "back before you know it!," but her voice feels so damn small.

Really, it's quite harmless. This electronic two-chord trip sails on, complete with drum-machine rhythm, not unlike any of tracks from the synthesizer-soaked Cloudy Cloud Calculator, with Fun 9's emblematic acoustic guitar tartly plucking.

As it moves along, it receives some harmonic embellishments. Meanwhile, the voice of the Voyager Guide, in its spare commentary, has changed from smooth to deep and gravely, though still quite synthetic. As various animals percolate through the music, a darkness begins to pervade, in long tones and scratching records. "Do you want to visit more exotic land animals?" As if in response, a techno beat takes over and the sound of human screams and animal growls fill the speakers.

"No!" Takako plaintively pleads. "Okay, we'll play some other time," the Voyager Guide huffs, as both the trip and the song conclude.

It might be exaggeration to say that "Fancy Work Funk," an imaginative electropop tune, illustrates the young girl of Takako's previous musical personae, finding her dreams at odds with reality. Exotic land animals are cute in cartoons, for example, but they are dangerous in real life.

Unfortunately, the album's vocals rarely creep above a whisper. And "Plash" is sung in Japanese, making it difficult to determine exact lyrical content. But unlike other releases, Fun 9 is Minekawa's most musically contemplative.

Perhaps she has grown up. Or perhaps she sings about something lost, though romance never seemed to hold much fascination for her. Either way, Takako Minekawa's music beautifully remains outside of arm's reach of predictability. Sigh.

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From the February 24-March 1, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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