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Photograph by Gautier Debionde

Confounding: Cinnamon's Frida Diesen and Jiri Novak contribute a sultry torch song to the 'Moshi Moshi' collection.

Moshi Moshi Pit

International pop CD celebrates the joys of global cosmopolitanism

By Michelle Goldberg

INDIE POP has gone global. Although there have always been bands in other countries imitating the sounds of American and British music, lately a new, non-Anglocentric sound has been fermenting throughout the world, from Brazil to Japan.

This isn't the genre cross-pollination of electronic acts like Transglobal Underground and Talvin Singh. Rather, it's a pop scene for an era in which a community is based as much around websites and shared record-label affinities as around local clubs.

Released on labels like Le Grand Magistery, Darla and March Records, the new brand of pop incorporates warped Japanese cuteness, louche French elegance, geek-chic German electronics, shimmery Britpop harmonies and American blues. What holds this sound together is a common sweetness, a tendency toward the earnest and angelic.

Something about this music suggests a generational lightness, a sense of orbit rather than rootedness. These are songs for people who know that San Francisco has more in common with Barcelona than with San Luis Obispo--people who could call any city home.

Without a doubt, much of this music has been around for years, but the development of the Internet and the emergence of an audience with ears increasingly attuned to the wider world have lately resulted in an explosion of international pop.

As March Records' sublime new 40-track double CD Moshi Moshi: Pop International Style proves, globalization offers plenty of perks. A tour through ear candy from 10 countries, Moshi Moshi isn't a world-music compilation, at least not in the old sense. The album isn't so much about multiculturalism as about a joyous new cosmopolitanism.

You can't listen to Moshi Moshi and figure out where most of the songs come from, and that's more or less the point. To kids making music today, at least in the first world, divisions of taste and style are often more important than those of geography.

For example, Le Mans' elegant, caressing "La Balada de la Primavera," with its sophisticated female vocal, narcotic guitars and lazy rhythm, is poised between Stereolab and Velvet Underground-era Nico. Until you listen to the words, the songs seems utterly French. But as can easily be guessed from the title, the band hails from Spain, although, according to its Spanish label's website, Japan is where Le Mans found superstardom.

Actually, judging from the sound of Moshi Moshi, Spain may well be the new pop Mecca, succeeding Japan and France as a rich source of fresh, undiscovered talent and hothouse originality. The fabulous "Baby Blue," by a Spanish band called Spring, sparkles with swinging, suave Saint Etienne-style melodies and helium Lolita vocals that recall Japan's Kahimi Karie. Me Enveneno de Azules' "Imagenes," a lovely bit of shiny melancholia, features mellifluous Spanish lyrics.

DENMARK ALSO SUPPLIES one of the more entrancing tracks on the record: Embellish's three-chord "I Don't Know," which shines with ultracatchy boy-girl harmonies. That track is followed by the mellow, entrancing "My Heart Won't Break" from the Swedish act Club 8. Next comes "Top of the World" (not a cover of the Carpenters' song) by the Scottish band the Secret Goldfish, another group boasting bright, chiming guitars and ethereal, dulcet female vocals.

The Secret Goldfish's aesthetic, which prizes pretty, supple melodies and gentle, cooing girl singers, predominates on Moshi Moshi. Perhaps that's the case because the simplest kind of pop songs translate most easily between cultures--or maybe there's an entire generation of listeners who, sick of the slick blandness of mass culture and the brutality of so much underground music, have grown hungry for unabashed beauty. Whatever the reason, Moshi Moshi teems with delicate guitars, chiming bells, tinkling synthesizers and doll-voiced women.

Of course, such a sound thrives in Japan, so it's no surprise that many of the best songs on the record come from the home of Pokémon and Pizzicato Five. The adorable "Dizzy Dizzy Dizzy," by 800 Cherries, coasts along on a basic hollow Casio-style beat surrounded by synth patterns while a breathless girl whispers sweet nothings above it all.

Corniche Camomile's "En Melody of a Melody" features a similarly enchanting vocalist crooning (in English) above swanky easy-listening music. Meanwhile, the Love Pandarins deliver a sugary piece of skewed electro on "Les Triples," with beats that begin with robotic regularity but soon skitter like raindrops on a tin roof, all careening beneath another tiny-voiced divette.

Honey Skoolmates' "Go Now!" accents the nymphet lead vocal with a grittier male accompaniment, tight, vivacious guitars and a wonderfully incongruous blues harmonica. The Capsule Giants, the lone boy-fronted band from Japan, sound similar to their countrywomen. Their "Evening Star" is a sweet pop track overlaid with a filigree of silvery computer pulses.

AS THE FINAL SONG on the album proves, though, it's a mistake to attribute any sound on Moshi Moshi solely to nationality. With its kittenish female crooning, synth tendrils and lounge arrangements, Sushi's "Silver Legacy" recalls Corniche Camomile, but Sushi is an American band.

Cinnamon similarly confounds preconceptions. The band's "No Faith" is a sultry torch song with strains of Berlin cabaret and a slight country twang, but Cinnamon is from Sweden. Likewise, the stunning "An Evening Out," which recalls Galaxy 500 and Yo La Tengo, is by the Brazilian band Brincando de Deus.

Meanwhile, exquisitely crafted pop gems from Canada, such as Plumtree's "I Love When You're Walking Away," demonstrate that our northern neighbor has much more going on musically than embarrassing exports like the Tragically Hip, the Cowboy Junkies and the Bare Naked Ladies.

Astoundingly, there are only two or three weak tracks in the entire set. The American band Wolfie, for instance, contributes a sludgy, amateurish number titled "Going Places." The biggest disappointment, however, isn't musical at all. Rather, it's the preponderance of American bands--14 in all. Many are excellent, but the thrill of the compilation lies in the way it mines unexplored pop territory, so the American songs feel almost like a waste of space--all the more so since March Records put out a double-disc collection called Pop American Style last year.

Nevertheless, groups like Sushi and Swan Dive (a Nashville band with an album on a Japanese label) suggest that the pop influence is no longer a one-way street. Bands from abroad are influencing American acts as much as vice versa. Music for a world of melting borders, this brilliant album proves that, to paraphrase the Landmark Cinema ad, the language of pop is universal.

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From the March 30-April 5, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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