Yamasuki began as a dance craze in 5 steps — full-body instructions are on the album cover. Its mastermind was Daniel Vangarde, a French auteur of the concept album who skipped and pirouetted across genres and cultures with Gainsbourgian whimsy. Written mostly with his Belgian producer-partner Jean Kluger, Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki features a mesmerizing, detailed aesthetic concept: a children’s chorus singing fast-paced melodies, mostly in Japanese, tracked over heavy bass and coolly fatbacked drumming. The songs are short and tight, and the album flies by like a shamelessly fun, intricately planned costume party.
Legend has Vangarde and Kluger getting completely immersed in their fantasy, learning Japanese, hiring an authentic judo master to shout at their singers. But instead of sounding overwhelmed and busy, the musical gestures and melodic modes Vangarde and Kluger swiped for their Orientalist palette combined into crisp, hooky grooves. As good music should, Yamasuki conquers its bastardized influences and kitsch. Thanks to the brevity of the songs, the entire album is engaging and consistent, but there are a few standout tracks. “Yamamoto Kakapote” riffs on a too-cute hypnotic chant, festooned with wah-wah guitar and curt, plucked strings. Listening to the song is like a slow motion Hello Kitty TV seizure. Fast-forward can be found with “Kono Samourai.” The hit single of sorts was “Aieaoa”—it’s a pleading, soulful chorus over a stone cold rhythm section and bass line that could be an archetype for the modern day Dap-Tone/Truth & Soul set. “Aieaoa” has resurfaced from obscurity on a few earlier occasions: it was retooled with Swahili lyrics in 1975 for Black Blood, and then made for an early Bananarama hit in 1981. Nevertheless, it’s hard to top the novel appeal of the original Yamasuki sound. The rest of the material on Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki hits just as hard as “Aieaoa,” and that the made up French-Japanese revue always sing together in unison is both unmistakable and mysterious—the individual never breaks out to dispel the enchanting group identity.