Shintaro Sakamoto exists within an aural world firmly of his own making.
Shintaro Sakamoto exists within an aural world firmly of his own making. Having roughly appropriated previous generation’s pop tropes on a pair of idiosyncratic releases on the Other Music label, Sakamoto has proven himself something of a pop polyglot oddball. Throughout, there are recognizable elements that register with the listener, yet they are often obscured by his willfully esoteric take on the form. Love if Possible continues to take this approach to its (il)logical conclusion, subjecting pop music to a series of funhouse mirrors that distort and refract the familiar into something wholly new and unique in its strangeness.
On the title track, Sakamoto relies on a sparse, largely percussion-based arrangement off-set by Andrews Sisters-style backing vocals, a lazy lap steel, a heavily affected helium vocal passage (an approach used to even more disturbing effect later on “Purging the Demons”) and a general sense of queasy disorientation. And that’s just within the album’s first five-and-a-half minutes. It’s reliance on the familiar – both pop and exotica play a prominent role throughout the album – makes for a sound at once recognizable and utterly foreign. Yet it’s a foreignness that is ultimately welcoming and highly enjoyable.
On the whole, Love if Possible is something of a somnambulant affair, the tempos creeping along at a snail’s pace, allowing for vast swaths of space and instrumental resonance. One of Sakamoto’s many go-to stylistic tropes is that of the slowly strummed open chord that resonates beyond its logical conclusion, filling entire bars within the arrangements as the drums and other assorted instrumentation rush to close the often cavernous gaps within the sound. Indeed, “Tournament of Macho Men” is constructed entirely out of this very idea, the track constantly threatening to fall apart as the spaces between not only the instruments but also the scattershot percussion become more and more unnerving. It produces a woozily, carnival-esque feeling akin to having spun around too many times too quickly and then tried to process the world around you as it dissolves into a sickening swirl of light and sound.
The faux-reggae beat of “Another Planet” again finds Sakamoto playing with expectations within a genre exercise, subverting the norm by adding a handful of extra high-hat/snare beats to push the rhythm just this side of typical. Taken out of context, the drums could just as easily be slotted into any number of Meters or other instrumental funk tracks, but here, coupled as they are with single-note, rocksteady-aping guitar lines, they are granted a decidedly Caribbean feel. This constant stylistic assimilation makes much of Love if Possible a casually enjoyable listen, made even more so for those unfamiliar with Sakamoto’s native tongue.
“Like an Animal” offers up a bit of slow-burn, strutting disco-funk fashionably garbed in polyester. In other words, Sakamoto’s ‘70s kitsch fixation is still very much intact, albeit redirected through his weirdly post-modern, exotica-tinged refracting lens. It’s an approach that serves him well throughout with nary a noticeable misstep. In all, there’s enough sluggishly sunny AOR pastiche what-the-fuckery to keep all but the most jaded of listeners engaged throughout the album’s 10 tracks.