You’d never think that the early influences of this Japanese City Pop group included Wishbone Ash and Camel.
Listening to Piper, you’d never think that their early influences included Wishbone Ash and Camel. But that’s where the Japanese group first caught the bug for their glossy, carefree grooves. Formed by singer-guitarist Keisuke Yamamoto, Piper’s 1981 debut I’m Not in Love had a smidgen of the Western sludge they favored, and original vocalist George Hikida wanted to take the band in a more prog rock direction. But he left when he saw what Yamamoto had up his sleeve. By the time of their second album the group was in thrall to a more local sound: the BGM (Background music) pioneered by members of Yellow Magic Orchestra. Ship to Shore has reissued three Piper albums from this shimmering era, and in 40-minute doses, they’ll transport you to a simpler time.
Summer Breeze, originally released on Yupiteru in 1983, looks for all the world like a cheesy ‘80s American album. The influence doesn’t end with the blond surfer dude on the cover. Nearly-instrumental opener “Shine On” sets the summer tone, and the glistening chimes of the title cut set an idyllic mood. Guitarists plugged their instruments directly into the soundboard, bypassing any amps, so the result is a crisp and clean delivery mechanism for blissful pop.
How carefree is this? The whistling chorus on “Hot Sand” gives you an idea. This is another near-instrumental, a chorus briefly chanting, “Hot! Hot! Hot! Hot!” But the melody is mainly driven by those whistles, which makes this feel like the theme song to a lost Japanese sit-com—or maybe “Perfect Strangers.” Summer Breeze is good for slow jams too, like “Twilight,” and the whole album would make a great soundtrack to ‘80s nostalgia or cosplay, if you are so inclined. “Samba Night” may be the most gorgeous track here, that clean guitar sound taking off into a rippling quasi-tropical solo. If you’ve got a yacht rock or soft pop itch that needs scratching, this is exactly what you need.
The three releases mark the first vinyl reissues of the material since their first release. Summer Breeze was such a hit for the label that Piper worked on two sequels within the space of a year. Both expanded instrumentally on that first volley, and Gentle Breeze, released just six months later in 1983, has a snowy cover photo that suggests a cooler tone. But it’s just as sunny as that beach-bum album, with more vocals. Opener “I’ve Got a Feeling” is the kind of quintessential Japanese blue-eyed soul that can be heard in much of the City Pop music that dominated the nation’s pop scene in the ‘80s. (It’s a tone that will be familiar to fans of Japanese crooners Original Love and the early, pre-Maki Pizzicato Five as well.) The Linn drums and vocoder on “New York, Paris, London, Tokyo” date this album a bit more than the summer set, and the mix is a little thin, at least in digital formats. But the music probably picks up more bottom in analog versions—you can buy both Breeze albums on cassette.
Sunshine Kiz, another quick project that was released in 1984, is even more of a song album, and putting aside the Linn drums for a Drumulator gave the band a more natural sounding drum program. With its onomatopoeic background chorus and El Lay-slick guitar solo, the title track is one of the most yacht-rockish thing on all three albums, and live shows at the time (with a real drummer) gave Piper a reputation for great stage presence. Piper even goes more power-pop with “Seaside Runner” and a guitar lick right out of the Raspberries.
On its own, Summer Breeze is a four-star album, but the two follow-ups, while just as consistent, are slightly more resistible. For anyone following Light in the Attic’s fascinating surveys of Japanese pop, all three are a must. Listeners content to dabble in this shimmering subgenre may be happy to stop at just one.