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  Hitori and Kaiso 1998 - 2001  
  Casino vs. Japan  
Release Date:
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The oddly named electronica act Casino vs. Japan is actually the brainchild of one Erik Kowalski of Milwaukee, WI. I have enjoyed the music of Casino vs. Japan rather much in the past. It's good low-tempo electronica for listening, as opposed to dancing, and usually features luscious keyboard drones backed by hard funky beats.

When i heard that Casino vs. Japan were releasing a 2 CD set of outtakes and rarities, i was curious. Could be good, could be bad -- who can tell with the catch all term "outtakes"? Fortunately i found some samples on the Internet (damned if i can find them again, though), and it all sounded nice enough. So i ordered a copy of Hitori & Kaiso 1998-2001, and since then i have repeatedly been blown away by this compilation.

Sure, some of the pieces sound like abandoned experiments (the fun Roo Bug maddeningly ends after a mere 1:26), failed attempts (Tropic sounds like he sampled a flat tire for the beat -- or, at least, listening to it in the car makes me think i have blown a tire), and experiments (There Will Always Be Love features Kowalski playing guitar like The Edge on The Unforgettable Fire), but what is impressive is the overall quality of the work. Kowalski has a good ear for melody, and many of the tunes are toe-tappingly catchy. I could list them here, but it would be easier to list the songs that are not catchy instead, since this release has such a high quality level. (There aren't any truly bad songs on the album. Really.)

It is Kowalski's sonic experiments that stand out most to me. Aside from Edge-like guitarwork on There Will Always Be Love, there are two other tunes (Stolen and Theme From Lazy Day) which feature Kowalski playing guitar in a very Robin Guthrie-influenced fashion. In fact, Stolen actually sounds like an outtake from Imperial! After hearing these two tunes, i really want to hear Kowalski do more with the guitar.

In general though, this album consists of two discs of great melodies played on lush yet highly distorted keyboards and backed by crunchy beats. It's a Milwaukee take on the Boards of Canada sound, and if you like that sort of thing, then i cannot recommend this compilation enough. Some standouts here include the happy little melody of Troidic, the really nice bass beat of Said Virgo, and the almost Vangelis-like keyboard drone of Map Happy. If you like this sort of thing, there is much to enjoy.

I have only one complaint really, and i guess it's more for the label than for the artist. Specifically: if you are going to release a 2 CD set, label the individual CDs so i know which disc is which. I got the thing, put both discs into my 5 CD changer, hit random, and let it go. A day or so later i grabbed what i thought was disc 1 out of the changer to listen to in my car, only the disc had more tracks on it than were listed on the sleeve for disc 1. So for a while i have been confused about which disc is which, and do i really like track 4 on disc 1 or on disc 2? I had to go back and carefully check my song references to be sure that i was talking about the tune i thought i was. Really people, just print a damned number on the CDs next time!

Okay, thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Whew. But seriously: this is a great compilation with a whole lot to enjoy. If you are into the current wave of ambient music, then you need this disc. I just wish that Kowalski had done more with Roo Bug....

Related Links:

Whole Numbers Play the Basics, Casino vs. Japan's full-length album from 2002.


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