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....