Towa Tei Last Century Modern

With this wonderfully eclectic third solo release, Japan's Towa Tei solidifies his reputation for creating fanciful, risky pop music. Delightfully, the man knows no boundaries. As with 1995's Future Listening and 1998's Sound Museum, Towa comes across as a wide-eyed global traveller, winking and smiling in all the right places, without being a casualty of kitsch. The title track opens with a decidedly whimsical feel - accordion, piano, strings and breezy vocals bringing the café culture of '20s gay Paris to mind. Later reprised with a children's choir at the vocal helm, "Last Century Modern" slyly nods to both past and future. "A Ring" furthers the old meets new school feel, with its samba rhythms, heavily accented French vocals, and acoustic instruments sitting comfortably alongside samples and programmed sounds. "Angel" and "Butterfly" take the drum & bass approach, the latter incredibly hooky and increasingly heavy. Here, super-solid beats and thick bass drops nestle the sweet vocals of Ayumi Tanabe and frequent Towa collaborator Vivan Sessons. Lest we forget that the man lives to experiment, "Stretch Building Bamboo" is a wonky though successful instrumental and "CHATR" sees Towa Tei creating a robot of himself via the speech synthesis program of the same name. Not all of his experiments are successful however, with the looped vocal sample of "Congratulations" overextending its welcome, and the weak cover version of "Funkin' for Jamaica" (featuring original songwriter Tom Browne on trumpet and Les Nubians on vocals) leaving much to be desired. The sweet, deep Shinichi Osawa remix included here makes up for it though, as do both the original and Mighty Bop remix of "Let Me Know," a killer track that sets an example for today's R&B. (Warner)