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The Ones That Nearly Got Away: Akiko Yano, self-titled

[Akiko Yano, self-titled]

Around 2002, I got rid of my cassette collection. I had moved into a smaller apartment, and the cassettes hadn’t been played in years. In fact, I donated the boombox with a cassette deck to Goodwill to make room.

So now I had no convenient means to play these cassettes, and most of them had made the upgrade to CD anyway. The ones that hadn’t were on their way to the cutout bin, if they weren’t already there.

I brought the cassettes to Half-Priced Books down on South Lamar and Manchaca in Austin, Texas and bid all but five farewell.

Why five? Well, I wanted to upgrade those select titles to CD eventually, but I didn’t want to relinquish ownership of them. So I kept them on cassette as a reminder to one day make that transition.

A self-titled compilation from Yano Akiko was one of them.

At the time I bought the Yano cassette, I fell down a rabbit hole of anime pop music. Megazone 23Macross: Do You Remember Love? and Bubblegum Crisis sent me on a spending spree that introduced me to Hamada Mari, Nakamori Akina and Nagai Mariko.

Japanese imports weren’t cheap, so I gave any US-released Japanese artist a shot.

Akiko Yano, the compilation, had the unique distinction of intersecting two of my teen-aged interests — Japanese pop and downtown New York improvisation.

John Zorn and Nonesuch Records president Robert Hurwitz put together the compilation, and Yano went on to release two additional albums on the label.

My 18-year-old ears could recognize a maturity and depth to Yano’s music that maybe those anime soundtracks didn’t quite possess, but at that age, I wanted ear candy. So I listened to the cassette a few times, then headed back to Miyasato Kumi and Iijima Mari.

The cassette ended up in box, which ended up in the closet. Out of sight, out of mind. But somehow it survived two interstate moves.

Another cassette that survived the purge was Oranges and Lemons by XTC. Finding it on vinyl spurred me to seek out the remaining survivors. I fished out a 4-track recorder I bought in the early ’90s — my first piece of recording gear — and transferred them to digital files.

It had been nearly 25 years since I first listened to Akiko Yano, and now I had a decade worth of listening to Shiina Ringo, NUMBER GIRL, Cocco and Utada Hikaru under my belt.

Yano was the proto-Ringo, perhaps even the proto-UA. She took the J-pop template and embellished it with traditional Japanese music, Latin music and even some classical.

She doesn’t have the powerhouse vocals of Shiina or UA, but she predated their inventiveness. For all I know, she could have influenced them.

And being a child of the ’80s, I find something reassuring about all the analog synths that wind their way through Yano’s more conventional tracks.

I’m glad I possessed enough of my wits back in 2002 to spare Akiko Yano from the cassette purge, and it’s luck that allowed me to make that upgrade many, many years later. The CD version is out of print, and it’s not even available through the digital services. Thank you, Silver Platters, for having a used copy on hand.

Have a listen to “David”:

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