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Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Disco tech

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Disco sushi Marie Antoinette samba squeak squeal Burt Bacharach ’70s polyester kitsch. I’m sorry if that makes no sense, but it’s very hard to describe Beautifulso I tried a little free-association experiment. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t, but I hope that gives you an idea of the strange, diverse and tongue-in-cheek nature of Fantastic Plastic Machine’s music. It’s lounge meets techno, a rave in Las Vegas, Tom Jones boogying down with a glowstick in his mouth. It’s a lite-funk, low-calorie groove.

Fantastic Plastic Machine is the alias of Japanese über-producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, a modern-day renaissance man who has dabbled in fashion, radio, DJing and art. Beautiful is the Fantastic Plastic Machine’s third release. The beats are constant and pulsing, but the samples are a little confusing. They seem ethereal, otherworldly, as if they’ve been inverted into themselves — not that that’s a bad thing. Strings that would normally be found complementing a young Aretha Franklin or Marvin Gaye float buoyantly within Tanaka’s carefully measured layers of sound.

The songs skirt musical genres like rats in the shadows, never truly settling on a distinctive sound. On “Beautiful Days,” easily one of the most enjoyable and party-ready tracks, a baritone and a sensuous female voice duet over an eerie disco backdrop. “Love is Psychedelic” is like a coked-up Barry White ditty, with a husky voiced Casanova recounting his sexual epiphanies atop whirling sonics and Bacharachian strings. “On A Chair,” sounds like Robbie Williams, but not quite like Robbie Williams, maybe a hip commercial for Robbie Williams, one with lots of bright colors.

Repeated listening rewards itself; for example, “Whistle Song” (a cover, originally performed by house-master Frankie Knuckles) seemingly has no whistles whatsoever; it is a soft, balmy, flute-laden lounge tune. However, it becomes clear that, very, very faintly, Latin whistles are screaming in the background noise, which gives the song a whole new aura.

Strangely, the gem of the album is not Tanaka’s work. It is a remix of his “Take Me to the Disco” by Roger Joseph Manning Jr., a song that hits like a yak hoof to the jaw. Some tracks are a little boring — especially “Black Dada,” which goes absolutely nowhere. To the unprepared, the album might seem repetitive and silly, however, to those who cherish imaginative, offbeat, innovative music in the vein of Beck, Beautiful will rock your world.

E-mail Joshua Gross at letters@metrotimes.com.

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