Japancakes – If I Could See Dallas

Japancakes
If I Could See Dallas

It was just about 10 years ago that the Japancakes album If I Could See Dallas was first released. It was the debut from a band that went on to record another few albums, swapping members here and there. The music on Dallas glides and meanders, befitting the improvisational nature of its post-rock ethos. At its heart, it’s almost pop music for talented musicians writing instrumentals. It’s a little more rock than others in the cohort, like Stereolab, but never enough to upset the easy-listening folks. Its pacific nature suits it to even a setting like, say, the grocery store’s PA (not an insult).

Japancakes centers around Eric Berg. From Atlanta, he has always seemed more interested in exploring music and its possibilities than in churning out standard songs. That said, Dallas seems to follow a modus operandi of taking a theme note or chord and stretching it out until you see its details. It’s almost cinematic, I guess. On “Vocode-Inn,” the analog synths and the gentle steel guitar repeat their lines over and over with subtle variations until what you notice is less and less the melodies but what’s happening to them and around them. That is, if you’re paying close attention. With music this warm and unobtrusive, it risks being more background than foreground.

This reissue takes you back to the days of Krautrock’s second or third coming, when a track like “Allah Rahka” might be the logical extension of a Spaceman 3 or Spiritualized cut. The song has a vaguely exotic flavor to its drone, due in part so its sitar-like strings and its rotoscoped synths. It needs to be 8 minutes long to completely wear itself out, to make you understand the purpose of the raga. “Westworld” could almost be a partner to Trans Am’s or Maserati’s catalogs in that it puts in a backbeat for propulsion. It still has the drawn-out analog synths shifting ever so slightly in the background to add shape.

The steel guitar occupies a primary spot in “Dallas” and “A Short Mile.” It’s almost a curiosity to have that instrument as a melodic force in music that elsewhere relies on synths to color the sound. The countryish aspects of the steel guitar seem to fade in this context, though, and it’s not as odd or out-of-place as you might guess. For some reason, it makes me think of the ocean.