Japan represent one of the most original and compelling acts to emerge from the New Romantic and New Wave movements in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. As evidence of their pedigree check out followup solo work by the superb multi-instrumentalist, composer, and vocalist David Sylvian, work by bassist Mick Karn (deceased 2011), David’s brother – organic drummer Steve Jansen, or keyboard player Richard Barbieri who has been part of Porcupine Tree since 1993 among other projects. Their last release as Japan, Tin Drum stands as one of the best albums of the period in it’s fusion of electronic and acoustic compositions into a complex, danceable mix.
This collection is a rare and important document of a band who, while being danceable, could also command a listener’s attention. The video clips sport excellent sound and picture quality, and represent a nice cross section of their later work. But the prize of this set is the live footage previously released on VHS and laserdisc called Oil On Canvas. What a wonderful stroke of luck it was that the band was captured live on their Tin Drum tour at London’s Hammersmith Odeon November 1982, before disbanding after a final stop in Tokyo that December, to follow their various pursuits. The only gripe I have about this live document is the excessive use of photos and graphics which are rendered over the top of the live footage too often blocking the performance itself. The footage has always been a bit dark and grainy, but is well preserved here given those limitations.
Increasing the rarity of the Oil on Canvas footage is the fact that if you want to see any document of David Sylvian live after this, all I have found is a similarly rare video on laserdisc David Sylvian and Robert Fripp on tour circa 1993. This lack of footage is a shame given the number of very special tours and performances David’s undertaken before and after that show. If you’ve not followed David’s work, and are more inclined to progressive rock, ambient, and alternative forms, do check him out. I would start with anything prior 2001 such as Dead Bees On A Cake (1999) as his most recent work is more difficult listening.
In order to start at the beginning, this set of Japan’s videos and live performances comes highly recommended to any fan of interesting electronic, ambient or progressive rock music.