Pale Acute Moon - Newtopia - 1999
This is the reissue of the first and only album by the Japanese group Pale Acute Moon, firstly released in 1985, and which also includes songs from the never released demo tape of the band from 1989. In total, seventeen tracks with two clearly differentiated styles.
The first 9 compositions formed the first album "Looking for Newtopia" and show the typical progressive Japanese style from the 80s. An excellent instrumentation, based in this case on the keyboards of the leader of the band Motoi Semba (previous member of Rosemary and Teru's Symphonia), with the help of Masahiro Imamura (guitar), Ryoichi Terashita (drums), Katsunori Hamada (bass) and Shinji Akahori (vocals). The music shifts between the more rockier ELP or Yes, the ambient keyboards a la Vangelis, Kitaro or Tangerine Dream, and the new-wave electronic sounds of the beginning of the 80s (Ultravox, Magazine, David Sylvian and Japan), or the David Bowie of "Heroes".
In general, they are very well arranged pieces, with a strong mixture of styles and structures, between melancholy and happiness, progressive with electronic and pop influences that is quite boring for me particularly, but of which I must recognize its quality. As usual in these groups, my problem comes from the singer, with a vocal tone amidst that of Heidi and Kate Bush (and I love her, really) usual of the Japanese progressive, to which I can simply not get used to. If I could make a karaoke selection eliminating the vocals, the result would be for me much more interesting although the songs would still not be very original, as shown in the three instrumental tracks.
To my view, the second part of the album, although completely far from progressive rock, is much more interesting, and includes the 10 songs of the never released demo from 1989. The group included then Motoi Semba together with Ryoichi Terashita and Shinji Akahori, and the help in two tracks -an excellent one- to the harmonica of Mitsubishi. The style changes radically, becoming dreamy, sad and smooth. The male vocals (very pleasant and without any stridency) move slowly amongst mattresses of ambient keyboards and soft percussion, while the guitars disappear.
The most obvious influence in this second stage, as explained in the excellent booklet of the CD is David Sylvian, to which I would add people like Nick Drake (for the vocal tone) or the best instrumental moments of Steely Dan, Blue Nile, Felt or Prefab Sprout. On the whole, a much more appealing side to the group compared to its first stage. But I reiterate, very far from what most would consider progressive.
Later on, in 1991 Motoi Semba would enter the lineup of the joyful pop-rock Japanese band Shonen Knife, again another drastic change of style in his already long career.
In summary, an album with two clearly differentiated sides, of which without a doubt, I prefer the darkest and electronic one. Then, if we give four stars to this second stage and just two to the first one, the result comes as three stars. A good CD, but one in which caution is strongly recommended.