Yellow Magic Orchestra – “Behind the Mask”

You ever listen to an album 3 times in a row then realize that it’s what’s been missing in your life? Yeah, that’s how I’m feeling about Yellow Magic Orchestra‘s Solid State Survivor. I can’t get enough!

YMO was formed in 1978 as a project between Japanese musicians Haruomi Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Yukihiro Takahashi. The trio had a mutual interest in technology, utilizing state-of-the-art devices like synthesizers, drum machines, and samplers to create music. YMO looked to artists like Devo, Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, Isao Tomita, who were bringing electronic music to the fore in the late ’70s, and wanted to take it further. And they did so wonderfully, becoming one of Japan’s biggest acts.

Released in 1979 Solid State Survivor sold over two million copies in Japan and had a massive influence on popular music. The band created a record that’s a joy to experience, with elastic beats, slick sonic flourishes, a wide range of influences and moods. The energy is pervasive and exuberant as each song jumps off into its own little world. With all the technology at play here, YMO goes out of their way to make a good song, and they don’t just rely on whiz-bang gimmickry. The DNA of this record can be heard all over pop music, electronic music, and even videogame music today. Solid State Survivor is fun, quirky, and still cutting edge 40 years later.

“Behind The Mask” is one of the group’s signatures, known for the bevy of covers it inspired, including one from Eric Clapton and famously, one by Michael Jackson that was unreleased in his lifetime. The original holds its own though, with an enigmatic and exotic feel. The distorted lyrics, sung by YMO collaborator Chris Mosdell, are pretty dark here, with the protagonist telling someone about how their mask is revealing their inner pain. This listen is a strong one, and has been on repeat for a while now.

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