It's a veritable Earthbound cabaret!
April 19, 2016 10:47 PM   Subscribe

The man who composed the soundtracks to cult video games Mother and Earthbound, Keiichi Suzuki, has a crazy-ass pop duo. It's more wonderful than you would ever expect.

Unless, of course, you know Suzuki already for his other new band, Controversial Spark, whose Hello Mutant is the best Rock Band song not available on Rock Band, and whose other work is pretty much a continuing succession of unexpectedly well-written music.

Not that that surprises you, I know, because of COURSE you're already well-aware of the Moonriders, the phenomenal band-slash-collective that Suzuki founded in the early 70s, right? You know, the band that made a quirky hit of Istanbul (Not Constantinople) fifteen years before They Might Be Giants followed their lead? The band who got XTC's Andy Partridge to give 'em a big ole-timey welcome at the start of one of their best albums? The band whose other members created, among other things, the music of Crash Bandicoot, the PlayStation commercial stinger sounds, a bunch of boy bands and (surprisingly Steven Universe-esque) girl bands, and an endless slew of sacrilegious-and-or-profound covers ranging from the Beatles to King Crimson to, well, there's a Good Vibrations cover that it kills me not to be able to share with you... you know, that band?

No? Huh.

Well, one of its members has been amusing himself since the band's break-up by converting the band's (staggeringly vast) discography to ukulele quartet, if you're in the mood for something twee and pretty. Or you could listen to the same member's Hatsune Miko productions, some of which are jazzy as hell. I mean, you could listen to the band itself, but I'm warning you: this is a band whose work jumps from sunny 90s power pop to spiky zolo new wave to self-described AOR to disco to whimsical earworms to Celtic-tinged earworms to Super Mario 64 acid trips to... whee. Hoo. One minute, lemme catch my breath.

Anyway, the really amazing thing about the Moonriders is that its six members each write, compose, produce, and perform a bunch of instruments' worth of music, and each has a wildly different approach to songwriting as well as a radically wide range on their own, so right in the middle you get SHEER MUSICAL INSANITY. I'd refer to it as a "Katamari of music" less self-consciously if Katamari Damacy's sound style hadn't been lifted in bits and pieces from across Moonriders' career. (Listen to the bit at 0:56 here and tell me there isn't a direct connection.)

What this means is, from Ryomei Shirai you get guitar-shredding rock and guitar-shredding jazz and some really John Zorn-y surf stuff that's apparently not online, but meanwhile Tetsuro Kashibuchi's laying down these crazy lush orchestrations and getting intimate every which way, and while he's doing that Keiichi's lil bro Hirobumi's just singing his damn heart out because sometimes you just need somebody who sounds like they've been there, man, they get it, and yes you need twelve albums of that, although you also probably need the folk-rock duo he and Keiichi formed too, and I mean while you're there you might as well pick up their double album with that experimental chamber quartet, and wheeeeeeeee

but I mean MEANWHILE Tohru Okada's working with the guitar player for the Boredoms to write some chill-ass low-dosage psychedelia, when he's not busy ukulele-ing and accordion-ing up the damn joint, and we're not even getting into Masahiro Takekawa, the double trumpet/violin virtuoso who's made a habit of releasing exactly one thing every decade, each of which seems to exist in an utterly different philosophy of music than the last, none of whose work (lucky, for my present state of mind, but sadly otherwise) is seemingly on any streaming site, Vietnamese or otherwise.

Where were we? Oh, that's right! Keiichi! Along with founding rock music's original Katamari, he scored the soundtracks to those seminal NES-era video games, and also arranged/produced/wrote the lyrics for most of Mother's ridiculously cheese-lightful companion album, the climax of which, I shit you not, was arranged by Academy Award-winning composer Michael Nyman. He had a really great album of dance hits (if you want to call them that?), which is mostly known for its long cut by The Orb. Along with the aforementioned Controversial Spark and No Lie-Sense, his band Captain Hate and the Seasick Sailors put out maybe the best trilogy of albums that the 00s saw, but YouTube's showing me nothing for them, because most things Moonriders-related are frustratingly inaccessible by Internet. He also had an album out last year, Records & Memories, equally astounding, equally un-Google-able.

Back to the original band in question: No Lie-Sense, which is a collaboration between Suzuki and KERA, who seems lovely enough, is fantastically eclectic, and their new album, Japan's Period, is just out as of however long it took me to write all this down. There are no samples of it online and no singles, surprise surprise, but it is available in English-based online stores, which is unusual and really fortunate, and it has probably one of the most offensive album covers I've ever seen (mostly SFW), which means it's probably terrific.

If you're interested in learning more about Moonriders, meanwhile, (1) ha! good luck, you poor soul, and (2) here's a hot tip: Oldfield5486 on YouTube has released a ridiculous amount of concert footage which sums up their career from the early 70s through their 2011 breakup. The material's uneven, but some of it's fantastic, and their farewell concert offers a decent rundown of at least 10% of their best-known songs, which is as thorough as you can get out of a band this long-running and a single concert. I've always been a fan of Oldfields...
posted by rorgy (19 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
I had no time to mention the extended history of Moonriders and Yellow Magic Orchestra, with whom they (somewhat) share an origin and which occasionally produced collaborations like The Beatniks, but that's pretty much how it goes with these guys. My Moonriders collection on iTunes is at 147 releases and counting, most of which continue to be surprisingly unlike the other 146 things in there (the Beatniks is a somewhat-underwhelming exception, which is probably why they slipped my mind), and I know I'm missing a few dozen things. At some point, half a year ago, I considered trying to write a Sparks-style megapost about the band, or even a Homestuck-style one, but the band is too sprawling for that to be easily doable, and the lack of Internet-available information would have made for a really crappy megapost. (As far as I can tell, there's not much of them even on Japanese media sites, but my ability to crudely translate English queries into Japanese is admittedly shitty.)

One thing I do regret not including is this list of music recommendations by Suzuki, in which he cites Axel Krygier as something he and KERA listened to while they were working on No Lie-Sense's first album. Krygier's an incredible musician (I have learned), and you definitely hear his influence on those NLS tracks I posted above the fold in things like his jungla de pasto (track 2 in that link), which fuse contemporary electronic/dance styles with delightfully un-contemporary not-electronic styles, and also in things like his single Mosquito, whose audacity doesn't even need to call attention to itself. Something the Moonriders oeuvre has in spades, really.

Also, a quick nod to (inactive) MetaFilter user slutze, whose insistence to me that Mother's soundtrack was doing something unusual and weird for a video game OST was how we discovered Moonriders in the first place, last May—seeing that Michael Nyman, of all people, co-arranged a video game soundtrack with Suzuki was unusual enough that it required further investigation—and who is also the reason that, when Japan's Period released at 11:57 at night on the day of its so-called release, I didn't immediately listen to it three times over. Though the excitement about its release got me so jittery that I couldn't go back to sleep, so I found myself trying to find something to do before I could pass back out again, and, well, here we are. If this post is too long, go yell at him about it.
posted by rorgy at 11:04 PM on April 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

posted by DoctorFedora at 11:30 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Erm.....WHOA!? Dig in!
posted by On the Corner at 2:27 AM on April 20, 2016

Amazing post!
posted by CitoyenK at 2:49 AM on April 20, 2016

A decent chunk of the band's albums are streamable through Zing, a streaming service I literally only know because it streams Moonriders music. It's got about 70 albums in their name, though, so if you'd rather have an index, a few jumping-off points you might be interested in are:

Animal Index: Probably their album that sounds most, to my ears, like Mother/Earthbound music does. Also has a real lovely range between "whoa lots is happening this is delightful" and "whoa this evokes a complex and subtle palette of emotions". A part of the album's concept was that each of the 6 members wrote 2 of its songs, which is something you should feel free to not care about whatsoever.

Moonriders no Yoru: Maybe my personal favorite, because first you get spun through a seven-minute chamber piece that sounds right out of the 30s, and then abruptly you get a really classy really J-Rock-y piece, and then it changes to something more explicitly Indian-influenced in sound, and then literally every song manages to be as different from all the songs you've just heard as the next one will be from all those songs plus this. Includes proto-vaporwave-y stuff and something I can only mentally process as "Katamari Dragonforce"?? It's real good stuff.

Last Supper: which I much prefer to refer to by its subtitle, Christ, Who's Gonna Die First? Kind of the halfway-point album for the band: everything before this feels mostly like it's being performed by a single group, whereas at this point and past it songs shift across styles and approaches with increasing fluidity.

Bizarre Music For You: Case in point, this album is approximately an hour of the band deciding to be different sorts of bands, and then write songs that those bands would write. I can't imagine how else this album would come about.

Mania Maniera: kind of like Devo, but with a lot more musical interlock, and (apparently) way more Marxism (I cannot independently verify this). The melodies kind of sneak up on you/are way better than the intensity of the production would usually suggest.

Hinotama Boy: the band's debut album in their mostly-final form. This is kind of blend of poppy funk, jazz, country, gospel, and other things that existed in the seventies, so I hear. It's really light and nice.

Camera Egal Stylo: fast-paced fun and movie theme covers? This is boppin', I don't know another way to put it, it's boppin'.

Don't Trust Over Thirty: Their big "hit" album (I gather) and their last one before they drastically changed up their style. This is so well-composed and flows so nicely that it makes me want to cry. Like, it's definitely an album that sounds like the band who made it would want to take a break and then come back as a MegaZord.

Le Cafe de la Plage: Seriously, just click that link, look at the album cover, and your response to that album cover will tell you if this is what you want to be in your life.

Moon Over the Rosebud: This might be, uh, the single best album I've ever heard in my life. I'm embarrassed to put it in terms that stark, and it's definitely not as insta-poppy as some of the other things here, and it has a lot of fierce competition from other Moonriders album, but this does something for me that most other music doesn't. It's pretty special and if you've got an hour and a bit to listen to some music, really give this one a go.

Zing also has a bunch of solo output, which is sadly incomplete, but if you're looking for a more specific kind of thing, Ryomei is your go-to guy for hedonistic guitar-y pop stuff, conveniently organized by decade; Tetsuro is your go-to guy for really classy fancy orchestra stuff (and he's the drummer, too!); Tohro Okada has some really delightfully silly albums, along with about a zillion side projects; Hirobumi Suzuki is pretty much just all the intimate chicken-soup feel-good rock you'll ever need; and Keiichi Suzuki himself has got a really wide range that spans folk to electronica to weird in-betweeny quantum genres, though his Captain Hate trilogy (Captain Hate & First Mate Love, Captain Hate and the Seasick Sailors, In Retrospect) is a really nice inlet, which starts out simple and poppy and gradually becomes more nuanced and unusual with its approach.

There're about a zillion side bands made up of various member combinations. The SUZUKI, Sclap, and Mio Fou all come to mind, though there are plenty more that don't stream anywhere. And if you want to get into the band's productions, well, they released a 9-disc boxed set just sampling a song each of the individual groups they've worked with, though that was incomplete then and over a decade out of date now. I use this site to track the group's new work, and it comes to about 10-20 things a year, and I've recently learned this tracker is incomplete anyway.

My apologies to all my MeFite friends here I've tried "obliquely" mentioning this group to, followed by basically this amount of words. Speaking as a fan of Homestuck, Moonriders are way more difficult to explain as a media entity. (And also speaking as a Homestuck fan, can we talk about how Mania Maniera's album cover looks freakishly like Homestuck fan art?? Can this be a coincidence???)
posted by rorgy at 4:40 AM on April 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Amazing! Thank you!
posted by clockzero at 7:58 AM on April 20, 2016

Wow. The No Lie-Sense song linked under 'Wonderful' totally scratches my 'Katamari soundtrack' itch. And the best thing about finding an artist so prolific...This is the start of a long exciting journey.
posted by Gordafarin at 9:08 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Now that's a good post.
posted by JHarris at 9:34 AM on April 20, 2016

(FRIEND-WOKE-UP UPDATE: Japan's Period is fantastic. If you want to risk 99¢ on its first track, I guarantee you'll want to risk another 99 on the second, and then you'll get to the last track which is so good that you'll fuck up and try to buy the whole album again.)
posted by rorgy at 10:01 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

The music in Dungeon Man from Earthbound changed my whole perception of what music could sound like. Hearing it was revelatory to me in a way that only a few music albums have ever been.

Combine that with the notions of what a video game could be that were also challenged by playing Earthbound and I can point to the experience as a really positive source of change in my life.

Thanks for the post!
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:13 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


You do know I have serious life stuff happening between now and Tuesday, right? And that this post and easy access to a bottle of gin is putting that in even-more-serious peril?

Bad post. Naughty post. Go away post, you're not helping.

(OK, one more click, but no further down the rabbit hole than that. Oh, is there some gin left?)
posted by Devonian at 5:40 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

You actually can find samples of Japan's Period and buy a FLAC version of the album online, thanks to the music gods' gift to Japan, Ototoy.
posted by chrominance at 7:45 PM on April 20, 2016

I think I'm going to have this tab open for the rest of the year as I work through it all. Great stuff, thanks!
posted by Pfardentrott at 9:32 PM on April 20, 2016

Still splendid in the morning. I am absolutely agog and entranced. I would so love a translation of the lyrics, because how could they be anything other than awesome too?
posted by Devonian at 6:32 AM on April 21, 2016

If anybody knows of good lyric translations, yeah, I'd be up for that. Google Translate plus random Japanese lyric sites yields incoherence.
posted by rorgy at 6:12 AM on April 22, 2016

uh did everyone notice that Japanese awesomeness went supernova -- I mean supergroup -- namely, Towa Tei, Cornelius, and members of YMO and Denki Groove have formed Metafive

the lead track, Don't Move, is riveting
posted by gusandrews at 9:28 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 4:50 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

is there just a full album or playlist of this I can put on? Thanks
posted by rebent at 5:42 AM on May 4, 2016

Oh man, I've been wanting to get into Moonriders for ages, but I've been having a hard time finding an entry point. What a great guide this post is! Rorgy, you're my hero.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 10:37 AM on May 7, 2016

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