True breadth

When previous editions of the Japan for Sale series were released, mainstream music was dominated by teen pop and nü metal. Underground tastes were splintered at the time, but if generalizations could be made, those tastes could lumped into the umbrellas of indie rock and electronica.

Sony Music hedged its bets on electronica as the “underground” music likely to crossover and stacked the track listings on the Japan for Sale compilations accordingly.

But in the recession of teen pop and nü metal from popular taste, indie rock emerged not as a driving cultural force but as a diffused common ground, where the likes of the White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand and the Flaming Lips can achieve the same amount of success and remain distinct from one another.

Electronica, on the other hand, has had a difficult time shaking its association with a club culture driven by the drug Ecstacy.

With Japan for Sale, Vol. 4, Sony Music plays catch-up and showcases the diversity of Japan’s underground rock scene. It’s about time.

There are only so many ways a four-on-the-floor dance beat can be repackaged, and I don’t have a subtle enough ear to distinguish Takkyu Ishino from Ken Ishii and Kyoto Jazz Massive. At least DJ Krush has enough sense to bring guest performers on his ambient hip-hop adventures.

The first three tracks of Vol. 4 alone jump among some drastic styles. Tommy heavenly6, the second alter ego of the brilliant green singer Kawase Tomoko, offers some pop-friendly grunge on “Swear”. Rhymester immediately follows with a rapid-fire rap on “The Great Amateurhythm”. Then Guitar Wolf blasts through with the garage rock fury of “Can-nana Fever”.

The rest of the disc doesn’t let up, either. Asian Kung-Fu Generation does a better Weezer than Weezer on “N.G.S.” Boom Boom Satellites demonstrate how rock guitars and electronica can drive each other on “Dive for you”, and Kokeshi Doll finishes things off with the wonderfully disturbing “Hasuike no Uta”.

Some choices on Vol. 4 are curious. “baby beautiful” is a tender selection from ex-Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her mastermind Higurashi Aiha, but it’s not the best track from her solo debut Born Beautiful.

Mean Machine’s “Johnny Back” is a terrific inclusion on the compilation, but the one-off project featuring singer-songwriter Chara and Judy and Mary’s Yuki has been on hiatus. Its one-off album, Cream, is currently out of print.

“lang” wonderfully demonstrates the adventurousness of ACO’s most recent work, but the single “Machi” from her album irony would have been a natural choice.

A few tracks show Japan’s off-kilter tastes. Orange Range’s “Shanghai Honey” sounds like a mutated version of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”. L’Arc~en~Ciel’s “Ready Steady Go” is a maniacally bouncy tune, and Polysics continues its quest as Most Annoying Band in the Universe with “Kaja Kaja Goo”.

Japan for Sale, Vol. 4 is so far the strongest installment of this series. The program stays interesting throughout by jumping among a number of different styles, and the true breadth of the world’s second largest music market is finally revealed.